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

changing seats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

History is important.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Family, friendships

celebrating today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I close my eyes and make my birthday wishes.

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

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

 

 

 

friendships

collecting the pieces

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My silence has finally been broken.

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Family, friendships, Marriage

In memoriam

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I spend a lot of time looking through the rear view and not enough time in the present.

In the hustle and bustle of end-of-year school projects, concerts, open houses and competitions there was no time to be still.  I took the days, one-at-a-time; focusing on the schedule and things needed to be done that very day and not looking ahead to the next.  Juggling three sons at three different schools, our work schedules and family commitments was as much as I could handle.  So when the text from my girlfriend came that a dear friend was in ICU; I pushed it to the back-of-my mind.  I quickly shared the words with my hubs as I pushed through invoicing and his response shocked me.

Go now. 

I verbally retorted the tasks due that very morning.  I told him that I probably wouldn’t even get in to see her; the rules for ICU usually allowing few visitors except family.   This 38 year old girlfriend has been in and out of hospitals for the past two years and I have visited her in these different places.  To this my hubby had replied.

You never know.

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I did go, standing by her bedside with three other women.  I stared at the monitors and IV tubes, looking at O2 saturation numbers on the ventilator.  On a whim I had returned the following evening before our school’s open house; the place where her presence was always felt in PTA.  Less than two days later, this girlfriend would leave us to greener pastures in the heavens above; free from the burdens placed upon her body.  She rests in peace.

I pushed through each event, each day, and in random moments the memories would return with this fellow parent and friend who leaves a husband and eleven-year-old son behind.  The feelings of guilt came upon me of the email she had sent, just a week before.  I hadn’t had time to return her words while at work.  Her request had been simple.  She had asked my girlfriend and I to write a letter for her son’s sixth grade promotion book; to encourage him as he transitions from elementary to junior high.  It would be presented later in this month, in the classroom, with a breakfast.  Each child would receive their book to read the letters from family and friends.

As news of her passing spread through our school there were many parents who also felt guilt.    The recurring undercurrent was in the guilt of not seeing our friend often.   As  I sat in the memorial service I had been surprised at the reach this girlfriend has had in our community.  When healthy, this woman could unceasingly talk with boundless energy and tenacity; a force to be reckoned with.  Most people only saw this side and it was rare she would reveal the person she truly was.  She was generous and loyal; to a fault.  She had many groups of friends but very few knew her.  Those of us who had these glimpses of who she was realized the fragile woman who sought close meaningful connections within.

When I questioned the medical advice she received from her physicians she’d remained strong in her convictions and in her faith in God.  I often offered to advocate for her, to question the cocktail of infusions and drugs she received for her treatments.  But she always remained steadfast; knowing she was always in God’s hands.  The book she had given a few of us, several years back, has always remained on my nightstand.  I am always the doubting Thomas; the one that must always question, why?

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This is the gift our dear friend has given me; her strong and unwavering conviction in her faith through adversity.

As I jogged, out of breath, in the mornings I would think of my girlfriend on the vent struggling for air.  As I picked up in my sons’ messy rooms, I thanked God I was still here to be a mother to them.  I reflected and dwelt on the past too much; not appreciating the life I currently have.  Soon my boys will leave this home and the noise and mess will be gone with it. I look through my camera lens and capture great shots; but am not really present in them.   I take shots through the rear view mirror of the amazing views that I’ve already left behind.

But it’s time to change all that.  It’s not too late.

We have to live life to its fullest each and every day.  This isn’t to say that we must be perfect, far from it.  What I am learning is that I must own the things that I do, the good and the bad.  I should let go of expectations and of trying to please others and solely focus on those lives who directly impact my own.  The relationships that nurture and build, not the ones that make me feel inadequate and tear me down.  Bank accounts and grand vacations, kids’ accomplishments, large cover-worthy homes; even plenty of friends are not things that define who I am.  The dramas of people around us are inconsequential if the relationships that matter remain strong.  I may not see my dear friends or family often but I know that they are there and will always affirm me.

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Discover and invest time with those who make the time to be with you and accept who you are.  Forgive those who’ve done you wrong; you never know.  And if you are fortunate to have already found them, take the time to appreciate them and tell them so.

That includes your spouses.  I know, I am guilty.

My girlfriend and I were not very far removed; both of us seeking meaning in the diverse groups of people we are a part of.  We both realized those friends who were superficial and those who were genuine.  We both were blessed with husbands who endured our over-the-top ways of giving in service, and who balanced our personalities with their strong, silent ones.  We were bound by the need to contribute, to leave legacies so that our only child lives would have some kind of meaning; primarily for our sons.  We were both driven to give our boys the best and to be involved; unlike our own parents growing up.

And so I grieve alone, through words, as I know this girlfriend has these past two years for the losses she has endured.  She would understand my guilt for living, while she is not here, and she’d feel guilt in leaving so soon.   She would want the best for her husband and son in the years to come and would be happy at the outpouring of love from our community.  She would be surprised that so many people would remember her contributions at her school, her church and the lives she touched outside of her family and small group of friends.  Her short life had not been in vain.

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It had been said, during her service, that our girlfriend’s overwhelming nature was because she would have to make up for the short years she would be on Earth with us.  For those of us who knew her, we have been blessed.

This Memorial Day it is important to look back to those who have laid down their lives for our freedoms.  I am grateful to my own father and my veteran husband, for serving this purpose.  But we must also live our every day lives so that we, too, embody these things.  So that we do not regret or look back at the things we never said or did.  Plant yourselves in the present (not past or future) and appreciate what our country is NOW during this controversial presidential election year.  We are the land of opportunity and of the free.  Today, (and every day), be grateful.

 

Family, friendships

a place found

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Most times, when a void occupies a place in my life; it sits empty and hollow.  Bad things hover on its edges; thoughts of insecurity, anger and sadness hope to fill the empty space.  My tendency is to venture into the void to dwell; to remain in its shadows.

It is when I let my expectations go that I gain unexpected joys.

This morning I had, unknowingly, jogged past my destination; lost in thought.  When the realization registered I was overcome with happiness.  It is a chore for me to awaken, early in the dark hours of the morning, to get some form of exercise for myself.  Initially the expectation had been to lose weight; to regain the body image of years before birthing three boys.

But in the year or so that I have forced myself outdoors; it was only today that the true benefit was realized.  My early morning  run is my time to sort through my dark and jumbled thoughts; to clear my mind.  The end had arrived too soon and I finally was experiencing the adrenaline of a “runner’s high.”

I no longer jogged for vanity; I jogged for sanity.

I came to work and stared at our office entryway.  The paint brushes and trays remained from our additional accent color on our office wall.  The small Christmas tree sat upon a dusty table.  The banker boxes leaned against the wall.

The hubs found me sifting through files, storing away the years to make room.  I had let my worries about the future go; concentrating on the present.   Somehow my perspective had changed and I racked my brain for answers; wondering How?  When?  Why now?  What had changed?

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I have finally taken ownership of my life circumstances and claim them as my own.

I held onto the Yellowstone National Park reservation; the one I knew I had to let go of due to a scheduling conflict with my sons’ activities.  I had made the reservation a year in advance; securing a coveted area at an enviable savings.  I had been looking forward to this vacation and was shocked when the middle son shared that his favorite memories from our family excursions were our road trips in our car.  The car?  I had realized my favorite memories of trips were always in the journey and spontaneous stops along the way.  To hear the teenager say he enjoyed the car had brought unexpected tears.

As I sadly and regrettably cancelled our reservation with the ranger; she reminded me what great amenities I had given up.  But, as a consolation prize, she then proceeded to instruct me on how to get the better and preferred room for the same price as the one I had given up; for 2017.   The information she passed along was priceless and I profusely thanked her.  I will get to this destination next year with better amenities.

In letting this go; something unexpectedly filled the void.  Our schedule opened up to share the fiftieth anniversary milestone with my in-laws and family.  The hubs who refused to take a cruise finally relented; at his mother’s request.  The years are rapidly flying by and opportunities for our sons to vacation with their grandparents and aunt’s family will soon be few and far between.

Friends have come and friends have gone.  In letting relationships run their course, for lack of reciprocity,  the unspoken words no longer wound me.   I, the only child, have been fortunate to have friends that continue to walk alongside as young as age four; who’ve shared my various milestones, both good and bad.  We camp together, our high school kids are in classes together, we meet in various cities and quickly remember the ties that bind.

I assumed I had no room for others, after recently feeling disappointment, but I had been wrong.  In the void that was left; my capacity to feel connections with others was rekindled and surprising.    We have boated on lakes, sat in bleachers and homes eating cookies and cakes and served in programs that matter.   This was freeing.

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I am coming to terms with my new stage in parenting; the letting go.  I am not the end-all, be-all, person for my children any longer and to be a good mother, I need to pursue things that bring me happiness.   I feel an affinity to cacti and how they sustain harsh climes and weather systems and remain standing tall.  They fill my entryway.

I have rediscovered the joy of growing all things green.  It is not the short-lasting showy blooms that bring beauty to my yard.  It is the variegated leaves, trees and shrubs, that are present all year long, that fill in my canvas; the textures and varying heights that bring interest and pleasing diversity to my outdoor landscape.

It is the friends that remain constant, with diverse backgrounds and varying views, that fill my life’s stages.  I can finally look past what’s popular and expected; to create my own canvas and fill in my open spaces.

The books pile upon my nightstand and I am devouring them.  The fifth grader snuggles nearby with his own blanket; the avid reader reawakened as his stack grows.  My thirst for reading is currently unquenched and with that in mind; I have let go of my expectations of the various social dynamics in our ever-changing bookclub.   I focus on the books; the words that have always brought me comfort and escape.  With or without  these women, I would still be reading them.

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It is how people choose to deal with one another; with authenticity and transparency; that matter the most. 

I am grateful for the people in my life who value these same things, who keep things confidential and will speak their words clear and true.  I repeat this often to remind myself; to not get complacent or get stuck in the void.   I have found meaningful relationships with my husband, my family and friends (old and new).

They sustain me in this space.  They continually give me grace.  In their lives they grant me a place.

There’s a spanner in the works, you know
You gotta step up your game to make it to the top
So go

Gotta little competition now
You’re going to find it hard to cope with living on your own now
Oh oh, oh oh

Let’s make this happen, girl
You gotta show the world that something good can work
And it can work for you
And you know that it will

Let’s get this started girl
We’re moving up, we’re moving up
It’s been a lot to change
But you will always get what you want

Took a little time to make it a little better
It’s only going out, just one thing then another
You know, you know

Took a little time to make it a little better,
It’s only going out, just one thing then another
You know, you know

Let’s make this happen, girl
You gotta show the world that something good can work
And it can work for you
And you know that it will

Let’s get this started girl
We’re moving up, we’re moving up
It’s been a lot to change
But you will always get what you want ~ Two Door Cinema Club, 2009.

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

the blind side

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Words are important to me.

My husband has to hear them, day-in and day-out, as I download my thoughts and he acts as the sounding board.  As a young girl I would write them in my diaries; the ones I burned when I sold my childhood home in 2003.  My sons can attest that I am always insisting that they say their words.  I tell them to advocate for themselves because, one day, Mom is not going to be here to speak for them.  I continue to type them, daily, in emails, comments, texts and blogs.  I am a communicator.

There comes a point, though, when the consonants and vowels, strung in sentences, are ineffectual.   Words.  They are powerful.  But they can be misconstrued, misinterpreted and used against you.  They can bring hurt and devastation in their wake.   They blind side.

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blind side: transitive verb. 1:  to hit unexpectedly from or as if from the blind side <blindside the quarterback>  2:  to surprise unpleasantly.   (n.d.). In Merriam Webster Online, Retrieved October 21, 2015, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/blindside.

I heard the words of my girlfriend, mobile phone in hand, as she processed the words in the text; blind sided.   I had dropped off one child and was en route to pick up the next; my Tuesday evenings the busiest in our week.  It was all I could do to hug her before I shuttled off for another child and my heart hurt; knowing she was angry and trying to make sense of it all.  I had no words to help her heal as she considered options on how to help her tween daughter navigate through queen bees and wanna bes.  I do not envy the middle school years, distinctly remembering the hormones and cliques.

But I recently realized that it is not only our children who experience these social dynamics of adolescence.  Adults experience these things too.  Exactly a week before, as I picked up the same son at the same location, the phone call came from another girlfriend; also blind sided.  It is painful for me to observe adults navigate in the same way as the adolescent tweens.  I find myself speaking the words no one chooses to say; the others choosing to be politically correct versus morally correct.  It’s the harder path to follow; it’s easier to feign ignorance.

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Respect is not a word I use lightly and when a person earns it; I will humbly serve and fight for what is fair; knowing that I most likely will be burned.  But at the end of the day, I have to know that I do the right thing; for myself but most importantly, for my sons.   I can’t tell them how to do the right thing.  They have to see it with their own eyes.  Actions speak louder than words.

I value integrity above all else.

I am a work in progress and have to restrain myself to sit still, to keep quiet, and to hear what others have to say.  To not throw words at people as I verbally spar.   To not shoot off the email that sits in my drafts folder.  To not interrupt when I want to correct or push for my point of view.  In my marriage I am the extrovert and it is my introvert husband who balances my tendencies.  He is a man of few words; but he is also one of action.  It frustrates him to have to hear my issues without the ability to fix them and as I share, he counters with the following quip to our sons and I.  Nobody loves a whiner.

For every problem bring me several solutions.

I try hard to re-teach myself to think this way.  To stop with the words and to seek resolution; even if the process is ugly and arduous.

Exhausted as we were, last Sunday, after working all day at an event; we made the effort to trudge through the local tourist attraction away from the distractions at home.  It takes effort to step away from the daily demands and schedules to make time to spend with others, just because.  When our dear friends offered free tickets, we knew it would be tight.  But the hubs and I constantly say we want to spend unstructured time with our boys before they leave our nest.  Our time grows short.  Fortified with coffee on four hours of sleep, we made the trek into the city to tour back lots and explore movie magic.  The hubs, a native, had never actually been here.

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As the sole female in my household, none of my sons speak in paragraphs; merely short, monosyllable sentences or grunts.  Each day, upon returning home from work, I ask each one, individually, how their day went.  I use multiple tactics to make them share, to leave my questions open-ended, to turn down the volume and stand directly in front of them.

Mom, the day goes just like any other day.  We go to school.  We do homework.  We hang with the same friends.  Why do you ask so many questions? 

I have been tempted to stalk them on Facebook, Steam,  Instagram or texts (I have the ability to do all of these things and they know this) but have come to realize that they will tell me in their own good time; most often when it is least convenient for myself.  No longer am I their sole confidante that can fix all things.  It was this a-ha moment that made me realize that this is how my husband feels about me.

And so I just do.  We walked the various attractions, stood in long lines amongst foreign tourists in hopes of meeting my girlfriend and her family in the park.  We never found one another; both the hubs and I’s phones ran out of charge as the park came to a close.  When the exhaustion hit, in the sixty-five minute Transformers line, I leaned into my husband and watched my boys observe everything around them; everything new.  I was grateful for this time; away from the sibling squabbles, school and work demands or daily chores.  My house remains a mess but the time spent was worth it.

I think of the shared post from the girlfriend above, a photographer.  To focus the lens on what’s important.  To develop (from) the negatives.  And to take the next shot.  We create our own portraits of who we are; the words unseen and unheard.

I want the portfolio of my life to be filled with shots and compositions of the people who choose to be transparent, authentic and do the right thing.  Those who will walk on my blind side and point me in the right direction with love, respect and integrity.

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I know the tween has her work cut out for her, to learn to walk away and to feel confident in her own skin.  That her worth is not defined by the quantity of friends but by the quality and that actions speak louder than words.  That her mom does not enter the drama and can advocate and mediate respectfully for what is right.   It was in high school that I learned to finally stand up for what was fair; mediating amidst a songleading squad full of prima donnas and alpha females.  I find myself in this role, once again, amidst adults; hoping someone will follow-through, that the words are not spoken in vain and that action will be taken in the right direction.

I seek resolution (both in action and high def pixelation).

friendships

true or false; the things I appreciate about the XY

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I am still learning, after several decades, the ways of being a female.  Currently the moon is full, the hormones fluctuate from day-to-day and I parent a ten year-old and two teenagers.  They call these years mid-life but I sometimes feel like I am re-living my teenage years all over again.  I’ve been granted a do-over of all the unresolved issues I never figured out way back when.

I stand before my closet, on most days, as if it is my enemy.  How does one dress for one’s age?  Most mornings I rush out the door; grateful to choose from among ten polos that bear our company’s name.  I have no time to change my mind; the choice easily made.   But what is appropriate for other occasions? Is the blouse too low-cut for work?  Are the overalls too casual for a parent meeting?   Is the dress too hoochie-like for a girls night out at the movies?  My cluttered closet overflows yet I can’t find anything to wear.

It is on days like these that I wish I were a man.

I watched the husband empty clothes hangers into black trash bags.  He never has to worry about a low-cut blouse, mini shorts or skirts, heels, nor make-up.  He doesn’t delude himself that he will fit into the jeans he wore in high school; he tosses them in the bag.  He holds on to the Top Gun shirt with the holes.  Four trash bags were donated; his closet almost empty.

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Men do not mince words and usually say what they mean and mean what they say.  They don’t waste time with small talk and get right to the point.  They do not tell you all is well when they really don’t mean it.   There are no hidden social snubs; they are much more transparent.   Instead of worrying if they should hug or kiss one another; they extend hands or clap twice upon the other’s back.  They can nod from across the room.  If a guy doesn’t like another one; he just stays away from him.

Not so for us females.  We enter rooms hoping our appearance exudes what we want others to see.  We are not transparent.  We will smile and hug our enemy while telling them they look great.  We assess bag brands, children’s schedules over coffee and tell one another what we want to hear; not necessarily what we need to hear.  We post pictures on social media; the good ones, that tell the stories we want others to see.   We form groups and cliques and love feeling included.  We cluster around those with titles and think of witty things to say; like queen bees and wanna-bes.  We write paragraphs trying to get our points across.  I am guilty.

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Yes, there are the males who compare cars and jobs, dropping hints of six figures.  But for the most part my male friends talk news and  politics and argue sports calls.  They are not super sensitive; they are more apt to say things like they are and hash it out.  They can assess situations much more objectively.  They use bullet-points to get their points across.  A sentence is short and concise; not more than six words.  It’s that simple.

I found myself asking the opinion of my hubs as I worked through a situation in my head.  My husband has always given me the same answer; the one I refused to acknowledge.  I was surprised to hear the eldest son interject his opinion as I rattled names out loud.  I am tired of the girlfriends who say things are fine when really they aren’t.  The son answered who were true and who were false.  He had no reason to lie; he spoke with candor and the depth of his understanding rattled.  He called things like they were.  I was blinded by emotions, false loyalty and history.

I admire the males who can exude confidence without drawing too much attention.  Those who are fair and can share what needs to be said to make things right.   The men who can lead by example and motivate others to serve.  I appreciate the XYs who are well-maintained (good hygiene, groomed, dressed appropriately, etc.); they don’t have to be buff or uber-athletic.  The ones who work with their hands and love the challenge of tough questions.  The guys who give people space without judgment; who don’t micromanage nor are OCD.  The males who smile without artifice; who can laugh out loud and take the heat when someone else dishes it out.  The guys who give hugs and words of encouragement, without subtle meanings.  The ones who won’t kick me down when I’m hurting but will lift me up and throw me back on the horse.

I wish my female friends could be more like men.

Don’t get me wrong, I can be a girlie-girl.  I love to go shopping and perusing make-up counters in malls.  I love to chatter away with a drink in-hand: coffee, beer or wine.  I write in paragraphs and enjoy the nuances and subtle meanings of the written word in poetry, books, music or news articles.  But I’m distracted by things that don’t matter and smoke and mirrors.  I say yes when I really need to say no.

I long for acceptance instead of accepting who I am.

I get lost in the cliques and brand names.  I am invisible to others without a title.  When people ask how are you?  they say the words but don’t really care about the answer.   I need a way to work this through; longing for boxing gloves and a punching bag versus disingenuous words and getting sucker-punched reading between the lines.  I need things to be simple.

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I thought the above as I sat in the cafe, waiting for our order.  The couple at the order counter had sat behind me in a crowded stadium, the night before, at a high school rivalry game.  We are parents in the same booster organization.  Last evening they were chatty and in the cafe I readied my hand to wave at them in acknowledgement.  When my hubs called to me to toss my keys; he had crossed directly in front of them.  But I never got to wave; their body language pretending they did not see me.   I was invisible.

When asked what super-power I’d like to have, I usually answer with invisibility.  Instead, I want the power of discernment.  To know who is true and who is false.

Most of my male friends do not hold grudges.  They get their agressions out and let things go.  All is forgiven.  I strive to tap into this mentality; to resolve my issues and stand up tall.  I take the hits as they come and am grateful for my hubs and sons to bring me clarity.  I speak my truths.   To the friends who have heard me I thank you; you know who you are.  I am making progress.

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May our relationships remain simple and our words be always true.

Family

Human nature

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The Shangri-Las’ song, I Can Never Go Home Anymore, was recently discovered last week while playing the Wild movie soundtrack.  Enamored with the book by Cheryl Strayed and the film starring Reese Witherspoon; the soundtrack had been an impulsive purchase which sat in my car console untouched last year.  I found it while rummaging around my vehicle as I left it at the mechanic; preparing for our upcoming annual camping trip with the friend I have known since aged four.   To get my sons in the camping mood I popped the Wild CD in the stereo and imagined myself hiking one of my most favorite trails in the Sierras; in the same mountains Cheryl Strayed chose to walk alone on the Pacific Crest Trail or PCT.  This song is track four on the soundtrack, originally released in 1965.  It is fifty years old.

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My sons have been exposed to my varying musical tastes and our household has various genres competing for audio space at the same time: country music, heavy metal, alternative, top 40, rap, classical, jazz, Motown and disco.  But somehow we all discovered this mid-sixties era together in the confines of my car.  Reggae and Bob Marley are next on my list.

“What IS this weird stuff?” asked the youngest as a Simon & Garfunkel song, El Condor Pasa (If I could), vibrated through my speakers; reminiscent of a hippy/ folksy tune.  Then the Shangri-Las’ song played and we all laughed hysterically.  “They call this music?” came the cracking voice of my middle son; which caused us to giggle once again.  I gazed at him through my rearview mirror and replied this was the sixties version of rap.

I’ve been going through the decades and recently, to commemorate summer, Good Vibrations and Surfin’ Safari by the Beach Boys could be heard through my car speakers.  The eldest stoically sat in the front seat, listening and taking it all in.  We thought he had been asleep.  On our four hour trek north we played this CD for the hubs.  We still stifled a few laughs but then began to really listen to the words.  The minor chords and melancholy lyrics have begun to resonate with all of us and the boys asked me to play it again. The youngest looked a bit teary and I resisted the urge to tell him to add this song to my obituary playlist.  I did tell the middle son.  Are you serious, Mom?

Why am I waxing long about this song?  I wondered this myself and realized the time spent with my longtime childhood girlfriend gave me a different perspective about motherhood, success and human nature.  I can never go home anymore either and she knows where I come from; she’s from the same place.  We caught up on various topics but it was only when I sat in my home, four hundred miles away, that the words I wished I had said to her finally came.

You’re a great Mom and don’t you ever forget it.

We struggle through motherhood, seeking and wanting to belong and hoping for opportunities to prove that we, indeed are, good mothers.  The affirmation rarely comes.  Whether we stay-at-home, volunteer or work we never feel adequate.  It’s hard for my fellow, moms to acknowledge a compliment on how they look; let alone that they, are good moms.  It’s easy to tear things down; harder to build them up.  It’s human nature.

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We sat around the campfire; my girlfriend’s family of four with my family of five.  Her husband had just asked my older sons what they wanted to do after high school.  The eldest shared his answer of aeronautical engineering, the middle son is still unsure.  Out-of-the blue my girlfriend shared how I always knew what I had wanted to be from a very young age.  She always remembers the memories I do not and I was curious what I had said way back when; aged thirteen like my middle son.  A doctor.  She shared her own dreams and had considered becoming a nun but really had wanted to find a career that allowed her to travel.

I let the conversation flow around me as I reflected on the paths our lives took.  I had followed my career path to its destination.  Medical school.  I crossed all my t’s and dotted all of my i’s and when I finally arrived, I realized after the first year I didn’t really want to be there.  Things had fallen into place for me too easily.  My father had always wanted me to become a doctor or a lawyer.  He was a small businessman.  I grinned at the irony that now, I too, am like him.  The PSATs, SATs, ACTs, GREs & MCATs have no bearing in what I currently do in my life.

My girlfriend shared her experiences aloud; my sons intently listening.  She chose Spanish and comparative literature as majors, opting for the fifth year since she had not been ready to leave college.  She had transferred after junior college and I, too, remembered the phone conversations we had decades ago.  Things did not come easily for her but she continued to work hard to find her way.  She now works for the capital city of our state in economic development; just returning from travel to China.  She travels extensively and is successful in what she does.

When you have to work for what you want, you appreciate it much more than if it is handed to you.

While walking with my girlfriend, so like my childhood friend, I realized she and I have been having this same running conversation for the past few months.  She is also well-traveled and successful in her career; the similarities striking.    Both of these girlfriends, like myself, search for opportunities to grow.  But what we are seeking, none of us know.

And so it goes with motherhood.  It is not natural; nor easy.  My tiger mom tendencies resurfaced when the report cards arrived in the mail yesterday.   For all the mental preparation I still fail miserably at caging this beast within; stalking silently away to the kitchen to let my son digest his grades.  It was then that the campfire discussion came to mind; the perspective very slowly returning.  In this past year I have stopped seeking greener pastures, comparing the haves and have nots.  I have arrived at a place of acceptance where I find joys in the place I currently reside.  I absorbed the bitter pill of disappointment and failures, in life and in people; which allowed me to step away and consider the person I was and the person I am.   This mental work has made me appreciate how far I’ve come.  I walk the path of authenticity now.

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The smell of smoke from crackling wood, the tall trees, the waxing moon in Nature, with my girlfriend I have known for almost four decades, brought me peace.   She was the affirmation I had needed.  She talked of mommy cliques, changing careers and balancing motherhood, marriage, volunteer opportunities and a full-time job.  She felt like a bad mother amongst the other parents who knew every child’s name in her son’s classroom and had countless hours volunteering.   She talked of clusters of moms at the gym; a social circle that she could never experience.   In the few days we spent together I diligently answered her questions; slowly processing her words but not having the opportunity to share the words I wished I had said above.

There is no check-in-the-box list of what makes a great mom.  One does not have to fundraise for multiple school drives, sit on PTA/booster boards,  applaud on the sidelines of every game, be home to bake cookies when kids arrive home from school, make lots of money or buy everything our child(ren) wants.

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Spending a large quantity of time or money with your child does not equate quality time.

It takes twenty minutes to read a book, an hour to help with homework, five minutes to actively listen to a child’s opinion or explain why we can’t buy an item due to cost.   Done consistently these small investments, with lots of love and paired with the ability to let go and hand over responsibility, have the potential for big returns; namely…a child who respects his parents and accepts their failings.  The child eventually learns to navigate through life on his own; drawing on his past experience and upbringing (both good and bad).

I continue to place one foot in front of the other, striding to the beat of my own music and drum.  I walk the great outdoors, enjoying my fellow humans and Mother Nature. Motherhood certainly isn’t natural and it’s up and down.  It’s human nature.

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