Uncategorized

flat tires

It was 9 PM and I was hungry and tired.  The eldest son playfully nudged me at the dinner table, late Sunday night, noting my mood as he shared our excursion with his younger brothers.  Get it Mom!?

When you’re feeling flat and tired, what do you do?  You get pumped up!

I’d been feeling a bit flat, lately and when our tire blew on the freeway, it wasn’t the only thing feeling deflated.

We had been on our way to a grocery shopping excursion and, for reasons unknown, our eldest son decided to join the hubs and I.  I had inwardly grimaced, knowing this growing boy was planning to fill our grocery cart with junk that I wouldn’t normally buy for our household, and the first week of summer was to begin the very next day.

As we rounded the corner onto the freeway we heard the Pop! and hiss.  By the time we exited, at the very next off-ramp, the person peddling at the stop light pointed and in a friendly voice, mentioned that our rear tire was, indeed, flat.

Our son ended up assisting his father in changing the flat tire.  He read from the vehicle owner’s manual while the hubs grunted beneath, releasing the spare from the undercarriage.  They worked in tandem.  The hubs loosened the lug nuts on the wheel then the son jacked the car, manually.

I sat on the deflated tire, quietly watching as the sun went beneath the horizon.  Within thirty minutes the father and son had changed the flat tire; filthy with asphalt but grinning like fools.  This was a teachable moment since this boy is now a driver with a vehicle of his own.

We then made our way into the grocery store, filled our cart and headed home to make dinner another hour later.

This morning I made my way to work worrying over the additional expense of getting a new tire; as we prepare to embark on a long road trip in the coming weeks.   It was one more thing to weigh me down with health concerns for immediate family members, looming trip expenses and juggling various work projects.

The transition from the hectic school year into summer is never an easy one.  I am a creature of habit and routine and it takes me several weeks to adjust.

Transitions are not my thing.

I struggle to stay motivated and inspired.  I wake each morning with the goal of having a decent day, to feel like I am not spinning my wheels; stagnant.  I strive daily to find my balance as a wife, mother and friend.

There is not enough time in the day to do all things and I have learned to let things go.  I must say more nos and consent with fewer yeses to give quality time.  To not feel barely adequate.  To give my best with each endeavor.

I am counting my days.

I mourn the changes that come due to health issues, life situations, relationships or job changes.    In this stage and age of my life I see less progress and more loss and resignation.  I am having to process how to let things and people go, gracefully.

Later I found myself in the tire store, tears in my eyes.  My tire was irreparable.

I had been prepared for this possibility and as the associate before me discussed my tire options, the store manager negated his reasonable price quotes.  He took me aside to his computer while saying the following.

We will take care of you, you’ll see.   A call came in from our associate to treat you well.

To my shock the price quote for four new, exactly the same, tires was well below what I had imagined.  I would even receive a rebate!  I had not expected this favor.

The husband of my girlfriend, a warehouse manager for this national tire chain, had called in to take care of me.  I hadn’t realized the hubs had been in contact with him, deciphering what kind of tires I should purchase.

I stood with tears in my eyes, thinking of my girlfriend who passed just over a year ago; leaving a son and dear husband behind.

This girlfriend had been in my thoughts as they commemorated her one year anniversary with a balloon release; two weeks ago.  Her unwavering faith and ability to always see the positive; even faced with adversity, had amazed me.  She had been a force to be reckoned with, while she lived.  She had never been bitter.  She had fought with the hope of recovery until the very end.

In thirty minutes, the same amount of time it had taken the hubs and son to change my flat tire, I pulled away from the store with four new tires.  I felt lighter, humbled,  and the cheesy words of my son came to mind.

I was fated to be here, a reminder from my girlfriend, to get pumped up.  To be grateful.  To not lose hope.  To embrace change.

My daily mantra is to alter my frame of mind.  To set a daily goal.  To be transparent.  To be a fair and effective communicator.  To be humble and empathetic versus trying to always be right.  I get distracted with the details and negative things that can weigh me down; an easy place for my mind to dwell.

Instead of counting my days, I should make my days count.

I am not always spinning my wheels or getting derailed with flat tires.  I drove away, today, feeling hopeful and progressing forward.

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Uncategorized

my status

Amidst the March madness our schedule finally settled.  It is rare for my family of five to sit at home with nothing to do and so I let my three sons choose their preferred mode of unwinding;  online gaming.

Unlike my sons, the overcast outdoors beckoned.  The hubs chose to accompany the dog and I and, book in-hand, we headed out for a walk through the equestrian stables adjacent to my neighborhood to the duck pond park.

I get so absorbed with the things that happen between my four walls that I needed to see the world beyond.

As we walked through the neighborhood park I observed the various families with small children and remembered my former afternoons spent here.  When my boys were very young I frequented the local parks every afternoon, surrounded by the sounds of people to break up the monotony of my days.  During those years my husband was often deployed and, living away from a military community, I often felt isolated.

I knew most of the people who worked at the local supermarket, nearest to my home, who always greeted me by name.   Although the produce and items are much more expensive here than a wholesale grocer, I remember why I continue to frequent this store.   In the thirteen years that I have resided here, the employees have remained the same.  We are like an extended family and to this day, they continue to greet me by name.

In the park we walked past the birthday party that looked Pinterest worthy; the tables set with tea cups and beautiful decor.  I enviously wished I was young like the birthday participants; the cares of the world revolving around what color of dress to wear for a party or what the next meal to be served would be.

My sons also had these type of parties and the hubs and I both remembered the motorized jeeps my in-laws brought to our middle son’s third birthday party in this very same park.  The eldest, then four, had immediately settled at the wheel and driven his brothers around.

These days the eldest son is behind the wheel of my car, driving his brothers around.  The middle son is already chomping at the bit to take the test for his permit.  He is not eligible to do this until December of this year.

In the early predawn hours I am always grateful to live in this community; one where I feel safe enough to jog solo on my neighborhood streets in the early morning dark.   I trek past my sons’ elementary and high school and use the outdoor resistance equipment of the community park across the way before making my way home to awaken my household to begin a new day.

Normally I take comfort in daily rituals and routines; the cyclical wheels and spokes that drive my life forward.  But lately I’ve been feeling stuck.

My rose colored shades have been getting blurry and so I’ve tried to wipe them off; to see clearly.  The sun shines too brightly into my eyes.  I feel like a hamster running in place.  I seek inspiration and motivation without a lot of success.

I walk through my life a bit like one of the walking dead zombies my husband is fond of watching.  Talking heads.

My hubs, sons and dear girlfriends know that when I get fixated on a song that it stays on repeat until I finally get it out of my head.   The Katy Perry song appears light and frothy but upon listening to the message, is deeper.  It resonates with the undertones that currently are stuck in my head.

Usually music is the one medium that can take me out of my funk.  I’m losing faith and I’m stumbling along trying to find my way once again.

The text from my girlfriend was most welcome.  Occasionally our vehicles pass one another in the library parking lot as we pick-up or drop-off our sons and, surprisingly, my schedule was clear to meet her the very next day.  We chatted books, food, family and everything in-between and we talked of retirement; something I am nowhere near.  We imagined what our lives will be and I get a bit disheartened, wondering if I’ll ever get there.

The utopia that my baby boomer in-laws’ generation lives will be vastly different when the hubs and I get there.

Our generation is so lost in work, with no play, and we’ve passed this on to our own children.  We supervise their play dates, their extra curriculars, their resumes.  What will motivate our own kids when their lives are comfortable little bubbles managed by others?  The things that normally motivate people: money, things, titles continue to drive people to run faster on their hamster wheels.  Things like relationships, familial ties and loyalty are filtered by online screens and cyberspace.

My hippocampal brain space isn’t being used because I rely on my mobile device to memorize and organize my life.  I don’t even have my sons’ cell numbers memorized.  I put the book down at the duck pond and process the people activity around me, instead.  I tell the hubs that I want my own tea party.

On our walk home the hubs asked if there was a reason I was walking so fast.  It took me a minute to respond, slowing my stride and noting it is my normal pace.  He reminded me to slow it down, as he pointed at trees.  He stopped mid-stride and had me glance up to the patriotic military banners that grace this grand avenue and pointed to a fellow booster parent’s image in his army/national guard uniform.  I have jogged this route, weekly over several years, and have not once noted his banner above.

I watch my friends live their lives on Facebook and Instagram.  I, too, like their posts and pictures…escaping my walls in cyberspace.  But it’s time for me to step out of my rhythm and comfortable spaces; to journey untraveled roads in unexpected places.

What’s your status?  

I don’t have one.

Family

When you’re fed up

When you’re finally fed up , I asked my husband, what do you do?

He looked at me mutely, knowing I had reached my boiling point.  I didn’t have an answer as I fired the question to the hubs and left our business quiet and frustrated.  It wasn’t until I walked through the aisles of the large wholesale grocer; the $0.88 cake boxes in the main display, that my answer arrived.

You feed.

I made my way through the produce aisles, noting the garlic from Gilroy, California.  Other grocery chains only carry imported garlic from China and my angst returned; knowing that cost drives our current economy.

It would be nice for the consumer to have the choice to purchase the cheaper garlic bulbs from overseas next to the garlic grown in my home state.  But most times these choices are made by higher powers in large corporations or political chambers.   I mull this over as a long time customer finally chose the larger profit margin, acknowledging they will be purchasing fasteners from overseas.

I grabbed four Betty Crocker cake boxes and threw them into my cart in various flavors; chosen specifically for their colors.  Red (red velvet), yellow, white and brown (chocolate) and a white frosting tub for good measure.  This was an impulse buy.

I had remembered my youngest son’s request to bake a cake for his sixth grade plate tectonics project; something that required time.  When my two older sons had to do this same project in sixth grade, foam globes from the craft store littered our kitchen table as they painted, cut and mounted the various strata layers of the Earth.  The youngest’s globe currently sat upon our dinner table, primed and ready to be painted.  The layered strata cake was not required.  It was one or the other.

This son’s voice penetrated through my anger; the one that reminded me that sometimes I don’t hear him.   He is lost among the older brothers whose problems seem to take precedence.  Why reinvent the wheel if the globes worked with the older sibs?  But his words came back to haunt me and I needed the distraction.

You never hear me.  It was the icing on the cake and so IN the cart the cake boxes went.

This was fortuitous.   Immediately upon entering my garage door, with my grocery bags, this youngest son sheepishly stood nearby.

“Mom, my project isn’t due on Thursday.  It’s due TOMORROW.”  

The cake mixer came out as he continued to prep and paint his foam globe.  When called to choose his cake layers he quizzically asked,  Why are we doing both?  To which I replied.

I heard you.

Fed up with the world, the very least I could do was feed my kids.  Not with junk food and cake..but with my time, and my bottled up energy.  I sometimes wonder why this is all worth it and it was as I watched my son painting his Earth project that I realized what my subconscious wanted me to do.

It’s love that makes the world go round.  It makes it all worth it.

It may not be perfect, ever.  But it’s the reason I wake up each and every morning…even lately when it’s something I don’t want to do.  I worry about our financial future for my family.  I worry about the direction our country is taking.  We are a balanced household, the hubs and I moderately on either side of the political fence.  I am a proponent of global economy but want things to be fair.

Everyone looks out for their bottom line.

Small business and customer service are becoming a thing of the past…transitioning into large, subsidized corporate profits with technological interfaces.  Customer service comes in the form of chat rooms and emails; not voice or face-to-face interaction.

Our globalization is allowing us to reach wide, but leaving a deficit in how to converse locally.

My sons sit with phones across from their friends with no words audibly spoken.  We are losing our ability to communicate up close and personal.

When the weeds took over our garden after a record winter of rain, our family had mandatory weeding time for an hour this past weekend.   The hubs and I noted after this physical, outdoor activity among gripes from our boys, that they animatedly returned to their computer screens and interacted with one another.  It’s easy to get lost in cyberspace, independently saving the free world or trading stocks and bonds.

With the ground cleared, our yard looked empty.  But removing the weeds made room for new growth.  A level playing field to start over.

Thankfully, our customer of fifteen years was not a sizable portion of our business bottom line.  But relationships and loyalties no longer reign in the climate we live in and we are cultivating future generations to forego these relations; to rely purely on statistics and numbers.

In the grocery store I see the choice to pay more for organic and/or made in the USA versus overseas.  I want to stretch my dollar, to make the fiscally sound choice.  But I grab the yellow squash from the produce home grown in my home state.  I will pay extra for the choice.

Why purchase the cheaper import produce that is flown on an airplane; that creates a larger carbon footprint in our world with the fuel it uses to get to my location?  I want my produce fresh, not gassed.

I ponder what my bottom line is.  I’ve been silently shadowing and sulking, not standing my ground.  I am finally fed up and need to make a choice and have a stance.

In choosing to feed my kids and family, fresh and locally sourced produce, I make my choice.  With the help of my sixth grader I bake for several hours, cooking dinner with my garlic from Gilroy and spinach from Salinas.  I buy strawberries from Oxnard, cauliflower from Santa Maria and beverage from Paso Robles.  My grass roots campaign is seemingly small but our business will be following the same path.

I am sowing seeds in my own garden.  I want quality relationships with my family, my community, our customers.

I carried the cake box into the sixth grade classroom this morning and told the teacher to please share with her thirty-two students.   She was surprised to learn my son submitted two projects.

When fed up with the world, I choose to feed the world instead.  For my sons.  For myself.  For the future.

 

 

 

Family, Marriage, Work

spring cleaning through the years

I want someone to tell me how to get through the bad days.

  • When the hubs arrived at work he found our motorized gate broken.  Again.  Hours are spent dismantling the motor and eventually removing it.
  • When I drive into our parking lot I watch a woman dump clothes on our public easement.  I yell to her to pick-up her used clothes and she walks away.  I am left to put them in our trash bin.
  • The J-bolts from the platers are mottled and rejected.  It is when we question the quality that we discover they’ve also increased their price with new ownership.

It’s days like this when we feel the burden of small business.

Hours in labor spent maintaining our building and equipment.  Picking up other people’s messes.  Whether it’s used clothes, low quality plating or just unprofessional practices we are left to our own devices.  Most times we eat the cost.

  • At home I stare at the washing machine wondering why it won’t spin.  Again, the hubs spends time dismantling.
  • I walk into bedrooms with overfilled hampers because sons don’t understand to lift the lid to place the dirty clothes, inside the receptacle.  I yell to my sons to pick-up their clothes and they walk away.  “Okay, Mom,” is all I get and so I leave the mess.
  • I look at progress reports with grades that I cannot accept.  I question the quality of time my boys put into their studies since their primary responsibility is to do well in school.

I feel the burden of parenting tweens and teens.

After work I spend time maintaining our house and appliances.  I am cleaning up my family’s messes in the place that is supposed to be my sanctuary.  Whether it’s dirty laundry, dishes or irresponsible sons who make poor choices and don’t have their priorities straight, I feel the mental and emotional cost.

I am spent.  Financially.  Physically.  Mentally.  I tell my husband, I am done as we dejectedly sit across the desk at work.  He is too.

 

This past weekend, my father in-law (FIL)  requested the help of our eldest son with the upkeep of a car.  Eight hours were spent doing various things as the grandfather passed his car knowledge to his grandson. First he was under the hood learning about the parts of the motor.   Later I found myself stepping over my husband and son, under the car, as they discussed what to do with the oil pan while my FIL stood nearby supervising and instructing.  Finally, bemused, I pulled up a chair as I listened to the grandfather explaining to the grandson how to detail a car interior.

I found myself detailing my own car’s interior.  It had been untouched for years and as I scrubbed and emptied the Simple Green spray bottle, my seemingly random, disorganized thoughts formed together.

When you don’t do what you love or love what you do, it makes getting up in the morning that much harder.   It’s not realistic, sometimes, to love life.

There are days when I don’t even like the ones I’m supposed to love.

I wake up each morning wondering, What am I supposed to do?

I want someone to tell me the answers but really, I need to figure this one out for myself.   If someone else tells me what to do, it’s easy to not accept ownership; to blame others.

I scrubbed years of grease from my car’s upholstery and carpets.  I saw the cracks and tears, the mottled colors.  But my vehicle feels new.

I accept the scars and abuse my interior has endured; remembering how they got there.

…the time my youngest son thought my light gray leather interior was a drawing board and chose to write on our dashboard with Sharpie pen.

…the double phone charger at the bottom of the seat pocket, bought in Arizona outside the Grand Canyon, as the older boys constantly fought for the lone rear battery outlet.

…the indentations from the carseats all of my sons formerly sat in.

…the sticky markings on the car ceiling from the soda that exploded as we rose in altitude during a snowy Memorial day camping trip.

It took several hours to detail the inside of my car.   Normally I take care of the exterior, the big things that people see, and sweep things under the rug to deal with another day.   I have spent the least amount of time maintaining the interior.  Thankfully, my hubs handles most things under the hood which allows my car to run.

When I drive my SUV, on a daily basis, I don’t see the outside.  I live and breathe on the inside.  A lot of my time is spent behind the wheel commuting to work, shuttling kids to/from school.   My most meaningful conversations with my family occur within this car’s interior whether it be on short trips or long ones.

I was mistaken in thinking my house was my sanctuary.  The reality is, my happy place is in my car…windows down, music blaring as yellow lines blur in open spaces.  I love my solo commute to work but I also love people driving in my car with me to infinity, and beyond.

While reading the novel, The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney for our monthly book club, the line resonates.

You can make your surroundings as polished and empty as you like.  But it doesn’t really matter if you’re still messed up inside.  And that’s all anyone’s looking for really, isn’t it?  Someone to take care of the mess inside our heads?

I finally took ownership of it.  All of it.  It is time to repair, clean and maintain my mental interior.

In dealing with a sticky situation, in one of the organizations which I serve, I found myself seeking answers once again.  My goal is always transparency but the time has come for me to stand my ground, to stop having others tell me what to do based on past history.  To filter and sort my words.

I know what I need to do.  I trust my gut.  And so my boundaries are becoming defined as I mentally prepare for uncomfortable and awkward moments to do the right thing.  To handle the messy details.  To not sweep things under the rug to help someone save face for appearances’ sake.

I must deal with my mental interior and sift through the clutter and detritus.  To make things simple and wipe away at the years of neglect, accumulated gripes and pent-up frustrations.

I will let go of the idea that I must love what I do and shoulder the things life brings my way; to carry my own weight.

The reality of life is that there are many things we do not like to do, that must be done.  To consistently wake up each and every day with the goal of trying to be the best person that I can be.  And not just for me.

I strive to stop worrying about appearances and embrace the people whose relationships keep my cup full.  The ones who make me get out of bed every morning who need me; and I, them.  There will soon be a day where there will be no mess to pick up after (okay, maybe the hubs but someday, not even him).  There are days when nothing needs to be repaired and all things are pristine.

I gaze over to my grease covered hubs as he labors beneath the machine with our employee.  I don’t have to love what I’m doing every single minute of the day.  I can do without the tenant drama behind our building, the broken gates, the shoddy workmanship from vendors, the not-so-reliable appliances at home and my broken kitchen tile.

The accumulated daily grime, through the years, builds and it’s time to spring clean and make it like new.  Scars, flaws, head clutter and all.

Most days I don’t love what I do.  But I work alongside the hubs, the one I love.

It’s never really been about the money, the candy and roses.  It’s about going through the monotonous daily grind, through the years, with someone who loves me unconditionally and helps me take care of the mess inside my head.

I trust my heart.  I own this.

 

 

friendships, School, Work

take two, or five

wpid-IMG_20140328_183837.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ouch.  To this I must plead guilty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HLM cake

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

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

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

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

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

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

Family

deep in the 3rd quarter

xmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m going deep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Family, School

just cheer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uncategorized

my in-between place

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There are those who seek and those who settle.  And those of us in-between.

For years I stared at the barren space adjacent to my front walkway.  Some years I planted annuals that fit my whim.  Other years I transplanted items from neighbors or family members; unsure what to do with them.  Each weekend my neighbor cultivates the shared plantar between our front yards, fussing and pruning.  Every year-or-so the yard landscape changes; concrete plantars re-paved, outdoor light fixtures removed and added.  I have watched various appliances come and go, large yard renovations constructed and indoor items redecorated.  Our homes are mirror images of one another and ours has always remained the same; original to the builder’s plan.  You would never believe our houses are the same.

Our neighbors had been surprised, last weekend, to find me in our front yard digging through dirt.  They peered through the beautiful flowers and trees, between our homes, to the stark barren landscape of my yard and splotchy green grass.  I grinned as their curiosity got the better of them and chimed that my yard could not possibly compete with the beautiful landscaping, the wife, maintained.  In prior plantings I had hoped to create a vignette to complement my neighbor’s meticulous garden; always to no avail.  None of my entry walkway ideas remained for long; my desire easily distracted to the messy and neglected things indoors.  When the hubs turned off the water and sprinkler systems to maintain our state’s drought mandate, all things wilted away and returned to the earth.  My neighbors continued to water their gardens and washed their vehicles.

I knew this time, my inspired planting was different.  This one was sustainable.  I finally found what I’ve sought for so long.

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Although I’ve been on this mental journey for quite some time, this last year finally brought me some answers; ones that I would’ve known all along if I had listened and trusted myself.

I had spent quality time hiking local mountain trails with my family of five.  The recommendation to have breakfast on a mountain peak dissolved when we learned the lift was only open on weekends.  The one local cafe to eat would not open for forty-five minutes.  The five of us were hungry and knew there was a long hike ahead but, at the hubs’ urging, we pushed forward anyway.  We hiked-in for 2.5 hours before our grumbling stomachs urged us to turn back.   All we had with us was water; erroneously thinking we would have a large breakfast at the summit and a local mart to purchase granola bars.  When all of our options dissipitated in the cool mountain air, we trudged on and told ourselves we wouldn’t hike in very far.

But on this day, as we improvised and returned for dinner in the quaint, college village nearby, I shared my desire to visit a local garden and library.  The hubs and sons gave me blank stares and, knowingly, I heard the words none of them were saying.  This was not their thing but they knew I always liked doing family outings together.  When the hubs gently suggested I should go on my own, he hadn’t really considered that I would do it.  But I had known that this was something I would do, solo, and, with my family’s silent blessing, I planned my outing for the following day.  I am responsible for my own happiness.

I found myself on the streets I traveled often where my extended family lives.  During college summers I lived with my late cousin and his family, working in a local hospital and then the university research lab during my four undergraduate years.  I realized that I knew this area more than my childhood home as I drove by the gated Mediterranean and Colonial style mansions with the large expanses of manicured lawns and entryways.   In my mind I had returned to this place to quietly reflect on the Chinese and Asian themed gardens; to find inspiration in their beauty and walk the paths to sort through the various thoughts and ideas in my mind.  No one knew me here and, amidst the tourists and visitors; I noted there weren’t any kids my own sons’ ages.

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I was comfortable being alone.  I quietly ate my Chinese lunch overlooking the bridge; listening to the different languages being spoken all around me.

The next day as I roamed nurseries, the plants I thought I’d be choosing weren’t the ones I had gravitated towards.  I had returned home to stare at the plants in my backyard and saw the theme I hadn’t realized I was trying to create in my house and outdoors.  I love all things spherical and instead of the bonzai trees or cherry blossoms, it had been the prickly golden barrel cacti in the desert gardens that had beckoned to me.  I stood before the succulent section picking, and being picked and poked, by the various drought resistant plants that withstand high heat and low water.

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I chatted with my neighbors.  I realized I had no desire to compete with the artful garden that graced both of our homes’ front yards.    I wished to complement it with simplicity to withstand our drought.  I felt an affinity to the lone cactus in hostile weather and infertile soil; reaching for the sky. The golden barrels were prickly on the outside but they were survivors and withstood the harsh elements.  For the woman who spends most of her time indoors and toiling with trees and vegetables in the backyard, this was the perfect solution and fit all of my parameters.   This was sustainable.

Sustainability had been the answer I had searched for all along.

I sat in the crowded Asian gardens teeming with people and found myself walking the paths in the reverse direction.  I felt no refuge or beauty in the crowded, popular areas.  Instead I walked the hilly, curvy paths; past the formal gardens of herbs and roses and into the stark and silent beauty of the cacti.  I sat amongst the aloe vera plants amazed that, beneath their prickly and bony exteriors, lie the balm for burns and dryness afflicting humans’ outer skin.

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We, humans,  are well-kept and appear approachable on the outside; but most are brittle and hardened on the inside.

In these past few years I’ve circled back to the young girl I used to be; the one without expectations.  It was at this time that I began to collect circular globes and items that serve as decor within my home.  The corniness of the whole idea made me laugh out loud.  Who knew I’d be considering my life staring at a cactus; once again finding my passion, my value and my spirit?  This wasn’t quite the beauty I had envisioned.

My former expectations of success were not mentally or physically sustainable.  I sought value in the wrong places and settled in circumstances that were within my control.   It is a blessing to have others to walk alongside; supportive and full of encouragement.  I am responsible for my own happiness. 

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I existed in my in-between place; transitioning from one phase of life into another but never really taking stock of what I needed to simply be happy in my own prickly skin.  It wasn’t the lithe physique, fancy appliances or luxury cars; nor the full resume of degrees, titles or bank accounts.  We must all find our own happiness within and follow it.  To seek beauty, speak our own truths and have meaningful relationships (with family, with friends) and to follow where the path leads us.

It had been a conversation with my late cousin’s widow that made me finally see.  After being offered severance pay in the successful career she held for four decades, surviving the loss of her husband and watching her kids leave the nest and begin their own families; she sought to do what she loved best.  She didn’t sit around and wait for opportunities to find her; she sought them.  It was in these gardens that she offered to volunteer her time and share the beauty of this place.  Her love language is in service; just like my own.  It was why I had returned here, on my own time schedule, so I could explore the areas I wanted to follow without worrying or catering to anyone else.

For two days I tirelessly worked outdoors gardening.   Our own backyard represents the yards from our childhood; the sago palm from my in-laws, the trumpet vine from my late cousin, the rhododendron from another cousin.    The hubs handed me a gift card to splurge on a rose tree.  The fruit trees and vegetable gardens reflect the can do, independent spirit of both sets of parents; both wishing to go off-grid.  There is joy in watching things grow and blossom.    The things we’ve planted actually have a story or history; a purpose for why it is there: my husband’s obsession with horse radish, my sons’ desire for all things citrus.

I have settled into our home; no longer seeking greener, verdant pastures and in-between places.  Our landscape reflects who lives here now; simple and sustainable for many years to come.   I find beauty and inspiration in the place that matters.  The rain continues to come down as I sit at my window indoors; contentedly watching my gardens and sons grow.

 

Family

the weakest link

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The entire month of January I pondered the following statement.  What do you do when you don’t love what you do?

In 2015 I had been dreading the end-of-the-year, putting my head-in-the-sand in denial.  The holidays came and went and I only looked to the day ahead; knowing January was coming.  Christmas arrives in rich colors, aromatic smells, comforting foods and sounds that bring joy to the senses.  We see people and family, our schedules stacked, and our bellies full.  When the decorations are put away, the stark, dreary gray of January looms ahead; bills in-hand and our girths a little larger.

January, for me, is a time of recovery.  I make resolutions for the new year that are difficult to keep.  I vow to lose the pounds gained in merriment and feasts from late November and the entire month of December.  But what awaits me are the tasks I dislike the most, the ones I wish I could ignore.

Numbers.  Year-end reconciliations.  Payroll Taxes.  Audits.  Finances.  It is my main job description and priority in our family business.  It is the focus of my two other volunteer activities that I’ve somehow inherited; the ones most people choose not to take.  I listen to a friend share how she loves to do taxes and how it brings her joy to watch the numbers go to zero.   It is not something I am naturally good at.  It is not something I love to do.  This is my weakest link.

I envy the friends who enjoy running and feel the adrenaline high.   They happily log their miles on pedometers and mobile running apps; their bodies fluid.  In the winter dark mornings of January I imagined the joy these runners felt as I gulped air while I jogged; my phone flashlight illuminating the dark trail where no one walked.  I tried not to think of snakes in my path or people lurking in bushes; waiting to abduct me.

One of the things I discovered about myself is that my multiple intelligences modality is bodily-kinesthetic.  I must move to learn and so I’ve taught myself to learn to move.   While my friends run because they want to, I jog because I have to; to clear my brain of clutter and stressors that paralyze me in my every day.  This past Tuesday pre-dawn morning, I pounded pavement and caught myself clumsily tripping over a sidewalk.  I still have the scar from 2008 when I lost my footing and fell on a well-traveled road.  Jogging is not something I am naturally good at.  It is not something I love to do.  It, also, is my weakest link.

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I have been a screaming banshee, this past month, as my three sons and hubs refused to awaken to my gentle prods or vibrating and obnoxious alarm clocks.  The eldest was tardy twice due to this inability to wake.  When the dear girlfriend hopped into my vehicle to share her same angst, with her son, I was grateful she was as miserable as I. We felt our children’s stress and soon realized that our yelling tendencies were transferring to our other children.  My middle son began his morning yelling at his older and younger brothers to wake up so that he could make it to school on-time.  We made a pact to break this cycle; to pick our battles but more importantly, to let the things we have no control over go.

In order to be effective parents for our children, we must, as mothers, find ways to better ourselves, by ourselves.  We are not doing our kids any favors by not being the best that we can be. 

In my family, I am the type A personality, the early bird who wakes before the alarm clock.  I am the one who stresses about schedules.  I am not very tolerant of my fellow family members who are not like myself.  Yelling early in the morning is not something I love to do.  Remaining calm is not my greatest virtue and in this, too, I am the weakest link.

Over lunch, with girlfriends, we talked of our children and my dread at my youngest son’s elementary school debate competition.   He had stayed awake until 12:30 AM the night before, doing unfinished homework due to a prolonged debate practice.  He was unprepared with his speeches about genetically modified insects and my headache lingered.  On a team of three, he was the least experienced.  He does not like public speaking and was encouraged by his teacher, the debate advisor, to join the team and conquer his fear.

His fellow teammates had pages of typewritten speeches and points to fill five minutes.  As the third speaker for their team, his role is to summarize and refute;  to drive the other two speakers’ points home in three minutes time and convince the judges why his team’s point of view should win.  At the last debate competition, this son shook like a leaf at the podium; paralyzed like a deer-in-the headlights.  I lamented these thoughts to my girlfriend as she talked of her daughter’s team dynamics.  On my son’s debate team, it is he who is the weakest link.

I mourned the loss of a family patriarch, a musician, and a favorite actor this past month.   It has been my experience, as a family member and gerontologist, that funerals bring out the worst in people and sadly, this was proven to be true once again.  Death and taxes are absolutes.   Instead of dwelling on these things I placed one foot in front of the other; walking in a different direction and choosing not to get sucked in.  On cold, drizzly morning jogs, commutes in traffic and the confines of my car I let my mind wander; poking and prodding at my weakest links.

My mood was dour; my demeanor much like “grumpy cat.”  The questioned mocked me, again and again.  I thought of the people I knew who were content in their lives, in their careers and who do what they love and love what they do.

Grumpy catcrop

What do you do when you don’t love what you do?  This January I dreaded each and every single day.  I am so grateful the end of this month had arrived.  I survived.

In retrospect it is easy to analyze and see what’s important.  The struggle is in getting through the every day.  The things I value the most, the times I learn what I am made of, are when I am at my worst.  I have the most respect for those who handle adversity with grace and humility.  I’ve learned a lot about myself this January.

For each struggle I’ve endured yesterday, I have become better prepared for today. 

Fortified with coffee I tackled my most hated and difficult tasks first.  The morning is when my mind is clearest.  I resolutely came to work and pushed through the accounting; establishing boundaries to not be distracted with other things and to not take on any more responsibilities.  I tackled each task, giving each my best effort.  I looked hard at the numbers and tried to make sense of them.  Payroll, check.  Taxes, filed.  Budgets reconciled and created.  Books, still to be audited.  Much to my astonishment I rediscovered something about myself that I had buried long ago after college.    I love statistics.

25th

I made no resolutions this year; things I knew I wouldn’t keep.  I did not step on the weigh scale.  I did not procrastinate.  In the dark I struggled out of bed, splashed cold water and resolutely donned on my running shoes; giving myself no time to think or make excuses.  I gritted my teeth as I jogged in the rain, without my waterproof jacket.   Each day I woke like a warrior in battle, weighed down in guilt and frustration by 8 AM each weekday morning as I screeched and struggled to get my family to work and school.   My fists remained clenched as I glanced at online grades or signed homework tickets.

I wished I had happier endings or inspiring words of wisdom.  But this was my reality as I struggled to do the things I disliked doing.

I let the alarm clocks shrill and echo in the confines of our home.  I only prodded my family members to awaken, once, and passed the stress and frenzied chaos onto their shoulders.  I forced myself to tersely sit at the kitchen table and not yell; hands clenched around my stainless steel Starbucks traveler.   After two days of running late, everyone got the hint and an agreement was made.  The kids and hubs requested that I prod them gently, twice, to wake them up.  Silly as this statement sounds, to have a “wake-up procedure” mentally worked for all of my family.  When I calmly stated that it was the second time I was waking them up; they magically rose.  It’s ALL mental.

The hubs and I quietly sat in the back of the room during the two rounds of debate competition.  Our youngest furiously wrote notes, holding two separate papers in his hand, and he and his teammates deliberated like trial lawyers in a courtroom.   When it was his turn to speak he took a calming breath and launched into a summary of the pros and cons; refuting the opposing side.  In the last round he took the entire three minutes and we breathed a collective sigh of relief.  It was finally over.

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Our son’s debate team won both rounds of competition.  The unprepared son with messy, scribbled notes received the highest scores and the hubs and I stared back at one another; perplexed.  What we had failed to realize, over the course of two weeks, was that the third speaker has to listen to his teammates’ and opponents’ points of view.  We mistakenly thought the third speaker reiterated these same points.  But it was the third speaker’s job to summarize, refute and weigh all of the information presented.  His final statements embodied all of these inputs as he held papers in both hands; barely glancing at them.  He brought everything together and drove his team’s points and arguments home.

I had been wrong thinking he was the weakest link with no preparation.  His capacity to summarize all the different points of view, process them and reiterate his views, in plain language, made him effective and strong.  It has always been what I’ve advocated for my sons;  to speak  their words.   The son who shook like a leaf, only a month before, had metamorphosed before our very eyes.  We had been stunned.

Our immediate family lost a beloved patriarch.  But in his death, we gained an estranged niece and young great nephew in return.  I was touched that the youngest son brought home the Time Magazine with David Bowie on the cover.  The hubs brought home a scented candle to bring warmth and aromatic relaxation into our dark moods.   I found myself mourning the loss of David Bowie with a music marathon of his songs throughout the decades.   The irony of the title was not lost on my sons when I told them to add another song to my obituary playlist; the song I hummed as we drove to the family funeral.   David Bowie’s “Ashes To Ashes.”

We stood in the hills that overlooked the valley below; the buildings of downtown in the distance.  Many of our family members have been laid to rest here and the memories of choosing my own coffin, with my young sons, flashed in my mind.  The verdant green brought peace; cemeteries are some of the most beautiful places.   I want my sons to feel the same peace I do, one day, when the hubs and I are gone.  I want them to remember the songs that made me happy as they play my obituary playlist at my wake; to celebrate the life we currently share.   They’ll groan to one another; fondly remembering my desire to play songs on repeat, over and over.  Death does not weaken the bonds of love.  It can only strengthen and deepen them; an appreciation for the moments woven into stories (or in my case music).  It is our history.

Pall bearers

Without struggle I become complacent.  Each day I strive to be better than the last, to invest my time in the relationships that nurture.  If I let each setback defeat me, I’ll never be able to pick myself up.  I only had the capacity to deal with each piece, one-at-a-time.   I needed to learn what the youngest revealed to us during his debate.   To listen and step back; to take stock of what I have and to speak my words in plain language.  With each small victory I could then interlock the pieces together to create a chain; a history.  With the ties that bind, the links of the chain becomes strong.

 

I may not always love what I do or do what I love.  It’s the people whom I love that allow me to continue to journey this life; even when death do us part.

Marriage

the follow through

vet lake

Every day I wake and hope for the best.

When I rearranged my hectic schedule to meet with friends and it wasn’t reciprocated, I felt it.  When I’m blown-off because something/someone better comes along, I felt it.  When I voiced my words and the recipient’s body language hoped I’d just go away, loud and clear, I felt it.  When the customer, after six months, has still not paid their invoice, I felt it.  The changing season turns cold and I can’t seem to layer myself with enough protective layers to not feel the sting.

How does one keep moving forward?

One morning a week, in the predawn hours, I lace up and head outdoors; flashlight in-hand.  I traverse trails in the dark, sifting through my thoughts and looking ahead to my day.  Today I headed out in the sun, squinting as my run seemed longer, harder, in the harsh light of day.   I pounded out my frustrations on hills; the sharp intake of cold air hurting as I pushed through.  It was at the end that I felt the sense of accomplishment, the sore muscles becoming conditioned to get stronger.

vet path

It is through disappointment and pain that I can discover my strength of character; my threshold of resilience.

I was grateful for the mid-week Veteran’s day holiday to recoup.   I pulled the covers over my head, wishing to hibernate; losing faith in finding good.  And then I read the long Facebook post from the girlfriend who has not returned home for almost a year; battling a host of illnesses and setbacks.  She is upbeat and grateful and I am humbled as she shared the every day trials and tribulations from a hospital bed.  She hopes for the day she will return home.

The whir of the vacuum could be heard at 9:45 PM; the hubs cleaning.  He chose not to partake in the various Veteran’s day freebies or festivities; instead, longing to be away from the crowds.  He does not need the ceremonies to affirm who he is; his reasons for serving.  Our wish for all our veterans is for them to return home.   It’s what they all hope for as they serve long deployments in far and distant places away from their families.  On this day we picked-up our house; the mess of two months of busy weekends taking its toll as we put things in the places where they belonged.  We enjoyed an impromptu date to celebrate a birthday with a dear friend.

trumpet mess

When the discussion comes to finances the hubs and I go round-and-round.  He reminds me that money matters; that it pays our mortgage, the clothes on our backs and the food we eat.  Money is a necessary evil, I argue, but it is not what makes the world go-round.  I place value on principles and morals, not large bank accounts.  I am not a money person.

It is a grim twist of fate that I am always accounting for money.  I have served in volunteer organizations as a treasurer, auditor and finance director.  I handle our home and business finances; reading financial ledgers and tax forms that make my head spin.  It goes against my nature to make people pay; to follow through on debts and fair shares owed.  I stared at my computer screen at debt collection agencies and procedures for small claims court; reminded of the arduous process of evicting tenants from our home.  Why don’t others honor their financial and moral obligations?  I wanted it all to go away for another day.

I push through my issues.  It’s not really about the money.  It’s all about principle.

Principle:  noun. a moral rule or belief that helps you know what is right and wrong and that influences your actions [Def. 1]. (n.d.). In Merriam Webster Online, Retrieved November 11, 2015, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/principle.

And so I must follow through with the arduous process of filing.  Of confronting.  It is daunting and I find that I would much rather talk about death and dying than money.  I argue with the hubs and with myself,  grinding my teeth in frustration.  This is not who I am!  But the hubs reminds me that it is.  I always follow through for what is just and fair.  It has always been who I am.

I am finding through this process that I have become my father’s daughter; the man who died too soon and could never know who I would be.  The small businessman who handled all people with aplomb.  Who brought his wife a Mounds candy bar and his daughter an almond Hershey bar home, every day.  To this day I cannot eat either candy; choosing other chocolates instead.  My father was a man who stuck to his guns and advocated for what was just and fair; even if unpopular.  I felt betrayed when he didn’t live; his lack of follow through to survive when I needed him most.

vet band

I’ve recently realized what matters to me above all else.

To stand by one’s word.  To do the right thing.  To follow it through.

I hold my head high as I briskly walk, hoping for warmth.  I feel the wind whipping my hair as I tighten my scarf; the visual of the cemetery with my parents’ headstones vivid in my mind.  I think of the girlfriend who pushes through physical therapy; to return home once again.  I am accustomed to walking alone, in the dark, finding my own way.  But on this day, my own veteran home, I know that his quiet presence walks alongside; embodying the values of my father and providing the strength as my mate.   He who always stands by his word and does the right thing.

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Thank you for humbly serving.  For always coming home.  For always following through.