Friday, December 30, 2011

No resolutions!

Complete and total credit for this idea goes to my old friend and amazing author, Liza Palmer.  Recently on Facebook, she pointed out that we’re always so hard on ourselves with the New Year looming, and we all try to make resolutions to correct whatever we’ve done wrong during the year.  Instead, she suggests, why don’t we celebrate the things that we’ve accomplished during the year that’s about to end?  Whoa…what a concept.


  • On January 13, 2011, I began this blog. I’ve loved to write as far back as I can remember.  As a matter of fact, I recently found a story I’d written for my father when I was about 8 or 9, titled, “The Cat Who Meowed Backwards”.  This poor cat expressed itself by saying, “Woem.”  I digress.  I have journals that go back to age 10.  I have a folder of little essays I wrote in college on my word processor.  I’d never done anything with any of it. I was always too scared to let the personal information that is my writing out into the world.  It felt risky to me, as some of the things that I have written about are pretty raw, and some of the people in my life may not fully appreciate it. However, after losing my father, I got the guts to just try it.  I don’t know if anything will come of it, but people are reading what I write now.  Just a handful, perhaps, but that wasn’t the point.  The point was to no longer be afraid to put myself out there, and I’m not anymore.  This has been huge step for me.  I also submitted something for the first time, an essay contest for a major magazine.  I won’t know until January if I even got an honorable mention.  Sure, it’d be amazing to win, but I do not think that my life is THAT charmed. It was more a bravery thing for me, sending a very personal bit of myself out into the stratosphere, to have total strangers read. We shall see.
  • This year, I’ve learned to authentically set up  much-needed boundaries with people in my life.  Pedestals have been toppled, and they were very much overdue. I went through some very painful, hurtful stuff this year, but have come out better for it on the other side.  It’s interesting to me how pain affects different people.  Everyone experiences heartache and loss.  I’ve seen some people internalize it and shut people out completely, or turn to self-destruction, or lash out horribly at people they care for.  Conversely, I’ve seen other people experience horrible pain, and turn it into something good. Strength, confidence, generosity, and gratitude…these are all things that can come out of pain. I can’t say that I’m one of these perfect self-actualized people who have gained nothing but positive things out of painful experiences, a lot of it sucked!  There were some months in 2011 that I don’t ever want to re-live, but now I can accept how completely essential and necessary it was that I experienced it. I do feel stronger, and I am most definitely more grateful for the life I have than I had been before my conflicts happened.
  • This could easily be tagged onto what I’ve written above, but I want to separate it. I learned to let crap GO.  No one has done everything perfectly, there is no flawless parent or childhood.  I’d be lying if I said I’ve learned to never go back and dwell on the past, but I’m getting a lot better at not going there.  Forward.  Let’s go forward.
  • Spring was rough, and two souls left this earth way too soon.  One was a very close family childhood friend, and his service was brutal.  I feel as though I’m still processing it.  He was 40, and he shouldn’t be gone. Another was also way too young, and the circumstances were tragic.  What I learned from both of these losses was both substantial and meaningful.  The most important thing I learned is that being there for people when they need you is a no-brainer.  There is no meeting more important, they can be rescheduled. There is no plane ticket that’s “too expensive”, that’s what credit cards are for.  When people you love need you, you GO.  I’m so very glad that I did, in both cases. Through this loss, I reconnected with one of my oldest and closest friends.  We hadn’t lost touch, per se, but our lives are just so different that months would go by without us talking.  We didn’t know as much about each other’s day to day lives.  Now we’re in touch nearly every day, and it’s been a total Godsend, for both of us. We’ve both gotten stronger, and learned a ton from each other.  I’m proud of that.  Tell people how much you love them, and do it TODAY.
  • This summer, I finally passed my exam for my LEP license.  This stands for Licensed Educational Psychologist.  I’d taken the exam the year before, and FAILED IT.  That somewhat leveled me at the time, as it didn’t even occur to me that I could fail it.  It’s not as though I hadn’t studied, and I consider myself to be very good in my profession.  In any case…some humility was undoubtedly good for me.  I studied again this summer, pretty damn hard, and passed my exam.  Whoo hoo!  More silly letters to put behind my name! 
  • Also this summer, I had the longest vacation I'd had in 7 years. I had six whole weeks off, three of which I had to myself, as my kids were back in school.  This was unprecedented.  We didn’t take any major vacations, or travel anywhere.  I spent a lot of time out by the pool, listening to music and reading.  I wish I could pinpoint the day, but there was a DAY this summer that I was just hit with all of the blessings I have in my life.  It was like a ton of bricks.  Several song lyrics played a part in this realization, as did the time I had to reflect on the people we’d lost.  All of the sudden it just occurred to me…I not only love, but I really like my husband.  My children are healthy and smart, and are lovely people.  We live in a nice house in a safe neighborhood.  I’m healthy.  I have a meaningful, albeit stressful job in which I know I'm helping people. I have amazing, loyal, wonderful friends. This is HEAVEN.  I feel like I regained my ability to enjoy myself. I learned how to laugh again, and not just a chuckle.  This year I’ve had more stomach aching, tears streaming, not breathing laughter fits than I can count. It’d been quite awhile.  I truly feel as though God and my father's spirit flipped a switch in me, and everything became more vivid.
  • This year, I was able to rediscover how much I love going to concerts, and not just Justin Bieber this time!  I saw Sade in Oakland in August with my dear friend from college, and enjoyed myself more than I had in a very long time. We’re going to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers in February, a band I’ve loved since I was 19 years old.  I am more than happy to curtail the shopping for clothes in favor of going to see amazing artists play.  It’s just totally worth it.  Experiences are more valuable than stuff
  • This year, I got three tattoos.  Holy smokes, were all of these this year?  It appears that this was indeed the case. I got an West African symbol that means "God is King" with the word "love" beneath it in my dad's handwriting, an angel on my back/shoulder, and a quote from a play/movie on my ribs.  This will dismay many.  Sorry, y'all.  It was something I wanted to I did. Am I having a mid-life crisis?  Maybe a little one.  I'm having fun though, so I don't really care.
  • Last month, I celebrated 15 years of marriage. Yes, this is a great milestone, but what makes it even cooler is the fact that I genuinely enjoy my husband’s company.  Yes, he’s an amazing dad and incredible cook, but he also makes me laugh my ass off.  We have so much fun doing ordinary, stupid things, like going to Costco. We find humor everywhere.  He’s gotten my crazy, crabby self through the last two years of my life, no doubt about it.  We took a cruise to the Caribbean for our anniversary several weeks back and we had an absolute blast. We snorkeled at all three islands we went to, and saw the most amazing fish ever, it was like being in Finding Nemo.  However, the highlight for me were the adolescent sea turtles we got to swim with in St. Thomas.  The turtles are old enough to be away from their mothers, but are still in a protected cove and aren’t full grown yet or ready to venture out into the open ocean.  They calmly graze on the sea grass that grows on the bottom like tiny cows, and then surface every once and awhile to take a breath.  They’re used to people, and they aren’t really scared. More than once, a little turtle head would pop up a couple of yards away from me, and I'd want to greet them, “What’s up, homie?”  They’d look around and then swim back down, as gracefully as angels.  I’m proud to say that I’ve had the opportunity to swim with sea turtles twice in my life now.  It’s one of the coolest things I have ever done, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who is able.
  • I continue to be in total awe of my children. I have no idea what we’ve done to deserve them, but we are lucky as hell. I don’t consider either of them to be accomplishments of mine.  Regardless, they continue to be ridiculously brilliant jewels in my life that fill me with a level of joy and love I never knew was possible.

Over the past few days, when I’ve been thinking about 2011 as a whole, it’s seemed pretty rough.  It’s a year that I was thinking that I wouldn’t be that sad to see end.  However, when inspired to look at it through this lens, my perspective has changed. This year was really important in my life.  I got to do some incredible things, and accomplished some major things, both internal and tangible.  Everything is a lesson, and I’m incredibly lucky.

Happy New Year’s to all, and God bless.  2012, bring it on!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

My Incredible Girl

My beautiful first born turned 11 a couple of days ago.  The kind of young lady that she is turning into is difficult to put into words.  I suppose I’ll start with the typical, braggy stuff that parents who get on my nerves tend to do in excess.  Let's just get that out of the way.

Madeline is in the 5th grade and has all A’s.  She scored fantastically on the state academic tests. She recently received an award at the district level for a poster she designed in our district’s attendance campaign.  She’s a Girl Scout.  She’s in student council. She’s currently a brown belt in karate and has recently taken it upon herself to try out for the basketball team, and made it.  These are all wonderful things, and I’d be lying if I said that these accomplishments didn’t fill me with pride. However, these accomplishments are far from the most amazing things about her, or the most precious. 

My daughter is fearless.  I have no idea where her confidence has emerged from, but it’s truly wonderful to behold.  This child had never seen a game of basketball in her life, as her father and I aren’t really sports enthusiasts.  She didn’t know the rules of the game, she had no idea how it’s played.  However, she called me on my cell phone one afternoon and asked if she could try out for the team at her school.  I thought to myself, “Sure, she should be given the chance.  She probably won’t make it, but that would be a good experience for her as well.”  Well, she made the team.  They haven’t played a game yet, and she bellyaches a little about the workouts, but she’s sticking with it.  I have no idea if this will become something she loves, but the point is that she wasn’t scared to try. When she was in 1st or 2nd grade, she took part in a school wide fund raising run.  It was just around the track on the campus, nothing marathon worthy or overly challenging.  However, while she was running, she tripped and fell flat on her face.  As a result of her fall, several children ran over her while Mike and I stood on the other side of the field and watched. She was a little thing, probably 7 years old.  Did she stop and run across the field to us?  Nope.  She did cry, as she legitimately got hurt.  However, she stood up, dusted herself off, and kept running, finishing the run with tears streaming across her face.  This child is not afraid of anything, and has this incredible perseverance.  First time snorkeling at age 8?  Not a problem, she dove into the ocean with her daddy and saw everything there was to see.  When I was 10 and 11 years old, I remember feeling afraid of everything.  I’ve spent a good portion of my life thinking of all the reasons why I shouldn’t try new things.  I truly have no idea where this fearlessness of hers comes from.

My daughter is a rule follower and has a crazy, intense sense of right and wrong. Sometimes she takes it too far, but I admire her steadfastness in this area.  While at the movies for her birthday, she walked down a couple rows to inform me that her friends would not stop talking.  I reassured her that it was still the previews, and it would be fine.  When the movie was over, she and another friend came up and informed me, outraged, that someone in front of them had been recording the entire movie on their phone.  “Should we call the police?” they asked.  Well, no.  I doubt that a pirated copy of the newest Chipmunks film, shoddily recorded from the back row would give the police a major cause for concern.  They have bigger fish to fry this time of year. Recently, she came home from a neighborhood birthday party that she attended with her little brother.  Another party guest, an 8 year old, said something incredibly inappropriate to her, of a sexual nature.  She was upset when she came home, and told us about it immediately.  We asked how she handled it, and she said that she told him he was too young to be speaking that way, and told the adult in charge.  I told her she handled it perfectly.  She said, “I don’t get it.  Why does he even know what that is, he’s only 8!”  I explained that some parents don’t care what their kids watch on TV and don’t take the time to teach them appropriate manners.  She shook her head in dismay and said, “Well, I’m sure glad that YOU guys did!” 

My daughter is an entrepreneur and is incredibly creative. Her love of animals has been there since day one, and that may be one thing she’s gotten from me.  But she’s taken it a step further.  She decided to start her own pet-sitting service, and has business cards, t-shirts, and a hat.  She designed the logo and the cards herself, in addition to her company slogan, “Making your pets happy, one paw at a time.”  She has a few clients.  When she helped to dog-sit for a good friend of mine and was finished with the job, she didn’t just leave a bill, she left a behavioral chart!  This chart had how the dog behaved, illustrated by happy faces, what the dog’s activities were, and what he ate and drank, as well as how much.  It cracked me up, but also left me in a state of awe.  Yes, I use behavioral charts and plans at work all the time, but I rarely bring those home or talk about them.  She came up with all of this on her own.
My daughter has incredible faith and compassion.  With this, I’m not even sure where to begin.  Regarding the faith, we’ve taken her to church since she was a baby. However, we don’t force it down her throat.  I’ve always felt strongly about laying the foundation with our children, but ultimately they need to come to God in their own way.  It’s a personal thing, and it’s our job to expose them, share our own experiences, and encourage them to share theirs.  As adults, it will be up to them to ultimately decide what they believe and how they’ll lead their life.  However, at least so far, Madeline gets it. She prays, she thinks a lot about people who have less than she does, and she wants to make the world a better place.  She recently went on an excursion with her girl scout troop to bring food to a needy couple.  The couple was elderly, and only spoke Spanish.  The wife was incredibly appreciative, and told them all that she thanks God for the girls.  Once that was translated into English, Madeline burst into tears.  Several months back, she wanted to volunteer at a concert our church was involved in, which is helping to build and fund a home for girls rescued from sex trafficking.  She is mature for her age, and does understand what that is.  When the songs were performed and a video was shown, she cried buckets and absolutely CLUNG to me.  On the way home, she kept saying, “I don’t understand why anyone would want to hurt a little girl.”  I explained that most people who do that are sick, and were probably hurt themselves at some point.  Without missing a beat, she said, “Then we should pray for them too, right?”  I was absolutely floored by this.  “Yes, honey.  They need it to.” About a month ago, she shared with me that a friend of hers was having a hard time with her parents being divorced.  In addition to this, her friend shared that her father was gay, and wanted to know if Madeline thought that was “weird.”  Madeline asked her if her daddy was a good man and if he was nice to her.  The answer to this was “yes.”  She replied, “Then it doesn’t matter if he’s gay. My Poppa was gay, but he was a good daddy.  All that matters is that your dad loves you.”  WOW. 

This morning, I’m sitting around in my pajamas, kinda crabby for my own reasons.  She approached me a little while ago and said, “Am I old enough to volunteer?”  Of course you are!  She talked about helping at the animal shelter, or taking clothes to kids who don’t have enough.  We have to plan for this, I explained, we can’t just show up at the SPCA or grab a bell for the Salvation Army.  I promised her we would figure something out.  She said, “I just keep getting the feeling that I’m supposed to help.  I wake up in the morning thinking about it.”  WHERE did this child come from??

This is not to say that she isn’t the typical pre-teen. She does her fair share of whining, rolling her eyes, and bursting into inexplicable moody tears.  She tortures her younger brother.  She complained at length when I wouldn’t let her download music onto her new Ipod that’s unfamiliar to me without previewing the lyrics first.  “God, mom!  I’m 11 years old, I can handle it!”  Mmmm, no you can’t.  I’m doing my job, and don’t need you listening to filth any sooner than you need to.  Soon enough, this editing of her life and protecting her from things will start to wane.  I won’t be able to control everything, my days are numbered in a way. 

In my profession, I always attribute a child’s success to their parents and their teachers.  It’s a natural thing, and I say it with total conviction.  However, when it comes to our own child, I’m less sure.  She HAS had top notch teachers, and I know that’s helped tremendously.  We have a wonderful extended family.  However, is she this incredible creature because of us?  It just can’t be. At 11, I was smart, I was mature…that’s about where I see the similarities ceasing.  I had no confidence, motivation, leadership skills, or creativity. I was generally afraid of most things and always confused about the world around me. Thus far, we’ve managed to raise a girl who is the exact opposite. I can't even imagine what she'll become as she grows older. Our job for the next decade or so will be to support her in all of her endeavors and to try to make sure she has as many opportunities to try new things as possible, while keeping her grounded.  

I don’t know what we did to become blessed by this girl, but I’ll accept it!  I don’t take it for granted, and I thank Jesus every day for my beautiful girl.  There is no better gift than that.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

My cruise-inspired health epiphany.

We've just returned from a week long cruise to the Caribbean for our 15th anniversary. Well, we haven't returned, we're actually sitting in the Miami airport at the moment. I'd never been on a cruise and had no idea what to expect exactly.  I'd pictured a lot of overweight, glutton-ready Americans, stuffing their faces and hanging out in the casinos.  They were there for sure, but the variety of people was truly interesting and they were from all over the world.  The difference between American body image and seemingly, the rest of the globe, definitely stood out.  Guess what?  People don't give a crap what you look like.  There were some truly beautiful, perfect looking people, both on the ship and the ports.  However, most of the people looked like...people.  Fat and skinny, tan and pale, old and young. And not one of them was looking cross eyed at anyone else.  If they were, they were pretty damn discreet about it. There were a few women there sporting  g-string bikinis that at least I would think were ill advised. In fact, I find g-string bikinis to be uncalled for in general, but who am I to judge? The European idea of beauty and what is acceptable is clearly different than our screwed up American culture. Hell, I don't even know that all those people were European, I just know they weren't American.

I will admit that the food available and the eating that took place on the ship was mighty impressive. There were people who appeared to never become full. I only over-ate on one evening, at the Japanese joint on the ship. The seafood was fresh and drenched in garlic and butter and soy sauce and I couldn't help myself. I still left that evening feeling guilty that I didn't finish all my scallops. That night, I did feel sick from eating too much, but that was the only time. I ate more than I do at home, but mostly because of the convenience and the time that was available. Overall, I ate until I was full and then I stopped. That wasn't so hard. It'll be interesting to see what the scale says when we get home tonight, but I  don't think I gained much weight, if any. I eat well at home, and in a healthy manner. That is something I'm proud of, and fast food and lots of sweets taste horrible to me now. I'm also incredibly blessed to have a husband who makes amazing meals for us, so I don't have to try that hard.

Aside from the appearance of the people, what truly became foremost in my mind on this trip was the importance of health. I'm 41 years old now, and while I am indeed pretty skinny at this juncture of my life, I am most certainly out of shape. Granted, I've never been a good swimmer. While on  St.Martin, one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, we were to swim a short distance from our catamaran to the beach and back, if we wanted to go to the beach.  I did.  I had fins, which help a little. Getting to the beach wasn't bad at all, we've had bigger waves in our pool. I still flopped onto the sand, carried by the tiny waves and struggled to get my fins off so I could stand up. When I was able to stand up, I was completely breaded in sand. The beach itself looked like something out of a James Bond movie, but my "beaching" probably resembled a Saturday Night Live skit of a "Bond girl", thrashing about without an ounce of grace. It didn't matter, no one was watching and no one cared. Getting back to the boat was a tad more challenging, what with the four inch surf and all. I, apparently, kick like I'm dying when I swim. Mike likened it to looking as though I was trying to swim across the English channel. I have old friends who have told me that watching me swim is like watching someone throw a cat into a swimming pool. I will admit that another fellow traveler did comment on my swimming prowess with a hearty, "You were KICKING!"  Yikes. This was the calmest, clearest water I'd ever seen in my life, and I had to swim an entire 50 yards. By the time I reached the ladder, I was completely out of breath and huffing and puffing like an asthmatic senior citizen. This is unacceptable. On the same excursion, we were taken to another almost absurdly gorgeous swim spot. A very sweet, largely overweight young woman threw caution to the wind and jumped into the ocean with everything she had. The splash was absolutely immense. But honestly, it was a beautiful thing. She was there to experience this beautiful spot on God's planet and she frankly did not give a rip what she looked like. I admire her. In the pictures taken of us on that trip, I was wearing my bikini top. I am sucking my breath in so much that my ribs stick out. What the hell is up with that? I have to angle my body and suck in my "gut" to appear as cute as possible, apparently. However, I was so worn out by my "swimming", that I couldn't catch my breath for several minutes. What is wrong with this picture?

I'd been thinking over Thanksgiving about how much I take for granted health wise. I'm grateful for every breath that I take with ease after watching my dad struggle with almost every breath for four years. I'm grateful for the ability to walk, as he couldn't near the end of his life. On the cruise ship, we could take the stairs and not wait for the elevators if we didn't want to. The older gentleman in the wheelchair with one leg didn't have that option. Neither could several other passengers we traveled with.  I'm still youngish. I'm not overweight. And yet, I have very little physical stamina. My life at home consists of a whole lot of sitting, in offices, in meetings, on my couch. It's time for this to change. The time to take care of my health is before something goes wrong. I know so many folks who have had to deal with health issues which were NOT their fault or due to any negligence on their part. Unfortunately, they just drew the short straw and have had to undergo surgeries, chemotherapy, and chronic, unbelievable pain. These folks are my age and younger. They have families, just like me. They have careers, just like me. What some of them don't have, is the ability to improve their health, simply by choice and action. This is a choice I do have. It's time to get my lazy ass off the couch and move. I can walk, run, "swim", and enjoy this beautiful life that I've been blessed with. In order to give this life the true honor and appreciation that it deserves, it's time to make the effort to take better care of myself and not let a tiny swim freak me out or bug my eyes out in terror at the mere mention of kayaking. There is absolutely no reason not to. There's a yoga schedule in my car I've been carrying around for about 8 months now. Perhaps now is the time to walk inside.