Family

embracing the dark

20170923_234138Sometimes you have to sit quietly and embrace the darker side of things; the unpleasantness that life brings.

I hadn’t realized I had dwelt in this place for the past few months.

There are many issues that pervade our world and society that are not within my control. Fires, hurricanes, politics, economics.

I found refuge in books, seeking classics like Wuthering Heights and Fahrenheit 451;  plots and themes dark in nature.   I disengaged.

We think we can determine our life’s paths but it’s the paths our life takes that influence our determination and resolve.

My words were in the word cloud of my mind; jumbled and unfocused.  I stopped trying to find them; choosing to escape in reading others’ words instead.

I had lost my way.  Instead of grabbing the steering wheel to drive where I wanted to go; I let cruise control take over with the windows rolled up and the music turned off.

At work I held the phone as the doctor shared her health concerns.  The hubs stood nearby as he heard my responses and queries.  I looked ahead at my calendar; buying time past the crazy hectic fall schedule of our household.   He, thankfully, is a man of few words and embraced me with quiet strength.

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I see beauty in the dark.

The monochromatic subdued hues of black, white and grey are comforting.  My favorite time of day is when I jog in the pre-dawn stillness before everything awakens; the black of night lightening to shades of purple, red and orange.

My mind clearly sees the vibrant garden of my youth filled with calla lilies, roses, lupine and geraniums.  At seventeen many days were spent looking out my bedroom window.    I questioned how I would find my way and where life would take me.

Recently I cleared the weeds in my garden; the chaos that always tries to take over fertile soil.  I smiled when the hubs came home with bulbs and seeds as I hope to recreate the wildflowers from my childhood home.

The “C” word was unspoken as hospice frequented my home and at my high school graduation my father stood proudly hoping for better things for his only daughter.  His time was short and five months later, he was gone.

I now find myself thinking these same thoughts for my sons as cells proliferate a little out of control.   They are always there; deep within, indiscriminate of race, religion or social class.

Life circled me back to my own senior year as my son had me fill in the parent portion of the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).   As he pondered various career paths to pursue and colleges to apply to  I remembered having great expectations; buoyed by the ideal that hard work and education would bring me happiness.

I felt the weight of reality as my thoughts dropped me back into my present.  I listened quietly and made myself remain quiet; though the words were on the tip of my tongue.

Life isn’t everything roses.  It isn’t predetermined.  We can’t always control where life takes us.  I lost my resolve.

The questions and thoughts currently in my mind are the same as the seventeen year old teenager.  Where will life take me?  Who am I supposed to be?  What makes a life well-lived?

I feel anxiety each morning, focusing on taking one step-at-a-time.

I prefer the cloak of darkness to the harsh light of day.  The hours turned into days turned into weeks and into months.  Life kept me busy and I pushed through my days on autopilot.

Today, the words unexpectedly came after a dear friend shared her concerns about our teens.  I finally engaged.

I arrived home from work  and asked my two sons to sit with me at the table as I inquired about their school day.   I had pondered how I would unveil my project as I worked through worst case scenarios in my head.  I told my sons they were my “control” group and handed each the following boxes.

20171017_123614I was met with shocked guffaws.  My eldest grabbed the box and said, “I’m game.”  The middle son needed something to drink before being able to provide a sample.  The youngest emerged from the den wanting to know what all the commotion was about.

Our local high school is a “commuter school;” meaning students are dropped off by dual working parents.  Teens are left to their own devices with disposable cash to get themselves into trouble.  The instant gratification of social media and technology allows lives to be changed in an instant.

The hormones rage; the peers influence.

The pressure cooker of helicopter parenting and performance (academic or sports) permeates our children’s self-worth.  The stakes are high and with a son in the college application process; I find my parenting peers to be as stressed out; if not more, than their own kids.

What twisted fate has both mothers and teenagers on hormotional rollercoasters at exactly the same time in their lives?

I stand by my garage door as my sons back out of our driveway each morning; watching them grow before me as tears gather.  I hear my youngest son talk about everything under the sun on our short ride to the junior high as his voice fluctuates; deepening and squeaking.

I am running out of time.

I entered the den as all three of my sons worked on computers.  I thanked them for taking part in my project and informed them that their results were negative.  I voiced that I appreciated their candor and hoped they would always feel safe to share the good things of their every day; but especially the bad. 

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There is beauty in the prickly things that don’t need a lot of watering.    I feel an affinity with the cacti planted along my entryway and patio.

I do not shelter my sons.  I try hard not to hover.  They know that life is unfair.

I welcome the physical labor of manufacturing; rolling threads mindlessly as the  rhythmic gears of the machine bring steadiness to the unknown.  My resolve is slowly returning.

It’s my job, as a parent, to teach my boys how to navigate through life’s disappointments and to persevere.  

 

We can’t numb the disappointments life brings with food, promiscuity, alcohol, medication or drugs.

Cutting and self-inflicted, controlled pain, or eating disorders are extremes to our life balance and well-being.  Control is a false sense of security.  

It’s okay to sit quietly in the dark for a little while.  To ruminate and contemplate; filter and sort.  

It’s the relationships that matter.  Engage and embrace them.

 

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Family

getting lost and being here

When summer arrives I feel the urge to head out on the road.  To watch the center lines blur and the scenery change to wide open spaces.  I love to feel my hair whipping around my face, arms stretched out of windows.  The wind swirling between my fingers.

My sons groaned.  “Do we really have to go?  You didn’t consult us when you made these vacation plans.”

Instead of getting offended, I mentally checked my automatic Mom response and sighed.  Driving a 2,000 mile road trip with seventeen and fifteen year old teens and a hormotional pubescent twelve-year old tween didn’t sound like an enjoyable experience for two weeks.  They were completely plugged into their devices: personal computers, lap tops and phones with earbuds in.  When I shared that our cabins had no wi-fi service; they bristled.  The lodging literature promoted being outdoors versus Internet access and could only be found in specific, public locations like lobbies.

We were embarking on a road trip the hubs and I have been wanting to take for several years.  Last summer this vacation was summarily canceled when my sons’ summer camp schedules directly conflicted with our dates.   It was on our bucket list of things to do before our kids begin to leave the nest and have schedules of their own but our sons were not enthused in the least.  They weren’t buying it.

In April 2016 the hubs had to pull over on the interstate. I had unsuccessfully tried to make reservations online (via my cell phone) while traveling home from a jazz festival.  Cell reception in the northern Sierras had been sketchy and when the highway patrol officer inquired why my husband was on the side of the road; he explained.  My wife has been trying for three hours, with limited cell reception, to book this online or phone and she just finally got a person on the phone.  The officer smiled, wished us well and encouraged us to make it brief and left us alone.

Our schedules were busy up until we left.  It took me a few days to relax and stop worrying about the things that I had left behind.  So many things to do.  So little time.

Navigation with my hubs is always a stressful affair.  Accustomed to his military days; his version of navigation entails coordinates, utilizing various apps such as Waze for traffic and Gas Buddy for finding the cheapest gas en route, Yelp for food destinations, multiple views (both digital and satellite) using Google maps AND our GPS navigation device since cell reception, again, would be sketchy.  As we left home and had to choose the freeway less impacted by traffic, the fight was on.

This has always  been a particular point of contention whenever we travel.  In Texas, I almost jumped out of our moving car…so angry with my, THEN, fiance.  In Utah we had pulled over to the side of the road, sleeping under the stars, on a cross-country move to Chicago worrying that my car wouldn’t make the trip; constantly overheating.  Using TripTiks, atlas maps and Thomas Guides (remember those?)…I had to be sure we were on the right interstate (which we were).

We found ourselves on this same stretch of highway and the hubs excitedly pointed out the exact place where we had pulled over in my Toyota Tercel twenty-three years before.  Incredulous, I could only laugh.  I could never co-pilot with this man in a plane; but I’ve survived co-piloting our relationship, and family, since 1990.  In the backseat, the kids heard us recount our stories of cross-country travel; curious of our lives before the idea of them ever existed.

We drove through 120 degree high desert valleys, through mesa buttes among hoodoos and deep canyons.  My stress level was indirectly proportional to the miles we were logging in.  As the miles away from home increased, my stress level decreased.

Upon arrival at our first destination the boys had been forewarned of our early wake-up time the next morning.  Lamenting that they were on “summer vacation” and should be sleeping in…they eventually crammed into a queen bed and were rudely awakened by the alarm clock at 6 AM.  This was not their idea of a vacation.  They imagined the white sands of Hawaii and the bright neon lights of Vegas (where we had spent the night the day before).

The arches of Utah were calling.  But after being yelled at for not bringing our best camera (left in our hotel room), I was  consoled by our youngest who cried quietly in empathy.  The eldest sat in the navigation seat, arguing directions with his father.  Our vacation was having a stellar start and after a missed turn, all was silent in our vehicle.

We trekked in 100 degree heat on an incline with no shade at 8:30 AM.    With Camelbaks on our backs and the GoPro on my cap; we took one step at-a-time; the boys patiently waiting for their father to catch up.  When we finally reached our destination, all cameras and phones were out taking the scenic panorama before us.  It dawned on me then that not one single complaint was uttered the entire ninety minute hike.  The hubs was shocked that I had handed my camera to the German tourist who took our family shot beneath this arch from afar.

Thus began our epic adventure.

We had many more missed directions and navigation foibles and the hubs learned to curb his impatience.  Comprehension had finally dawned on him that his idea of navigation was vastly different from other people.  He learned to take the missed roads in stride and the rest of us learned how to navigate more efficiently.  Driving an old SUV was very different from flying a multi-million dollar military aircraft.

We all learned to compromise and exerted endless patience; a reminder that it is not the destination that matters, it’s the journey in getting there.  And the pictures came out just as well with our other cameras versus our better one because the best pictures from our trip are etched indelibly in our own minds.

We found ourselves lost in the middle of Idaho; stumbling upon a quaint town decked out in all-Americana; pre-Fourth of July glory.  We passed bucolic panoramas with hundreds of herds of cattle, snow-capped mountains and blue skies.  When I sang, “Home on the Range” my sons had never heard of the tune and the hubs and I were aghast at their ignorance.

Home, home on the range.  Where the deer and the antelope play.  Where seldom is heard, a discouraging word.  And the skies were not cloudy all day.

Our lack of Internet connectivity made us mandatorily unplug.  As a family we have never been on vacation where we were together ALL of the time.  There were no separate rooms or walls to isolate us.  We always were within one another’s view; unless we were using restrooms.

I had expected fights, and there were a few squabbles; but nothing that wasn’t easily resolved.   My stereotypical, oppositional, middle teenage son took great joy in counting the days until we returned home.  But  he was constantly taking pictures to eventually share with his friends on SnapChat.  He was actually enjoying the trip and wanted to keep it a secret from us, his family.

When it thundered and rained for two of our days in Yellowstone; we were undeterred.  We hiked in rain and traversed mountains and peaks where the temperature registered as low as thirty nine degrees. We marveled at the geothermal features of springs, mud pots, fumaroles and of course, the geysers although the boys felt that after walking through several geyser basins, once you’ve seen one geyser; you’ve seen them all.

Daylight began at 5:40 AM and ended close to 10 PM…the hours long in the northern latitude and summer days.  We sat in road jams as bison herds ambled past and were eaten alive by mosquitoes on our first day’s hike to Mystic Falls.  On the days when the boys slept in or napped, hubs included, I explored our inn and sat with my cup of coffee watching Old Faithful in all its geyser glory as the sun rose or set with few people lingering.  The scenery was all my own.

As we hiked among wildflowers and rivers, geysers or travertine terraces sighting bison, elk, a moose, bears, foxes, eagles and everything in-between, I breathed in the crisp mountain air, taking it all in.  Whenever our family hikes, I take the rear; the mother constantly keeping tabs of her sons.  The hubs used to take the lead, but the older teens now scout the trail before us; the hubs with the bear repellent spray not too far behind.

I immersed into Nature; feeling blessed for the opportunity.  Gratitude filled me.  I. am. here.

When the purple mountain majesty of the Grant Tetons loomed into our landscape, several days later,  the boys immediately knew they would like it there.   Early for check-in for our cabin, the hubs spontaneously decided to hike one of the short and easy dog-eared hikes in my travel guide.  I had directed him to the trailhead (not realizing there was an eastern and southern route) and found ourselves on a difficult ascent with spectacular views of my Grand Teton peak looming ever closer to us.

I had chosen an easy-to-moderate trail on this particular route from the southern entrance and quickly realized this was something different.  But the hubs persisted that THIS was the correct place and had commenced on the moderate-to-difficult trail I had chosen to avoid; after the hubs had difficulty with the Delicate Arch trail in Utah.  We were on the eastern trail to Inspiration point along the shores of Jenny Lake.

Five hours later from our “short” hike prompted one of the boys to finally ask, “Who chose this hike anyway?” as we returned to our vehicle and empty trailhead parking lot.

Even on the most strenuous trek, the boys did not complain.  Not once.  They patiently waited as their dad caught his breath and I followed behind in the rear.  The eldest had control of the “best” camera, the youngest composed panoramic shots with our waterproof camera and the middle son’s phone was constantly snapping pictures.  They threw snowballs at one another when we finally reached the “saddle” portion of the mountain and we soon found ourselves at our destination, inspired by the 360 view.

In the remaining days we rafted down the Snake River, hiked trails and the hubs and tween, in sixty degree rainy weather, leapt off a 23 foot rock into the 48 degree deep alpine lake below; while the eldest carried a baby snake.  We constantly were on the lookout for wildlife; encountering a few along our hikes and drives.  Wildflowers sprouted along road ways, trails and riverbanks; infusing their vibrant colors and fragrant aromas in the verdant green alpine forests.  I was tempted to read Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Life’s misdirection took us on paths we’d never thought to take.  At one point, in the car, we didn’t know if we were in Montana or Wyoming.

In getting lost we found each other.

In the two weeks I had let all expectations go; trying hard to NOT create an itinerary for the hubs.  I listened to all of my family members’ thoughts and input to consider what to do.  The middle son enjoyed the hike he chose best; taking the lead.  The youngest felt the accomplishment of doing what he said he’d do by leaping off the 23 foot rock on the trail he chose.  And the eldest had matured, assisting with the long drives and navigation.

The take-aways were things I would have never predicted.  Our road trip had finally brought us back full circle to home.  To here.

My eldest developed a love for manual digital photography and outdoors; expressing the desire to return outdoors before summer ends. The middle son loved hiking and physical activity; wanting to take control and having a choice.   The youngest had vision and loved to compose shots with artistic flair.   We all have a greater appreciation for jazz; the music paired with my bluetooth stereo as we embarked on our endless drives.

Most importantly, we had a greater appreciation for one another; forced to interact and compromise.

Upon our return, the hubs decided he wanted to keep our physical daily activity going, finally getting on the treadmill, swimming and eating well towards better health and well being.   He doesn’t want his family to have to wait or hike without him.  It is one thing for me, or our sons, to want him to be on the path to wellness.  It’s another thing to want to be well and healthy, for himself.

The son who walked away from competitive swim has been swimming in our lap pool.  The middle son chooses to wake early to accompany me on my morning jog.  And the youngest enjoys cooking meals versus always eating out while on the road.  He likes having more choices with his ingredients.

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Appreciate life and live in the now.  Be here.  Get a little lost in the great outdoors.  Life takes us in directions unknown but navigate your inner compass and find your true north.  You will always land where you are meant to be.

Family, School

what the DMV and tea taught me

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

We had to forfeit the appointment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was secretly glad.

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

All work and no play.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We forgot how to play.

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

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

Reading for pleasure is my own version of play.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I feel the guilt of being the overbearing parent.

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

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

Until he failed his drive test.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Family

When you’re fed up

When you’re finally fed up , I asked my husband, what do you do?

He looked at me mutely, knowing I had reached my boiling point.  I didn’t have an answer as I fired the question to the hubs and left our business quiet and frustrated.  It wasn’t until I walked through the aisles of the large wholesale grocer; the $0.88 cake boxes in the main display, that my answer arrived.

You feed.

I made my way through the produce aisles, noting the garlic from Gilroy, California.  Other grocery chains only carry imported garlic from China and my angst returned; knowing that cost drives our current economy.

It would be nice for the consumer to have the choice to purchase the cheaper garlic bulbs from overseas next to the garlic grown in my home state.  But most times these choices are made by higher powers in large corporations or political chambers.   I mull this over as a long time customer finally chose the larger profit margin, acknowledging they will be purchasing fasteners from overseas.

I grabbed four Betty Crocker cake boxes and threw them into my cart in various flavors; chosen specifically for their colors.  Red (red velvet), yellow, white and brown (chocolate) and a white frosting tub for good measure.  This was an impulse buy.

I had remembered my youngest son’s request to bake a cake for his sixth grade plate tectonics project; something that required time.  When my two older sons had to do this same project in sixth grade, foam globes from the craft store littered our kitchen table as they painted, cut and mounted the various strata layers of the Earth.  The youngest’s globe currently sat upon our dinner table, primed and ready to be painted.  The layered strata cake was not required.  It was one or the other.

This son’s voice penetrated through my anger; the one that reminded me that sometimes I don’t hear him.   He is lost among the older brothers whose problems seem to take precedence.  Why reinvent the wheel if the globes worked with the older sibs?  But his words came back to haunt me and I needed the distraction.

You never hear me.  It was the icing on the cake and so IN the cart the cake boxes went.

This was fortuitous.   Immediately upon entering my garage door, with my grocery bags, this youngest son sheepishly stood nearby.

“Mom, my project isn’t due on Thursday.  It’s due TOMORROW.”  

The cake mixer came out as he continued to prep and paint his foam globe.  When called to choose his cake layers he quizzically asked,  Why are we doing both?  To which I replied.

I heard you.

Fed up with the world, the very least I could do was feed my kids.  Not with junk food and cake..but with my time, and my bottled up energy.  I sometimes wonder why this is all worth it and it was as I watched my son painting his Earth project that I realized what my subconscious wanted me to do.

It’s love that makes the world go round.  It makes it all worth it.

It may not be perfect, ever.  But it’s the reason I wake up each and every morning…even lately when it’s something I don’t want to do.  I worry about our financial future for my family.  I worry about the direction our country is taking.  We are a balanced household, the hubs and I moderately on either side of the political fence.  I am a proponent of global economy but want things to be fair.

Everyone looks out for their bottom line.

Small business and customer service are becoming a thing of the past…transitioning into large, subsidized corporate profits with technological interfaces.  Customer service comes in the form of chat rooms and emails; not voice or face-to-face interaction.

Our globalization is allowing us to reach wide, but leaving a deficit in how to converse locally.

My sons sit with phones across from their friends with no words audibly spoken.  We are losing our ability to communicate up close and personal.

When the weeds took over our garden after a record winter of rain, our family had mandatory weeding time for an hour this past weekend.   The hubs and I noted after this physical, outdoor activity among gripes from our boys, that they animatedly returned to their computer screens and interacted with one another.  It’s easy to get lost in cyberspace, independently saving the free world or trading stocks and bonds.

With the ground cleared, our yard looked empty.  But removing the weeds made room for new growth.  A level playing field to start over.

Thankfully, our customer of fifteen years was not a sizable portion of our business bottom line.  But relationships and loyalties no longer reign in the climate we live in and we are cultivating future generations to forego these relations; to rely purely on statistics and numbers.

In the grocery store I see the choice to pay more for organic and/or made in the USA versus overseas.  I want to stretch my dollar, to make the fiscally sound choice.  But I grab the yellow squash from the produce home grown in my home state.  I will pay extra for the choice.

Why purchase the cheaper import produce that is flown on an airplane; that creates a larger carbon footprint in our world with the fuel it uses to get to my location?  I want my produce fresh, not gassed.

I ponder what my bottom line is.  I’ve been silently shadowing and sulking, not standing my ground.  I am finally fed up and need to make a choice and have a stance.

In choosing to feed my kids and family, fresh and locally sourced produce, I make my choice.  With the help of my sixth grader I bake for several hours, cooking dinner with my garlic from Gilroy and spinach from Salinas.  I buy strawberries from Oxnard, cauliflower from Santa Maria and beverage from Paso Robles.  My grass roots campaign is seemingly small but our business will be following the same path.

I am sowing seeds in my own garden.  I want quality relationships with my family, my community, our customers.

I carried the cake box into the sixth grade classroom this morning and told the teacher to please share with her thirty-two students.   She was surprised to learn my son submitted two projects.

When fed up with the world, I choose to feed the world instead.  For my sons.  For myself.  For the future.

 

 

 

Family

deep in the 3rd quarter

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The gift I gave myself for Christmas 2016.  One week.

  • The week between Christmas and New Year’s I left the LED lights on.  On trees.  Outdoors.  On garlands.
  • I allowed the mess to accumulate downstairs…foam and plastic packaging inside boxes, discarded ribbon.
  • I did not fret as I lost sight of my tile floor or that crumbs littered my tablecloth at the dining table filled with trays of cookies.
  • I chose not to cook meals and instead; tried to re-purpose the various items in our very full fridge.  Leftovers were my friends.
  • I lit my 3-wick candle and let it burn into the late hours of the night; the aroma filling my home with a book, always, in-hand.  I read three of them.
  • I didn’t live by the clock; all alarms off.  I awoke when I wanted to and allowed my routine to be flexible.
  • I ate anything my  heart desired (in moderation).  The cultural foods that only come out this time of year were my faves.
  • I spent as much time in my pajamas as possible; changing only to do things I wanted to do.
  • The paper piles were untouched; the laundry hampers overflowed and the dishwasher filled.  They would all get cleaned and sorted through in good time.

When I stopped placing expectations on myself, or others, an amazing thing happened.  I was content.

This is a 180 degree change in mindset from Christmases past.  I had been a slave to my expectations; the Rockwell portrait Christmas where everything fell into place in perfect harmony.  Time and time again I’ve felt the sting of disappointment of things unfulfilled.  I’ve felt the bile lodge in my throat as I clenched my teeth in frustration when events didn’t go my way.

This one week allowed me some needed respite and serenity among the messiness of my life and home.  It is rare for my family of five to have nothing on our schedules.  We took the week off from work.  The boys were on winter break.   We were free.

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I took a mental retreat from the things that normally filled my days: work, social dynamics and parenting.  I focused on my five strengths discovered from the StrengthsFinder 2.0  book borrowed from a dear friend.  I reflected and sought closure on things that happened in 2016; sorting and filtering.   Usually at this time of year I am cataloging the things I need improvement on; including cleaning and organizing my messy home.  But as 2016 drew to a close, I considered my talents and strengths and how to build upon them.  How can I be the best me that I can be?  What does that even mean?

You would think that during my “mini week retreat” that I had focused on myself.  But instead, I decided to consider what I have to give.  I spend a lot of time considering what people do for me, and what I receive in return?  Who’s getting the better end of the deal?

But that’s not really what I want my life to be about.  What do I have to offerto my kids, to my spouse, to my friends, to the world?

I’m going deep.

Every day it’s the little mundane choices we make, that occupy our time.  Should I have coffee or tea?  Where do I need to be?  What shall we have for dinner?  Are these daily details of any consequence in the greater scheme of life?  I think not.  This is when the if only statements start to circle in my brain.  If only I had this, if only I did that, if only I had chosen…  It’s an endless spiral with no end, circling, circling…

I’ve decided to alter my mindset in 2017.  When my world starts narrowing and spiraling inward I need to expand it outwards; to give of myself to assist others. 

I am usually like most people, withdrawing when everything doesn’t go well.  But in 2017 I will focus my attentions on a cause, person, project that I can give of myself without any expectation in return.   I won’t dwell on the things I cannot change and will pray for wisdom to know the difference (Serenity Prayer).  I will choose to use my strengths to change outcomes in other ways; ways that I don’t need to laud over people, or to receive recognition.

I gain greater joy in doing things for others without them knowing I did them.  There is a quiet satisfaction in being humble and in trying to do good for someone else.

Each day has its trials and January 3rd was no different.  I found myself yelling to my motley crew of four males to awaken on this first day back to school and work.  When the eldest sarcastically responded that yelling wasn’t working, I quieted and simply said the words.  I. Am. Done.

In the silence I had quietly made lunches, gathered my bills and files for work and prepared to leave.  My sons and husband made their way downstairs and were surprised to not be greeted with snarky remarks about being organized, being punctual and attitude.  Each son thanked me for their lunches, the hubs quietly asked to grab some silverware and I took deep breaths, silently focusing on the things I could change by making different choices.  I could rage at 6:53 AM at my family, or I could move the responsibility onto their shoulders knowing that I had tried my best to wake them and let it go.

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Today I sat in the cushioned pew, in the hills that bear my name, at a family funeral service.  Of all places…this setting was where the random thought settled in my mind.   I have finally grown up.  

Silly as it may seem, over the holidays my thoughts circled this and I couldn’t wrap my mind around it.  As I sat with various family members and friends sharing conversations and memories, the trivial things that would set me off did not.  No longer do I feel the need to prove myself.  I am not compelled to out do anyone in any of my pursuits.  I have settled into my own skin and take responsibility for the choices I make.  I do not blame outside circumstances to justify my current life predicament.

  • I stared at the feasts and ate only what I could consume.  I chose not to overeat and would mentally remind myself that I can choose to bake these things for myself.  These aren’t things I have to eat only once a year to justify a binge.
  • For the past two years I have told myself how much I hate to run and it was only, over winter break when I awoke of my own accord, that I discovered I don’t have to do this if I don’t want to.  I actually wake up on my own, because I want to.
  • I’ve surrounded myself with the things and people whose values align with my own.  They aren’t there to prove their agendas to make me see their way, or for them to see mine.  We walk alongside to celebrate our imperfect lives together.
  • I acknowledged family dynamics and drama but chose to let things go.  Most times I try to pacify and have all parties reconcile but I do not have control over others; only how I react to them.  I must enjoy these people based on my own relationships with them.
  • The only games I chose to participate in were in kids games… giant jumble tower Jenga, card games or cheering for my alma mater in college football.  I quietly observed the mental games, in other areas of my life, get played out and trusted my instincts on how to handle situations and people.  Normally I get sucked right in; trying to hash through things and making all things transparent.  To show others my point of view (which may or may not be right).  I no longer question myself.

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These thoughts of clarity came once I owned the statement that I had finally grown up.   The past few years I’ve been underwater, things swimmingly unclear and murky.  But once I broke through the surface, I could take a deep breath and saw things clearly, for the first time.  The words to articulate what I’ve been feeling finally came.

Over winter break I had sat in the back of a college information session at my alma mater, as the puzzle pieces snapped into place.  It is only through the eyes, as a parent, that I could truly appreciate the sacrifice my parents and others have done for me.  For years I felt cheated thinking if only I had different opportunities things would’ve been different.    Sorting through my own issues helps me become a better parent to my boys.  It has taken me almost three decades to figure this all out.

I am deep in the 3rd quarter of my life and I’ve finally gotten my head in the game.  Everything’s coming up roses.

The best conversations happen in my SUV and as I vocalized these thoughts to my hubs and sons, this afternoon, I felt the weight lift from my shoulders.  No longer do I dread this coming year of worrying about my eldest son’s educational future.  Instead, I shared my new motto with my family for 2017 and I hope they will take it to heart.  It is simple.  I’m putting myself out there; to offer my strengths and talents in service, outside of my comfort zone.

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Own what you do (or say) and follow it through.

Get your head mentally in the game and play.  Go deep.  Live.  Don’t stand on the sidelines of life waiting for the perfect pass or opportunity.   Own it and follow it through.

friendships

talking too much

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I had been sitting in traffic on my daily commute to work; stewing.  A parent had cut-me-off as I exited the parking lot, dropping off my youngest son at his school.  I had then gotten stuck behind a slow driver who was texting and almost hit the crossing guard in the crosswalk.  When the third car went out-of- turn at a four-way stop I threw my hands up in the air; mumbling epithets under my breath, in my vehicle.

Then a song caught my ear and I turned it up.  Music can immediately change my mood, especially when I discover something new.  I’m grateful to Coin’s new song, “Talk Too Much” for doing that for me this past week.

I work through my issues by voicing them or typing them and in a household of males, the hubs bears the brunt of this burden.  I constantly chastise myself with why I can’t leave things unsaid.

My teens, surprisingly, are maturing and are now able to engage again in conversation with more than two words.  Recently we’ve had some great discussions about the things happening in their lives.

As a teen I felt disconnected with my parents so any tidbits of information from any of my three sons are welcome.  I know they do not tell me everything but I am grateful they choose to talk and willingly share something (without prodding).

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The spontaneous texts from my girlfriends to meet for walks, coffee, brunch and Friday night beverages were most welcome.  I’ve missed face time with fellow females and my schedule has finally opened up.

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Most times I walk my path alone in the morning, watching the fog rise from the ground in eerie patches of mist.  The silence and solitude allow me time to process and think through the various events occurring around me.  But the issues don’t resolve themselves until I talk them out.

My hubs is always the first filter, the one I trust implicitly, but females are vastly different than males.  He offers solutions and when I don’t take his advice he becomes frustrated.  I merely want him to “hear me;” to affirm the words and things that I observe are, in fact, real.  I want to talk through the scenarios, all umpteenth million of them, and consider the actions and reactions of those involved.

This is taxing for my dear hubs and so I am always grateful to the girlfriends who empathize; the ones who hear me.  The ones who don’t judge or critique.  These friends are rare and, over the years, I have discerned which ones I can feel affirmed with and, surprisingly, have gained a few new girlfriends along the way.

For a while I kept my thoughts and words for the hubs alone.  I soul-searched for the person I was/am after feeling bitter disappointment in various things.  This process allowed me to discover myself, both the good and bad, and in sorting and filtering I have been able to reconnect with my husband and family.

To engage.  To say no.  To let things go.

This has opened up space for me to discover things new.

To learn.  To explore. To grow.

My sons have watched me struggle and have heard me with my hubs.  For the boys to become decent men, they must have decent men in their lives to teach them these things.  To learn how to navigate through friends; to sort and filter if they affirm them.

Our two older sons have recently had to go through this and in observing my own process and discovery, they had a path to guide them.  Teenagers, today, are having to grow up faster and are exposed to more things due to technology.

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This morning I had to acknowledge this fact after discovering that my son’s close friend posted a suicide letter on a chat page and was admitted to a hospital.  At 12:59 AM my son received a text and a phone call from another close friend trying to help him.  But my son and the hubs had been watching a movie downstairs; his phone upstairs on his bed unanswered and unseen.

This is the second time this scenario has played out, with an entirely different person and situation, in three months.  But this one was close to home.

Growing up suicide letters were NOT the norm.  But social media has become the primary means of communication versus face-to-face interactions.   Talking has been replaced with typing and I wished my sons DID talk too much.

Instead, words are acronyms, memes and emoticons.  When the son saw the jumping off a cliff meme with the GKY (Go Kill Yourself) acronym, he assumed it was a joke.

This would be unheard of even a decade before, but our children have become desensitized to these thoughts and ideas.  When someone talks of cutting; kids roll their eyes.  Prescribing prescription drugs for anxiety, depression and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) have become common practice.  Everything is immediate and easy; just take a pill.

I stood at this son’s bedside, this morning, after receiving the call from my girlfriend of his friend’s suicidal ideation.   I quickly communicated with the other parents of my teen’s close circle.

This group of teens had just sat in our house on Friday evening talking.  This teen was the only one missing from their group and I am grateful that I have engaged with my boys’ lives; that I know who their friends are.  That I can open up my home to have them hang out on a Friday night so they can talk to one another, face-to-face or, most times, heads down texting phone to phone.

If ever I have appreciated the gift of hospitality and friendship, it is now.

We, moms, texted one another.

These kids, these days aren’t given coping skills.  When they get the real world, they are ill equipped to cope.  We protect them too much and don’t let them fail.  How do we guide them?

This pack of teens have one another.  They work things out together and that’s real life. 

One of the moms decided to open up her home, next week, and cook dinner because all conversations go better with food.  While our sons hang out, the parents will work through the issues to figure out how to navigate parenting today.  Our kids try to do the best they can.

Although I have a conflict with this dinner my son told me my presence is important to him.  So I must balance and make it work.  For him. 

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When my sons, this weekend, determined they wanted to bake cookies…I stopped what I was doing.  I rarely bake and all of my boys associate the holidays with their Mom baking cookies.

I took the time to directly look at my boys and frankly talk about what to do if your friend wants to commit suicide.  Thankfully, the teens in the situation did the right thing and called 911.  They were not critical nor judgmental.  They heard a teen’s cry for help and brought in the proper authorities and people to see it through.

We, parents, need to follow things through. 

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Being a parent isn’t always about giving our kids the best things, sheltering them or doing work for them so that they won’t have to worry.  They need to fail.

They need to learn how to navigate through stressful situations,with our guidance and support, to learn coping mechanisms to move forward.  And they need friends.

It is important for our kids to watch parents work through their conflicts to find resolution.  It is in talking too much with our friends, and spending face time that makes us human.  In walking alongside other people’s struggles, or vice versa, we learn the power of the ties that bind.

It’s easy to be our own islands, to try to work things out ourselves.  It is only in experiences that we can discern what a good friend is.  It’s not someone to gossip with; nor is it a competition of who has more things or titles.  It isn’t the one who brings in more money; nor is it the one who volunteers on PTA or booster boards.

We are not super Moms; we are all flawed.  We try to do the best we can.

I texted this friend’s mom, to make sure her son is okay.  The teens wanted to visit him.  His friends are ready to be there for him.

Parenting is a community and today, I am grateful to be a member of it.   Thanks to my fellow moms for being transparent and keeping it real.

Family, friendships

changing seats

This is my favorite time of year…the changing of season from summer to fall.

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As a young girl fall meant back to school after a long summer.  I missed my friends and couldn’t wait to get back into the routine; the anticipation of all things new.  I couldn’t wait to learn; to get closer to being what it was I was going to be.  Life was a mystery and I wanted to unlock it.

With time that love of learning became lost.  It got lost in worrying about the future…in getting the grades, being involved in activities so colleges would take a second look.  It became competitive and the power of whom you know versus what you do sometimes got muddled.  It was all about the end-goal.

I grew up and got deposited into real life; not the sheltered one I lived in a small, rural coast community.  In the city I was a speck in the crowd and found myself getting swept up in the sea of people reaching higher, working harder, running faster.

Surprisingly, love found me in the most unlikely places and I have been fortunate to have our friendship grow into relationship; our shared history binding us over decades.   I had hoped to choose a safe, stable and very routine career.  I did not aspire to move far away.  I did not want a lot of change.

But to grow, to learn, change is what we must do.  When stuck at a plateau, we change up our routines to revive our metabolism, boredom and complacency.  Some refuse to budge, others choose the other extreme.  But the word, change, does not normally have a positive connotation.  I often hear that change is good but, really, what I’m feeling is the opposite.

Change. [Full Def.]  transitive verb.  1 a :  to make different in some particular  b :  to make radically different c :  to give a different position, course, or direction to  2 a :  to replace with another  b :  to make a shift from one to another c :  to exchange for an equivalent sum of money (as in smaller denominations or in a foreign currency)  d :  to undergo a modification of  e :  to put fresh clothes or covering on.  (n.d.). In Merriam Webster Online, Retrieved September 20, 2016, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/change.

With this school year I was loathe to give up my SUV; the hubs and I switching up our school drop-off routines.  Car travel time, with my sons, is one of my favorite things.  Soon our eldest will be the one behind the wheel; driving himself and his brother to high school.  Because they begin earlier, the hubs navigates the craziness of their drop-off en route to work and I use his vehicle to drop-off our youngest.

I miss all of my sons being dropped off from my vehicle.

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Out-of-the-box thinking is squashed with years of history.  It has always been done this way and why change it?  For years, after high school, I chose to sever my old fashioned ideals to embrace the novel.  Plato, Einstein, Columbus, Watson & Crick, Wozniak & Jobs, …they chose to question the status quo and discovered new answers.  I had many questions and debated them often.  But never did I find my answers and I just stopped asking.

In this season of midlife, I begin to question many things.  For years I never questioned, always following the herd and wanting to fit the mold to be a good spouse, daughter, mother and friend.  I’ve failed many times at all of these things and it’s only with time and experience that I can finally find my way.  Severing my ties with my childhood ideals worked against my end-goals.  They used to be: a great career, titles, material things and many friends.  But quantity never makes up for quality and I recently was reminded of this over the weekend.

I mulled over these thoughts in the hubs’ truck.  While most people in my community lease cars and change them every few years to experience new, our household remains with our 1998 and 2002 vehicle models.  Now that my son drives my vehicle, I see it anew through his eyes.

Did I realize that my vehicle drives itself?  My son is finding things I had never noticed as I drove them to and fro.  The seat that folds down into a table.  A hidden compartment.  I’ve missed all of these things.  The youngest notes similar things in the hubs’ truck.

Did I know this button caused my speakers to change tone?  I’ve missed the accelerating power of the hubs’ truck;  its V8 engine and its deep-throated thrum.  Each morning my son and I lean forward each time I brake; forgetting the sensitivity of the pedal.  The music gets cranked up as I accelerate onto the freeway.

Slowly I have transitioned between the two cars; remembering the nuances of each and enjoying the amenities of both.  I’m hoping to thread through this time of life, as well.

Just as I struggle to let things go for my boys and allow them more independence; so I must also learn to let go of my defining title as the center of my sons’ world as a mother, to an independent adult and attentive spouse. 

I am redefining my roles, once again, and hope that I can retain the nuances of each and enjoy the amenities of both.  In order to grow I must accept and embrace change.  I’ve become complacent.

This past weekend as we celebrated my son’s sixteenth birthday I had been surprised by his request.  He asked that gifts NOT be opened publicly; knowing one of his friends’ family struggles financially.  Normally this son chooses not to celebrate his birthday with a party and prefers a dinner with just family.

I agreed to honor his request even though our family enjoys watching the reaction of the person opening gifts.  I had not anticipated that all of our family or my son’s eight friends could attend.

The hubs and I were just happy that this son chose to invite his friends to celebrate with him.

As I drove the hubs’ vehicle to work, in traffic, I remembered this same son wailing inconsolably in the infant carseat; the visiting bff trapped in the truck with us for five hours.  I gripped the steering wheel teary eyed.  I wouldn’t trade this truck in for a newer model.  Not ever.  The memories and history that is told in each fold, scratch and dent were reminders of the growth and changes that life has brought.

History is important.

On Sunday I stared at the cake before me while my sister-in-law counted guests.  It was not enough.  The silver lining in her words wasn’t lost on me…at least you won’t have leftovers.

My son relented to his friends’ requests to OPEN all of his gifts in front of everyone.  And so he did, as he has many birthdays before.

When the remaining Victoria’s Secret gift bag remained; the family and friends jeered and cheered for him to look at what was inside.  What kind of gag gift did these friends decide to gift to this boy on his sixteenth birthday?!   As pink tissue paper crinkled we all waited…

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I stood alongside and watched his friends’ faces before looking at my own son.  They had looks of anticipation and when I heard him gasp I finally looked at what he held in his hand.

This son has begged for us to purchase this electronic gaming item for the past two years and the hubs and I have refused to purchase it.  His friends, of their own accord, chose to pitch in money to give this to him.  They hoped I didn’t mind.

I gaped in shock, knowing this wasn’t something small, and I quickly snatched the camera to distract myself from crying right then and there.  The picture of nine teens placing their hands in a Victoria’s Secret bag, grinning from ear-to-ear, was priceless.

Later that same night, after a high school community jazz performance, our son sat quietly at the table with the hubs and I.  The middle son plopped himself into a chair and announced, “Dude.  My friends wouldn’t do that for me.  You’ve got some really good friends.” 

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In response, the older one shared how he had been shocked and embarrassed and didn’t know how to react when opening the present.   He had been happy that these friends merely were present.

It was the idea that these boys pooled their resources together and gave a thoughtful gift all on their own.  They couldn’t wait for him to open it and shared these sentiments on their online chatroom.

That mattered more to him than the gift. He had been humbled.

The very next night I found these parents in a high school stadium.  Did they realize what their boys had done?

A mom bluntly shared her sentiments.  She had refused to pay for the gift but if, these boys figured it out on their own, she’d purchase it with their money.  Each of the parents agreed that the money issue wasn’t a deterrent.  They all were encouraged that their sons worked collaboratively to get through obstacles and to selflessly give.

It’s the history these guys share with one another that’s important; their relationships solidifying year-after-year.  I hugged each of the parents and saw the joy mirrored in their eyes; even the dads.

I’d become complacent in my relationships with my fellow humans; believing the worst and losing sight of what is good.  I stayed within the status quo and just did.  I focused on my sons and my family; forgetting about the bigger picture.

But life constantly changes with transitions.  While sitting at a funeral mass for a dear friend’s mother; I heard family members share memories of their beloved.  It wasn’t in the things she gave them that kept this family together.  It was in the relationships she forged with her children and grandchildren, that mattered.  It impacted who they all had become.

Why search for new and better things when the best things in life are steeped in history?  Our evolution as a species, as a people, relies on our ability to navigate through transitions and obstacles and progress.   To pass these traits on to the next generation, I must embody them in myself.

This is the end-goal; to strive to be better.  To change.  To grow.

Being married to the hubs brought many opportunities to experience change.  He brought varying views into my life.  Travel.  Our sons.  He taught me the strength in doing things on my own.  With constant military deployments I was left to my own devices.  And I could weather life’s storms knowing that, even though he wasn’t always physically near, our ideals and values were the same; his love unwavering.

My unlikely partner, quite opposite from myself, has anchored me.  We continue to make history together; hopefully for many more decades.

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On the harvest moon I stood alongside fellow friends, experiencing mooncakes for the very first time and appreciating their endless hospitality.

Life never ceases to amaze me, there are so many new things to learn.  I am open now to new friendships and experiences; stepping out of my box and comfort zones.

I am remembering this gift of hospitality, handed down to me from generations past.  As my birthday came and went I finally realized the greatest birthday gifts I’ve received.  Get-togethers with various groups of friends; just to celebrate being together.  No presents; just presence.

The overbearing mama bear in me is learning to let go.

The eldest son is always the one who’s struggled to find a friend and it was only on his birthday that my worries for his future were needless.  He is capable of finding friends all on his own.  His changes, both physically and emotionally, are okay.  He doesn’t need to reinvent himself or try to conform.

I’m getting comfortable sitting in the passenger seat; ceding control and the wheel to him, to drive.

The waning moon is still bright.  I roll down the windows, hair flying, and enjoy the ride.

 

 

friendships

collecting the pieces

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I recently sat across the table, at my favorite coffee establishment, as my girlfriend shared one of her most vivid memories of me.

I had been speeding on a freeway, late on a Friday night from college, when I realized the flashing lights and siren behind signaled for me to pull over.  I was on the, all-too familiar, drive to my extended family’s home when the death of my father had finally hit me.  Through my blurred vision, I had waited quietly for the highway patrol officer to approach and, after he angrily asked what my problem was, his response had shocked me.   He gruffly asked for the house address I was headed to and commanded that I follow him; this officer escorting me to my family’s home.  I never got the ticket for speeding and driving recklessly.  I had been eighteen.

I blocked out memories from that time of my life; this particular one forgotten.  The tears sprang to my eyes, unbidden, and my girlfriend’s arms had goose bumps.  To my utter surprise, she had never known my father died of colon cancer; almost three decades earlier.

With the ending of the school year, in June,  I found myself choosing to engage in silence; a quiet, meditative retreat.  There were no places my sons had to be and with our relaxed schedule, I slowly began to unwind.  But instead of finding things to do, projects to complete or places to go; I chose to remain close to home.  I have journeyed to many places, enjoy traveling and taking the time to learn the details of my destinations; pouring over maps and guide books.  But I have never taken the time to really understand the place where I live; my so-called sanctuary that I call my home.  I live in these four walls with four other occupants, but how much time do I invest in learning about the things within these parameters?  And so I stayed still, this summer, to come full-circle and discover what lies within my four walls.

I used to think the best summers were spent at beaches, camps or exotic vacations with grand stories for my kids to share when they returned to school in the fall.  These were ideal summer pursuits and made me feel like we provided great memories for my kids.

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What I’ve learned is that it’s not always the destination that mattered.  It was the quality time spent with  family, and people, that created the best memories.

For the past few years I have been finding my way back, to remember where I came from.   I found that I had gotten lost, somewhere along the way, and needed to unlock the things that have shaped me into who I am today.   I kept forging new paths with new destinations to conquer.  But I had never fully walked the journey I had originally been on.

My girlfriend and I stared across at one another; tears in our eyes.  We had barely caught up on our present lives when we, abruptly, ended up in the past.  This memory was a gift; as is her friendship.

The song, 7 Years by Lukas Graham, makes me think back and reflect.  It’s one of my faves.  But the song, Mama Said, is what I hope my sons will remember.

I know which place I’m from
I know my home
When I’m in doubt and struggling
That’s where I go
An old friend can give advice
When new friends only know a half story
That’s why I always keep them tight
And why I’m okay
… I said I’m OK
You know what my mama said
You know what she told me

My favorite summer, at age sixteen, had been when my cousin took me along on vacation with his young family.  To this day, whenever my cousins or I hear the song, “Brass Monkey” by the Beastie Boys; our memories fill with winding mountain roads as we traveled the high Sierras to Yosemite, Sequoia and King Canyon.   It was on this trip that my love for the outdoors, truly, was born.

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August 25th was the 100th year celebrating our National Parks.  I hope to someday visit all of them.  I hope my sons, someday, appreciate them as much as the hubs and I do.

These days my sons would rather hold mobile devices, chasing pocket monsters, and roaming the outdoors like walking zombies.  Rarely do my boys choose to hang outdoors with friends; instead choosing to communicate in message chats and Skype.  Our one camping excursion, this summer, has become an annual trip with the girlfriend I’ve known since age four.  Our midpoint, between the two cities that we reside, happens to be at a national park.  Electronic devices are banned once we reach our destination and cell service drops as we ascend the foothills and drive within the redwood trees.

My favorite destination happens to be our car.  It is within the confines of our vehicle that the boys begin to share the tidbits of their lives that, most days, seem trivial.   We listen to various music genres, commenting on what we like and what we don’t.  No earbuds are allowed.  I pondered how to create this same environment in my home.

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Over campfires our sons listened to the tidbits my childhood girlfriend shared of our past.  I am awed by the capacity she has to remember the details.  Her words filled in the blanks from my childhood; the stories priceless.   With both of my parents deceased, it is the memories of my girlfriends that help me piece together who I once was.  She recently lost her own father and we sat silently by the campfire, remembering him.

With knowledge of my past  I can, once again, forge friendships with others as I carry the pieces of me and move forward.   There are always gaps in my puzzle but my new friendships help me fill them in as we continue to journey in the path of life.   I have undergone many transformations from the girl, I once was, some great, some not so much, but those who can look past these things continue to walk alongside.   I do not do a good job of keeping communication lines open but these friends know they are carried with me; a vital piece to my life story.

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My silence has finally been broken.

The memories flood me in dreams at night or in the brightness of day.  I see pieces of my life in my sons as they learn to maneuver their tween and teenage years.  If not for them, I may not have made the effort to remember. 

I know I always have the sturdy shoulders of the hubs; the ones I’ve hugged during the good times, and silently wept and held during the bad.  I want my boys to know that I have their back, and hope that they grow to be decent, respectable men, just like their father.  Their puzzles don’t have to be complete.  It is one of the joys and mysteries of life, to discover the pieces.

It’s for them that I type.  To push through the hype.  To show their mom as an imperfect woman and wife.  And to carry the pieces forward into their life.

 

 

 

 

 

Family

the rests

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had forgotten how to think for myself.

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

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

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I am responsible for my own happiness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I continue to evolve.

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

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

I seek solace in quiet places of beauty.

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

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

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

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

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

I may be poor in wealth but rich in health.

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

 

 

 

 

Family

finding beauty in my own backyard

I sat at the mosaic patio table from years past.

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

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

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

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

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Where had I gone wrong?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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