Family, friendships

my wake-up call

Last Thursday night, I remembered the importance of life’s checks and balances.

Upon entering my garage door, at 9:57 PM, my eldest son explained why my husband’s truck was not in our driveway.  Their aunt, my husband’s sister, had flat-lined and he’d rushed to the emergency room to be with her and her husband.   I immediately looked at my mobile phone log, remembering the distinct cell ring of my mother-in-law at 8:16 PM during the budget meeting I had been presiding over; balancing income versus expenditures.   My sister-in-law had been at the right place at the right time; immediately revived.  She is expected to have a full recovery.

On Mother’s day she had complained of feeling under the weather, sharing that age was catching up with her as she entered her fifth decade earlier this year.   I had noted that, instead of mother’s day being a day of celebration, it was a day of higher expectations and stress.  In trying to celebrate her mother-in-law, her own mother, as well as being a mother herself and acknowledging her daughter, a young mother, she had been worn out trying to do it all.  The symptoms she had exhibited on Sunday came in full force Thursday; finding herself in an emergency room and being resuscitated back.   This was a definitive wake-up call.   Literally.

We, women, try to do it all; at a cost to ourselves.

My own physical body felt the stress and I took the time to sleep from Friday afternoon through Saturday morning.

This weekend, at a family BBQ, I was reminded of the earlier years of motherhood; my younger cousins now beginning to have kids of their own.  As toddlers roamed and babies gurgled in delight on other Moms’ laps, my pre-teen and teenaged sons attempted to sit on my own; dwarfing me.  Only a decade or so earlier I had been pushing double strollers and carrying boys on infant carriers; trying to do everything.  My days had been filled with caring for their every need and these days, I struggle knowing that I must let them go.

I am feeling the weight of life’s transitions as I watch family and friends go through their own.    My sister-in-law is now forced to make her own choices versus trying to please everyone.

  • Deteriorating health issues commanding lifestyle changes and watching numbers.  Blood sugar, high blood pressure, liver and heart function.
  • Burying loved ones and caregiving for those left behind.
  •  Worrying about the future with our current economic and political climate; including retirement
  • Adjusting to the empty nest and discovering new interests, occupations and relationships
  • Raising grandkids when your own kids can barely make ends meet

We look at the numbers and ponder statistical probabilities and outcomes.  We worry about aging successfully, both in health and in wealth; as we navigate through midlife and beyond.  We work to define our roles, roles that constantly change and merge into one another.

We are mothers, daughters, sisters, grandmothers and we try to balance it all.  We nurture everyone, but accept care from none.

Something has to give; and it usually is the mother giving.  It is in our support community of family and friends that we must gain strength.

For the past month I have walked from one room into another, assuming different roles.  I step out of our business into the threshold of my home; briefly getting dinner before heading into a volunteer role at one of my sons’ programs or schools.  It is important for me to serve and contribute; knowing this is my way to remain involved in my growing boys’ lives; lives that no longer need me to hover in the wings.  And so I work behind-the scenes to promote and support the activities that sustain them since the time with my sons grows short.  I am thankful for the distraction and rarely complain.

I watched my older sons turn left, in their car, as my own vehicle continued straight; our paths diverging.  I hadn’t expected the sharp pang as I drove alone in my SUV to my destination and I turned down the music; preferring silence.  The loss of their presence in my, now too large, car was felt and the tears began to gather.  But the bright glare of my destination, among adults, brought me back to the tasks at hand.

I’ve spent a lot of time letting go of ideals and unmet expectations in my life.  As my sons soon embark on their journeys beyond high school, I recalled my own hopes and dreams; hoping their paths will be smoother.  Their accomplishments do not need to be grand, photo shopped or shared on social media with hundreds of followers or likes.  The bigger things are fleeting.

Life is lived in the details of waking every morning and striving to do the best that we can.  To give the best of ourselves without expecting much in return.   When life gets busy and crazy, as it always does at the end of the school year, it is the boring, routine that I crave.  To make the smallest of choices within my own spaces and cultivating relationships within these places.  

I struggle to find my balance, each and every day.  But numbers no longer define me.  Not on weigh scales, clothes sizes, bank accounts, friendships nor age.  Age is just a number.

Successful aging is embodied in the spirit we choose to live our lives.

We can awaken each morning expecting the worst.  Or we can awaken each morning hoping for the best.  To continue to believe that we serve a purpose and that the world is still filled with people who are good.  It’s not about what the world can do for me.  It’s about how I can contribute to the world.

My sons and husband know I chirp,  “Good morning,” as they grumble and throw covers over their heads or turn off alarms.  Some days I take it personally but most days I take it in; hoping to get a smile or a, “Good morning” in return.  These days, these gestures are few and far between.  But occasionally I catch glimpses and it is enough.

No longer do I project into the future past twenty-four hours.  I have learned to focus on the minutes before me; to be present in them.  To not use my words to break, but to build.  To not be present where I do not want to be.  To not compare with what I don’t have.   It is a huge learning process, this change in mindset.  Success is measured in navigating through the day and looking forward to the next one.  

This is my wake-up call, each and every single day.  May your life be resuscitated by those who revive you.

And I STILL sing this song to my boys; much to their annoyance.

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

Family

finding beauty in my own backyard

I sat at the mosaic patio table from years past.

I remembered the day I had wheeled in the surprisingly heavy, wrought iron mosaic table and two chairs.  I wondered if the hubs would notice them when he returned home from work.  Placed beneath the large tree in our starter home, I imagined a garden growing.

The month was March and we had just settled in; the seed starter kits growing heartily.  In December 1998 we had just returned to our home state, after three years at various military installations in the Deep South.  In January, in our one room apartment, I had planted seeds in starter kits in anticipation of finally putting roots down.  We had looked, in earnest, to purchase our first home.

This patio table and chairs, from 1999, have moved with us for seventeen years.

Transplanted to the present, I looked at our backyard; the weeds overtaking everything and the lack of care evident.  Years ago I couldn’t wait to start a garden; to plant myself somewhere permanent after years of moving every six to nine months.   I grabbed my cell and snapped the shot.

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Where had I gone wrong?

There was no beauty.  Our backyard was neglected.  It brought me to the realization that I had found my self-worth in unimportant things, neglecting the one place that is supposed to be my sanctuary; my source of renewal and inspiration. Home.  Most days I see the cracked tile and mirror; the dusty curtains and blinds.  The clutter began to overtake my bedroom, the clothes shoved into drawers of dressers that would not close.  Every few months I de-clutter to make room, but I had never set foot in our backyard; overwhelmed within the four walls of my home.

It was time to engage; to live the life I have because it is limited and I’ve become complacent in it.   My in-laws, visiting at work, stated that our kids were our hobbies.  We didn’t have time for anything or anyone else.

My pursuits have been invested in my children but I have forgotten to invest in myself.

I sat in the sun with my coffee, remembering the gardens of years past and the very first day I sat on this patio set.  We had planted our seeds, transplanted flowers and grew vegetable gardens.  Many days I would spread a blanket out on the grass, my first son in my arms, pointing at clouds in the sky.  The ears of corn would occasionally block my vision, and I happily would photograph the progress of our garden to my husband, half-a-world away.  I journalled the growth of the plants in the five month growing season, with my young son alongside;  the small green seedlings soon towering over his infant body.

I looked up at the sky, once again.  The gardener within was awakening.

I detour160302 pillowed into the home improvement store that is next door to the wholesale warehouse of all goods imaginable.   I gazed at patio sets, globe garden lights and brightly colored patio decor.  The pillow caught my eye and I imagined it in my bedroom amidst the rich hues of burgundy aka Dutch Boy’s Hawaiian cinder.  Thirty minutes later, cushion in-hand, I squinted in the afternoon light and walked back to my car.

For two days I pulled weeds from the ground; the exertion relieving the stress and demands life always brings.  The insidious weeds completely filled my green waste trash container and the slate was clear; ready to be planted anew.

I’m feeling the pull of spring; to move forward.  To progress.

I envisioned dewy flowers and vegetables; gently swaying in the early rays of the morning.  I sneezed as I shoveled weeds taller than my 5 ft. and 3/4 in. frame; the prickly stalks causing me to itch. I leaned heavily upon the hoe; my knees tweaking in protest.  Amidst my discomfort in the waning sun and elongated shadows of dusk, I appreciated the stark beauty in open and empty spaces; ripe for new endeavors and growth.  Uncrowded by weeds I could plant myself firmly to the moment, breathing deeply.  I found my place within my own space once again.

I pondered the thoughts of my in-laws, thinking of my own childhood.   What was wrong with investing time in parenting?  My own parents were uninvolved in my extra-curriculars but allowed me to pursue them.  They had been proud of my accomplishments.  Recently I found myself explaining to a dear friend, WHY, I had always known I would be an involved parent when I had children of my own.   This had been a surprise to my friends and family; that I had changed my path from career to motherhood.    I had naively stated, to my boss, that I would be back four weeks after delivery and had lined-up daycare for my soon-to-be infant son.  It was all planned out.

It had been hard to return to the dream job I held at the time of my eldest’s birth; the co-workers like sisters.  After various job transitions and moves, I had planted myself in a job that utilized my life experience, education and strengths.   I had it all!

Three months later, after learning of another impending deployment for my hubs, I left this position and began my auspicious beginning into motherhood.  There was no manual and I ravenously read parenting books to teach me anything I could glean; joining Mommy and Me classes at the local hospital for guidance.  My own mother had begun to show symptoms of decline.  It would only be three years later, upon her death from other causes, that she would officially be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s; the field of study I had pursued.

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My sons usurped all of my time and, to my surprise and guilt, I enjoyed it.  As I planted gardens I realized I was also growing children; my newfound pursuit.  It would be my job to feed their bodies, water them with faith and try to be the sun in their worlds; providing warmth and love.  I would weed out the unsavory things and carry the spade; protective of my seedlings and ready to extricate anything obstructing their growth .  I had spent many hours sitting at the mosaic patio table watching my seedlings grow.

In this season of life my sons are as tall as the corn stalks; two of them towering over me and the third rapidly catching up.  In the busyness of life I stopped tilling the soil and had no time to put in a garden.  But the trees we had planted six years ago continue to grow; even through a statewide drought.  I do not water them yet they still bear fruit; hopeful that my sons are like these trees.  As they grow  older there is less physical labor and more mental work.  The weeds are ever present and I’ve not done my due diligence in keeping the field open and fertile.  Instead, I’ve allowed it to crowd my time and space.  Renewal and inspiration cannot grow here.

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To be the sun for my sons I am learning to sacrifice time; to take care of myself so that I can be a better mother to these boys.

The smell of chlorine fills my nostrils as the pool water clears. The cluttered plastic chairs are stacked and put away.  The empty space beckons.

 

 

 

Family

Falling on big ears. I hear you.

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

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

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

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

You never hear me, Mom.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Family, School

happy first day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

School

lost ground

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I need to get the balance right.

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

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

All he wants is a mom that accepts his choices.

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

Family

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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Family, friendships

welcome to motherhood

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

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

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Welcome to motherhood.

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

We are mothers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yep.  Welcome to motherhood.

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

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

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

Let your love flow.

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

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

Family

missing boats; a day in the life

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Literally running late, I whooshed through my front door at 6:47 am.  My eldest son and hubs exit my door, daily, at 7:03 am.  To my surprise he was awake, fed and packed and was waiting for his father to emerge.  He happily greeted me. “See, I woke up and I’m ready to go!” and I grinned wide in return.  And then I surveyed his outfit of shorts and a polo.  He had a concert festival today and the required dress was formal black with a black tie.  The deer in the headlights look came across his face and he streaked past and up the stairs.  I could hear the drawers opening and closing frantically as he searched for these items.

To this I sighed.

Exiting the den I came upon the youngest.  I cheerfully chirped how grateful I was that he was awake without my usual prodding.  He gave me a long look and informed me that he threw up twice on his bed.  I trotted up the stairs, pushed aside the eldest as he dressed, and found the offending blanket.  At 11 PM last evening this son felt queasy and threw up the contents of his dinner into it.  He rose to tell me but I was sound asleep and his father was working in the garage.  He found a small corner in his bed to sleep on and promptly vomited into his favorite blanket again.  He rolled the blanket in a bundle; deciding to inform me in the morning.

I found myself scraping the offensive puke off this son’s favorite blanket at 7:13am.  I heard the eldest rush out the door; his father waiting in his vehicle in the driveway.  I tried to remind him to get money from his Dad; this son who wouldn’t return home until 7 PM this evening, but the door slammed shut.    I threw the blanket in the wash, washed my hands once, twice and finally a third time and proceeded to make my younger sons’ lunches.  The eldest pounded on the door.  He had forgotten his cell phone.

At 7:23 am I exited from the shower dripping wet.  At 7:33 am we left the driveway.  The overwhelming feeling that came over me, this morning,  was that somehow I kept missing the boat.  I thought I’d been on track for my schedule today.  But it never goes the way I’d planned.  One glitch and it all comes to pieces.

Life happens.

At 5:30 AM I had walked with my girlfriends and was astounded to realize that my perception had been completely “off.”  I had believed others did not share my own point of view but I was wrong.   I had missed the boat.

Last evening as the hubs and I considered what to do with our family for spring break; the memories returned of one of our favorite road trips ever.  After sharing our thoughts on San Francisco at dinner I assumed our middle son’s strongest memory would be of our walk across the Golden Gate Bridge.  He had cried the entire return walk across the bay; his head hurting.  Instead, his memory is of Ghiradelli Square; watching the vats of chocolate churn and fill.  That was the best, Mom!  How could you not know that?

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Last Friday evening I was amongst women listening as they talked of their children; all sitting together in the adjacent room.  Collectively we’ve observed them grow over these last five years; from kids to tweens and currently teens.  The social dynamics have changed dramatically and I think of my eldest; the introverted one who was anti-social.  I, his extreme extroverted opposite,  constantly fretted over his social interactions; hoping to guide and teach him how to maneuver amongst his peers.  It has only been in recent months that his true character was revealed; catching me by surprise.

I had forgotten the capacity for people to “step up;” when outside their comfort zone.  I had assumed my son would sit quietly in a corner; disengaged.  But he, too, surprised me.  He is much more assertive and social than I ever had been at his age; his maturity manifesting.  No longer do I harangue and guide. In accepting his nature and allowing him to be true to who he is; he has emerged confident and independent.  It is okay to not be like everyone else; to fit the mold.

We need to find our uniqueness and explore it.  To give our dreams and thoughts a place to take flight or free-fall.

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I had come to this conclusion with my son and he now blossoms.  He has blazed the trail so that his younger brothers can grow.  So that it is easier, as a parent, to let go.  To trust and accept exactly who each of them are so they can be authentic to themselves.

My assumptions have proven me wrong.  I have missed the boat many times and I realize now, that it is okay.  I am only responsible for my own thoughts and actions.  No longer am I tethered to what others think, how I appear, or the works I’ve done.  My kids, my clothes, my affiliations cannot reflect who I am.

I must do that all on my own.  I must just be me.

I had been surprised by the invitation that arrived in late February; a milestone party to celebrate my girlfriend.  In late 2000 I had joined our local hospital’s Mommy and Me playgroup; these women my introduction to motherhood.  All of us were first time mothers and each week we intently listened as we discovered our infants’ firsts together.  My girlfriend had been our ringleader; initiating social gatherings of six of us, moms, in her home.  Our kids had all been born in September, five boys and one girl.  This was the one thing we had in common.

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The time flew and our young family was transferred to our next duty station.   Our only contact with one another was the annual photo Christmas cards that journalled the growth of our kids.  Only recently, via Facebook, had we been reconnected.  It had been years.

The hubs and I walked towards the hall filling with people; none of whom we knew.  Would she recognize us?  Would we know her?

We found ourselves engulfed in hugs with the two couples we haven’t seen for oh so long.  The tears silently fell as we caught up.   One had recently been hospitalized, the other continues to fight a rare soft tissue cancer. But the words of apology had caught me off-guard.  This girlfriend, too, lost her mother to Alzheimer’s; years after I had lost my own.    We’re sorry we weren’t there for you; that we let you down.  They had been unable to comprehend my life and through the years had carried the guilt with them.

How had I missed the boat again?  I had never felt that way about them; their assumptions all wrong.  And as I looked across the table, tears glistening, they filled the gaps in my memory I had tried to forget.   I was grateful for their perspective and lasting friendships for almost fifteen years.

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I no longer will make assumptions.  I must speak my words loud and clear.

Our seasons of motherhood are changing as our children grow up and away.  Our views of our selves are evolving as life throws wrenches in our paths and we step over or around them.   I am learning to pick up the wrench and fling it out of the way as I confront the things I didn’t acknowledge; years before.  It is fitting that this girlfriend’s birthday lies on the solstice of spring and we were happy to celebrate her milestone together this past weekend.

And at 3 PM, just prior to a meeting, a phone call arrives.  Can you send me product by 7:30 AM next day, Eastern Standard Time?  To our shock the caller was completely serious and sent a courier to bring our product to a commercial plane to deliver the goods.  The hubs decided he wasn’t going to miss this boat and frantically worked to get the job done. Off our bolts flew, into the night, to arrive at the job site the very next morning.  The company had found us on the worldwide web.

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By 6:15 PM the cell phone was on 3% battery and the middle son called from home.  The youngest was asleep on the couch, the eldest at a concert festival.  This son had diligently worked on homework and emerged from the den.  I’m ready for dinner, where is everyone else?

And at 6:30 PM, eldest-in-tow I arrived to a messy kitchen with cut-up strawberries, empty yogurt containers and kiwi peels; this son creating smoothies.  Yours is in the fridge, Mom.  Grateful I sat and gulped it down, the youngest finally waking.  The hubs arrived at 7PM; dinner was eaten and the sounds of trumpet came from the family area.  The youngest grabbed his clean, fuzzy blanket from the dryer and settled in beside me; eyes drooping as I attempted to read my Kindle.  It was 9 PM.  What a crazy day!

But I wouldn’t have it any other way; my family of five busily passing one another like ships underway.  Maybe I do miss the boat, millions of times.  But in standing at the shore I am forced to stand still, to take it all in.  Deep cleansing breath.  Ready for another day.

Family, School

growth, perspective & finding my rhythm

wpid-img_20150221_171153.jpgLast weekend I looked into our backyard; admiring the lush green growth upon our landscape.  ALL WEEDS.

Tackling my side yard had not been on my to-do list but I found myself digging out shovels, my gardening boots, gloves and our yard trash bin.  The hubs awakened and groaned; finding me outside.  Between the two of us our yard waste bin was full to the brim in one hour.  It had brought me perspective.

Sixteen years ago when the hubs and I bought our first home; we imagined planting our roots.  We had just returned to our home state after three years of military moves and we were excited.  With each apartment we had resided in,  I had always planted something in a container and looked forward to the time when we could settle into a space we could call our very own.  To finally plant seeds into the ground versus a container.

Perspective. noun. the capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance” Def. 2b. Merriam-Webster Online. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2015.

Four escrows later I looked upon the weeds and neglected garden.  There are no more impending military moves in our future; having finally reached our destination.    There are no seeds planted in the garden we always dreamed about.  Only weeds.  I set to work to clear the canvas.  I had gotten too caught up in keeping with the Joneses and in doing things for reasons unworthy; forgetting the things that really mattered.  I need to plant seeds once again.

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I am experiencing growth in many ways.

Clearing the weeds I discovered the growth from the stems transplanted from my late cousin’s backyard.  They were huge elephant leaves; a mini tropical jungle hidden in my side yard.  It is literally, a part of my family tree and  I hadn’t been able to see them.  I touched the glossy elephant ear-like leaves ; the tears of joy silently coursing down my cheeks.  It is in gardening that I return to my roots and recall my father stringing rope for string bean vines; my mother clipping her roses and humming happily to herself.  These memories had been buried deep and it has been a long time in finding them.

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I am finally giving voice to the white elephants sitting in the room.   I say the things that are hard; the things people don’t want to hear.  For years I have kept my thoughts to myself; trying to keep the peace. I’ve realized this is my cowardice.  No longer do I rely on others to affirm me.   I am done hiding within the weeds and busywork; losing sight of the forest for the trees.

East of the sun and west of the moon,
We’ll build a dream house of love, dear.
Close to the sun in the day,
Near to the moon at night,
We’ll live in a lovely way, dear,
Sharing our love in the pale moonlight.
Just you and I,

Forever and a day;
Love will not die,
We’ll keep it that way,

Up among the stars we’ll find
A harmony of life to a lovely tune,
East of the sun and west of the moon, dear,
East of the sun and west of the moon.

~ written by Brooks Bowman.  Performed by Diana Krall (1999).

The song above was given as part of a wedding CD from the bff in 2000; serving as her seven month pregnant matron-of-honor.  I had played it in my car stereo while my son kicked within the confines of my ever growing belly.  Recently I had been searching for one of my all-time favorite jazz songs, “Take Five” by the Dave Brubeck Quartet when I found Diana Krall instead.   As a soon-to-be mother I had become immersed in the Mozart effect; constantly playing classical music to create my baby genius LOL.  But this particular jazz tune had become my fave as I planted our garden; anticipating the arrival of our firstborn son and happily thinking of my newly married bff.  It became my go-to lullaby for all three of my boys. We were creating our dream house; building a life for our growing family.
 garden with Nate
As I stared at the YouTube video I turned to find my eldest son sitting beside me.  He had remembered this song too and I glanced at him with watery eyes.   Many nights I had rocked this jaundiced son to sleep in my arms after nursing; singing the words.   Each day I had rejoiced as my seedlings began to grow; nurturing the green stalks and taking pictures weekly to track their progress.  When the hubs left for deployment I had journalled the six months with our son beside the plants, to show his growth and the garden’s progress.  His aircraft carrier was due to return September 11, 2001.  A week later was our son’s first birthday.
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Gardening was forgotten when life got in the way.  We soon moved to our second home, became pregnant with our second son and my mother had called on a daily basis to tell me someone had stolen the deed to her home.  Some days she couldn’t recall who I was.  Two years later we buried her and two years after that, arrived our third son.
I am finding the music once again.
The seeds, planted years before, began to break through the surface after years of busily shuttling kids to and fro to activities that didn’t appeal to them. After years of exposing my children to various team and individual sports and extra-curricular classes I had lost sight of the forest in the trees.   I, the one who played piano at age five through sixteen; the saxophonist who played through college, had never considered this option for my own kids.  The Mozart effect hadn’t made my sons smarter.  It had given them appreciation for music.    Their one true love had been sown long ago and I had been deaf and blind.
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I am now learning to sit still in the darkened room; to give up the various schedules and to-do lists and just listen.  For the sheer joy of it.  Music has given me purpose; to till the soil and allow new things to grow.  It was the perspective I had needed.  I am creating my garden in my house, one sown seed at a time.  I have found my desire to serve once again; to advocate for something important to me.  The music swells within and I finally hear it.  I have found my rhythm.