Family, joys of jazz

crystal clear

As a mom in mid-life, parenting teenagers, I find myself alone.  A lot.  I am an alien in my own household of males; three sons and one husband.

Acronyms fly out of their mouths; my PC online gamers, YouTube and action movie watchers and social media chatters.  I’ve learned of websites I’d hoped to never encounter. My political views are vastly different from theirs. But I am grateful my sons share their thoughts with me (even when I’m offended), that the door is still slightly open.  For a while I felt it slam in my face and I stood on the other side wondering, What did I miss?  Where did I go wrong?

You just don’t understand, Mom.

And they would be right.  As an only child I did not have to worry about sibling rivalry.  As a female I communicated both vocally and in written form so I always said what I meant.  How did my own points of view and values present drastically different with my three sons?

Parenting male teens is a challenge.

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When my friend drops her daughters to carpool on Mondays mornings, it is like night and day.  They ask questions and share about their lives as I prepare lunches in the kitchen.  They awaken at 5:30 AM and take an hour to decipher what outfit to wear for the day.

My sons stumble out of bed, thirty minutes prior to the first bell, and quietly and grumpily grab their backpacks.  They stalk to the car while the girls animatedly chat about this and that.  When they separate, they hug one another good-byes with words of love and encouragement.

My sons can barely stand to walk together the short distance to their high school, most days.  It is only on Mondays, with the teen girl they’ve known for twelve years, that they walk together on each side, protective. If my sons hugged and told one another, have a great day and I love you, bro; you’d knock me over with a feather.

It’s taken me a long time to wrap my head around this idea but slowly it’s crystallized and has become crystal clear.

The things I want for them are not the same as the things they want for themselves.

Most times, they don’t even know what they want.

I practically dropped my purse in the grocery store as the supermarket music played a song from decades back.  I quickly found my Shazam phone app to find the tune but it was too late.  I’ve since found myself searching playlists of hits from the 90s to try to find the “ear worm” that keeps ringing in my head.

Those who know me well know that I can get a bit obsessive/compulsive over music.  I never found the tune but instead, discovered a song long forgotten; one that I recalled blaring through my car speakers in college and driving my girlfriends crazy.

As I heard the Darling Buds song, Crystal Clear, from my late teens, the words resonated with me as they did then.  At the time, this song played often on the alternative radio waves as I dealt with the death of my father.

The visual of my girlfriends from my dorm came to mind.  The girlfriend who works for UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), the bff who lives 2000 miles away under arches and the one that resides less than two miles from me; whose daughter is classmates with my son at our local high school.  I live in my community because of her.

You need a friend someone to say
Get your act together
And in between they’ll have to stay
Around to kiss it better

Uh huh, Uh huh, Uh huh, Uh huh

CHORUS. Everybody’s sad (everybody’s sad)
Wipe away a tear (wipe away a tear)
And I’m making it all
Crystal clear

Oh say it’s true yeah I need to
Believe in what I’m seeing
I want to scream you know what I mean
I’ll show you how I’m feeling

Uh huh, Uh huh, Uh huh, Uh huh

CHORUS

Uh huh, Uh huh, Uh huh, Uh huh

CHORUS

You need a friend someone to pray
Take away the pressure
And in the end they’ll have to stay
Around to make it better

Uh huh, Uh huh, Uh huh, Uh huh

CHORUS

Everybody’s sad (everybody’s sad)
I gotta get out of here (gotta get out of here)
And I’m making it all
Crystal clear

As I deal with my teenage sons I find myself going back to my teen years; trying to find a way to connect.  But my teens were vastly different from theirs.  I am stuck on repeat; having a hard time giving them freedom and letting go.  When my feelings get hurt or my anger crystallizes out of thin air, I need to get a grip and get over it.  But it’s hard to follow through and do this.

I want to share my wisdom with my boys.  To prevent them from making the mistakes I did.  To give them opportunities I did not have.  To push them to be the best they can be.

I get swept up in the parenting tide of wanting to enroll my kids in things to prepare them for the “real world.”  To get tutoring or lessons to get good grades and results.  To enroll in prep classes to get into the good colleges.   To expose them to experiences that will be memorable.  But what I’ve sadly realized is that…

My expectations may be too high, unrealistic and most importantly  NOT THEIRS.

When I questioned my son for the umpteenth time, he fired back.  I’ve told you the answer many times, you just don’t want to hear it.

I had been surprised when my family agreed to my planned trek north.  I had made the plans months before and had almost forgotten until a reminder email arrived in my inbox.

I had arranged a visit to the university where my cousin pursues his doctorate in education.  Years ago I had turned in my own acceptance letter there for my declared major of chemistry.  I had been offered a full scholarship and was excited to know a few of the professors in my department were Nobel laureates.

I wanted my sons to see this place; particularly my high school junior.

But this place was not on his radar and so I considered canceling the trip.  It wasn’t in our budget, it was raining cats and dogs, and I had many things to do during the three day weekend.

Why would I make the trek if my kids didn’t really care?   Maybe this was just me, reliving the high school experience I had wanted and never got.

I found myself in this same predicament regarding lessons.  My son was not vested and I was pouring money into something he didn’t want.  He had responded with the statement above; that I wasn’t hearing him.   Is it because I had wanted lessons in high school?  Is it because he is lazy and unmotivated?  Where is his drive?

Months before I had purchased tickets to a jazz performance with the local philharmonic orchestra.  Long ago I had vowed that I would give my kids cultural experiences with local museums in history, science and art and to attend stage, theater, music and sporting events; at least once a year.

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The last time we ventured to the philharmonic, the eldest and I had argued and I angrily sat through our restaurant reservation and music performance.   I had asked my family if this jazz event would be something they would like to attend and at the time, they had all answered yes.

When I reminded them that this performance is, this evening, a resigned sigh could collectively be heard.

Are you sure, Mom?  I have an AP English project I need to film today.  From the other son, Do we have to go to dinner and dress up cuz that’s dumb?  And from the third son, Is it all just jazz?  My visions of re-enacting our excursion of dinner reservations and a concert quickly dissipated.   They all nixed the idea of attending a book presentation on the history of jazz prior to the concert.  Again, high expectations.

I am making a mental note to tell my hubs that this would be an ideal date, for me, for my birthday.

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I close the double doors to my upstairs office, light the 3-wick candle, plug in my tree lights and put the Darling Buds song on repeat.   Surprisingly, I’m not too disappointed.  I appoint the hubs as my planning ambassador, for the four of them to decide what they want to do regarding dinner before we head downtown to the concert.

I’ve learned in my work and volunteer activities that my strength lies in coordinating groups of people and in mediating communications to seek resolutions.  What hasn’t been very clear, until now, is that I need to practice this principle in my home life within my own four walls.  To think reasonably and responsibly.  To follow things through.

Thankfully, our weekend trip north went well.  Road trips unplug us from our every day routines and we are forced to interact with one another.  I am a big proponent for taking trips with young kids; to not wait until they are older.  

We have camped, hiked, driven and flown trans continental and attended cultural events since they were infants.  Yes.  It is difficult, at times, to spend money on things that you may be distracted from with young kids.  Things we thought our boys would love weren’t always what we had expected.

The pay-off is seen with my tween and teens.  My three sons had projects to do, last weekend.  But they flexed and brought them with them and made the most of our quick trek.  We got a break from the rain and enjoyed the scenery without fog; a rare thing in February.  We reconnected with my cousin as he shared his life; encouraging the boys to explore and pursue higher education.

We had plenty of things to talk about as our sons observed the free speech environment while we rode the public transportation system and walked past the iconic views of famous landmarks.   And we experienced the diverse culinary delights that this region is known for.

It’s never been about the destination.  It’s about the journey in getting there.

My sons actually enjoyed visiting the university campus.  I’m not sure if they see themselves there.  In the end, I too, chose a different university because, of all things, music.  My declared major became my minor and I loved where I landed.  It is where I met my above girlfriends and it was in calculus lab that I met my husband.

Regarding the lessons, I finally had to acknowledge that my son’s words rang true.  I had selective hearing and felt his choices were not valid.  That Mom really doesn’t want to understand what he has to say.    I canceled the lessons and hope that maybe he will change his mind in the future.

In the bigger picture I know what’s important is not whether I am right or wrong; but that I follow through with what I say and acknowledge that I hear his words.  If I ignore them, he will learn to keep his words and ideas to himself.

I need to keep the door slightly open.  I don’t want to be left on the other side pounding my fists and shouting, “Let me in!”  If they lock me out, I’m hoping love will always be the key that allows me entry.  But I’m working on an offensive strategy so that doors aren’t closed and that all things are communicated and clear.

I want it to be crystal.

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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, 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

the rests

My thoughts have been all over the place in this past month.  I had countless unpublished drafts as I sifted and sorted, processing the experiences in the month of March.  I am in a changing season.  Seemingly random thoughts imprinted on my brain and there was no making sense of it all.  Maybe, I thought, this is what pre-menopause is like?  I was scattered.

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I found myself crying in a park over spilled egg dye.  My days of mothering young sons came to a close as I sat for three hours on a sunny Saturday; mourning this.

I sat with a dear friend; wondering why the drugs were working against her body.  Weren’t they supposed to help her?   Her son needs her at home.

I simmered below the surface, as I observed people maneuver and work to manipulate their way with hidden agendas, wondering at their motivations.

I contemplated aging and mortality; things that always seemed to be in the distance as I struggle to come to terms with my changing physical capabilities.  When the bff shared the story of the dad falling out of the treehouse with no chance of ever walking again; I was reminded to not take life for granted.

I clenched teeth as I analyzed numbers; wondering how to leverage them.  I was lost in paperwork and more paperwork with taxes, both income and property, looming just around the corner.

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I had mistakenly thought life would become clearer as I aged.  And easier.  As a high schooler entering into college, my path had seemed clear and I followed it, like an excellent sheep.  And the further I went, the more I questioned. The hubs threw a wrench in the works; entering my life and unknowingly capturing my heart.  Soon the goals were career.  Then purchasing a home.  Starting a family.  Pet ownership.  It all fell into line.

The goals began to change and I transferred my desires onto my children.  I volunteered in various pursuits and sought validation.  But I am left with the same confused feeling.  Wasn’t life supposed to be clear by now?

Left with a bunch of unanswered questions, I retreated into myself.  At a recent concert festival I heard the adjudicator’s advice to the wind ensemble.  The students were so focused on the musical notes that they had not given the respect due to the silences in-between the notes; the rests.

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My own mind was stuck on discordant chords as I plowed ahead in my life’s musical score.  I was too busy playing notes and focusing on the next bar that I had ignored the moments of silence; the ones that give pause for reflection.  In giving these quiet moments the attention they were due; they would accentuate the dynamic moments in the music and enhance the lyrical composition.  My symphony was stuck on repeat.  I became complacent.  I was falling in line; as in William Deresiewicz’ book Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life.

I had forgotten how to think for myself.

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I sought refuge in books; finally completing two of them, just because.  I sought beauty in unlikely places; hiking to a nearby park and sitting at a bench for three hours.  I watched young families stroll along the paths and the tears began anew.  I had cried over spilled egg dye because my sons had not wanted to color eggs on my timeline.  I was accustomed to setting our family schedule and my boys had wanted to color eggs.  But with thirty minutes notice they were unwilling to leave the glowing LCD screens of the den.  The hubs retorted they were busy and when I replied that they could color eggs without me; he had unceremoniously dumped the nine colors of dye down our sink.  I had spent nearly an hour boiling, cooling and preparing for this activity.  I had only requested a small amount of family time on our Easter weekend.  Quality time and acts of service are the two love languages, from Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages, that matter to me the most.

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Frustrated I had donned workout clothes and promptly trailblazed to my park of refuge.  I ignored the cell phone and sat in silence.  In my solitude the hard truth was that I had relied on my family to bring me happiness on my terms.  It was not fair for me to put that on them.

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I am responsible for my own happiness.

This letting go is hard; the acknowledging of a changing season.  I have been conditioned, as a mother, to find happiness in my children’s pursuits.  But it is not how they perform, look or what they will become that I should derive validation and worth.   No longer am I the director or composer.  I must affirm their desires and allow them opportunities to speak their own words.  I do not need to fill their silences with my own thoughts and sentences.  I must learn to accept their wishes and allow them to grow away.

I don’t want them to fall in line and that was exactly how I was parenting them.

I take a lot for granted.  I thought of my girlfriend who is away from her son; rehabilitating for her own health and the father who has lost the ability of mobility.  I watched the ducks waddle by as my husband’s words came to mind, like water off a duck’s back,  as I struggled with personal agendas in the organizations to which I serve.   I remembered the hobbies that brought me pleasure: reading, gardening, hiking and I sat in my uncomfortable silence.  As an only child I am accustomed to being left to my own devices and I knew that I had to take action, for myself.

I stared at the gazebo where a decade earlier, we had celebrated my middle son’s birthday.  In my solitude, I mourned the passage of time.  So many transitions have come and gone and I thought of the women in our bookclub.  They’ve endured separations and divorces, job losses, child losses and friendships forever changed.  There is no going back to those years but we must always put our best foot forward, to progress and learn from our mistakes.  I saw egg hunts of the past and fast forwarded to today.

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I took the time to acknowledge the rests.  I was done being stuck on repeat.  I had to discover how to find my own music once again; my composition had to be my own and no one else’s.  After three hours of mourning and soul searching I no longer could avoid the phone calls.  My sons voiced they wanted me to return home; to share lemonade from the multitude of lemons from their grandparents’ tree.  When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

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The hubs dug out food coloring and allowed the boys to color eggs.  They took pictures of themselves so that I could see that they had not abandoned this idea.  And in these small things of the every day, they let me know that they still wanted to hear me.  They wouldn’t always agree with my words  but they took the time to process them and came to their own conclusions.  They were sorry they hurt my feelings and understood it was my version of family time.   We were learning the art of communicating simply and clearly.

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I continue to evolve.

The clarity is slow in coming and only on a hike did my divergent thoughts begin to coalesce.  The volunteer activities I chose to be involved in, the questions I have continued to ask myself, the books I have been reading, that appeared disjoint;  all lead to the same place.    These pursuits are rekindling the thirst for learning and knowledge.  I sought to grow and discover new things; just as I had as a young girl.  Most of my life I had focused on arriving to my destination in the fastest and most efficient way possible.  I have stepped outside of myself; re-engaging in the larger scope of life.

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As I hiked with my family the hubs reminded me to allow the boys to hike off-trail.  It’s what they enjoy the most in our outdoor adventures; the thrill of exploration.  It was also the same mental journey I was embarking upon.  With no timeline I sighed and let my expectations go.

I seek solace in quiet places of beauty.

I try not to wonder at other people’s motives and let their words and actions flow over me; like water off a duck’s back.

I work hard not to judge my appearance or performance on what I look like and what my body can do.

I seek meaningful relationships and connection with those who reciprocate with hospitality.

I continue to be a work in progress; to model behavior to my family instead of dictating what I expect or want.

But most importantly, I have embraced curiosity and inquisitiveness.  No longer do I feel frustrated that I don’t have answers to my incessant questions.  I push through my complacency and hope to blaze my path, unlike the sheep, to rediscover how to think outside of my box.

I may be poor in wealth but rich in health.

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I take the rests, as I need them.  To reflect.  To take a break.  To heal wounds.  To become stronger.  I am learning to successfully fail and to age well.  I leverage my life experiences to create a broader, dynamic symphony.

 

 

 

 

Family, joys of jazz, Marriage, Work

the big and little things

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This holiday season took me by surprise.  For some reason I was stuck in the month of October and ignored the Christmas displays in supermarkets.  In fact, I did not frequent brick and mortar establishments unless I absolutely had to.   It was only when I received notice that property taxes were due on December 10th, for both our home and business, that reality set in.

I wept when the checks came in the mail; grateful that one of our biggest business customers actually paid on time.  I don’t need an economics degree to see that we are not out-of-the-woods from a recession in a pre-election year; our vendors taking longer than the thirty days to pay.  Manufacturing is at the bottom of the totem pole to receive payment.   The months of  November and December are always our slowest and the mass marketing frenzy that marks the season was a reminder of how little our bank accounts had.

I lived day-by-day.  When people asked if I was ready for (any date in the future) my answer remained the same.  I was trying to get through today.  There were due dates, scheduled events and the ever present Christmas looming.  I had no gifts for my family and it is our turn to host Christmas eve.  The tree was not up.  Black Friday and Cyber Monday came and went and I crossed off one day of the calendar at a time.   Begrudgingly I asked the hubs to get down our Christmas decor after our kids continued to ask where they were.

Where is our tree? What about the gingerbread house?  Why aren’t you playing ‘White Christmas’ on the piano?  And when are you going to bake, Mom?  

Today I, unexpectedly, found myself in front of thirty plus teenage girls.  I am the person that handles student finances in the large booster organization I serve.  Inspired by one of the songs that define me, Sing Your Life by Morrissey, I had been dressed in jeggings and my Doc Marten boots thinking I would not cross paths with many people as I ran last minute errands.  I had only come to receive checks from a fellow parent and found myself standing before these teens listening to an instructor sharing his story.  He had lived in a garage and poverty and shared how he couldn’t afford to participate in a high school trip to Hawaii.  And so he got smart and saved for twelve months to make things different the following year; to follow his passion to perform.  The girls only saw his high-end import car parked at the curb, not the kid who struggled.   He and I stood before these girls to ask for funds to allow them to travel to an out-of-state national competition.

I remembered being on the other side.   My mother was prideful and would remind me to not mention that my father’s medical bills usurped all of our funds; that we relied on Medicaid.  I was eligible for free school lunches but she pinched pennies to hand me a weekly allowance of twenty dollars for gas and lunch.  I was sixteen, having obtained my license on my actual birthday, since my father, diagnosed with colon cancer, no longer could drive.    My high school was fifteen miles away; the closest “city” nine.  I drove my parents for doctors’ appointments and myself to school and extra-curriculars.   My parents never were in the stands during games or performances.  My father was dying and my mother remained in our home to care for him.  Music had been my salve.  In high school I had always longed for the Dr. Martens boots I currently wore.  The irony of my situation struck me; empathizing with these girls.

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As small business owners we realize the foundation can be pulled out from under us at any moment.  Many of our former customers have chosen to go overseas, to buy bulk for cheap.  Small businesses lose to cheap, subsidized imported goods.   But our selling point is always in our relationships with our customers.  We follow-through and deliver.  We provide quality and if there is a problem, we readily fix it.  We are custom all the way and the feedback we receive is that our vendors trust that we will do things right.  I will never have large bank accounts.   Every dime we earn is solely based on what we put out and it has to be quality every time.

In the past week I realized trust, transparency, follow-through and hospitality are the big things that count.  I don’t care if someone can offer me gifts or favors.  Money and material things mean little.  I want the friends who surround me to be the ones whom I can trust not to break confidences, who will tell me what is on their minds without worrying about offending and who will open their homes and hearts to my quirks and imperfections.  I have to trust that they will follow through and reciprocate.  This is HUGE for me.  People can appear to have it together, to have nice things, titles or look like a million bucks.  But it’s what’s on the inside that truly matters.    I am affirmed by those who are true to who they are.

My sons have surprised me this year.  Most Christmases I am the driving force of all merriment as I command my elves to happily comply with my decorating whims.  This year they were the ones urging me.

If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff. ~ Catherine M. Wallace

Eventually the hubs put up the tree.  Normally he is the bah humbug one in our household; the grinch who steals our Christmas joy.  This year he placed the boxes inside and over the course of the week, strung up garlands and lights with the help of our ever growing sons.  I found myself unwrapping a few ornaments and rearranging them on the tree.  The Advent wreath finally was placed on the coffee table and the poinsettias from the fundraiser arrived and were placed on the piano.  Slowly, but surely, it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas.  Tree.  Check.

Three years ago I had decided to never do gingerbread houses again.  Because I had been an only child in a quiet household I wanted to create my own traditions with my three sons for the holidays.  When they were toddlers I began purchasing gingerbread house kits imagining hours of Christmas creativity and cheer.  But I had been too worried about the mess, the arguments over the candies and frosting.  In 2012 the boys fought so ferociously that I put the camera down; feeling like a fraud.  I was attempting to capture a picture moment that was forced.  They didn’t want to build gingerbread houses and I didn’t want a mess.  I vowed I would never do this activity again.

So I was shocked at the boys’ insistence, this year, that I purchase a gingerbread kit.  After a week of constant reminders from my sons, the quote above came to mind.  I found myself purchasing a gingerbread village so each one could build their own house without argument.   Three years ago it had been the eldest who ruined our experience.  This year he was the one who kept championing it.  Gingerbread house.  Check.

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I had no words to type, no images to share.  I observed people saying one thing and doing the other.  Longtime friends parting with irreconcilable differences.  People who lacked transparency, broke confidences and lacked hospitality.  The thoughts were stuck circling in my mind and I struggled to find peace with all of it.  I heard my middle son struggle with a jazz riff of ‘Here Comes Santa Claus’ and it was only when he placed the saxophone in my hand, with my mouthpiece, that I realized the unifying theme of 2015.

Music breaks through all economic, social and cultural barriers.

He asked me to help him, to play alongside.  We sat together at the piano bench with our saxes; my chops sore.  Soon my fingers were running over the ivories and the bars of ‘White Christmas’ echoed in fits and starts within the walls of our home.  It took a few more practice runs for my hands to remember the keys from memory.  I am always amazed that I don’t need the sheet music, even after all of these years.  Eventually the songs of the season reached me; bringing me out of my reverie.  White Christmas.  Check.

The hubs and sons grabbed the baking items needed for their favorite cookies: snickerdoodles, peanut butter blossoms and chocolate chip.  Time was starting to get away from me with all of the preparations needed to be done before the 24th.  I laced up my sneakers and forced myself outdoors in the drizzly morning; knowing that my intake of calories would exceed what I would expend.  There was nothing on my schedule and I had everything I needed.  No more procrastination, baking day had arrived.  As the whir of the mixer and smells from the oven filled our home, the younger sons emerged from the den to assist with  unwrapping Hersheys’ kisses.  Some were for cookies, others for their own consumption.

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It was then that I remembered my song and I quickly found it on YouTube as I waited for the timer to chime for my next batch of chocolate chip cookies.

Others sang your life
but now is your chance to shine
and have the pleasure of
saying what you mean
have the pleasure of
meaning what you sing
oh, make no mistake, my friend
all of this will end
so sing it now
all the things you love
all the things you loathe
oh sing your life ~ Morrissey.

I cranked up the volume on my eldest son’s laptop.   He emerged from the den with his portable speaker for better sound quality.  The middle son listened as I sang the words loud and clear.  I began to type furiously on the laptop, the thoughts from the last few weeks finally being able to be put into words.  The youngest grabbed milk from the fridge to happily eat the cookies straight from the oven as I tapped my booted foot to the beat.  Cookie baking.  Check.

Don’t leave it all unsaid
somewhere in the wasteland of your head
and make no mistake, my friend
your pointless life will end
but before you go
can you look at the truth?
You have a lovely singing voice
a lovely singing voice
and all of those
who sing on key
they stole the notion
from you and me so sing your life ~ Morrissey
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The hubs had been frantically cleaning our pool after we received the text from my side of the family that they were joining us for Christmas eve.  Traditionally my hubs’ family celebrates on the 24th; the location alternating between his sister and our home.  Then the phone call came from the estranged niece and after communicating our desire to have her join us; the guest count increased by ten.   The hubs worried we wouldn’t have enough food until he looked at our very full refrigerator.
My home is currently in a state of disaster after two days of consecutive gingerbread making and cookie baking. I don’t require gifts, the picture perfect house and the fancy Food Network worthy recipes to ooh and awe.  All that I long for, this Christmas, is for all of my family to unite under the roof of my loud and messy home.  This may be the last Christmas with a grandfather diagnosed with terminal cancer.  There are other days to carry on family feuds.  I tell the niece that Christmas is about the kids, the babies; and this year three will be in our home under 18 months old.
It’s because of a baby that we celebrate this season in the first place.
Like the stable that birthed the newborn that is the reason for this season, my light will be on and my doors always open.  I merrily sing the words to my song, loud and clear, about all the things I loathe and love.   I needed the push from my sons and hubs, their words heard.  I had to follow-through with these little requests and things that add up to something bigger.  I want them to share the big stuff when they are big.  To remember what’s important.
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Have a musically merry Christmas and a rockin’ New Year.  Sing the big and little things of your life.
Uncategorized

just do it; embracing my inner cheerleader

“Gold (Gold).  Always believe in your soul.  You’ve got the power to know.  You’re indestructible.  Always believing.” ~ Spandau Ballet

  • The biting words hung in the air.   I chose to ignore them, attributing my lack of response to limited sleep.
  • They reverberated on social media; packing the intended rally and punch.
  • They were whispered in ears with a smile; nastily uttered to shock and bully.
  • They were plastered on stop signs and walls, shouting to the neighborhood.

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The utterances swirled about me and I stood still, trying to make sense of them all to which I concluded; there is no rhyme or reason.  Sometimes the words forcefully emerge trying to find a way to vent and be heard; in inappropriate ways.  I wanted to fume and shout, to argue and defend.  To erase them and start over to make slates clean.  How does communication go so wrong; all misunderstood?  The phone calls, private conversations and texts blew up my mobile.  Whom do we talk to?  To whom should we email?  How can justice to any of this be served?

Amidst a cacophany of sound and people I finally found peace and solitude to process.   It is currently where I reside as I hibernate and consider all of these things.  I wish to mediate, to explain, to articulate the right words to make things right.  But those words do not come.  When vengeance and a desire to make someone account for a wrong overtakes all; there is nothing left.  The negative clouds everything and anything good and worthy gets pushed aside to win; to be right.  It gets tiring to tell others to turn the other cheek.

I battled these questions which usurped too much of my mental time; round-and-round.   As I commuted to work I acknowledged the wave from the truck driver; the one I had allowed in front of me to merge into heavy traffic.  With the simple gesture and smile I was taken out of my reverie; the eye-to-eye exchange through rolled up windows enough to penetrate. I waved back with alacrity, cranked up my stereo and laughed out loud.  I could finally see the snow on the top of the mountain vista scene spread before me, the varying colors of the trees that lined the avenue as I headed north.  I remembered the simple one word text from my girlfriend who was hospitalized for 176 days.  I had re-read the text to check the sender’s name, to be sure I had read it correctly.  Home!  She had finally returned home.  I grinned wider.

I had needed to engage back into reality; to the people who live and breathe alongside.

It’s easy to be a cheerleader for someone else; to encourage others to do their best and yell from the stands.  My voice was hoarse as I yelled from the top of a college stadium; my exuberance at the conclusion of a busy fall competitive band season.  I flitted from group-to-group to socialize, held hands with parents as awards were being presented, offered physical help where it was needed and hugs to encourage weary chaperones.  I wanted our kids to feel proud of their accomplishments, whatever place they earned, to know that persistence and hard work pays off not by trophies; but in character traits learned, in friends gained and in appreciation of what a common goal could create; community.

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The unexpected phone call was a much needed respite; a surprise after traveling 250 miles as I stood in the high school parking lot.  She had known we had subsisted for the past two weeks on take-out and adrenaline; our schedule full.   I squealed in delight as she relayed the message.  She was delivering a home cooked meal just because.  I whooped a little cheer by myself.

When I finally found my son and asked him his thoughts, he hadn’t really worried about titles and trophies.  He knew he would win, whether first or last, and was grateful it was over.  He’d made memories that would long outlive the medals around his neck and had discovered his love for music composition; something noted by his piano teacher at aged seven.  He experienced that diverse backgrounds and people could work together to create something poignant and beautiful.   And he discovered that he could sleep through almost anything, to the annoyance of his three other roommates and chaperone, as his alarm awakened everyone but himself.

Winning isn’t everything.  Principles, morals, religion and being right isn’t what life is about in the end.   It is all about relationships.  Most times there isn’t a clearly defined boundary or line that is right.  What matters is that we try our best to do the right thing; even if the outcome isn’t what we want.  When I let that expectation go, I could find resolution to my queries.  I could once again empathize, to gain perspective and hear the other side.

Turning the other cheek isn’t a sign of defeat but a sign of character; knowing who we are and standing by it with resolve. 

It is harder to let the negativity go to work things through but in doing so, we gain so much more.   We accept that life is give and take and that there are some battles which we cannot win.  We can cut through the detritus; focusing on things and people that build us up; not tear us down.  I do not base my worth on others’ approval; the most likes, the big home, fashionable wardrobe, or the smartest children.  I feel most loved and accepted when I have relationships based on mutual respect and integrity; those who will always stand up and try to do the right thing and accept who I am, faults and all.

It’s hard to embrace the inner cheerleader, to self-encourage and motivate to seek the good in all things.   It’s easy to focus on the negative; to fixate on being the savior and feeling the glory of making all things right.   I’ve been out of practice for way too long; getting distracted by things that don’t matter.  But no longer.  I am finding my way back and digging deep.  My pom poms are getting dusted off and I rest my sore throat.  But wait!  I don’t need to yell loud, type sentences, whisper words or create signs.

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On Thanksgiving I could sit with family and let these things go; adapting an attitude full of gratitude.  I was grateful for the clarity to move forward; to get unstuck in a place I’ve circled for so long.   That my eldest son is mature enough to see my transparency and to speak his own words to set me straight.  For the unconditional love of my “boys” who endlessly hear me rant and serve as a reminder to keep it real.  The middle son filled our home with Christmas music as I mumbled my bah humbug and gritted my teeth; to bring the joys of music into my heart on his alto saxophone.    The youngest is our biggest cheerleader; the outspoken one who says things just as he sees them with infectious laughter.   And to every extrovert should lie an equal introvert; the mate that balances me like no other.

No longer do I stand in lines for “the best deal” or squander dollars purchasing the hot ticket item to make this holiday memorable for my sons.  Instead, I embrace the lengthening dark days and cold, the layers of clothing no longer weighing me down but bringing me warmth.  I yearn for the advent ahead; quietly waiting and listening for the sounds of the season that only Christmas brings with carols, band concerts and gatherings with family and friends.   I look forward to full stomachs, hearty drinks and family memories that remind us why we are here and where we belong.

Serenity prayer

I recite the Serenity Prayer above as  I cut the negative ropes of the parachute that weighed me down.  Actions speak louder than words as I embrace my inner cheerleader.  Just do it.

 

Uncategorized

fighting on thru the unpleasant things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All things unpleasant.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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School

lost ground

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

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

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

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

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

how to raise an adult

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

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

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

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

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

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

I need to get the balance right.

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

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

All he wants is a mom that accepts his choices.

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

Family

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, joys of jazz, School

being a lioness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A nationally known music program and marching band.

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

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

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

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