Family, School

just cheer

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The blog posts in my drafts folder are full of words, all negative and unpublished, as I filter through my days.  I currently struggle with my words.

As a young girl I never said them; taught by my conservative parents to “not make waves” and to assimilate.  In my formative years I was shy, asking my girlfriends to speak for me.  I was to blend in and please others; to succeed academically.  I was taught that I would excel based on merit alone.

I kept my words to myself; my only escape in writing stories.  Recently, while clearing garage storage space, I found the dusty photo album among my late mother’s things.  While my husband encouraged me to toss trophies, give away clothes and furniture, the only things from my childhood home are my mother’s china, and photo albums that sit in my garage.  As I sneezed my way through its pages, my sixth grade son found the newspaper articles and certificates I received at his age.  His curiosity made me remember.

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As an only child I always listened and observed my environment, trying to understand the social dynamics of people.  At a young age I would re-enact the social situations with my Barbies or marbles, creating families and social groups based on the interactions I encountered.  I would create stories for fun.  At the end of fifth grade, a teacher submitted my essay into a local contest and to everyone’s surprise, my writing won.  The quiet girl had a hidden world.

I had been happy to join a group of students in an extended learning program (the precursor to Gifted and Talented Education aka GATE) to hone my writing skills.  It was a ten mile drive for my older parents and I excitedly headed into the classroom, ready to learn.  But then I heard the comments from first, fellow students and then from parents.  I didn’t belong there.  It was only because I came from a poor, immigrant town that I had been accepted.  And so I rarely spoke and doodled on my papers.  When my essay advanced to the university level, I felt no joy.  I felt unworthy; the token kid in a prestigious writing program.

My sons listened to me quietly.  My voice had become brittle and hard as the memories washed over me.

Real life entered the picture as I grew older; the lessons learned in high school, college and beyond.  Humility and silence does not always serve well when you must lead or speak.  When all other things are created equal (grades, test scores, essays) the person who got the nod was the one who spoke up and touted these things.  It didn’t matter what I looked like on paper if nobody knew what I did.   I had mastered the ability to remain quiet.

The names from the past came to mind.  Mrs. Murphy, Mr. Jennings, Gerry Starowicz, Mr. Osborne and Mr. Murtha; the teachers and counselors who advocated for me and taught me to speak my words.

The elementary ELP teacher, Mrs. Murphy, ferreted out why I had lacked motivation in the writing program.  She spoke directly to the program administrator who quickly put a stop to the unkind comments but I always sat alone; choosing not to make friends.

Mr. Jennings, in seventh grade, brought a modem to my home and taught me how to dial a connection to my first online chat board. He made science fun and introduced me to technology with a Commodore 64.  Could this be why I married a computer scientist LOL?

Gerry Starowicz, the cheer/song advisor and arts teacher, finally taught me to yell and to yell LOUD.  It was on a high school songleading squad that I learned about queen bees and wanna bes and how to navigate through what was popular and what was right.

Mr. Osborne, the band director, kept me interested in music and challenged me to continue playing.  After twelve years of piano I still got jitters performing in recitals or solos.  But concert groups and marching band kept me involved and eventually, my university choice came down to its well-known college marching band.

Mr. Murtha, my high school counselor, guided me to scholarships and college financial forms when my father was dying of colon cancer.  He walked me through the  college application process and  proofread all of my college essays.  We had hoped I would gain entrance to a few of my colleges and he celebrated when I got into them all.

In high school and beyond I learned to assert and to speak my words clearly and succinctly.  I thrived.  But my glaring fault is that justice, in my eyes, must be served.  To call out when things are wrong.

I used to do this to get noticed (in school and in work); to be the one to get things done.  But in these middle years I’ve realized that words don’t need to always be spoken.  With words I say what I mean but saying them doesn’t always make things right.  I am a firm believer that actions speak louder than words. I must mean what I say.  In some cases, I must NOT act upon them.

  • At work when the evil boss tasks me with unpleasant tasks, I whine in complaint.  We own a small business and so I remain with my evil boss 24/7.
  • In organizations which I serve, the queen bees and wanna bes suck me in.  I try hard to keep my words to myself as egos and hidden agendas get in the way.
  • In the social groups I am involved with I try not to let kid or parent dramas affect my relationships.  I cannot change others’ opinions; even with mediation.
  • At home my pent-up frustration builds.  The words flow freely but I find no resolution.  My need to make things right gets in the way.

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My preteen and teens listened intently as I shared the words above; of the adults who made a difference in my life.  They, too, are on this precipice  where they are discerning what is fair and unfair; right from wrong.  They weed through social groups, heavy homework loads, time consuming extra-curriculars and looming college applications.  I had forgotten these pubescent memories; wishing them away.  But my sons gleaned information from sharing about my own preteen and teen years; a time I rarely speak of.  A time they currently reside in, in their own lives.

I went from the quiet only child to the extrovert adult with too many words.  I feel the burden as scenarios play out in my overactive mind.  And when the words build, unspoken, they always find their way out.

In the most random of places, a music store, the epiphany came.  I had been slow to recognize the solution to all of the negativity surrounding my life.  For weeks I filtered and kept my words, hoping that time would lessen the urge to say them.  But I had gone about this all wrong.  The multiple unpublished blog posts were symptomatic.   It goes against my nature to be something I am not.  Words are my medium and my negative environment didn’t have to dictate who or what I am.

I dug deep for the inner cheerleader within.  The one that emerged in high school as my father’s cancer spread.

As a teen I often wondered why I could not be gloomy or negative at school; knowing my father was dying at home.  School had  engaged me and I found respite in books, writing, music and cheering at games.  I inherited my father’s indomitable spirit; his zeal for all things social.  Both of my parents exuded hospitality; my father with words, my mother with hosting others in our home.   I often felt like a fraud for not publicly grieving my dad’s deteriorating health.  But I’ve come to realize it is this trait that kept me going, and the ability to compartmentalize allowed me to survive various difficult periods in my life.

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We commiserated in the store and quietly absorbed the negative vibe when my own son’s words came forth from my lips.  It had been on a day, this week, when he was exhausted and frustrated; hearing comments from various people as his marching band prepares for an out-of-state national competition.  He hears of how his section struggles and he plopped on the couch stating that they would, most likely, not make the final cut and they felt the burden.  They have tirelessly worked and played towards this goal from the month of June; even canceling a Yellowstone trip so he and his brother wouldn’t miss camp.

I had sat beside him.  It’s not always about winning.  My sons knows this is an acquired mantra; my competitive streak reined in during their younger years in recreational sports.

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I’ve struggled with my competitiveness and my perceived sons’ lack of it in sports, academics.  I see twenty and thirty year old men addicted to video games, porn, or substances like alcohol or marijuana.  They don’t feel the compulsion to work and lack competitiveness and drive and have no motivation.  I don’t want this for my boys.  In a competitive world I want my sons to engage and participate; to self motivate and serve.  Dr. Sax’s book, Boys Adrift is affirming many things that I observe.  Winning can’t always be everything but it is a great motivator.  It is only by initiating and leading by example, particularly with male role models, that my boys can become productive men.  I am grateful they have plenty of those type of men in their lives.

I also enjoy sports, particularly college football, and my voice can be heard in the crowd as I cheer my team or my boys’ teams on.  In soccer I’d squeal excitedly, in competitive swim I would chant at the end of the lane as they flip-turned.  I had to remain quiet for golf; so I clapped politely.  The shy girl has become quite boisterous; cheering everyone on from the stands.  I try my best to applaud all things good and my boys know their mother has got their back.  I had forgotten how to do this simple act; too busy criticizing and analyzing.

The girl I once was, in high school, has resurfaced.  In the midst of frustration and exhaustion my inner cheerleader has returned as I compartmentalize the chaos and craziness of our busy lives.

As the friend listened and commented on my son’s frame of mind, I shared my resolutions and we both agreed on what we will do.  We must encourage our kids to do their best.  They must put aside the negative and accentuate the positive to move forward, to encourage others.  When I encourage others to do better, I am forced to do better for myself.  Those are the words that need to be spoken.

When we encourage others to do better, we are forced to be better for ourselves.

I am deleting my drafts folder full of diatribes and frustrations.  I acknowledge that they are there and when the right time presents itself, I may share these thoughts; or not.  I don’t need to be right or call things out all the time.  I just need to speak encouraging words that are true.  To say them clearly and just cheer.

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Family

the weakest link

Rock Springs view

The entire month of January I pondered the following statement.  What do you do when you don’t love what you do?

In 2015 I had been dreading the end-of-the-year, putting my head-in-the-sand in denial.  The holidays came and went and I only looked to the day ahead; knowing January was coming.  Christmas arrives in rich colors, aromatic smells, comforting foods and sounds that bring joy to the senses.  We see people and family, our schedules stacked, and our bellies full.  When the decorations are put away, the stark, dreary gray of January looms ahead; bills in-hand and our girths a little larger.

January, for me, is a time of recovery.  I make resolutions for the new year that are difficult to keep.  I vow to lose the pounds gained in merriment and feasts from late November and the entire month of December.  But what awaits me are the tasks I dislike the most, the ones I wish I could ignore.

Numbers.  Year-end reconciliations.  Payroll Taxes.  Audits.  Finances.  It is my main job description and priority in our family business.  It is the focus of my two other volunteer activities that I’ve somehow inherited; the ones most people choose not to take.  I listen to a friend share how she loves to do taxes and how it brings her joy to watch the numbers go to zero.   It is not something I am naturally good at.  It is not something I love to do.  This is my weakest link.

I envy the friends who enjoy running and feel the adrenaline high.   They happily log their miles on pedometers and mobile running apps; their bodies fluid.  In the winter dark mornings of January I imagined the joy these runners felt as I gulped air while I jogged; my phone flashlight illuminating the dark trail where no one walked.  I tried not to think of snakes in my path or people lurking in bushes; waiting to abduct me.

One of the things I discovered about myself is that my multiple intelligences modality is bodily-kinesthetic.  I must move to learn and so I’ve taught myself to learn to move.   While my friends run because they want to, I jog because I have to; to clear my brain of clutter and stressors that paralyze me in my every day.  This past Tuesday pre-dawn morning, I pounded pavement and caught myself clumsily tripping over a sidewalk.  I still have the scar from 2008 when I lost my footing and fell on a well-traveled road.  Jogging is not something I am naturally good at.  It is not something I love to do.  It, also, is my weakest link.

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I have been a screaming banshee, this past month, as my three sons and hubs refused to awaken to my gentle prods or vibrating and obnoxious alarm clocks.  The eldest was tardy twice due to this inability to wake.  When the dear girlfriend hopped into my vehicle to share her same angst, with her son, I was grateful she was as miserable as I. We felt our children’s stress and soon realized that our yelling tendencies were transferring to our other children.  My middle son began his morning yelling at his older and younger brothers to wake up so that he could make it to school on-time.  We made a pact to break this cycle; to pick our battles but more importantly, to let the things we have no control over go.

In order to be effective parents for our children, we must, as mothers, find ways to better ourselves, by ourselves.  We are not doing our kids any favors by not being the best that we can be. 

In my family, I am the type A personality, the early bird who wakes before the alarm clock.  I am the one who stresses about schedules.  I am not very tolerant of my fellow family members who are not like myself.  Yelling early in the morning is not something I love to do.  Remaining calm is not my greatest virtue and in this, too, I am the weakest link.

Over lunch, with girlfriends, we talked of our children and my dread at my youngest son’s elementary school debate competition.   He had stayed awake until 12:30 AM the night before, doing unfinished homework due to a prolonged debate practice.  He was unprepared with his speeches about genetically modified insects and my headache lingered.  On a team of three, he was the least experienced.  He does not like public speaking and was encouraged by his teacher, the debate advisor, to join the team and conquer his fear.

His fellow teammates had pages of typewritten speeches and points to fill five minutes.  As the third speaker for their team, his role is to summarize and refute;  to drive the other two speakers’ points home in three minutes time and convince the judges why his team’s point of view should win.  At the last debate competition, this son shook like a leaf at the podium; paralyzed like a deer-in-the headlights.  I lamented these thoughts to my girlfriend as she talked of her daughter’s team dynamics.  On my son’s debate team, it is he who is the weakest link.

I mourned the loss of a family patriarch, a musician, and a favorite actor this past month.   It has been my experience, as a family member and gerontologist, that funerals bring out the worst in people and sadly, this was proven to be true once again.  Death and taxes are absolutes.   Instead of dwelling on these things I placed one foot in front of the other; walking in a different direction and choosing not to get sucked in.  On cold, drizzly morning jogs, commutes in traffic and the confines of my car I let my mind wander; poking and prodding at my weakest links.

My mood was dour; my demeanor much like “grumpy cat.”  The questioned mocked me, again and again.  I thought of the people I knew who were content in their lives, in their careers and who do what they love and love what they do.

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What do you do when you don’t love what you do?  This January I dreaded each and every single day.  I am so grateful the end of this month had arrived.  I survived.

In retrospect it is easy to analyze and see what’s important.  The struggle is in getting through the every day.  The things I value the most, the times I learn what I am made of, are when I am at my worst.  I have the most respect for those who handle adversity with grace and humility.  I’ve learned a lot about myself this January.

For each struggle I’ve endured yesterday, I have become better prepared for today. 

Fortified with coffee I tackled my most hated and difficult tasks first.  The morning is when my mind is clearest.  I resolutely came to work and pushed through the accounting; establishing boundaries to not be distracted with other things and to not take on any more responsibilities.  I tackled each task, giving each my best effort.  I looked hard at the numbers and tried to make sense of them.  Payroll, check.  Taxes, filed.  Budgets reconciled and created.  Books, still to be audited.  Much to my astonishment I rediscovered something about myself that I had buried long ago after college.    I love statistics.

25th

I made no resolutions this year; things I knew I wouldn’t keep.  I did not step on the weigh scale.  I did not procrastinate.  In the dark I struggled out of bed, splashed cold water and resolutely donned on my running shoes; giving myself no time to think or make excuses.  I gritted my teeth as I jogged in the rain, without my waterproof jacket.   Each day I woke like a warrior in battle, weighed down in guilt and frustration by 8 AM each weekday morning as I screeched and struggled to get my family to work and school.   My fists remained clenched as I glanced at online grades or signed homework tickets.

I wished I had happier endings or inspiring words of wisdom.  But this was my reality as I struggled to do the things I disliked doing.

I let the alarm clocks shrill and echo in the confines of our home.  I only prodded my family members to awaken, once, and passed the stress and frenzied chaos onto their shoulders.  I forced myself to tersely sit at the kitchen table and not yell; hands clenched around my stainless steel Starbucks traveler.   After two days of running late, everyone got the hint and an agreement was made.  The kids and hubs requested that I prod them gently, twice, to wake them up.  Silly as this statement sounds, to have a “wake-up procedure” mentally worked for all of my family.  When I calmly stated that it was the second time I was waking them up; they magically rose.  It’s ALL mental.

The hubs and I quietly sat in the back of the room during the two rounds of debate competition.  Our youngest furiously wrote notes, holding two separate papers in his hand, and he and his teammates deliberated like trial lawyers in a courtroom.   When it was his turn to speak he took a calming breath and launched into a summary of the pros and cons; refuting the opposing side.  In the last round he took the entire three minutes and we breathed a collective sigh of relief.  It was finally over.

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Our son’s debate team won both rounds of competition.  The unprepared son with messy, scribbled notes received the highest scores and the hubs and I stared back at one another; perplexed.  What we had failed to realize, over the course of two weeks, was that the third speaker has to listen to his teammates’ and opponents’ points of view.  We mistakenly thought the third speaker reiterated these same points.  But it was the third speaker’s job to summarize, refute and weigh all of the information presented.  His final statements embodied all of these inputs as he held papers in both hands; barely glancing at them.  He brought everything together and drove his team’s points and arguments home.

I had been wrong thinking he was the weakest link with no preparation.  His capacity to summarize all the different points of view, process them and reiterate his views, in plain language, made him effective and strong.  It has always been what I’ve advocated for my sons;  to speak  their words.   The son who shook like a leaf, only a month before, had metamorphosed before our very eyes.  We had been stunned.

Our immediate family lost a beloved patriarch.  But in his death, we gained an estranged niece and young great nephew in return.  I was touched that the youngest son brought home the Time Magazine with David Bowie on the cover.  The hubs brought home a scented candle to bring warmth and aromatic relaxation into our dark moods.   I found myself mourning the loss of David Bowie with a music marathon of his songs throughout the decades.   The irony of the title was not lost on my sons when I told them to add another song to my obituary playlist; the song I hummed as we drove to the family funeral.   David Bowie’s “Ashes To Ashes.”

We stood in the hills that overlooked the valley below; the buildings of downtown in the distance.  Many of our family members have been laid to rest here and the memories of choosing my own coffin, with my young sons, flashed in my mind.  The verdant green brought peace; cemeteries are some of the most beautiful places.   I want my sons to feel the same peace I do, one day, when the hubs and I are gone.  I want them to remember the songs that made me happy as they play my obituary playlist at my wake; to celebrate the life we currently share.   They’ll groan to one another; fondly remembering my desire to play songs on repeat, over and over.  Death does not weaken the bonds of love.  It can only strengthen and deepen them; an appreciation for the moments woven into stories (or in my case music).  It is our history.

Pall bearers

Without struggle I become complacent.  Each day I strive to be better than the last, to invest my time in the relationships that nurture.  If I let each setback defeat me, I’ll never be able to pick myself up.  I only had the capacity to deal with each piece, one-at-a-time.   I needed to learn what the youngest revealed to us during his debate.   To listen and step back; to take stock of what I have and to speak my words in plain language.  With each small victory I could then interlock the pieces together to create a chain; a history.  With the ties that bind, the links of the chain becomes strong.

 

I may not always love what I do or do what I love.  It’s the people whom I love that allow me to continue to journey this life; even when death do us part.

Family

Falling on big ears. I hear you.

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

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

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

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

You never hear me, Mom.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

School

lost ground

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

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

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

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

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

how to raise an adult

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

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

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

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

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

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

I need to get the balance right.

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

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

All he wants is a mom that accepts his choices.

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

Family

mother’s day gift

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the weeds.  they are winning.

I ponder how much more one can lower expectations until one reaches the root of the problem.  The soil is a hard clay and without constant tilling, weeding and new nutrients; the garden lies fallow, empty.  Weeds can grow anywhere and take things over; pushing out all other growth.  We are in a drought.

I now know what the cracked tile, exposed plumbing and overgrown yard symbolize.  They don’t symbolize things that money can buy but deeper seeded issues that are the cornerstone for any home and garden.  TLC.  They lack it.  And nobody cares enough to fix it.

The downward slide is insidious and years in the making when things are pushed aside and overlooked; all things blurry with the rose colored lens  There is only so much one can project onto others before they have to take responsibility for their own actions.  They need to want things to change; not because circumstances or others want it.  They have to want to change these things for themselves.

And so I do things in places where others can appreciate it.  Simple things where I do not seek acknowledgment but knowing they are benefiting the bigger picture.  I used to think my outside activities were to make new friends or get recognition for myself or my kids.  But I finally understand my driving need to contribute; to constantly expand and grow.  I need to feel that I have something left to give.  It used to be that I would give and except reciprocity; to feel appreciation to gain self-worth.  But today I was given a gift that is priceless, one that no one else can take away.

I found who I am.  I re-found my purpose.

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And as all the pieces of my life’s puzzle fall into place I have found contentment and peace.  I sat in the church with one child, today, as mothers were celebrated.  I had thought to sit in a different pew so others around would not notice two of my sons and husband missing.  The family who weekly sits behind us inquired where they were and I feared I would sound bitter when I answered.  I had tried to awaken my household, twice, for our mass on this second Sunday in May and finally gave up.  Showered and dressed I headed downstairs alone.  I was surprised when my youngest son emerged dressed and ready.

My household had forgotten it was Mother’s Day.

I shared with the family at church where the rest of mine were; asleep.  It was my husband’s weekend to usher and thankfully, my boys were not on the schedule to altar serve.  It was packed as I watched extended families venerate their mothers and grandmothers.  I was surprised my voice emerged calmly and as I wished them Happy Mother’s Day I found my smile was sincere.  I had already lowered my expectations; only hoping that my house would be clean and that my entire household would come to church with me.  But with both of these things unmet, I still could wish others a happy day and it was in these moments that I finally knew I had grown up.

I know my family loves me.  I returned home and chose to not mention what day it was and when my husband and sons realized I had left them behind to attend church alone for the very first time; they got it.  I heard my husband rally the other boys to immediately start cleaning and assigning tasks.  I know that my clean house will get done; that my boys will work hard to appreciate me and salvage the day.  I ate the pastries from the girlfriends I sat with, the day before, and as I stared at the weeds in my garden and stepped over shoes and laundry my eldest asked why I was quiet.  He really did not know.  It was then that my voice emerged wobbly.

“One day you will understand when you are a father,” I quietly stated.

He could see I was disappointed when I told him I had wished he had been with me at mass.  It is a yearly ritual for the priest to give flowers to: the oldest mother  present (she was 95+), the mother with the most kids (ten) and the newest mother (a 2 month-old baby) before the entire congregation.  I drank my coffee (black with a touch of half & half) and tasted the bitter; reveling in it.  I answered the multitude of texts from fellow mothers, wishing one another a happy day.  Sadly, today is my family’s teachable moment.  It can only go up from here.

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I can now find the words to voice what I mean; no longer do I sit within my four walls angry.  I have chosen to do the things I want to do, just for me, and hope that the people who occupy my space with me will rise to the occasion.  No longer do I wish to change others or even fix them.   I have reconciled the pieces of my life that make me unique and know that I have something worthwhile to share.  I navigate my way, picking up more pieces to add to my ever expanding puzzle.  My rake is out as I clear my path.

I have been a given a gift.  I am grateful.

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, 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.

Family

my Christmas mailing list

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“switcher. noun.  A person who essentially “switches” from friend to friend, party to party, trying to attain the most networking contacts and befriend the most people. A fairly shallow individual, this person seeks out other like individuals to extend their network further and further, leeching off of the individuals with healthy relationships.”  Def. 2.  Urban Dictionary Online.  17 June 2013.

My son uses this term to describe a friend.  He struggles to come to this realization and the hubs and I painfully observe.   I feel shut out were the words written on a personality worksheet; conducted by his teen church group.  Much as we want to jump in and protect our son, this is one of life’s painful realities; the dual-edged sword of relationships.  He must learn to navigate this on his own.

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After dinner I hear the hubs talk about his friendships throughout the years; our son intently listening.  He is the introvert, one who usually goes against the grain and doesn’t care to socially be acceptable; to conform.  The few friends the hubs considers to be close are ones my boys know; the ones whose families continue to remain in contact with our own.  It is eye-opening to listen to the son ask questions; as he tries to understand the ties that bind.

True friends are rare gems to be found.

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As I filter and sort through my own life clutter I am assessing what to keep and what to let go in my relationships.  Recently I found my Christmas card mailing list and began to cross out names and addresses of those no longer in our lives.   What I thought would take me ten minutes took me over an hour and a half.  I had assumed that the names to be crossed off my mailing list would be ones from the far past who were far removed from today.  But what I discovered was that the names that continually remained on my Christmas list were ones that have been with us through thick and thin.  They may not currently live within my ten mile radius and know the ins and outs.  But these friends were and are important chapters in my life story.  These friends would care about our story’s outcome.

I separate the wheat from the chaff.

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The names that remain on my Christmas list will be the names my sons will send out notices to with my obituary.

A few stories come to mind.

-the girlfriend who let me put my slippers on her grandfather’s lawn at age four

-the girlfriend who shares her dreams and feels everyone else lives them; always the teacher

– the girlfriend who sewed my wedding dress and the other one whose professional pictures journal our family

– the ombudsman sisters who mothered me most; as my own mother slowly forgot me due to Alzheimers

– the girlfriend whose life parallels my own from 2000 miles away and the other within a 2 mile radius

– the girls who reintroduced me to books, including my laotoong, and the ones who continue to read them with me

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What surprised me most were the names unfriended from Facebook and crossed off my list.  For over sixteen years I lived as a military spouse; a life only another military wife could truly understand.  Only five names remain on my list from those sixteen years; the keeping up with the Joneses mentality wearing thin.  Switchers.

A friend does not constantly compare and contrast.  They accept my flaws and celebrate my joys.  In my walk through life they are there to replenish me when I am thirsty.  They walk alongside to hear my stories and help shoulder the burden when life gets too heavy.   There are no smoke and mirrors; they are authentic and transparent.  They are not switchers.  Most importantly they allow me to return the favor.  A friendship goes both ways.

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Amongst a new group of people my son animatedly shared the words on the drive home with the hubs and I.  It has been hard for him to walk alone, to leave the known friends behind and open himself to new opportunities.  Hesitant to attend a party the words in the dark SUV imprinted on our hearts.

I now see what real friends are like.  They don’t call each other names, put each other down and shut me out.  They made me feel welcome; like I belonged.

Instead of keyboards and screens he is finally in the presence of real people.  It is all we ever wish for.  I tell him to have faith.  To believe that as one door closes, a new one opens.

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At life’s end it is these relationships that sustain us.  Our friends’ lives touch our own; shaping our thoughts and creating new paths.  My Christmas list is proof of my journey; each address triggering a memory with its own story to tell.  My lifelong goal is to capture these stories in my book.  As the only child with no surviving parents; these photo journals remind me that I do not walk alone.

As I stood in the country farm general store it hit me.  I don’t need pictures or physical presence to feel like I belong.  I think these thoughts, wanting to share them with my son, as he journeys on a parallel path to my own.  Our answers are always within and it’s as I confiscate my phone from my other son, deleting pictures of Christmas art from my phone gallery,  that it finally dawns on me.

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I believe and have faith.  I never walk alone.   And what was I thinking, I’m a mother of three sons!  I hope to instill this belief in their own growing faith formation as they learn what true relationships look like.  To find peace, discover hope and enduring love.

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Today I sat alone in our church pew, the hubs serving as a hospitality minister and my youngest joining his brothers as an altar server for the very first time.  Unbeknownst to me he cried; nervous.  What if I forget the book?

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The family, who always resides in the pew behind, tapped me on the shoulder and pointed.  My older sons had taken him under their wing and guided him.  I was surprised at their outward affection, in front of an entire church congregation, as they encouraged him and put arms around his shoulders to calm him down.  I feared they would yell or mock him, as they normally do within our four walls.

The scene filled my heart spaces in all the right places.  The hubs, standing on the opposite end of the church, shared afterwards that he’d keep this memory forever; even when our boys no longer are with us.  It had brought tears to his eyes.

I hope someday my three sons will  look through my journals of friends and family; reading the meaning of life through their mother’s lens.   And I wish for their Christmas mailing lists to be as long and meaningful as my own.

 

 

 

Family, School

riptides act -tion

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This week has been a rough and bumpy ride.

Traditionally on the last Friday of summer vacation we head to the ocean. I greedily clung to the remaining hours of freedom; willing the sands through the hourglass to sift slow. The forecast called for hazy sunshine and high surf advisories.

I stood in awe of Mother Nature. There is nothing like witnessing the ocean’s breathtaking power; allowing me to let the tethers and ties of life go. As the sets of monster waves crashed towards the shoreline I could finally be present in the moment with all my senses aware. Over the roar of the waves I shouted to the younger boys.

If the riptide takes you, float and don’t fight it. It’ll pull you sideways so don’t panic. Wait for the waves to calm and then swim to shore. Will yourself to relax and breathe.

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I felt the waves carry me this way and that during this first week back- to- school. I mentally resist the return of demanding schedules and am physically exhausted trying to get it all straight. I longingly wished for the waves of last Friday crashing on the shore.

I need to ride this.

I need to let the waves crash over and around me; letting the routine settle to the rhythmic tides of time eternal. To give up the tiresome task of trying to control the things I cannot. I will myself to relax and breathe; to not panic.   I need to go with the flow and let go.

geometry

transition: noun. passage from one state, stage, subject, or place to another.”   Def. 1. Merriam Webster Online, Merriam Webster, n.d. Web. 26 Aug. 2014.

When the suffix -tion is added to a verb, it changes it to a noun; meaning   the act or result of (verb).

I am in the present tense of the verb, the doing.  Most times I am fixated on the end result, the -tion.  Instead of enjoying the transit, I am looking towards the end of the journey (transit- tion).  I hold my ground wanting time to stand still, to have control.  But the truth of the matter is, life is always in a state of flux and transition.  These are not finite stages.  We are always in transit, riding the waves; big and small.

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I stayed in the water of foamy 10 foot waves for over an hour waiting for the perfect one to ride in on the boogie board.  We need to go further out my son yelled to me.  I signal to remain; to stay put.  To keep our eyes on the water.  The lure of the perfect wave means that we must put ourselves in strong rip currents.   I chose to ride whatever tides I could, just because.  The danger in life is always waiting for the perfect moment which rarely ever comes.

You gotta just do it.  Live.

I spend too much time looking back thinking, should’ve, would’ve, could’ve.  I ponder the future seeking the end result.  But living in the present, in the here and now is tough; the doing; the action.  To breathe deep and let go.  To block out the fear and float; trying to rise above the foam.  You can’t swim, you say?  It’s okay to ask for a lifeline, to wear flotation devices.  Maybe it’s time to learn to swim.  But if you never ask, never try…the fear wins.  You get stuck.  You panic.
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On day three one obstacle after another came like sets of rogue waves; knocking me out. I had lain awake til the wee hours of the morning; my mind racing.   I was locked in the barrel; the walls of water collapsing around me as I fought to stay afloat; eyes searching for the shore.

But I am learning to reach for my lifelines; the ones who hear and affirm; not compare and contrast.   When I flail in an angry sea, they deploy the flotation devices.   They are my life “guards.”  If I ask, they will come.  To paraphrase the English poet, John Donne.

No man is an island.

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The sirens wail.  I am in need of saving.  And my lifeguards deliver at a moment’s notice. This back-to-school business is for the birds.

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Frustrations run high as procrastination and anxiety peak by 6:57 AM.  The lunch bag gets tossed about as doors slam and tempers flare.  On the first night of school we sit in the twenty-four hour mega store at 10:30 PM, picking through shopping carts.  There is not one five subject, college-ruled notebook in sight and this son needs two of them.   On day three the teen is frantic; his lack of organization glaringly obvious.  He is made to run around the field until his dot book and needed items are delivered in his seventh period.

Day four, the hubs and son spend an hour searching for a world newspaper; the assignment due in the morning. My eyes see red.  Quick to intervene before tempers escalate out-of- control the hubs sees it.  The teen is his spitting image; procrastination and all.  Upon returning home empty-handed; my caffeine habit proved useful.  A quick trip to my local coffeehouse produced several newspapers.   Crisis averted.

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The middle son is unsettled; his junior high schedule now in its second revision.  He longs to get into his routine; to know his class schedule is final.   After typing several pages of homework he is disgruntled to discover neither of our printers work.  Our workhorse that we’ve owned since 1996, the LaserJet, is on its last legs and the ink jet; dry.   From upstairs I hear the hubs grumble.  He currently is installing two new printers.

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But all is not lost.  The youngest son  happily memorizes state facts.  Who knew our state rock was the serpentine?  Test me again Mom!  He memorizes in the car as we roam to and fro; the older brothers dropped off at their respective schools.  After the youngest’s drop-off I will myself to keep my calm as frazzled parents rush to push their kids out of cars; allowing them to illegally cross.   When I lower my automatic window I see the assistant principal straddling the double yellow line.  With each late, jay-walking child she whistles and yells.  Use the crosswalk!  Next time, detention!  Tempted as I am to high-five her I hit the button as the window motor whirs.  At the crosswalk, the police car parks.  Stuck amongst parent drivers I turn up my volume and sing to my stereo; windows up.    By the time I reach the freeway, the ride is smooth sailing.  Glassy waters.

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Day five is still in motion; the craziness of to and fro.  The constancy of the tides, as in time, continues and I must learn to roll with it; absorbing the impact.   I may not be able to control what happens around me,  but I do have control of how I react to it.

One of my lifeguards’ text reminds me:  My happiness is not dependent on someone else.  I must create it, all on my own.   I declutter and surround myself with things that inspire; not tire.   Some days I’ll be riding the crests of the waves; others I’ll be locked in the barrel; crashing to shore.  These things, these rip curls,  happen for a reason.  I take stock of what is good; remembering to taste the saltiness on my lips and the coolness of the foam.    I can do this, ride this.

I am grateful.

Family

de-cluttering

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I stared at the boxes and overflowing trash bags of the not-so-distant past; sitting upon our front porch.  As I  placed the last bag upon the Hot Wheels table, I silently hoped the books, toys and clothes (some never worn with tags still hanging) would bring other boys hours of joy, warmth and contentment.  With a sigh I placed the donation slip in one of the boxes.  As I exited my driveway I glanced at the pile, once more,  before heading off to work.

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I  remind myself that it’s just stuff; to not be sentimental.

Today I sit.  Very still.  I am unmotivated to do anything as the to-do lists run in my head, the seconds ticking away on the analog clock.  I want to yank out the battery and make time stop in a vacuum as the days of summer wane.  Fall is my favorite time; yet I’m unwilling to join the “back-to-school” anticipation; hoping to savor these last days without time constraints and bell schedules.  I am procrastinating.  I try to recall the tips of self-motivation I’ve gleaned over the past months to push through this mental block.   The piles on our porch for donation are the physical evidence of a season ending.

Years ago my hubs would watch me tend to our young sons, casually commenting that the boys needed me more than they needed him.  During these years he constantly deployed and absorbed what little precious time he had, with our sons.    He looked forward to the day when he, too, could have the strong bonds; where he could be included in their sphere of influence.  Seasoned dads told him that boys needed their mother, most, when they were young.  But as boys got older, his paternal turn, would come. There would be a time when his sons would need him, the most.

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In the silent museum gallery I smirked as we gazed at modern art; deciphering what the portrait actually was.  What did it mean?  Who decided these pieces were art worthy?  The hubs concocted stories of an 800 pound tuna fish leaping from a vase as we gazed at the artist’s renderings.  As we strolled through the exhibit each person was allowed their interpretations; excitedly spinning more fantastic tales.  We grinned from ear-to-ear.

I watched the older boys create straw structures together, and the youngest built a hovercraft with his father.   It was as I observed the males in my family interact with one another, that the thought came unbidden.

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My husband’s time had arrived.  I must hand over the sphere.

In this realization came a certain sadness; knowing that my sons must grow independently away  from me, the mom, to establish their own identities.  I share this with the hubs during our break, his eyes wide with a noticeable sheen.  Your time has come.  Wield your sphere with care.  Silently I want to yell to him, Don’t waste it!

But he understands the weight of the sphere’s passage, welcoming  and acknowledging his role with outstretched hands.  The boys guffaw when javelins are thrust into walking zombies,  exchange glances  when a beautiful woman passes by.  They quietly ask their Dad what he’s thinking and ponder the world of testosterone that puberty has brought with it.

These are the impressionable years, I tell him, when they learn how to respect a woman.  As a mother, I cannot instill this value in my sons.  “This, ” I say, “is all you.”

  • Convey to them that looks don’t define beauty.  To respect a woman for what’s on the inside.
  • Show them, with your actions, what a healthy, loving relationship is.
  • Foster their curiosity with the world and to explore the outdoors.
  • Make them believe that they can problem solve and that the joy is in the process; not the solution.
  • Help them build confidence; to be true to themselves.
  • Give them the space to create their own art; that diversity is what makes the world go round.
  • Allow them to question their beliefs and values; to know there is something bigger.
  • Model manners and etiquette.  To open doors for women, the young and the elderly.
  • Guide them to be contributing sons.  That it is in the giving; not the receiving, that is worthy.
  • Let them exercise physical strength only in self-defense; not in brutality or weapons.
  • Teach them to listen.  To read non-verbal cues.  Women are complex creatures and do not always say what they mean.

Make them become just like you, I think to myself.  And then I chuckle, Okay minus the unshaven,  messy part!  I want to see their faces and pick up after themselves too.

It is a badge of honor to widen the sphere; to make the hubs its center.  One day I hope that center will reside within my children’s own selves.

But where does that leave me, the mom?

It is this thought that was buried in my subconscious all summer.  One of my girlfriends openly discussed this; how her sons seemed to push her away.  Another girlfriend shared she was having a tough time reconciling that her eldest would soon be leaving the nest.  When my third girlfriend texted she was as antisocial as I was; I realized something was amiss.  We try to put these into words; we mothers with kids growing away.   But we also know that we must then answer the question of our own existence and ponder the next step in our lives.

As I re-enter the world of booster and PTA meetings, fundraising and back-to-school events I consider where it is that I fit.  How do I find my life balance, to be present for my own children and work at the same time?

http://www.slate.com/articles/life/family/2013/09/ptas_and_bake_sales_why_volunteering_at_your_kid_s_school_does_not_make.html

Last evening, after attending my third booster meeting, the hubs made an observation.  A lot of these parents are really into themselves.   Do they choose to volunteer to keep tabs on their kids’ friends?  Two said that was the case.  Most of the twelve parents on the board, though, noted that their teenagers pretend to not know them.  They have a strong desire to contribute; to become involved in an amazing program.  It was later, in the bleachers, that we met the husband and wife, who had dedicated over five years.  They had burnt out.  For once, they were sitting in the stands, watching their son without any added jobs or responsibilities.  The hubs had that knowing look.  Will I fill my newfound space with yet another thing to do?   What is my compulsion to throw myself into the fray?

And the answer, when it came, was loud and clear.  It is only as I walk through the corridors of my own son’s high school that I am left to confront the old hallway ghosts from my own.  I have not returned to one class reunion.  I take myself off the Facebook pages when classmates find me.  I do not use my maiden name.  I wish to remember nothing of my high school years because it was in those four years that I discovered the world’s inequities and how I could not compare to them.  I did not have the PTA/ booster parents who were in-the-know to fight for their child.  I did not fit in with my fellow GATE peers; whose hovering helicopter parents daily monitored their grades to make them college-ready.

For all the accolades and accomplishments of my high school years and beyond; the hardware collected dust in my mother’s home.    None of that could ease the ache that I could never belong.  I credit my success and survival in high school to both my high school counselor and songleading coach; the two people who chose to protect the poor girl with the dad dying of colon cancer.   With my mother’s passing in 2003, the hardware was finally lain to rest in the circular file.  It’s just stuff.  There are no physical reminders of those years besides yearbooks, photo albums and my letterman jacket.

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I had erred, thinking becoming involved in these organizations would keep me in-the -know; to give my sons opportunities I didn’t have. Ironically the answer has been within me this entire time.  I only had to open my mind to see them.  To understand why I parent the way I do; I really need to know why I am the person that I am.  Just as in Coelho’s book, The Alchemist, I have returned to my own center; my sphere’s origins.  I am modeling an ideal that does not exist.

“The simple things are also the most extraordinary things, and only the wise can see them.”
Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

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And so my answer of how I define myself isn’t how I parent.  I define myself, by knowing who I am.  Yes,  I am the mom of three boys and wife of a man; all of whom I love dearly and equally drive me to distraction.  But in this new season of life it has to be all about me.  To rediscover the person without the junk and baggage.    I am decluttering my mind to make room. To confront the mental blocks of my past to become fully present.   I still have time.  I don’t want to waste it.