Marriage

my happy place

I am with my hubs 24/7.  We work together in the small business we own.   I handle office matters and accounting and he handles everything else.

Admittedly, it is trying being with this man all of the time and when I meet couples who have endured through the years, for much longer than our mere eighteen years, I am compelled to ask this burning question in my mind.

How do you do it?  What’s the secret to a lasting marriage?

Last Saturday I awoke to bright, glaring sunlight as our cat pounced upon my foot above the covers.  Our bedroom, and entire house, looked like a hurricane had blown through it.  Normally this brings me anxiety and frustration.  I am a creature that thrives on order and routine, but I am learning to live through the chaos of my  life; to be present in the moment.

I recently was reminded of this after learning of two people’s passing.  A seventeen year old girl, who had performed with her high school band at Grand Nationals in Indianapolis as a vocalist and flutist, had been instrumental in placing their band in the top ten in finals.  Upon driving home that night, the car she had been in was struck.  She, her father and grandmother were killed.  This band program had experienced both its highest and lowest point,  in the same evening.

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During a district showcase event, featuring our local band programs, we learned of the loss of a staff member’s infant child at full-term.  Upon our flight’s return from Indianapolis our family of five had run into this family at a local restaurant.  They had beamed in happiness as they excitedly looked forward to the addition of this child.  We quietly absorbed the news in the high school stadium, saddened by this loss.

Life is short.

This past Saturday morning  was the first, in several months, where none of us needed to be somewhere.  I imagined myself lazily rousing, just as our sixth grader came bounding into the bedroom in search of the cat.  He had returned from a week- long science camp, immediately following our travel from Indianapolis.  The hubs and eldest son had fallen asleep downstairs, watching movies late into the night.  So much for a leisurely awakening.

Within an hour, all of my sons had made their way into our bedroom; strewn across our bed.  The dog and cat hairs clung to their pajama bottoms as the dog excitedly barked and the cat demurely purred.   Suitcases and blankets were pushed aside as my teens offered their own backs to be scratched and the tween found room in-between.

My mind flashed back to these boys as infants longing to be underneath our covers; jockeying for space on our queen sized bed.  It is now I who fights to find room, these sons now taking up most of the space.  When the hubs joined in, we were crammed; all of my boys somehow laying atop one another.

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It goes by in a blink.  I no longer take them for granted.  I cherish each one of them for who they are.

But in all this, it is the hubs that gets lost in the chaos.  Of all my family members, he is the one most taken for granted.  Most of this fall season I have busily coordinated our schedules, accounted for numbers for work and made sure we met our obligations to be where we’ve needed to be.  It is rare that I am being with he; the one who started this all.

I sat in bleachers in another stadium.  Whenever I meet a couple, my other most pressing question is how and when they’ve met; particularly those who have endured the years and have been married longer than ourselves.  This woman shared how she had met her husband of thirty-two years and I pointed out to her my other half, sitting in a far corner in disheveled and unmatched camouflage-wear.  We grinned at one another in understanding.

We appreciate our spouses when we step out of our normal routines and see them as others do.

It’s easy to get distracted and derailed with details and detritus.  The work-a-holic who bends over backwards  to make another customer happy with an unreasonable timeline.  The man who doesn’t bother with clothes or appearance and comes just as he is.  The father who sometimes forgets to check his sailor mouth from his days as a naval aviator, with his kids.  This man of spontaneity and my complete opposite in more ways than one.

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I type this from my happy place.

I had been shocked when the hubs saw the fall savings email and urged me to book an overnight stay at our beloved winery.  Financially we are recovering from our  recent travel, as well as large material purchases for the business.  I was anxious about leaving our sons at home, even overnight.  Our home was a mess and there was plenty to do to prepare for Thanksgiving and the holidays.

I’ve learned that more is not better.  That living with less makes life simpler and more clear.  That all these things to do, can wait.

The hubs and I walked across the road to honor the girlfriend who passed this last May at her preferred winery.  It is one of my favorite memories with her and another dear friend, as we headed to a book signing in San Diego.

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I passed on the extra glass of wine, only choosing quality versus the excess quantity. I watched as people stumbled around me and spoke in too loud voices in the wine tasting room.  I could taste the tannins on my tongue, smell the bouquet of flavors and appreciate the time and patience required to ferment grapes into an award winning wine.   As I sipped, I thought of the various answers I’ve received, over the years…

  • from the couple who sits behind our pew each Sunday… they’ve made it over sixty years because they give one another space.  He reads the paper in one room, she watches novellas in the other.   They appreciate one another’s diverse interests and do their own thing.
  • from my in-laws who just celebrated fifty years this July…who’ve made it because they never go to bed angry and are together 24/7.  They’ve weathered storms, since their teens, together against all odds and spent twenty five years creating the business we have inherited.  Currently they enjoy their years of retirement side-by-side on slot machines.
  • from the woman in the stadium…they’ve made it because they separated home from work and independently pursued what was important to each of them.  We had laughed out loud as she referred to her husband in third person…a separate entity from the one she usually deals with, in the first (person).  In watching him work she remembered the man she had fallen in love with.

And so I watched my own hubs in the third person; trying it on for size.

Instead of grimacing when he changed our schedule to stay late to appease, yet another customer, I saw the man who selflessly gives of his time.  He is the reason why our customers return.

I ignored the mess of our home; pushing aside clothes strewn on couches to sit and watch movies in a spontaneous movie marathon with our boys.  This is my hubs’ favorite pastime as I flit around picking up around them.  I decided to just sit with them instead.

I thought of my book club girlfriends who refer to my husband as, “the good guy” and tried to see the man they see…the one who teaches our boys how to build campfires, creates chef quality meals, assists them with trig/calc/physics/all things technological and being an all around “good guy.”

We stepped out of our normal routines, leaving our three sons  (with grandma nearby) and even taking a day off work, to decompress after this whirlwind of a year.  All things work related, financial and school  remained at home.  We sat among the vineyards, he with an electronic book; myself with my son’s laptop typing words.

Life is short and I would not want it to end without this man knowing the depth of love and gratitude for what we have (the good and the bad).  For years I’ve considered him my parenting partner or my “evil” work boss.

I had forgotten the love that began it all and the ties that bound us together. We are quite different in many ways but in things that matter, our beliefs are the same.  I considered all the answers people have shared over the years, finding my own on how our marriage will endure.

Marriage is like a fine wine requiring lots of attention and endless amounts of patience.

I may not always be in love with my life.  But I’m thankful to be here to live it.  It’s tough to always do what you love and love what you do...but I’ll spend the rest of my time trying, with this guy, ’til death do us part.

My heart is joyful as the holiday season comes upon us.  It isn’t about the material things and gifts.  In my marriage, my presence is the only present I have to give.

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This Thanksgiving be grateful.  Cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

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Marriage

my midlife crush

I have a crush.

My husband called me out and I, quickly defended, I do not.  But, as in all things, my mate happens to also be the one who knows me most and I had to take some time to deliberate his preposterous idea.  To which I came to the guilty conclusion that he was right.

I do.  

I am happily married to my husband, the one I’ve known since age eighteen.  We are approaching twenty years of marriage.  We have lived apart, during his flight training years and my graduate school studies; as well as the sixteen years he served on active military duty.   For the past seven years we have finally settled in our “forever home,” where we work, side-by-side, in the family business we assumed from his parents.   He no longer deploys, by choice, to watch our three sons grow after missing ten years of our eldest’s life.  We are together 24/7.

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The hubs merrily dubs him as “my boyfriend.”

I thought this crush was temporary, a distraction from my normal daily grind.  The crush recipient happens to be one that I admire, older, and A LOT like my husband regarding his personal and political views.  He is happily married and is unaware of my silly infatuation.

My girlfriends knew I had a crush on the former NBC news anchor, Brian Williams, and this continues to be a source of amusement.  When fires destroyed our neighborhood and we had evacuated, I had been tempted to return to our local supermarket where this TV anchor reported from.  Upon his departure from NBC for his misleading reporting, I received many condolences and smirks.

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After a year and a half,  I had thought this crush had gone away but found myself, once again, tongue-tied while at a recent event.  For those who know me, this is rare indeed.  I can usually talk to inanimate objects and hold trivial, as well as deep, conversations.  As an adult, I have become an extrovert.  But I find myself becoming the person I was in high school, shy and introverted; upon being in the presence of my crush.

I shared this with my book club girlfriends to which one replied, “this is where affairs begin.”  Is this true?  I frantically searched the internet for resources as to why people have crushes.  Is this my midlife crisis?  Am I on the path to adultery?

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/vivian-diller-phd/midlife-crisis-how-to-know-its-coming_b_2800892.html

Thankfully, my girlfriend heard me over brunch and laughed.  She reiterated the answers I had hoped to hear.  Crushes are natural and are ways we distract ourselves.  Many of the things that irk her about her own husband, are ones that I share.  Does he have to snore so loud?  Wake up!  Why does he have to be messy?  Can’t you pick up after yourself?   Small things in the longer, wider picture.  Her husband’s words, upon her lament of all things trivial, sat between us in the crowded restaurant.   The material, trivial details that we mull and obsesses over, all even out in the end. 

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The negative space between people was just as important as the positive space we occupy.” ~ Alyson Richman, The Lost Wife.

We can both look past our husbands’ flaws to remind ourselves why we are still married to them.  It is for the heart within; the steadfast beat that puts up with my daily in and out.  The one who hears my laments and doesn’t fight to make me hear his.  I am the yin to his yang.

The crush is a mental separation; to give me space to ponder other things.

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Life is not a bed of roses.  We have transitioned into small business in an economic recession.  Finances, never an issue before, lie in foreboding. We have three sons to feed, clothe and house and future educations to fund.  We have old drainage pipes and vehicles, cracked tile, leaky roofs and a plethora of other problems associated with home ownership.  We are sandwiched between aging parents and raising tweens/teens and are confronted with our changing body images and new health issues.  Wrinkles, gray hairs, unwanted belly fat, and inner cellular changes came at a time when the stressors of life run high.

Gone are the years where we are trying to climb ladders, at this point we are holding on in hopes to maintain; to not drop the ladder or fall off.  Aging has a way of slowing our metabolism and diluting hopes and dreams.  We’ve buried parents and friends, marriages disipitate and friends and/or their kids, fall dependent on drugs and alcohol.  Faith in our nation, our future, in religion are at an all time low.  It’s easy to take hold of our own destinies; to forge new paths than to work through deep seated wounds and issues.  It’s much harder to work things through.

… I believe the measure of a vow does not lie in saying it, or in upholding it when things are easy.  The power of a promise is proven in times of difficulty, when keeping that pledge is hard.” ~ Stephen P. Kiernan, The Hummingbird: A Novel.

Is this what I’ve lived life for?  Where is the promised ease of reaching our pinnacles;  our hopes and dreams?

And so I delve into the real reasons for a crush.  Dissatisfaction of where one is in life.  In a mate.  In a career.  All of the above.   Do I really see myself pursuing a senseless crush?

Thankfully, these have all been musings in my mind for the past year and a half.  I can communicate these questions, sometimes uneasily and heatedly, with the hubs.  It has helped me appreciate our relationship as it has matured through the years.  Even though our experiences have changed us, essentially he and I are the same two kids who met in a calculus class lamenting derivatives and integrals.

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At the happiest place on Earth, amidst my angst of being late in traffic to my cousin’s wedding, our son grabbed my camera to snap the shot of his arguing parents.  One of our very first “dates” had been at this same place and the picture of us, in a roller coaster car on Splash Mountain with a white corsage on my arm, had been the beginning of our relationship over two decades before.

After grinning for our shot the trivial traffic worries disappeared; the love from the newly weds shared among the guests invited to celebrate with them.

My husband looks past the stretch marks and wrinkles and I do the same.  But my crush puts things in perspective.  He embodies a few of the things my husband does not have; the things I desire that are unfulfilled.

In comprehending these things I can communicate this to my spouse; as he reciprocates with me.

It is fun to project my ideals on someone else and to entertain my mind.  But the history, love and understanding; the acceptance of one another’s flaws and fears are what binds the hubs and I.  It is in our transparency with one another that makes our ties stronger.

The hubs endures this song as I play it on repeat as I process and blog my thoughts.  He is my bestie and a keeper.

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.

Marriage

the follow through

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Every day I wake and hope for the best.

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

How does one keep moving forward?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Family, friendships, Marriage

choosing right

I am Catholic.  I am accustomed to guilt.

As an adult whenever the topic of religion came up, particularly amongst non-Catholic Christians, I felt inadequate.  Other Christian denominations read and touched their Bibles, often, whereas Catholics read from missalettes and heard verses only at Sunday mass; if and when they went.  My Bible-thumping friends constantly quoted and lectured; questioning why I chose to remain in my faith during the years when the priest molestations became public.   As an infant I had been immersed, not of my own choosing.  Soon after my father died I chose to walk away from my religious upbringing; aged 18.  It was several years later, dragged to an Easter Sunday mass with grad school classmates in a city 2,000 miles away, that I slowly made the choice to return.    I had silently wept and grieved for my father’s passing the entire mass; my friends unsure what to do.

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I drove to the local supermarket, Halloween morning, and bought three bags of Halloween candy; the guilt eating away at me.  My eldest son’s schedule currently rules our household and so the younger sons’ Saturdays are filled with high school field competitions.  Various parents offered to have my younger boys trick-or-treat with their families this Halloween; sharing how awful it must be for them to have to sit in a stadium and miss out.  When I offered these choices to the thirteen and ten year old, neither answered right away.  As a parent, balancing the load (between work, school volunteering, social commitments) and being equitable with my time is a juggling act.  If I spend more time with one child’s needs than the other, I constantly question how I can make thing fair.  I feel guilt that some of my sons require more maintenance and attention than others.

I think of my bff as she learned the passing of her late father a month later; this man the epitome of guilt after making selfish choices.  She pondered what we did to the universe to deserve the lot we’ve received.  Both of us are only children, both of our parents deceased.   It is the reason I dislike my birthday; the reminder my parents no longer are with me.  The holidays hit her the hardest…Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Between the two of us we have seven kids and two loving spouses who prop us up.  They hear the gripes and issues; sometimes our only connection with our husbands as we struggle to balance the hectic every day.  We harbor escapist thoughts or fantasize crushes.  We feel guilt that there is no time for them, our roles as mothers trumping our spousal ones.

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I feel the guilt as I decline invitations to meet with various groups of friends; my schedule busy balancing just my family.  We constantly look at our calendars, finding a day when our schedules align.  I’ve discovered that the friends who understand this are the ones that remain.  The ones whom I can go for periods of time without face-to-face contact but, once together, can catch up and fill each other’s cups.  The ones who are always hospitable without conditions such as the state of their homes, the mess of their lives or their skeletons in their closets.  The ones whom I can inconvenience at any time.

The thoughts weigh heavily on my mind, in one of the organizations in which I serve, and I ponder how to resolve them.  I feel guilty that I want to wish them away, to deal with on another day; telling myself this is not my battle to fight.  Is my self preservation stronger than my moral obligation?

Time is my enemy and I must sacrifice & prioritize to choose how & where to invest it.   I must find a way to balance my load.

I  push the thoughts to the back of my mind; working hard to solely focus on the present things before me.  But when left alone to my own devices, my mind runs in circles considering all of the above.  Thankfully  there is not much time to think, these days, but the guilt never goes away; returning to pursue my sanity another day.  The choice is always mine to make.

Slowly the healing to my angry interrogations came with parenthood; the desire to choose how to raise my sons and discovering what it meant to be fully responsible for another human being.  But my guilty conscience returned when it came time to enroll my young sons in religious education.  If I chose to raise them by this faith, the onus would lie upon me to be equally educated in it.   And so, the avid reader, I tackled reading the Bible as a textbook, myself an academic or philosopher.  The guidelines gave instructions on how to read the entire tome in one year.  Muslims read the Koran and Jews studied the Torah…I could do it too.  I asked questions and tried to reconcile my answers; which didn’t always agree.  The priest answered my queries which I carry with me to this day.  When we stare at the black and white page, we forget to look at the gold gilded edges or illustrations; the bigger picture.

Sometimes life is not so black and white.  The words were only a guide, not the answers.  We must seek our own truths.

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My younger boys chose to remain with us on Halloween.  I repeatedly asked the youngest if he was sure and after the fourth time, he pretended to consider his answer.  This son easily asserts his opinions and in clear language answered, “Mom.  I have plenty of candy and would rather be with you.  Halloween is just not my thing.”  I recalled giving the same answers to my own friends at their ages.  Halloween wasn’t really my thing either; my guilt at dragging him to another competition making me nag my sons to do what most of their peers chose to do.  He’d rather be with me; with us.  

The night before I had watched from afar in the football stadium as the teens and tweens mingled by the water; surprised that my two elder sons sought one another, without prodding, when the middle son’s junior high band joined the eldest’s high school program.  Were these the same two boys who fought not an hour earlier?   As I wistfully snapped the shot I realized that my sons get complete access to the hubs and I, when needed, and that being fair and equitable isn’t always in the amount of time spent.  It is always in the quality.

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I sat in the hard pew last Sunday as I watched my three sons serve as altar boys; holding their breaths as the incense smoke rose within the church.  I heard the sermon about mercy and remembered that day long ago at the Easter mass as I grieved the if onlys.  I had been angry with the world, with a God who stole my father…placing my trust in things I, alone, could control and choosing to study the sciences.  I reasoned that I must’ve been a bad person to have my father taken away from me since for every action, there is an equal an opposite reaction (Newton’s Third law of Motion).   I understood my best friend’s lament as she currently ponders these same questions.  If only we had done (fill in the blank), maybe the outcome would have been different.  It’s easier to accept the blame and guilt; thinking we can control our lives and the people who reside in them.  But alas, the truth of the matter is, we have no control of those things; only our reactions to them.  We need to let our guilt go knowing that the bad things in life happen, sometimes for no reasons at all. 

I am reminded to not take my husband, my partner, for granted as I daydream of other things.  I take the effort to make some time, however short, to affirm him.  I have a fuller life because he resides in it.  It is with him that I am most transparent as I share my escapist thoughts and he shares his own; the guilt overriding.  It is this open communication, unconditional love and respect for one another, that we can share our issues and compromise or work towards resolution.  We both discovered our thoughts were normal; cajoling one another and pondering how we’ll journey together into old age as our time at home with our kids grows short.  We hope we won’t drive each other crazy when we become empty-nesters and make the time for date nights together sans kids.  The friends who remain walk this same journey alongside; sharing the ups and downs without judgment.  We catch up when we can and it is enough.

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I continue to seek my own truths as I consider that there may be no resolutions to my endless questions in the organizations to which I serve.  I always have a choice as to how I invest my time and my life.

I must choose what I love and love what I choose; for all the right reasons.

 

Marriage

the gift that matters

Proof that love can conquer all…

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Seventeen years ago I said, “I do” to the man I had dated for four years and had been engaged for two.  It began at a table, with grinning guys, in college as I had sat there bewildered.  Unbeknownst to me, my good friend had harbored a crush over the three years I had known him.  But I was not ready.  My plans had been set.  I had a fifteen year plan and marriage had no place in it.

There was the time in Texas when I threatened to jump out of the moving vehicle to end our engagement.  The night that I yelled in St. Jude’s hospital room when my husband, (who had asphyxiated and was unresponsive at the bottom of his childhood pool and was rescued by our eldest son), finally awoke from being flat-lined with the audacity to ask how long had he held his breath?   The day I had cried when we crossed the state line into Louisiana and had difficulty understanding anything anyone said; the heavy southern accent questioning my wisdom of moving across the country.  The Republican and the Democrat.  The NRA toting military guy and the Greenpeace, Save-the-World gal.  The heathen and the Catholic.  The introvert and the extrovert.  He is the yang to my yin.

My mother had been relieved that someone would finally marry her only daughter.  She hoped the guy would last.

This man has felt the depths of my wrath, has given me his shoulder to mourn the death of my mother and say the countless goodbyes to friends from over sixteen years of military moves.  He continues to quietly stand nearby as I serve others.  I learned resilience as he served our country and I raised our sons; the boys we continue to grow into men.    They are blessed to have an easy-going, hands-on father who plays Team Fortress 2 in the dark den, boy/man-cave and watches blood and guts war/alien/zombie/apocalypse movies.  On my girls’ nights out they happily look forward to their boys’ nights in.

He is simple in all the right ways and always knows his center as I orbit around him.  I am the Earth and he is my sun.

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On this anniversary day we made no big plans.  We contemplated a trip to a local winery, sitting in a jazz club or walking art museums.  My late riser had awakened early to find flowers and placed them throughout our home.  I dragged him to my local coffee house to a cup of lukewarm coffee.  We began to clean our house, something a couple normally wouldn’t choose to do on their special day.  The hubs’ only prerequisite was in being together.  The in-laws insisted they would babysit the teens and ten year old.  But instead of an intimate romantic getaway day for two, we chose to stay close to home.  After a hectic week of back-to-school nights, PTA audits and two booster meetings, our home was a disaster; the house that is our sanctuary.   The mobile device(s) were banned for most of today; the focus on our home life as we put things back in place.  For dinner we chose to sit in a local brewery watching college football games and brought home pizza for our sons.

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I rarely reflect on the fifteen year plan I had chosen to leave.  I had been selected to become a naval flight surgeon to eventually become a geriatric oncologist.  I had been on my way.  I lived in Chicago whilst he was in flight school in Pensacola; the distance making the heart grow fonder.   Each week I would check in with the commander who laid out my future; until the week in February, when he said the words that would seal my fate.  I would never be stationed near my future husband if I continued in our relationship.  I would have to resign myself to duty first.  His  flight orders would be nowhere near where I needed to be.  I flew to Florida on Valentine’s day and arrived to flowers.   After that one year in medical school, I chose to leave the predestined path I had chosen at age thirteen.  I hadn’t really known if this guy would be “the one,” twenty-one years ago, but I knew it was time to listen to my heart and forge my own way.  I chose him.

I was surprised by the responses to my spontaneous Facebook post from friends spanning months and decades; all welcome.  I am reminded of those years by the friends who had occupied them, and continue to grow with those who currently reside along with us.  The years brought out our differences; testing our mettle if love really was enough.  There have been times they seemed irreconcilable: pride, envy, greed, false expectations and distance creating the divide.  At times the grass seemed greener on the other side.  Love is not perfect.  But with time we have moved towards the center; our opposing views converging into moderate ones.  We continue to strive; to get the balance right.

Each year  on our anniversary I revisit it; the verse read at our wedding.

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NIV.

On our wedding day my mother-in-law revealed the flowers my bridesmaids and I would hold.  The church pews were filled with their scent.  It is my happiest and most favorite memory of that day; fragrant flowers.  Over the years I’ve received countless things from my hubs, big and small.  He’s surprised me when I thought he was deployed, written notes and sent gifts from faraway places.  I am empty-handed this anniversary day.  Over the years I, too, have come up with elaborate activities and thoughtful gifts.  But he reminded me that it’s really very simple.

Physical presence; not expensive presents is all he ever needs.

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This morning his simple act of hunting for flowers, in our local Walmart at 6AM, warrants the very top of my list.  It isn’t about the material things in the end.  Love is the proof and can conquer all.  I grab his hand  and hold on, forever and always.

 

Family

objects in mirror are closer than they appear

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It’s an oxymoron to think that vacations are relaxing.  I posed the question to my husband at 11:56 PM as we drove through our state border; heading home.  Has there ever been such a thing as a perfect vacation?

The hubs is slow to respond; the deep breathing and soft snores heard from our back seat.  Outside our car windows it is pitch black; the reflective signs occasionally in our headlights’ view.  There are few cars on this portion of the highway and I wondered if he had heard my question.  I considered posing it again when he finally responded.  San Francisco. 

I reflect on this as the miles blur by.

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The moon waxed full on the beginning of our trek and the boys and I, lulled by the lights of Sin City, had decided we could make the short trek up and down the Strip.  But the boulevard is deceptively long and that first night we were exhausted.  Objects appear closer than they really are.  We already had round one of my infamous navigation skills and even with our GPS and Google maps app somehow we still could not reach our very obvious destination.  How can you miss the Vegas strip, I mean really?  Between two differing digital voices speaking almost simultaneously the hubs still did not agree with our route.  It is at times like these that I am grateful I have never had to be his co-pilot.  The poor crew who flew military missions with him for sixteen years probably got an earful.  Or maybe, it’s just me.

I hadn’t realized I said this aloud but a disembodied voice from the back answers me.  Mom.  It’s you.  I normally would bristle at this but the middle son is a great navigator.  Out of the mouths of babes.

I planned an ambitious spring break vacation at the very last minute.  Originally our destination had been to the City by the Bay.  Instead I chose to travel over 1,200 miles by car with three sons, the hubs and my grumpy self.  I had not realized it was a full moon until we walked the strip; our first overnight stop.  Neither the hubs nor I are gamblers and we had not returned to this city since his best friend married his wife over sixteen years ago.   Bedazzled by the ever twinkling lights; we shared with our boys that this was the adult Disneyland.  As we traipsed through the casino to our room, their eyes were mesmerized by the machines; the real versions of games that produced cash if you were lucky.   To my surprise our sons want to return here; the land of the JabbaWockeeZ.

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We ventured away from all cell reception within the mountain ranges; left to our very basic map.  Amidst the cliffs of red rock I could finally sigh in relief.  But I remained grumpy and tired; hiking the rear as we traversed steep drops and rocky terrain.  It took me two days to realize we had changed time zones and that my tiredness was due to the high elevation.  And, of course, my unexpected visitor chose to arrive a week early whilst on a two mile hike and I was ill prepared.   The boys continued to torment one another and when we hopped off the shuttle for our fourth hike of the day the boys groaned.  Whose idea of a vacation was this anyway?  I found myself thinking the same thing.

Day four found us on the road crossing state lines once again.  We gave up figuring out what time zone we were in; our cell reception still sketchy.  Our back seat to our SUV is now too small as long gangly legs fought for space.  For hours the car chargers were in constant use until we discovered at our last gas stop; a car charger with two USB ports.  Again the hubs chose to ignore my directions (which on this entire trip were correct, mind you).  Our differences in personalities revealed themselves in the close quarters of our vehicle.  I like to travel during the day and study maps.  My spouse, on the other hand, prefers detailed guided directions way in advance and traveling at night.  At the roundabout signaling a highway change he announced their was no signage.  Once again we backtracked to our route and I loudly and clearly stated I told you so.

By the time we arrived at our viewpoint we all were ready for fresh air.  True to form, my off-road hubs chose to trailblaze off the beaten path.  I longingly gazed from the Watchtower filled with tourists; many of them foreign.  Immersed amongst so many diverse cultures I happily took in the view until I noted my sons and husband were hiking down and away from the safe railing.

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Whenever our family hikes I always take the rear.  When my sons were young I needed to keep them in tow like a mother duck; the hubs taking the lead.  Four of the members of my family were making the descent towards an unmarked plateau and my sense of adventure vanished.  Amidst the south rim of the 7,000 foot Grand Canyon I stood frozen.  I have a fear of heights and my husband and children were happily descending into the steep canyon on an unmarked trail on the edge of a cliff.  My fear for my children’s safety overrode my fear of heights and I unwillingly hiked after them constantly repeating the mantra in my mind.  Don’t look down.  Don’t look down.  I breathed deeply; my heart in my throat.  Why can’t we be like the tourists and stay where it is safe!

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My sons chose to throw rocks over the cliff, waiting to see if they could hear them land.  They could not.  When the hubs asked where my sense of adventure was I remained quiet.  I sat away from the edge as he monitored our boys; taunting me as if they were falling. Eventually my heart returned to normal and the hubs revealed the trail.  It was well marked but it was unpaved and there are no safety rails.  But others have come down this path; the tell-tale signs of footprints.  He proceeded to tell me that this will be the best view we’ll have of the canyon, you’ll see.   I was dubious but I sat; itching to reach our hotel.  He sighed.

What is your rush?  Why can’t you just sit and enjoy the view?

Of course we lost our way to our final stop; hungry and tired in the midst of Grand Canyon village.  I was stressed and my boys, masters of the obvious, tried to ease my mind.

Look Mom!  That family is fighting too.  It’s not just us.

They had begun to notice this on our first day in Las Vegas as a mother yelled at her husband in Spanish while their kids followed while walking the strip.  In Zion National Park a German family with similar aged kids, argued and pointed at maps; lost between shuttle stops.   I did not relish traveling at night and had already wanted to be at our destination reading my Kindle.  At 8PM the general store was closed and I was still in need of feminine items for my unexpected visitor.  Thankfully, a kind woman re-opened her register just for my transaction.  Without cell reception to call the hotel that we would be a late arrival I fretted.  Minutes later we arrived.

Day five we hiked various trails along the rim with scenic viewpoints.   Leaving the crowds behind we happily hiked until we realized we had forgotten our tripod.  Across the trail we heard a mother yelling.  When I say we are going to take this picture I don’t want to hear anything else.  This is the one and only time we will ever see this place so you better act like you like it.  The boys turned to me and grinned and the hubs chuckled.  Yep.  I know the feeling.  We stuck our camera in the tree, set the self-timer and took our own picture.

I, the woman with the itinerary, still have a long way to go to be able to just go with the flow and enjoy the present moment.  But I seized my moment as I quietly sat at the end of the unpaved trail at 7,000 feet.  My husband saw my frustration and sat beside me.  The eldest stopped taunting his brothers and came to lean on my other side; quietly staring into the canyon depths.  I realized how rare this moment was and the tears came to my eyes as my other sons threw rocks below.  My time is short with these boys and Ralph Waldo Emerson got it right.

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Life is a journey, not a destination.

I smiled to myself in the darkened car as I replayed our vacation.  San Francisco had been a spontaneous, unplanned vacation with no expectations.  I had no agenda or itinerary; unlike this past spring break where I had places to go and sights to see.  I had highlighted guide books and trails and we actually did see most of them; just not on the timeline I would have anticipated.  On the evening of day four I had highlighted this quote from the book I had been reading, Moon Daughter by Zohreh Ghahremani.

“Life is nothing but a chain of mistakes.  Some we learn from, but most others are only horrible misjudgments on their way to becoming regrets.”

I was grateful that my actions didn’t become regrets.  It was natural to lament the negative: the navigation arguments, the disgruntled kids wanting Wi-Fi, the full moon and unexpected monthly visitor.   We survived 1,200 miles together, enjoyed the natural beauty of two amazing national parks and discovered that the family vacation is the same across all cultural backgrounds.  It’s real life.

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The objects in the mirror are closer than they appear. 

They are right in front of me but I keep projecting out into the distance; thinking of the future.  I need to travel in the present time and enjoy them with no regrets.  No smoke and mirrors.  Here and now.

 

 

Family

it isn’t about the flowers

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In my junior year of high school I was assigned a research report on something that was of interest.  I was to write it and submit pamphlets for my AP English class.   My classmates had interesting subjects and the teacher looked at me to inquire what research subject I would choose.  We were in our high school library and I had no idea.  Not very many things interested me.

As I sat looking through reference books I came across a phone number and wrote it down.  That piece of paper sat in my backpack for over two weeks until I finally got the nerve to punch in the numbers to call the 800 number.

It was to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Bethesda, MD.

The operator kindly took down my information and promised to send information about colon cancer and the research NCI conducted.  A week later, the thick envelope arrived in the mail and I quietly wrote my research paper.  Years later I realized my English teacher had given it to my counselor and  it had determined the pathway I would take for the next eight  years.

I find myself on the National Institutes of Health (NIH)/ National Institute on Aging (NIA) website.

http://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/publication/alzheimers-disease-genetics-fact-sheet

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The middle son continues to plot Punnett squares and is sent upstairs, by the hubs, to me.  The man enjoys advanced mathematics and computer programming languages (he spent this last weekend creating clouds) but is stumped by genetics.  What are the differences between mitosis and meiosis? this son asked the hubs and soon, his footfalls were heard trudging up the stairs.  Perusing his book I found the section about color blindness; the genetic condition this son inherited from one of my X chromosomes.  Reds and greens are not distinct for him and so I chose the above square to illustrate how I passed it down through meiosis.  None of our other sons express or carry this gene.  Only this one.

Early this morning, as I drove this son to his junior high for a field trip, we sat at the traffic light.  He talked of his color vision deficiency and science.   He is attending a math field trip at the professional hockey venue to learn how math and science is utilized in this sport.   We talk of Punnett squares and I wondered if he could distinguish the colors of red and green on the light.

Science seems to be on my mind too.

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Over the weekend we watched, The Theory of Everything; the film about Stephen Hawking’s life.  The hubs and I had quietly sat while our sons remained in the den; plugged into their computers.  We had been surprised when the middle son joined us; watching the entire movie.  Last evening I finally watched Still Alice based on the book by the same name.  Those who’ve watched it said to bring tissues and as I rushed into the theater I realized, I had none.  When the lights came on two hours later I hadn’t needed them.

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While amongst other moms at a birthday party yesterday  the inevitable question asked was Did you have a nice Valentine’s day?  I had gone to the supermarket on Saturday, considering what to cook for our family dinner.  Each Valentine’s day we dare not venture out amongst the long dinner lines and happy couples with our three boys.  Instead, we choose to make a fancy dinner at home.  But the day had arrived and I had neither any Valentine’s gifts for my sons nor food in my fridge to constitute anything special.  And so I had stood in the supermarket’s butcher counter considering my options after my heart healthy jog, that morning.  The steady line of men came into the store purchasing flowers, cards and candy.  When I grinned at them they sheepishly looked contrite; caught doing everything at the very last minute.

I, myself, had purchased the flowers at our local Costco the day before.  The hubs loves carnations and myself, roses.  When the hubs discovered this he looked at me questioningly.  Amidst a busy day of going here and there I had returned home, briefly, and caught my household cleaning to attempt to surprise me.  I had had no expectation for this day and was happy to discover their sentiment.  After the dishes had been put away the hubs and I quietly sat.  We have had years together with countless ways of celebrating our love for one another.   I pointed out the flowers and he smiled.  “Do you think our boys will remember our Valentine’s days?” he asked.  I quickly answered no, they probably would not.  His reply had surprised me.

Yes.  They will. 

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He pointed to the flowers; the real reason I had most likely purchased them.  He and I no longer need the popular notion of sending candy and flowers, though we are most happy for others who do this.  We were already over the moon that my cousin was finally engaged to her long time companion who I always mistakenly introduce as her husband.  She had sent the text with the picture above.

Why am I rambling about seeming unrelated topics, you ask?

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The pieces of my jigsaw puzzle are finally fitting into place.  My various lives are abutting together; disjoint as they sometimes are.  I am becoming whole.

As disjoint as all the topics above are, they are relevant to who I am.  For years I kept them distinctly separate, compartmentalized away into various regions of my subconscious.  But the key to discovering who I am was to open these doors and to dwell within these memories.   I am grateful that my hippocampus is intact and that these memories can still be retrieved.  It is these things that define who we are.  Without them life loses its meaning and you become a vacant vessel.

If you cannot remember the things that you love and did love, why live?

To the question of how my Valentine’s day weekend went? It’s complicated and not at all about the flowers.

It got a kick start with sixteen women watching Fifty Shades of Grey; a book chosen by our bookclub several years back.  We had all guffawed and enjoyed the break from the busy school year since the date of this bookclub had been in June.  We didn’t have high expectations of the film but enjoyed the social outing.  They had to kick us out of the theater after the movie, the next round of women queuing to enter the next showing.

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On Saturday our family dinner came together.   I wonder what our sons will take away from Valentine’s day.  Most years I decorate my home for each season but time, this year, had gotten away from me.   The boys dug into the candy,  lit the candle and hungrily ate their dinner of steak and lobster; a rare treat.  When asked what our favorite things about this day were, the hubs remarked he enjoyed trying to surprise me, with our sons, by cleaning the house (my favored love language of acts of service).  My favorite thing had not occurred on Valentine’s day.  I had been sick and congested and overwhelmed with the messy life I had (my car and home) last Tuesday.  He had commanded that I drive my vehicle to a carwash; something he normally does not do.  He’d rather clean it himself.  It is amazing what a clean car can do for my psyche.  It had spurred me on to complete other tasks; sick as I had been.  I organized my computer area, answered emails and efficiently cleared my desk of stacks of paperwork.   Grateful I had hugged my hubs, knowing this was why we were married.  This was a gift.

The common theme I took away from watching The Theory of Everything and Still Alice was about love.  Jane Hawking’s devotion to Stephen as his muscles deteriorated to motor neuron disease aka Lou Gehrig’s and the fictional Alice Howland’s deteriorating mind to early onset Alzheimer’s.  After watching the Hawking movie, with us, the middle son laughingly joked that half of the movie I gripped the hubs’ arm in tears.  When the hubs inquired about Still Alice, side-by-side in bed, I turned to him matter-of-factly.  I forced my sleepy eyes to open and voiced the question aloud, once again.

I asked if he didn’t want to reconsider purchasing long term care insurance, should he ever need to place me in a locked care facility.  For Alzheimer’s.

Watching Still Alice the question returned, would I want to be genetically tested?  Although my own mother had late onset Alzheimer’s her marked decline was fairly rapid.  There is a stronger genetic component to early onset Alzheimer’s; research suggesting the involvement of chromosomes 21 and 14.  Late onset also has a genetic component but there is discussion that environmental factors may be instrumental in turning these genetic mutations on or off.

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I have always known I would NOT choose to take the genetic test.  I hope that my lifestyle choices and environment can factor against the likelihood of this happening to me.  The Punnett squares visualized in my mind and I ponder if I will ever have a conversation about this with my three boys.   I have a 50/50 chance.

The Best Friends Approach to Alzheimer’s Care book is shown in the Still Alice movie several times and I was reminded of my time with the Alzheimer’s Association, meeting David Troxel who was affiliated with the local chapter’s board.  I will always advocate for increased awareness, my purple pin upon my suit blazer since 1999.  Currently I read Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal; affirming my time when I too, spoke with geriatric parents’ families about end of life issues.  I had been interning under a wonderful physician and walked the halls of County hospital.

This was/is the person I am, the one who delves into the darker places that people don’t care to trod.  Aging.  Mortality.  At age sixteen this was the topic of my paper; a downer amongst my peers.  Only one other person in this class wrote a paper that none could truly understand; an essay about black holes.  She became our valedictorian and, to no one’s surprise, chose astrophysics as her major and matriculated to Cal Tech.  Hawking was her idol.

The hubs turned to face me, his gaze direct.  He knows my wishes to be placed in a locked facility; should my mind deteriorate like my own mother’s.  He chooses NOT to place me and I vow to do the same.  I have walked the halls of these places, both as a gerontologist and as a family member.  My years in the neurolab taking data on hippocampal lesions in rats and histological slides on ApoE and fibrillary tangles were progress but there are still no guarantees for finding a cure.  The hubs negates the need for long term care insurance and jokes that he’ll implant me with a microchip to track my whereabouts.  Most likely he will find me in our local supermarket, chatting with the cashiers as I do now.  He tucked me into bed and turned off the light.

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This is real life; his depth of understanding and binding love the real take away from my weekend. This is what I think of when I see roses and carnations; attaching them as associative clues.   I continue to catalog my memories and hope I will always be able to retrieve them.

 

 

 

Family, School

what fall means to me

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Camera battery, check Stadium seats, check. 

I voiced aloud the checklist that ran in my head of items we needed to do before we headed downtown.

Gas and ATM, to do. 

I communicated this to the hubs and the two things that absolutely had to get accomplished: a family picture in front of TommyTrojan and a trip into the bookstore to get a new lanyard.

Silence was my response.

I began to backtrack from our destination leave time and rattled off possible places to eat on our itinerary.  What else do you want me to pack?  Are you listening to me?

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Normally this is the hubs’ m.o. (modus operandi aka mode of operation).   The goal was to complete these items before our 4:30 PM destination.  As we sat in the triple digit heat, windows open, in our son’s high school parking lot I finally heard him roar.  The itinerary for the NASA space shuttle launch was stressing him out.  What I thought was being considerate and informative was taking all the fun and spontaneity out of our family outing.

But how could this be?  I was clearly communicating my needs and wants in his mode of operation?  Isn’t this what he preferred?

But the memo I missed was that m.o. is only in situations where we are REQUIRED to be somewhere; the set schedule was not welcome in times of leisure.   As we awaited the eldest to emerge, from practice at 1 PM, we debated in the car.  One son agreed that my itinerary was too involved.  The other son felt I was being courteous.  The father in the adjoining car,  smirked as he listened to our heated exchange.  It was only when the hubs pretended he was commanding mission control for our impossible rocket launch that the tension eased.  I decided to remain quiet.

And of course, none of it went according to plan.  As we sat in traffic I quietly thought of green pastures and sheep; pretending to count.  I tried, unsuccessfully not to brood.  When the hubs asked if he should off-road from our planned course it was all I could do to turn on my mobile device app; annoyed.  Why would there be so much traffic?  Our Dodgers were in division play-offs at home (thankfully the Angels were in Kansas City), our cross-town rivals were playing at the Rose Bowl and cars were everywhere.   Eventually we detoured and found ourselves in the garment district awaiting large groups of people to cross.  It was over 100 degrees.  I didn’t dare look at the time.  My jaw was aching from chewing my frustration.  The poor Mentos gum didn’t have a chance.

How is it that in all of our years of marriage, we haven’t figured this stuff out?

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The irony was that we were returning to the place where our paths crossed; the extroverted girl and the introverted guy.  It is a testament that we’ve remained married; ’til death do us part.  I continued to macerate the tasteless, rubber-like substance in my mouth; valiantly trying to keep my mouth shut.   The hubs dutifully drove.  After several attempts to cajole he knew to let me be.  Upon arrival all parking lots were full.  It is only because of the reserved parking, obtained by our dear friend, that allowed my husband to deliver us in a timely manner.  Thank you.

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In a sea of cardinal and gold I hung back, watching my sons take the sights in.   They are continually growing and was shocked to note my eldest is reaching the height of my hubs.  When our schedules had not been so busy we would make the trek to our alma mater once  a year during Homecoming.    It is a tradition started by my dear late cousin; the gracious and over-the-top host.  It was he who gathered friends and family from all walks of life onto his beloved  campus; the Hibachi grill fired up with all things wonderful to eat.    It was an incredible amount of work but it is one of the fondest memories I have of fall; the leaves turning as we tailgated.

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After his passing; the tradition went with him.   Amongst the people who have highly influenced my life (my high school counselor, my songleading coach, and dear college advisor) this cousin is at the top of the list; my father figure.  When I withdrew my  acceptance form  to matriculate to UC Berkeley as a declared chemistry major; my high school physics teacher had been beside himself.  Why would you give up admission to a stellar science program?

The answer.  FootballDid I mention I love football?

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This fall I am in hog pigskin heaven?  Friday nights I can now attend our local high school games such as the Homecoming game above.  I’d like to say I am there to support my son’s band endeavors…but I also love to watch high school and college football.  The kids, they play their hearts out.

This is what fall means to me. 

In the end, I never became the academic chemist working for the National Cancer Institute finding cures for the “emperor of all maladies;” the big “C,” that I wrote about in my admission essays.  I have a minor in this field.  But as the hubs will tell you…the retention for all things chemical, if not thermodynamics, was lost.  In my current career and extracurricular endeavors the majors I should’ve chosen: business and accounting.    Just as my father had advised my cousin before me, he chose this place for his advanced degrees.  My cousin promised my father, when he passed in 1989, he’d return the favor.  And so he did.

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I have been in these seats many times before.  But this time, it was different.    Initially my youngest son cried with all the hollering.  But after explaining the rules of the game it was this son that yelled the loudest.   He is now old enough to understand the game and actively participated in it.  The older boys, after griping and complaining that they would be away from their precious computer screens, held their phones.  I had thought they were playing online games but discovered they were snapping photos.  They were equally vested in this game as we were.

It was later that the hubs relayed the story of our middle son nudging the older one as he watched the Trojan Marching Band perform their pregame show.

One day you’ll be there bro. 

The brother nodded; acknowledging.  The hubs, brought to tears, turned to the middle one.

Hey chuckle-head!  You’ll be out there on that field too.

The middle son had impishly smirked back.    As the game intensified I noted an older couple to my left.  When the third down bell rang throughout the Coliseum, it was this couple that stood before the rest; urging the crowd to get up and cheer our team on.  Amidst the roar I yelled across our five seats to the hubs and pointed.  This is what I want you and I to be, someday.

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Across the row the hubs beamed; meaning clear.  Most times our non-verbal communication is more effective than the words.   Although our fall schedule is hectic we take it all in stride; soaking it in.  We both know our time with our three sons is limited; making Herculean efforts to always show support and to be present.  Our annual visit to our alma mater is a a reminder of where we came from and how, in the twenty four years since that first meeting; we’ve evolved.

It’s like coming home.

In all of the years we’ve returned here, this time our sons got it.  As the hubs and I reminisced we were surprised at their questions as we walked the paths of twenty plus years before.  My boys may never attend here but they will remember the memories of family and friends gathering.   Cheering.  And standing in shocked, silent disbelief as our sure team victory became a last second loss; the Hail Mary pass sailing above the defenders into the hands of our opponent.

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During our military travels away from home, all I needed to do was walk into a Catholic church and the feelings of community overwhelmed me.   It is the same when I walk this turf; the tree-lined campus in the middle of south central Los Angeles.  It may not be pretty.  It may not be the best.  It is where my life collided.  It is home; BAE (before anyone/anywhere else).

It was fitting that this reading from Philippians 4:6-9 was presented the very next day as the kids and non-Catholic hubs served.

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6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me–put it into practice.   And the God of peace will be with you.

The hubs and I continue to march to the beats of different drummers.  I am still the extrovert; the hubs remains the introvert.   It is our life’s work; to continue to work on our marriage; to be transparent to our sons.  We both continually learn to be spontaneous and organized; to give and take.   To love and to hold, til death do us part.  I am glad I kept my words to myself; to fight for what I’ve learned and to attempt to put it into practice.  Most days I do a poor job of it.  I am grateful in this instance that I succeeded.   You win some, you lose some.  I’ll take the small victories as they come.

Eventually we arrive in the same place.   I continue to Fight On.

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Family, Work

special every day

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Katy Perry’s “Birthday” song played over my work speakers as the text came through from two-thousand miles away; inquiring about my impending day of birth.   As we go deeper into our fourth decade I ask the bff what this year means?   She is almost six months older than I  (LOL) and I seek her infinite wisdom.

Her answer.  Our age means still trying to figure it out.  Figure what out?!   She replies back that maybe when we enter our fifth decade that we’ll know a little more.

Is there more?    It’s that word, again…more.

more.  adj. 1: greater in amount, number, or size.  : extra or additional.”  Merriam Webster Online, Merriam Webster, n.d. Web. 4 Sept. 2014.

We both ponder our life balance.  She and I have both buried parents and are only children.  The expectations from the older generation, the in-laws,  are vastly different from ours and most times we walk the fine line.  We are sandwiched between the older generation and our children’s; buffering differing values.  Our in-laws are the baby boomers; products of the turbulent 60s, the Beatles, Vietnam and and free love 70s.  They still uphold Reaganomics, are Footloose and have no idea what all that noise (that’s what you kids call music?)  in the 90s was about.  Our Instagram, Facebook and social media tendencies are off-putting and we perpetuate these traits in our offspring.  The instantaneous bonds between grandparents and kids, these days, are harder to traverse with an iPod or smartphone in hand.

The in-laws envision late night fishing expeditions on the pier.  Attentive grandchildren who want to spend time pouring over family photo albums of their ancestors of the past.  Camping trips panning for gold in frigid northern California waters.  They happily share stories of their weekly lottery winnings and casino trips and various encounters with doctors.  They long for willing garden helpers to pick fruit and vegetables.  Amongst sci-fi or war movies they seek more time.

The text reply says it all.  The street goes both ways.  Ditto that.

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Grandparents must also understand the hobbies and schedules of their grandchildren.   They look to the stands for their grandparents during recitals, sporting events and graduations.  They excitedly share their advancement in gaming levels and the antics of their friends.  The urban dictionary slang and tech words fly from their lips; the dub step music shared on the headphones.  They, too, seek affirmation and acceptance and are bewildered when they just don’t get it.

It is hard to balance the divide.  The bff and I decide to make a pact.  We must always make the effort to be available to our children when they grow to be adults; to ask for their help not expect it Guilt, hints and innuendos are not clear communicating techniques.  It is only when you set expectations high, with no clear communication, that people are misunderstood.  They are hurt.

Recently a local Starbucks was in the news as a generous motorist in the drive thru line offered to pay for the drink of the car behind him.  This set the pattern in motion and for over the course of several hours; cars in the drive thru were astounded to discover that the car before them had paid for their drink.  It went viral.

Each motorist chose to pay it forward; to reciprocate the good deed until motorist #106 (?).  When the Starbucks barista shared, over the loudspeaker, if he would like to make a donation; he politely declined.  When he reached the order window, instead, he placed a hundred dollar bill in the tip jar; stating that when the suggestion to pay it forward became more like a demand; that the gesture of giving was lost.  His point.  People should willingly WANT to give; not be asked to do something because everyone else is doing it.   I feel similarly about the ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) ice bucket challenge.  It is a great cause and it needs the awareness.  But when you are guilted into giving; can you really call it giving? 

Grandparents day is today.  Is it the “special day” that we truly make the effort to cherish and honor them?  Or is this another instance of doing something because we’re supposed to?  Grandparents and grandchildren, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, friends and co-workers should ALL be cherished; as often as possible.  It is unrealistic to say that every day will be a great day because, as in life, this is not the case.  We need to soldier on, to work through guilt, hurt and misunderstanding; to bridge generational gaps.  To teach all parties the art of speaking from their hearts.

It is not in the amount of time that we spend with others, the more, that counts.  It is always in the quality.

Not all moments can be Hallmark ones.

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On Friday I sat at my work desk; a day when our business is usually closed.  My mind had conjured a lazy day to spend in couple time, with the hubs, while our children were all at school.  This would entail a leisurely breakfast, and lunch in a nearby college enclave with ecclectic restaurants.  Instead we toiled, pushing through an already taxing week to get a large order out.  I had little time to be disappointed.    He knew it would not be my ideal way to spend our special day; our anniversary.  That very morning at 6:45 AM, our eldest handed over the note from the high school; noting a rally at 10:54 AM this same day.  At 6:57 AM I found myself RSVP’ing to an email in hopes to reserve a seat.

Today I sat in the crowded church; mind wandering.  I am reading in The Organized Mind about the ability for the brain to switch between attentive modes and mind wandering ones.   With sudden clarity I was hearing the words, the sermon the deacon was sharing coming into focus, as he went over the Gospel readings of today.  Sometimes we are called to something and we do not act.  Instead of using our abilities to communicate, we repress or complain.  One-on-one communication is always the clearest and he asked us all to pray that he could conquer this in his life.  That when things did not go his way; he would have the courage to speak from his heart.  To do away with misunderstanding; instead of silently swallowing the hurt or angrily criticizing to others.   When the silence fell, signalling the end of his sermon; I heard a person clap.  Soon the entire congregation applauded.  We are human.  Flawed.

We all need to be given grace.

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The email response came at 7:07 AM; a seat reserved.  And though our anniversary day did not go as planned; little things brought simple joys.  The raucous roar in the gym as classes battled for most spirited, the Indian food for lunch unexpected.  Neither of us require flowers, cards and trinkets; we have spent many years apart exchanging those things during long deployments.  We have our health.  We have work.  In a hot, dark conference room eating lunch; we exchanged anniversary wishes.  We have what matters most.  Each other.  Time together.

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This afternoon I found myself on the phone (gasp! I’m rarely talking on a phone) relaying thoughts to my mother-in-law.  To make things clear.  To bridge the gap of misunderstanding as I wish them a happy grandparents day.  I cannot make people understand my point of view; nor accept it.  But I have the ability to grant grace.  To forgive.  To empathize.

This is what my cumulative years of birth have brought me.  The wisdom to know the difference.  As another special day approaches I am reminded what really matters.  I must live my life each day as if it could be my last.  To not let things in the past cloud my present and future.  To clearly communicate to those in my life, who affirm and accept me, that I value them; before it is too late.  I want more quality time with my friends and family; not distracted busyness that takes away.   Please don’t guilt me or attach strings with high expectations.  I want to give freely without demands or the promise of something in return.  The only thing I have to offer you is my time.

I continue on my walk to be fully present.  To focus my attention on what matters.  I live to make each day special; every day.

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