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  I had countless unpublished drafts as I sifted and sorted, processing the experiences in the month of March.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.

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

Family, friendships, Marriage, Work

Note to self…go for broke

2005

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

2006

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

2007

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

2008

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

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

2010

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

2011

Here it goes, my note to self.

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Dear Ten Years Older Self,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love from your former self

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2012

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

2013

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

2014

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

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

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

friendships

exile and empty gauntlets

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It’s in the month of June when I try to go off-the-radar into self-imposed exile.

It’s in the month of August that I look back and think of all the things and projects I had hoped, in the summer downtime, that I would get done.   Decluttering office files into banker boxes at work and home, organizing kids’ drawers into piles to give away.  Staring at office space filled with junk to be transformed into workable space. Extra pounds upon my waistline from too many family poolside BBQs and campfire s’mores.  I spent a lot of time procrastinating until I reached the critical point where I had to do something; panic mode in full swing.

It can wait until later I told myself, citing that I wanted to spend quality time relaxing during the summer months; Kindle opened in-hand.

I’ll clean house next week so that I spent “quality time” with my sons; avoiding my four walls and being outdoors so I didn’t feel the guilt by looking at them.

Why cook? I questioned the hubs as I dragged him to float in the pool after long, hot days of manufacturing bolts at work.

I walked in early mornings; convincing myself that I am maintaining.   The hubs made me step on our new scale to recalibrate it.  I rarely step on scales.  But do weigh scales lie?

The bills and files piled high upon the desks; in view, to remind me to pay them.  Calgon take me away.

My bad mood permeated my Sunday; exacerbated by my guilt of procrastination.  My summer exile had me disengage from everything.  This has been a recent development after people began to disappoint and life became too absorbed doing things for others that didn’t fill my cup.  Usually an optimist seeing my cup as half-full, I began to only feel the emptiness.   And so I went into exile in my tiny bubble.  I sat still allowing myself the time to absorb the bitter pill; taking stock of the things in my life that I needed to re-evaluate.   To forgive.  To let things go.  The hubs, flummoxed by my dour face, finally asked what was wrong with me; to which I replied, I think I don’t like people.   A strong statement from my extrovert self.

I grabbed the cup and swallowed with lots of water; trying to flush away the bitterness in my mouth.  I float away all thoughts, on top of it, in eves in the pool; continuing to empty my cup and drink from the well that never satisfies.  I’m throwing down the gauntlet.  The random but timely email from my childhood girlfriend, a teacher,  says it exactly. 

I’m going back to the dark side…the Ultra Responsible Adult life…gotta run!!

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Reality check.  It’s time to return, to do something about it.  The hubs’ words stung but always ring true.  I appreciated his transparency and concern.  The priest sermoned about eating and drinking from the cup, to taste and see the goodness of the Lord.  Amidst the applause of the congregation my mind rallied, I’m really working on it Lord, trust me…I’m trying.  Right now I’m not feeling it.

I’ve always imagined that clarity comes in beautiful, quiet settings.  But I have experienced many of those things, this summer, and its soothing balms temporarily worked until my return to the every day.  I used music and books to escape the thoughts that churned in my mind; holding me captive.  I physically moved through each morning and night; the routines and ritual comfortable and mundane.   And I’ve revisited the past full circle; returning to the present with childhood and current friends and family alongside.   I must change my mindset.  To remember and believe that people are GOOD.  I am my own worst enemy.

After a year of laying low I am ready to return to the land of the living; to expect good in others instead of questioning motives.   The serene setting happened to be a noisy and packed high school MPR.  Parents worked alongside, fitting uniforms on 239 members of my son’s high school marching band.  After years of parent involvement in my sons’ elementary school I had no intention of serving in other organizations that usurped my time away from our business and family.   I worked alongside the mom who dragged me into the fray; the extra hands needed in an organization so large.  Hours were spent snapping buttons and fitting lengths and when the water was offered, I drank it and felt refreshed.

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I’ve always known that it is in service where my true love lies; my only way to contribute is with time.  It was only when my vision was clouded with thoughts of impressing others or self-affirmation; selfish things, that prevented me from seeing the reasons to why I served.  It used to be that I wanted to be away from the walls of my home, to seek others’ approval; unhappy in transitioning in life on many levels.  My summer of exile only delayed the inevitable.  I’ve realized that I must reside amongst people.  To interact with them.  To immerse myself and navigate amongst them.

It is in relationships that life is lived. 

In twenty-six years of business we know our customers and understand their custom and unique needs.  It is why they remain loyal as our outreach extends beyond our four walls to places beyond where we could have ever imagined.  In a world where price drives markets, customer loyalty is built with relationships.  And so it goes with friendships.  In a world where acquaintances may come and go, transparency and authenticity strengthens the ties that bind.  History is the random variable that can sometimes cloud perspective.  Just because you’ve known someone for a long time doesn’t mean that person is a good friend; the one that continually sips from your cup but doesn’t pour anything back into it.

This month I was forced out of exile; to find my way amongst people once again.

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The one-year old baby was proof of the passage of time.  The last time I had seen my two childhood girlfriends, whom I’ve known since aged nine and eleven, together was at the latter one’s baby shower.  She connected me to the present; the endless hours listening to music and playing on piano keyboards to one of our fave bands at the time, Depeche Mode.  She is the one who remains friends with those from the past; the keeper of knowledge via Facebook.  It is with this same band that, years later, the bff and I were separated in a throng of people and through sheer luck found one another.  And I later attended their concert with the girlfriend from age nine, the bff and the girlfriend I’ve known since aged four.  History.  It is overwhelming.  I am thankful these women have, over the decades, remained and continue to walk milestones with me.

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The traveling girlfriend returned and spontaneously was in my area; months of words unspoken exchanged from our lips.  I sat with my “queens” watching Magic Mike XXL; the hoots of laughter shared in a crowded theater, full.    The early morning walks continue to maintain as better food choices and portion sizes are assessed before annual check-ups.  I rediscover the treadmill purchased over Christmas and decided to step on the scale only on Mondays.

The hubs and I fight for counter space as we plan meals for teens and the ten-year old; providing healthy, non-processed foods to fill their tummies.  Organization returns as the piles of bills are alphabetized and ready to be filed; the next thing on my to-do list.  The empty office space now looms with possibilities.  The stuffed closets and drawers filled garbage bags to donate to our booster organization; raising money for our high school band program.  My girlfriend concocts homemade cocktails and I sit by the backyard fire.

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The drinks keep coming, brimming full.  I take my portion and fill my cup.

Family

nine lives

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I sometimes feel like I’ve lived various lives; ones that are incongruous with the life I currently live.

Maybe this is why cats are my preferred pets.  They are fairly independent and quieter companions.  I like their curiosity and ability to have nine lives.  They always land on their feet.

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I had the thought above as I leapt from a wall into a mud pool.  Sometimes it’s easier for me to not see the bottom; to not know what lies ahead.  As I’ve grown older my curiosity and willingness to take risks has greatly reduced.  Some people call it wisdom.  Part of me thinks it came with motherhood and the ability to put someone else before myself.  And a lot of it is just fear of the unknown.  I have a mental block.

When my girlfriend first pitched the idea to do a mud run I laughed out loud.  She can’t be serious, I thought to myself.  Do I look like I could do a mud run?  But my mind quickly squashed that thought.  Why not?  I work on de-cluttering my life of excuses and things that hold me back.  I can’t do this,  I can’t do that…   When the third girlfriend begrudgingly acquiesced to this challenge we plowed ahead and registered.  And then we promptly chose to forget about it; to think about it on another day.

My father-in-law has a saying that he often shares with our boys and I.

CAN’T never did anything.  You CAN.

I had stood in the throng of participants waiting for the horn to signal the beginning of our run.  Online I gave a percursory glance at our course map and tried not to think of what lay ahead.  I blocked out the fear I have; one that I hoped I wouldn’t have to encounter on the obstacle course.

I have a fear of heights.

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I told myself I had the option to bypass any of the stations that were out of my comfort zone and stood in line at the climbing station that resembled the ropes and netting found on kids’ playgrounds.  With my girlfriends I climbed behind them; not looking down.  When the mud pit wall presented itself they questioningly looked to see if I would opt to skip it.  I knew I had found my second wind when I heard myself yell back to them.  Let’s do it!  And without a second thought I used the marine’s offer to push me up and looked to the murky pool on the other side; straddling the high wall.  Off I leapt.  As I swam through mud I knew;  I would be okay.  My competitive spirit took over and off we went to our next obstacle. Who knew mud would be the reagent to cleanse my mind?

Because in the murky, mucky waters of life you can choose to struggle in it, avoid/opt out of it,  or swim on top of it.  I choose to swim.

As a nine year old I had not been a strong swimmer.  But over the course of my life I have observed and watched others in community pools; knowing I would have to learn.  I was afraid of the deep end but worked hard to conquer my fears as I struggled to stay afloat and dog-paddled.  I watched my friends leap from rocks and diving boards; my fear of heights and depths taking hold of me.  When my firstborn was two months old I joined a YMCA Mommy and Me class.  I told myself it was to teach my son to not be afraid of the water.  But really, it was for me to conquer my own fears.  And years later this same son would save his father’s life at the bottom of my husband’s childhood pool; pushing him up to the surface.

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When my boys took swim classes, and eventually joined a competitive swim team, I actively listened to the instructor’s words.  It was my sons, and husband, who taught me the proper way to swim.  The two strokes hardest for me to learn were the butterfly and, particularly, the breast stroke.   I am still challenged by the butterfly but I have conquered the breast stroke and it is my favorite.  I bobbed alongside the marine in the mud; breast-stroking and chatting about his choice of a spa exfoliation treatment as he back-crawled to my pace.  The race wasn’t really about testing my fitness mettle.  I chose to physically go outside of my boundaries, my multiple intelligences modality being bodily-kinesthetic, to work through my mental ones.

I’ve been mentally stuck for the past few years; not being able to see the forest for the trees.  But my perspective continues to focus on the things that are important and in this season of my life; they move within my space with me.  I always looked elsewhere, never appreciating what lay within my four walls.  I took them for granted.

I stared out at the airfield, as the shuttle returned us to our vehicles, after the race.  The deja vu feeling washed over me; one I had just experienced two weekends before at my parents’ graves in the small coastal town I grew up in.  For sixteen years airfields and military installations had been our home.  The tears welled in my eyes; the deployments and lonely days with young boys remembered and  I smiled at the memory of the homecomings.  I hadn’t known I needed closure of that time in my life and it arrived on an old school bus as we rattled into our parking area.  Caught off-guard I mentally filed this part of my nine lives, letting it go.

Much later when I arrived home the cat had been at the door to greet me as our canine’s squeals announced my arrival.  The other four occupants of my home were in other places and so I quickly changed and headed outside; sitting alone in a warming jacuzzi.  One-by-one they left what they were doing, without any prompting, and sat with me.  Heat and spa jets on I sat quietly, absorbing it all, hoping my mind captured it to memory.  These past few years I’ve been fighting the currents of where I wanted my life to take me.  No longer do I tread water or feel pulled under.  I live this life, my mind clearing, with the four lives that matter.

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Family

missing boats; a day in the life

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Literally running late, I whooshed through my front door at 6:47 am.  My eldest son and hubs exit my door, daily, at 7:03 am.  To my surprise he was awake, fed and packed and was waiting for his father to emerge.  He happily greeted me. “See, I woke up and I’m ready to go!” and I grinned wide in return.  And then I surveyed his outfit of shorts and a polo.  He had a concert festival today and the required dress was formal black with a black tie.  The deer in the headlights look came across his face and he streaked past and up the stairs.  I could hear the drawers opening and closing frantically as he searched for these items.

To this I sighed.

Exiting the den I came upon the youngest.  I cheerfully chirped how grateful I was that he was awake without my usual prodding.  He gave me a long look and informed me that he threw up twice on his bed.  I trotted up the stairs, pushed aside the eldest as he dressed, and found the offending blanket.  At 11 PM last evening this son felt queasy and threw up the contents of his dinner into it.  He rose to tell me but I was sound asleep and his father was working in the garage.  He found a small corner in his bed to sleep on and promptly vomited into his favorite blanket again.  He rolled the blanket in a bundle; deciding to inform me in the morning.

I found myself scraping the offensive puke off this son’s favorite blanket at 7:13am.  I heard the eldest rush out the door; his father waiting in his vehicle in the driveway.  I tried to remind him to get money from his Dad; this son who wouldn’t return home until 7 PM this evening, but the door slammed shut.    I threw the blanket in the wash, washed my hands once, twice and finally a third time and proceeded to make my younger sons’ lunches.  The eldest pounded on the door.  He had forgotten his cell phone.

At 7:23 am I exited from the shower dripping wet.  At 7:33 am we left the driveway.  The overwhelming feeling that came over me, this morning,  was that somehow I kept missing the boat.  I thought I’d been on track for my schedule today.  But it never goes the way I’d planned.  One glitch and it all comes to pieces.

Life happens.

At 5:30 AM I had walked with my girlfriends and was astounded to realize that my perception had been completely “off.”  I had believed others did not share my own point of view but I was wrong.   I had missed the boat.

Last evening as the hubs and I considered what to do with our family for spring break; the memories returned of one of our favorite road trips ever.  After sharing our thoughts on San Francisco at dinner I assumed our middle son’s strongest memory would be of our walk across the Golden Gate Bridge.  He had cried the entire return walk across the bay; his head hurting.  Instead, his memory is of Ghiradelli Square; watching the vats of chocolate churn and fill.  That was the best, Mom!  How could you not know that?

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Last Friday evening I was amongst women listening as they talked of their children; all sitting together in the adjacent room.  Collectively we’ve observed them grow over these last five years; from kids to tweens and currently teens.  The social dynamics have changed dramatically and I think of my eldest; the introverted one who was anti-social.  I, his extreme extroverted opposite,  constantly fretted over his social interactions; hoping to guide and teach him how to maneuver amongst his peers.  It has only been in recent months that his true character was revealed; catching me by surprise.

I had forgotten the capacity for people to “step up;” when outside their comfort zone.  I had assumed my son would sit quietly in a corner; disengaged.  But he, too, surprised me.  He is much more assertive and social than I ever had been at his age; his maturity manifesting.  No longer do I harangue and guide. In accepting his nature and allowing him to be true to who he is; he has emerged confident and independent.  It is okay to not be like everyone else; to fit the mold.

We need to find our uniqueness and explore it.  To give our dreams and thoughts a place to take flight or free-fall.

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I had come to this conclusion with my son and he now blossoms.  He has blazed the trail so that his younger brothers can grow.  So that it is easier, as a parent, to let go.  To trust and accept exactly who each of them are so they can be authentic to themselves.

My assumptions have proven me wrong.  I have missed the boat many times and I realize now, that it is okay.  I am only responsible for my own thoughts and actions.  No longer am I tethered to what others think, how I appear, or the works I’ve done.  My kids, my clothes, my affiliations cannot reflect who I am.

I must do that all on my own.  I must just be me.

I had been surprised by the invitation that arrived in late February; a milestone party to celebrate my girlfriend.  In late 2000 I had joined our local hospital’s Mommy and Me playgroup; these women my introduction to motherhood.  All of us were first time mothers and each week we intently listened as we discovered our infants’ firsts together.  My girlfriend had been our ringleader; initiating social gatherings of six of us, moms, in her home.  Our kids had all been born in September, five boys and one girl.  This was the one thing we had in common.

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The time flew and our young family was transferred to our next duty station.   Our only contact with one another was the annual photo Christmas cards that journalled the growth of our kids.  Only recently, via Facebook, had we been reconnected.  It had been years.

The hubs and I walked towards the hall filling with people; none of whom we knew.  Would she recognize us?  Would we know her?

We found ourselves engulfed in hugs with the two couples we haven’t seen for oh so long.  The tears silently fell as we caught up.   One had recently been hospitalized, the other continues to fight a rare soft tissue cancer. But the words of apology had caught me off-guard.  This girlfriend, too, lost her mother to Alzheimer’s; years after I had lost my own.    We’re sorry we weren’t there for you; that we let you down.  They had been unable to comprehend my life and through the years had carried the guilt with them.

How had I missed the boat again?  I had never felt that way about them; their assumptions all wrong.  And as I looked across the table, tears glistening, they filled the gaps in my memory I had tried to forget.   I was grateful for their perspective and lasting friendships for almost fifteen years.

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I no longer will make assumptions.  I must speak my words loud and clear.

Our seasons of motherhood are changing as our children grow up and away.  Our views of our selves are evolving as life throws wrenches in our paths and we step over or around them.   I am learning to pick up the wrench and fling it out of the way as I confront the things I didn’t acknowledge; years before.  It is fitting that this girlfriend’s birthday lies on the solstice of spring and we were happy to celebrate her milestone together this past weekend.

And at 3 PM, just prior to a meeting, a phone call arrives.  Can you send me product by 7:30 AM next day, Eastern Standard Time?  To our shock the caller was completely serious and sent a courier to bring our product to a commercial plane to deliver the goods.  The hubs decided he wasn’t going to miss this boat and frantically worked to get the job done. Off our bolts flew, into the night, to arrive at the job site the very next morning.  The company had found us on the worldwide web.

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By 6:15 PM the cell phone was on 3% battery and the middle son called from home.  The youngest was asleep on the couch, the eldest at a concert festival.  This son had diligently worked on homework and emerged from the den.  I’m ready for dinner, where is everyone else?

And at 6:30 PM, eldest-in-tow I arrived to a messy kitchen with cut-up strawberries, empty yogurt containers and kiwi peels; this son creating smoothies.  Yours is in the fridge, Mom.  Grateful I sat and gulped it down, the youngest finally waking.  The hubs arrived at 7PM; dinner was eaten and the sounds of trumpet came from the family area.  The youngest grabbed his clean, fuzzy blanket from the dryer and settled in beside me; eyes drooping as I attempted to read my Kindle.  It was 9 PM.  What a crazy day!

But I wouldn’t have it any other way; my family of five busily passing one another like ships underway.  Maybe I do miss the boat, millions of times.  But in standing at the shore I am forced to stand still, to take it all in.  Deep cleansing breath.  Ready for another day.

Uncategorized

own it

Dance & Sing ’89!

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When my girlfriend asked me to join her for a hike, I envisioned a hot, dusty trail; the sun beating on my back.  I placed the cap upon my head, wrapped my hoodie around my waist and packed the ice water in my Jansport backpack.  I had slept lightly the night before but I knew a hike early in the morning would refresh my senses and clear my mind of the worries lurking beneath the surface.

I promptly walked through her front door and my girlfriend asked if I had brought a heavier jacket.  She was afraid I would be cold.  It was then that I took note of our fellow hiker; dressed in Patagonia cold gear pants, the heavy duty jacket and backpack and hiking poles.  It was determined that I would return home to quickly change into more weather appropriate clothes.  During the short five minute drive to my home I contemplated bailing from this excursion.   It was not what I had had in mind on this leisurely morning.

just. like. life.

I fought the train of thought of canceling on this hike.  I reminded myself that I wanted to step outside of my four walls to the world beyond.  To open my eyes to new adventures and opportunities.  To fight the inner dialogue of excuses and I can’ts and nos.  I am fortunate to have choices to make.

I can.  I will.  I do.

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Two hours later, as I hiked a series of steep switchbacks, I began to still my thoughts.  Initially I took the hills quickly; wanting to get them over with.  But the hill continued to climb with no plateau or respite in sight.  I shared with the girls how my heart raced and they admonished me to keep it slow and steady.  There was no rush.  I had nothing to prove.  I had to remember the altitude.  Rushing to the destination isn’t the point of hiking.  It is enjoying the scenery, breathing the cold, dry air and tuning the senses to the sights and sounds of the mountain.

I began to internally hum Ravel’s Bolero; walking steadily to the tempo of this classical piece.  Breathe in.  Breathe out.  I blocked out all else. 

There is no greater joy than conquering your own internal fears and negative inner monologue.  I found my second wind; toasty and warm as we came upon the designated clearing.  It was liberating to finally push myself out of my comfort zone.  It took perseverance and mental work.  But knowing I can is the take away from my hike.  I  hugged the feeling of accomplishment to myself.  I own it.

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I have come to a place where I must own my place in this space.  To carefully step past the boulders placed on my path and step out of the rat race.  I can walk anywhere if taken at a slow and steady pace.

A year-and-a- half later we have finally taken the steps to formally take ownership of the family business that has survived almost twenty-seven years.   After transitioning from the world of active duty  military service and a steady paycheck, we had ventured into the great unknown.  A recessed economy.  Our niche as a small business custom manufacturer was hit hard as large corporations and LLCs began to close their doors; losing business overseas.

Thankfully, we are not one of them.

But the thought is never far from the hubs and I’s mind; the worst case scenario.  We weighed the balance between four more years of hardship deployments and how it would affect our three sons.  The hubs felt his time was running out with his boys; the ones who barely saw him.  He made the conscious choice to choose family and take the financial hit.  His father was ready for retirement and his rheumatoid arthritis (RA) wasn’t improving.  Manual and physical labor is not kind to those with RA.  He looked to his son to continue what he started.

Neither of us wanted to own it.

The transition almost, literally, killed the hubs.  It is easy to drown your sorrow and stress holding your breath behind closed walls.  To numb the anger, stress and worry with substances or addictive behaviors.  To close doors and build walls and let the darkness swallow you whole.  I lost my ability to find things good.  We all did.

But these days I have found my internal music…the steady beats and rhythms that remind me why I am here.  The above video is on repeat in my car stereo.  My sons know that, within the confines of my car or home, if there is a song that I like; I crank up the volume and shake it!  LOUD!  In their younger years they would dance with me; holding my hands and twirling about and laughing.  It was recently at my cousin’s wedding that they danced with me, once again.  It had been years.

My boys caught me trying to learn Eden xo’s dance moves in her tutorial video.  O.M.G. Mom!  Seriously?  I come from an extended family that LOVES to dance.  And I am married to a man who would rather be a wallflower than be on a loud, pulsing dance floor.

The slogan, “Dance & Sing ’89” was on my car’s license frame during my junior and senior years of high school; acknowledgment of my participation in songleading and band.  It reminded me of a place outside my home where, within its four walls, my father was slowly dying of colon cancer.  I consciously looked at the license frame each day to remember to move forward; to push towards the future.  It was the wish my father had wanted; in stark contrast to the dark and lonely places at home.   Recently, while digging through old albums I found the yearbook photo (above) that my girlfriend had taken during a varsity football game.  In yearbooks I signed and penned my license frame slogan; belying the dark sadness that always resided in my heart and mind.

Life moves in forward motion.  Papers are filed, accounts close and open.  The hubs has finally completed his remaining military years in the reserves for retirement.  Twenty.  The  business is ours.  New opportunities and failures lurk around the next corner; unseen.  But I need to continue to step out; to be able to discover these things for myself.  I need to dance to my own music and fully reside in the present life that I live.

I have only one life.  This is it.

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I crank the bass and feel it thump.  I am the lone person upstairs and the floor is vibrating with energy.  I fasten my attention to the music in my soul.  Some days the notes clash and are disharmonious but my composition is already written.  Now I just need to push forward to the next bar.  I still can create a masterpiece.  I move forward to my slow and steady beat and own it.

 

 

 

 

Family, Work

presently making fasteners

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As we drove home in our vehicle I debated if I should even voice the question aloud.  But I had to know and I inwardly cringed as I found my voice and turned to the rear of the car.

“So, um, if family ask me what you guys want for Christmas; what should I tell them?”

The boys noisily climbed out of the SUV and settled upon our kitchen table as the aromas of our breakfast settled around us.   I thought they hadn’t heard me but between bites the eldest said the words I thought I’d never hear.

I have everything I want, Mom.  I’m good.

Shocked I glanced to the hubs on the opposite side of the table as the youngest son echoed the same sentiments.  The middle one ate quietly; nodding his head.  Thinking I had heard incorrectly,  I rephrased my question.  It was then that the middle one finally answered.

I guess if people need to get us something, we can always use clothes.

That was on Sunday.  Black Friday had passed without a second thought.  There had been nothing I felt the need to buy; a vast departure from years prior.  When Cyber Monday arrived I told the hubs to search online for deals; for anything he felt we needed.  Most times these two days arrive and we buy in flurried frenzy.  We tell ourselves we are buying for others; but really we are looking for deals for just ourselves.

Did I finally arrive?  Have I finally reached my holiday destination of simplicity?

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I know that the above thought probably will be tested and eventually, the consumer, materialistic me will emerge.  The holiday shopping season helps drive our economy.  As small business owners we know this; need this for our survival.  If people don’t buy product then we have no business to manufacture.  Nada.  We definitely need a robust season to bring our economy’s financials into the black.

After Sunday breakfast the boys debated various consoles; valiantly trying to think of something to want.  They argued the pros between XBox One and PlayStation 4;  neither of which they’d use since they are online PC gamers.  Tablets or toys, Nah!  I listened to the nine year old; the son that is more adult than any of his older brothers were at that age.  When they had been nine there were lists of things they wanted.  With googly eyes he brazenly asked if he could have a phone; an answer he already knew would be no.  With a hug and a smile he loped away with the words hanging in the air.

I’m just happy to have you.  Oh, and daddy too.

The present is the gift.  The gift of presence.

After recovering from a very full fall, I spent the Friday after Thanksgiving digging amongst the boxes.  Yes, we are that annoying home that is fully decorated the day after Thanksgiving; the first one on our lane.  This also is a first for us.  In years past the kids were asked to help decorate; to create the Rockwell moment of family merrily decorating for the season.  This year my Christmas elf, aka my youngest, sadly looked up at me as I began to dig through the boxes.

Is it okay if I don’t help you this year, Mom?  I usually help you every year.

Weirder still, I was okay with that.  I don’t want to force joy and cheer upon my family when it is not sincere.  I want them to do the things they do because they want to.  Decorating should not be a chore.  Gifts should not be a requirement.  I’m done with buying, just to buy.  I want things to have meaning, for people to be authentic.  I’m tired of being blinded by the glitter of grand expectations.

I appreciated the youngest’s honesty.  It allowed me to appreciate it more when the middle one decided to join me; the one that rapidly grows.  For three hours he teased my short stature as he placed ornaments high upon our tree and hung lights above my reach.  When the hubs ventured outdoors to put the lights up; the eldest chose to help him without prompting.  Much later, the youngest willingly assisted as I struggled with branches; his two hands steadying the base.  These are the gifts I gladly receive.  Presence.  Without the distractions of buying and completing lists I could truly enjoy some time, here and now, with my sons.

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As we replaced the boxes in the storage shelves in the garage; the hubs noted they were not empty.  I decided not to put all of the ornaments out; paring down.  The de-cluttering mentality has permeated my life in ways I had not imagined.  No longer do I wish to accumulate things to show that I have.  These days, what I have is just enough.  There are still things that I want versus the things that I need.  I am learning to let things go, slowly but surely.

Have I arrived?  Hardly.  I’ve only just begun.

Sunday evening, amidst the twinkling of lights, I finally finished reading Katrina Kenison’s memoir as she traverses middle age.  I’m not far behind as her written words foreshadow what is yet to come.  I began to realize all that I currently take for granted.  I can still count all of my family of five within my four walls.  Someday soon these sons will emerge into life; leaving the hubs and I behind.  I have continued health and mobility.  Eventually age will physically mark us; teaching us to rely on others.  Pride and self-sufficiency were values of youth; compassion, humility and the ability to ask for help will be harbingers of our future.   We must cultivate relationships.  It is these bonds that define us.

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From our building front door I gazed at the gray landscape; the leaves of autumn strewn upon the wet ground.  I contemplated the thoughts above in the quiet moment.  Usually this busy street is lined with cars rushing to and fro.  It is rare to hear nothing but silence as I quickly snapped the shot.  A season in my life is changing like the fading leaves on the grass.  I tenaciously kept hold of the branches of the tree; fighting the winds of change.  For a year or two now I’ve felt as if I’ve floated slowly, trying to catch shifts in the current; to sail above and away.  But now I humbly stand on the ground and get my bearings; finally understanding that what I’ve been searching for has really been within me this whole entire time.  I just needed to peel away the layers, to de-clutter, to find it.

Fastener.  noun. “Any of various devices, as a snap or hook and eye, for holding together two objects or parts sometimes required to be separate, as two edges or flaps of a piece of clothing.” Def. 2. Dictionary.com, n.d. Web. 2 Dec. 2014.

I work on holding together the merging edges of my work life with motherhood.  Presently, I continue to custom manufacture fasteners for my mental needs; nuts and bolts to hold the ties that bind.

May you fasten your attention, this season, with quality moments.

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Family

the ugly

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The rhythmic thwacks of our header machine is soothing as I inwardly seethe.  The smoke rises from this beast of a machine.  This motherhood thing…it can get ugly.  Fast.

With an eventFULL week of activity behind us,  I happily put away dishes after dinner last evening.  The house was clean, our family was well fed, with the baked ham in Thanksgiving fashion, and I tidied up for the night.  I had looked forward to curling up in my bed with a wonderful book; finally finding the peace and quiet I craved amongst the frenzy.

And then life happened.  Crying.  Yelling.  Disrespect.  I threw my son out the back sliding door and locked it.  I had established my boundary and could no longer have him in it.

I can count the times in my life journey (three) that I have had to put up my walls; the desperate last resort to keep it together before the banshee unleashes.  Either I exit the premises or the other person is banished.  There is no in-between.

I practice tough love.  To not enable .  To not allow disrespect.  Being a parent entails the ugly as well as the good; the real nitty-gritty of bringing another life into the world.   It is when a person is pushed to their outer limits that they either crack or persevere; when one finds true weakness or strength of character.  I can easily cling to the anger. It is palpable and easy to confront.  It is much harder to forgive; to acknowledge fault and humbly and sincerely give apology.  These are uncompromising character traits that must be instilled, to create caring and contributing adults.  It is this that I want my children to understand.

My line is drawn.  But amongst the tension I am grateful.  Thankful that I am still here to bear witness; to guide, as painful as it may be.   It is a difficult path to stumble upon, alone, as I did in my formative years.  As I take deep cleansing breaths I pray for wisdom.  I do not wish to be the picture perfect mother who can calmly rationalize with my sons.  It is my life’s work to be authentic; to bring things down to the simplest common denominator.

Just this weekend a parent shared her story; how she parented four children.  As she cared for a ninety-five year old parent, ran a restaurant and worked part-time in the medical field she was thankful for her independent eldest daughter.  She drove an hour to the highly acclaimed magnet school, ran cross-country and achieved high academic success.   She was accepted at her first choice university, attended the top medical school in the country and currently is a third year resident in a local hospital.  The mother, busy with life, urged her daughter to work hard, to dream big.  And she did.

It was only when this mother cleaned her eldest daughter’s bedroom, when she went off to college, that she found a heavy box beneath her bed.  A box full of newspaper clippings, medals,  honors and things the mother barely recalled.  As she touched each item the tears flowed; the pride of having her high achieving daughter ripped away as she realized how much she had missed; how much her daughter had not told her.  I was astounded this mother told me this story; the first time meeting her in a crowded football stadium.  Since this discovery she has been involved with her remaining three children; the eldest bitterly envious of her siblings.   I was thankful this story was not my own.

I pondered why she had shared this with me but later she made it abundantly clear as she gazed at my younger boys; huddling in the cold.  Do not make this same mistake.  Hear your children and enjoy them.  It goes by so fast.  When life gets busy, create the time and make them a priority.

Amongst forty plus parents, the next day, this same sentiment was shared by upperclassmen dads as our fall competitive season comes to a close.  It just seemed like yesterday that my son came through these doors and soon he will be leaving them.

With young infants and toddlers I first read a parenting book about the stages of motherhood.  I imagined my boys years ahead in time; how life would become easier.  It is only now that I realized the true “take away;” to stop living in the future or past and to plant yourself firmly in the now.  For the past year I believed that if I cut out the busyness of life that I would have more quality time.  But this is easier said than done.  Life is always busy and there is always something more to be done.

It is bittersweet, this parenting journey.  But it is also one of the most rewarding opportunities given to us in our short and humble lives.  To wield our authority with love and involvement; to guide our kids to physically and mentally grow.  To flex and accept change and transition.  Just as the header strikes a blow to the cold, hard steel to create the hex head on the bolt; so it is that life beats us down to create something better.    The coil of anger is straightening itself out.

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The underlying foundation of parenting  must consist of love, respect, humility and faith. 

We must love ourselves and our neighbors.  We must respect people’s space, beliefs and the rules and laws that govern our lives.  We must be humble and giving in our walk; to care for those less fortunate and forgive those who disrespect.  We must have faith and community; to believe there is something outside of ourselves; a greater good.

The true trick to master, in this crazy time of parenthood, is to walk alongside my sons; to embrace the frenzy.  It is not realistic to carve out special time to create quality.  Every single moment spent should be quality…not imagining the perfect time and space where that can be achieved.  This is an unrealistic expectation.  I am finally discovering that I must seek the simple and mundane details and see the beauty in each.  To lovingly watch my youngest fiddle with tying his shoes.   To inwardly smile when the eldest is stressed and disorganized; bumbling about.  To patiently await for the middle son to “get” his homework assignment and silently cheer for him when he finally does.

I glance at my cracked-tile in a different light and a softened focus.  I imagine the hardwood, unblemished floors.  What good would they be without others to trod on them?  I will have plenty of time for peace and quiet when my children are long gone from my four walls.  But for now I walk on, treading lightly as I let the anger within dissipate.   I don’t want to find the heavy box underneath the bed with all the things I missed.  I will trod amongst my messy life and home, frenetic schedule and immerse myself.  To be present.

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It gets ugly, to lead by messy example.  But the beauty lies within.  I am slowly finding it.

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.