Archive | October, 2015

All Paths Lead Through the Kitchen Table

29 Oct

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There is nothing quite like the joy of a spiritual breakthrough for me, and I got a great one this morning. I have been in a slump creatively for a few days now. I know that may not sound like a big deal to most people; what are a few days? Well, in my case, the book I’m working on is about holiday prep and includes Thanksgiving, so if It isn’t published in the next week or so, I’ll be editing the Thanksgiving part out or waiting another year to publish, neither of which appeals to me, especially since I attempted this last year and didn’t make it. Who wants to fail to publish the same book two years in a row? Ick! As my mood began to sink, my kitchen table began to pile up as it seems to do, so this morning I decided to dive into the mess on the table to see what happened, and it only took about 15 minutes for the epiphany to come. Once again the mess on my kitchen table seemed to be part of the problem when it was actually the gateway to the solution. I once heard a story from life coach Cheryl Richardson about someone who had a terrible time getting rid of some paper clutter. Her advice to this person was to sit and quietly ask, “Why are you still here?” Of course, the person felt like an idiot at first and all of the mind-chatter of because you’re lazy, disorganized and incompetent started cropping up, just as she said it would, but she instructed the student to take a deep breath, let that go and keep asking until a different answer popped up. Eventually, the answer was that a book was waiting to be written from the many notes scattered among the piles. The person had never written a book, but as they began to sit with the idea, they knew that to be the truth, so they began to sift through the piles, keeping only the information that would be pertinent to the book and the piles disappeared. I think that’s how my kitchen table works. It’s almost like it’s some kind of vortex, and I just need to remember that those piles that pop up are ultimately for my own good.

Some days I forget how good my life is, usually when I get caught up in someone else’s life. I forget the incredible blessings I have upon my life because I get mired down in the struggles of others’ lives and it can hold me back from living. That also happened this week. On Monday, two of my youngest son’s classmates went missing. These girls are 15 and 16 and they walked out of school and got into a car with a supposed 20 year old they met online. I got derailed emotionally even after the girls were found since the story going around is that they just wanted to have fun and never come home. When I first found that out I was angry and felt really stupid for even sharing the post that they were missing. But you know what? Even if one of my kids did something like this, I would appreciate every parent who tried to help find them, no matter what the outcome. I guess blessings come in all kinds of packages if you look hard enough.

So after a couple of emotional days and a few piles on the table, I found my mojo again this morning. I began writing and the words began to flow. I even turned my computer on early to get my radio show notes written up so I could cruise the rest of the morning, and I was moving along. Then I got a phone call. A friend who watches her nephew with extraordinary medical needs called and needed help with a fussy toddler who needed his dressing changed and wasn’t cooperating. As I was going to get my jacket, I started to chuckle and looked up as I often do and said, “I guess you’re showing me where my commitments really are,” and I confirmed, yet again, something I’ve known for a very long time. People matter to me and they will always come first. I drove over to my friend’s house and distracted the little man while my friend attended to his medical needs. I probably could have told my friend I had a radio show to do, a school pickup to do, plans for the evening, and she would have understood. She’s a busy mom like me, but I would have known that I violated my priorities, and that would have only served to send me down a path I don’t like going down. I would have ended up angry about something totally unrelated and possibly said something unkind or insensitive to someone who didn’t deserve it. I think that’s where most angry outbursts come from anyway. It seldom has anything to do with the incident at hand. It has to do with feelings of violation that have bubbled under the surface for a long time and for some reason, we think it is noble to stuff that all down and that our negative feelings should not be expressed. I think that’s where the crazy in our society comes from. We’re taught to suppress anything negative and that the façade of perfect is what we need to project. We don’t let ourselves get too close to anyone for fear that they may find out who we are or that we struggle or that we need help. We are taught to be self-reliant and independent, and as Leo Buscalia says, “that’s why we’re all dying of loneliness.”

This week I have struggled. I am attending an online creativity bootcamp that I’m supposed to submit daily some creative thing I’ve done. This week, getting through each day without a meltdown has seemed like a triumph. I have fallen into bed exhausted from nothing but emotion running wild and I’ve submitted nothing. The guilt of that was adding to the spiral of negativity, but again, the table clearing saved me. I don’t owe these people anything. I don’t even know most of them, although I’m coming to love many of them as I learn their stories and the kindred spirits I have all over the globe. I owe me. I owe it to myself to live my best life and be gentle when the valleys come. I owe it to myself to keep releasing the old crap that bubbles up when I feel these spiritual epiphanies so that I can live a more authentic and unique life. I owe it to myself to focus as much as I can on my own life, knowing that my priorities will always include those I care about. I am and always will be people oriented, but I’ve also learned a great secret. For a little while at a time, I can be task oriented. For bits and pieces of my day, I can focus long enough to take care of my home without making it my life’s work. I can get laundry accomplished because it really doesn’t take more than about 15 minutes of my day for each load. Don’t believe me? Time it and see how much time you spend sorting, switching, folding and hanging. A full load for me takes between 10 and 15 minutes. I can even focus on writing a book for 15 minutes at a time and make great progress, and although I can talk forever about nothing, I can even write down notes for a radio show and blog post so that my words have some sense of flow instead of just a bunch or rambling, and those who would rather read the words than listen to them can do just that because remember, it’s all about the people.

Speaking of people, one of the ways I’ve inspired myself is to focus on who I could help with the upcoming book. I know of a few and one in particular who asked me to write this book to help her. I am happy to do that but I wanted to do more, and I have found it. I don’t know who it will be yet, but a portion of the profits of this book will go to help a family in need. I know there are so many who need, and it’s difficult to choose sometimes who you would like to help, but I’ve reached out to someone and if they give permission, I will be donating to them. If not, I have a few others lined up to ask as well, and I know there are several worthy causes out there, so someone will benefit, and I’ll let you know who when the final decision is made.

The march of the holidays has in some ways already begun. Halloween is only two days away. Thanksgiving in the US is five weeks from today, and Christmas is a mere 8 weeks and one day away. For those who celebrate all of them, it is an exciting and sometimes stressful time, but what if we all decided to make them more significant than stressful? What if we keep our eyes and our hearts on the things that bring us joy in every moment? Yes, some of us have extraordinary obstacles, but many of us have mountains made of molehills. We stress over things that we agree to that violate our priorities and subject us to people, places and things that take our joy rather than give it. I have a niece that did that a few years ago. She was recently married and trying to please everyone on both sides of her family. My husband’s family gathers together two times per year, Christmas Eve at my sister in law’s house and Easter at my house. Her new husband’s family gathers much more often, but they had a tradition of staying out of town on Christmas Eve at a relative’s home. She opted to go with her husband and was miserable, but unlike many others, after being miserable, she decided she wouldn’t be doing it again. She decided that she wanted her children to share in the joy of being around the pandemonium that is Christmas Eve with our family. We have four generations and anywhere from 40-80 people, depending on everyone’s plans. It is the only time we see some of the family, but it is a huge bonding experience for us all. Our niece opted for that, and she is so much happier because of it. Believe me, I know what it means to compromise for the holidays. We altered everything about our holidays when I married my husband because it was so much easier to alter the plans of four people than the 35 that were in my husband’s family at the time. We found ways we could both be happy, and when our children came along, we altered things even more. Being flexible is a gift you give, not only to those around you but also to yourself.
So what am I saying? I’m saying that stuff happens. We have ups and downs. We forget our priorities, but that’s part of the journey, and when we remember that and realize the bend in the road and the mountains and molehills are all part of the process, we can get back to the smooth, higher ground faster. Hopefully you have a real life and/or online community that help you remember that, and if you don’t, find one. They exist. I promise, because I’ve found two, and I’m doing my best to create another. Until next time, thanks for being you and have a great day.

Rising above October

22 Oct

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Some weeks I struggle with writing my blog and coming up with ideas for my radio show. Some weeks I have an overload of subjects to talk about. Some weeks, I search and search for a topic and once I find one, I can barely hold back the flood of ideas that finally come. This week was such a week. I did not know until this morning what to talk about on the radio show, but once I did, my fingers couldn’t write down the ideas fast enough. Ironically, as I put my fingers to the keyboard to write up my notes to post on the blog page, I still wasn’t sure where the muse would lead me, but I have learned to trust the Divine to send me exactly where I need to be and that is where today’s subject begins.

This week I’ve been thinking about momentum, so that’s where I thought I should start. I lost some writing and holiday prep momentum last weekend. It was a fantastic weekend, and I truly enjoyed myself, but the writing slowed and so did the holiday prep. Unfortunately, that slow down seeped into Monday and even Tuesday I found myself not wanting to do anything, but I know I have a deadline for publication. I know I have a deadline for holiday prep, so I dragged myself into the day on Tuesday, and once I got rolling, I was so excited with the progress I made on my home, my holiday planning and the book. When Wednesday rolled around, I truly wanted to build on the success of Tuesday, and I did really well around the house, but for some reason I couldn’t bring myself to write. I put it off and procrastinated until well into the evening. It would have been so easy to let it slide until Thursday, but Thursday is radio show day and writing is a bit of a challenge because of the radio show notes and posting the blog post. It takes about the same amount of time I schedule each day for writing, so if I find it challenging to make writing a priority on easy days, you can imagine how difficult it can be on busier days, and with less than ten days left to finish, any day without writing puts me one step closer to missing out on publishing at all. So, I dug in and spent an hour working on the book. I didn’t write thousands of words, but I made progress, and that is how I came to today’s radio show.

I’ve had two amazingly productive days in a row. In October, that is nearly a miracle for me because this is traditionally a time of struggle for me. I don’t like September and October most years for several reasons. September and October are traditionally the times when money is the tightest for us. Our additional income stops and school expenses skyrocket. The weather gets colder and for this spring and summer loving girl, that is usually a challenge. I am often whiny and fussy and generally miserable to be around. I can’t stand me, and it amazes me sometimes how my family puts up with my October attitude, but I truly wanted this year to be different, and it’s amazing how the Divine will give you just what you ask for, if you ask for it with intention and specificity. This year I wrote down several things I wanted. I set a specific weight loss goal, but I made sure to write down that I wanted it to be in a healthy way, and I wanted to enjoy the process. Guess what? I started using my Fitbit app and I’m having a great time with it. I’m not pushing myself to be miserable. I’m focused on enjoying the process and it’s working. I also wrote down that I want our home to be clean, clutter free and holiday ready by the end of the countdown I am doing on the Better Living Daily page. I want to enjoy the holiday season while I get my home, body and creativity in their best shape ever, but I also want to laugh and smile daily and delight in the process of doing that, and it is happening.

I’ve talked before about Tony Robbins’ four step process to set and achieve goals, and those are the goals I have. The second step is to take action. I am writing even on day’s I don’t really feel like it. I’m keeping up with my Fitbit App. I’ve joined a Creativity Bootcamp. I have daily routines and know that decluttering needs to be a part of the plan. The brilliance in the four step plan, in my opinion, though, is step 3 that tells you to notice what is working and what needs to change. Some days you figure out little things. I’ve been eating low carb for a while because I feel better when I do. Since I was tracking calories, one day I decided to have a few potatoes with lunch and some pasta with dinner. I rarely eat either of those things anymore and cannot remember the last time before that day that I had eaten them in the same day. I still stayed under my suggested calorie intake. I got enough sleep and drank plenty of water. By the numbers, I did everything right, but I gained a pound, and I felt like garbage the next day. I realized that eating lower carb was still the right direction for me, and since then, I have seen more success. I also wasn’t seeing the success I was hoping for around my house and realized my decluttering was sporadic at best, so I’ve become more consistent with that on a daily basis and it’s amazing how quickly the house has come into alignment. I’ve even been more consistent on a huge project I take on every year with our marching band. Each year we have something called Tag Day where the band members go into the community and collect donations. Residents know the students will be coming and can recognize them by the band shirts that they wear. The band provides t-shirts to the younger members who don’t have the standard band polo shirt so everyone is wearing something uniquely band themed, and every year, I volunteer to wash, dry and fold the 150-200 t-shirts they use. It generally takes me 6-8 weeks to do, but this year it seems like less of a burden because I am folding between five and seven shirts daily. It keeps the process going and keeps the crabbiness away as well, which brings me to step four, which is to be flexible and keep changing until you find the best approach and results for you. This is big. It’s huge if you think about it.

The whole idea behind these steps is to strive for constant improvement, and I believe each of us can do that, no matter what our circumstances, and if you think you’re circumstances are tough, let me share this with you. Tough is having watched your child struggle for a month to regain her fragile health after open heart surgery for the second time in her less than two year life. Tough is jumping on a boat that may or may not make it to a place that is safer than the one you are living in. Tougher still is risking your children’s lives to make that journey as well because where they live now is such a dangerous place to be. Perhaps the toughest of all is to live through that journey only to be relegated to a camp with a tent for shelter, no running water, less than adequate sewage facilities for human waste and people who are not happy to have you in their country. You can read about the journeys of the Syrian refugees on the Humans of New York Facebook page, and if reading those stories don’t make you realized how very blessed you are on the deepest of levels, may God have mercy on your soul. I don’t share any of this to make you feel guilty or ashamed; please understand that. There is too much of that in the world. Everyone is offended these days and feel it is their right to judge others, and frankly I’m sick of it. You know, I’m reminded of a line from the Broadway show Auntie Mame: “Life is a banquet and most damned fools are starving to death.” Yes, some days are less than stellar, but I would be willing to bet that for most people, their worst day is better than someone who is living in a refugee camp. I know it is for me because I have running water, two working toilets, more food than in my home than some families will eat in a month. Again, this isn’t about guilt and shame. It is about gratitude for the incredible blessings you have. Perhaps the extra weight I carry is a blessing because while losing it, I have been hungry for the first time in a long time. I’ve allowed myself to feel what hungry really is, knowing I can change it at any time but understanding that many can’t. That is a revelation indeed.

I know now that I used to have mild depression during October and November. I have learned to increase my Vitamin D, get adequate rest, eat healthier and focus on gratitude to keep the depression at bay, but I learned something else. I learned that depression is a selfish, hateful brat. Depression only wants you to think about yourself and your poor, pitiful life. Depression tells you that your house would be clean if only your kids would pick up after themselves. Depression tells you that your husband doesn’t care about you and only thinks of himself. Depression tells that someone else’s success is ill gotten and your only friend is someone who suffers with you and will get sucked into the abyss with you. This is how selfish depression is, and it’s very difficult to save someone who insists on being depressed. I understand that some need medication. I understand that some need counseling, and I am the greatest advocate of people having those things and not having to hide it in any way, but I am a huge proponent of solutions, and the first solution is to take care of yourself. Whether it is mild or deep depression, taking care of yourself, however pointless it seems, is a step in the right direction. Honestly, whenever you’re feeling off balance, I think good self-care is the first step back. I used to think it was selfish to pamper yourself and I still know some who take it too far, but I’ve also realized that you truly do have to fill your own cup before you can pour yourself into anyone else’s. The other thing is to start thinking of others and though that might sound like the opposite of what I just said, I would suggest that you think about how you can build yourself up by building up someone else, especially someone less fortunate than yourself. I used to try to do random acts of kindness for people I knew and you know what? It back fired. So many weren’t happy or grateful for what I did for them, and I didn’t feel good about it. Now I do things for people who I may never see again and who cannot repay me. I donate small amounts to worthy causes. I make homeless bags by filling a one gallon Ziploc with a bottle of water, a snack, a piece of candy and some tissues to give to homeless folks at corners. Every time I have had occasion to give one away, I have driven away as blessed at the person I have given the bag to. I pray for people and write notes to them when they are on my mind to let them know I’m thinking about them. Those things put my life into perspective because it makes me look at those who have needs that I can help fulfill. They connect me to my higher purpose and they help me realize that the blessing of being able to write and publish a book is much more important than the fear of whether anyone will buy it. Those things make me look at everything, including my pile of laundry, my messy kitchen table, the number on the scale and my yard full of leaves and know that each of them is a gift beyond measure and a challenge many would love to have. Thanks for being you and have a great day.

The Hour and a Half Life Change

15 Oct

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This has been one crazy week. As I posted on my personal Facebook page, it has been a week of perspective. A young woman I know lost a child, and a young couple I know have a child who is struggling to recover after her second open heart surgery. I’ve had a few challenges of my own in the parenting realm, but knowing the situations of these parents certainly keeps things in perspective. The other thing that gave me a jolt of perspective was attending a lecture about transitioning your ADHD teenager to adulthood. A friend invited me and since my ADHD teen is 15, I thought it was a great opportunity to learn something new and I did. The best way to describe the evening was eye opening. In the first place, the lecture was conducted by a doctor which had me concerned about how well I could pay attention; the apple did not fall too far from the tree mind you, but the doctor was so entertaining, I only looked at my cell phone once to see what time it was and that was when the moderator said that time was up. He talked for an hour and a half about ADHD, and I didn’t get bored once, even during the neurobiological explanation of how the brain works. That, in my humble opinion, is one heck of a speaker, and I learned more than I ever thought I wanted to know about ADHD. Bear with me because some of the highlights of this talk were incredibly eye opening to me, and I think they explain so much.

Do you know the first time the symptoms of ADHD show up in medical journals? I didn’t. I thought it might be the 1970s when my mother took sugary cereals out of my brother’s diet because he was fidgety at school. Nope. The first mention of childhood inattention in a Medical Textbook is in 1775 when Melchior Adam Weikard wrote about distractibility, poor persistence and impulsive actions in children. In 1778, Alexander Chrichton provided more detail and even mentioned the inability to focus, so the next time someone talks about ADHD as being a fad, you can share that with them. The observation of these types of behavior became more apparent and relevant when mandatory school began in the early 20th century and children were now forced to sit in one place all day and concentrate for the first time. Although my son is not medicated, I did find it very interesting to find out that stimulant medication for children has the second most studies of any drug on the market other than aspirin.

One of the other things I found very interesting is how those with attention issues handle time and punishment. We all know that small children struggle with long term thinking and detest being yelled at. Because of an under developed prefrontal cortex in the brain, those with attention issues have difficulty seeing life in the long term and they continue to struggle with being yelled at, although there is some research that suggests that children with ADHD can actually become addicted to being yelled at because it stimulates their adrenaline which then makes it easier for them to focus. For parents of those children, that idea explains so much, but then the question becomes what to do about it. The normal prefrontal cortex of the brain is fully developed by age 25. Guess how old you have to be to rent a car? In case you don’t know, it’s 25. Interesting, huh? For most people, their sense of understanding the correlation between behavior and the consequences develop as follows:
Children under 5 need immediate feedback to understand the connection between behavior and consequences. Reading a book, watching a video or playing a game must come immediately after a desired behavior is accomplished. If the reward is delayed, the lesson is lost. Children in 1st through 3rd grades have about a 1-2 hour time frame. Children in 4th – 7th grades have about a day, and as children grow through their teens, they develop to having a 5-7 day time frame. In children with attention issues, those associations are delayed, so your 15 year old, who “should” be able to understand a reward a week in the future may only be able to think about this day and just a few hours from now. I wish I had known that when my son was in 3rd grade because that was when it became so frustrating for me to try to incentivize him. It never seemed to work and now I know why. My “treats” were too far into the future. The other thing is that all children and adults need rewards, but I think kids and adults with ADHD need even more rewards. A few years ago, I stopped watching The Biggest Loser on TV because I knew that show wouldn’t help me. I didn’t need a trainer that yelled at me and pushed me to my breaking point. I had been doing that all my life, and I was still fat. No one had to remind me of why I wanted to lose weight, and I didn’t need a trainer to push me. What I needed was a kinder way of being. For me, losing weight isn’t about working out and starving myself. I have to focus on taking excellent care of myself rather than pushing myself with threats and negative self-talk. I had been punishing myself for decades. It has become time to pamper and take care of myself. The term the doctor used was forward thinking. Take this example:
If you don’t do your homework, you won’t get to play video games or as soon as you finish your homework, you can play video games.
To most people, that is basically the same statement; completing the homework means that you get to play video games. To a child with ADHD, the only statement they hear in the first sentence is that they won’t get to play video games. I heard someone say something similar to this years ago while talking about trying to get children to slow down while taking a walk. What do most people say to a child who keeps running ahead? They say, “Don’t run.” A child then has to think about the undesired behavior before they can think of the desired behavior and the adult never really stated the desired behavior at all. Instead of telling the child not to run, tell them what you want. Tell them to slow down. Tell them to walk, and if you really want to be extraordinary, figure out why you want them to do that behavior in the first place. Are you afraid they might run out into the street? Tell them that. If you want a child the thinks for themselves and doesn’t just follow the crowd, never tell them to do anything because you said so. Give them reasons, and it will make you think about your own motivations as well. This is a life skill that will serve you well and although it is simple, it is not always easy. This morning, I caught my 15 year old with electronics in his bed for the third time this week. I am so tired of this behavior, and I really wanted to lambaste the child. I wanted him to feel bad about what he did, but I found a better way. My son does not like to ride the bus and has been driven to school for the past few years. He truly loves being taken to school. I do it because I love my son and have done it for my other sons as well. The only thing I ask of them is to keep the morning moving well and be ready on time. When my son sneaks electronics into his room, he doesn’t sleep well and it makes for a very stressful morning. When I add the half hour it takes to drop my son off at school and the extra tank of gas each week, I get especially irritated when we have that added drama in the mornings. To make the point, this morning I called our transportation department and asked what I needed to do to have him ride the bus in the morning, and I called when my son was home and could hear the conversation. He hasn’t been punished and I explained to him that from now on, the choice was his. If he chose to have electronics in his bed, he chose to ride the bus. If he chose to go to bed on time and get himself up in the morning, I would take him. It wasn’t a perfect conversation, and I did get more aggravated than I would have liked to, but it has been a stressful and under slept week for me too and I have never even hinted that I am perfect in any way. I only say that each day I do my best to do better than the one before. The thing is that life will treat us this way as adults. If we make good decisions, life is generally better. If we make bad decisions, life is generally more of a challenge. Unfortunately, we’ve been more conditioned to beat ourselves up when we make a mistake than to lift ourselves up when we make good decisions. What if we decided to change that? What if we decided to turn life around?

One of the attendees asked the speaker what you say to parents who say that life isn’t forward thinking; that life has negative consequences if you don’t do what you’re supposed to, and his response was amazing. He disagreed. He said the reason he goes to work is to get paid. He loves his job, but if they decided not to pay him, he wouldn’t show up. There may be a small percentage who don’t, but the vast majority of people who work and are paid, so it for the money. I work then I get money then I buy stuff I want. You could see people understood this on a level they had never even thought about before, and I have to say I got it as well. I also began to see that I needed to do that more with myself. I needed to create more incentives and live with more joy. I decided to live forward and it has made a difference. For those who are friends with me on Facebook, you know that I have been asking for prayers for the people I mentioned at the beginning of the broadcast. In the past, what was happening to those people would have shut me down emotionally. It would have been my excuse for not doing anything, but I realize none of them would want to be responsible for that. Would you? Would you want your suffering to make others suffer? Instead, I decided to do as much as I could muster in the most kindly way I could. It’s why I kept my temper with my son when I would have lost it in the past. It’s why, when the doctor talked about raising children with ADHD being like working with butterflies, I nearly cried. He said when you work with butterflies you cannot grab them by the wings so that they cannot fly or you’ll kill them. You cannot pounce on them or run after them or you will scare them away. The best thing you can do with butterflies is to sit and observe and be very peaceful and when they feel comfortable, they will fly and land near you and eventually they will open its wings and show just how beautiful they are. I think that is one of the most beautiful descriptions of not only teens with ADHD but human beings in general. For that piece of wisdom alone, it was worth my time to attend. So my little butterflies, I set you free to fly. My two greatest joys are to see you fly and to see you land near me to spread your wings so I can see how beautiful each one of you really are. Thanks for being you and have a great day.

Wondering Through the Day

11 Oct

Some days you wonder where the time goes. Some days you wonder where your focus has gone to. Some days you wonder how you got through the day without strangling someone, but how often do you wonder how blessed you are? Lately, I am almost overwhelmed with wonder. I have been reading stories of the Syrian refugees who are stepping onto a boat that may or may not carry them to a safer place. They are risking death and the death of their children to flee their homes to arrive in a country where they don’t speak the language and may not be welcome. They don’t even have enough money to buy a cup of coffee, and whatever your views on their legal or illegal status, stop for a moment and think about that. I cannot imagine being so afraid for my life that I would risk getting into an overloaded boat with my children not knowing if we will live to see the next day. I don’t even want to wonder what that feels like. When the Jews were fleeing Hitler, did we send them back to Germany, Austria and Poland? I don’t know. I am almost afraid to know, and I hope we have learned and evolved since then. When they get to what they hope will be freedom, they are put in camps with little to no sanitation and no grocery stores, markets or gardens to feed them. It o. I now have a different perspective that ccurs to me that I might throw out more food than they eat. There was a time I would feel shame and guilt about that I’ll get to soon.

I also know a couple who is sitting in a hospital after their child’s second open heart surgery, and their baby is not even two. I know what it is to have a child with extraordinary needs. I do not know what it is like to have one in this situation. I do not know what it’s like to make the decision to be with my child or to work to pay my bills. I wonder how they will recover financially from this because I know how difficult it can be to overcome the financial hurdles of huge hospital bills and expensive medications. I wonder why drug companies, who already make so much money, seem to gouge those who struggle most, and yet, there are programs through the drug companies that help financially, if you know to ask. For ten years, we didn’t know to ask and I wonder how much we paid that we didn’t have to.

Then there is another kind of wonder. It is the wonder of seeing the human spirit at its best. It is watching a video of an eight year old boy who has cerebral palsy finish a triathlon. If you haven’t seen the video, here is the link to watch it: I watched that boy leave his walker to cross the finish line unaided and fall not once, but twice and get up to finish what he started. I watched the photographer taking his picture as he made his way to the finish line make a move to help and then realize that the boy would have been disqualified if he received help, so the photographer stepped back and let the boy struggle to have his moment despite the monumental effort it took. I have sat in wonder watching other parents do the same for their extraordinary child. They hide their fear and encourage when they want to step in and make the struggle go away. They hide the pain they feel of every failure so that they can encourage their child to succeed. They build their child up and send them into a world when they would much rather keep their child safe at home, and they do whatever is necessary to give that child a good life, an empowered life, and they sit in wonder as parents who struggle with bigger issues than their own make it look easy and parents who have children with no extraordinary needs complain about the littlest things.

I wonder how people can take their blessings for granted, but then I remember I was one of those people. I didn’t understand anyone’s struggles but my own and I didn’t want to. I thought everyone could just do something to create a better life and if they didn’t, it was their own fault. I was young and judgmental and completely unaware of the privileged life I lived. I don’t apologize for that because we need people of privilege. We need people who know what it’s like to have a good life so that they can help others have it too. You see, I don’t believe we need government programs to change our country and the world. I believe WE need to do that. We need to stop posting about what everyone else should be doing about the struggles in the world and do it ourselves. If you have a passion for the homeless, help out in a shelter. If you have a passion for teens, help out at a boys/girls club or a runaway shelter. If you know someone who needs financial help and you have the means to help them, set up a charitable site for them or just send them money. When you help others, you learn to be compassionate. You learn their stories and you become grateful for your own. You realize if everyone’s challenges were thrown into a pile, you would take yours back.

So many say that we need to take care of our own first, and I agree with that on many levels. We need to be the best providers, parents and people we can be, but at some point you have to make a choice to focus on what you can get or what you can give. If you’re a Christian, Jesus told the wealthy to give up half of what they own and give it to the poor. I’m not even asking you to do that. I’m just asking you to give something. I will admit something to you. We buy lottery tickets now and then, especially when the jackpot gets above $100 million. It’s so much fun to think of what we would do with that kind of money, and the last time we bought a ticket with my family around, one of my sons said, “Well, if we do win, we’ll only get half of what’s left over after taxes because Mom will give half of it away.” At first it sounded like an insult, but when I looked at my son there was a teasing pride on his face, and I knew he would enjoy giving that money away as much as I would. As a parent, you wonder if your children are paying attention. After that comment, I knew for sure that they were. You see, we live in an area of great affluence. When we moved into our home, the median income in our small city of 30,000+ residents was $107,000, and we were making less than half of that at the time. My children grew up with other children who routinely traveled the world, wore high end clothing, always had the newest electronic game or gadget and often got cars their own parents couldn’t afford for their 16th birthdays. We used to joke about living in the slums of our city, although most of the homes are worth over $100,000 and ours is one of the bigger ones.

On the other side of that coin, though, we have family members that live below the poverty line. If it weren’t for family help, they could be out on the street. They deal with mental illness while trying to raise families. We have parents who have practically abandoned their children and left them for grandparents to raise. We have addicts in recovery and some who aren’t. My children have seen the struggle of those who have not had the privileges they have had, and it has made them appreciate their lives instead of bemoaning what they lack. They have also seen some of those with the least give the most and some of those with the most give the least. They understand that when we give away $25 to three or four causes or people we hold dear, it is the same as others giving hundreds or thousands. They also understand that the time we spend helping others has value. No, they are not perfect, but they see the world differently because of the balance of privilege and struggle in their world, and I believe it will make them better members of the human race.

Lately I have been wondering about gun violence in my country. Those outside the US seem to think we are a violent people ready to explode at any second. It hurts my soul to know that because that is not who I am or who I am raising my children to be. I understand those who are afraid of guns and want them gone because they want to feel safe. I also understand those who have had guns their entire lives and have used them to feed their families and serve in the military or as first responders who feel more fearful about not having guns to protect them. What I think about most of all is what goes on inside the mind of someone who could do so many human beings such great harm. They obviously think that taking another’s life and often their own will solve something. Several of them have been under care for mental illness, and many fear the backlash against others who are under care. There has also been talk of some of the perpetrators being on the autism spectrum, and those who are on the spectrum and those who love them fear backlash as well, but what if we look at this all from another perspective? What if we stop blaming and start treating everyone with compassion and love? When I was an angry young person, I blamed everyone else for my problems. If my husband or children would just do what I asked, I wouldn’t be angry. If people would just live like me, then I could be happy. What a load of crap. Who am I to tell everyone around me and even those I don’t know that they have to change so that I can feel better? What a bunch of narcissistic bs that is! One of the best things I ever heard about that subject came from Rita Davenport. She basically said that no one got up this morning and wondered how they could tick you off today, and I would add that if they did, that says much more about them than it does you.

Yesterday I read the following Huffington Post blog post about a marriage in trouble and how it turned around. Although it’s marriage based, the basic premise holds true in every struggle in life. One question can change it all for most people. Instead of feeling put out, infringed upon and unseen, ask what you can do today to make “it” better. If you and your spouse are at odds, ask them what you can do to make their day better and don’t do it for just one day. Do it consistently for a week or as the author of this article did, for a month. Things will change. I did this many years ago as a stay at home mom who was feeling incredibly taken for granted. Instead of griping about everything I had to do, I started asking how I could bless my family that day. It took a while, but I started to look at what I did around my house as a blessing for everyone instead of a burden for me. I began to see doing laundry as blessing my family with clean clothes. I began seeing that spending a few minutes every day sprucing up the toilet and sink in the bathroom was a blessing for me, not something I did as a martyr to give my family a clean place to use the bathroom. Yes, we did have to have some conversations about bathroom etiquette, and yes, my boys were told that if that etiquette wasn’t followed that they would be responsible for taking care of the toilet for a week, but it was said in a calm, rational way instead of mom turning into a screaming banshee because no one respected what she did. It took a while, but life began to shift, and then came the tipping point. I read an article about a school in my city where every child was on assistance. I took my donation to the school and wept as I listened to stories about children who shared toothbrushes if they had them at all, who may not have a bed and who owned only one pair of underwear. I could not look into the faces of those children and blame society or their parents for any of it. They didn’t ask to be born into their circumstances, nor did their parents. I remembered the judgmental comments of my youth that you could be poor and still be clean, and I understood that if you cannot afford to buy a second pair of underwear for your child, you certainly weren’t going to spend money on cleaning products. How could you? From far away, when reading an article, you can easily blame society, the government and people. While standing in the midst of it, you realize society, the government and “people” are not the answer. You are the answer. The way you live your life is the answer, and I am changing more every day. If something touches my soul, it is my responsibility to do something, and I am. I recycle, not because of climate change, but because I love this planet that I live on. I give money to people who need it, not through agencies that only give pennies of every dollar to the cause, but to programs that are dedicated to helping those who need help now without amassing huge salaries for themselves. I wish I could give more, but I realize that even $5 can help, and I feel so good knowing I have eased the burden of another human being. I carry homeless bags in my car filled with packs of tissues, snacks, first aid kits and water and hand them out as I travel past street corners where the homeless regularly stand. I know many of them are addicts, alcoholics and/or mentally ill but every time I’ve stopped, I’ve seen nothing but gratitude from those in need.

On a larger scale, I write and share what I’m learning as I go. I’ve stopped being angry for the most part, and when I am, I have this awesome husband who reminds me of who I really am and who asks me how he can make my life better that day. I also have this life filled with people of privilege and struggle to remind me how blessed I am and to put my struggles into perspective. I have the blessing of encountering those who struggle to see that blessings are always there, even in the worst of times because if you look for it, people can surprise you in the best of ways. For the little school in my city, the response of the people who live here was so overwhelming, the school is now referring donations to other schools in need. That is the planet that I want to help create. It’s why I no longer wonder about the “bad” stuff that happens because I know it is a call to someone or maybe even several someones to step up. It is an opportunity for someone to contribute to humanity and become more human in the process. It softens the bad and enhances the good, and I no longer wonder why it happens. I just get to work, changing me and the world. Thanks for reading. Thanks for being you and I wonder what you will do today to make the world a better place.

Finding Your Tribe

8 Oct

Source: Finding Your Tribe

Finding Your Tribe

8 Oct

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Have you ever heard the quote, “When you find people who not only tolerate your quirks but celebrate them with glad cries of ‘Me, too!’ be sure to cherish them. Because those weirdos are your tribe.”? I love this because I spent most of my life feeling like I don’t belong and wondering what was wrong with me. As a child, I was bright but couldn’t finish my work. I wasn’t a model student, although I got good grades. Unlike most of the “smart kids” my desk was a mess instead of neat and tidy because organization eluded me. I was an athletic girl who loved to climb trees when it was not “ladylike” to do so. My Barbie dolls were usually single and had exciting careers instead of being mommies and having babies. I raced bikes. I played softball. I got dirty and the day girls were finally allowed to wear pants to school instead of a dress or skirt was one of the best of my life since. Almost every friend I ever had was more “girly” than I was and the ones that were not didn’t seem to care much about school.

In junior high, it got more pointed. There were fewer and fewer of my sports teammates in my classes. Fortunately, I made one friend who, although we were very different seemed to be the one person who understood who I was and even liked me. We were in six and a half of seven classes together in our ninth grade year and I call it six and a half because the one class we didn’t have together was health, but for a good part of the class we talked about human sexuality in a day and age when boys and girls did not take that class together. We always said we had to become the best of friends or the worst of enemies, and I think we’re both glad we chose friends since we are still the best of friends many decades later.

High school was a strange time for me. I continued to play sports. I continued to do well in school, and I continued to have a small group of friends with a large circle of acquaintances. I had fun, and I worked hard, but I didn’t fit in with the jocks because I was a nerd and I didn’t fit in with the nerds because I was an athlete. The male athletes dated cheerleaders and members of the drill team. The male nerds weren’t attracted to someone who could quote football and baseball stats. At least I had my small group of friends, or so I thought. Toward the end of our senior year we got something called a memory book. Because our yearbooks wouldn’t come until the following September when we were long gone from school, we could use the memory book to write notes to one another like we had done in previous years in our yearbooks. They all looked exactly the same so sometimes they got mixed up, which is what happened to me. I didn’t know that when I opened the book and found a note inside. I wasn’t aware that the note with no name on the front was meant for others to read but not me. When I opened the note, although it wasn’t for me, I found out it was about me. It was a cruel note about how all of my supposed friends hated me. It had twelve names at the bottom, all of whom I thought were my friends, and the one that hurt the most was my best friend’s name. I was devastated, but I got up and handed the book back to its rightful owner. I looked at her and told her I had read the note. Instead of apologizing or saying that she didn’t write it, she scolded me for reading something not addressed to me. I knew she was the author and the person behind the note. I was angry and heartbroken and told her that since the note wasn’t addressed to anyone and I thought the book was mine I did think the note was to me, and in a way it was. I stormed out of the classroom with my best friend, not the author of the note, hurrying to catch me. When she did, she knew something was wrong and asked what it was. I shot her a horrible, angry look and said, “Like you don’t know”. She swore she didn’t, and I told her to talk with our other friend to find out. Apparently she did because when I saw her later in the day, she told me she didn’t know anything about the note and would certainly never have signed it if she had. I wasn’t sure whether to believe her, but since we had been friends for nearly a quarter of my life by then and she had never lied to me before, I accepted. My tribe of twelve was down to two, and I was grateful that graduation was right around the corner. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

When I left for college, I thought things would be different. I thought people would be more enlightened and accepting. I thought I would find my tribe for life, but life doesn’t work that way. I found friends, some I still communicate with, but I still struggled to fit in. For the first time, I was exploring my creative side. I majored in English and Mass Communication but I still couldn’t find my tribe. I was too soft to be a journalist. I wasn’t edgy enough to be a writer. I wanted to belong so badly, but I didn’t. I did find a small group of friends. We had great fun together until I was a senior, and no, they didn’t turn on me. They graduated. All my close friends were a year ahead of me, so I spent my senior year mostly alone, concentrating on my work and missing those I cared about most.

I was married briefly in my twenties and that is a story for another day, but anyone who has been married and divorced knows however big or small the tribe, it fractures when people get divorced and even those you thought were your friends occasionally support your ex instead of you. It’s enlightening and painful, but it happens. Once again, my best friend was caught in a difficult situation. You see, we were married to high school best buddies. Leaving meant I might not be friends with her anymore, but to my ex’s credit, neither one of us ever tried to make them choose between us, and they are friends with both of us twenty plus years later. Then came the love of my life. I wasn’t looking and neither was he but a mutual friend thought we would be a cute couple and set us up. She asked us both to go out to dinner and left us there after driving me and then asking him to drive me back to my car; sneaky woman. It worked, though. We talked for hours and connected quickly. About seven months later we moved in together, were married a year later and started our family a year after that. I knew then that I had truly found my tribe.

Nothing could have prepared me for motherhood. I loved my husband with a depth I had never known, but when my children were born, I instantly knew what fierce love was. Each time one of my children came into the world, I knew I was meant to be their mother. I connected with them like I had never connected with anyone before. They were a part of my soul, and I knew I was meant to be a mother. Words fail me to describe the feeling, and for someone who writes for a living, that’s saying something. Ironically, as the years go by, I have had to learn to love both my husband and my children differently. I still love them deeply and fiercely, but with my husband, we made space for the love of our children in our lives. We put many of our wants aside to attend to the business of parenting. Perhaps that’s what being the leader of the tribe is about. We didn’t stop caring for each other but my husband understood the enormous amount of energy it took each day to parent our boys and lead them in the direction of their best lives. He was patient and kind and understanding. He still is, but it created a different bond between us. It created a conscious bond of support. We became a united front and considering how differently we had been raised, that was a huge accomplishment. Do we get it right all the time? Of course not, but I think we’ve done pretty well so far. In the case of my children, love has been about letting go. I had mama’s boys. They were extremely attached to me, mostly because I was their world for the first few years, but I seem to struggle differently than many. By the time it’s my youngest child’s turn to do something, I am ready; preschool, kindergarten, junior high, high school, I was ready. It’s my oldest child that rocks my world. It was the first time I took him to preschool and he was so happy to be there that I had to ask for a hug before I left. It was the first day of kindergarten as we released him to the teacher with a quick wave of his hand as he confidently walked in the building without a backward glance. It was driving away from his college drop off knowing life would never be the same. Those are the moments that get me. By the time the third one comes around, I am seasoned and ready. Nine years of a full time baby and/or toddler had me ready for preschool. Having three children on different schedules had me ready for kindergarten. Junior high and high school are logical progressions, and although I still have one at home, I hope I’ll be ready for him to launch to college as well. I still love them so much, but letting go and letting them live the life we’ve raised them to live has certainly been challenging at times.

As my children have grown, I realize they may not live near me, and I may need another tribe. I still struggle with that because I feel so different. Maybe that’s why I love the internet so much. You see, most people who know me are aware of the challenges I had getting my home in order. I found a tribe online who understands. It started big and got small and private, but those women mean the world to me even though I’ve only met a few of them. One week ago today, I met another tribe online. It is a tribe of creative women who do everything from writing to painting to drawing to fiber arts and singing. It is a tribe of encouragement and joy and my creativity has gone mad. I wrote a poem, which I haven’t done in years. I began taking pictures, which I’ve always been intimidated by because I have so many talented photographers in my family. I am writing and editing a new book and because I promised last week, I am sharing that the book is about preparing for the holidays. Yikes! Now that I’ve put it out there, it seems very real. Because I’m mostly in the editing stage, I am hoping to have the book ready to launch by the first week in November since US Thanksgiving is on November 26th. It’s scary but since I’ve done it already, I know I can do it again and hopefully with more grace and less fear because I have done it once, I know I can do it again. I have my new tribe to thank for that and my other ones too, and maybe the greatest gift of all for me is realizing I can have more than one tribe. Perhaps it wasn’t that I didn’t have a tribe before but that I have multiple tribes and they are exactly what I want and need in my life. In any case, if you have a tribe, appreciate them for every way they help you. If you need a tribe, find one. With the internet, there’s no excuse not to. To my family tribe, my Cuppa tribe and my new creativity tribe, I thank you all so much for how you enrich my life. I am truly a happy weirdo. Thanks for being you and have a great day!

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