Family, School

what the DMV and tea taught me

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Two weeks ago, my eldest son and I rushed after school to our local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office.  We made our way towards line 3 and when called upon, the woman patiently asked where the golden rod colored paper was as this son and I questioningly looked at one another.  The one that provided the signature and proof that this boy had driven and passed with a certified driving school instructor.

We had to forfeit the appointment.

We both left dejectedly and waves of guilt washed over me.  I thought I had checked the list for required documentation to take the behind-the-wheel driving test thoroughly and I saw the slump of the sixteen year old’s shoulders.  I hadn’t realized how much he had wanted to take the test; to finally have a license to drive.

Why didn’t you check me? I asked this son.  He shrugged as I apologized, again, and he stated that he was okay with it.  He thought we had everything in order, too.  It gave him more time to practice behind-the-wheel in his busy spring schedule.

I immediately went home and tore apart the files in my home office in search of the golden rod document.  I had even called the driving instructor on his cell phone to inquire how to get another form while at the DMV.  Within fifteen minutes of organizing and sorting I found the document and spent the following two hours in frustration, filing and shredding.

If I had been better organized, this son could’ve taken his test.  It had already been a trying week and it took another 24 hours to reschedule another drive test appointment.

Two weeks later, we returned to this same line.  This time we had all the required documentation and when the woman asked what time the test appointment was for, we both answered at the same time.  I stepped away from the counter as he continued to answer her questions.

We proceeded to sit in the hard, plastic chairs in the very crowded DMV for an hour and when his name was called, I anxiously stood nearby as he was given instructions.  As he drove the car into the drive test line, I focused my energy on not fidgeting; to remain calm for this son as he jibber-jabbered for another fifteen minutes and inched slowly to the beginning of the line.

When the instructor finally arrived I exited quickly and stood by a tree with others awaiting their drivers on tests to return. I glanced at the time as this son pulled away from the curb.

Within seven minutes my car had returned and as I slowly walked towards my son, I caught his reflection on the driver side’s mirror and immediately knew what had transpired.  He had failed his drive test.

He chose not to drive home and crawled to the back seat of my car; angrily dealing with his humiliation.  He wanted to tear up the examination sheet and when I asked where it all went wrong, he claimed he didn’t know.  The instructor had simply written his suggestions, politely asked him to return to the DMV parking lot and exited the vehicle.

Upon reading the examiner’s words I inwardly cringed.  Critical driving error.  And though my heart hurt for this son; the one not used to failing anything, a surprising emotion had risen unbidden to my consciousness and I chastised myself.

I was secretly glad.

I couldn’t put into words these conflicting feelings until I sat across my childhood friend I’ve known since aged nine.  We both had left our humble, small-town upbringings to attend universities four hours away in the city .  As a high school language teacher in a highly ranked school district, she shared the scenarios that play out before her, day-after-day.  

All work and no play.

She handed me the book by Dr. Stuart Brown; hoping that the next generation can still cling to open, unstructured time.  Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul.

This is an ongoing conversation between us; she as an educator and myself the parent of two high school teens.  The high school years have become the pressure cooker, high stakes years when students build resumes and look towards college admissions.

  • They shuttle from one structured organized activity to another; not for the love of learning or joy of playing…but to stay afloat and rise above their peers.
  • They have various extra-curricular activities to fill all of their free time, burden themselves with advanced placement courses and stay up till the wee hours of the morning trying to fit it all in.
  • They hire tutors or become tutors themselves, adding the time to community service hours to check that block on their application resume.

We sat for three hours dissecting the high school years we lived versus the ones our children currently live in.  Living two hundred miles from our hometown we easily understand how different our upbringings were versus those of our children.

As mothers we both feel like hamsters running in place as we do the things we are expected to do.  

We go to work, we parent our kids, we try to be good spouses and multi-task efficiently to prove we are productive and don’t waste time.  Our time is structured and the words come back to haunt us.  All work.  No play.

As we sat in her car in a crowded restaurant parking lot, the words began to form on the fringes of my mind.  My dear friend stated the obvious.

We forgot how to play.

Her version of unstructured time was in socializing; making time for friendships.

Both avid readers, I had shared my desire to go to a tea house after reading Lisa See’s The Tea Girl on Hummingbird Lane.  My girlfriend teaches in the community where this book takes place and, surprisingly, portrays the same scenarios we live.  The Play book had not been on my to do list, this weekend, but I found myself making the time.

Reading for pleasure is my own version of play.

I returned home telling my husband I craved tea and scones as he made a fresh pot.  My girlfriend and I hadn’t  realized the long waiting lists to even have tea in a local tea house.  Reservations needed to be made a month in advance.  When we looked online at menus and saw the cost; both of us opted to forego this option for the time being.

The hubs muttered under his breath how he was doing his part and so, I found myself perusing my recipes on how to make scones.

As I kneaded dough, like Play Doh, I realized how I contributed to my son’s critical driving error and I replayed the seemingly disconnected thoughts in my mind trying to make sense of them.

I processed the words I had shared with my girlfriend, who happens to also be this son’s godmother.

  • How I questioned his maturity level when he was behind-the-wheel recently.
  • That, after leaving the DMV two weeks ago I had felt guilt ridden and then began angrily questioning why I had felt guilty.
  • When I was sixteen I knew all the rules.  I made my own DMV drive test appointment.  I had all my documentation.  I did it on my own.
  • When this son drove, he relied on my instructions to reach our destinations.  Rarely did I remain silent to let him make his own mistakes or figure out the directions by himself.

This feeling of guilt persisted but not for the reasons I had thought.

I feel the guilt of being the overbearing parent.

  • The one that scheduled the online DMV appointment.
  • The one that, when my son was questioned and he didn’t immediately answer, filled in the space and answered with him at the same time.  I had caught the glance he shot me; one of irritation.
  •  When I questioned the son if he had checked me, he really should have been doing all this documentation search on his own and I should’ve checked myself.  Checked myself out.

He has suffered setbacks but he must learn how to cope with rejection.  I am not teaching my son how to be independent and, much as I tell myself he must fail, he never does.

Until he failed his drive test.

It was a critical driving error.  He had been asked to turn left at the intersection and when the signal had turned green, he had made the left.  But there had not been a left turn signal and he had not waited for the oncoming traffic to pass through the intersection first.  He had just went for it.

I had looked at my son through the rear view mirror that day, after reading the examiner’s words while stopped at an intersection and calmly stated the following.  I know you will never forget that rule again.  That could be fatal.  My son had silently shaken his head in agreement.

I had known all along he hadn’t been ready but it took someone else to finally drive it home.

I walked into the computer den, announcing to my boys that dinner and tea would be ready in ten minutes.  They confirmed with grunts and nods, questioning the comment about tea but I had exited the den to check on my scones.  My sons know I am not, normally, a baker of any sort, unless it is cookies during the holidays.

My husband watched me pull out our fine china and tea cups; wondering if I had lost my mind.  Are you seriously bringing out your tea sets?  I brought out five different settings and began to set my table.

I am a mom of three boys and a husband and have no occasions to have a tea party.  But I’m going to have one, just because.

Our boys came to the table staring in surprise.  It was the youngest son who summarized succinctly.  This looks like those play tea sets from preschool for girls.  He was surprised to discover there were tea sets for adults.

The hubs poured the tea and the middle son got his finger caught in the dainty tea handle.  I had to hold the cup so he could gingerly wedge his finger out.

They discovered the scones and readily ate them, placing blackberry jam on their tea plates and gingerly holding fine porcelain cups.  They even pointed their pinky fingers out and stoically posed for my pic; for posterity.

They didn’t even question why we were having scones and tea in fancy china; they merely enjoyed the food and to my husband’s chagrin, quickly drained the pot of tea he painstakingly made.

I have finally learned my lesson from my son’s DMV experience.

Later, I sat on this son’s bed and candidly shared my thoughts and that, when he is ready, I’ll direct him to the online DMV page to schedule another drive test.  I brace myself, and my son, for his upcoming senior year so that when rejections come, he will pick himself up after disappointment.  He feels the pressure as his junior year is coming to a close; as do I.

In this whole process I am most surprised by this son’s resiliency after taking some time to lick his wounds.  For this I am glad.  I am slowly exiting the hamster wheel; finding my footing in the things in life that bring me joy outside of my family.

It’s time for me to create unstructured down time, turn up the music, find my rhythm and throw some more tea parties.

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Family

sitting still

It’s hard to sit still.  To let life blur past, spinning on its axis while I remain in one spot; unmoving.  It is normally not my modus operandi (m.o.) to sit still.

But sit still, I do.

As our family schedule transitioned from hectic end-of-school activities to the summer we, traditionally, jumped right into Father’s day, two of my three sons’ birthdays, the 4th of July and various camping excursions and vacations.  We are always on the go and my most favorite pastime is sitting in the passenger seat as the yellow center lines on highways blur.  The camera strap causes neck burn as I twist and turn snapping shots from my wide lens.

I laughed out loud as a line from Jamie Lee Curtis & Laura Cornell’s book, It’s Hard to Be Five, came to mind.

sitting still

Most summers I leap from one hectic schedule to another, keeping busy with vacation itineraries.  My hubby, the type B personality, is happy to stay put while I schedule various points of interest to sight see.  His constant complaint that there is no rest or relaxation on vacation falls on deaf ears as the boys and I look for the next thing to visit; happily tired at the end of each day.  Our summer months usually are filled with leisurely things to do.  Things that are fun.  But to some, leisurely means staying in one place and taking in the scenery.

Last year we traveled too often; neglecting things needed to be done at home: the garden, the garage, unplugged family time.  We stayed busy to distract us from the normal, mundane every day but when all was said and done, it still awaited us when we returned.

The epiphany came recently.  My constantly busy personality stems from a very boring and lonely childhood.  Our sole trip, each summer, was a one week trip into the city from our rural town to visit family.  Sometimes I would be asked to join trips with a friend; but most times I remained at home.  As an only child I entertained myself with books, reading of faraway places.  I often dreamed of what life would be like away from this small town and would get absorbed in music to pass the time.  Each day seemed to remain the same.  This was my life for the first seventeen years.

Once I moved away to university my life never stopped.  I ran to catch up with the years I missed to pursue bigger and better things.  I moved further away to pursue post grad studies across various state lines.  On my very first cross country road trip; the boyfriend (soon-to-be fiance and hubs), shared the drive to help me move.  My fond memories of road trips stemmed from our to and fro on Interstates 10, 20, 40 and many more.  He and I have since traveled to many places near and far by plane and by car.

I glanced at Fakebook at the vacation pictures from friends as the hubs glanced over my shoulder.  We both feel the pull to travel, to get on the road and go and as the long 4th of July weekend approached; we began to consider options.  Our summer plans to Yellowstone/Grand Tetons were re-scheduled to next summer due to school related activities for our two teenage sons.  This year, due to work and school related commitments, we have only traveled once.

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I long for redwood trees and tall mountains, large bodies of water and purple clouds strewn across red and orange sunsets.  I enviously glance at other friends’ scenic outdoor pictures and pull up the gallery of my own.  But pictures don’t do the outdoors justice.  I need to be out there too.  I am counting the days until we meet my childhood girlfriend and her family for camping; a trip that is becoming an annual outing for us both.  We come from the same place.

I continue to sit still.

I purposely chose to remain home for the first part of the summer.  Why?  To decompress.  To adjust.  With most social obligations on hiatus, I have chosen to find my inner introvert.  To fill my time and space with nothing but my own breath and thoughts.  The silence is deafening and I struggle to sit with it.  To let it wrap itself around me; like a peaceful, comfortable item of clothing.

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I’m trying this one on for size this summer.  And it is hard.  I am easily distracted and default to complacency.

In my mind I see the outdoor places I long to be.  Sunsets on lava rocks; waves rolling to the shoreline.  Boulders in rivers as my sons and dog swim in the cold flowing waters.  High vistas spanning miles of natural landscape.  I center these things in my mind for brief moments and open my eyes to where I am at the present moment.  And I sit still.  I have always told myself that if only I was: (fill in the blank) that all things would be better.  But really, I need to clear that mental block.

I. am. here.  Enjoy where I am right now.  There are too many if onlys and too little nows.  These past years I’ve lived my life in the rear view instead of the present moment.

I move from one room to another in my home, following the sun with a book in hand.  I sit on warm concrete with a towel, the sun filtering through my hat.  I put away dishes and focus on the scenery of my yard instead of the cracked tile that sits nearby.  I soften my gaze to see the green plants out my kitchen window.  The ones that create my landscape; clearing mental images of outdoor vistas of past trips.  Instead I evoke the feelings of gratitude and appreciation from these memories to the present ones.

This mental work makes all the difference.  I don’t have to travel to other places, rely on external people or things to bring me happiness or to affirm who I am.  Instead of distracting myself with itineraries and busy work I sit still and do my mental work.  I am grateful for right now.

My need to move is based on not dealing with things not dealt with.  I now do the simple tasks to fix these little things in my every day so that each moment isn’t based on distraction, but interaction.  With my hubby.  With my kids.  With my immediate surroundings.  But most importantly, with myself.

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To be true to others, you must take the time to discover your own truths.  Until then, you do not live authentically.

My sons are amazed at my silence this summer.  I work on little things: cleaning closets, organizing paperwork, understanding finances.  I water gardens and clean yards.  I work on my own inner struggles and discontent to communicate them with my spouse as we journey this midlife path together and beyond.  I make time to interact with my ever growing sons who continue to seek their own spaces and discover who they are.

In the silence I am finally listening to the beat within that has always pushed me forward.  We all have our own rhythms and without all the noise, I can finally hear them once again.

I am trusting my body cues to tell me when I’m hungry, when I need activity.  I find myself yearning to be outdoors on predawn jogs and late evening swims.   There is no magic program or elixir to perfect health.   If everything is in balance (portion control vs. activity) it works out on its own.

I surrender control.    My successes, my failures.  My needs and my wants.   I used to think I could control these things and get riled up.  I have no control over these things and can choose to not let them control me.  I am learning to accept things as they are and walk the path that fits who I am.

To dwell on the things not dealt with.  The dramas that unfold in family, social groups and organizations. To laugh, to cry, to shout.  To find my inner introvert and look within; to reflect in solitary silence and figure out how to progress forward or if not, to let it go.

In the silence the words emerge, the inner writer finding solace in them.  I read books, once again, of far away places.   I unexpectedly found a novel that filled my desires to travel while still sitting still.  I escaped to Yellowstone, Yosemite, Zion and many places in-between and gained insight on the mental work I continually push through.  I don’t need to be on the move searching for answers to my queries.  In fact, I think I know them and finally made the time to actually sit and listen to them.  They have been with me all along and this summer, I don’t need to travel far to appreciate my destination.

take me with you

I am here sitting still.  I have already arrived.

 

 

 

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, friendships, Marriage, Work

Note to self…go for broke

2005

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

2006

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

2007

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

2008

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

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

2010

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

2011

Here it goes, my note to self.

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Dear Ten Years Older Self,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love from your former self

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2012

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

2013

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

2014

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

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

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

Uncategorized

staying within the lines

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I must do something about my distractible nature.

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I read endless self-help books about focus, motivation and drive.  I have always been fascinated by the brain and draw upon my limited background in gero-neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.  But I have yet to discover how to utilize my lobes in mid-life to allow me to function efficiently at maximum capacity.  I sound like I want to be a drone.

I have just completed reading Malcolm Gladwell’s second book, Blink, from over a decade before.  It delves into making snap decisions and quick judgment calls and how to slow time down to focus.  This is a trait I would like to master; the ability to read situations and more importantly, to read people.

I found myself standing in a parking lot talking to a fellow parent about our sons’ lack of social skills. I suspect that I, too, reside somewhere on the autism spectrum line; off-center.  But with maturity and experience I have learned to bring myself back, to cut through the noise and center on what is important…unless I am distracted.

If you say,  “Squirrel!” my head is already swiveling.

Gladwell concludes in his book that too much information can cloud our ability to make unconscious, judgment calls.  If we think too long about a decision we become more indecisive as more information is collected.  I, too, am overwhelmed when given multiple choices such as when I purchase groceries for my family.  I used to be a member of a co-op, frequented farmers’ markets and walked the aisles of Whole Foods, Sprouts and Trader Joe’s.  And then I read  Omnivore’s Dilemma, and  Fast Food Nation and stood indecisively at the sliding glass doors.  Organic really wasn’t organic?  I had too much information; standing over aisles reading food labels.  My grocery shopping excursions became stressful mind games where I questioned every single purchase.  It was ridiculous!

The fellow mom and I hug in the parking lot and I think of her words; the ones she hopes for her son.  She just wants him to belong.  He’s a high school junior.  That’s all we ever want for our kids…to fit in, find their way and belong.  It’s what I want for myself and I often ponder where my place is in this life as I walk from place-to-place.  Most times you’ll find me in the back of a room in a corner; my preferred space.  In a tea house I hear the John Mayer song with my eldest son; and I call to him if he remembers the app that can tell me what song is currently playing.  Shazam!  My son quizzically looks at me and I smile.  I’ve always loved this song but never knew who sang it.  Until now.

They love to tell you
Stay inside the lines
But something’s better
On the other side

I wanna run through the halls of my high school
I wanna scream at the
Top of my lungs
I just found out there’s no such thing as the real world
Just a lie you’ve got to rise above~ John Mayer

Just this morning my girlfriend and I talked about ADD and distractibility.  I think of my own high school years and I was the one who couldn’t sit still in my classroom.  I would, randomly, get up out of my seat and walk the halls of my high school but what I really wanted to do was run and shout, just as in Mayer’s lyrics.  Those words speak to me.  And when I would return to my class and seat; the assistant principal would often be occupying my space and would quietly move as I re-entered the classroom from the back.  There was nothing they could do to me; I didn’t disturb others outside of my exiting and entering.  They knew my father was dying of cancer.  I was ranked third in my graduating class.

I have a hard time staying within the lines.

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I was reminded of my easily distracted self last week; chaperoning a high school event.  My sole duty was to take roll call of the twenty-five students on my bus, and the girlfriend I had partnered with was not making the return trip back to school with us.  I have chaperoned many elementary field trips but this was my first foray with teenagers.  A student had volunteered to take roll as we prepared to return home but the bus driver had engaged me in conversation.  It wasn’t until the director boarded our bus that it dawned upon me I had not prompted the student to take roll call and we gazed at one another, deer in the headlights; delaying our departure.  Yep.  Distracted.  I felt like I was nine years old.   This after I had tripped and face-planted in front of another local high school group trying to catch up with our students.  Definitely not one of my finest moments.

My extroverted nature tends to get in my way; causing my brain waves to scatter.  My girlfriend tells me of the book she is reading; on how to focus and to brings things back.   It is next on my reading list.  These days I work hard to sit back and observe, to bring my thoughts into focus and think before I speak.  But now I even question if this is a good thing.  After reading Blink I realize,

I over think too many things and must allow myself to trust my gut; to go with the flow.

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It’s okay not to stay within the lines.  Because my nature is such that I must always seek to get to the other side (whatever/wherever that is).  But I also fight this urge because if I’m too busy trying to reach somewhere else, how can I inhabit the present and focus on it?  Sometimes, we, adults have too much information and get lost in the details.  Kids can easily read another person.  Yes, they too are easily distracted but they know what’s important and impulsively will act on their first reaction.

This is my life’s journey.  To learn from my life’s experiences.  To hear and feel what my subconscious is telling me.  To trust my instincts.  To filter through the noise and find my song.  I will resist my urge to over think my words and stay within the lines.  I will write them across the pages and sing them loud.

Family, School

the voice in the crowd

I have no voice.

I think of the irony of this statement; the once extremely shy girl who rarely spoke or looked people in the eye. Back then I wished I had been a fly sitting unobtrusively on a wall; observing the world around me.  Silence is my sanctuary.  It is welcoming.  Comforting…

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…but annoying when your primary means of communicating is verbal.  Over the years I had been encouraged to come out-of-my-shell; to advocate for myself.  These thoughts reverberated in my mind amidst the raucous yells in a crowded high school gymnasium.  I hadn’t realized the cell phone I held in my hand was ringing until I felt the vibration.  My eyes alighted on the teenagers standing tall in bleachers, screaming at the top of their lungs. The parents surrounding me were also cheering and I could hear the air push through my vocal chords but no sounds came out.  Phone in-palm, I did fist pumps instead.  It was in that moment, in the loud gym, that I realized how much I took my voice for granted.

There are so many places today where women cannot speak.  Cultures where women’s destinies lie in the hands of others; usually under heavy handed males and uncompromising circumstances.  I take for granted that my voice can be heard; that the words I write are granted in our free society.  I have the right to an opinion and with social media and the world wide web; they have the capability to be seen.  What of those who have none of these things: computers, cell phones, IP addresses; the large areas of third world countries and in rural parts of our first world own?  The book, The Pearl that Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi weighs on my mind.

I had sat in a meeting Thursday night and when I spoke, my voice came out as a squeak.  The dry cough that plagued my family had taken over my larynx and everyone leaned in to hear what I was attempting to say.  As a listening tactic at home, I lower my voice when I address my sons with something important.  Currently the noise level of my home is non-existent; my family dampening the volume and listening to discern where I am when they address me.  It is comical!

It had been easy as a thirteen year old to hide behind my girlfriends as they chattered away.  If ever I needed to speak, my friends would speak for me.  It was only in high school that I stood alone; dispersed in different classes and paths.  It was in these years that I discovered the squeaky wheel got the oil and if I didn’t discover my own voice, quickly, that I would rapidly be left behind amongst my more assertive and vocal classmates.  Whomever said grades and scores speak louder than words should qualify that statement.  You need to be able to put your actions where your mouth is.  You can be intelligent, innovative and creative (Steve Wozniak) but if you can’t get along with people or market what you do (Steve Jobs), what good does that do you?  You have to balance both of these traits to effectively maneuver the world around us.

Currently this discussion pertains to our teenager and  I understand now WHY I chose to forget about my high school years.  These are the issues I never wanted to confront, to sweep under the rug.  It is during these tumultuous years where the growth pains, failures and triumphs mark the person we were in that moment.  The acne and body changes, the clothes I couldn’t afford to wear, the trips or experiences I never had.   It is only when we are away from the intense scrutiny of popularity, athletic or academic rankings that we can figure out what truly defines a person.  Hard work.  Experience.  Social skills.  Clearly I understood the ethos of hard work and I volunteered in various clubs and activities to gain experience.  But for social skills, I was on my own.

It was in another high school gym that I was forced to find my voice.  Activities such as band allowed me to perform with a large number of people.  When chosen for a songleading squad I quaked in fear, cursing the fates.  I had thought I could blend with the girls in performing dance routines but we also had  to project our voices and cheer.  Loud.  This was not the fit for me.  I attempted to hide behind the other girls but our instructor had made it clear.  We were the ones to generate spirited yells; we had to embody these words with confidence.  Our coach would stand near me to make sure she could hear my voice as I nervously quivered.  I’d never failed anything at this point in my life.  I couldn’t fail at this.

Today my sons hear me.   I now can project my voice very loud and clear.  Across a crowded football stadium my eldest heard me shout from the top row as his marching band took the field in competition.  My middle son heard me underwater as he would  flip turn during swim meets.  In soccer, my youngest heard my whoop for joy as he blocked a shot amongst a group of defenders.  In a crowded room of adults my husband can easily find me.  From those gym drills emerged my ability to communicate, the voice which asserts my thoughts and questions the status quo.  My heart still pitter-patters before I have to publicly speak but once I begin, I am full-throttle and had to learn to wrap things up in a timely manner.   Yesterday in the crowded gym I wanted to cheer and shout with throngs of people present.  I wanted my voice back!

My ability to speak with volume, though, was not the impetus that gave me my words.  In the end it is the CONTENT of grammatical phrases and punctuation that allowed me to mean what I say and say what I mean.  It was my English teacher, who also was the debate team coach, who made this clear.  Speaking loud didn’t mean anything if there was no true meaning in what you were shouting.  You needed literature to back the words up; the wealth of information from acquired knowledge.  One needed to be well read and ultimately, the ability to be an effective speaker came down to one thing.

BOOKS.

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Initially I thought this teacher meant the classics of literature.  But no.  He meant anything and everything you could feast your eyes upon.  Science fiction, trashy magazines, graphs in the Wall Street Journal, dictionaries.  I internalized his words and my quiet, introverted personality would switch between Harlequin romance novels and any of the above.  My vocabulary grew and my thirst for knowledge exponentially grew with it.  Alongside my globe were Michener’s Hawaii, Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath and even my Harlequin romance novels.  All had a part of the choices made in my life and to this day I credit my widened perspective to these particular books.  I’ve seen this derivation of Descartes’ famous quote which embodies the person I have become.

I read therefore I am.

So, voiceless and tired, I sat and completed reading the book that I hope will bring me some parenting perspective as I maneuver through this next phase of parenting a teen: college mania.  Amongst my girlfriends I see the stress and toll the admission process has placed upon them.  I read articles of Palo Alto parents keeping watch along train tracks for suicidal teens in the month of April when acceptance and rejection letters arrive in the mail or email (gasp!)  Frank Bruni’s, Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania shed some light on what lies ahead and I thought of this as the principal read the long list of college acceptances from various seniors at our high school.  When the valedictorian and salutatorians were announced I was surprised to note that they were not the kids proudly wearing their Harvard or Yale shirts.  And I cried alongside the surprised and proud parents who claimed these seniors.  The Ivy schools were well represented in the “Top Ten” kids but so were other state and small private institutions.  My eyes were opened as I fist-pumped for their accomplishments.  Just WOW.

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I got that same feeling as I sat in an upper balcony of the large auditorium. I am a fan of writer Malcolm Gladwell; known for his books The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers & his current book David & Goliath.  When I saw he was being interviewed at the LA Times Festival of Books I went online and was able to secure two tickets to this engagement.  My first exposure to published authors began at age eleven; chosen to participate in a writer’s workshop at a university one and a half hours from my childhood home.  My GATE advisor took it upon herself to drive me there, daily, the entire week.  I had been in awe and intimidated.  I sat silently as authors shared what inspired them; my voice still hidden deep within.   I am just coming to the realization of how many adults mentored me and how grateful I am for their tutelage.  The years I chose to forget were the ones that indelibly shaped me.  The high school counselor, the cheerleading coach, the GATE advisor.  The death of my father.  The books allowed me to expand my mind beyond my claustrophobic four walls.  They were my ticket to the world beyond.  The books helped me build my vocabulary, find my words and, with the cheerleading coach, finally say them loud and clear.

For the Malcolm Gladwell conversation I sat in the same auditorium of my very first college class.  Biology 101.  All pre-meds and science majors were required to take this course their freshman year which weeded out the wheat from the chaff.  At 8 AM MWF I sat in this darkened lecture hall frantically taking notes in the front rows.  It is in the years between, then and now, that I realized I had narrowed my scope.  Hindsight brings perspective and where my true passions lay were in the globes and maps and demographics.  I loved statistics and had, instead, narrowed my choices to medicine.  It was after completing my one year in a medical school did I realize this was not the career path for me; much to the shock of my family and friends.

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On the way home from the Festival of Books the eldest re-initiated the conversation from two weeks before.  While I sat listening to Gladwell my husband, best friend and his wife set out to show our children the various places they hung out in our years of college here.  They toured science and engineering quads, peered into computer labs,  Heisman trophies and film school buildings.  The kids listened intently as the three of them shared stories of late nights studying or socializing.  They heard Jeff Kinney, the creator of the Diary of A Wimpy Kid books and cartoons, recount how his life brought him to his present occupation.  The books and authors were everywhere as they toured the campus for almost two hours.  The stats ring true: kids whose parents have gone to college will most likely take the same route.  I tell my son to open his mind and widen his perspective.  We need to open these doors to all kids in diverse socio- and economic circumstances.  Books can be that portal to bridge the gap to get them there.

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It takes almost twenty four hours for the last three days to really sink in.  The rally.  The friends.  The festival.  I had thought excessive pride and hubris was the trait I despised the most in people.  But as I processed the conversations over the past few days I realized I have been wrong.  Narrow-mindedness is the crux that I am least tolerant and empathetic; the parachute that leaves me drifting and bound.  In cutting the ties to this trait, I can explore outside my boundaries to the great outdoors and beyond.

I am expanding horizons. 

The world is my oyster.  I want my son to know this as he enters the cogwheel of these stressful high school years.  To not limit himself to the rules and boundaries; the safe paths people doggedly tread to get to the end destination.  I want him to walk his journey and trail blaze his own path; to not follow my own, or his father’s or his peers’.  I strive to impress this upon each of my children because they are all unique and their strengths and weaknesses are different.  It is my job, as a parent, to foster broader horizons and perspectives, to encourage the pursuit of knowledge and to allow my kids to explore their passions whether it be books, music, sports or pop culture.

I ponder if the computer and internet are the books of my children’s generation; opening boundaries to the web world wide.  May they enjoy what they read.  To  read their own words.  To passionately pursue what they enjoy for their own life paths.

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May you continue to read, forever and always.  Find your voice.  Step outside the box.

Family

the gaps in my memory

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It is a three day weekend.  There are piles of paperwork on the floor next to my office chair that await: requests for 2014 tax documentation, audit folders for PTA and stacks of paperwork to sign for field trips, science projects and school conferences.   The work folders remain in my book bag.

I continue to fill in the gaps in the 1,000 piece puzzle and, to both my family and I’s surprise, I cannot stay away from it.  The daylight filters through my living room curtains and illuminates my coffee table as countless hours are lost patiently sifting through the pieces.

allegory.  noun.  “a symbolic representation.” Def. 2. Merriam Webster Online, Merriam Webster, n.d. Web. 18 Jan. 2015.

The puzzle is the allegory of my life.

The jigsaw makes me sit in the present moment.  With the five of us within my four walls I can enjoy these hours unencumbered.  I don’t need to rush to bring kids here, there and everywhere.  I do not worry about my to-do lists, schedules and due dates.  I am here.

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There is a gap that continues to bother me and each day I actively search for the colors that will fill it in.  I have been unsuccessful in locating these pieces.  I know eventually, I’ll fill in the gaps.

It’ll work itself out.

Recently I had asked the members in our bookclub to share a book that had special meaning to them; a book that our group of ten had not read.  Some chose classics like The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett or Jane Austen’s  Pride and Prejudice.  Others chose contemporary books that renewed their love of reading.   I have read some amazing books over the years.  But the one that remains in my mind, one that I have not shared, is Lisa Genova’s Still Alice.

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I had read this novel some time ago and had forgotten it was going to become a movie.  I was surprised by the text from  a girlfriend, informing me of its limited release date on Friday, January 16th.  I was shocked when I watched my early morning show and discovered one of my favorite actresses, Julianne Moore, won the Golden Globe and received an Oscar nod for this movie. I hadn’t even known she was starring in it.   How can a movie that hasn’t been released have so much hoopla?

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And as all things do, the thoughts from my subconscious circled in my mind.  In my dreams.  It brought me to the place that I rarely go to…the gaping hole in my life that stays hidden away.

Alzheimer’s Disease.

With the release of this movie my past comes rearing back.  It is my biggest fear; one that my hubs shares with me.  Will I lose my memories, my mind like my own mother did?  Am I genetically predisposed?

It is one of the reasons I painstakingly document my family with photos.  I read books for enjoyment but also know that reading stimulates the mind.  Last year I chose to re-subscribe to my Sunday paper; reading it from cover-to-cover.  Each December I self-test myself  when I place my hands on the ivories; attempting to play Irving Berlin’s White Christmas from memory without any practice.   The factors that can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s include: reading, mind stimulating games (like Sequence or puzzles), music, education level, social interactions and healthy lifestyle choices.

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I delve into all things mental; the neurogerontologist within  stimulating neuronal networks to keep the synapses current.   The years in the lab return; the slides of neurofibrillary tangles and plaques.   Last year my mind was scattered; the multi-tasker pulled in many different directions.  Mediocre at everything; good at nothing.  I literally lost my mind.  When I began to lose my train of thought or began a task and forgot mid-stride; I was on full alert.

Life had its own way of working itself out and I took a break.  I cleared my schedules.  I worked hard to discover the motives for doing the things that I did.  I began to sit quietly and listen to my intuition.  It was hard to hear it amongst the chaos and noise I had lived in.

I bought books on organizing my mind.  I retook the multiple intelligences test to determine my modality of learning. Unknowingly, I bought the jigsaw puzzle.  I searched for my Still Alice book and realized I did not own a hard copy.  It remained buried deep in my electronic Kindle files.  I chose to step outside of my box to volunteer as a bookkeeper; to learn new versions of QuickBooks.  I do not have a financial background but push myself to expand my horizons.  I seek to master basic accounting principles which will also be useful at work.  I must interact within a large organization and I mentally train my mind to learn names and meet new people.

I am grateful the hubs supports these endeavors.  He understands the motivation behind them.

I mentally sort through the pieces, years ago, when I watched my mother live with impaired memory loss.   Ironically I had given seminars on dementia as a gerontologist.  I volunteered at my local Alzheimer’s Association in conjunction with my paid job in a non-profit that advocated for the elderly.   My co-workers gave weekly support groups to caregivers and I listened intently as they shared the ups and downs.  Never would we have guessed that my own mother would be diagnosed with it.  That I, the one educated and knowledgeable in this specific field of study, would revert to the caregiver’s denial and blinding anger.  And the guilt.  Lots of guilt.

The memories flood back.  My husband’s shock when he returned from deployment as I told him I placed my mother in a locked board and care facility.  The phone calls  from the facility of her escape.  She had been found in a 7-Eleven convenience store several miles away.  The identification bracelet had not been noticed by law enforcement.

Memory walk 2002 cropThese gaps lay open like the puzzle before me.  I search for the pieces, finally choosing to remember and acknowledge them.  I had compartmentalized this period in my life as I raised my infant and almost two- year old son.  Although I volunteered at the Alzheimer’s Association and had access to a physician, whose book is still prominent in this field; I had not asked for help.  I walked four miles in our local Memory Walk, with my sons,  and raised over a thousand dollars.  I brought people to tears as I taught law enforcement and social services about the symptoms of dementia and the importance of identity bracelets  But never did I acknowledge these things for myself.

I had been too overwhelmed.

I find the few pictures taken during that time; the purple album (whose proceeds partially went to the national Alzheimer’s chapter) purchased years ago and never started.  I coordinate with girlfriends to watch Still Alice onscreen when it is released to the general public in February.   I allow the memories to flood my mind; feeling the emotions as if it were yesterday.  And I found the picture, playfully taken, as my mother held the gorilla.  It was to be sent to the hubs in a memory book of the things he missed while on his six month deployment.  His aviator call sign was monkey boy and the gorilla was meant to make him laugh on the other side of the world.  It is one of the last memories of my mother when she was cognizant.

And with that I can finally pen the thoughts to the high resolution screen, in black and white, in acknowledgment.  I fill in the memory gaps.

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Family

a new year

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I am at a precipice.  I can feel it.   I lost the rhythm of things; of life.  I am trying to get it back.

The new year ushered itself in without preamble.  It came upon us before we knew it and in a mad rush; we quickly rinsed champagne flutes and poured the Asti Spumante champagne.  The clinking of glasses and bubbly flowed amidst hugs and toasts, with family,  Another year flew by.  Just.  Like.  That.

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While sorting through over a thousand pictures, taken in one week’s time, I played the classical playlist in the background.  And then Ravel’s Bolero came on.  I found myself searching YouTube to see it performed live; enjoying Valery Gergiev’s interpretation with the LSO…

…and I was transported to my last year of college; headphones on.  I listened incessantly to the tape given to all students in the music appreciation class, taught by the saxophone teaching assistant who was a friend; deciphering musical themes and period styles.  Maurice Ravel & Claude Debussy represented the Impressionist style and, along with George Gershwin; were some of my favorites.  Bolero would continually play as I studied in the tall library stacks late into the night; obliterating any distractions.  It became my theme song for that year; the repetitive motif slowly building in a crescendo and, at the end,  abruptly changing keys to dissonant chords with the return to C major.  Some days the song motivated; others it felt like a dirge.  I had been on the precipice wondering where I was to go next.  Where would life take me after these four years?

It was fitting that the song found me at the auspicious beginning of a new year.  What lies ahead?  Where will my calling be this year?

It surprised me to see the words upon the wall as we exited church, last Sunday.  I have exited this foyer countless times, over the years, but it was the first time I had ever really paid attention to them.  My eyes are finally opening.  I am beginning to see.

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Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

It is not my intention, to be preachy, as I blog.  That hour on Sundays becomes my meditation time where all things clear from my mind and allows me to search internally, without distraction. The events of the week filter and sort as I sit amongst others;  saintly Catholic I am not.  But it is on this day that I know our family serves without expectation.  My sons do not receive volunteer hours for robing in albs and standing before a large congregation.  They don’t wish for their friends to see them up there.  Instead of fidgeting in the hard wood pews they are forced to focus; learning rituals and traditions that may or not stay with them in the future.  It serves as a reminder that we serve something larger than ourselves.

I see conjugated forms of the verb to serve everywhere; the question mark that lies in my mind and heart.

Each  year I have great plans for the week between Christmas and New Year’s.  I think of projects I will complete or things I will be cleaning.  But this year I finally gave myself permission to just let things be.  To not worry about the messy house, the exposed plumbing and cracked tile.  The files from work that would be sorted and shredded.  Instead, I granted myself grace to enjoy the luxuries I always wish for in my mind.  To sleep in and skip the workout.  To eat that cookie.  To stay home in pajamas with all my Christmas lights on, all day.  To sit by the fire and read the books unread on my Kindle.  The routines and rituals are suspended in these seven days.  I do not allow guilt to sit upon my shoulder.  The to-do lists will still be there for another day.  This week is for play.

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As I digitally scrapbook Bolero continues to play; my mind relaxed.  I can feel the changes within as I learn to accept my limitations.  I finally allow the doors of my heart to open to the anger and disillusion of things past. They flow through me to make space.  This winter break has allowed me to digest two amazing books, rediscover one of my most favorite classical pieces and spend time within my four walls with the other four inhabitants of my home.

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When the routine disappears our entire household creates its own entropy; the lack of order quickly becoming random and disordered.  Entropy seeks the lowest energy state.  The second law of thermodynamics states that, in an isolated system, entropy never decreases.

\Delta S = \int \frac{dQ_\text{rev}}T,

It seeks to find thermodynamic equilibrium.  Balance.  I seek this too.

In the new year this equation will stay indelibly etched in my mind.  I like to imagine concrete, logical answers to things that seem to be disordered and out of my control.   This is my resolution.  To always strive to find my inner equilibrium; my life’s balance.  To find value in all things; but especially in people.

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This holiday I found myself choosing to stand at sinks or to sit at dining tables.  My mobile device’s  screen remained face down as I joined conversations.  I welcomed new people and embraced the old; thankful we had another year together.  I breathed through uncomfortable moments where drama fought for center stage; giving hugs to those who needed them.   I sought connections while sitting at these tables.

I chose service at kitchen sinks; quietly rinsing dishes and loading dishwashers to give the hosts the time to socialize, themselves.   As a teen I would join the women in assembly line fashion as they brought dishes and washed and dried them; without the convenience of dishwashers.  Some of these same women are now in their sixties to eighties and I shooed them away; still offering to fulfill their obligations.  They question the modern technology that sits amongst the hands of the younger generations: phones and tablets that usurp their time.  But they are grateful for the dishwasher; the dish towels and sponges no longer needed.

A week later, on New Year’s Eve, the patterns repeated itself in a smaller setting.  After the traditional rituals and feasts from Christmas, the last night of the year was relaxed.   A smaller gathering of family sat around a dining room table during a Karate Kid movie marathon.  We had become absorbed in conversation and the movie’s final scene that we failed to realize how quickly time had passed; the  year rapidly coming to a close in less than five minutes.  In years past this time has dragged on; kids and adults, alike, wondering, is it time yet?

I found resolution to the questions of the 2014 year; letting them ebb and flow.  I am not writing checklists or typing resolutions.  Instead, I shall follow my heart and look to my children who hold the simple answers.  I embrace 2015 with open arms, mind and heart.

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A-men.

Family, School

slowly coming home

My weekends are filled with music.  Literally.

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The thought dawns on me as I sit in sprinkling mist late Saturday eve.  I am watching the conclusion of a high school field tournament competition as parents huddle beneath umbrellas and hastily cover cameras and cell phones.  I laugh out loud at my youngest as he exposes his face to the rain, tongue sticking out.

I have spent a lot of my life in football stadiums.  It feels like my second home.

The hubs comes upstairs to sit beside me as my fingers fly across my keyboard.   He and our youngest have just completed watching the movie Up! and he is teary.    The movie opens with a portrayal of Mr. Fredrickson’s childhood, how he meets his wife and the progression of his marriage.   His home.  It is everything.

A home symbolizes many things.  Stability.  Success.  Family.  Most people characterize it as a building with four walls but that isn’t always true.  The adage, “home is where the heart is” comes to mind.  But still, most people associate the word home with a house, lawn and white picket fence.  The movie Up! hits the hubs hard.  He wants our home to be what I long for it to be.  The one with the new floors.

For the longest time I was devoid of memories from the ages of twelve through eighteen; filed into my subconscious and oblivion.  When I sit amongst my childhood girlfriends I do not recollect the memories as they do; myself actively in them.  I have come to the realization that I chose to forget them; the painful years of growing into my own skin and longing for guidance.  These were the years my mother’s energy was spent caring for my father in his late stages of colon cancer; the dutiful daughter forgotten.

It is only as I sit in the stands that my internal video of those years plays back; triggered by the sights and sounds of my own tween and teenager.   The years that I sat amidst the risers finishing homework before another game.   I had the rare opportunity of being both in our high school band program and being a songleader.   Both activities spend a lot of time in stadiums.   My hours were filled with these activities and they were welcome.  It took away from the feeling of isolation I felt within the silent walls of my own childhood home.

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Each weekend as we watched our high school perform their field show my eyes teared during the second movement.  The balance of chords were poignant as the ensemble crescendo-ed to a climax.  It was only when the son made reference to the original song that it clicked; after twelve weeks of hearing it.  I had felt an affinity to Tori Amos’ song back in college and would always think of my father.

Some of my favorite memories from college revolved around my four years of involvement in marching band.   Last month, sitting in the Coliseum, those memories washed over me as my sons raptly watched the drills and formations during pre-game and half-time.  And so it now begins anew; full circle.  Who knew?

It’s like coming home.

As a young mom it was imperative that my children not be afraid of the water and when they were infants, I joined YMCA aquatic Mommy and Me programs.  Soon my boys were on swim teams and I hoped this skill would take them through high school.  But swimming, for them, was for recreation; not competition.  It was the same for track and golf.  At the same time I had fostered an appreciation for music; beginning with piano lessons.  That, too, fell by the wayside when we made our last military transition move to our current home.   When my boys showed interest in band I did not push.  I was focused on sports and teams; surrounded by tiger moms thinking of NCAA collegiate swim scholarships.  It was all about being the best.  The fastest.  Band was for fun.

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And it was this that survived…the love for music.  Occasionally when I run into the swim tiger moms they share their children’s j.o. times and the battle of making their kids stay in the pool.  It is sheer will and determination to get into the pool at 5:30 AM every morning and I applaud the ones that really want it.   When these moms ask how my sons are I tell them they no longer swim and chose to be in band.  I usually get a subdued response, if not outright dismissal, and a command to make my boys get back into the pool.

It is only when they find what they truly love that they will do their best and find fulfillment.

I learned the hard way.  The kids have to want it; just as I did at their ages.  The band kids log in the hours and it shows; this ensemble ranked nationwide.  But it is not the accolades that fill our hearts with pride.  It is the message of Humility taught to these teens.  Respect.  Community.  When our local competitor was given a blow during competition our students were sensitive and offered encouragement; our buses parked alongside.  It is easy for parents to beam with pride and high-five; it is another to humbly be grateful and considerate.

This is the lesson I continue to learn; to drive home.  Humble gratefulness for the things I have.

It is on Sundays, while sitting in pews, that I have the time to process our jam-packed fall schedule in my other home.   It is All Soul’s Day and the church is packed.  I always feel a sense of community; seeing the same faces and families for an hour, week-after-week.  I often ponder what goes on in their homes.  It is this recurring theme that has preoccupied me in my adult years.  With the constant transitions as a military spouse I wondered what happened in the “normal” four walls of a stable home.

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It was the above book, the first chosen by a former neighbor for her newly founded bookclub, that brought reading back into my life.  The book centers upon neighbors on a street who start a bookclub.   It is about women who are isolated within their own lives and homes; seeking meaningful relationships.    The book paralleled our lives and the twelve women in that first reading discussion group embraced it.  Three years later I moved away.

It was when my children went to school in my current community that I began to meet new people.  The neighbor, two doors down, who had been pregnant at the same time, and I finally crossed paths.  Soon after came a third neighbor whose daughter was the same age as our sons.  When our kids were in first grade, our Halloween block party was born.

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This holiday is not one of my favorites.  As a young child I was instructed to turn off all the lights and to stay in my room.  Some Hallow’s eves there would be eggs thrown at our front door and only once did I venture out at a friend’s insistence.

But my two neighbors enjoy celebrating this day and I found myself trailing over fifty plus kids as they trick-or-treat for candy.  The kids’ bags don’t get very full (I always feel bad when a home opens its doors to find our fifty plus group of kids along their entryway) but it is the sense of community and fellowship that makes this block party a success; both amongst the kids as well as the adults.  When the rain came pouring down at 10 PM my neighbors and I stood beneath her garage awning tiredly laughing about things past and present.

I am happy that my children can have these experiences; opportunities never presented in my childhood.

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The youngest, Dapper Death, at his serpentine parade.

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The middle son, with his friend, before a junior high Halloween dance.

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The high school trunk-or-treat for 220 band and color guard members.

My home continues to be my sanctuary; the place I call my own.  It is safe.  Amongst the clatter and loud noise I do find peace.  And the music continues to play.  On my PC and ear buds plugged into iPods.  Performed on musical instruments.  Hummed amidst our daily activities of living. Played loud in football stadiums,  Sung weekly in church choirs.  And on repeat on my car stereo during my weekday commute.

Music is the constant in my life.  Music is what brings me home.  It is not the home with four walls and cracked tile (though I continually lament this).  It is what pulses in our hearts; what runs in our blood.

A house is not a home if music does not reside there. 

It doesn’t have to be loud.  It is our stories brought to life; the songs that resonate within.   It can be a silent melody that sings within your veins; the pulse that makes you continue to put one foot in front of the other on our life’s walk.

Find your music and sing it loud and clear.