Learning is not a competition


, , , ,

Comparing myself to others just doesn’t work.

I am moving along after my own dreams and my dreams for my kids. It’s easy because they are all the same. I wish for each to feel such security in love, such safety, that he has the freedom of spirit to follow his heart and be whomever he truly is inside. And in this, I feel so confident that each will be satisfied with the person he finds. That each may give and take love with joy. That each may love himself and the thrill of life as all children, of every age, should.

I have had friends who it turned out were near me simply to get a closer look at the competition. And here I thought we were hanging around together because we both shared the thrill of having kids, of being human, of living life together. I didn’t notice their preoccupation with my accomplishments and those of my children, because I was too busy directing my own life to compare myself with them.

I never thought that when I was talking about my son’s excitement, years ago, at learning to be a keyboardist at an after-school performance program, that it would become cause for jealousy. After all, even I questioned the value of encouraging my son to dream of growing up to be a rock star. It felt great, I thought, that those around me saw the real value in it too. That is, that it was really about celebrating his opportunity to take risks and master something as a young adult, to envision himself as a successful person, not the literal idea of being ‘the best keyboardist ever’. For me, the idea that my son was excited about something and felt an apparent joie de vivre that led him to apply himself and try hard at something, was worth celebrating no matter what it was or how well he’d do at it. It was cause for celebration, not bragging.

And by the way, it’s tough to get me jealous. So many of my dreams have already come true. And when I don’t have everything I want, I go out and get it. I go out and fulfill my own dreams one baby step at a time. I do this by keeping my wants realistic. I get rid of wants like beautiful legs, and a cure for my sugar addiction. They are not worthy goals so I reject them in favor of others I can truly be proud of, like becoming a parent who understands what kids need and putting that before my own needs without denying myself in the process. That’s definitely worth the effort that could have gone into those legs.

Why not be jealous of the fact that I’m turning my life into what I want it to be? It’s not happening to me; I’m making it happen. God gives everyone gifts. Learning how to appreciate them is not a competition. Find your gift and those of your children and go be a star shining brightly enough to help illuminate your life AND mine.

My little girl has always been old for her age


, , , , ,

Teenagers are difficult. You want to help and tell them the answer to the question they ponder, yet the truth is, if you do they turn you off and shut their ears and bound off in another direction in search of the answer you are holding in your outstretched arm.

Our girl had two great job offers this summer, to lifeguard at either the local Y or to lifeguard at a nearby summer camp. It’s a great position to be in but it was complicated by the fact that one looked significantly more challenging than the other. She would be expected to teach swim lessons even though she’d never done that before, and to teach little ones to dive in the water head first. There would be in-service days once a month, weekly staff meetings, a paid week of training before the season began, more hours than she’d had before, and the list goes on. The job at the summer camp sounded like too much. At least to her.

And on top of all that, these were her first real job interviews, ever. At the summer camp she’d been asked many questions, and to her delight had been complimented on the way in which she’d answered, apparently pausing to consider her answers before sharing them. But they wanted to know difficult things like what she’d learned at her last job and who was her role model. What kind of seventeen-year old girl names her mother and then feels free to come home and tell her all about it? Sometimes she seems about forty, mature in her understanding and acceptance of herself, willingly consulting with herself on important matters. Exactly what I would have given an arm for when I was her age. Yet, there is doubt despite the maturity.

We told her we didn’t care which job she took but the better one looked to be the summer camp. It’s too hard, she said. What if I can’t do it? So in the end we advised she do what she wanted, but consider in the process the various adults who felt she could do the harder job. Between the folks who offered it to her on the spot, her references including a family friend who works at the camp, and her parents, I pointed out that there were about seven adults who each believed she could do the difficult job and even hoped she go for it. Keep that in mind when you choose a job, honey.

And I walked away and hoped to God she would realize the opportunity before her, the support she has behind her, and her own ability to put herself right where she needs to be. I told her how I felt and then I left it to her.

She loves the kids, she’s surprised how easy it is to teach swimming and she comes home every day with a smile on her face, learning and growing as you should as a teenager at a summer job. Every bit of this is part of the important lessons you just can’t get any other way.

My television addiction


, , , ,

Have I already confessed to watching American Idol incessantly? I am serious, I collect every show on DVR and then watch it over and over again when I’m home alone.

But it’s more than enjoying the music. I want to see how the winning contestant/artist, who is new at this, gets there. That’s the part I like. I like watching people who are new at trying this thing of singing on television, in front of judges. And truthfully, anyone really good on this show has been singing for years because they indeed do love to do it. It’s that they are new at thinking of themselves as worthy of the opportunity to sing in front of influential people and millions of people.

I like watching this because there is a clear progression from people who are scared and trying it out in the beginning, to those same folks getting comfortable being themselves. I love watching this! I love seeing people get out of their own way to just open their mouths, get into their song, and let it come out. This is inspiring to me, someone trying to do the same thing that I am trying to do in my life, just not in singing. (Alas, I am a terrible singer.) I’d love to get more comfortable writing my story, hearing my own voice in it, being myself and not worrying about what others will think, or what will happen if I show who I really am. I am obsessed with trying to get there. Trying to let go of the hiding that has happened to me.

Growing up I was not allowed to be myself. There was always something wrong with that. I rarely felt I was doing the right thing, and I didn’t often inspire my parents into saying that they were pleased with me. They did not say they loved me and they did not say I was wonderful. I worried about how they felt, but I had no idea how they felt. I had no idea if they even liked me. It was terribly confusing as a kid to be constantly trying to get it right with so little information, so little feedback about anything I ever did that WAS good. I had little to go on about what I was doing right, and plenty of information on what I was doing wrong. I learned to be afraid of being myself. I was actively NOT doing things rather than actively DOING things.

So here I am today trying to figure out still how to be me!

Watching the folks on American Idol try to be themselves, which is what is needed to sing like a rock star, is fascinating for me. I see tiny developments when I watch the show over and over, that tell me the contestants are trying new ways of allowing themselves to ‘be’, as they do not stop themselves or worry about what others will think. Jena is the contestant I saw do this so well this season.

She came on singing music she wrote herself. She got better each week but you saw her stumble trying new ways. Once she even said that some things worked and some did not, showing us that she was challenging herself to try things and forgiving herself when not everything went perfectly. Yet in all that she never lost herself or her ability to sing beautifully. She kept going, kept adding new skills, and in the end she is fantastic! Always being true to herself and allowing herself to show through. I am so proud of her, and simultaneously jealous that she has people around her actively trying to show her how to do it. Encouraging her out loud, and kindly, to do this difficult thing.

I have always wanted that. So I live vicariously through the contestants on this show, not only because they get to sing so well, which I’d love to be able to do, but because they have people around them dedicated to lifting them up and showing them who they are and encouraging them to be bold enough to embrace that and share it.

Mother’s Day re-do


, , , ,

We’ve had a Mother’s Day re-do recently. I didn’t like Mother’s Day that much this year because I spent too much of it crying. Yeah, usually I like Mother’s Day, but this time I wasn’t feeling the love. Not that my kids aren’t good to me, but really, the effort was so low it hurt.

My husband does a great job of making me a super breakfast and showering me with gifts of flowers and such, but maybe because he’s taken on this job, my kids have not felt the need to rise to the occasion. In any case, even though I thought I made it clear that I wanted hard copy photos of my kids in their lives away from me, it didn’t really happen. Somehow it got lost in translation, and on Mother’s Day I had a beautiful computer file of photos from one of my kids and no hard copies from anybody. This is not a big request, folks.

I also asked for the ability to have a five-way Skype-like phone call since we are not living together anymore, and that is what led me to tears. It actually fell to me on that day to figure out how to do it. Yikes. It took an hour for the five of us to ascertain that we could not manage a five-way phone call because of various technical shortcomings in our respective hardware. I was so frustrated at my inability to communicate my desire for the photos, or the phone call, my inability to execute this desire when it fell to me, and the whole ‘lameness’ of the situation we refer to as ‘Mother’s Day’.

So, I called for a Mother’s Day re-do. This time I was definitely explicit about what I wanted. Hard copy photos, please. Many arrived in my hands just days after my breakdown with the kids. This time I wanted more than just a phone call, too. I wanted a real in-person fun day together where it was evident that kids went out of their way to celebrate their mom. I wanted kids to cook a meal for me, sit in the backyard enjoying it, and I wanted to know we have the capability, really this time, of having a five-way call once everyone goes back to college or their lives or whatever.

Given that everyone was poised to make a super looking meal, at my request, I felt free that morning to do something I have always wanted to do. Even though I wanted the kids to cook for me, I got up extra-early and made homemade cinnamon buns complete with a double rising (went back to bed for the 2 1/2 hours of risings) that I served piping hot, to my own delight!

I have failed to insist on being shown the love I know my kids have for me. And I have not adequately taught them how to demonstrate this love. I might have taught them inadvertently to take me for granted. I know my kids just needed me to tell them this. They just needed me to be explicit about my feelings, to let them know that ‘not much’ wasn’t enough, and that I feel I deserve more. I know I deserve more because I have tried hard to raise my kids with love and kindness and thoughtfulness, and even if I haven’t been successful at that, my effort has been stellar.

We had a wonderful day of cooking, eating, and hanging out in the yard. I had the unusual experience of sitting at my own kitchen table really getting to know my sons’ girlfriends, while others cooked. I was a guest in my own kitchen, and I loved it.

I proposed that this be our first annual Mother’s Day re-do, and everyone agreed to make it a re-do on the first try next time.

Silence is a form of hiding


, ,

In my family silence is a form of hiding. You know, kind of going off the family grid and not talking to anyone anymore, feigning disinterest in the ways of the family. Oh, I make it sound deliberate, but really it is a form of fear one can barely help indulging in. It is a form of hiding who one is from behind a wall, scared of being one’s true self, waiting for others to be in contact as some kind of proof that you are valued, even if, illogically you are willing to wait decades. But that’s okay. It is a form of coping that may be the best choice possible.

Paradoxically, I have noticed that the hiders seem to have a high degree of interest in what the rest of the family is doing. So although hiders are silent they are keenly attuned to the goings on of their relations. And it’s easy these days to Google the family member you’ve neglected to speak to for years, to see what they are up to, or follow blogs or Facebook pages or twitter. It is easy to keep tabs on who’s had a legal proceeding or a publication, a problem or a success, without ever having to admit to caring.

I know a little bit about this since my default setting for scare is to shut down and not talk, claiming to myself all kinds of irrationalities. Making all kinds of oaths to myself about what I will or won’t do next time. Convincing myself I am not worth shit. Telling myself words of hate and self-loathing, pressuring myself to do things that feel too hard or too scary. Carrying on the ways of my parents who taught me to regard myself this way, and in turn creating a kind of comfort in such practices. It actually feels good to hate yourself when that’s what mom and dad have taught you to do, be it deliberately or inadvertantly. And so it is hard to break out of such thinking.

And even though I am not guilty of searching for family members online, I know that is what happens. There is a certain kind of glee in being able to have the power of knowing what others are doing without revealing what you yourself are doing. Or what you care about or whether you are okay or not. In not putting yourself out there yet reaping the benefits from others who do.

It’s a form of coping. A way, learned in youth I am pretty sure, that keeps one safe from people who might hurt you with the knowledge of what you care about, of what you do, or where you go. It’s a way to protect yourself.

It’s a tough way to live, hiding all the time. Being out of touch and keeping silent to feel safe. But I understand. I really do. It’s what you have to do to get by.

Living my life through my kid


, , ,

Today I told my daughter I was concerned that I might be living my life vicariously through her. Because that’s a thing. You can do that. And I really don’t want to.

It stems from the idea that I want her to be fully informed about her choices in life, as a teen, since there are so many opportunities for teens, and for students, that go away when you grow up. School groups are always getting free looks behind the scenes at the quarry or the theatre or the kitchen of a restaurant. You can shadow people in their jobs as a student, and there are plenty of things kids get to do that grown-ups are not allowed to do so freely.

When I was a teen I had no idea what the choices were. I made decisions based on fear. I chose a college on the fear of leaving my boyfriend too far behind, and on the fear of costing my parents too much even though we didn’t discuss that (I tried to guess), and on the fear that I couldn’t get into the school I really wanted to go to (I didn’t even try). My decisions were based on fear and on ignorance. I had no idea how the world worked and had no one to ask for clarification.

So it thrills me, this is the living vicariously part, to be able to explain the world to my daughter, and to offer her suggestions on how to make a decision. It’s usually about gathering facts and listening to your gut. In one second’s time we have the answer to the question, “I wonder what it’s like to be a Rotary exchange student in Poland” by searching the internet for a blog of just such an experience. Voila! Complete with pictures. There, go now and weed the garden, pondering all you’ve seen, mulling it over so you get a little bit closer to having enough info to make a decision.

See what I mean. I am living vicariously on the idea that she is getting to do what I never got to do. It isn’t, ‘be a Rotary exchange student in Poland’, ‘it’s make decisions with the help of a grown-up’. She gets to make decisions that suit her because she’s making them as an informed individual.

Yay! Wish I’d had that.

When fear rules my life and I can’t stop it


, , ,

This year I sat in on just about every class for AP English Language and Composition in our high school. I am the theme reader for the class, kind of a writing coach, and so I review all the written papers the kids do and make comments and corrections to support the teacher’s lessons. He’s a pretty great teacher (Teacher of the Year, 2014) so I feel especially lucky to have had the pleasure of watching him impart his wisdom all year long. Recently he shared with the class this great TED talk on vulnerability by Brene’ Brown.
She gets it exactly right, and with legitimate scientific research, which I always think is a great boon to support the things we already know deep down to be true. In other words, this lady is smart.

Sometimes fear runs my life and I cannot stop it. I am afraid of not being able to accomplish what I want, and I end up taking the fear with me to sabotage what it is I am afraid I cannot accomplish, thus not accomplishing it because fear is in the way…

Recently I’ve watched this video on vulnerability and being authentic as an antidote to my fears.

Graduation means we stay together after all


, , ,


The day after my son’s fantastic graduation party in New York I was a little beside myself. Really now, it’s a big deal to graduate a kid from college these days. One major life hurdle is cleared!

But oddly I felt out of sorts the next day.

When I was ten and then twelve and then fourteen I watched my three older siblings go off to college and never return. My eldest brother got involved in a cult and failed out of school and then roamed nomadically for a while. Then my oldest sister went to school and we rarely saw her again because she didn’t come home and Mom and Dad didn’t take us to visit. My next sister went to college too but in no time decided to stick out her thumb and hitchhike across country to as far away as she could get. It had become every man for himself, and I remember thinking someone should have warned me that families cease to exist once the kids go off to college. I actually thought this was normal!

Our nuclear family, which I see clearly now, was not too solid to begin with, broke apart and never regained its footing as an entity. We just didn’t have the strength as a family to hold ourselves together. So as each member left, ostensibly for college, the family got smaller and weaker and I grieved more.

So the day after my son’s graduation from college last week I had a sense of fear that this is what really happens, and that my son would flee from us now that he is capable of being financially independent. I had great fears that I have served my purpose, as my mother did, and that my role is over. That’s what my mother taught me, I suppose. Thankfully, seeing that idea in print helps me recognize its absurdity, but it’s hard to ignore the feelings that are right there threatening such nonsense as real. I’ve worked hard to have the family I do today, fighting against so much of what my mother taught me. But under it all these outlandish ideas spring up to threaten my happiness today and I swat them down and say, “See, we have a new life different from the one in your head. Stop it. Embrace your world as it is now.”

Celebrate. Enjoy.

I know our family will stay together and remain an entity because we’ve worked to create that life, but it’s still a scary idea for me to send my kid off into the world and hope he comes back to see me. I told him all this and asked him to show me his love more loudly so I could hear it well and shut down this fear in my head, and he said he’d be glad to.

Mother’s Day comes up for me a lot


, , , ,

For the first time I feel old and I know that Mother’s Day is doing it because I can see that my role as mother is diminishing. I have a son out in the world fully independent for Pete’s sake!

I have an embarrassment of wealth, joy that is, at what God has handed me in three great kids who are healthy and happy and here with me. We are skyping to be together today but will see each other for real next week for my eldest’s college graduation, and I am overcome with joy at the thought of all that. It’s too sweet to accept this gift from God. Such joy I cannot truly deserve. To get to see the graduations, to get to see all the proms, and to get to see all the successes of my almost-adult children is way more than I prayed God would give me.

When the kids were babies I prayed he’d let me live long enough to see them to the point where they’d at least remember me. When they passed that I wanted to live long enough so they’d remember my lessons, and after that I wanted to live long enough so they’d be able to make some of their own decisions, and after that it is all gravy – that we get to share even more of the joys of life together is making me more grateful than I can say.

Keeping young people around as friends


, , , ,

I was so delighted this week to get a call from a friend I hadn’t seen in months who said she was in town and wanted to catch up. She’s twenty-fiveish, but I’m fifty-sixish. We spent New Year’s Eve together a few years ago that stands out as one of the best because she and my daughter and I stayed up all night watching different “Pride and Prejudice” movies! The point is, she’s half my age but still wants to say hello and spend a few hours together.

Now I know it might sound good to live to be 100 but I am not sure I want it for myself. My grandmother was 96 and alone in a nursing home far from family at the end of her life. She said she wanted to be near the ocean, but really her immobility and lack of visitors reduced this to only a dream. Her husband had died over ten years before, her friends were gone or in other nursing homes and her three children were estranged from each other and her. My grandma was quite alone.

My husband and I visited her with our three young children a few times a year, but more than that I found it easier to keep our friendship alive via phone. We had plenty of chats about books we’d read and places we’d been. But once grandma surprised me by bringing up her loneliness. She told me something I have never forgotten because her circumstances made it quite clear how valid it was.

Her message was to actively, during my lifetime, make friends with young people. She told me to cultivate friendships with those who are younger than me in order to keep myself young, and in order to have friends when I am old and infirm.

So my out-of-town friend who visited this week, and the former babysitter friends who I see raising their own children now, some neighbors I really appreciate, a few nieces and nephews, and my own children, all constitute the friends I hope to still have around when I am old and gray and have earned the privilege of their company when I cannot get to their doors anymore.

So thank you dear friend for stopping in to visit this week, and hoping I make it worth your while so we might remain friends a long long time.