friendships, School, Work

take two, or five

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ouch.  To this I must plead guilty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Family, friendships, Marriage, Work

Note to self…go for broke

2005

Our bookclub recently read the book, What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty.  It is about a thirty-nine year old woman who suffers memory loss, after a fall, and has forgotten the last decade of her life.  During our discussion, amongst the ten of us, we pondered how our lives were ten years ago and how we’ve changed to whom we are now.  Have we changed for better or for worse?  What will we be like ten years into the future and what would you write to your future self?

2006

Ten years ago I’d hear this phrase repeated often.  Enjoy it now because it goes by in a blink.  At the time I lacked sleep and chased three sons under the age of five.  But you know what?   It is so true.  Time is flying.

2007

As  I had looked around the circle, at bookclub,  I realized that I had known this month’s host for over ten years.  Our eldest children were in kindergarten and I had a three month old son (hers was still in utero) when we met in September 2005.  From 2004-2007 the hubs had lived on an aircraft carrier and so our three sons and I lived one hundred miles away where both sides of our family lived.

2008

When his three year sea duty ended and he transferred to shore duty; our young family relocated from our “forever home” to live together for the next three years.  This girlfriend and her family came to visit us when we moved away and three years later, in 2009, we returned.  Soon after she and I formed our current bookclub, which officially began in January 2010.   We’ve both gone through many transitions in these ten years and I found my eyes refocusing on her, to arrive back into the present.

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We should do it.  Write letters to ourselves ten years from now.  We had all looked at one another expectantly.  One of the girls had written letters to her daughters when she had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer and revised it, recently, when undergoing another health scare.  But what would you write to your future self?  It was an intriguing thought.

2010

Throughout the nine hours it took to obliterate Christmas from our household, I contemplated this.  I wrapped my photo ornaments with care, my prized possessions.  Each year I buy three of them; placing each of my sons’ current school portraits until each one graduates from high school.  I told the hubs that one day I would give each of our sons their ornaments (from birth to age 17) for their own Christmas trees.  He had scoffed.  Who was I kidding?  I probably will keep them for myself.   I found the Christmas card photos from the past ten years.  I remember each and every photo as if it was taken yesterday.

2011

Here it goes, my note to self.

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Dear Ten Years Older Self,

I’d like to imagine that you’ve become wiser, aged gracefully and currently live an active and fulfilling life.

I pray that you are still happily married to the man you met, at age eighteen, in calculus lab and have weathered through any “itches” and mid-life crises “storms” successfully.  My hope is that the hubs and I better communicate our needs with each other; that we’ve mastered the art of compromise.  My ego has, hopefully, lessened with the desire to always be right and I’ve learned grace and forgiveness. Time is the greatest equalizer and after almost thirty years of marriage I trust that we’d have figured all of that out.   The date nights without kids, over the last ten years, were supposed to prepare us for when we became empty-nesters.  Did they work?  If they did, then we have other things to share instead of always talking about work or the kids.

I hope that we’ve grown the business where we’re financially secure, that our home is almost paid off and upgraded with our wish list we had ten years ago.    I expect that we have hobbies and travel with our newfound freedom.  That we’ve  dropped any excess weight from our fourth decade, and continue to aspire for better health and fitness goals.  We are supposed to hike the great outdoors and continue on our quest to hit as many National Parks and “ancient world wonders” as we possibly can.  The hubs better still be alive to do all these things with me!  I dream of growing old together in matching rocking chairs; the hubs with the DVR remote; myself with a book and blanket rocking alongside.

Please tell me that you enjoyed the time with the boys while they still lived under the same roof!  That you stopped and made time to hear them and found your balance, instead of busily doing acts of service for others.  Did they become what you imagined them to be?  Now the boys are in their twenties and, hopefully, the youngest is almost out of college.   I’m optimistic that the older boys have found careers where they do what they love and love what they do.   My wish is that they’ve met true friends, maybe found true love.  I’m not sure if I’d want the boys to have kids just yet; they have their whole lives ahead of them. 

I also hope they’ve made healthy choices and continued in their faith journey.  I desire a strong, close relationship with each of our boys and if, upon reading this, I do not; then it is time to make things right.  Unlike my mother, I won’t require my sons to come at my beck and call.  I want them to explore new opportunities, travel and discover who they are.  I want them to visit or talk to me, not because they have to but because they want to.

I’m hoping the bookclub girls are still reading alongside and that at this point in our lives; we’re attending one another’s children’s weddings and, quite possibly, becoming grandparents. Maybe we now have found the time to take our “field trips” to various places we kept talking about visiting and are doing our own version of the book, Annie’s Freeman’s Fabulous Traveling Funeral by Kris Radish.  I hope that we navigated through life’s milestones, the good, the bad and the ugly, together and built each other up versus tore one another down.

Am I still volunteering time to the organizations that have impacted my life and family?  The Alzheimer’s Association?  The music programs my kids were involved with?  I’ve been blessed to have worked with phenomenal individuals and expect to continue to advocate for these programs so that others may have this same experience.  If I’ve given this up, then now is the time to start; to pay it forward. 

I know that the friends who’ve remained with me, this long, are keepers; our relationships deepening and aging like a fine wine with an aromatic bouquet.  We have so many memories together and I hope for many more to come. But I will always leave room to meet new people and to continue to diversify.  May I have remained open-minded and hospitable.

I’m realizing my letter to myself is getting a bit long; that I have many expectations of what I want to have accomplished.  So ten years from now I wish to have the love and friendship of those who can grow with me and accept the changes and transitions that life is always going to bring.

Love from your former self

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2012

Surprisingly, it took me over two days to actually type the above letter.  The hubs and I walked down grocery aisles as I asked him what he wanted for us in ten years’ time.  We began to think back over the last ten years.  Was it what we had expected? 

2013

For the hubs, he has reaped the rewards of being home with his family.  When he exited the military he had already spent nine years away from our eldest, seven from the middle and three years from our youngest.  He had been gone more than he had been home.  It has been a privilege to see our progeny grow into the men they will become and the financial hit we took was worth the opportunity.  But he had not expected the finances to be so lean, for the recession in the economy to impact the small family business that has existed in his family for over twenty five years.

2014

Life is always give and take.   Already in this new year the tidings have not been good.  The girlfriend who had returned home from the hospital is, once again, back in it.  The dear family friend, whom we just visited over the holidays and diagnosed with lupus, is now on a kidney transplant list.  And the news arrived that the great grandfather to our sons passed away yesterday and, though it was expected, still brings sadness to our entire family.  Life is so precarious and we never know where it will take us.  As we walked to our car, discussing these things, we decided that this is the year we will go for broke.

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We must always give our best in everything because why live life if we don’t? 

What we give to our life is what our life gives us in return.  Go for broke.

Family, friendships

comin’ out

I’m coming out
I want the world to know
Got to let it show
I’m coming out
I want the world to know
I got to let it show

There’s a new me coming out
And I just have to live
And I wanna give
I’m completely positive
I think this time around
I am gonna do it
Like you never knew it
Oh, I’ll make it through

The time has come for me
To break out of this shell
I have to shout
That I am coming out ~ Diana Ross

The words keep comin’ and it’s about time.  My fingers can once again fly across the computer and piano keyboards; finding their way.  When the words don’t magically form, music becomes my muse expressing where my thoughts lie.  My household knows this about me and I’ve just recently noticed that my children, too, have their own “theme music” representing their moods.

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In over twenty years of knowing one another our marital relationship sometimes resembles tug ‘o war.  The hubs usually gives a gentle push while I reciprocate with a forceful shove.   We tend to cancel each other out; finding a middle ground but lately I’ve been shoveling it out and it was time he gave it back in return.  He lets me know that I’m stuck like a broken record; ruminating on the same things.  It is rare that my introvert husband takes me on but when he does; his words slice through the bull and cut right to the truth.  It is why we are still married.

You’d think I’d know better than to push him around and he knows I stand my ground.  But he also reminds me when to tug back the rope; to relent and compromise my stance.  This will always be my struggle; the battle to win and be right.  These days I try not to push too hard.

Sometimes when I come right out and say things they appear harsh.  It takes me time, sometimes, to say what I mean but when I finally do my alpha personality comes out.  I have only learned to mediate with others because I have had to deal with the aftermath of inserting my foot in my mouth; multiple times.  But it takes courage to own what you say; to work on being authentic to who you are to not try to please others.  Putting oneself out there is much harder than being safely within one’s own walls.  Trust me, I know.  And the person that always puts themselves out there, again and again knowing they will be judged, will have my utmost respect.

I’m comin’ out and I’m ready to bring it.

And so I acknowledge the white elephants and answer the hard questions that I usually sweep under the rug for another day.  I push through the issues on the backburner and finally feel relief that I can speak my words.  The texts rapidly came through my mobile; wondering what brought this on.  It is only as I’ve navigated through the various relationships and associations in my life that I can gain perspective and realize where it is that I stand.  And the conclusion I arrived at was that I tend to stand alone.

It is hard to walk the path of authenticity.  I can easily tip toe the happy medium; the tightrope of political correctness and mediation.  But now I see that at times I just have to leap and put myself out there; knowing the things I have to say are the least popular.  My delivery could use some improvement but it is my goal in this life to finally be true to who I am.  Integrity trumps popularity.  It is my girlfriend who allowed me to see this; the one who left the comforts of her nice life and chose the harder path and go it alone with three girls.   The one who also created our reading group.

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I am humbled with this knowledge.  It’s not your monetary worth, your highest level of education or your job title that marks the person I respect.

It is one who can pick themselves up, after being knocked down, and willingly give the best part of themselves each and every time. 

Those who judge behind high walls and closed doors don’t live life.  That’s not who I want to be.  And a year ago, that was exactly me.

And so we push each other to be the best that we can be; these two women that I walk with at 5:30 AM.  The mud run we are signed up for is sooooo out of our comfort zone but we are rising to the challenge.  And we do it, not because it’s the in thing to do.  We’re doing it together as women to build each other up, not tear each other down.  We push only for ourselves.

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Because we’ve all realized that when someone else does the pushing (to be more, to be something or someone you are not) that we are not doing our spouses and kids any favors.   I think of the swim meets, the track races, the things the hubs and I wanted for our boys for fun.  But it was when it became something else, to be the best, that it became a noose.  The years of sitting at the piano bench, hammering out scales and chords, from age five to sixteen, kept me away from the keyboards.  It is only decades later that I can once again sit before the ivories, reading music, not because I have to but because I want to.   The words and music continue to pour forth, coming through once again.

Family, friendships

welcome to motherhood

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As soon as I entered my girlfriend’s car we started to download.  I have no idea how you do it with three, she says.  I can barely keep it together with my one.  We share our week’s schedule and commiserate; all of our evenings full.  Where does the time go?

I think of the family member about to deliver her baby girl on Friday as I wrapped party favors in tulle for another girlfriend’s baby shower at the end of the month.  It seems the May flowers are followed by lots of baby showers.  One will become a mother for the very first time right before Mother’s day; the other is a seasoned mom expecting her third.  The words form in my mind.

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Welcome to motherhood.

The group of women wrapping and chatting all have phones in hand; staring at schedules.  Our lives are dependent on these mobile devices for scheduling, keeping tabs on work emails, tracking children’s whereabouts, stalking them on social media or scanning Fakebook and Instagram.  We peer into our peers’ lives; absorbing posts of exotic places and active pursuits while we sit within our own chairs; enviously living vicariously through others’ Fakebook photos.  The one shot does not reflect the rest of the twenty three hours spent in a day but we Like what they do and compare what we don’t.

We are mothers.

Our bookclub is currently reading, The Pile of Stuff at the Bottom of the Stairs by Christina Hopkinson; rife with British humor and lists of the things we need to do or the things that we don’t; the honey-do list.  But what if the honey doesn’t actually get to it?  That’s where we, moms, create lists of all the things undone; the pile of stuff at the bottom of the stairs.  The fingerprints on the bathroom mirrors.  The leaky sprinkler head that will lead to a fine since our state is in a drought.  Our wine fest (the h is missing) this second Friday of the month happens to fall on the weekend of Mother’s Day and always leads to lively conversation.

In the first years of forming our reading group we had grand expectations of how the day of the mother would be spent with our young children.  No cooking, no cleaning, no mothering; just pampering.  We beamed happily at projects made at school, poems written, cards drawn. But as the years have progressed reality has set in as year-after-year high expectations are unmet and filled with disappointment.  These days the teens sullenly sit; forced to be away from social media, friends and electronics to humor their mothers’ bidding.  The husbands jump through hoops to meet these demands to make things happen.  But is it ever enough?  How can one day encompass all of our days, our hopes, our dreams?  Can one day make me feel appreciated for the 364 other ones?

I imagine our pregnant family member holding her newborn daughter for the first time this Friday.  The joy.  The fear.  The great unknown.  That evening I’ll sit with my girlfriends dissecting the book above as we learn how to balance our lives with kids and feel appreciated as women in midlife.  We yearn to still be needed, like mothers of young children, but we now must let our tweens and teens go and search for our own identities.  Now what?  Now our children drive cars, will graduate from high school and have relationships that usurp their time away from us.    What does motherhood mean now?  Without this label, who is the person beneath?

The Bellamy Brothers song transports me back to the 70s and to my own mother; singing at the top of her lungs in her heavily accented voice.

Just let your love flow like a mountain stream
And let your love grow with the smallest of dreams
And let your love show and you’ll know what I mean
It’s the season

Let your love fly like a bird on a wing
And let your love bind you to all living things
And let your love shine and you’ll know what I mean
That’s the reason

It comes full circle; the moment when you truly appreciate what being a mother means.  Homemade dinnertime meals created nightly.  Clothes sewn and repaired; laundry hung until the dryer came into our household.  Toilets were cleaned, mirrors shined, fresh vegetables and flowers grown.  I always knew I had a place where I belonged even as my mother harangued me to clean.  My mantra always angered her; sassily responding to demands with this, that and everything that and I felt the sting of being disrespectful.  She felt my forehead whenever it felt hot; made soups and meals to fight the colds.  She taught me to be hospitable and to remember my upbringing and faith as I prepared to spread my wings in the pursuit of higher education and knowledge.  She made me pick strawberries in the fields, one summer, to know what hard, back-breaking work felt like.  The culture and generational gaps loomed large yet her love was always unconditional.

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My one hour early morning walk brings me clarity before the detritus of details and schedules settle in.  As I enter my house at 6:30 AM the pile of clothes await me at the bottom of the stairs; not quite making it into hampers or washing machines.  I guzzle my ice water to swallow vitamins as I clear dishes from my dishwasher and pack school lunches.  Soon after I rush up the stairs, two steps at a time, if I do not hear the pitter-patter of three pairs of feet showering or getting ready for school.   I shake the husband awake amidst dueling alarms ringing at the loudest settings and return downstairs to start a breakfast of champions aka Eggo Waffles (my husband gags at this atrocity of GMO corn processed product not homemade) before my eldest and hubs set off at 7 AM.  I then rush back upstairs to my own shower and any remaining time, if there are no glitches or searching for lost items, is spent grabbing coffee and at 7:25 AM off we go.  I attempt to be the calm and serene drill sergeant getting my troops ready for battle; retired Navy husband included.  None of the occupants in my household are morning people except for myself.

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As our work day progressed I heard the pitter-patter of feet above; our roof at work completely being redone.  The cranes, hammers and drills initially had me under my desk; thinking there was an earthquake until I became accustomed to the shaking and noise.  As phones rang and customers came to and fro, my motherhood hat disappeared and just the drill sergeant remained.  That is, until my phone rings daily at 3:23 PM; our youngest informing us that all have arrived back to base, safe and sound.  The sounds of gunfire can be heard through my headset as our three sons take a brief respite with Call of Duty, DOTA or Skryim on computer consoles.  Otherwise our blender can be heard in the background as the middle son rapidly depletes our fridge and fruit supply for smoothies.  I return home, an hour later, to the battle scene; banana peels and strawberry tops  strewn everywhere as yet another gallon of orange juice is emptied.  As I walk through our garage entry IF there are any words emerging from our den, they are, What is for dinner Mom?  Mom then initiates clean-up and dinner prep begins.

I inform my troops of our evening schedule.  One child needs to be at CCD at church, the other at lessons and the third works on homework while the hubs and I tag team whom will transport and pick-up whom.  But wait!  I also have a meeting at the high school for three hours as I place dinner on the table, change from my work attire and head right back out the door.  When I return at 10PM I hear the pitter-patter of three pairs of feet, and the fourth moving more slowly; up the stairs and into rooms.  It is 10PM and upon my entry; they pretend they are all ready for bed to do this all over again the very next day.  I fall asleep to the open Kindle with our bookclub novel.  I can barely keep my eyes open as I read about a woman trying to balance her life with work, her spouse and motherhood.  My eyes glaze over as I think of my schedule; which is full the entire seven day week.  I know this craziness will soon end and I have learned to embrace it.

Yep.  Welcome to motherhood.

I continue to grow as I transition into midlife.  Stuck at a traffic light I begin to recite the phrase from the Robert Munsch book I’ll Love You Forever to my eldest son and I see the quick smile before he looks away and out the window; trapped in my vehicle.  I tell him when he’s a dad I will hunt him and find him; to recite these words so he doesn’t forget.

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“I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,
as long as I’m living
my baby you’ll be.”

Yes, it is human nature to always seek recognition and appreciation.  We want to know that we have something to contribute; that our lives have meaning.  We want tangible objects to symbolize our worth: the big gleaming home with top-of- the- line appliances, the accoutrements of success such as the fancy cars, the exotic vacations and weekly spa packages.  The flowers and chocolates and thank yous will flow this coming weekend to acknowledge what we do; if only for a day.  I will accept these words and sentiments for my husband, for my kids.  But my love language is in service and, though usually, this means I want a clean house; what I truly desire cannot be hung on a wall or posted on social media.

Let your love flow.

I want my sons to let their love flow, to embody the words from the Bellamy Brothers song above.  I tell my youngest son to add this song to my obituary playlist for he and his brothers to remember me by.  My boys are accustomed to this ongoing discussion; though tears spring to his nine year old eyes.  “Years and years down the road,” I tell him, “When you hear this song I want you to always think of me singing it with the car windows down and music blaring; just as I see my own mother singing in my childhood kitchen.”  He nods his head solemnly.

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May the gift of music always live in their hearts just as it does in mine.  Each day I feel my heart breaking as my boys grow and take steps away from me as they strive for independence.  Motherhood is no cake walk in the park.  It brings me heart wringing pain and soaring joy.  May you wear this thankless badge with pride.  It.  Is.  Worth it.

Family, friendships

piecing it together

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Did you know January was national jigsaw puzzle month?  January 29th is national puzzle day.

The youngest son opened the box and dumped all one thousand pieces upon our coffee table.  Between the two of us we spread and turned them, print side up, to lay everything out.  Mom, one thousand pieces?  I don’t know if we can do this.

It was overwhelming to see everything laid out before us.   As I stepped away to take a phone call I could hear him repeat aloud… one thousand pieces.  When I returned I found the hubs and middle son repeating the same phrase.  To my surprise the youngest had already begun to piece together several pieces and the middle son asked how he knew where to start.

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“I don’t (know where to start),”  the youngest replied, “but I thought I’d try somewhere.  You first have to look for colors.”

For several days I was busy with various tasks and projects and when I finally sat before the cluttered table I noted sections of the jigsaw had been started.  At random moments the members of my family had sat before the puzzle placing similar colored pieces near one another; staring intently at the box cover and strategically placing them.  I began to find the straight edged pieces and put them on the periphery; knowing if I could piece the outer edges it would be easier to fill in.  Two hours passed me by.  The eldest peered over my shoulder and placed same colored pieces where it showed that color on the cover.  We were devising a strategy and it was slowly coming together.

I am finally at the point where I can work through the detritus and focus.  To sort and create piles, with the pieces I want to keep, and systematically work through them. 

Last year I took a break and sat back; laying all of my broken pieces  out in the open. I was Humpty-Dumpty.  But now that this work has been done I must learn to piece it all together to complete the picture.  For a long time I haven’t been able to see it, the big picture.  To become whole.

And so, piece by excruciating piece, I stare; sorting through the pieces that fit and leaving gaps where they don’t.  It is a slow process.   As a child I did not have opportunities to play with jigsaw puzzles; nor would I have the patience to choose to work on one.  I was always on the go rarely sitting still.

But sometimes seeing things through the eyes of a child are a lot clearer than my tainted adult ones.  In October, during parent-teacher conferences, my youngest’s fourth grade teacher mentioned how he enjoyed sitting in front of the two hundred piece puzzle; figuring it out.  The teacher would occasionally offer suggestions and noted how he began to sort the pieces on his own; surprised that he had the patience to figure it out.  He was sad when he and a few of his classmates finally completed the puzzle.  I had walked over to observe him and was immediately overwhelmed.  Why would anyone want to sit there and do this; particularly this busy child?

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After the busy-ness of Christmas I appreciate the simple decor of my home.  When my children were infants I began to collect seasonal decorations that changed with each holiday.  But in January the house is barren of colorful decorations; the simple neutral tones of brown throughout my home prominent.  Most years I am sad  to pack away the bright reds and greens of Christmas but this year I crave the simplicity.  I am beginning the new year with a clean slate and my environment is reflecting it.

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The lone themed item in my home sits upon my piano.  This January the reading group I am involved with is celebrating its fifth anniversary.   These days kids are distracted by many things: gaming consoles, TV, the Internet and social media, mobile devices and iPods/tablets.  But growing up I escaped and explored within the pages of a book.  Various studies have shown that the single thing parents can do, with and for their children, is to foster their love for reading and literature.   Avid readers are most likely to succeed later in life.

As my day to host arrived I considered packing up the jigsaw and putting it away.  I decided to leave it; the puzzle being a picture of an old bookstore with classics upon its cover.   With this group of ten I have read fifty-two books in our five years.  I have been pushed to read outside of my preferred genres and have discovered new ones.  Relationships I never would have pursued have withstood harsh life events of sickness, separation and divorce.  Just recently we have been able to celebrate the joys of birth and will do so a second time.   And I, the only child, can now experience life with nine other sisters.

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I had scavenged for all things French; themed by my book choice by Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See.  The unfortunate events in Paris, France  last week weighed heavily on my mind.  I filled in more pieces of the puzzle between tasks.

I used to think that establishing boundaries kept me safe and grounded me.  But this is the year that I will walk outside of my comfort zone; to open doors.  It is much easier to stay within my four walls; to withdraw from the world so that it cannot negatively affect me.  I do not wish for drama or negativity.  But in closing doors I’ve also realized that the good things also remain outside.

It has taken me awhile to even see the good; as I allowed myself the time to feel the things I am too busy to deal with.  Sadness.  Anger.  Fear.  My mother had taught me to never let anyone see your weaknesses.  She disliked public displays of affection; crying in particular.  Pride was something she always wore but it took years to realize that it had alienated her; leaving her often alone.

Through the years I have also navigated these paths; the ego needing accolades and things to feel worth.  Birthing children made me realize that those things did not matter.  It was in the selfless, thankless job of parenthood that I finally realized life; full circle.  Humbly cleaning messes up every day.  Quietly creating meals and washing clothes.  But as the children grew older, louder and ungrateful the doubts began to creep in.

I had needed outside validation to remind me of my worth; the acts of service defining what I was.  My hubris began to alienate me from my family within my four walls; usurping my time and energy.  But more importantly, I was alienated from my own self.  I wasn’t being true to who I was.  And then I questioned who and what that person would be…the one deep inside of me.

  • the insanity T25 P90X’er wanna-be fit person running 5Ks
  • the multi-tasker who thrives on activity and busy-ness
  • the reader in the darkened room, illuminated by a lone lamp
  • the observer in the back sitting apart from the drama
  • the digital photo journalist;  creating books or typing words
  • the  unglorified accountant; balancing ledgers and budgets
  • the quiet Catholic on the wooden pews
  • the loud spectator of sports and music; audio blaring
  • the cynic that chooses to sit within her four walls
  • the mother raising three boys; not so very successfully
  • the not very long-haired wife of the introvert
  • the woman addicted to coffee; chattering away with friends
  • the educated person who does nothing with her degrees
  • the one who used to serve for not very good reasons

The joy of giving of self, time, and things had been lost.  I was spent.  I had let my own pride define me, just as my mother had.  Walls up, I had become lost in service.  Holding things back and burying them deep did not bring authenticity or transparency.  It created walls and boundaries; safe but isolated spaces.

It is not in the things that I do, the way that I look, the items I own or the titles and status that mark the person that I am.  It is in the ties with others that can bring true and authentic happiness.  To expect nothing and to give everything.

  • to step in the path of the person who doesn’t consistently acknowledge you and say hello
  • to make the choice to serve without excuses
  • to speak the words that are true; not bury them to fester for another day
  • to accept rejection/failure; allowing it to be felt and dealt with
  • to put myself out there, out of my comfort zone, to grow and learn
  • to choose what is right; not what is easy

The culmination of these thoughts arrived a few days before as we decided where to eat for our breakfast date.  I have always given the choice to the hubs and he called me out.  For once, you choose the place.  It is easier to place the blame on someone else when the choice wasn’t yours and things go wrong.  He has voiced this aloud a few times but it was only this Friday that my ears and heart were open to listen.

I must live my life by owning my choices.  To fully accept the outcomes, the good and the bad.

2015 is the year I choose to take the road less traveled.  To allow myself to sort through the bitterness, joy, anger, curiosity, sadness,  and peace to fit together the pieces of my own jigsaw puzzle.  There are many holes and pieces yet to discover and others that do not belong.   I have to start somewhere.  I am piecing it together.

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Family, friendships

open chapters

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Books.  They changed my life.

“…people who read literary fiction (as opposed to popular fiction or nonfiction) were better able to detect another’s emotions…”

Levitin, Daniel J. The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overlaod. New York: Dutton Adult, 2014. Kindle file.

They are seemingly innocuous; the opaque, off-white, inked parchment bound in spines.   As a young girl I fingered the pages; reverently turning them as I tried to decipher the meaning of the phrases.  From the safety of my twin bed I would be transported to places beyond; a welcome escape from the dull every day of my solitary world.  My most  cherished and well-worn book in my collection?  A used dictionary from a thrift shop that I had begged my mother to purchase at age ten.   I coveted a thesaurus; something I would not own until my first year in college.

As my mother shopped in the grocery store, next door, I sat in the thrift shop; absorbing the words in the short hour allocated to purchasing food staples.  To my mother books were a waste of time; my energy better utilized in cleaning house and learning how to sew and cook.  Books would get me nowhere.

Recently I caught myself reciting this phrase to my children, inserting computer gaming instead of books.   It is easy to place the blame on the plastic encased whir of electrical circuitry; the imagery on the monitors.  Instead of socializing with their peers my sons sit in chairs talking on headsets to friends from borders beyond.  There is no face-to-face time unless they decide to Skype.  When the procrastination sets in, it is the computer’s fault for distracting them.  Books or television no longer are the primary ways to escape reality.

It’s easy to externalize my fears onto an object; harder to acknowledge that they are my very own; that I have fault in propagating them.

I worry that my sons won’t know how to successfully navigate the social world; to practice the art of communication.  They are solitary figures lit up by high res screens.  They don’t need to know how to read body cues; to learn reciprocity or empathy.  Instead, they are  buffered by bandwidths and short typewritten acronyms like AFK (away from keyboard).  BRB (be right back).  TY, YW & GG (thank you, your welcome and good game).  The nuances of spoken language and face-to-face time are being lost in this generation.   How can I create change, to fix my complacency?

I’ve immersed myself in literature: parenting, education and self-help books.  I read memoirs and blogs; gleaning tidbits on what to expect; reading literary fiction in-between to take a mental break.  But am I not, too, lost in solitary confinement not practicing what I preach?  Information means nothing if you do not put it into practice.  One of the best indicators of success in our children, according to The Smartest Kids in the World author Amanda Ripley; is to model reading for them.  Avid readers become critical thinkers.  But does this make them better communicators?

This is where the books come in.

I remember when they re-entered my life after a long hiatus.  I was busy parenting young sons; recovering from a surgery seven years before.  My girlfriend invited me to join a newly founded book club to which I immediately refused.  I had no time for the wasteful books; who has time to read?  She handed me the book by Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray Love, anway; ignoring my remarks.  A month later I found myself amongst my neighbors, women I barely knew from school.  It was only the second meeting of their discussion group and I pondered how to politely extricate myself.  I was not fond of this book, a bestseller, which would become a movie. 

Three  years later as the movers packed my home in boxes for the umpteenth time; the tears coursed down my cheeks.  The monthly babysitting fee to allow myself three hours of book discussion was worth its weight in gold.   At my farewell I not only discovered my long lost love of books.  I had been accustomed to the moving routine; transitioning from one place to another and not becoming attached.  The lesson I learned from these women was life altering.  Life is too short to not propagate roots; to build foundations of fellowship.

I was reminded of this last evening.

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It is easy to get caught up in the busyness of life; to blame externals.   To find excuses.  I can find fault in others to protect my walls and keep people at bay.  Sometimes it’s just not worth the hassle.  I become lost in works, not spoken words.   Relationships do not just happen by sitting in front of a computer, reading a book or finding busy work to keep us distracted and occupied.  Externals cannot prove our self-worth.  It is in people, in social interactions, in direct conversations that form the ties that bind.   Sometimes it’s not easy; nor convenient.  We must be purposeful in their upkeep.

The best of your friends are those who love you when you are not your best.

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“If being transparent strengthens the social ties that make life worth living, and enables others to forgive our shortcomings, why not do it more often?”

Levitin, Daniel J. The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overlaod. New York: Dutton Adult, 2014. Kindle file.

In discovering the joys of reading I have also found the joys in relationship.  What began as a monthly break from the minutiae of parenting has become a lifeline.  I gained more than I had ever bargained for.   Our current reading discussion group, on the pretense of discussing literature, have formed a family.  I, the only child, have gained nine other sisters and all that that entails; a bit overwhelming for this only child of none.

But the true gift was probably something none of these women would’ve expected.  I thought of their plotting and scheming in multitudes of texts, cooking excursions and behind-the-scenes coordination.   The celebration of my birth wasn’t the real fruit of their labors.  It was in the working together; in their inside jokes that I found value.    It was their joint journeys that made me most happy, overcoming obstacles and thorny spines of their best laid plans.  Life isn’t a bed of roses.   The lack of running water, unexpected company and urgent care visits are the realities in this life.  What mattered the most was the love and care these girls took to get there.   It is this sentiment that is indelibly etched in my mind.  It was worth it.

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In modeling our love of reading to our sons; we now have avid readers.  I underestimated the power of the words in the pages and the interactions on computer screens.  My kids are technologically more savvy than I and are more socially aware than I had imagined.  I now understand the ways my boys obtain their mental escape to daydreaming mode; their way to unwind from a taxing day of common core and social pressures.

“Reading was associated not only with measures of verbal intelligence (such as vocabulary tests) but with measures of nonverbal intelligence as well (such as reasoning tests). “

Klein, Hannah. “Stronger early reading skills predict higher intelligence later.”  Eurekalert.org.  24 July 2014.  Web. 27 Sept. 2014

I, too, am learning to be empathetic; to read between the lines. I am beginning to detect my sons’ nonverbal (and hormonally verbal)  emotions.  I am taking the focus off of the end-result and adjusting to the daily life journey.  Their choices may not be reasonable; they must make mistakes.    They will find their life paths and relationships.  But they must write the chapters of their books all on their own.

The books, they brought me everywhere; but most importantly right here.  Our package from Japan arrived today; another child beaming.  My chapter is open; typewritten across the screen as I am given a bear hug from behind.

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What I know for sure?  I am grateful.  Thank you.

Family, friendships

networking loud and clear

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The Lady Gaga song, “Applause” blared through my speakers as I pulled away from the curb at my youngest’s elementary school yesterday morning.  This song is the antithesis of this son’s demeanor.  When greeted by the front office and asked about his summer, this child could only gaze away with a deer-in-the-headlights look.   In the primary grades this would be considered cute.  But upon entering his fourth grade year it is just plain rude.

My usual parental reaction is to prompt a response or to apologize for his behavior.   The secretaries easily filled the silence, teasing he was probably still asleep.   I say aloud to this son that this is our goal in this coming school year; communication and socialization.

It is my mission to instill social skills to my sons.  To learn how to build networks of people.  I am not talking about the social networking engines of: Instagram, KiK, Twitter or Facebook with “like” buttons and hashtags.  I want my sons to learn the basic skills of oral , in-person, communication.  To be present in conversations.

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Humans are created to communicate and find meaningful relationships.   To build social networks.

After work I find myself perusing articles on teaching kids socialization skills.  This topic is not new to me, by any means.  I, too, was extremely shy in my formative years and I pondered if shyness is hereditary.   I arrived at an article by Dr. Jerome Kagan, and associates of the “Biological Bases of Childhood Shyness”published in the  journal of Science in its April 9, 1988 publication.  Dr. Kagan finds that shyness is hereditary but can be overcome.  Nonplussed by the inability to maneuver through the journal of Science’s “classic”  online library I start to laugh out loud.  I am left to stare at information which will require me to go to a local library and find the article on microfiche.  I mean, seriously, WHO USES THIS METHOD THESE DAYS!?  Isn’t the ability of the worldwide web supposed to put this information at my rapidly clicking fingertips?

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The researcher within makes me dig a little deeper.  While working in a neurogerontology lab, during my undergrad years, I read countless articles regarding neuroplasticity.  Our brains are truly amazing!  But parenting isn’t based on black and white facts; my left-brained tendencies.  I am learning to trust my right lobe, the emotional-intuitive side.   I want to integrate Broca’s area (location of speech production) in the left frontal lobe, to the right lobe’s processing of nonverbal cues and emotional responses.  I need these neuronal pathways to network!

“network: noun.  3a :  an interconnected or interrelated chain, group, or system.  3b :  a system of computers, peripherals, terminals, and databases connected by communications lines.  5:  a usually informally interconnected group or association of persons (as friends or professional colleagues).”  Def. 3 & 5. Merriam-Webster Online. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 12 Aug. 2014.

This morning the younger boys and I watched the eldest slam doors and grumble beneath his breath.  None of us knew why he was angry but as we quietly drove the short distance to the high school I  observed his nonverbal cues.  Instead of interrogating with rapid fire questions I thought to the short morning routine; attempting to piece together the puzzle.  Teenagers!  I have adapted the fact-finding stance as a researcher would in a case study.  I am integrating the words spoken with the body language conveyed.   As he exited my vehicle, grumbling, I chirped, “Have a nice day!”

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Two hours later I found myself in the school supply mega store slowly walking each aisle; deciphering my older son’s angst.  I purchased a small spiral notebook and attached a pencil.  During his one hour lunch break he was surprised to find me amongst the throng of parents; awaiting their teens with fast food or warm lunches.   A 3 X 5 index card spiral notebook brought a quizzical smile; although I did feel bad that I didn’t think to bring this son a fancy lunch; his soggy sandwich probably still at the bottom of his backpack.   As he walked away I sang, “You’re welcome!” and the teen had the decency to turn back and sheepishly respond, “thank you” as the parents around me smirked.  And with one last wave he grinned and was gone.

My life would have been much easier had this son said the following:

“Mom.  I’m tired and I got yelled at for not doing the drill right.  I need an index card notebook to write down notes and figure out where I’m supposed to be on the field.”

Instead, what I got were the following short sentences with attitude.

“I need index cards that flip.”

“Why do girls hold grudges?  I don’t think she likes me.”

“My feet hurt.”

One day soon, Mommy is not going to be able to pick up the pieces and figure out what this son is trying to say.  One day, he will be left to communicate his needs to others on his own.    Respectfully.  Tactfully.  Clearly.

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Last Friday our group of nine women had touched on this topic.   If/when our children leave our homes (whether it be college, work, travel, etc.) will they know how to cross a busy street?  Will they know how to organize their time?  Budget their money?  Do parents today hover so much that we leave our kids incapacitated to think their own thoughts; only hearing the parental monologue of to-do lists running in their heads?

I sincerely hope not.

With the tragic passing of Robin Williams I am reminded that life isn’t about  the things amassed, the applause and fame that defines a person’s happiness.   It is the connection with others that brings value into our lives.  To believe we can contribute.  To belong, just because.  If my children cannot communicate their needs, their pain..will they choose the following?

To  play video games or technology to tune out.

To partake in drugs to feel good.

To  seek drink to find peace.

To self-medicate to numb the pain.

To cut wrists for attention.

To hang alone in depression.

To wield guns to exert control and power.

To pretend to be something, to please someone else.

To find solace in abuse, to belong.

If a beloved extroverted comedian, with a personal assistant,  a wife and kids, and more than enough money to be comfortable, could not share his inner pain; how can we hope for the rest of society to follow suit?  Again, the conversation returns to mental health.  And again, people look the other way.

And so my hope is to empower my children to speak.  To network.

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My biggest fear, as a mother, is that I will fail my children in this regard.  That they will not feel comfortable asking for help.  That they will feel disconnected and incapable of making choices unless someone or something else pushes them to.  That they’ll choose the path of least resistance; disconnection.  If you don’t make ties, there are no expectations or disappointments.   You don’t have to answer to anyone else.  If you don’t allow anyone in; you can be surrounded by people and be very much alone.    I don’t want my boys to be misunderstood.

It is my role, as a parent, to model this for my sons; above anything else.  I want them to sing it LOUD and CLEAR.  No applause required.

Family, friendships

everything books

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The anvil of clouds, against the nearby mountains, rise with the ninety to triple digit temps.  The dog days of summer have arrived.

Watching my sons grow, inch by incremental inch, has made me contemplate the summers past and how much our household has departed from our “normal.”   In the evenings, after work chaffeuring children here, there and everywhere, I float in the deep-end with the hubs.    Our three children no longer play in the pool choosing instead, to sit amongst whirring fans and brightly lit  screens; furiously typing.

I am mute with shock when my middle son delivers a bag full of items, disassembling my corkboard in the den with all of my children’s drawings, pictures and various pursuits.  I stare at the empty rectangular board and ask if he wishes to fill it with other things.  But he answers, simply, that he likes it bare and wants to keep things simple.

The youngest son mentions that the Hot Wheels table that sits in the bedroom should probably be disposed of.  My sons all were fanatically enamored with Hot Wheels and I stand limply, inquiring if he is sure?  This was the boy who adored Hot Wheels, and the cars would move from one end of our home to another.  Thousands of these metal die cast vehicles sit within the drawers of this table and after some discussion, we jointly decided that he can choose some to display in a plastic wall display case.  But it is I who makes this suggestion; loathe to give away the cars that remind me of their youth.

I had perused our vast collection of books, searching for my favorites to read to my young sons.  As a baby shower gift to a dear girlfriend I had been inspired to ask the various members of our bookclub to share their most favorite baby board book.  I searched my shelves, touching the well-worn covers of my favorites and my eldest watched as I repeatedly scanned for Tumble Bumble by Felicia Bond.  It had been one of his favorite books and, upon sharing this with him, he had no recollection of the rhymes about friendship.   I tried to recite it from memory, just as I did with Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise-Brown or But Not the Hippopotamus by Sandra Boynton.    He shrugged his shoulders dismissively.

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My mind remembered how he’d finish the rhyming sentences,  impatient to turn the colorful pages.  It was this son that liked to be read to, but did not want to learn how to read.  When he was in first grade he had been behind the curve, refusing to use phonics  and soon after, was transplanted into a new school three months into his first grade year.  It had been the board books that would soothe him; the familiarity of the rhyming pages bringing comfort in our transitional, military life.

I search for displays online ($139 for a 100-Hot Wheels display case) and share this with the hubs.  He is quiet.  He, too, is unwilling to dismantle the Hot Wheels table.  I ask for his assistance to reach the high shelves, to help me find the board books of years past.  We stare at the empty bulletin board with multicolored thumbtacks in our den.  In the evenings, floating in our pool, we observe the clouds, the sunsets and the trajectory of our ever changing days.

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I sat bundling one hundred size 1 diapers, tucking and building a tribute to my boys’ childhood.  What began as a simple gift became a return journey to my favorite things, particularly books.  As each member of our bookclub shared their favorite board books I found that their book choices were almost exactly the same as my own.  Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Sandra Boynton’s, The Going to Bed Book, Wise-Brown’s Good Night Moon, Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit, Robert Munsch’s I Love You Forever (tear jerker), Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham , Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Martin, Archambault & Ehler or I Love You Mommy by Harker & Stephenson.  I found myself buying Mustela baby products; remembering the eau de parfum sprayed upon my boys’ clothes.  My sons, in turn, watched me rubberband and build, reminiscing with me of stories of their not so distant past.  The rhymes to the board books were recalled; memories refreshed.  My sons enjoyed hearing vignettes of their past; pieces filed but not forgotten.  It was in the building of the diaper cake that brought me joy, instead of sorrow.

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It is in parenting that I have learned to become selfless; to give more than to receive.

To love something; knowing that, in the end, you must let it go. 

When I married my husband we were joining two separate individuals to become one entity.  The product of our love would bring us together.  When I birthed each of my children from within my womb, the separation process began from their very first cry.  The product of our love would allow us to be individuals; to be stronger apart.

I think of the legacy I want for my children; the things I want them to honor and remember.  Faith.  Family.  These are things we model for our family of five.

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And so I add board books into my diaper cake; freed from the guilt of the not-so-grand summer vacation.  With my life transition into the family business our sons must come to work with us instead of movie or mall dates, beach days or theme parks.  I am unable to entertain our boys with exciting things to do; instead tasking them with things to clean around the shop or reading to pass the time.   Various camps and weekenders are sprinkled throughout the weeks but our days remain the same.  They are monotonous.  Boring.

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Gone are the days where kids play outside until the streetlamps turn on or work summer jobs to earn extra money.  Instead, our generation of kids sit amongst air conditioned homes, socializing through cyberspace and wireless networks.   Playing sports for fun has turned into traveling, competitive teams to meet NCAA eligibility.   Love of learning has become extracurricular tutoring.  The arts and music are for enrichment; not passion.  Our overscheduled lives have left out time for leisure in lieu of productivity and suitability for college admission panels.

As I went through a summer reading binge of: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective FamiliesThe Paris Wife, The Goldfinch (winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize), The Lowland (short listed for the 2013 Man Booker Prize) and currently The Dolphin Way; I discovered the legacy I want to leave my children.  When the drawings, medals, pictures, board books and Hot Wheels disappear from their lives the one trait I hope to leave them is this.

I want my sons to love to read.   To appreciate literature. 

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It is one of the few pursuits in life that does not require money, education or status.  It’s only prerequisite: time.

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I thought about this as I stood amidst a fellow mom’s extensive library, touching the spines of her vast collection of books during my girlfriend’s baby shower.   Although my sons joke that our bookclub does more socializing than discussing books; it is the love of reading that I hope they’ll remember.  But it is in our discussion on diverse topics, cultures and views that allow us to learn.  It is not just the pursuit of reading that I want my boys to discover.  I also want them to be able to experience things unknown and most importantly, to share these things.

The art of communication.

It is not in the book learning that allows a person to grow and mature.  It is in the sharing and socializing; in navigating amongst diverse people that expands horizons and introduces new ideas.  My sons’ actions, this summer, silently communicated their progression away from early childhood.

It is in giving up the old things that opens the door to allow in the new.

A chapter is closing and I bookmark the pages; clinging to memories I want to remember.   And though the physical reminders ebb away; it is filed; instantly retrievable in my mind.  I always sigh at the end of a great book; happy to have the privilege of reading it.  But another book awaits to be read.  All I have to do, is open it.

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Family, friendships, Work

the A’s

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Appearances.  They can be deceiving.

Appearance: noun.  :the way that someone or something looks. : a way of looking that is not true or real.” Def. Merriam Webster Online, Merriam Webster, n.d. Web. 20 July. 2014.

Upon cleaning my cluttered kitchen counter my thoughts returned to earlier this morning.   I had sat in church observing the different families that return, week-after-week.   By habit, we tend to sit in the same spot: fourth pew, in the middle section, from the very back row.  It is always interesting how people react when someone new is sitting where they usually sit.  Sometimes they are flummoxed and unsure how to proceed (although the vast majority of our church is wide open).  Others get annoyed; feeling ownership to the hard oak bench that is theirs alone.

We spend an exorbitant amount of time and money on appearances.

My family spends an hour or so on a weekend, working together to pick up our home to make it look presentable.   I lament my white tile floors and countertops; longing for hardwood and stone.  But to whom am I trying to present a beautiful home to?   As I scrub bathroom sinks and water plants I realize that organization is more important to me than appearance.  I want to know where everything is in my home and at work; to not waste space.  To weed through junk and keep things that can be useful.

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I want everything to have a place of its own.

I put the watering can down and immediately came upstairs to follow this train of thought.  To see it in black and white.  Because that’s really what I long for…to know where I belong.  To not feel that I am wasting my time and space, adding clutter and distraction.  I want to know that there is a place that is mine, alone.

Appearances deceive me.  The hardwood floors and stone, the material things, the plastic quick fixes and fashionable clothes have lured me away from my center; steering me away from my true north.  Geographically, the Earth’s true north, along gridlines of longitude and lattitude, is the north pole.  But the magnetic north is where a compass arrow points to (somewhere in north Canada); fluctuating with the Earth’s core.  It can change position with the magnetic fields.

As a young girl I would daydream; concocting fantastic and wonderful adventures of the larger families, who sat next to my own, in church.  As an only child I watched the siblings, creating stories in my mind of the busy and exciting lives they led upon leaving the church’s bland and austere doors.  It always caught me unawares when these idealized families disintegrated from divorce, mental illness, affairs or sibling squabbles over valuables after funerals.   I was naive and my young mind could not fathom artifice or the art of deception.  They always appeared happy.  Normal.

I find myself, even this morning, imagining the secret lives amongst my fellow parishioners.  The large family of  seven kids with the daughter who sings off key, each week.  The beautiful, regal older woman known for her hats; who volunteers as a hospitality minister every third week.  We are getting to know the family who sits behind us; discovering common ground in our husbands and children.  And the mom in a family of four whom we’ve dubbed the church fashionista; always turning heads in her various styles of dress.  Everyone appears pious and respectful within our church walls.  But who are they outside of the edifice of our place of worship?  Who are they really?  I wonder what my own appearance exudes to others.

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Recently my sister-in-law happened to mention a family who are customers of hers…a family with seven kids who attend our parish.  Within five minutes she came to the realization that this family knew who we were; always sitting two pews behind us in a vast church of over five thousand families.  She had shared  antidotes of her nephews’ antics and they were curious; full of questions about our family of five and relayed knowledge about themselves.  It is always interesting to reconcile people to their appearances and first impressions.  I am always wrong!

My older son, just this week, shared a quote from his beloved sixth grade teacher; who also taught his younger brother this past school year.  I had chastised these boys; assuming they had understood the instructions I had given them.  After my anger had simmered, my son made the simple statement.

Ninety-nine percent of the time your assumption is wrong.  If you don’t know, ask.  Never assume.

Appearances.  Assumptions.  I relayed this statement to the group of women in our bookclub as we talked about ideal families.  In January 2010, at our formation, we all had initial impressions of one another based on appearances. The natural inclination is to impress, to dress your best and so we all raised our bars to the woman in our group who always wears high heels and stylish dresses (never pants).  We would appear worthy of one another’s company.    We were intellectuals, weren’t we?

And four and a half years later, we continue to discover and dismantle our assumptions.  Heels and dresses can reveal an inner vulnerability and depth most people aren’t allowed to see.  Sometimes the person who appears to have the most friends is the most lonely.  The woman whose life appears perfect can feel abandoned and disillusioned.  The busy and successful career can bring dissatisfaction and unfulfilled dreams.

As I tidied up my kitchen I realized something.  Something important.  I am most happy with my home when everything is put in its place.  I don’t need gleaming appliances or travertine tile to achieve contentedness.

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We all search for our place to belong.  Our journey, on this Earth, is to discover our true north; to organize our thoughts and things to create our space and mark our place.  Cluttered piles, broken shards and changes are never ending; waiting to be picked up, swept  up and duly noted.

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I am comforted to have others traveling on my same paths.  The joy in the journey is not in having things fixed, upgraded or tied up in  pretty little bows.  I was grateful for the moments of clarity  I was given throughout this weekend.   I hit the save button, thoughts on digital white 1080 dpi resolution.   It isn’t my home’s appearance, nor my own, that matters.  What matters most is to be understood.

My girlfriend emails me the quote from her Al-Anon literature.

“My serenity is directly proportional to my level of acceptance.”

Gone are the A’s of appearances and assumptions.  Aritifice.  In their place: Affirmation &  Acceptance.  Authenticity.

Family, friendships

verbs

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I pass this sign, in the morning, at the end of my walk.  It is my reminder as I tiredly, but contentedly, make my way home.

“a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.'” ~Mark 1:3 NIV.

My paths have taken many fits and starts on not through streets.  They are never straight.  I’m far from being prepared.

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This morning, to my surprise, the middle son rose to walk with me and I found myself answering his questions about religion.  His bff is not allowed to celebrate birthdays or holidays in his religious practice.  Why are there so many types of religions? he asked.  Isn’t there just one God?

This past weekend, amidst a flurry of activity, our youngest son received his First Holy Communion (FHC).  In our Catholic faith; this is huge.  His brothers were allowed to altar serve; their father asked to usher.

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Sadly, the birth order effect rings true.  With my eldest son his FHC was planned months in advance.  Four families of friends chose to celebrate this sacrament together, and we held a separate celebration with just our very own.  The middle son’s ceremony was planned six weeks in advance with a plethora of family and friends.  The youngest’s, one week.  Work, vacation and the older boys’ schedules and projects had caused us to forget the passage of time.  The fancy invites were never sent.  Family was notified via Facebook and text.

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A mother’s work is never done.  Doughnuts were requested for the middle son’s “un-birthday.”  I was notified of this the day before and the Krispy Kreme location is nowhere near our home.   I haven’t frequented this place in years!    Later, I sat in the high school parking lot as the eldest auditioned on trumpet.  Parents lined the hallways and I retreated to my car to read Dr. Leman’s book about teens.  When this son slowly and dejectedly made his way, an hour later, I gave him a hug.  He tried his best.  It is out of our hands.

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The RSVPs came in by Friday afternoon for our early Saturday morning ceremony.  Almost our entire family, on both sides, chose to celebrate with us.  My initial reaction of stress became replaced with a sense of calm.  I was humbled.   With short notice my house would be full of family members encouraging my youngest child’s religious faith.

And so I cleaned with alacrity.  For the first time we had a party catered.  We scrubbed and washed and when my blood pressure rose; I breathed deep.  I was thankful to have a house full of people to clean for.

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Each son held a weeding implement, the hubs a mop.  They shooed me out the door, Friday night at 7:30 PM, to spend some time with girlfriends to talk books.  I had not planned on attending our reading discussion group; to prepare my home.  This is my religious faith and it is my responsibility to nurture it.  Mop-in-hand; the hubs made his stance clear.  He chose it, as well.

And with shouts of goodbye my sons and hubs returned to their tasks without a second glance or complaint.  The best gift ever.  I mean, EVER.  On the short drive to bookclub my eyes misted over.  The hubs.  My kids.  They never cease to amaze me.

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The only child who escaped life through books can now live it.  And talk about it.  With friends.  It is easy to get lost in the pages, alone.  It is quite another to walk the pages, to write your own story with people alongside.  It occurs to me that this is why I like to blog vs. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and email.  It is the journal of our days; my own paradise in plain sight.

paradise in plain sight

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The simple pancake  and eggs breakfast.  Dinner amongst mothers.  I think of the quote by Cheryl Lacey Donovan.

“Mother is a verb. It’s something you do. Not just who you are.”

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And so I walk.  It is clear to me now; my purpose.   I am a mother gardening; tending to my children and eradicating weeds.  I hope they choose to grow in their religious faith; for their compasses to point north.  If they get lost on their walks along the way, I hope they will remember to find the compass/ GPS in their hearts.

Their paths.  They will never be straight.  I hope I can give them the tools to make their choice; to get there.