Are you my father?

I have a confession.

It’s been 770 days since I’ve written anything here. It’s dusty here. I’ve neglected this space. There are many, many reasons for this. Some of them good. Many of them excuses. The excuses are easier to write about, because everyone has excuses. The real reasons are more of a challenge to write about because they’re, well, real. Real pain. Real heartache. Real life. Real shit.

There is plenty of time for all of that later though. Let’s not do that today. I’ve got something else on my brain. I did something recently, that I’ve been talking about doing for a couple of years. In fact, I started thinking about doing it not that long after my last post in this space.

I got a DNA test done.

I received the results of said DNA test this week, and although I knew the possibilities, (thus the test), I have been having a hard time wrapping my head around them.

In a nutshell, the person who I have thought was my dad for the past 45 years, is not, in fact, my dad. This means that not only do I have a whole family that I am related to that I have never met, but I also have a whole family that I have thought I was related to that I am not. My grandparents that I took care of until the end of their lives? Yeah, not my grandparents. My sister that I grew up with? She’s now my half-sister. My half-siblings that I grew up with? Not related. Cousins, aunts & uncles, family reunions. It’s partially mind-bending and partially hysterical. My sister used to tease me when we were kids, telling me I was adopted, or that I was someone else’s kid because my coloring was so far off from the rest of the kids in the family. She’s not laughing now that she knows she wasn’t that far off, although the test results change nothing about the way we feel about each other. At least not the way that I feel.

dna-test

These results change everything and nothing at the same time. My relationships don’t change. If I loved you and was close to you before I opened the results, I love you now. If you were hanging off the edges of my family picture previously, I don’t suddenly feel the need to pull you into it. It hasn’t changed my relationships a bit.

My ethnic makeup has changed. I thought I was Irish, and I have suddenly become Hispanic. I guess I should have known. I do love enchiladas and margaritas with a passion. This means I am now a double minority. Go figure. Again, this doesn’t bother me in any way, although my kids are a bit upset that they didn’t learn about this before they incurred a ton of college debt. Surely there would have been better grant opportunities available had they only known.

What has been difficult is realizing that the things I went through as a child were completely unnecessary. Although unchangeable, it has reopened wounds that I believed were long ago healed. I can’t remember the last time I cried about my childhood, but I have cried rivers in the past two days. Rivers.

I know that with a bit of time, I will be able to put all of this information into the proper framework that will allow me to move forward without having a box of tissue at the ready, but for now, I’m just letting the news settle in.

 

 

 

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

It’s supposed to be windy today. Really windy. The fire department tweeted to ‘expect power outages’. My weather app says ‘Significant property damage may occur resulting in structural damage.’ I say bring it on. We could use a nice blast of fresh air to clear all the stagnant, water-logged stuff away. Besides, if the power is out or a tree is laying in the middle of my dining room, I’ll get to skip out on the whole, ‘What’s for dinner?’ thing, wouldn’t that be nice?

Zoe enjoying the tree with me

Zoe enjoying the tree with me

Wind or no, today, I really need to focus on drinking more water. I was going to start yesterday, and I did manage to get down one glass, but really? One glass of water doesn’t cut it. Aren’t you supposed to do 8 cups a day minimum? Why is that so hard for me lately? On the bright side, I did have three cups of coffee yesterday, and I did manage to choke down a second glass of red wine. But really, that’s only because of the article that says that drinking a glass of red wine is like going to the gym for an hour (without the sweat). Seriously. Read it yourself if you don’t believe me. I am not even making this stuff up, although I would have liked to be the lab rat for this study!

So, I spent, in theory, two hours at the gym yesterday. I guess that means I don’t have to go today. Thank goodness. I’d hate to risk my life in the wind storm.

I have a little easel chalkboard that my husband made a few years ago for a surprise birthday party that I was throwing for kid #2. On one side, it says “Go Cougs!” with the Washington State University logo on it, because with two Coug-kids, you have to be ready for game days- even if your team is likely to lose.

The other side of the easel I use to note whatever holiday, birthday or event is happening.

Last week, I erased the Thanksgiving message to put a Christmas one up. I chose “Let your heart be light,” from the song, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas. The idea of hearts being filled with joy this time of year and letting your troubles go was the intent of the song, and I’ve always liked it. Honestly, I like most Christmas songs- and I know all the words to all the verses of them too, but that’s another story. Chalkboard (2)

The more I’ve stared at this board though, the more the meaning of the words have changed for me. Does that ever happen to you? You stare at something so long that it no longer makes the sense that it once did? It happens most often to me with word spellings. If you look at a word long enough, it stops making sense and you start wondering if you spelled it right. Or is it just me that does that? Anyway, I’ve stared at this chalk board enough times that I’ve completely changed the meaning of the words from ‘let go of your troubles and be happy’ to ‘let your heart be (THE) light’.

Christmas is about Jesus. I mean, if you can get past the commercialism that we’ve bought into. We put up trees and bake cookies and go to Christmas parties. We spend hours shopping and wrapping and watching Christmas movies. But every time I walk past this chalkboard, I am caught up in thinking that this season, of all seasons, is not about Elf and Target. It’s about my relationship with Jesus. In the Bible, Jesus refers to Himself as the Light many times. If I look at the phrase ‘Let your heart be light’ in that context, don’t the words magically change meaning? Let your heart be Jesus. Wow. It’s really beautiful.   What a different Christmas it would be if we could all let our hearts be (the) light.

That’s the kind of Christmas I’d like to have this year~

Am I A Woman?

Yesterday, I had an appointment with a new client. I was putting highlights in her hair and asking her if she had kids, to which she replied that she had three children, ages 7, 5 and 3. I told her she was right in the thick of it, raising young kids, busy with care taking and kids’ schedules. Thank God that wasn’t me and on and on. She agreed and then asked me if I had kids. I told her yes, I have three kids too, but they are 15, 18 and 23. All sophomores… one in high school, one in college and one in the second year of law school. Yes, I do know that he is not considered a sophomore. I just say that because it’s easy for people to understand.

Then she asks, is your 23 year old married? I laughed and kind of shocked, said, NO. A few seconds went by and I was sitting there quietly when then it hit me. I scoffed at her question as if it weren’t possible, but my oldest kid COULD be married. Sh*t. Where has time gone? He was just a baby. I was just a baby, wasn’t I? How is it possible that he would be of an age where he could, actually marry someone. I could be a <gasp> mother-in-law.

I read a book several years ago called The Pull of the Moon. In it, a woman drives across the country in search of herself, a person she’s lost along the way of being married and being a mother. She keeps a journal and writes some really raw, honest things down. The kinds of things, as a wife, mother and woman, that we might think, but would never dream to have the freedom or courage to say. The kinds of things that you couldn’t take back once they slip out of your mouth. The kinds of things that might damage a fragile male ego to the point of disrepair, that your marriage would never be the same, or it would simply come to an end. Raw, honest, powerful, rich. It was a great book, although I think if I re-read it now, at this point in my life, it would resonate more deeply because there are just some things that happen slowly, over time as you live life as a woman, a mom and as a wife.

At one point, she referred to herself as a ‘woman’ and all that that means, and this has stayed with me. Woman. At what point do you become a woman? An adult? That’s easy. 18. But you hear that your whole life up until that moment. At 18 you’ll be an adult. You’ll be able to vote, you can move out, you can make your own decisions, and on and on.

There was never a conversation that I had with anyone about when I would become a woman, so I feel like I’m still waiting.

At the time when I first read Elizabeth Berg’s book, I had two young children. I thought, well, AM I a woman? I have kids and a husband. But I didn’t feel like a woman. When I thought about people that were women, I just couldn’t put myself at the same level as them. Womanhood was not about age or about having kids or a spouse.  In my head, It was more intangible than that. There was some level of maturity and sophistication involved. Something I couldn’t name, necessarily, but something I didn’t have.

I’ve revisited the question many times over the years. Am I a woman NOW? Does (fill in the blank with a life event) make me a woman?

Now, at 42, I’ve done all the grown up things. I’ve been married more than half my life, I’ve got three kids, a house, cars and pets. I’ve raised my kids, all nearly to adulthood. I’ve taken care of elderly grandparents and all that that means from moving them into a retirement home to burying them. I’ve run non-profits, owned businesses and had employees that I’m responsible for. I’ve faced the past and spent time working on me so I have a better future. I’ve dealt with crisis, deep sorrow and abundant joy.

But I still don’t know that I feel like a ‘woman’. Being a woman

I’m beginning to feel like this whole ‘becoming a woman’ thing is always going to be elusive for me. And if it’s not, I don’t know what life event, big or small, is going to create the mind shift that pushes me over the edge. I just Googled “how do you know you’re a woman” and got some  jewels. I also got the option of how to find out if I am a crazy cat lady. Good news. I’m not one, but I do know one.

I’d love your thoughts on this. Can you pinpoint a time where you knew you were a ‘woman’? Guys, feel free to join the conversation and tell me when you felt like you hit the ‘man’ stage. Or woman stage, if that’s the direction you went, lol. We’re all friends.

 

 

Back-to-School Tears

So, the last of the three kids has started school, which leaves me in tears.

They could be tears of joy. The house is quiet, the TV is off more often, I don’t have to nag my teenager about acting like a house plant. I can walk from my bedroom to the dryer and back in my underwear without hearing, “God, Mom! Gross!”

They could also be tears of sadness. Homework is coming down the pipeline, which means that soon I’ll be checking grades on-line and see a missing assignment or a bad grade and do a mom-freak-out which will result in rolling of the teenaged eye-balls. I’ll likely see a homework assignment come home that is just busy work, or not explained well, or just a dumb idea all together, and yet, it’ll have to be done. Probably with my assistance. Certainly with my insistence.

Is it too late to send the kid to boarding school? It’s been working great to have kids living away from home while going to college. I can only imagine the same would be true with a high school kid.

fridge batchcookingThe bummer is, that new school year starts out with so much hope. There are the new clothes, fresh haircuts, sharpened pencils and blank notebooks. There are even well stock pantries and refrigerators, filled with healthy breakfasts, lunches and snacks. For about 10 minutes, we’ve got our sh*t together. Schedules are synched, alarm clocks are set and, Hello Miracle Of God, I don’t have to pull anyone out of bed by their toe nails, because they actually get up when the alarm clock goes off.

It doesn’t take long, however, for things to start falling apart at the seams.

Snooze becomes a regular thing, papers get lost, lunches get skipped and after two weeks of school we need, ‘just one more school supply item’ for a class, putting me over the edge.

I’m sure I sound cynical, but it’s not like I’m a kindergarten parent. I’ve been doing this for a while.  In fact, combined, I’ve been the parent of a student for 35 years. I have never had the desire to be a school teacher, but I’ve found myself, over the years, teaching (or re-teaching) every subject, from world history to pre calculus. Don’t even get me started on science fair. I’ve helped source research, edited papers, and, in fact, I’ve even written some of the papers. Don’t judge. If you are going to give an assignment (write a paper on the crisis in Ukraine and tell me what advice you’d give the President) without giving any further details, such as basics like WHERE Ukraine is or WHICH crisis in Ukraine or even a few credible sources from which students can glean their information for said paper, and then my kid spends two hours writing a paper on what happened in Ukraine when Stalin and then the Nazis invaded (which WAS, in fact, a crisis), you are going to get me, pissed off parent, writing the paper.

Side note, I got a 97% on the paper, but I have no idea where I lost the 3 percentage points because said teacher DOES NOT RETURN GRADED WORK. Seriously. So much for feedback. And I’d really like to know.

Side, side note, after writing said paper, my daughter and I took an hour long walk during which time I TAUGHT her about the current crisis in Ukraine, where Ukraine is and why the heck we even care. Yes, I did HIS job. He is welcome.

Although we’ve had some great teachers, I’ve certainly had my share of frustrating teacher moments in 35 years of having kids in school. I mean, bless them, because I certainly wouldn’t want to hang out with kids all day- especially middle school kids. Ugh. But, hey, you signed up for this gig. Not me. Don’t be sending them home with projects that we parents have to help with. I already went to school. I have a job. And I like to drink wine. Unless you want me to do a science fair project that involves me drinking wine, please keep your science fair projects in class.

The year is only three days old and already, there are signs of it going off the rails. I was reading the syllabus to my daughter’s World History class last night, because I have to sign a piece of paper that says I read it, and you never sign something you haven’t read, and I get to the end where the discipline policy for syllabusthe class is.

Now, I think it’s silly to have to put this on your syllabus for a high school class, but I understand that it’s not for the kids. It’s for the parents who think their kids are perfect and would never misbehave (this is NOT me). So when Johnny throws his eraser across the classroom and pelts Annie in the face with it, knocking off and breaking her glasses, there is a clear policy on how it’s handled because you can no longer take a switch or paddle to my kid or put a dunce cap on them and stick them in the corner (not every progression is progress, right?).  However, if you are a TEACHER and you are going to post your discipline policy IN ALL CAPS for the world to see and focus on, and then you are going to REQUIRE that parents sign off that they have read it, you should, by all means, make sure you use CORRECT SPELLING and PROPER FORMS OF WORDS.  I’ve been a teacher parent long enough that that sh*t jumps off the page at me and makes you look like an incompetent fool. If I have to edit a teacher’s writing, I might be a bit concerned about their ability to teach my child.

So, buckle up, parents. Here we go. Let the games begin. And keep our wine glasses full. We’re going to need the liquid encouragement.

Finding My Voice

I started losing my voice even before I was old enough to find it.

Little kids are known for blurting out truths that most adults are too polite to say. “Mommy! That man has a HUGE nose!” my son once boldly stated in the grocery store. Everyone turned to look at my adorable three year old, then at the object of his attention, then a few turned back to look at me to see what kind of woman had raised such a rude little boy. Hello. It’s me.  His intention wasn’t to be rude, he was too young for that. He was just stating the obvious, the truth. The man DID, in fact, have a HUGE nose. I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen one bigger.

At a Christmas party, years ago, a little girl went up to a woman there and asked her, “Why are you so fat?” Again, a very bold question asked without hesitation, and really, without judgement. She was just curious. The woman WAS very fat. She was actually obese and later went on to have gastric bypass. The woman, who had had a lifetime of judgements issues against her because of her size, simply stated that, “God made me that way,” and the little girl seemed to be satisfied with the answer and moved on.

When we are young and figuring out the world and how we fit into it, we notice things, we are curious about things and we ask or make statements about things that are not always appropriate for public consumption. When we are teaching our kids that all questions are good questions, we can’t very well nail them to a wall when they ask one. Those awkward moments that kids give us, create the opportunities to have conversations about feelings and being kind, outward differences and inside similarities. It is in this way that most of us learn when to say what we think when it’s appropriate, and when to hold our tongue and keep the words inside.

When I think back to my childhood, the first time I can remember being told what I can or can’t say was when I was three. My dad had told my sister and I that he was going to marry ‘a new mommy’ for us. I was too young to know what the heck he was talking about. What’s a mommy? I hadn’t ever had one and wasn’t wise to the ways of relationships yet, so I had absolutely zero context to put that statement in. My sister, who was six, seemed excited, so I guess I was probably excited because of her reaction, but really, I didn’t have a clue what was going on.

Shortly after the wedding, when my dad wasn’t around, my step mom said to us, “I am not your mommy. I don’t want to be your mom and don’t you call me mom!”  I still was too young to really get what she was saying, but I remember being scared because she was so angry and I remember being even more scared because she had upset my sister, so I knew it was serious. That is how I ended up with a ‘Ruth’, instead of a mom. It took a couple of years, until I started school and started noticing that all the other kids had a ‘mom’ that brought them to school, or showed up during Christmas shows, that I realized that I didn’t have what everyone else had. I still didn’t really get it or know why. I just had a ‘Ruth’ and they all had a ‘mom’, but that day when I was three, was the day I started losing my voice.

From then on, I learned very quickly to use my words as little as possible when I was home. Being invisible was the best policy and if I couldn’t be invisible, very very quiet was the next best option. I learned what I could and couldn’t say to other people that would focus my step mom’s anger at me, learned that ‘if you tell, you will get it’.  I got very good at not telling. Not telling anything. The good, the bad or the ugly.

I got a globe for my birthday when I was in the fourth grade. It was my sole birthday gift from my dad. He had bought it at Target, where he was a manager. When he gave it to me, I didn’t know what to say. A globe? Why would I want a globe? I’m nine. While I was turning the globe over in my hands, trying to think about what to say about this gift that I didn’t know what to do with, I noticed that my dad had forgotten to take the price tag off the bottom of it. ‘Clearance $0.99’ it stated boldly on an orange sticker. Well, THAT certainly elicited some thought. My dad had just bought me a birthday gift that I didn’t want and didn’t know what the heck to do with that was priced at ninety-nine cents. Of course the $0.99 price was BEFORe his 10% employee discount.

The thoughts you might be thinking right now? Yes, they were all floating around my head, along with a few other ones. What came out of my mouth? “Thank you! I can use it for school!” Pathetic, right? It’s not that I was trying to think of something kind to say so that I wouldn’t hurt his feelings. I really wasn’t thinking about that at all. I just wanted for him to love me, and I knew saying what I was thinking wasn’t going to accomplish that, so I stuffed it deep and said something more pleasing. Something that sounded nice. Something that was not true. voice

A childhood full of these learned behaviors has created in me, an adult who has a really, really difficult time saying what is true, if I feel like it will hurt or upset someone that I love. Don’t get me wrong. I can speak forty kinds of truth to someone that I am not close to. My dad has quit calling me because I don’t let him live in la-la land. I call him on his crap now, every. single. time.  No problem with that. I have had fierce conversations with biological family members of my youngest daughter, laying it all out and telling them how things are going to have to be if they want contact with her. No problem with that. Most people that know me, would never believe that I have a hard time with words, because I don’t. Unless I love you. Unless I care about our relationship deeply. Unless I think that what I have to say will be unpleasing and make you love me less. What a hot mess, to be trying to find my voice at 42 years of age.

Back in June when we had our Storyline book club finale, we had a woman come to the house and lead a mediation for us.  I usually don’t do great with meditating because I can’t get into the hoo-doo voo-doo, overly spiritual-ness of the way many people meditate. This woman was not like that, so I was glad. I don’t know if I could have kept from rolling my eyes.

AnyWHO, as she was working through the meditation, she was going through the chakras. When she got to the throat chakra, and she had us meditating on it, I felt this big egg-like shape stuck in my throat. It felt like I was choking on it, it was so large. After the meditation was over, I asked about this feeling that I was still having in my throat, and she told me that I should ‘explore’ that. That I clearly have something going on there in the communication chakra that needs attention.  Well, sh*t. Tell me something I don’t already know.  Take your cute little meditation pillow and hit the road lady.

Undoing nearly forty years of learned behavior is not easy. It is not comfortable and it is not enjoyable. I think I’ve made progress, but it’s been in baby steps, with a couple of million miles to go. Will I ever be able to just ‘say it’? Well, let’s hope I can continue on the path that direction, but on the bright side, I’ll likely never be the old lady with no filter either.

 

Traditionally

When I was a little girl, we would always spend holidays at my Grandma Omdahl’s house. All the aunts and uncles and cousins would pile into this small home and bring their Easter baskets or presents, depending upon which holiday it was. One thing that was a sure thing was that there would be plenty of food. My Grandma was a great cook and would spend days baking and preparing dishes, and then everyone else would pitch in and bring food as well and we would end up with tables just heavily laden with so much food. You quickly learned to take just a tiny bit of your favorite foods, because even that   would give you a huge plateful. If I had room for seconds, I had to really think about it because the dessert buffet would soon be spread. You were not going to go hungry at Grandma’s house during the holidays. In fact you might be so full you feel sick. It was a tradition.

In our house, we have some things that are traditions. Things that I wonder if my kids will carry forward to their families someday in the future. One of these is decorating bedroom doors.

2013-08-28 07.36.55 lizziesbday 2014-01-21 06.56.35

I’m not really sure how I came up with the idea, but when my first, Brett, was little, I put him to bed on his birthday eve. Of course he was excited about his birthday being the next day, and I was excited for him. I love birthdays. So after I tucked him in and he fell asleep, I streamered his bedroom door so that the first thing he would see on his birthday when he opened the door was a birthday celebration. The enthusiasm in the morning was all it took. A tradition was born.

When Skyler got to be about six or seven, she insisted upon decorating my bedroom door on my birthday eve. The catch was, though, that she went to bed much earlier than I did. I remember she and Brett just insisting that I needed to go to bed. They were sure I was tired. I played along and I heard them whispering and cutting tape, excited to surprise me.

No matter where we’ve been, if it’s someone’s birthday, their door gets decorated. The beach, Disneyland, Hawaii. The streamers, tape and scissors get packed along. It does require staying up late, getting up in the middle of the night, or getting up at 5 am to make sure that the birthday person is sleeping, and over the years there have been times that I’ve kicked myself for starting this tradition. After all, a person gets tired! But it has been such a fun way to make the person of honor start their big day feeling special and loved.

Today, Lizzie turns 15. She’s going to get presents, a family dinner, a homemade red velvet cake and ice cream. But, first, she’s going to start her day with a little celebration of her and her day when she opens her door!

Lazy

Lazy people bug me. Like, fork-on-teeth, nails-on-chalkboard, sandpaper-on-skin bug me.

With so little time in our lives, wasting time just seems, well, like a waste of time. I hardly watch TV for this reason. I’m a horrible napper as well. On the very rare occasion that I take a nap, I wake up cranky and annoyed that I spent time napping, instead of doing something else.

I’ve been thinking about lazy people a lot this week, I guess mainly because I live with a teenager, and there’s nothing lazier than a teenager. At least nothing lazier than the one that lives with me!

As I already told you, she has absolutely zero problem sitting in front of the TV all. day. long. watching mindless television. And then, to top it off, she is just too dang lazy to fix herself anything REAL to eat, so she hoovers down a whole bag of chips, or eats a whole Hershey chocolate bar left over from camping, and calls it a day’s worth of food. If I don’t leave her a specific list of chores to take care of for the day, she does absolutely nothing around the house. Then if I DO leave her a list of chores, they are done with as little effort as possible, with the only focus on being able to say she had done them.

For example, I asked her to dust the living room the other day and then later, I looked in at the console tabldustinge and I could literally see that she, yes, had in fact dusted it. The only problem was, that she didn’t move anything off of the table to dust it, so there was the clean part, where she wiped, and then there was the dusty part, that sat under and around every item on the table. So, I call her over to where I’m sitting in the dining room and ask her if she dusted the living room earlier, to which she replied that she had. I then have her look over into the living room at the table and asked her what she saw. She saw what I saw, which, I guess is a good sign. But then she says, slightly annoyed, and I quote, “Do you want me to do it again?” Do I want you to do it again?

NO. I do NOT want you to do it AGAIN. I want everyone to see the crappy job you did, in fact, I’m going to point it out to everyone who walks through our door. Don’t worry, I didn’t actually say that. What I said was: What I WANT is for you to do it RIGHT the first time, but if you can’t manage to do it right the FIRST time, I will be happy to let you do it a second, or third, or fourth time. As many times as it takes to do the job correctly. It’s dusting for GAWD’s sake. Not brain surgery. I think you are capable of dusting, you are just LAZY. Do I get another sticker on my ‘Good Mom Star Chart’?

Then, as I was driving down the highway yesterday, I see this girl standing on the sidewalk wearing a sign. She had clearly been hired by Oil Can Henry’s to get the attention of passersby, to bring in more business. You know, the people that have become so prevalent on the sidewalk that you almost don’t notice them anymore?

Well, I noticed her. The reason that I noticed her is that she was doing this ‘spirit fingers‘ thing, but if you read the definition of spirit fingers in Urban Dictionary, and read the ‘if done wrong’ part, yeah, that’s what this girl was doing. The ‘done wrong’ version of spirit fingers. Limp, sad, timid little wiggles of her fingers and hands. She was probably scaring away business. If I was the boss, I’d say she either needs to find a bit of enthusiasm for the job she was hired to do, or she has to go, but that wasn’t actually my first thought. My FIRST thought was, that is the kind of effort that my daughter would put into the job.

While it’s comforting to know that being lazy just comes naturally to teenagers, as the mom, and as a person who can’t stand lazy people, I know that it’s my endless, exhausting job to continue the battle of conquering laziness and half efforts, so that someday she will just naturally do things right the first time. I don’t expect to win the battle today. Or even this year. I just have to muster up the energy to continue the fight. And I need to stock the wine refrigerator, because school’s going to start Tuesday, and I have a feeling I’m going to need back up to get through the year.

 

 

Family Can Be Anyone

I follow a blog called Humans of New York, or HONY. If you are a fan of people watching, you should follow it too.

The guy behind the popular page is Brandon, and he photographs people around New York, and then asks them a few questions from which he derives the captions of the photos from. Some are hysterical, some sad, some tender. All capture the diversity of the flavor of New York. My favorite part of HONY is that Brandon does a beautiful job of capturing our differences in photos, but the captions more often point to how we really are so much more the same than different.

Brandon is currently doing a UN tour, and his work is even more stellar. The work he does with his camera is bringing more understanding than any peace-keeping mission I can remember. Check out his work in the Middle East. I promise you that it will make you feel something.

This morning, he posted a photo of a young man from Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. The brief caption that he wrote told the story of the young man’s struggles with finding a job and having enough food to eat. It ended with the sentence quoted from the young man, “I’ve learned that your family can be anyone.”

This is such a painful, but beautiful sentiment. It’s one that I’ve had to learn and it’s one that I’m having to teach my youngest daughter.

You see, my youngest daughter only became my daughter a year and a half ago. Before that, she was in and out of the foster care system, living a life full of uncertainty and insecurity. Much like me, her biological parents are still alive. One is not suitable to have as a parent and the other suffers from severe mental health issues and is not capable of being a parent.

The challenge, when you have parents that cannot parent you, is figuring out how to grow into a person who can see your parents for who they really are, instead of who you wish that they were. It is so easy, and much less painful, day to day, to imagine that your parents are out there and they live in a castle and drive fancy cars and they love you and they are looking for you tirelessly and will never give up until they one day, find you and you all live happily ever after.

It is much harder to deal with the truth, which might be that they know exactly where you are or how to get a hold of you, that they aren’t really interested in expending the energy required to have a relationship with you, that they are horribly selfish or not people that you would really want in your life, especially if you are needing a parent to actually parent you.

So, my youngest has biological parents, out there, somewhere. And then she has me. Lucky girl.

Last night, I came home from work to find my youngest hanging out on the TV. It was nearly 8pm and I had been at work all day. My husband was gone to a baseball game, after working all day as well.

I came home with the plan to have a salad for dinner, but because it was so late, I asked my daughter if she had already eaten dinner. Of course she hadn’t, so I made her a salad too. I checked my email while eating and she continued watching her show. As I was cleaning up the kitchen, (without any offer of help from her), I saw that there was an empty bag of Doritos in the garbage. I don’t usually buy Doritos, but when we went camping last weekend I told her she could get a bag. I asked her, “Did you eat that whole bag of Doritos today?” which is really a stupid question, since the evidence was in the garbage can. She replied that she had, likely bracing herself for the lecture that was about to come her way.

Being the mom I am, I didn’t disappoint, but then I followed up with, “Did you eat anything else today?” again, knowing perfectly well what the answer was going to be. She told me that the Doritos had been her sole source of sustenance for the day. God. Bless. America. And you wonder why I don’t buy Doritos. So I continued on with the lecture of how Doritos do not constitute a meal in ANY country and certainly not in our house, where there is plenty of food to make oneself if one is not too LAZY. Then, partially because I was already annoyed and partially because I was curious, I asked if she had also been parked in front of the TV for the whole day- breaking another cardinal rule of mine. You’ve got to give it to the girl. She’s honest. Knowing full well, that my annoyance level was about to skyrocket, she told me that yes, she had in fact been parked in front of the TV. ALL. DAY. LONG.

I give her my typical, ‘Watching TV all day is not good for your brain, it actually makes you depressed, (studies show it!)” and added, “If you can’t monitor your own TV time, I will treat you like a little kid, instead of the high schooler that you are, and give you TV limits!” (I’ve told you I’m an awesome parent)  and then I proceeded to tell her to turn off the TV and go read a book.  At one time, that might have been considered a punishment by her, but she actually LIKES reading now, so it’s not like I was sending her off to the dungeon or something.

About fifteen minutes later, I went into her room to ask her a question and find her sitting on the side of her bed crying. Although I suspect it’s because I lectured her about her Doritos diet and told her to turn off the TV, I’m a bit confused by the reaction. She can’t possibly have been surprised by either of those things. She’s lived with me and my crazy ideas of healthy food and minimal TV for years. She’s gotten plenty of lectures on both, including the time that she ate THREE AND A HALF chocolate  muffins from Costco IN. ONE. DAY. Have you seen those things? I don’t want to ruin anyone’s fun, but those things are NOT breakfast. We still call her the muffin man for that one.

AnyWHO. She’s crying, I’m asking what is wrong, she’s telling me ‘I don’t know’, I’m telling her: 1. That is not an answer  2. people just don’t cry for no reason and 3. if there is something that is making her upset, using her words will likely get her better results than tears. Yes, I know. I’m very sympathetic.  I stand there for a few minutes and then ask her if she’s crying because I told her to turn off the TV. She says that’s not the reason, but then I point out that she was happy as a clam when I put food in front of her face and she was eating while watching TV. It was only once I told her to go do something productive with her brain that she got upset, and I didn’t even use those exact words!

Eventually, either because she just wanted me to leave or because she knew the TV excuse wouldn’t gain her any sympathy, she told me that she was crying because she ‘missed her family’.

I’d like to tell you that I’m such a well developed and balanced human that those words didn’t feel like a knife. But I can’t. Standing there, in the room that I had made pretty for her, with her wearing the clothes that I got her that make her feel good, with the healthy meal that I made her in her belly, after a day of no chores watching mindless TV in a house with heat and electricity, never mind the private school she attends and on and on and on, she was telling me that she missed her family. I don’t know if she knew those words would hurt me or if she just was sitting in her room feeling sorry for herself because she has me as a mom and I don’t just let her do whatever the heck she wants, but I took a few big breaths and put on my big-girl panties, which meant stuffing my hurt feelings down and dealing with the actual words that she said.

When I take away the possible intent behind the words and the hurt that it caused me, hearing them right after I told her to turn the TV off, I can hear the words, “I miss my family” and know that there is truth to them, no matter what their original intent. Of course she misses her family. I miss MY family and I’m 42 and have put boundaries up around them. She’s just a kid who has had little to no say in the events that have taken place in her life. I am actually glad that she misses her family, it would be weird if she didn’t. The challenge is remembering the family you miss as the family that they actually are, and not as a fairytale concoction.  Being nearly 12 years old the last time she saw her mom and it being nearly two years since she has heard from her biological sister, she is old enough to have the memories, but some of the details have likely softened.

One of our main goals as being her parents, is to make sure that we help her become a strong enough person that when she is an adult, she will be able to use wisdom to create healthy boundaries around herself and her biological family, should she choose to seek them out. They are not healthy people, she is going to need that skill. Because of my experience with my family, and because she is old enough to know, we don’t shield her completely from information about her family. She needs to have a real picture, not a fairytale. Not having heard from anyone in her biological family for so long, we really didn’t know how anyone was doing, so I hugged my daughter and told her of course she misses her family. I told her that her family loved her and wanted the best for her. I told her that I’m sure her family thinks about her. I then sent a text to her biological grandma, asking about everyone. The text back was  lengthy, but filled with the truth about the family. Things have gone from bad to worse in many situations.  There was not one question about how my daughter was dfamilyquoteoing, but I wasn’t expecting one, so it only mildly pissed me off.

I let my daughter read the responses back and forth. She sat there for a minute re-reading them and then thanked me for texting her grandma and for letting her see the texts. She gave me a hug. I hugged her back. I told her that we knew that we can’t take the place of biological family, but we are trying to do the work of what ‘family’ means. Loving each other, being there for each other, taking care of each other, being honest with each other and yes, telling each other when choices aren’t good. That is all a part of what family means.

When I read the post from HONY today and especially the quote, “I’ve learned that your family can be anyone”, it resonated deep within me and gave me hope that someday it will ring true for our daughter.

 

Big, Bold Moves

It’s been a couple of months since a group of women and I wrapped up the Storyline book club.

Storyline is a book that takes you through a process of reflection, goal setting and action plans. It’s quite a commitment, it took us about 12 weeks to get through the whole process. Of course the book won’t do the hard work of creating inciting incidents for you, but it puts the steps clearly into place for you to follow. Storyline was the reason that I started blogging, although it wasn’t even on my list. Blogging is just a stepping stone to some other paths.

ANYwho, the women who participated in Storyline were mostly strangers at the start of the book club, but all were wanting to spend the time deciding what next story they want to create next, and man, have they taken action! Out of the thirteen women that originally started, eleven of us finished strong! Here’s what the change looked like:

~ Maggie worked as a pre-school teacher and she has accepted a new position and is now the director of the preschool she was previously working at.
~ Keli was living in the Portland area and had been substitute teaching , while she was looking for a full time position. She and her husband had a move to San Diego on their schedule for next summer. She now has her first full time teaching job and it’s in San Diego, where she was hoping to move to within the next year or so, so she’s ahead of schedule! Her husband is following soon!
~ Alison has quit Intel where she has worked for years and just accepted a position at WebMD, a big leap for her!
~ Denise went to the informational meeting for CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate), filled out the application and is doing the training. A big, scary move, but she will be a great asset to CASA.
~ Rachael quit her job at Wells Fargo, got a new job at a local high school  AND is going to start school again. She’s like to start helping to be a solution to some of the issues our school system has. Wowza!
~ Laura has been contemplating going into the coffee shop business again AND is getting ready to start classes again, while she is also busy with getting her daughter through high school and working full time at a local university.
~ Michele has been working on her real estate business again and just finished taking a Spanish class, which she’s wanted to do for a while. Million Miles
~ Liana has been going great guns on her Beach Body business AND working full time AND being a busy mom of three.
~and I’ve been blogging away…

Such big, bold action in such a short amount of time. I can’t wait to see what these ladies choose as their next steps.

If you are feeling like you are stuck, or if you are needing to move in a new direction, I encourage you to check out the Storyline book. Put your own group together and see what happens for you. And guys, PS. It’s not just for women, either. You can do it too! Check out the Storyline website for more information on author, Donald Miller. He is the author of one of my favorite books of all time, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. You should read that too!

Finding Happiness

I’ve spent the past several days in San Diego, helping my friend, Keli, set up her very first third grade classroom. I’ve been staying at her mom’juliesyard1s house, and it has been amazing to wake up in the morning, pour a cup of coffee and to sit on her patio in her lush backyard, with palm trees within view from every direction I look. There is just something about a palm tree that will make anyone who did not grow up with them think about vacation. I am on vacation, but it’s been a working vacation. In between the cutting, laminating, designing, gluing, arranging and hanging, there’ve been runs on the beach, walks down palm tree-lined streets, some great conversation, food and of course, wine. Nothing has made me feel more like it was a vacation though, than sitting outside on the patio. If I lived here, it would be my favorite place. I don’t live here and it’s my favorite place. It’s just peaceful. Yesterday, there were hummingbirds everywhere in the morning. AND there’s a lemon tree. Fancy. It just makes me happy and I’ve been thinking about how to get my backyard to be my favorite place in my house. Watch out, Honey, I’ve been thinking again!

While I’ve been happily sitting on Julie’s patio, the world was stunned by the death of Robin Williams.

It is always shocking when someone famous dies. I remember I was putting stuff into a box in my living room when my friend Erica called and told me about Princess Diana. I was driving in my car on Highway 8 when I heard about Michael Jackson. And I was sticking name tag sleeves on desks in San Diego when I heard about Robin Williams.

I am not going to pretend that I was the world’s biggest Robin Williams fan, because I really wasn’t. Don’t send me hate mail. It’s not that I disliked him, I just don’t tend to love most of the comedy-types. Steve Martin, Robin Williams, Jim Carrey, Bill Murray, Adam Sandler. Actually, I just Googled top 100 Comedian Actors, and I don’t love many of them. I guess I don’t like laughing. Or maybe I don’t like it when people are funnier than me. Whichever.

I did however grow up with Robin Williams being a household name, so it was shocking to see a Tweet from Ellen saying she was shocked. Yes, Ellen Degeneres. We’re friends. Well, friends on Twitter. She is funny too. And I ADORE her. Maybe it’s a gender issue?

More shocking was the fact that suicide is suspected as the cause of death. Don’t all of us normal people just assume that all of these rich celebrities are sitting in their big fancy homes or on vacation in a fancy estate on a tropical island, happy as a clam in the ocean? Not a care in the world because they’ve got a lot of zeros before the decimal point in their bank accounts, instead of just a lot of zeros period. It’s easy to get caught up in the, “I’ll be happy when” thing. When I get those new shoes, when I get a new car, when I get a bigger house, when I make more money. Study after study has shown that while there may be a momentary spike in my happiness level when I get a new pair of jeans, those jeans are not, in fact going to make me more than temporarily happy.

I found this article about happiness really interesting because it cites a study that says that we really only have control over about 12% of our happiness level. Nearly half of our happiness level is genetic. Some people are just wired to be happier and some are wired to be more unhappy. Just another thing to blame the parents for. About 40% of our happiness level can be traced to events, good and bad, but remember, this impacts us temporarily. So we are left with just 12% that we really have much control over. Control being the important word here for any control freak.

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Quote by Bob Goff

Faith, family, community and work. This is the 12% part of my happiness that I have control over. I can’t help how my genes are programmed and although I can plan fun events that make me happy, I can’t plan every event that’s going to happen in my life. There are going to be some that suck. But I can make intentional decisions on my faith, family, community and work that will impact my happiness. Isn’t this good information to have?

Like many other comedians who have spent most of their lives making other people laugh, it is now clear to the public at large that Robin Williams was dealing with some deep unhappiness. What a sad reminder that money and fame really cannot bring happiness and that we should be intentionally focusing on the things that can.

 

If you or someone you love is struggling with depression, don’t wait for them to ‘snap out of it’. Depression is in the 48% of things that we have little control over and can be debilitating. Getting help dealing with it from a doctor or mental health professional.