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.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?

Apologies to the Bee Gees.

Young love is adorable. Seriously. You know, the sweet, innocent, first-love type of love. Young love means you'll see your teen coming home grinning ear to ear, and you don't even have to ask why. Young love is late night FaceTime chats that you let go because did I mention it's adorable? It's celebrating one month anniversaries and having to go to the store to help pick out a flower or a card. It's seeing your teen be "romantic" and getting a first look at the kind of significant other he's going to be.

Young love is also heart crushing. Especially the first one. It's hearing muffled sobs coming from behind a closed door. It's hearing the TV on at 3 am because sleep is elusive to him. It's watching your teen experience and process one of the most emotional and difficult phases of life - the breakup.

There is no more powerless feeling a parent can have than knowing that your child is hurting and there is really nothing you can do. That this gut wrenching event was bound to happen and they have to go through it and work it out in their own time and in their own way.

Although you can't "fix" it for them (and nor should you, as well as a multitude of life events that happen to your kids), there are a few things you can do that may help your teen while he or she processes these new emotions - hurt, disappointment, sadness, and loss.

I'm so very lucky in that my teen and I can talk easily about a lot of things. But when it comes to matters of the heart, it's important to tread lightly. It's easy - especially with all of my relationship experience - to tell them how to feel or what to do or what will "get them out of it." Here are a few pointers that I found to be effective as you stand on the sidelines watching your child hurt. As always, take what you like and leave the rest.

Acknowledge his feelings.
When you learn of the breakup, simply let your teen know that you agree that it sucks - even if you don't. To him it does. Whether you think the breakup was for the best or not, your teen is hurting and doesn't need to be told "I told you so." Tell him you're so sorry. Tell him you understand why he is upset. Tell him his feelings are valid.

Let him talk - if he wants to.
Some kids may slam the door to their room and refuse to talk about it. Shoot, probably many teens will. But encourage them to talk to you. Then listen. Don't ask a lot of questions. Don't offer advice at this point. Let them purge what happened and the more they talk, the more you will almost be able to see their little brains processing what just happened to them.

Relate to his situation.
I'm sure we can all remember a time when we had our heart broken. For many of us it was during the teenage years. Put yourself back in that place and time and remember how you felt. As adults, we now kind of know the modus operandi of heartbreak. Your teen doesn't. If you can show him that you were once in his place and felt the same feelings, it will help him understand that his feelings really are normal. After my first breakup, I remember this hot wave coming over me, then feeling like I had been punched in the stomach. I cried for days, slept like crap and barely ate. I was convinced I would never be happy again. Your teen needs to hear that and see that you are, in fact, still standing.

Tell him what YOU did.
OK, so now he knows you know how he feels. But what then? Tell him how you worked through it - the good, the bad and the ugly. Tell him what embarrassed you about it and what you were proud of. Tell him what you learned and what you would and wouldn't do again. See, while you're doing this, you're giving him options without giving him advice directly, which is kind of the last thing he wants.

Mom him when you can.
Don't ask if he's hungry. He's not. Pick up his favorite food or a smoothie and just set it in front of him and walk away - I bet it's at least picked at when you return. Don't ask if he wants to go somewhere or do something. He probably doesn't. Ask for his help or assistance on little errands, then see if getting out helps his mood and suggest lunch or ice cream. A change of scenery does wonders - we know that; he doesn't.

Make promises.
Not the ones you can't keep - the ones you know to be true. Tell him you PROMISE that he will not feel this way forever. Tell him you PROMISE that he will find someone to love and who will love him again. Tell him that you PROMISE that very soon, every day will start to get a little easier. Tell him you PROMISE that he is worthy of love and that despite what he thinks right now, he will he will experience those feelings again.

Let him be sad.
One thing I hate is when you are upset and people tell you not to be. Your teen is sad. Tell him it's OK to be sad and that he has a right to be sad. Again, relate your experiences to him. Let him have a little time to throw his own pity party and work things out in his head a little. Sometimes that will mean talking to friends, sometimes it may be playing loud music. Sometimes that might just mean sitting there and not saying or doing anything at all.

Stay close.
This is perhaps the most important piece of advice I'll throw out there. Your teen is experiencing a whole new set of emotions that he isn't familiar with or used to dealing with. Don't discount them as "that's life." To him, this is HUGE. And with times as they are now, teens are reacting differently to crisis situations - sometimes desperately. Keep an eye on him and watch for any behavior that may be detrimental to his safety. If you suspect your teen may be experiencing these feelings, trust your gut and get him some help. Even if it's a one-time conversation with a therapist or someone experienced in dealing with teens, that person will be able to better determine what the course of action should be, if any.

Above all, just be there. Be there when your teen wants to talk, and let him know you're there even when he doesn't. Understand that heartbreak is a roller coaster, and some days he'll feel great and others he may be down in the dumps again. Let him work through his emotions as only he can do with the capacity he has, but step in when you can see it's becoming overwhelming. Show him that life is worth loving, and love is worth living for.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

To My Boys on Mother’s Day

I hadn’t planned on writing anything today. Then I saw this picture in my "Facebook memories" – you know, that stupid feature that sends you pictures from a year or two or three or four that either makes you go, “AWWWW I remember that!” or “OMG, Facebook, THANKS A LOT, I was trying to forget that.”

Today's was a good memory. I had somehow bribed you to bike ride the Rock Island Trail using the carrot of Jane’s Ice Box, a local diner/ice cream shop as our goal and it worked.

That day, I was happy – happy that you had agreed to go, happy to spend time with my boys, happy to be out in the fresh air, exercising on such a gorgeous day. I saw you both ride ahead next to each other and snapped a picture.
Having it show up on Facebook four years later makes me happy, but in a heart-tugging, that-kinda-hurts, wistful kind of way. That picture represents more than two brothers racing ahead of their mom to get to the ice cream at the end. Now, it represents two young men who are slowly riding away from me and the life I have known for nearly 20 years.

I remember when both of you were born like it was yesterday. I remember those crazy newborn weeks and months. I remember amidst all the chaos and hormones that I could sit and hold you and just stare at you for hours. With you, my oldest, it was how fair you were– I could literally see through your earlobe it was so transparent. For you, my youngest, it was just the opposite. Your eyebrows extended all the way to the hairline of your soft, dark head. And you’d both stare back at me like I was the greatest thing in the entire world.

I remember when you were toddlers and all the discoveries you’d make. My oldest laughing uncontrollably as you ran in and out of the sprinkler on a hot, humid evening, then coming up to me and hugging my legs saying, “I get Mommy all wet!” My youngest loving to be outdoors with your brother, digging for bugs, chasing frogs or catching fireflies.

I remember when you were in grade school, and you’d smile so big when I showed up to have lunch with you or at your room parties - and when you came out of school at the end of the day I'll never forget how you'd look around, spot me, get this big smile on your face and run at me like you hadn't seen me in weeks.

Back then, you regaled me with stories when I asked you the daily question, “What was the best part of your day?” That was a great age to do a lot of fun things like visiting all the swimming pools and playgrounds, hiking at Starved Rock or taking the train up to Chicago – you were at that past-nap stage and old enough to think I was taking you on the best adventures ever.

I remember when you were in middle school and things got a little more complicated. I remember not knowing as much about what was going on during your school day, or hearing friends’ names I’d never heard before. I remember freaking out because you were getting to be that age where you didn’t want a babysitter but you were too young to stay home alone. I remember feeling guilty that mom had to go to work when there were so many adventures we could be having together, not realizing that I was slowly becoming not so big of a part of yours anymore. I remember feeling scared at 8th grade graduation, thinking that the next four years were going be life changing for all of us.

And they were.

You two are so different. I never realized it fully until a few years ago. It’s almost unbelievable – but at the same time, looking back, your personalities as they are now were there from the very beginning. I know I’ve said this a million times, but I’ll keep saying it. You have no idea how much I love you both, equally yet differently. You always used to ask me (and still do at times) who I loved more. I can honestly say I love you both the same for the individuals you are. I hope you know this love one day if/when you have kids, but even then I'm not sure - I think a mother's love and a father's love, though both intense, are very different.

Sometimes it makes me cry just thinking about you. It chokes me up realizing that your dad and I created you. We made you. I am awe-inspired just typing those words. I look at you both today and I think for the millionth time, “You are my greatest accomplishment." You are. I’ve failed at a lot of things, and I know I’ve made many, many parenting mistakes. But I made you – and that’s two of the greatest things I’ve ever done in my entire life. And I want you to know on this Mother’s Day that I am so, incredibly grateful that God gave you to me – that he picked ME to be your mom. It has been my honor to raise you, take care of you, teach you, show you, laugh with you, cry with you and help you grow. I could not have asked for any tougher, more exhausting, more humbling, more heart-wrenching job and I would never, ever trade our years together for anything in this world.

Thank you, boys, for coming into my life. Thank you for loving your mom, because I know you do. Thank you for giving me a reason to celebrate Mother's Day. Thank you for making it possible for me to look back at pictures and both smile and cry at the memories we’ve made together. It has been a privilege to be your mother. And as you pedal further and further away from me, just know that I’m still back here, pedaling a little slower, letting you go on ahead, but still trying to keep you in my sights, just in case you need me.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

What's One Word That Describes You?

The other day, my teenage son and I were chatting. (This sentence blows me away in that I can actually “chat” with my teenager.) Every once in a while, he poses some pretty interesting questions. This time, the question was, “What one word would you use to describe me?” Now, being a wordsmith, this made me pause, because I really wanted to find the right word. So I said, “Hmmm … that’s a great question. I’ll have to think about that. Let me get back to you.” To which he replied, “Do you know what word I would use to describe you?” I waited nervously. What would he say? “Stressed?“ “Overprotective?“ "Meddling?"

“Resilient,” he said.

Wow. I wasn’t expecting that. Resilient. He explained, “Because you’ve been through a lot of stuff and you’ve gotten through it.”

This really made me think. Yes, a lot has happened over the years that my son has been old enough to be aware of, and in some cases, go through with me. But it made me wonder – should he have been privy to all of this? I never really knew when my parents were going through something. First of all, that was usually kept between them, and second, I was too selfish to even notice. I suppose when you’re a single parent and don’t have that “Plus One” to bounce things off of, maybe you take advantage of your “too mature for his age” 15-year-old son.

Then I thought, because I’m resilient, maybe I’m showing him how to be resilient. We talk a LOT, this kid and me. I never expected that at age 15 he would have the compassion, empathy and maturity well beyond his years that he possesses. He’s the one who asks me how my day was – every day. He’s the one who actually asks me for advice, and even wants to know how it was for me when I was his age. He asks questions that make me know he’s thinking of the future – questions about college, working, relationships … even having kids (OK slow down, Son).

I wonder how much of this is because he’s been right here with me through my ups and downs. He was the one who was there when I got the call that my mother had passed away. I’ll never forget what he did – at age 13. He sat down next to me, put his arms around me, and didn’t say a word – just sat there as I sobbed.

He’s seen me struggle with my older son and the intense feelings that have emerged through that - frustration, anger, worry, fear and extreme sadness. It’s hard to keep it from the one person who lives with you – even if he is only 15.

Though the “stuff I’ve been through” may be a bit unique in some ways, it’s no more than many go through – and much less than some. Yeah, every once in awhile I throw a pity party for myself and selfishly think I’m the only one in the world having a bad day, but then I get over it and pull myself up by my bootstraps and remember the good I have in my life.

That must be where the resilience comes in.

A little later on, I finally found the word to describe him. “Authentic,” I told him. “What do you mean?” he asked. I said, “How you act is who you are. You are compassionate, and you act compassionate. You are kind, and you act kind. You are thoughtful, and you act thoughtful. You don’t put on airs. You are simply a genuinely good person.”

That made him smile, and at that moment, I think we both felt that together, between my resiliency and his authenticity, we could conquer anything that life may throw at us.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

On Being Alone: It’s All About Percentages

It’s official. I’ve had an epiphany.

After one marriage, one wedding (not a marriage – long story), a few couple-of-month relationships, a multitude of first dates and some good, old-fashioned therapy, I’ve come to a life-altering conclusion, in the form of percentages. Which is weird, because, well, MATH. But anyway, here goes.

I have discovered that, on average, 75 percent of me is pretty darn content being single.

This is a huge deal. Seriously. Not pining for a significant other is a new thing. Realizing I’m OK is a really, really new thing.

See, other than cohabitating and being married for a total of 11-ish years, I’ve never lived with anyone – and it occurred to me that I’ve never really WISHED to live with anyone. I mean, I thought I wanted to be married when I was in love, but somehow there seemed to be a difference between “sharing my life with someone” and “living with them”, if that makes any sense at all, and it probably doesn’t.

I don't mind not coming home to, "Hi, Honey, how was your day?" I really don't. I don't mind sleeping alone because I still stick to one side of the bed (even before my dog and cat occupied the other.) I even don't mind not having that given "date night" on the weekends. I mean, sure, sometimes I get lonely – usually holidays when I know a lot of couples are out, or when there’s something going on that I think would be fun to do with a significant other – but hey, I’m sure there are plenty of married people who sometimes wish they were in my shoes, so does it really matter whose grass is greener?

OK, so, back to the percentages. So, 75 percent of me is good with this alone thing. So that leaves … let’s see … carry the one … 25 percent of me that wishes I had that “special someone”.

But here’s the problem. While percentages are a logical way to figure something out on paper, they don’t always work out in real life – just like a partnership is never going to be 50/50 all the time. Sometimes it’s 60/40. Sometimes it’s 90/10. You gotta roll with that.

So, say I find someone, and I think, “Hey! I like this guy! I want to be around him and do stuff with him and go on dates and have adventures, blah, blah..." Oh, and obviously he needs to think so, too. So we hang out on the weekends and maybe once or twice during the week and more times than not, I start feeling unsettled because in my mind, he's starting to get all up in my 75 percent.

That’s when I put on the brakes. That’s when I run like a spooked horse. When someone tries to creep too much into my “alone” time, I get nervous – say like when you’re on a plane, and the seat next to you is empty, and a lady with a screaming baby starts walking toward you, and you pray to GOD that she doesn’t sit down next to you, and when she does, you want to just jump out the emergency exit.

That’s me – when I get over 25 percent. And I just now realized this. And I understand that this is MY THING. I own this little neurosis, I really do. But is it such a bad thing?

Maybe I just haven’t found the right guy with whom I either want to share some of my 75 percent, or who only wants 25 percent of me. Maybe it’s because I need more therapy to get my percentages in better balance. Maybe it’s because I’m selfish and self-absorbed. Maybe it’s sour grapes due to a long string of first and sometimes second dates that either turn out with no callback or so many callbacks that I want to turn off my phone. Or maybe - just maybe - I prefer to be alone. The percentages seem to reflect that.

I recently visited a good friend and we had some great talks – you know, those deep and meaningful ones where you can get all insightful with each other and not feel stupid. He said something that was so profound to me it has literally changed how I view any relationship I may have. It was, “You teach others how to treat you.”

*Drop the mic*.

That’s brilliant – and what I had been doing completely wrong for so long. Before my percentages discovery, I was searching for this elusive person to complete me, and in that quest invariably and inadvertently let him set the tone and just accepted it. If he didn’t text during the day, he was probably busy. If he didn’t offer to pick me up, he was probably just trying to be sensitive to my nervousness (which in one case extended to the ninth – and last – date.) If he seemed distracted, he had something obviously more important on his mind. If he liked sexting and I wasn’t down for it, it was because I’m too much of a prude. If he drank too much when we went out, he was just trying to have a good time. When I was away from my phone for an hour and saw seven missed calls, it was just because he missed me. When he didn’t understand why I couldn’t go out on a night I had my kid, I was obviously just too hung up on my own mom guilt. Whether a guy liked me or not, I found an excuse, telling myself that it was me – that I was the problem. I needed to not be so sensitive. I needed to be more open-minded. I should like him more. I should like him less. It was exhausting, and perhaps is one of the catalysts for this whole 75 percent thing.

When I think about, “You teach others how to treat you”, I realize, I rarely did that in any of my past dating escapades, nor in my last long-term relationship. It was always me who felt like I had the problem because I couldn’t adapt to the other person’s vision of the relationship, or lack thereof. And aside from the fact that I completely own my end of relationship mistakes and issues, I think the big thing was that I was trying to even out my percentages - which isn't possible in most relationships, let alone any I'd have.

Since this revelation I’ve cut off ties with two guys to whom I’d been casually talking – one for quite a while, actually. He’d text me every day, or every other day, and hint that “we should go out” but never actually asked me out. We had great conversations and I just figured, “He’s taking it slow” or “He’s been hurt before.” I know. I’m an idiot. But once I implemented this whole “teach him how to treat me” philosophy, i.e. letting him know I was tired of the texting thing and was he ever planning on asking me out because this was kind of weird and I couldn’t believe I’d gone along with this for so long, he avoided the question. It was then I realized he wasn’t taking it slow – he was a douche and I was playing a game I didn't even WANT to play. So I told him that wasn’t how I wanted to be treated and to go f*ck himself.

OK, that was probably harsh, but it felt really, really good, because he really was being a douche, and I really hated being treated like that. I was being strung along – and letting myself be strung along. I thought that because someone was showing interest in me, I should be thankful, and figured, “Hey, beggars can’t be choosers.”

Wrong. I’m a chooser, and for now, I choose me.

Again, this may come off kind of like my sh*t doesn’t stink, but you have to understand where I was compared to where I am now. I was searching for this person because society says you need someone in your life in order to be happy, and being alone is something about which people feel sorry for you. How many times have I heard, "So are you seeing anyone?" Ugh. Really? I know - people are just making small talk and trying to be nice, but sometimes I just want to say back, "No. So how's your marriage?"

Here's the deal. I understand these percentages may change with time, and as long as that change is authentic and of my own volition, I’m OK with it. Sure, maybe someday I’ll come upon that person who I don’t mind creeping into my 25 percent and causes me to gladly revise my numbers. But for now, teaching MYSELF how I want to be treated and feeling really, truly OK with being alone has made me realize that my cup is three quarters of the way full – and that makes me happy.

I saw this video quite a while ago, and while I related to it in SO many ways, I felt so wistful to get to where this woman was in her life. Take a look – this is a great example of the realization that "alone" isn't always a negative word; sometimes it's a choice that once made - even at just 75 percent - can bring you great peace. As she says, and I truly believe, "... if you're happy in your head then solitude is blessed and alone is okay."

Sunday, March 5, 2017

To Mr. Trump, with Sincere Thanks

Dear Mr. Trump,

I have never been one to be well-versed when it comes to politics. I'll be the first to admit that up until the past year, I would've been like one of those people in those "man on the street" interviews who gives a deer-in-headlights look to questions like, "Who's our Secretary of State?" or "What is the electoral college?" or "Who is Vladimir Putin?"

I knew about issues on a high level from headlines I read on Facebook or Yahoo or perhaps MSNBC if it was on at the gym - at least enough to acknowledge if asked. But I would be the last one you'd want to have an intelligent conversation with at a party about any of them. It's not that I'm an idiot or that I didn't care; I just didn't pay attention, and all of it seemed so far removed from me that I figured  it was "someone else's" problem.

That's all changed. And I have you, Mr. Trump, to thank.

Before you, I really didn't know the difference between the popular vote and the electoral college. Well, now I do - not only because of the fact that Hillary won the popular vote handily yet the electoral college was in your favor, but that you've BEAT IT INTO OUR HEADS AD NAUSEUM since then.

Before you, I didn't know much if anything about the President's Cabinet. I didn't realize that you could hand pick them like celebrities for The Apprentice - based less on skill and experience and more on their bank account and star power. I never knew who the Attorney General was. Now I know exactly who he is, and what he is - and isn't - supposed to do, like lie under oath about conversations he had with Russia during the Presidential campaign. I didn't even know what the big deal was with Russia until the campaign and the allegations, and now I'm learning all kinds of stuff about sanctions and (former) National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and why Putin is always shown with his shirt off riding a horse. And of course I knew that being a bigot wouldn't be a big check in the plus box to getting a seat on the Cabinet, but apparently it's not a deal breaker.

I didn't know who the Secretary of Energy was, or that best case scenario he isn't supposed to forget that in 2011 he proposed to abolish the department he now leads - or that he can't just say he's down with the existence of global warming just to get the pick.

I didn't know who the Secretary of Education was, or that it's evidently a luxury to have someone in that position who either worked at, attended, or sent her children to public schools. Or that she's basically a scam without a plan, a voucher plan to divert money spent on public education  - which is guaranteed for all students - to private schools.

I never really paid attention to what the vice president did, or believed. Now I do, since the current VP thinks that homosexuality can be reversed with conversion therapy, that abstinence-only education should be taught in schools, that agencies like Planned Parenthood should be defunded for providing abortion services. and who doesn't believe there is wage discrimination against women and blacks.

I certainly never knew about immigration and deportation. I didn't know it was possible to ban citizens from Muslim countries and refugees from entering the United States, or to threaten to separate women and children, let alone build a freaking wall 2000 miles long and up to 55 feet high. I mean, at least Mexico's going to pay for it, right?

What I did know, but never really appreciated until now, is that the President was someone for whom you had respect, whether you agreed with all of his policies or not. Now I'm sure there are people who didn't respect past Presidents, but overall, the Office of the President is something we should respect. Because America. Kind of like standing for the National Anthem. But I digress.

I respect Barack Obama. I voted for him, not only because I wanted to see the first African-American president, but because overall, I agreed with his views I read about (insert my own political knowledge disclaimer from above here.) And honestly, he seemed like a good guy. In fact, I was OK with Obama being a role model for kids, back when that "ANYONE can be president" moniker was so popular. Now that's changed. "ANYONE can be president" means, literally, ANYONE, even a narcissistic, slimy businessman with no government experience who probably didn't even really want to BE president; he just liked the game. I feel so sorry for parents who have to try to explain you to their children. "OK, kids, America made a big  mistake and we just have to hold on for at the most four years then you'll be able to have pride in our President again," or, "Kids, Mr. Trump and the First Lady - that's not really how a husband and wife or mommy and daddy should be with each other, but let's see what the Obamas are doing right now."

You know, Michelle Obama seemed like a very poised yet approachable woman - and she turned out to overachieve in that respect and so many others. I mean, who wouldn't want their little girl looking up to her? She could hold her own with world leaders then turn around and get her groove on with James Corden. She was the people's First Lady, in my opinion. Now Melania? Gosh, every time I see her I just feel so damn sorry for her. She's that trophy wife who probably married you because you promised her the moon and made her life comfortable but she never EVER thought she'd be doing this whole First Lady thing. It's obvious by looking at her that she'd rather be holed up in her (ivory) Trump Towers apartment taking care of her son (who I feel sorry for as well). So fess up. Once you figured out you were really going to win this thing, did you sit Melania down, point a finger at her and say, "DON'T SCREW THIS UP FOR ME, MEL, OR I WILL RUIN YOU"?

(Melania, if you're reading this, RUN - don't walk - right out of that White House and take your son with you. You made a mistake - we all do. It's OK. And you won't be alone - there are millions of us out here who are strong enough to have your back and teach you what it's like to stand on your own two feet. We'll help you out, Sista.)

Oh and speaking of women, I never knew that in this day and age it was possible to have a president who would set us back about 100 years when it comes to women's rights. I mean, it's pretty obvious you think women are second class citizens. Now granted, when you were talking to Billy Bush about grabbing pussy 15 years ago, I'm sure it never in a GAZILLION YEARS occurred to you that you'd be President someday. BELIEVE ME, it didn't occur to any of us either. But the fact that you were elected President IN SPITE OF all of all your comments about and view on women makes me absolutely want to "rise up" like those millions of women did in the Women's Marches all over the world just after your inauguration. And that movement continues, which is really, really cool. So watch out - because if according to you it takes 10 women to do the work of one man, well, we already have you beat - handily.

I never knew that we could come so far as a country that we FINALLY elect an African-American president, only to COMPLETELY do a 180 and SOMEHOW invite a racist, womanizing, narcissistic shell of a man like you to run our country. To put it in language you can understand, it's kind of like Obama was the really nice boy we all dated, but we dumped him for you, that kind of dirty, rough around the edges guy, only to find out that you beat the shit out of us while our nice ex is kitesailing in the British Virgin Islands with Richard Branson.

I never knew that, although a lot of America is trying REALLY, REALLY HARD to give you a chance, you'd blow it even after you were given a speech that was all but gift-wrapped and tied up with a bow. Now, I have to be honest. You didn't fool me. As a writer, I've penned my share of articles, speeches and quotes for other people - stuff they never wrote. They just signed off on them and BOOM - the words were attributed to them and they sounded like rock stars.

You didn't write that speech. I mean, I know every President has a speechwriter, but I doubt you even had any involvement in that speech, which is why you were shown practicing it in the car on he way to address Congress. It didn't even SOUND like you - or the you we currently know. Someone with a great thesaurus had your back and threw you a bone that you, in turn, threw at all of us. We bit, but not 24 hours later, we were left with only a bad taste in our mouths.

I didn't vote for you, Mr. Trump, and sadly, I don't respect you. But I have to thank you. Because of you, I'm paying attention now. Because of you, I truly care about what happens to the people of this country, and the people who want to call this country home. And I want to tell you - I'm watching you. And so is America. Because here's the deal. We the People are the ones who will prevail. You'll run this country amuck like some three-year-old toddler on a sugar high, and we'll come in right behind you and clean everything up so when guests arrive we can say, "Oh, this place? It always looks like this!"

Thank you, Mr. Trump, for making me care, and for making me realize that you are temporary. We the People are permanent, and we will prevail.