friendships

collecting the pieces

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I recently sat across the table, at my favorite coffee establishment, as my girlfriend shared one of her most vivid memories of me.

I had been speeding on a freeway, late on a Friday night from college, when I realized the flashing lights and siren behind signaled for me to pull over.  I was on the, all-too familiar, drive to my extended family’s home when the death of my father had finally hit me.  Through my blurred vision, I had waited quietly for the highway patrol officer to approach and, after he angrily asked what my problem was, his response had shocked me.   He gruffly asked for the house address I was headed to and commanded that I follow him; this officer escorting me to my family’s home.  I never got the ticket for speeding and driving recklessly.  I had been eighteen.

I blocked out memories from that time of my life; this particular one forgotten.  The tears sprang to my eyes, unbidden, and my girlfriend’s arms had goose bumps.  To my utter surprise, she had never known my father died of colon cancer; almost three decades earlier.

With the ending of the school year, in June,  I found myself choosing to engage in silence; a quiet, meditative retreat.  There were no places my sons had to be and with our relaxed schedule, I slowly began to unwind.  But instead of finding things to do, projects to complete or places to go; I chose to remain close to home.  I have journeyed to many places, enjoy traveling and taking the time to learn the details of my destinations; pouring over maps and guide books.  But I have never taken the time to really understand the place where I live; my so-called sanctuary that I call my home.  I live in these four walls with four other occupants, but how much time do I invest in learning about the things within these parameters?  And so I stayed still, this summer, to come full-circle and discover what lies within my four walls.

I used to think the best summers were spent at beaches, camps or exotic vacations with grand stories for my kids to share when they returned to school in the fall.  These were ideal summer pursuits and made me feel like we provided great memories for my kids.

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What I’ve learned is that it’s not always the destination that mattered.  It was the quality time spent with  family, and people, that created the best memories.

For the past few years I have been finding my way back, to remember where I came from.   I found that I had gotten lost, somewhere along the way, and needed to unlock the things that have shaped me into who I am today.   I kept forging new paths with new destinations to conquer.  But I had never fully walked the journey I had originally been on.

My girlfriend and I stared across at one another; tears in our eyes.  We had barely caught up on our present lives when we, abruptly, ended up in the past.  This memory was a gift; as is her friendship.

The song, 7 Years by Lukas Graham, makes me think back and reflect.  It’s one of my faves.  But the song, Mama Said, is what I hope my sons will remember.

I know which place I’m from
I know my home
When I’m in doubt and struggling
That’s where I go
An old friend can give advice
When new friends only know a half story
That’s why I always keep them tight
And why I’m okay
… I said I’m OK
You know what my mama said
You know what she told me

My favorite summer, at age sixteen, had been when my cousin took me along on vacation with his young family.  To this day, whenever my cousins or I hear the song, “Brass Monkey” by the Beastie Boys; our memories fill with winding mountain roads as we traveled the high Sierras to Yosemite, Sequoia and King Canyon.   It was on this trip that my love for the outdoors, truly, was born.

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August 25th was the 100th year celebrating our National Parks.  I hope to someday visit all of them.  I hope my sons, someday, appreciate them as much as the hubs and I do.

These days my sons would rather hold mobile devices, chasing pocket monsters, and roaming the outdoors like walking zombies.  Rarely do my boys choose to hang outdoors with friends; instead choosing to communicate in message chats and Skype.  Our one camping excursion, this summer, has become an annual trip with the girlfriend I’ve known since age four.  Our midpoint, between the two cities that we reside, happens to be at a national park.  Electronic devices are banned once we reach our destination and cell service drops as we ascend the foothills and drive within the redwood trees.

My favorite destination happens to be our car.  It is within the confines of our vehicle that the boys begin to share the tidbits of their lives that, most days, seem trivial.   We listen to various music genres, commenting on what we like and what we don’t.  No earbuds are allowed.  I pondered how to create this same environment in my home.

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Over campfires our sons listened to the tidbits my childhood girlfriend shared of our past.  I am awed by the capacity she has to remember the details.  Her words filled in the blanks from my childhood; the stories priceless.   With both of my parents deceased, it is the memories of my girlfriends that help me piece together who I once was.  She recently lost her own father and we sat silently by the campfire, remembering him.

With knowledge of my past  I can, once again, forge friendships with others as I carry the pieces of me and move forward.   There are always gaps in my puzzle but my new friendships help me fill them in as we continue to journey in the path of life.   I have undergone many transformations from the girl, I once was, some great, some not so much, but those who can look past these things continue to walk alongside.   I do not do a good job of keeping communication lines open but these friends know they are carried with me; a vital piece to my life story.

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My silence has finally been broken.

The memories flood me in dreams at night or in the brightness of day.  I see pieces of my life in my sons as they learn to maneuver their tween and teenage years.  If not for them, I may not have made the effort to remember. 

I know I always have the sturdy shoulders of the hubs; the ones I’ve hugged during the good times, and silently wept and held during the bad.  I want my boys to know that I have their back, and hope that they grow to be decent, respectable men, just like their father.  Their puzzles don’t have to be complete.  It is one of the joys and mysteries of life, to discover the pieces.

It’s for them that I type.  To push through the hype.  To show their mom as an imperfect woman and wife.  And to carry the pieces forward into their life.

 

 

 

 

 

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School

carrying the world

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I am most happiest in the morning.  The slotted rays of fall sunshine came through my blinds and I smiled.  And within thirty minutes I had to tell my son he was behaving like an a$$.

I’m just tired, he told me as he entered my vehicle; as we pulled-out of our driveway.  He is not a morning person and took out his frustrations on the one who will take it unconditionally; me.   I would normally rant or nag about how the new, fancy alarm clock STILL does not wake this son.  We live close enough to his high school that he could walk and be late.

When he yelled at me to leave him alone, I told him I would.  I had quietly waited for 9 AM to run my bank errand in my car, in the garage.

It’s tough, this whole letting go thing.  I don’t want him to fail but fail he must do.  I hate having access to my sons’ grades on the portal, receiving text reminders from the various teachers (seven in all between three different schools AND an elementary school principal).  I want them to be accountable for their own lives and not have mommy watch their back and micromanage them.  Technology has many advantages.  But I’m also realizing, this may not be one of them for me.  It’s information overload.  Yet I can’t NOT look, at the online grades.  I like having the access but am unsure how to take the information.  I heard the middle son tell his friend online,  We know when our Mom sees our grades online by the tone in her voice.   I do this every one to two weeks.

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On the short drive to the high school my radio was low and I quietly sifted through my thoughts.  As I sat the the traffic light to turn into the parking lot I said the words I wanted to say in a quiet voice.  I reminded him of his friends who had to wake early for an 8 AM SAT today.  These friends who will then join his eight hour practice after 12 PM and will finish at 5 PM  Then, these same friends will quickly go home, change and head to the annual Homecoming dance and won’t arrive home until the wee morning hours.   These friends carry a heavy academic load, on top of it.  These friends are in sports, outside service clubs and performance groups.   And these friends are probably more tired than he is.    Welcome to life, kid.

Yesterday my son shared that one day of the week his band period will be a study period; for kids to catch-up.  I heard the mom tell the story of the girl who broke down, who couldn’t figure out how to balance her life with a rigorous academic load,  extra-curriculars and a life.   Correction:  they have no life.

Is this what is becoming of our kids today?  And what will they become as adults?  Our kids, they feel the pressure.

I read books like, The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That WayWhere You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admission Mania Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life,  The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, Hands Free Mama:  A Guide to Putting Down the Phone, Burning the To-Do List, and Letting Go of Perfection to Grasp What Really Matters!,  How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success.  Overkill, I know.  It is currently the stage I reside in as a parent and I immerse myself in information, hoping it will help me cope.

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I appreciate the educators who put the kids first.  The ones that don’t purposely make their classes harder to get into; to remember to give our children the gift of learning, just because and to actually teach them something versus teaching to the test.

These days our kids fight for multiple advanced placement courses, and fill every waking moment with admirable pursuits.  They are members of the local hospital student advisory board, work tireless community service hours to log in their time for college application resumes or, tutor peers; constantly giving of their time and talents.  But what about themselves?  When do they ever have the time to fill their own cups, to have time to think their own thoughts and discover their own dreams? 

These are luxuries that do not fit into their current lives; escaping into the online worlds of PC gaming and social media sites.  The streets are empty in my neighborhood.  Kids are on traveling sports teams, after school programs like dance, debate, prep courses or in service organizations.  They arrive home to complete their homework and crash on the couch at 1 AM.

Reality check. Am I not just like this son?  The mom who works full-time, who fills her weeknights and free Fridays with other volunteer pursuits?  The time arrived when I crashed and burned and swore to my hubs I would never put myself in that situation again.  Yet here I am, once again, involved in many “extracurriculars.”  But the thing I learned was NOW, I choose the things and pursuits I enjoy and advocate for.  I don’t do these things to build my “college resume” with awards or titles.  I am learning new things, meeting new people and expanding my points of view.  The extrovert in me loves having a purpose outside of myself; to grow.

But, as adults, we encounter the same things our teens do; in the workplace, in service organizations, in life.  Adult cliques, politics, those who do and those who don’t, those who want the glory.  There is always an alpha and followers and varying points of view.  It shouldn’t always be about personal gain.

We need to find the balance in all things that we do and remind ourselves why we do them.

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I set aside the project that has been occupying my time these past two weeks; hours lost in creativity.  I guiltily glanced at the ten year old’s sneakers, the ones that are falling apart.  When the younger two sons reminded me that I promised to take them shopping  I put my project away and went.  It IS my responsibility to make sure my family is fed, clothed and housed.  I dedicated the rest of my weekend to those endeavors busily chopping and dicing, laundry and house cleaning.  The sons followed suit and contributed with their chores; house cleaning a communal effort.  I need to practice what I preach and find my balance.

I shared an (Advanced Placement) AP article with my son.  I told him to find what he loves and to just do it.  It isn’t my job to coordinate his activities and his life.  It is my job to make sure he is responsible, advocates his views and allow him to discover who he is; away from me.  I can’t carry the weight of the world for him.  I must let him feel the weight of it and carry it for himself.  I continue to learn to slowly ease up on the reins and let go…

Carry on my wayward son(s).

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Family

Falling on big ears. I hear you.

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I tell my sons to use their words, to say what they mean and to assert themselves.  It’s been a gradual process and over the years I’ve been surprised that my sons can speak their words.

The problem is, a lot of the time I don’t hear them.

I consider myself an authoritative vs. authoritarian type of parent. I don’t expect my children to think it’s “my way or the highway,” but instead, to understand my reasons; to question and advocate for their point of view.  The authoritarian parent doles out punishment and brooks no argument.  The authoritative parent will discipline and listen to the issues at hand; serving a consequence that addresses the problem.

It’s only natural when kids are younger that we are more authoritarian in our ways; the kids too young to understand.  But my sons now speak their minds; sometimes a bit too much.  So it caught me off guard when I was issuing commands and verbal barbs that I barely heard what the quiet, middle son had to say.

You never hear me, Mom.

I had stalked off hot and angry; doling punishment to all three.  But the middle son had only been present for the infraction commited by the other two.  The next day the eldest claimed he was always blamed for everything.  And the youngest gave up trying; his voice lost among the deep timbre of the teens.  Of all my sons, he has learned to articulate his words the best; but whose voice gets drowned out.

I need to find my big ears.  Their words fall on deaf ones.

When the school year began, in late August, the physical adjustment to the hectic schedule had gone better than expected.  But the communication in our home became non-existent; five bodies in five different areas passing one another.  We ate together but quickly dispersed to other tasks: homework, practices, meetings, the Internet.  And when we did finally come together; information was exchanged about our schedules for the week.  The connections to one another were lost.

I observed my social interactions outside of my household.  It is rare that I see my girlfriends on a regular basis; my schedule busy.  And so when we sit over coffee, or discuss books at book club, the words tumble out; one person drowning out the other.  I sat at a committee meeting and the participants felt their words were more important; talking louder and louder and over one another.  Nobody was listening to anything anyone said.

As the sole female in my household; holding a long conversation is rare.  The males want things said quickly and succinctly.  When I started a sentence with my hubs, today with, “Do you know what I was thinking about?” his eyes glossed over.  I immediately quieted; until he turned his face towards me with a slightly irritated expression.  He had been driving.  I wondered if he really wanted to know.  Most times I talk and the hubs listens.

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It’s been a learning curve; to learn to hear what others have to say.  To open my ears.  To sit still and actively listen.

I have been a passive listener with my sons.  I can filter out what I want to hear and hear what I need to hear.  But I really need to hear it all; to acknowledge what they are telling me and to let them know that I am listening; that what they say matters.  It’s easy to get lost in self-absorption and thinking that what I do is more important.  I have to learn to validate who they are.  It’s something I can do with complete strangers but something I don’t practice with my own sons.

This past month I’ve been reminding myself to stop my train of thought and to hear the words that I’ve advocated for my sons to say.  To not nod absently and say uh huh in all the right places.  To be present.  Instead of reminding them of all the things they are not doing, I need to acknowledge the good things that they are doing.  All things begin at home.

Thanks for always doing what you’re supposed to be doing, I said to the middle son when I walked through the garage door.  He had been doing his homework quietly at his desk.  I didn’t yell for him to turn down the music from the computer speakers.

I like that you’re taking time washing your face at night, I told the eldest as he read the directions to his face wash and ointment.  I chose to ignore the clothes strewn across his bedroom floor; the ones I step over every day.

I’m happy you like that book, I told the youngest; trying hard to ignore the fact that he was procrastinating on completing his homework.  I reminded myself that I needed to foster his love for reading.

At book club I sat quietly, listening to what the others had to say.  During a meeting I made sure to make eye-contact with the person speaking; versus rifling through my own paperwork preparing for what I needed to say.  Over lunch I listened intently to what my girlfriends had to share; instead of catching them up on what was new with me.

These were simple adjustments, things easy to say although my mind wants me to be doing other things.  The extrovert in me wants to share my own words.  But sometimes it’s not in the more of doing things, it’s in the way we do them.  Saying more things does not create quality relationships.  But listening and empathizing; saying less allows open, two-way conversation.  I can continue to see these girlfriends on multiple occasions but if the authentic words aren’t being said, or drowned out, what’s the point?

When I stopped nagging, the kids were more willing to converse back.  It opened the doors of communication as they shared tiny snippets about their day.  Instead of bustling about my home complaining about the loud noise, the eternal mess, or the lack of completed homework, I made the conscious effort to stand or sit beside them.  I nestled next to one, ruffled the hair of the other and grinned like a fool at the one who is the quietest.  My body language conveyed that I was listening and when there was a pause I looked at the person talking to me.

I hear you.  That’s all anyone really wants; to be heard.  To know that their words aren’t in vain.  That their existence makes a difference.

My youngest shared a long conversation with me; one I wouldn’t normally have heard had I not sat beside him.  He was buzzing through a trumpet mouthpiece and, though I knew I had to start dinner before leaving for another meeting, he shared the words that the music teacher had told the class on the first day of elementary school band.  The youngest had chosen the same instrument as his eldest brother and the teacher remarked how his brother had started with him.  The eldest and middle son had come out to listen to what the youngest had to share.  You should tell him how we’re doing, said the older sons.  All of us had been surprised the teacher had shared that with his beginning band class.   I sent the email over to him the next morning before I could “chicken out.”

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These days, I still struggle in letting my house go.  I try not to talk over my husband or my kids.  And I put this time in my life all in perspective.  In a few short years my house will be empty; my sons will grow away and probably rarely call to talk.  Maybe they’ll text or private message me although I’ll always hope they’ll return, face-to-face, to check-in.   Instead I learn to actively listen, to hear who my sons are and who they are becoming.  Hearing their words validates not only themselves; but myself as well.  I am grateful that they still share them with me.  I’m enjoying the fall and turning over a new leaf.  I hear you.

School, Work

pay it forward by the numbers

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The Jason Derulo song, “Want to Want Me” played on my car stereo and I cranked up the volume; on my commute in to work.

When the truck slowed our traffic lane I wasn’t complaining.  I hit the repeat button on this track and eased off the gas.  Usually I am impatient on my drive in to work, to start my day, but the beat of this song got me pumped.   I didn’t mind the extra time today.

When the older gentleman took his time across the crosswalk, as I waited to make my right turn, I sat watching the cars behind me and moved to the beat.  As he stepped onto the curve he waved in gratitude; smiling as he watched my singing antics in the confines of my car.  I had to smile and wave back.

I’m paying it forward; no pun intended.

These past weeks I have been lost in the quagmire of financial paperwork.   The EDD spokesperson curtly barked instructions and I finally laughed and admitted I had NO IDEA what she was saying.  And with that her voice immediately changed.  The joy of transparency is that people can take me at face value and I called her out; reading the confusing paperwork word-for-word.  No longer do I need to put on airs pretending I know everything about anything.  At the end of the call she thanked me for making her day.

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My sons know to not bother me with their math homework questions; leaving that to my numbers-oriented and logical-minded hubs.   When a booster parent asked me to calculate the percentage to add to her donation amount for PayPal I sat for twenty minutes with an algebraic equation on my desk.  I was off by two cents.  I can do the number crunching if I absolutely have to; it was required for my coursework in high school and college with the science track I had chosen.  It is in calculus that I met my hubs.  I attended every single 8 AM lecture in that course to earn my grade and sat in the very front row.  He attended the lecture three times; for the first day, the midterm and the final, and ended with the same exact grade.    He arrived late and would sit in the back.

The numbers keep landing in my lap and the paperwork that accompanies them.  I handle the finances/payroll for work, I “volunteered” to help at the elementary school as a treasurer and currently, as auditor.  And at the end of last year I stepped in, at the very last minute, to assist my son’s high school organization after no other parent chose to step up.    QuickBooks is my very best friend; my mood dour as I run reports and stats for work and the organizations in which I serve.  Bill collection is the very least of my favorite things.

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When people meet me they are surprised that I am shy.  My preferred environment is a quiet corner in a large library; to sit and read and people-watch.  But over the years I have been forced to deal with my aversion to speaking my words, and to speak them loud and clear.  My parents enrolled me in piano lessons; hoping that would bring me out of my shell.  During recitals I would always have to repeat the first few measures of my piece; the public attention causing me to freeze.   When I enrolled in band, at age nine, I enjoyed being lost in the group of students; the music surrounding me created by those alongside.  In high school I was forced to yell and cheer; upon trying out with my girlfriend to keep her company.  The intention had never been to actually make the songleading squad; relieved to be joining the band on the field during football half-time shows.

In college I worked for the very busy financial aid office at the private institution I attended.  Irate parents would call; demanding answers to all things financial aid and I would timidly search for someone to assist me.  The powerful head of this department finally found me one day and I sat quietly; awaiting her words to fire me and let me go.  The words from her lips had surprised me.   I hadn’t known it was rare for college work-study students to work in this department with the confidential paperwork at my fingertips.  I had been chosen to work in this office based on something I had written in my college essay.  When applying to colleges I had been forced to fill out the financial aid paperwork alone; seeking help from my high school counselor.  It was my job to pay it forward to the frantic parents calling our office; to let them know the student’s point of view and to advocate for their son or daughter to handle this paperwork themselves.  If I could do it; their kids could too.

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Since that very first job her words have followed me when doing the things I least like to do; making the phone calls for bill collection or delivering bad news.  After that first job I worked in the staffing office of a large private hospital.  My job was to fill the staffing slots on the nursing floors and to beg and plead with nurses to come in to work on their days off.  It was in this job that I finally learned how to read people; my mentor who continues to work at this same hospital and is beloved by all; doctors, administrators and staff.   Through the years I have always been placed in positions of dealing with unpleasant conversations about complaints and abuses, death and dying, trusts and bill collection.  I remind myself of this fact as I call another vendor to follow-up on payment status.  And I stare at the list of names I need to call for the booster organization which I serve.  I wish it would just go away.  But life doesn’t work that way.

In hopes that people will pay their financial obligations, I also need to pay forward the lessons I have learned from my boss in financial aid and my dear friend in the staffing office.  Jason Derulo plays on repeat on my work computer.  Time to get to work; the numbers await.

Happy Fall.

Uncategorized

fighting on thru the unpleasant things

It is starting to feel like fall in our parched state that is ablaze in flame, and whose inhabitants cannot drive in rain.

The tween assumed I played the marching band CD from my alma mater because fall means football,  and we are attending our high school and college games this weekend.  But the song that streams through my car’s speakers is the repeated: quarter note, six eighth notes, two quarter notes, a dotted quarter and an eighth note that becks and calls between the low brass and trumpets.  It is a simple song but the harmonies and incessant snare riff  exemplify digging deep; played for the defense on a third down.  Over the years, when I’ve needed to push through unpleasant tasks it is my “go to” motivational song.  On YouTube I discovered a post that continuously plays this song for ten hours straight.

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As I battled through traffic, in the rain with impatient parents, I clenched my steering wheel and quietly kept my tongue.

Why are you playing THIS song on repeat? asked my tween.

The words were out of my mouth before I had thought them.  This is my defensive song and I’m on the defense.  It had never occurred to me WHY this song resonates with me until I had vocalized the words.

I get it, was his simple answer as a parent driver cut us off; grinning back.  I was defensively driving. The alto sax sheet music for this song sits upon my piano as he memorizes it for fun.  I know this song is one of his favorites too.

The phone call came this morning and I paused the music.  The matriarch of my husband’s family passed away this morning in her sleep; aged 89.  On Labor day we had received the phone call that she would be placed in hospice and the family had sat around the pool in silence.   My brother-in-law had just shared that his father would temporarily be placed in a skilled nursing facility (SNF) after arriving at the emergency room via ambulance.    When the hubs asked if the placements in hospice and a SNF were good things, I pushed through the silence and tactfully searched for the words no one else would say.

Your grandmother is dying.  The brother-in-law’s father’s placement in the SNF most likely will be permanent.   His grandmother had been taken off of dialysis because it showed no indications of improvement. My brother-in-law’s father’s Parkinson Disease had progressed.

All things unpleasant.

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My years as a gerontologist and of losing my parents as a teen and new mom, respectively, have given me perspective.   As an intern in college my project had been to discuss advanced directives with the physician’s elderly patients.  She had thought my plans were ambitious and had forewarned me that it would not be smooth sailing.  She had been correct.  The patients became defensive and angry when I broached any discussion of mortality and death and dying.  Durable Powers of Attorney, burial trusts and getting papers in order were not topics people wished to discuss.

Later, as a county ombudsman who advocated for the elderly, the abuse complaints that crossed my desk were usually concerning a family member taking advantage of elderly clients.  I used to think that blood was thicker than water but discovered that the almighty dollar was quite powerful in obliterating those ties that bind.  To this day I advocate for this paperwork but this topic is still taboo; something I know all too well.  For over two decades I continue this conversation with my in-laws; the paperwork yet to be done on another day.

As the bad things in life happened, I became bitter and angry and used these emotions as my shields.  This would not happen to me again.  I would control my circumstances and cut the ties.  I had no immediate family and walked away from my faith.  I would control my destiny.

After each of my parents’ deaths I became uncommunicative and would place headphones upon my head to drown out all sound; choosing dark brooding music.   When engaged to my non-denominational fiance (now hubby) my mother had agreed to our marriage if my fiance promised to be married in the church.  Ironically, it is my husband who returned me to my faith and continues to walk alongside.   When disappointment in people darkened my door, recently, the earbuds went in.  But as in all things unpleasant, time mends and the relationships that occupy my life bring me back; my fighting spirit returning.

Dwelling on the unpleasant things brings growth.  I have rediscovered the person I wanted to be.  I can now speak the words instead of simmering silently in a corner.  But I also work through filtering and sorting; to be able to say the words authentically but with empathy.  Tact.

Last evening I clenched my jaw as I sat in the back of a classroom amongst parents at a back-to-school night.   One of the lessons learned from the internship in college was in finding tactful words.  The other lesson was in keeping things confidential; particularly conversations that are unsavory where there are no words than can cover up the ugly.  I simmered quietly at the artifice and dramatics of parents sitting in the room with me.  They push their own agendas for themselves, in-turn, hurting the whole.  When the bell rang it was all I could do to drag the hubs out of there before my unfiltered words could be spoken.

My song continues to play on repeat at work as I do some of the administrative tasks I dislike doing.  I am digging deep to work through the unpleasant things.  It is sometimes hard to march to my own beat; the relentless riff of the music having me fall-in-step with it to keep moving forward.  I continue to fight on; to find the path I will choose to march.  To do the morally correct thing confidentially, with tact and authenticity.

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Family, School

happy first day

I looked around the office with a twinge of sadness.  The three bodies who have occupied our business space with us are no longer on the premises; the official beginning of their school year today.  I see the notifications on Facebook as friends post pictures of their kids, grinning with backpacks and the comments from others sending best wishes for the school year.  I watched kids stand quietly beside parents chattering with the affected joy and excitement of the first day.  My snap-happy self took these same pictures.  I cherish this time knowing it is short.

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Driving into work I pondered why this first day was different from years past.  As a young girl I looked forward to the school year with trepidation; hoping my grades would make muster; that my friends would still sit by me at lunchtime.  I felt the anxiety as I sat in my classes listening to teachers’ expectations.  Would I be able to do it?  Would I let them down?  Most years, as a parent,  I began the school year with a pep talk to my sons about having a great year, getting good grades and working on behavioral habits.  Knowing the assessments started the first week, I reminded my boys of the things we did over the summer for the writing prompt, recounting math facts or grammatical rules.

I did none of these things last evening; nor today.

I grapple with letting my sons go; to allow them the ability to figure out things without my prompting.  To truly discover who they are and to not constantly coach/preach what it is that I expect them to be.  To let them navigate social land mines and find their way.  This is a tough lesson for me.

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On our last day of summer we had been busy with household chores, birthday parties and grocery shopping.  I braced myself for the yelling of commands to get things done to prepare for the first day.  When the eldest’s schedule conflicted with ours; he handled it with the volunteer coordinator.  The middle son prepared the clothes he would wear to school on Sunday afternoon without being asked.  The youngest hummed to himself as he opened school supplies and organized his binder and backpack.  The yelling mom never materialized.

And so, this morning, I expected to rouse grumpy children to awaken for school.  And though I did have to wake them, they quickly rose and prepared for the day.  I made the effort not to lament the end of summer; nor did I use my falsetto, happy voice to expound the joys of the first day of school.  Instead we prepared for the day in relative peace and quiet which followed me into the confines of my car on my commute into work.  It had been effortless; even amongst the busy throngs of parents, the traffic and congestion and general chaos of the first day.  When the fifth grader happily waved from his line as they left for their classroom, I smiled.  This year is going to be a great one.  They were ready.

It is I who is never ready.  I read self-help parenting books hoping to glean knowledge on how to be a better parent.  But with the years I’ve come to realize that I will never be ready and that, being armed with knowledge doesn’t necessarily translate into acting upon it.  I must immerse myself into life, the experiences allowing me to learn what works and what does not.  Upon walking into my youngest’s elementary school office, I genuinely was happy to be there after a year of discontent and disillusion.  Time heals.  As an only child I am comfortable; left to my own devices in solitary confinement.  But, like my father before me, I am always called to serve.  The year off gave me the gift of discernment; to discover what was important and why.  In order to be a good parent to my children I did not need a lengthy list of titles or accomplishments.  To be a good parent to my children I needed to be happy with myself.

Sounds too easy?  Too cliche-ish and cheesy?  Probably.  But muddling through my issues it rings true.

To be a good parent/wife/friend/person, you need to be happy with yourself.

Parenting is many things.  You are responsible for those under your tutelage; whether you like it or not.  You learn to love unconditionally and selflessly.  You live through your children’s accomplishments and acutely feel their disappointments and failures.  In my years as a gerontologist, discussing end-of-life issues, the number one thing elderly people wished to leave their children was not money.  It was legacy.  We all want to leave our mark; our contribution within our family and in our society to feel like our existence made a difference in someone’s life.  As a child of two deceased parents, my lasting memories of them are a mixed bag.  I had been eighteen when my father passed, thirty-two at my mother’s untimely death.   My memories of my father are child-like and naive, the ones of my mother are from adulthood with the perspective of newly minted motherhood.   Over the years I questioned what legacy they left with me; the conversation of what they expected that I would become never broached.  They had pushed grades and titles and accomplishments; things I used to push,  first and foremost, for my own children.

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I asked the hubby what legacy he wished for our kids to remember him by and he hopes that they learn improvisation.  To know that the answers they seek to their questions are never going to be perfect and that they will persevere; to make things work with what they have and do these things independently.  Over the past year I’ve also searched within; seeking what it is that I want for myself and for my children.  I have fought the answer that is obvious to anyone who knows me well.  I want my children to serve in society for the greater good; in the beliefs that are important to them.  I don’t expect them to become doctors or lawyers with large homes and many things.  If they ultimately choose these professions I hope it is because they want to serve others; in the belief of the Hippocratic oath to preserve lives with quality, or to uphold the cannon laws for the safety and well-being of our society.  I hope they continually find love in the arts and to share them with others.  To be hospitable, gracious and humble.  But most importantly, to do things because THEY WANT TO.

Why do I think of these things on the first day of school?

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As a parent learning to let go, I had to understand where I fit in my children’s current stages.  When I used to see the word mother I imagined cuddles, hand-holding, homemade art projects and park playgrounds.   For the past few years I saw competitive group sports, tiger mother after-school tutoring and Facebook/Instagram posts of perfect parenthood; excessive parent involvement and comparisons.  I was a good parent because I knew all thirty-one names in my son’s class, stayed actively involved in PTA and knew the ins and out of the teachers, coaches, and instructors who would make my children scholarship ready and great.  But the more involved I became, the more I realized the artifice in these things; the selfish ideas of being involved so my child would get recognition and preferred treatment.  I served others to the detriment of my own sons.  As I volunteered for large organized events, my sons would sit alone on the sidelines hungry and tired.  Is this what good parenting entailed?  Was this the sacrifice needed to be a good mother?

The last school year I took a much needed break.  This school year I have renewed purpose and will practice discernment in the things I choose to do in service.  If my legacy to my sons is to become involved in their communities, as adults, I don’t want them to remember the stressed-out parent who poured out hospitality and returned with an empty cup.  True service and hospitality is in joyfully giving and expecting nothing in return.  I inherited the social aptitude of my father, the hospitable over-the-top entertaining, from my mother.  If they still were both alive I hope they’d see these traits in their only daughter.

The fall schedule is full and I welcome it.  I do not grumble.  Because the things I choose to do are things that I love; things that my children love, as well.  It has been a long, painful and circuitous route to return to this conclusion; as I continue to navigate the obstacles that will get in the way.  I now know my purpose, my own reason for being here in this stage of life.  I want to do what I love and love what I do.  Why?  First, because it makes ME happy.

School

lost ground

In one day it all came rushing back, the busy-ness that begins and lies ahead.  I immersed myself into reality and was reminded why I had chosen to go into exile.  I can’t get away from it; especially when it lives within.  I’m losing ground.

How can I be the best parent to produce successful progeny?

Almost two weeks ago I had sat with my childhood girlfriend who is a teacher.  She had recently discovered a textbook most current teachers have been introduced to in their educational studies.  But in her twenty years of teaching she had just stumbled upon it and she was mad.  Why hadn’t anyone told her about this before?

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Three hours passed as we shared experiences.  I found myself recounting experiences as the stay-at-home mom, the working mom and the volunteer mom.  Where is there time to be a wife, a friend?  It had been over a year since I last saw my childhood friend who lives less than twenty miles away.  In the end, we came back to parenting and how less stressful and vastly different it had probably been for our own parents raising us.  As tweens we had bicycled on ten-speeds four miles to a beach (each way) on a lonely road, with no helmets.  We did not fear for childhood predators.  We had no supervision.  We returned at dusk as the streetlights turned on.  We had freedom.

These days when my sons walk home (less than one mile from three different schools); texts come through asking if my boys need rides home.  The principal didn’t allow them to walk home after extra-curricular activities; permissible only if there were many children dismissed at the same time.  The helmets were bought and replaced each year as their head circumferences grew but the bike tires remained flat.   The GPS tracks their whereabouts on cell phones but these days, our street lies empty.  Kids are either inside on electronics or shuttled to countless activities for sports, the arts (lessons or classes), community service projects or after-school tutoring.  I am always happy to hear my neighbors’ kids outdoors playing baseball or playing in their backyards.  I have to plead with my own sons to join me, in triple digit heat, to swim in our own pool; IF they’re not scheduled to be somewhere else.

how to raise an adult

My current reading material is How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success  by Julie Lythcott-Haims.  It seeks answers to the same questions I’ve been asking myself the past three years.  Lost amongst the helicopter parents I struggled to find my way; grappling with guilt for not providing this same kind of parenting.  The badge of parenthood reads like a job resume; an endless list of scheduled activities, enrichment classes and internship worthy causes to claim the job position of “best parent.”  The prize?  The smartest, best-looking, talented athlete/artist/writer/musician/filmmaker/(you fill in the blank) child who is gifted with the art of gab and humbly gives back to the community; all with a rigorous academic load and a loving smile, because he/she wants to.

As a first generation child who was told to assimilate into the culture and not make waves; navigating these current waters have been tricky.  My girlfriend and I recall waking up at 5:00 AM, making our own breakfasts and sitting at our bus stops by 6:15 AM to be driven fifteen miles to the high school we attended.  Classes began at 7:05 AM.  Parents did not yell to rouse us out of bed, nor did they make our lunches, approve our clothes choices, or check our homework.  At a young age we were taught to do things for ourselves.  In order to discover answers we were forced to ask questions and assert ourselves.  My parents did not email teachers, call my counselor or volunteer in organizations to advocate for me.  In college we had been bitter as we heard of the diverse lives of our fellow students.  It was easy to blame our lack of parenting for putting us at a disadvantage.

But that really isn’t true.  We have both come to realize that our parents gave us the opportunity for growth.  Our work ethics, our independence, our successes and failures, lie upon our own shoulders.   They had prepared us.   I find my parenting style has become all of the things I had not had as a child.   I’m not sure this is entirely good.

I contemplated this as I sat in a PTA meeting listening to the discussion of how to spend funds for our school.   I was aghast at the extra funds available to spend; I being the product of a Title I school.  The girlfriend above teaches at one of the best districts in our state; a small wealthy enclave of the metropolitan city nearby.  We parent like the suburban parents around us; quickly forgetting where we came from and still feeling inadequate.  Should we enroll our kid in this after school program to catch-up?  What sport should they stick with?  What instrument should they learn to play?  What service club should they join?  I listened to the parents at the high school discussing advanced placement (AP) coursework and adding more classes to an already rigorous schedule.  There are not enough periods in a school day to accomplish the goals of becoming the best of the best; the well-rounded individual whom colleges will beg to walk through their doors.   I found myself getting sucked in; the same trap I just worked through in June.

When my son’s schedule had a glitch, I reverted back to the helicopter parent that lies within.  His schedule has been an ongoing topic of discussion since February of this year.  He grabbed his gear out of my vehicle and walked away.  I’ve got this, Mom.  The helicopter in me wanted to walk with him to the counselor’s office, to advocate… but for whose cause?  I silently watched him walk away, waved to the parents nearby and jumped into my vehicle.  I have to let him go.  He knows what he wants.

Upon arriving back to work I read the lengthy article advocating music education.  This son had chosen music over AP and, to my consternation, I still struggle with this.  I learned piano at age five.  I began playing the saxophone at age nine and continued through my four years in college.  I still play both.  But I want him to juggle it all, for the world to be his oyster.  The problem is, when one is good at many things, you cannot be great.  This is the root of my problem,  good at most things, great at none; my own inner demon that I struggle against.  Because my definition of being a good parent is creating children who surpass you.  I want my children to be great!    A Depeche Mode song comes to mind.

I need to get the balance right.

“What is the most important priority for all parents? THE FUTURE HAPPINESS OF THEIR CHILD! Mothers and fathers around the world dedicate their lives to creating an even better life for their children. In a highly competitive society they want to see their sons and daughters have every possible advantage in their educational climate, their chosen profession, and their selected community-of-living where, once again, the cycle will repeat itself with-and-for the next generation. The complexity of society’s evolutionary standards (some favorable, some not) puts responsible parents “on alert” 24/7.”  ~Lautzenheiser, Tim.  “Why Music?  Why Band?”  LinkedIn.  Marketing Vision Partners, LLC,  29 Jul 2015.  Web.  12 Aug 2015.

I struggle as I stand among these parents; knowing the academic pathway narrows.   This will be my struggle in these next few years, to not live my own ideals through my children.   I reduced my volunteer activities, evaluating the reasons why I do them.  The ones that remain are causes that I continue to believe in, not just for my children, but for all that is served by these programs and organizations.   I’ve come to realize that, maybe one day, my own sons will take up causes of their own; not for self-serving reasons, but because they are worthy.   The helicopter blades are clipped but are always ready to take flight.  I continue to learn to hand over the controls and let my children find their way.  I constantly need reminders, to save me from myself.

All he wants is a mom that accepts his choices.

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The son, yesterday morning, shared how he likes when I support his choices.  When I don’t go all crazy on him with the ten thousand questions.  He asserted his points and reminded me that all he wants is a mom that accepts his choices.   He can’t wait to drive.  And with a wave he jumped out of my vehicle, quickly walking to make it to practice on time.   School hasn’t even started and I’m already having issues.  I need to work through them and figure it out.  I stand alone fighting the crowds, trying to gain some ground.

Family, joys of jazz, School

being a lioness

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I try very hard to get a handle on the tiger mom that lies within.  You know, the one who gets competitive and wants everything to be the best.  When my boys joke about a “B” being the Asian “F” I grimace.  When I was in high school this was the kiss of death.  At fourteen I had known what universities I would apply to and, with my high school counselor’s help, worked towards that goal.

Over the years I’ve learned I must sit alone on this topic.  If surrounded by like-minded individuals it brings out the very worst in me.  It is the reason my two older sons left the sport of swimming in 2012; the year of the summer Olympics.  Michael Phelps was everywhere and my sons wanted none of it.  Amongst peers and parents seeking future Olympians the love of the sport was lost.  I sat in the stands, amongst these parents, as they advised me which coach to request while also reading Amy Chua’s book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.  A dad summed it all up.  Why pay for swimming if you don’t want to be competitive?  If you want to swim for recreation, find a community pool instead.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy competitions and the motivation to be the best me that I can be.  I love to cheer as a spectator in the stands for all things: sports, the arts or academics.  It is when the intensity becomes too high; when the motivation factor is for all the wrong reasons, that I shut down.  It is one of the toughest lessons I’ve learned over the years as a mother.  Letting go.

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So when the eldest nonchalantly handed me a paper to sign to drop AP Physics and to add a second music course; I had been caught off-guard.  His high school counselor approved of this course of action after two months of debating class schedules.  The son had already opted out of another AP class, after he insisted he wanted to take two, and after attending various parent meetings about rigor of schedule for college admissions, my mind went still.  Watching the college mania from fellow parents this past year I knew this was going to be a problem for me.  Thus, over spring break I read the book, Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania by Frank Bruni; mentally gearing up for the years that lie ahead.  My son is a freshman.

While at a school sponsored sporting event I listened to the parents in the stands, calling out to their kids.  They noticed scouts on sidelines with cameras and speed guns looking for the next NCAA athlete.  I cringed as they coached their sons and daughters; going against what the coaches were telling them.  As parents we all want what is best; we can’t help it.  But when our implicit desires conflict with our child’s; there is a problem.

I folded and tucked the drop slip between my printer and stapler.  I chose not to look at it for the rest of the weekend; much to my son’s consternation.

But he would not let it go.  The subject was revisited while with family; amongst them a middle school teacher for a charter school.  All of the adults agreed.  Why do you need to take two music classes?  Without  a cogent answer it was agreed upon that this son should do the research.  Having two music classes, just because he wanted to, was not the acceptable answer.  He needed to argue his point and present his reasoning.  And so he went to various sites online to search colleges in the areas of interest he wants to pursue.  After the third day he defiantly announced he would keep his schedule; to appease the parental units.  My red flags went up.  At the hubs’ suggestion we finally had to group email the counselor, the director and the instructor.

Neither of the first two chose to answer my email query.  The counselor had already spoken directly to our son.  There was no comment from the director.  But surprisingly, the instructor weighed in and pounced on the same line of reasoning this son found on the various websites of top universities.

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There are so many ways to navigate one’s way through high school, and it is specific to each student’s ability to balance good grades with a great attitude.

“Choose your activities because they delight, intrigue and challenge you, not because you think they’ll look impressive on your application.” “Prepare for MIT.” MIT Admissions RSS N.p., Web. 06 Jun. 2015.

“So the problem can often be well-meaning but misguided parents who try to mold their children into an image of success they value; and their children, being moldable as they are, often get on board and go along with the program before they have any capacity to make such a choice for themselves.  Yet the paradox is that the only road to real success is to become more fully oneself, to succeed in the field and on the terms that one defines for oneself.” “Preparing for College: Building a Path to Academic Success.”  Harvard College Admissions & Financial Aid RSS N.p., Web. 06 Jun. 2015.

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The son plopped his stack of printed “research” upon my desk and stalked off as another day went by.   It had surprised me as I leafed through the literature, both in the sites he chose and the one sentence summary he stated.  Balance, diversity and his true love, jazz.  The syncopated rhythm of Count Basie could be heard  on his desktop as he studied for finals.  Later that evening, as sleep eluded me; my answer finally came.  It was the one I should have known all along and I was ashamed I never saw it.

I had gotten lost in the mania I was trying to avoid and it is the reason my high school years are some of my least favorite.   In a competitive high school, such as my son’s, opting out of AP would take him out of the top ten.  He would not have the same choices I had as a senior.  Ranked third in my class I was accepted by all of my colleges; including the one I had aspired to from the very beginning.  It offered me a full ride scholarship for the course of study I wanted to pursue and I returned my letter of intent; elated.  And then I received the brochure from the university that did not offer me a full ride but had the one thing none of the others had.

A nationally known music program and marching band.

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I withdrew my letter of intent.  When people asked why I chose not to attend the university I had aspired to they were flummoxed when my answer came down to music.  I do not stay in touch with many of my high school classmates.  The few are the ones who have stood in my wedding, are godmothers to my children or are still a part of my life.  But the bonds I forged in college remain strong; my friends from marching band and the dorms as they held my hand in labor or stood beside me, as maid of honor, on my wedding day.   It is music that is always my salve.  Who was I to take this joy from my own son when years before, I made the same choices?

The hubs had slowly come to this same conclusion on his own.  He understands my tiger mother tendencies and likens me to a lioness, instead.  Lionesses hunt and gather in social groups; whereas tigers live a solitary existence.  These social groups help me navigate through this season of motherhood and I am forever grateful for their wisdom and insight.   Their diverse perspectives are welcome as we all muddle through this together.

On the last day of school the son carefully tucked the folded drop slip into his backpack.  It may be the only year he will have this opportunity; as the rigorous schedule builds in the following years where he will have to only choose one music class.  These are important years of growth and discovery and it is not I who should be defining them.  I’ve had my turn.  Now it is his.

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Family, School

the voice in the crowd

I have no voice.

I think of the irony of this statement; the once extremely shy girl who rarely spoke or looked people in the eye. Back then I wished I had been a fly sitting unobtrusively on a wall; observing the world around me.  Silence is my sanctuary.  It is welcoming.  Comforting…

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…but annoying when your primary means of communicating is verbal.  Over the years I had been encouraged to come out-of-my-shell; to advocate for myself.  These thoughts reverberated in my mind amidst the raucous yells in a crowded high school gymnasium.  I hadn’t realized the cell phone I held in my hand was ringing until I felt the vibration.  My eyes alighted on the teenagers standing tall in bleachers, screaming at the top of their lungs. The parents surrounding me were also cheering and I could hear the air push through my vocal chords but no sounds came out.  Phone in-palm, I did fist pumps instead.  It was in that moment, in the loud gym, that I realized how much I took my voice for granted.

There are so many places today where women cannot speak.  Cultures where women’s destinies lie in the hands of others; usually under heavy handed males and uncompromising circumstances.  I take for granted that my voice can be heard; that the words I write are granted in our free society.  I have the right to an opinion and with social media and the world wide web; they have the capability to be seen.  What of those who have none of these things: computers, cell phones, IP addresses; the large areas of third world countries and in rural parts of our first world own?  The book, The Pearl that Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi weighs on my mind.

I had sat in a meeting Thursday night and when I spoke, my voice came out as a squeak.  The dry cough that plagued my family had taken over my larynx and everyone leaned in to hear what I was attempting to say.  As a listening tactic at home, I lower my voice when I address my sons with something important.  Currently the noise level of my home is non-existent; my family dampening the volume and listening to discern where I am when they address me.  It is comical!

It had been easy as a thirteen year old to hide behind my girlfriends as they chattered away.  If ever I needed to speak, my friends would speak for me.  It was only in high school that I stood alone; dispersed in different classes and paths.  It was in these years that I discovered the squeaky wheel got the oil and if I didn’t discover my own voice, quickly, that I would rapidly be left behind amongst my more assertive and vocal classmates.  Whomever said grades and scores speak louder than words should qualify that statement.  You need to be able to put your actions where your mouth is.  You can be intelligent, innovative and creative (Steve Wozniak) but if you can’t get along with people or market what you do (Steve Jobs), what good does that do you?  You have to balance both of these traits to effectively maneuver the world around us.

Currently this discussion pertains to our teenager and  I understand now WHY I chose to forget about my high school years.  These are the issues I never wanted to confront, to sweep under the rug.  It is during these tumultuous years where the growth pains, failures and triumphs mark the person we were in that moment.  The acne and body changes, the clothes I couldn’t afford to wear, the trips or experiences I never had.   It is only when we are away from the intense scrutiny of popularity, athletic or academic rankings that we can figure out what truly defines a person.  Hard work.  Experience.  Social skills.  Clearly I understood the ethos of hard work and I volunteered in various clubs and activities to gain experience.  But for social skills, I was on my own.

It was in another high school gym that I was forced to find my voice.  Activities such as band allowed me to perform with a large number of people.  When chosen for a songleading squad I quaked in fear, cursing the fates.  I had thought I could blend with the girls in performing dance routines but we also had  to project our voices and cheer.  Loud.  This was not the fit for me.  I attempted to hide behind the other girls but our instructor had made it clear.  We were the ones to generate spirited yells; we had to embody these words with confidence.  Our coach would stand near me to make sure she could hear my voice as I nervously quivered.  I’d never failed anything at this point in my life.  I couldn’t fail at this.

Today my sons hear me.   I now can project my voice very loud and clear.  Across a crowded football stadium my eldest heard me shout from the top row as his marching band took the field in competition.  My middle son heard me underwater as he would  flip turn during swim meets.  In soccer, my youngest heard my whoop for joy as he blocked a shot amongst a group of defenders.  In a crowded room of adults my husband can easily find me.  From those gym drills emerged my ability to communicate, the voice which asserts my thoughts and questions the status quo.  My heart still pitter-patters before I have to publicly speak but once I begin, I am full-throttle and had to learn to wrap things up in a timely manner.   Yesterday in the crowded gym I wanted to cheer and shout with throngs of people present.  I wanted my voice back!

My ability to speak with volume, though, was not the impetus that gave me my words.  In the end it is the CONTENT of grammatical phrases and punctuation that allowed me to mean what I say and say what I mean.  It was my English teacher, who also was the debate team coach, who made this clear.  Speaking loud didn’t mean anything if there was no true meaning in what you were shouting.  You needed literature to back the words up; the wealth of information from acquired knowledge.  One needed to be well read and ultimately, the ability to be an effective speaker came down to one thing.

BOOKS.

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Initially I thought this teacher meant the classics of literature.  But no.  He meant anything and everything you could feast your eyes upon.  Science fiction, trashy magazines, graphs in the Wall Street Journal, dictionaries.  I internalized his words and my quiet, introverted personality would switch between Harlequin romance novels and any of the above.  My vocabulary grew and my thirst for knowledge exponentially grew with it.  Alongside my globe were Michener’s Hawaii, Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath and even my Harlequin romance novels.  All had a part of the choices made in my life and to this day I credit my widened perspective to these particular books.  I’ve seen this derivation of Descartes’ famous quote which embodies the person I have become.

I read therefore I am.

So, voiceless and tired, I sat and completed reading the book that I hope will bring me some parenting perspective as I maneuver through this next phase of parenting a teen: college mania.  Amongst my girlfriends I see the stress and toll the admission process has placed upon them.  I read articles of Palo Alto parents keeping watch along train tracks for suicidal teens in the month of April when acceptance and rejection letters arrive in the mail or email (gasp!)  Frank Bruni’s, Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania shed some light on what lies ahead and I thought of this as the principal read the long list of college acceptances from various seniors at our high school.  When the valedictorian and salutatorians were announced I was surprised to note that they were not the kids proudly wearing their Harvard or Yale shirts.  And I cried alongside the surprised and proud parents who claimed these seniors.  The Ivy schools were well represented in the “Top Ten” kids but so were other state and small private institutions.  My eyes were opened as I fist-pumped for their accomplishments.  Just WOW.

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I got that same feeling as I sat in an upper balcony of the large auditorium. I am a fan of writer Malcolm Gladwell; known for his books The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers & his current book David & Goliath.  When I saw he was being interviewed at the LA Times Festival of Books I went online and was able to secure two tickets to this engagement.  My first exposure to published authors began at age eleven; chosen to participate in a writer’s workshop at a university one and a half hours from my childhood home.  My GATE advisor took it upon herself to drive me there, daily, the entire week.  I had been in awe and intimidated.  I sat silently as authors shared what inspired them; my voice still hidden deep within.   I am just coming to the realization of how many adults mentored me and how grateful I am for their tutelage.  The years I chose to forget were the ones that indelibly shaped me.  The high school counselor, the cheerleading coach, the GATE advisor.  The death of my father.  The books allowed me to expand my mind beyond my claustrophobic four walls.  They were my ticket to the world beyond.  The books helped me build my vocabulary, find my words and, with the cheerleading coach, finally say them loud and clear.

For the Malcolm Gladwell conversation I sat in the same auditorium of my very first college class.  Biology 101.  All pre-meds and science majors were required to take this course their freshman year which weeded out the wheat from the chaff.  At 8 AM MWF I sat in this darkened lecture hall frantically taking notes in the front rows.  It is in the years between, then and now, that I realized I had narrowed my scope.  Hindsight brings perspective and where my true passions lay were in the globes and maps and demographics.  I loved statistics and had, instead, narrowed my choices to medicine.  It was after completing my one year in a medical school did I realize this was not the career path for me; much to the shock of my family and friends.

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On the way home from the Festival of Books the eldest re-initiated the conversation from two weeks before.  While I sat listening to Gladwell my husband, best friend and his wife set out to show our children the various places they hung out in our years of college here.  They toured science and engineering quads, peered into computer labs,  Heisman trophies and film school buildings.  The kids listened intently as the three of them shared stories of late nights studying or socializing.  They heard Jeff Kinney, the creator of the Diary of A Wimpy Kid books and cartoons, recount how his life brought him to his present occupation.  The books and authors were everywhere as they toured the campus for almost two hours.  The stats ring true: kids whose parents have gone to college will most likely take the same route.  I tell my son to open his mind and widen his perspective.  We need to open these doors to all kids in diverse socio- and economic circumstances.  Books can be that portal to bridge the gap to get them there.

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It takes almost twenty four hours for the last three days to really sink in.  The rally.  The friends.  The festival.  I had thought excessive pride and hubris was the trait I despised the most in people.  But as I processed the conversations over the past few days I realized I have been wrong.  Narrow-mindedness is the crux that I am least tolerant and empathetic; the parachute that leaves me drifting and bound.  In cutting the ties to this trait, I can explore outside my boundaries to the great outdoors and beyond.

I am expanding horizons. 

The world is my oyster.  I want my son to know this as he enters the cogwheel of these stressful high school years.  To not limit himself to the rules and boundaries; the safe paths people doggedly tread to get to the end destination.  I want him to walk his journey and trail blaze his own path; to not follow my own, or his father’s or his peers’.  I strive to impress this upon each of my children because they are all unique and their strengths and weaknesses are different.  It is my job, as a parent, to foster broader horizons and perspectives, to encourage the pursuit of knowledge and to allow my kids to explore their passions whether it be books, music, sports or pop culture.

I ponder if the computer and internet are the books of my children’s generation; opening boundaries to the web world wide.  May they enjoy what they read.  To  read their own words.  To passionately pursue what they enjoy for their own life paths.

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May you continue to read, forever and always.  Find your voice.  Step outside the box.

Family, School

what fall means to me

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Camera battery, check Stadium seats, check. 

I voiced aloud the checklist that ran in my head of items we needed to do before we headed downtown.

Gas and ATM, to do. 

I communicated this to the hubs and the two things that absolutely had to get accomplished: a family picture in front of TommyTrojan and a trip into the bookstore to get a new lanyard.

Silence was my response.

I began to backtrack from our destination leave time and rattled off possible places to eat on our itinerary.  What else do you want me to pack?  Are you listening to me?

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Normally this is the hubs’ m.o. (modus operandi aka mode of operation).   The goal was to complete these items before our 4:30 PM destination.  As we sat in the triple digit heat, windows open, in our son’s high school parking lot I finally heard him roar.  The itinerary for the NASA space shuttle launch was stressing him out.  What I thought was being considerate and informative was taking all the fun and spontaneity out of our family outing.

But how could this be?  I was clearly communicating my needs and wants in his mode of operation?  Isn’t this what he preferred?

But the memo I missed was that m.o. is only in situations where we are REQUIRED to be somewhere; the set schedule was not welcome in times of leisure.   As we awaited the eldest to emerge, from practice at 1 PM, we debated in the car.  One son agreed that my itinerary was too involved.  The other son felt I was being courteous.  The father in the adjoining car,  smirked as he listened to our heated exchange.  It was only when the hubs pretended he was commanding mission control for our impossible rocket launch that the tension eased.  I decided to remain quiet.

And of course, none of it went according to plan.  As we sat in traffic I quietly thought of green pastures and sheep; pretending to count.  I tried, unsuccessfully not to brood.  When the hubs asked if he should off-road from our planned course it was all I could do to turn on my mobile device app; annoyed.  Why would there be so much traffic?  Our Dodgers were in division play-offs at home (thankfully the Angels were in Kansas City), our cross-town rivals were playing at the Rose Bowl and cars were everywhere.   Eventually we detoured and found ourselves in the garment district awaiting large groups of people to cross.  It was over 100 degrees.  I didn’t dare look at the time.  My jaw was aching from chewing my frustration.  The poor Mentos gum didn’t have a chance.

How is it that in all of our years of marriage, we haven’t figured this stuff out?

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The irony was that we were returning to the place where our paths crossed; the extroverted girl and the introverted guy.  It is a testament that we’ve remained married; ’til death do us part.  I continued to macerate the tasteless, rubber-like substance in my mouth; valiantly trying to keep my mouth shut.   The hubs dutifully drove.  After several attempts to cajole he knew to let me be.  Upon arrival all parking lots were full.  It is only because of the reserved parking, obtained by our dear friend, that allowed my husband to deliver us in a timely manner.  Thank you.

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In a sea of cardinal and gold I hung back, watching my sons take the sights in.   They are continually growing and was shocked to note my eldest is reaching the height of my hubs.  When our schedules had not been so busy we would make the trek to our alma mater once  a year during Homecoming.    It is a tradition started by my dear late cousin; the gracious and over-the-top host.  It was he who gathered friends and family from all walks of life onto his beloved  campus; the Hibachi grill fired up with all things wonderful to eat.    It was an incredible amount of work but it is one of the fondest memories I have of fall; the leaves turning as we tailgated.

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After his passing; the tradition went with him.   Amongst the people who have highly influenced my life (my high school counselor, my songleading coach, and dear college advisor) this cousin is at the top of the list; my father figure.  When I withdrew my  acceptance form  to matriculate to UC Berkeley as a declared chemistry major; my high school physics teacher had been beside himself.  Why would you give up admission to a stellar science program?

The answer.  FootballDid I mention I love football?

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This fall I am in hog pigskin heaven?  Friday nights I can now attend our local high school games such as the Homecoming game above.  I’d like to say I am there to support my son’s band endeavors…but I also love to watch high school and college football.  The kids, they play their hearts out.

This is what fall means to me. 

In the end, I never became the academic chemist working for the National Cancer Institute finding cures for the “emperor of all maladies;” the big “C,” that I wrote about in my admission essays.  I have a minor in this field.  But as the hubs will tell you…the retention for all things chemical, if not thermodynamics, was lost.  In my current career and extracurricular endeavors the majors I should’ve chosen: business and accounting.    Just as my father had advised my cousin before me, he chose this place for his advanced degrees.  My cousin promised my father, when he passed in 1989, he’d return the favor.  And so he did.

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I have been in these seats many times before.  But this time, it was different.    Initially my youngest son cried with all the hollering.  But after explaining the rules of the game it was this son that yelled the loudest.   He is now old enough to understand the game and actively participated in it.  The older boys, after griping and complaining that they would be away from their precious computer screens, held their phones.  I had thought they were playing online games but discovered they were snapping photos.  They were equally vested in this game as we were.

It was later that the hubs relayed the story of our middle son nudging the older one as he watched the Trojan Marching Band perform their pregame show.

One day you’ll be there bro. 

The brother nodded; acknowledging.  The hubs, brought to tears, turned to the middle one.

Hey chuckle-head!  You’ll be out there on that field too.

The middle son had impishly smirked back.    As the game intensified I noted an older couple to my left.  When the third down bell rang throughout the Coliseum, it was this couple that stood before the rest; urging the crowd to get up and cheer our team on.  Amidst the roar I yelled across our five seats to the hubs and pointed.  This is what I want you and I to be, someday.

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Across the row the hubs beamed; meaning clear.  Most times our non-verbal communication is more effective than the words.   Although our fall schedule is hectic we take it all in stride; soaking it in.  We both know our time with our three sons is limited; making Herculean efforts to always show support and to be present.  Our annual visit to our alma mater is a a reminder of where we came from and how, in the twenty four years since that first meeting; we’ve evolved.

It’s like coming home.

In all of the years we’ve returned here, this time our sons got it.  As the hubs and I reminisced we were surprised at their questions as we walked the paths of twenty plus years before.  My boys may never attend here but they will remember the memories of family and friends gathering.   Cheering.  And standing in shocked, silent disbelief as our sure team victory became a last second loss; the Hail Mary pass sailing above the defenders into the hands of our opponent.

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During our military travels away from home, all I needed to do was walk into a Catholic church and the feelings of community overwhelmed me.   It is the same when I walk this turf; the tree-lined campus in the middle of south central Los Angeles.  It may not be pretty.  It may not be the best.  It is where my life collided.  It is home; BAE (before anyone/anywhere else).

It was fitting that this reading from Philippians 4:6-9 was presented the very next day as the kids and non-Catholic hubs served.

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6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me–put it into practice.   And the God of peace will be with you.

The hubs and I continue to march to the beats of different drummers.  I am still the extrovert; the hubs remains the introvert.   It is our life’s work; to continue to work on our marriage; to be transparent to our sons.  We both continually learn to be spontaneous and organized; to give and take.   To love and to hold, til death do us part.  I am glad I kept my words to myself; to fight for what I’ve learned and to attempt to put it into practice.  Most days I do a poor job of it.  I am grateful in this instance that I succeeded.   You win some, you lose some.  I’ll take the small victories as they come.

Eventually we arrive in the same place.   I continue to Fight On.

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