Monday, December 11, 2017

Visual Proof: Brotherly Love

Recently, I found out a friend of mine's son had the capabilities to convert all those tiny videocassettes that had been gathering dust in my TV stand to electronic files. I jumped at the chance, thinking back to all the times I grabbed that monstrous camera and recorded every burp, fart and poop my kids did, usually narrated by me saying something brilliant like, "HONEY, LOOK AT THE CAMERA!!!!!"

I can't remember when we finally ditched the video recorder in favor of the cell phone, but I'm guessing it was around 2008, since that's the last little cassette I could find. Either that or I was just so damn tired I stopped chronicling anything at all.

Regardless, my friend's son soon sent me a link to gigabytes and gigabytes of precious memories, now firmly entrenched in some mega folder probably floating on the Cloud somewhere.

The files have just been sitting there in interweb space until the other day, when my younger son mentioned to me that he had been texting his older brother and waxing nostalgic about some good times he remembered them having together when they were younger. Apparently my oldest wasn't recalling the same sweet memories, and my youngest was understandably upset about it.

I knew there had to be some pretty awesome visual proof in those video files of mine, so this past weekend I took some time to start watching them.

You know when you start cleaning out a drawer or going through old files and it turns into a marathon of "Oh, I remember this!" or "Wow I had forgotten about that!"? Yep, that was me ... being sucked back in time for hours to a whole other life that I hadn't forgotten about, but just hadn't thought about in a long time. It was like video crack ... I just couldn't stop watching. 

I'm not going to say "they grow up so fast," because I distinctly remember at the time there being many days that I was sure went on much longer than the 24-hour allotment. I remember sometimes wishing they'd hurry out of one stage or another ... naps, potty training, the terrible twos, the terrible threes, the terrible fours .... kidding ... sort of. 

But looking at these videos, all that wistfulness for time to go by is gone. For so long, I've wondered if I was a good mom; if my kids had a good childhood; if I did things right and gave them what they needed when they needed it. In looking at these videos, I was validated. They were free-spirited, for-the-most-part happy kids doing regular stuff that free-spirited, for-the-most-part-happy kids do - nothing fancy. Giggling through the cold water of the sprinkler. Screaming "Watch me, Mom!" a thousand times as they raced their bikes down the sidewalk and over a ramp. Seeing who could go highest on the swings in the backyard. Chasing each other with water guns almost as big as they were.

This is the stuff my boys need to see. These are the memories I want them to have locked in their heads and hearts forever. Though they may not be close right now, they are bonded by brotherhood, and they were inseparable and partners in crime for many years. I want my younger son to see what an incredible big brother he has, who almost hovered over him to help him read a birthday card, work a water gun or build a Lego set. I want my oldest to see what a great influence he was on his younger brother, and how much good he taught him along the way. They were and are both very lucky to have each other, whether now, at 16 and 20 years old, they realize it or not.

I want both of them to see that they were raised with no frills - most of the fun they had was in their own backyard, with things like a slip 'n slide made out of an old paint tarp, a bike race track traced with sidewalk chalk and games that came simply from their imagination.

I also want them to know that their mom was right there with them - capturing these moments even though there were times when my youngest would yell, "DON'T PUT THE CAMERA ON ME!" I was actually struck by how calm my voice sounded on the videotape sometimes ... maybe it's because I knew I was documenting or maybe I had it together more than I gave myself credit for. I hear myself saying things like, "Now, Buddy, wait for your brother - that's the nice thing to do," or "Be a good example and let your little brother have a turn." My patience on the outside could not have possibly mirrored the parenting chaos that was taking place on the inside.

I guess I'm going to renege on what I said earlier and tell all you younger moms that while they may not grow up so fast, it does all go by so fast. It may not seem like it at the time, but I swear to God I look at these videos and I'm sure it was just the other day they were sledding down the neighbor's driveway like it was the steepest and fastest in the world. I look at all the close-ups I did of these cherubic little faces - their innocence as they sweetly answered questions like, "What's your name? How old are you? Can you count to ten?" How they sought me out when they were up on the stage for their spring program - singing all those songs and doing all those hand motions while looking slightly embarrassed but proud at the same time, then finally spotting me with a look of relief and happiness all rolled up into one sweet face.

Sure, I'm well aware that probably 90 percent of the videos are of the good times - and that's OK. There were plenty of bad times that are locked into my brain forever. I think sometimes those are the easier things to remember and we somehow forget how wonderful some of everyday life can really be to a kid.

In looking at those videos, my heart of course swells with love for them, but it also swells with pride, for them and for myself. I raised some good kids - I really did. I needed to see that, and so do they. I hope they already know how much I love them, and how much they love each other. But if "video evidence" helps, so be it. I know what we'll be doing over the Christmas break.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Fifty was a bit shifty, but 51 might be fun?

Well, it looks like I'm officially on the other side of 50 now. I don't mind at all; when I look back on as many years as I can remember, I'm not too impressed, other than looking at my kids and marveling that I kept them alive for as long as I did. That in itself will continue to boggle my mind.

It must be common for people around "my age" to start bucket lists. Maybe it's because 50 is such a definitive number - it does sound kind of old - half century, five decades, halfway to 100 .... whatever you want to call it. Not to mention I have AARP rolling out the welcome mat for me and tantalizing me with a free tote bag just for joining.

I had a bucket list there for awhile, but already it's changed. I think I did a lot of growing during my 50th year - growing that I would have like to have accomplished in my 30s or 40s, but alas, I am and always have been a late bloomer. Shit, I'm still waiting for boobs.

One of my biggest problems with myself is finding the right balance between what I want to do and what I should do (as "expected" by society, family, social circle, etc.) I managed to work on this quite a bit this past year and am slowly finding a happy medium. I've bowed out of dating situations because they didn't seem right to me, even though they may have looked good on paper (or to other people.) I've stopped forcing myself to be social when I don't feel like it - I've come to the comfortable realization that I am a person who needs alone time - solitude. Alone and lonely are two very different things, and lonely comes less and less now, which is a good thing.

I've stopped caring so much about what other people think, and realizing that really, they're not thinking about me at all. I danced in public this summer. I can't remember the last time I did that. And I didn't care. And I had fun. No one whispered about me the next day (to my knowledge, anyway.) The world didn't end, and instead of being mortified, I have some great memories of dancing like no one was watching - and they probably weren't.

I got two tattoos. It's weird, I never had any desire to get one, and had strongly prohibited my sons from getting any. Hypocrite? Meh. They're old enough to have an opinion about them and I'm old enough to know I didn't do anything rash. Both have very significant meaning to me: "I am the storm" is from the quote, "The devil whispered to me, 'You cannot withstand the storm', and I whispered back to the devil, 'I am the storm.'" I love this quote and I have it on my fridge and my bathroom mirror. I look at it more than I've ever referenced any quote. When I'm feeling like I'm a failure or I'm about to get swallowed by life, I look at my wrist and it makes me feel powerful. And no, I don't care what anyone thinks about it.

The other is a typewriter with the words, "be curious". This was the answer to a question I posed to a wilderness guide in 2014 in Durango, Colorado. I was getting ready to see my son for the first time in months and had so many questions, but didn't want to interrogate him. I'll never forget her simple answer of "Be curious." I think about it all the time and it's helped me in a number of situations - kids, work, interviews - it applies to a lot of things in life. It extends toward my fingers since that's where all my words seem to come from (the good ones, anyway.)

Another thing that happened this year is my kids grew up. Right before my eyes. I say this with trepidation, but I'll reach into my 12-step bag and say they are doing well TODAY. I have what I consider incredible relationships with both my boys and I am so freaking proud of them right now I could just burst. And I'm not proud of them for some fancy job they got or how much money they make or the 4.0 GPA they have ... I'm proud of them because they're damn good young men. I'm proud of them because they're making progress. They're moving forward. They love me and they tell me so. I don't know when I've ever been able to say that, but it makes me smile just typing it.

I learned a lot about myself this past year - more than I probably ever have in a year. Maybe "accepted" is a better word than "learned." I accepted the fact that I'm in my head a LOT, and that's a blessing and a curse. I think about things on a different level than maybe a lot of people do. Not a higher level - no, I've also come to the conclusion that I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Not at all. In fact, places like work are where I feel my dumbest. Anyway, I know I overanalyze things, but not in a "chick, you're overanalyzing things" way, but a "I'm seeing all sides of this and really trying to understand" overanalyzing. It's hard to explain, but regardless, it has helped me feel a little more comfortable in my own skin - this quirky, slightly eccentric skin. But that's OK.

I'm slowly figuring out relationships and how they fit into my world. I've stopped dating because I should date or people tell me to date or I think I want a date when I really just fucking hate dating. It just sucks the life out of me - and the confidence, and the hope. I've learned what is really important in a relationship - to me, anyway - and what isn't worth throwing one away. That's a huge step for me, and once again, it's taken me 34 years, if you count from the time I had my first date. That's a long time to figure out what works for you when it comes to the opposite sex. But again, I'm a bit of a slow starter.

I'm not going to say 50 was nifty - it definitely had its ups and downs, like any year has with any person. But good and bad, I used every experience as a learning one, which makes me feel a lot more prepared as I dive headfirst into this new decade.

I'm juggling a lot of balls in the air here, as we all are. When I drop one, it's hard for me to keep the others in play - they all seem to fall. I need to work on that this year, too - and learn that if somebody or something throws another ball at me that I can just add it to the mix and keep on juggling.

So, my words of wisdom for anyone out there still trying to make sense of it all? First of all, you'll always be trying to make sense of it all. Second, sometimes things have a way of figuring themselves out - you just need to be open to the answers coming and don't ignore them or push them away. Third, your gut will never be wrong. Seriously. It won't. Fourth, you're worthy. You're worthy of the answers. You deserve the answers. Don't think that you are asking for too much if you really want them. What you do with them is up to you - just remember your worth when you're figuring that part out.

Finally, if you need answers, don't be afraid to ask questions - to anyone, to yourself, about anything. That's how you learn. That's how you grow. Take it from someone who has lived her life taking everything at face value, hasn't wanted to rock the boat (intentionally) and has always played by the rules. Be curious, and base your life decisions on what you learn from that curiosity, what you feel in your heart and what you know is best for your soul.

Be curious - and don't wait as long as I did.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Life Lessons From a Pediatrician (or Why I'm Glad I Still Take My Son to the Baby Doc)

I took my son to the pediatrician today and got more than I bargained for.

So did he - other than the three unexpected immunizations. 

My son needed a sports physical for track so it was just a routine visit. I commented as we sat in the colorful “Wave” waiting room with the tiny chairs, giant fish tank and cartoons on the TV that maybe it was time to move up to a “big person doctor.” (He agreed, but said he’d miss the fish tank.)

After the obligatory height, weight and medical history check by the nurse, Dr. Akerele came in to perform the physical. He was certainly personable, obviously intelligent and extremely observant. He asked all the basic health questions while quickly developing a rapport with my son, so much so that soon they were talking about school, friends, girls, teenager things, family relationships and even the future.

It's so interesting to stand back and listen to another adult ask my son about his future. I know he doesn’t have it all planned out – he’s 16, for God’s sake – but I’m always curious as to what he’s thinking – or if he's thinking – about life after high school. Right now, at least. Anyone with kids knows that the flavor of the month can change from fireman to astronaut to teacher to pilot to underwater welder pretty quickly.

Right now my son says he wants to go into coding or music production. Having an older son who expressed interest in the latter, I feel as if I know something about what it entails to have music production as a life choice, and it’s a tough one. Coding, while a safe bet and potentially money-making, is pretty cutthroat and honestly not something I see my youngest doing day in and day out based on his personality and interests – but that’s not for me to decide, necessarily.

However, this concern was further validated when I talked to one of my good IT friends at work about what my son should be doing now to test the coding waters. “I suggested he dabble with some programs or games on the Internet,” I said, “just for fun to see if he likes it. I found a bunch of websites that I gave him but he hasn’t done anything with them.” His reply was, “If he’s truly interested in coding, he’d be dabbling in it right now. He’d be creating websites or trying to hack into some computer system. If he’s not doing that, chances are that interest is going to be short-lived.”

True or not, he had a point. I know many people find their callings by accident, or midlife, or later in life. But I would suspect that many had an inkling through their personalities and interests as to what they might do. Me? That was easy. I wrote a lot. Always. No-brainer. The kids who tended to every bump and bruise became doctors and nurses. The artists became graphic designers. And the computer geeks? Well, they did coding.

I know that’s stereotypical in some respects and obviously not true for all people but I’m speaking in generalities. If my son wants to learn to code, that’s great. I just get the feeling that it’s not going to be something he’s going to love long-term.

But I digress. The point of all this is to say that my son got quite an education today from a man who is obviously very smart and successful, but has had his share of hardships and has attained his success by hard work and lots of mistakes. And as successful as he seems to be right now, it sounds like he’s only getting started.

I’m going to fail miserably at trying to reiterate everything he said to my son, but basically, he showed him two sides of the coin: those who work hard for what they want and those who simply expect to get it. Those who push the boundaries and those who stay within them. Those who live their passion, and those who just get through to 5:00.

Other than the first one about expecting to get what you want, there are no wrong ways to be. Obviously he is a man who pushes boundaries. Already with a medical degree, he is now attending school again to learn to code; not because he wants to know how to code, but so he can understand it and talk to the individuals who will be helping him develop a revolutionary new healthcare app he’s working on. He and his brother have been in countless ventures together over the course of their lifetime, and told my son, “You know how many times we failed? Ninety-five. But that’s the only way we learned.”

My son, of course, wants to be rich so he can have all the expensive things. Doc told him, “It’s OK to want to be rich. But desire to be the kind of rich where you are successful four-fold: you’ve taken care of yourself, you’ve provided for your family, you’ve helped someone else and you’ve made the world a better place.” For instance, he said, “You’re interested in music. Find a way that musicians in third world countries can record and upload their music – share their music with the rest of the world.”

“If rich is your goal,” he said, “you’re going to have to think outside the box. You’re going to want to be the one who pays yourself versus getting paid. Do you want be your own boss or do you want someone else to build an empire on your bones?” (I’m not sure how I feel about what he said but I truly love the line about “building an empire on your bones” so I included it.)

Regardless of my opinion of everything this man said, I was transfixed by his speech. Here was a guy who wasn’t just talking the talk – he was walking the walk as well. He wasn’t telling my son what to do – he was telling him, based on his knowledge and experience, what he would have to do to reach the goals he had just vocalized. And my son was listening.

I was all in until he said, “…and you don’t necessarily have to go to school…”

Um … hey, doc. Ixnay on the no oolschay.

I’ve heard this opinion before, and I know to some extent it’s true. But having had one son not attend college because he “didn’t need it” and watching him struggle now, I really, really, really want my other son to attend if not college, a trade school. I believe in that very strongly.

I said as much and was relieved that the doc backed up his statement by saying that a four-year university wasn’t always necessary (as well as financially possible or reasonable) and that a community college or trade school could be a consideration. He told him, “If you want to go into coding, don’t major in it. Major in Business. Go to a community college for the first two years and get your core classes in business. Save that $40,000 a year. Finish up your coding at a university – a good university – as a minor, and you’ll know that, but you’ll also have a business degree that you'll use no matter what you go into, and also have it to fall back on if coding isn’t working out or paying the bills.”

He mentioned a relative of his who took over his dad’s plumbing business. “These guys attend trade school and make good money – there’s always a need. He took over dad’s business, expanded it to corporate plumbing and HVAC and is now extremely successful.”

Trade, business, entrepreneur. Nobody’s building an empire on his bones.

Doc mentioned that it was too bad that many people were not doing what they loved as their career. I told him I was doing what I loved, but unfortunately, the money never has been, never is and never will be there for me. He admitted that that was the case for some careers, and that other times, sacrifices for family and kids came into play. That must be my triple whammy right there, I said.

But in speaking about passions, I thought about mine –writing. Sure, I like my job, and I get to write every day. But my happy place isn’t in a cubicle in a building writing everything I’m told – it’s in an upstairs nook of an old house overlooking a quiet street typing up my fourth self-help or non-fiction book. It’s going into small bookstores for a reading or a signing and having people tell me that I helped them. It’s learning from those people and using them as inspiration and information to write more and more.

Is that my passion? Yes. Is that something I could have done five, 10 or 20 years ago? And jeopardize my own financial stability and time with my kids? No. In the future? Never say never.

But here was this man, this doctor, who didn’t know my son any more than his chart – and who wasn’t ME – telling him to grab the world by the balls while he can. I know I was listening – I think my son was, too. I hope it makes him think. I hope he takes it to heart. I hope when we are discussing college visits and his plans for the future that he remembers today – not only as he takes a step toward his future but in every step he takes from now on. What he thinks he wants is going to change so many times between now and, well, a long time. I want him to know he has options. I want him to know he can dream – but I also want him to know that the dreamers are also the workers – and he needs to be a worker.

Doc told my son it's important to learn from others - to find a mentor to talk to and to ask for guidance. This is something I always wanted for my oldest so it was everything I could do to not get on my knees and beg this guy to be my son's muse. But I resisted, thinking I'd talk with my son later about this conversation to see if it impacted him as much as it did me.

Our appointment was scheduled before school this morning, and my son was over an hour and a half late getting back. I honestly can’t imagine time more well spent, and I want to thank Dr. Akerele for stepping up – for being my son’s mentor – for telling it to him straight – and hopefully giving him some food for thought as he continues to dream and work toward his own life and his own future.