Joy. And how to use both faucets

A couple of months ago, my friend Misha asked me to write a guest post on J.O.Y.

So it’s been in the forefront of my mind, each day, since then.  Looking for it. Feeling it.

And since then, life has happened. Some little pleasures. Some little sadness’s. Some big delights and thrills. And some deep sorrows and heartache too. And, in between, all the beige when life is just ordinary.

I used to think that joy would pour into, or out of, me (not sure how that works) like British water taps (faucets).

ALL.  Or,  NONE.

Hot and scalding joy on the left.

Or FREEZING to the point of numbing whatever body part was unfortunate enough to be under the spout, from the negative emotions out of the tap on the right.

But in my life’s journey, joy isn’t usually that all-encompassing.  Like mixed taps in the rest of the world, I find joy usually blends in with whatever else is going on, across a whole range of my emotions.

 And although the Brits are probably right that separate taps are character building, I don’t find it particularly pleasant. And, I’d much rather my life, and its impact on others, lean towards the pleasant!

 When Misha asked me to write on joy, all sorts of examples jumped into my mind, immediately.  Most of them small, everyday delights. Much of mine felt through my senses, as though sight, smell, touch, hearing, and taste, are receptors of joy.  There’s a physical component, whether it’s savoring a glass of wine on a Friday afternoon on my patio, sensing the Divine as I watch the sun set in a cacophony of orange and red, making love on a lazy Saturday morning, catching sight of my kids sleeping peacefully in the twilight, or the rush of seeing my ‘sent’ folder ping with the deliverable I just completed. My senses help me realize when joy is happening.

I think joy can quickly turn from the warm glow of pleasure as you visit with a friend, to all-encompassing ecstasy, when that visit turns into laughing from so deep within, for so hard and so long, that someone ends up wetting themselves. And then you laugh even harder as your joy somehow expands even a little more (especially if it’s not you that did the wetting. That might have the opposite effect.) And finally there’s tears streaming down your cheeks and no room for much of any emotion, but blissful joy. (Of course the memory might have a touch of embarrassment too. For their sake.)

But, even when it’s a milestone JOY, like delivering your first speech as a Vice President, the emotions can be mixed. After all, we really are complicated creatures.  What if the technology failed on you?  Or your boss, or spouse, didn’t make it?  But, I venture a guess that your overarching feeling on that day, and the memories afterwards, are painted with big, wide, brush strokes of joy, with only smaller strokes of irritation or sadness.

The opposite extreme is true too.  I’ve sat with friends whose precious six-month-old has died. And with friends whose parents are gone, much, much, too soon. The sadness is almost unbearable. And the grief palpable. But, there is still a trace of joy. From sharing sweet memories. From silly pictures. From simply showing up–being together and helping to shoulder the pain.  From the shared love.

I guess what I’m saying is, there is room for joy in the mundane, to extreme pain.  Joy can be found each day. In the routine. In the grey.  Our job is to look for it. Acknowledge it.

But I also think that for both faucets to operate together, you have to allow it. No, even stronger, you have to WILL it.

For some unknown reason, which I find sad, we humans see the pain quite easily.  That faucets seems to always work well. All the time.

But, in the extreme moments of pain, I have to make a choice that the event doesn’t, and won’t, define me.  That I am more than the event of my suffering. Sometimes good days are hard to come by, and I have to look for the joy.

I am not the victim of abuse. I am not the spouse who was cheated on. I am not the mother of boy who was hit by a women who had been drinking, and forever changed the trajectory of his life. And the list could go on, of events that have happened in my past. Not one of which defines me. And honestly, none of which I carry with me.  I have chosen to turn on my joy-faucet.

The same is true in the everyday, where joy is not obvious. Where sometimes it is harder to remember to turn on the joy-faucet.  When I’m heads-down, lost in Excel-induced torture, and under the gun for a deadline, there is joy in my accomplishment and expertise.  Joy in the logic and organization of each formula I finally get right (believe me, I celebrate each one).  Or how about when it’s grey and rainy, with nothing but organizing and cleaning on the day’s agenda?  I find joy in the completed accomplishments as I check of my to-do list, but I also revel in my health and physical abilities while decimating spider-webs in those hard to reach places.  And then I celebrate the day is done with a glass of robust, red, wine. That tickles my tongue.

Happiness and joy are not inherently found in my job. No corporation or boss is going to give me joy. Even if it’s the company I founded.  Joy is found, or rather, made, by who I am. By my passions.  This  has been a new revelation for me. I thought this year of travel and experiences we’ve just completed would translate into THE job.  The dream job. The one that would help to change the world.

It hasn’t.

And I’ve had to re-evaluate why I work, and how to find joy in what I do. Because I’m not doing my dream job (and one day, hopefully soon, when I am that fortunate, it won’t bring me joy either). So, I look for joy in things that bring me fulfillment–like the joy I give others when I fix what was driving them crazy. When I create process where there was chaos. I find joy in the skills that I use. In the quality of my work. In the expertise I share. And of course, in seeing the paycheck hit my account.

Many of us intuitively look for, and experience, joy. For others, it is a learned experience. I think joy can be a favorite viewpoint, a way of life, a habit that becomes a discipline.

Because you know what, joy builds a foundation for me to be strong. For me to have hope. For me to dream big. For me to love well.

Here are some steps I follow, to awaken my life, and turn my joy-faucet on full-force:

  1. Know myself. Stick to it. Don’t let someone else’s behavior (or poor choice) make me feel inept or get lost in self-doubt.
  2. Make a conscious choice about what matters to me, things or experiences, without apologizing for it. And then spend my time and money there. And find others with the same values.
  3. Be honest. Life is hard. It’s not all rainbows. Admit how I’m feeling. Both positive and negative. Don’t live in denial. Personal and professional transformation happens when I look inside and ask the hard questions and face up to what I’m feeling.
  4. Be a friend. To myself. To my  Dreamboat. To my friends. Not just when there’s drama. When things are ‘normal’/beige/boring.  Have a conversation with someone who really knows me, when there is NOTHING to      catch up on. That’s when I get to the good stuff. When we have to share from the heart. Or sit in silence. Either way.  Be. Together.  Just show up.
  5. Be brave. Trust my heart. Change the atmosphere around me by stepping out. Bravery is contagious.
  6. Be vulnerable. (Read anything by Brene Brown on joy and vulnerability.)

So I challenge myself, and each of you, to turn on the joy-faucet and make it a habit, to infuse our lives’ paintings with joy. And therefore not make others’ interactions with us, an opportunity to build their character :-)

BE joyful!

 

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Filed under July 2014

I’m fine. Really.

For the last few weeks, my Peanut has been gagging with each bite.  For a week straight, he’s thrown up every, single, meal.

He’s almost five, so it is pretty gross (as compared to the sweet little spit up of newborns that actually smells kind-of-nice), but it’s quite an improvement from the screaming. Bloody. MURDER. That he was doing while we stayed with my parents over Christmas. For weeks on end. (Doesn’t that make you want to invite us over?!)

And, Dreamboat and I are getting pretty good at catching the vomit. So the cleanup is really minimal.

So, I left Dreamboat to pick up the older kiddo’s, and took the little guy to Whole Foods between a myriad of other “to-do’s” on my list. (I’m totally being honest here.  This day didn’t include a single guilty pleasure. Really. Not even a Starbucks stop. Or walking through Z Gallerie to be amazed by all the shiny, sparkly things.  Or browsing Target aisles to get some quiet. Just C.H.O.R.E.S.)

After a whole two minutes of being patient while Peanut drove the shopping cart into elaborate displays (no doubt also very expensive displays, as this was Whole Foods, or as some friends call it, “Whole Paycheck”), I forcefully stuck Peanut in the seat of the cart. For a moment I was grateful that he is small enough, barely, to fit there. Even if I have to make it work by bending his ankles in directions that look wholly unnatural. (He’s never mentioned it hurting. The fact that he doesn’t speak is irrelevant).  And we headed inside with my list of dairy-free, high calorie, foods, that he can eat to gain weight. Hopefully. And not throw up on me. Or the new carpet.

We found some Hemp Milk. And some more Z Bars. And pieces of dates small enough that he can chew. And, I let him sample every single thing he pointed at, without paying for them first. Which I NEVER would let my other kids do. Ever. (Don’t judge. He’s my third child. And they’ve worn me down.)

And, I got distracted, (but there’s no need to mention it was inevitable) and started salivating over the fresh salad bars (which were NOT on my list as I’ve not received a paycheck in over 18 months). Yep, four rows of organic, local, fresh, salad bars.

I started filling the cart.

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of a mama, just like me, with her daughter.

She was patient. She was encouraging. She was supportive. I could tell she was fierce. A warrior. In her own world.

I heard her speaking kind words to her daughter. For MORE than two minutes even.

But, she wasn’t making eye contact with the other shoppers.

And, without thinking, I spoke to her, “We had a walker just like that!”

Peanut walker

I had to say it twice.

Eventually, my words broke through her protective bubble. And she sort-of-smiled, unbelieving, up at me, “really?”

She asked, and waited, while her daughter, Grace, introduced herself. (I had to wait for the Mama to translate her daughter’s sweet, but mostly incoherent, sounds.)

She was beautiful.

And a year older than my Peanut. Helping her Mama pick out a nutritious salad. They asked about him, and I answered. Giving them his name and age. While he smiled.

And said nothing.

But, the Mama nodded. Understanding. Accepting.

Grace turned in her walker and looked at me. I congratulated her on being such a great helper.

She beamed. And waved goodbye, shaking her arm emphatically.

And Peanut and I moved on to the next aisle to continue our search for high-calorie, non-dairy, foods.

But then my eyes started leaking. Badly. And, I had to wait it out in the refrigerated section.  And I folded my body forward protectively, over Peanut, and let the tears fall. For a long time, unable to hide that there is a place deep inside. That is broken. Still.

Trying to pull myself together was like trying to sew up a seam that’s been ripped open. When the garment is two sizes too small. (FYI – That’s never happened to me.)

And, like Grace’s Mama avoided eye contact with me, I’m afraid I gave the same treatment to the cashier. Which of course fooled him into thinking I was fine.

I’m sorry I didn’t get Grace’s Mama’s name.

I’m sorry I didn’t give her mine.  It would have been good for me, and hopefully for her, to have a friend in the area. Someone who understands being a special needs family.

But the pain took me by surprise and overwhelmed me.

I guess there’s part of me that isn’t fine.

Just like all those other blogs, where women are grateful, and happy even, for their little ones, regardless of whether they can’t yet call their names.

I guess I’m still hurting. Or hurting again. Either way, it’s the same thing….

Having this little one, my child, is a gift.

But it’s a gift that hurts.

I can’t protect him.

And, he can’t protect me.

But, we can be vulnerable together, which brings great joy. And we can be grateful, for the beauty that fills our lives. Grateful for the amazing memories we share, and the love we infuse into each other’s lives.

You may not have seen the news last week about a car crashing into a daycare in Florida on Wednesday. But I can’t speak about it yet.

I watched the short news clip, taken from a helicopter circling above and was immediately reliving the overwhelming panic of that day, four years ago, when a car drove through Peanut’s daycare, forever changing our lives into ‘before’ and ‘after’ that day. And it somehow triggered the sorrow of each day since.

My heart is broken for the family of the little girl who died. For several of the twelve injured children who are still in critical care. For the day-care worker, suffering with pain, sorrow, and irrational guilt, for being unable to protect her sweet charges.

I can identify with what they are facing.  I can glimpse what they may continue to face for their lifetimes. After the hospitalizations are, hopefully, behind them. After the external healing has long since taken place, and their bodies are well. But the post-traumatic stress from overwhelming, prolonged fear, made worse by the news helicopters hovering above their heads.  And the daily therapies. And the walkers and communication devices. And developmental delays. That are here to stay.

I can say to these families that life will be hard. Brutal even.

But, life together will also be precious.

Each hug, each milestone accomplished will be celebrated that much more for all the months and years of work required to achieve it.

And as last Sunday was Easter, I’ve been thinking about Jesus. (Did you know that only 18% of the people in our world don’t believe in God? Most of the world’s religions do believe in God, and believe Jesus was either God or a Prophet.)

I’ve been thinking about how he gave up his life to carry love.

And that on Easter Sunday, if it was me (we can all thank God it wasn’t), I would have come back to KICK. Some. Ass.

He didn’t. He came back to love. Again.

So I can carry my heart, filled with pain and love, and ask God to rain down on me, please, to try and grow the love part.

And I read this morning that “The broken places heal first.” So, there’s that. And I’m holding to it.

 

Look Mom, no hands!

Look Mom, no hands!

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Filed under March 2013

Fierce and Clueless – My Messy Beautiful

I’m fierce.

I know that. Maybe not Beyoncé’s “Sasha Fierce”. But, fierce nonetheless. That’s who I am inside. I feel like my world is big. BIG. I feel like the impact I’m called to have on the world is big. BIG. I feel summoned.

But to WHAT????

The doors just keep closing. I’ve read all those helpful sayings, or not so helpful in my case, about rejection simply being a way to push us in a new and better direction. Or that when a door closes, a window opens. I’m looking. I’m watching. Believe me, I am. But, no apparent window or new direction has surfaced. Yet. Just more rejections. And ‘thanks, but no thanks’ emails. And phone calls saying they’re sure I’ll do great wherever else I land.

The temptation is to lower my ideals, reduce my dreams, so there’s less gap between them and my reality.

This isn’t where I thought I’d be. After getting rid of all our ‘stuff’, quitting our jobs, and taking just over a year to travel and volunteer, I thought we’d land somehow different. Better. I thought this year of intentional discovery and challenge and growth would be like a magic-carpet-ride. Transporting us to a magical place in our lives.

And for a while, with three amazing, different, jobs, it almost did.

Where I could help change the world.

But it didn’t.

And, I’m still at a crossroads.

But you know what? If I hadn’t taken this time ‘off’, I’d live with regrets. Big ones. And that’s NOT. ACCEPTABLE. Not to me.

And I know that it took huge courage to step out and make this dream happen. To rid ourselves of the things that kept us busy and scheduled and focused on things that weren’t the most important to us. And to take the kids out of school, against the wishes of Peanut’s therapists. And to spend our savings. And to go. And to do. And to see. To really see.

Seeing the Eifel Tower. For the first time.

And I know that I bring all those learnings and the amazing experiences with me. I know that Dreamboat, myself, and our three kiddo’s are forever changed, in a multitude of ways, from this year.

In addition to our new skills of surfing and Spanish, and our love of Ceviche, we have taught the kids how to love those who were unloved. (Now that we’re back, I have to admit, I’ve regretted this a teensy bit. I’m just a tad nervous, but proud too, as I watch them befriend those who are lonely, and odd, and without friends.)

How to give generously of our time, skills, and resources.

We’ve all learned to be more flexible (some of us more so than others, but nonetheless, I, oops, I mean ‘we’ have improved…at least a bit).

How to focus on others, while not losing sight of who we are. (For me, this one is hard. Unfortunately, it’s still a daily lesson.)

To appreciate the beauty of things being unique and different. And to not be frightened by them. Or to judge.

So, I’m reminding myself of these and all the other gifts we’ve received from this year. (And of course the two gorgeous bags I had made in Marrakech. I’m pretty grateful for those as well.)

And I’m trying to drown out my fears with my gratitude.

I remind myself that I would chose this path again. And I’m taking to those lessons and insights into who I am.

And I’m refusing to lower my faith in myself.

As a wise friend of mine said to me this morning, “Being uncomfortable is OK. Necessary even, to move forward and grow.”

And, she’s right. Of course. (Thank goodness. ‘Cause I AM uncomfortable. That’s a very benign word for the angst that comes in waves. Big, scary waves.)

But, I’m choosing today. Again. Not. To. Lower. My. Dreams. To continue to find a way to make my reality reach the seemingly impossible. To see the invisible and hear the inaudible and then make those things a reality. (That last sentence is shamelessly stolen from Scott Aughtmon’s FB page this morning. I love it.)

And, I’m giving myself a not-so-little pep talk, to suck it up and keep looking. Keep trusting. Keep doing life, even though I’m afraid.

We can be fierce, AND afraid. Right?

——This post and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

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Filed under April 2014

Vulnerability

I’ve not posted in quite a while. Not because I’ve been without things to say, but because what I have to say isn’t pretty. It’s not certain. It’s not joyful.

I’ve decided to let myself be seen. To not be alone. To choose not to be numb. But, to release my worthiness, creativity, joy, & tenderness by being open.

The last five months have been filled with job searching, visiting and revisiting friends and family across the US. And then doing it again. With more job searching.  And then doing the whole thing over. Again. Really. We’ve put 26,000 miles on the car.  And in more than one home, they have started calling their guest room, “our” room.  We should be paying rent.

There have been some great job leads along the way. (And, I finally figured out what I want to do when I grow up.) And some opportunities we turned down (back when we were looking for the Perfect Job). But, currently there’s nothing. Not one thing. Not for me and not for Dreamboat.

There was budget for twelve months of amazing travel and exploration (and, it really was amazing). But, that was over five months ago. The budget is gone. The extra cushion is gone. The money is gone. And of course, the patience is gone as well.

I know that one call will change everything. Just one job and my world will turn right side up again. There are great, even amazing opportunities out there. I still have hope—which is what our souls long for anyway, right?

But, yesterday, things took a turn for the worst.

We’re driving, again, across the country.

On the road again…

 

Headed home to Seattle and planning to get the kiddos back in school while we consult and look for work. In addition to joyfully anticipating reconnecting with my friends, I am most excited about Peanut starting preschool at an amazing developmental place we had all set up before leaving on this adventure. But, I hadn’t heard back from them on my inquiries as to a start date.

So, yesterday, I called.

Due to several red-tape, governementalish reasons (none of which are for the benefit of my little guy), Peanut can’t begin any time soon. In fact, it will be summer break before all the paperwork and processes are completed.

There will be no school for him until next September.

There will be no speech therapy to help him form the new words he so desperately wants to say.

There will be no occupational therapy to help him learn to feed himself the food he so desperately needs to nourish his body and help him grow.

And, no potty training that his mama was counting on the peer pressure, and a trained specialist, to take on for her!

So, all those lovely inspirational quotes and sayings that are filling up my FB feed today (and every day really) about ‘step out of your comfort zone,’ or, ‘look forward prayerfully, and live in the present gratefully’–I am trying. I am trying really, really hard.

I rotate my prayers between variations of ‘please…’, ‘help…..’, and ‘thank you…’ throughout each day, and am conscientiously practicing gratitude. And requiring it of the kids. And, let’s be really honest here, I have a LOT to be grateful for.

I know this year has been a once-in-a-lifetime gift that will continue to benefit each of us throughout our lifetimes.  And, I don’t regret the decision to quit our jobs, get rid of our stuff, and introduce the kids to volunteering, surfing, Spanish, ceviche, the mysteries of Africa, and countless other experiences. Yet. But, I don’t know how long it will be before I begin battling the regret. I’m guessing it will have a direct relationship to mounting debt.

But right now, the platitudes aren’t helping. In reality, they add an element of shame for me. As though I could do more, or differently, to get different results.

But, hearing of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death this week, as he chose drugs to numb his pain, I decided to be brave. To be open. To be known. To not numb my pain.

As a society, we are the most in debt, addicted, obese, and medicated adults in history. Today, that won’t be me :-)

 

 

 

 

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Filed under February 2014

Moving on

I am scared.

This isn’t the cute kind of nervous. I am so scared that my pulse is racing and my armpits stink. And not just a little.

But, you know what happens every time on ‘The Bachelor’? Whichever girl is brave enough to admit her terror (of heights, or bungee jumping, or polar swimming), is THE one he picks. It’s human nature. We root for the underdog. The one who is most afraid. Because ‘The Bachelor’ is real life, right? Totally kidding. But, there are some great lessons to be learned, even if most of them are what not to do.

Like the contestants on ‘The Bachelor’, but hopefully in a much deeper way, today I’m choosing to face my fears. To admit what has me stinking up the place. I’m already married to my ‘happily ever after’, so it’s not about beating 24 other contestants for his attention. (Thank Heaven for that.)  I read somewhere, and it resonates with me, that bravery is ‘Being afraid. But still willing to move forward’. So here goes.

Deep breaths…

I’m baring my soul here, ‘speaking’ my fear out loud, as I’m hoping to move on.

Because I’m terrified.

I am afraid I won’t get a job.

And, if I do, it won’t be THE job. (Or I won’t be able to create THE job). The one that is meaningful. The one that is my legacy. The one that is fun and challenging. The one that brings in money to replenish the coffers we’ve emptied during this great year of travel and adventure.

The one, that if I don’t do it now, it will be too late.

And I won’t have significance.

And I won’t change the world.

When I come to the end of my life, I want to be able to say that I’ve used up all the skills I was given. I want to challenge myself. I want to take risks.  I want to be selfless with my time.

But I am afraid that I won’t do any of those things. That I will end up going back. Backwards. Back to doing what’s familiar. Boring. Easy.

I am afraid that this amazing year, as it relates to my career, will have been a waste.

(I know of course, that this year is not a waste.  And that, although I’m at a crossroads, it’s not that desperate. But, regardless of what I know in my head, my fears aren’t always rational.)

And, there is an opportunity…

An opportunity that is in the forefront of my mind as I write this. THE one I want. The one that is equally exciting and terrifying. The one that would stretch me to a whole new level. The one that is EXACTLY what I’ve dreamed of for many, many, many years. The one I don’t feel qualified for. OK – not even remotely qualified for.

And that I don’t think I’ll get.

Just writing that down makes me realize I’m going to need to pick up some more antiperspirant. Lots more.

And now, here’s the even deeper truth. For a few months, I succumbed to the fear.

I could have, should have, written this post in Peru, before we arrived in the US. Because, I felt the fear growing then. It filled my dreams at night. It lurked in the corners of my mind as I explored the Amazon during the days.

That was three months ago.

Since then, I’ve been struggling to move my bravery to the front, to open up about the fear, before there were opportunities lined up.

But, until today, fear had won.

Well, today I’ve had two victories.

First, I’ve ‘fessed up about the underlying, unattractive current which has run through these three months of trailer-living and job-searching, as we drive from state-to-state.

Driving behind 3,000 sheep

And second, I’m admitting that I’ve been white-knuckling it through much of yesterday and today’s drive across-country. I’m writing this from the passenger seat of our vehicle, as we make the long drive from Colorado to Texas, via Kansas and Oklahoma, pulling our twenty-eight foot trailer. The drive was on a dirt road. Down an impossibly steep grade. With cliffs on both sides. With gale-force winds. As dishes, and my whiskey, flew out of the cupboards and rolled around together on the trailer floor. On a narrow road that occasionally saw our tires going off the road and a hair’s breadth from careening over the cliff. We skidded around corners, gravel flying.

OK, all of that may not have happened at the same time. And Dreamboat may have a different, less colorful, version of the events.

But, I was heart-racing, stomach-clenched, scared. Afraid. I would have gotten out and walked if it wouldn’t have meant leaving my babies. And Dreamboat.

But, I’m happy to say that even though you can smell the after-effects of my fear since my deodorant gave out early yesterday morning, for the last hour we’ve been on a wide, flat, paved, wind-free, highway. We all survived (Dreamboat never doubted it). I am finally and fully relaxed.  I’m not sure that waiting until the fear has passed, is considered brave.

But, nonetheless, I think I should get a badge of honor for my, mostly, external calm.

I am moving on.

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Filed under October 2013

Not so gracefully

Dreamboat says I’ve a tendency to be a martyr.

I’m not saying he’s right. (But, he may be right.)

I need to give a disclaimer here that this post is going to be shallow. Maybe even vapid. There’s no excuse. But, I took a vow of honesty, so here goes a spotlight into that part of my personality.

Getting older sucks.

I’ve watched my grandparents this week. (We’re gearing up for Grandpa’s 90th birthday party this weekend!) The amazing and beautiful legacy they have created will last for many, many, many, many generations to come. But, still, they’re old. And they know it. And it’s hard.

Peanut getting kisses from Gigi (his great-grandma).

Because people treat them differently.

People don’t automatically see the nearly 70 years they’ve been dedicated to each other. Or the businesses they’ve created. Or the children they’ve reared (and the hundreds of thousands of lives changed by those offspring and their spouses). Or the grandchildren who are continuing with their lives’ work, to impact those less fortunate. Or their brilliance. Or their kindness. Or their wisdom. Or even their inner-teenager-troublemaker-at-a-moment’s-notice.

People see them as old.

Grandma Janice, Grandpa Charlie, and me.

 

And I’m getting old. (See how I made this is about me?)

Before 40, I didn’t have a single grey hair. In the teeny bit of time since then, I’m stunned by the number of non-blond hairs (ok. Some should be DARK blond too. That’s all I’m admitting here.)  And the lines on my face. And that the skin on my neck is sagging. And that when I caught sight of my reflection in one of the very few full-length mirrors we’ve had during our travels, I thought I saw an old woman!

I have to tell you how much I looked forward to turning 40. I truly did. I felt like finally, I had achieved the proper age number to support my experience. That I would not be disqualified for executive roles for being too young. That my age was a badge of honor and long-awaited entrance to the ‘inner circle of the wise’.

That lasted 5 minutes. (Or two years, if you’re being literal.)

But as the international portion of our year of travel started to wind down, and I started to think about going back to work, the more I became aware of the downsides of getting older.

I’m no longer the ‘young hire’ with the fresh, new ideas. I’m no longer the cheap hire. I’m no longer at a place where I want, or am able, to try new things ‘just because’.

And that’s just the work-related issues.

It doesn’t matter that I feel (and sometimes act) twenty-two-years-old. I’ve just turned forty-three. And it’s caused me to take stock of where I am in life. To evaluate my contribution.

And I’ve come up lacking.

I understand why many of those I know are divorcing. Moving. Buying mansions and sports cars. Writing books (which I totally want to do).

I am getting a first-hand-look at the motivators behind a mid-life-crisis. I get it. I feel it.

I want my life to count. I want meaning and fulfillment in, and from, my relationships. I want my internal beauty to make an indelible impact. For me, it’s for those less fortunate, for the downtrodden. And I feel like I’ve not made a dent. There’s so. Much. More. To. Be. Done.

And, of course I’m being honest here, so I have to admit I want my external beauty to last, too.  I want the men who ogle to stop getting older (well, sort-of. At least stay in the thirty to fifty year-old-range. I draw the line when they’re young enough to be my offspring. Ewww.) But, why is it my eyelashes need to thin and break? (Who are the nasty little elves that yank them off my sleeping lids each night and give them to my Littles??) Are the sun spots really necessary? Does the skin under my arms have to loosen up and swing back and forth when I wave? Do the pores on my nose really need to be big enough to welcome the family dog into their crevices?

I feel like I could write the book “What to Expect When You’re Aging,” except no-one would buy it. No-one wants to know what the downhill slide really looks like. I don’t.

Getting older, and doing it gracefully, is hard.

By the way, what does “age gracefully” really mean? Every time Dreamboat objects to a (costly) spa treatment I would like, he says that to me. Does it mean, hush up, don’t mention what’s going on, and pretend not to notice? Does it mean stand proud and smile through the lines? Does it mean fall on every Botox-filled needed you can find?  Does it mean cover up the damage as best you can with lotions, spackling (some might call it make-up), push-up bras, and long sleeves?

I’ve no idea what ‘gracefully’ looks like for me, as I age.  So far, every day has a different answer. But, I see the ageism in our society. I watch people interact with my grandparents. I see HR folks’ reaction to my resume.

But, I am going to identify with my inner twenty-two-year-old, who convinces me, on a daily basis, to work at being healthy, inside and out. And I’m going to throw ‘mature’ caution to the wind. I will continue to dream. To achieve. To try new things. To look for learning and wisdom. To nurture existing, and build new, meaningful relationships. To (hopefully) one day, adopt more children. To try new bleaching solutions for my grey hair.

So, whether Dreamboat is right or wrong about me being a martyr, I don’t know (or won’t admit). But, in regards to getting older, I will not lie down and take it (unless it’s under an aesthetician’s lamp).

I will not be a martyr.

I want to change the world. Enlarged pores and all.

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Filed under August 2013

Today’s choice

I am moved to tears. Daily. By a blog. (Well, I was. BWIHIA – Back When I Had [regular] Internet Access.)

And Dreamboat finally asked me to stop reading it before I come to bed.

The family behind the blog continues to experience heartache that can be overwhelming, and I deeply identify with some of their circumstances. But, do you know what is emerging from their pain? Beauty. Because they, the writer of Chasing Rainbows and her family, choose to learn from every circumstance. Because they choose to overcome. To not just continue living. But, to thrive. To practice gratitude for the good things in their life.

I want to be like that. I want to focus on the silver lining. The joy that exists alongside the darkness and the despair.

I firmly believe that joy comes through gratitude. 

Just let that sink in…Without actively cultivating, or practicing, being thankful, we don’t have joy.

As a mom, it drives me crazy when my kids ask for something the second after they’ve just received a treat.  Can’t they be grateful for a little while?  Gratitude doesn’t seem to come naturally to them.

But, unfortunately, that sounds just like me. Maybe they got my ‘wanting’ genes.

Or, maybe it’s human nature.

I (and possibly, you) want and want and want something, like a house or a job (which is something I really-need-to-find-right-about-now-when-our-bank-account-has-been-depleted-from-this-year-of-travel), and the minute I achieve it, I start wanting something else. The minute I finally get the shoes I’ve lusted after, there’s another pair I must have. That’s true for me, even with groceries. Especially the fresh, organic kind.  I constantly have to remind myself to be grateful. To say thank you. To Dreamboat. To the kids. To friends. To colleagues.

And, of course, the more I speak out my gratitude, the more I become aware of how blessed I truly am. Which then, makes me grateful.  See the beautiful cycle?

We have a family rule, which I love. Before the kids can ask for something, they have to first thank us for three things. Isn’t that awesome? Even though I know they’re saying ‘thank you’ to get something else, it still has the desired effect of making them grateful, and reminding them of how much I do for them, and it makes me happy too. It’s a win-win.

“When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability, joy becomes foreboding.” Think about it. (Quote from Dr. Brene Brown).

We get to choose our attitude. We can choose to live and be content in our circumstances. To open up to others and allow them to get close to us. To be vulnerable. To be present and find the gifts in our lives right now. To find joy.

I know this may sound trite to some of you who are hurting. Suffering. Grieving the loss of someone, or something. But we all face pain. Life can be hard (I would actually say, “Life IS hard”).

Just this week, two hours after finally arriving at our destination in Colorado, joyfully reunited with our two older kids, we sat down to eat with family. For what should have been a raucous reconnection.

But. Instead. Peanut reached out to poke/pet (interpretation dependent on whether you were the toddler or the dog) the family dog. And it bit him. In the face. One tooth went into the outer corner of his left eye. Five additional bite marks were so covered in blood, it was difficult to see how badly his face was hurt.

My darling Dreamboat, concerned about the blood dripping all over my shirt, was trying to stop the flow of blood down Peanut’s face. (Good thing Dreamboat wasn’t aware of how much I spent on that shirt, or he might still be standing in the kitchen, mopping up blood from Peanut’s face.) Within minutes, we decided to bundle him back into the car that we had just gratefully exited (after ten days of driving). We waved a hasty goodbye to the older Littles, and drove an hour to the nearest emergency room.

During the five-hour-visit, Peanut was treated, his eye examined, antibiotics administered, and one bite-mark was stitched up.

Dreamboat and I came crashing down from the adrenaline rush, me with uncontrollable shakes and he with an overwhelming desire to sleep; and had to explain, repeatedly, again (as we have to do as least once a day), that yes, Peanut is four years old, but he doesn’t speak. At three-and-a-half-months-old, he was hit by a car that drove through the wall of his daycare. And since then, he is developmentally delayed. That this dog bite doesn’t even register in Peanut’s Top Five Medical Emergencies. We interpreted his signs, answered their medical questions, and their curiosity, as they treated our frightened, hurting, little boy.

We finally left the hospital, drove an hour back up the mountain, and climbed in to bed just before 3:00am. To wake the next morning and learn, that the dog had been put down.

This sweet dog was well-loved. By all three of our children. By its family. By me.

Just recently it saved the lives of two family members from a pack of coyotes when they were lost, trapped, overnight. It had defended their car from thieves. Their house from intruders and bears (yes, this is Colorado, wild bears get hungry and daring, especially in the spring). But, it had started biting non-thieves, and children that frightened it (Peanut was the second child to be bitten, and its owners were deeply concerned about potential, future, episodes).

That night, through our tears, we raised our glasses and made a toast to the sweet, life-saving, Peanut-biting, dog.

You see, life IS hard.

We all have heartache. Sometimes it is fleeting. Sometimes in comes in the form of a little boy, and stays with me, for each day I am lucky enough to spend with him.

But, there is beauty, and deep joy in life as well. I am grateful to be reunited with my older kiddo’s. And that my Peanut’s eye is going to be fine. And that his little face is healing nicely. And I am grateful for each day I am lucky enough to spend with him.

I am grateful for the beauty and tranquility of these magnificent mountains, restoring my soul.

I am deeply grateful for friends with whom I can be vulnerable with my pain and fears, who bring me great joy.

Today, I am choosing joy. Tomorrow, I hope to choose joy as well.

Will you join me?

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Filed under August 2013

Trailer Trash

I live in a trailer.

And most of the time I love it. Especially on the rare occasion when everything is put away and I can actually see and use the miniscule ‘dining’ table. (As long as I don’t put any weight on it, because the screws around the legs have lifted out of the thin flooring, and it’s about to fall over).

When our family arrived back in the US, we spent three weeks on the West Coast, visiting friends and family, and finally taking the kids on the long-awaited visit to Lego Land…the one thing that we had originally used as bribery, to get them to at-least-not-fight this year-long-adventure.

Then, in a stroke of luck (from Dreamboat’s perspective. My opinion wavers on this one.), an Keystone Outback Ultralight 230 RS (I had to ask Dreamboat to repeat that several times) was for sale in Michigan. (That’s 2,500 miles or 3,582 km from where we were in Seattle.) Dreamboat went and picked it up. Yep, he drove 5,000 miles to go there, hook up the trailer, and tow it back to meet us. So that we could head out again. But, for the first ten days, without Miss O and G-ster. After I safely (and tearfully) deposited them on their flight as unaccompanied minors, to go visit my parents, Dreamboat, Peanut and I, headed out on our last 3 months’ adventure. A US history tour, living in our trailer.

Early morning coffee al fresco

The beautifully described plan, as Dreamboat explained it to me, was to drive a few hours a day, find a lovely place to park (and have electricity, water, and wifi). Then we would hike, or take a bike ride to explore the spectacular scenery. And enjoy hours of job searching, reading, and quiet. I would have plenty of time for my workouts.

While we have seen countless awe-inspiring vistas, our desire to travel without a plan, hasn’t gone to plan. Most of the RV parks are full. Those that aren’t, don’t have hooks ups. And, then I wanted to see Banff. And it was ten-hours-out-of-the-way. Each way. And then, we decided to take up my aunt’s Facebook birthday message to Dreamboat, and go visit her. But, after another ten-hour-drive-to visit her in Kalispell, our emails, phone, and Facebook messages, didn’t connect. And so we left the next morning.

In reality, so far, we have finally stopped driving and set up the trailer after 8pm (the night we went to Banff, it wasn’t until 2:00am). Then, we get up early in the morning to see what the area has to offer, grab some breakfast, and race through packing up the trailer and tying everything down in order to hit the road by the 11am check-out. Then, we sit in the car, enjoying the views, but not able to enjoy internet access or exercise or even much phone access, for another nine to ten hours.

 

Banff!

We’ve been lucky enough to see a stunning array of wildlife. We’ve taken countless pictures of mountains and waterscapes so beautiful they don’t seem real, while still buckled in our seats. And, I’m more grateful than I can express, that Peanut has been a happy, delightful, traveler. And, without the older Littles, I’m able to spend a vast amount of time chatting with Dreamboat, or alone with my thoughts.

Wildlife crossing. Really.

While my thoughts swirl around my dreams and hopes and fears, my inner peace and direction have grown. I keep reminding myself of this inner calm I’ve reached, as I have watched the heat of the tranny (‘transmission’ for you car lingo neophytes) rise steadily into the danger zone. Then to finally hit the top of the pass and breathe a sigh of relief, knowing the engine will get a much needed break from puling the trailer uphill, only to start worrying about the breaks, as we head down miles and miles of steep grades, with runway truck ramps after every turn, and the acrid smell getting stronger and stronger.

Things took a definitely downward turn, for our transmission anyway. And our trailer is currently parked in some friends’ neighbor’s driveway, in Idaho. (Yep. You read that right. Right now I’m grateful for friends around the country. And grateful they’re really good neighbors.) Tomorrow we have an appointment, three hours away at the closest dealer, for the transmission.

Ironically, while this trip so far hasn’t gone according to plan, I’m much happier than I expected.

And, I’m embarrassed to say, that I spent a lot of time and energy complaining to my Seattle friends about it.

It’s true that this portion of our year of travel is my least favorite. There are countless reasons: I find the adventure of visiting other countries more exciting. I am clean/neat obsessed and living without space to put things away might make me require a strait-jacket at the end of two weeks, let alone three months. I dread all five of us being in such small quarters all day, every day. I have driven across the US before, so there’s not much novelty to this trip.  I am not the history-buff my Dreamboat is, and while I enjoy the occasional historical marker, I’d much rather get the Cliff notes version. I am deep-down, unapologetically a City Girl who will miss the activity and sparkle.

And, most importantly, after a few days with my amazing friends in Seattle, it is even more painful to say goodbye, again.

But, life is bitter sweet, right? There is joy to be found, deep joy even, while in the midst of things that are painful, or simply not fun. So, I am loving the time with my Dreamboat. Celebrating his joys. I am soaking in the quiet without my oldest Littles. I am sifting through my dreams and working through my fears. I am working on some long-overdue posts.

It’s three days until we’re supposed to meet Miss O and G-ster in Colorado. Fingers crossed we make it on time, without having to rebuild the transmission, or worse. But, if we don’t, they’re in great hands, and Peanut is getting unlimited time and attention from me and Dreamboat. And I am mostly loving living in a trailer.

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Filed under July 2013

The root of all evil

For those of you that need a purpose for a post, you may want to skip this one.

I don’t have any answers. Just musings and thoughts.

About money.

Money is not a topic of polite conversation. One I shouldn’t broach. But it has been bubbling beneath the surface frequently over the last few months. And I’ve been listening, paying attention (which is not always the case with me). Having spent time in West Africa, then Paris, then Peru, I feel like I have some sort of ‘Cost-Of-Living Whiplash’.

Walking down the Champs-Elysées while we were in Paris, I was struck by the volumes of wealth, and the stark contrast to the trash-littered, dirt streets of Conakry. Both cities are home to two million people, give or take a few. The differences, resulting from money, are staggering, and affect every facet of their lives.

Unlike Mother Teresa, I’m no saint. (As if there was EVER any question.)

Unlike her, I’ve not taken a vow of poverty. I’ve got absolutely nothing against having and spending money. Lots of money. As I said in, “The important things in life“, I love pretty things. The more sparkly, the better.  Who I am inside, who I was made to be, feels refreshed and deeply pleased, and a little giddy, when I am surrounded by beauty. My soul is fed. I’m also deeply motivated by helping others be successful – to make money. It’s an incredibly rewarding feeling.

But, likewise, I have nothing against having no money. Living without. Barely making ends meet. Knowing hunger. Suffering.

None of those scenarios have to do with a person’s value.

However, there were many times in my life I got that confused, and wasn’t comfortable letting people know how ‘poor’ I really was. The same goes for being known as ‘wealthy’. And I’m going to resist the urge to explain how rich or poor I was, although I’m dying to. Because, as I just said, it doesn’t matter.

And money being unrelated to our value is a really important lesson to internalize.

And it’s easy to judge people living in filth to have less value. Or at least, less intelligence. But, as the (brilliant) husband of my dear friend Susan pointed out, “Cleanliness is a luxury for those not focused on survival”.

It’s nothing to do with intelligence. Or value.

I have no greater value than the Mama I watched, as she put her little kiddo’s ‘to bed’ on a piece of cardboard on the side of the city street. (It’s been 7 months, but it still hurts to remember her.)

I know that we all, myself included, long for money to pay the bills and live in a manner we choose. And while money protects us from certain pains, it doesn’t protect us from others. It can’t buy time. It can’t mend a broken heart. Can’t remove hate, fear, or doubt. But, it can add vast complexities, fears, responsibilities, guilt, and a deep distrust of others. Especially after one more person asks for a donation. Or there’s an Op Ed about you, again, that’s not true. Or another family member asks for a favor and somehow ends up the twenty-ninth person on your taxes. (No exaggeration. I’ve a friend with that many family members on her taxes.) Or, a ‘friend’ drops your name at every opportunity, and has not ever even offered to pick up the tab when you go out together.

From what I’ve seen in the places we’ve stayed this year, money is no indicator of personal success.

And, money is no predictor of happiness.

And, success is NOT dependent on money.

The people of Conakry, with all their poverty (not the guy with a suitcase of cash and his own money handler/counter), have volumes to teach about true success.

And having spent this week in the jungles of the Amazon, I saw stark, raw, poverty, at every turn of the river.

And, joy.

These kids lived in a one room shack on stilts, but sill aroused envy from my 10 and 7 year olds. They have dream pets (a baby caiman and a sloth)! And not a single toy.

As my friend Dan said last week, after a run through Conakry, “Imagine you live in a country where it starts raining in May and doesn’t really stop until September. Your job is outside. You cook outside. You live outside. But, because of flooding, raw sewage and garbage flow through the streets. In most cities, a disaster would be declared and huge amounts of resources would be used to bring relief. But for West Africa, this is just life. As I was running, I saw people huddled under any shelter they could find. Chatting, and SMILING, even LAUGHING!

…Take a moment to realize that circumstances always change. They are like the wind. But our attitude can stay the same no matter what. I will always know that I really needed Africa and its lessons of contentment, more than they ever needed me and my medical training.”

Isn’t that beautiful?

Isn’t that that true?

Hasn’t Dan grasped the meaning of true wealth?

I’m guessing he has true success – that he wakes up in the morning with his soul at peace. Just like the people he saw laughing in the midst of the sewage and the rain. Just like the countless people I saw along, what I perceived as the ‘filthy waters’ of the Amazon River, swimming and washing and bathing and laughing.

I think money is a fantastic tool, that when used wisely, can have a huge impact. For good. Even GREAT things. I also think that having lots of money comes with an equivalent amount of responsibility, to use it wisely.

I do believe that whoever loves money never has enough. And will never find the success Dan has.

I also believe that having huge amounts of skill and talent, come with the same responsibility to be used wisely. And this is where most of us aren’t as successful. We forget, or get lazy, or don’t put the same careful planning, into spending our talents. We ignore our obligation to use them wisely.

Even though most of us long to be part of something bigger, to use our skill to make an impact in the world, it’s usually easier to let life keep flowing forward, like the current of the Amazon River, with us floating on the surface. I know it would be easier for me. I have to work willfully, which is a nice way to say work really HARD, at directing my giftings in a way that both honors me and helps make our world a much more beautiful place.

When I find that balance, and use my skill and my money to be true to who I am, while making an impact in the lives of others, I have a sense of overwhelming satisfaction. And balance. It’s the same feeling as running, in the early morning, when the adrenaline finally kicks in, and the sun pokes through the Seattle clouds and shines right on me, warming my whole being.

So I have to disagree.

Money isn’t the root of all evil. It doesn’t have any value of its own.

It isn’t the path to success or happiness.

It doesn’t bring joy.

Yes, it can shield us from the hardships of poverty—it can ensure pristine cleanliness. And yes, it can be used as a tool to accomplish mighty things.

But, necessary to any great impact that money can have…

—Is the use of a compassionate heart, a good mind, and wise use of our skills.

———————————————————–

I’ve seen the bottom

And I’ve been on top

But mostly I’ve lived in between

And where do you go

When you get to the end of your dream?

~Jeff Munroe

 

And, don’t ever forget, someone else being rich, doesn’t make you poor!

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Filed under June 2013

Four

Eight months into this magical year of travel, and I can breathe a sigh of relief and say unequivocally that it has already been filled with growth and learning for each one of the five of us.  Even, and maybe especially, for Peanut.

You can read some of his story here

We have proven his therapist’s fears were unfounded. HUGE gratitude fear didn’t win this one.

Many milestones have been joyfully celebrated along the way. Some were small (increased coordination and stability in his walking).  Some were big (flying calmly, without frightened screaming for the first hour). And some have been HUGE (calling me “mama”)!  I am so proud of the effort and hard work he expends daily, to challenge himself.

Loving his core work at the fair today!

This little man brings me immense joy. I’m so grateful that he’s tickled to cover my face with kisses, and wrap his arms around my neck for some heart-melting cuddles. Each day with him is truly a gift. (I was going to say each moment, but only in a big-picture kind of way would that be true. There are moments, especially when he’s screeching, frustrated by his inability to communicate something, for which I’m not as thankful).

But, there’s one milestone that I knew we’d face during our travels, which I’ve been anticipating and dreading. In equal parts.

It happened today.

My Peanut turned FOUR.

Angry Bird birthday breakfast

He’s no longer a toddler.

And, once again, but in a different and deeper way, I know the pain of loss. He’s not just “on his own schedule”.

Being ‘four’ makes his delays more glaringly apparent. More is expected of him, even by me. And, less allowances are made for him. And, it’s harder to watch a one-year-old begin to learn the things he cannot do. Hopefully, cannot yet do.

Today requires more ‘letting go’. Again. And it’s hard.

Dreamboat and I are realizing that sweet Peanut is going to get more challenging, and sometimes downright difficult, to take out in public, as his frustration levels increase. Last night’s dinner, supposed to be a real treat at a French bistro we found here in Lima, turned into frustration and gritted teeth, while Dreamboat and I took turns walking Peanut outside. We think he was overly hungry. Or maybe didn’t want to sit in a high chair. Or perhaps wanted sushi (I’m only partially kidding. He loves to eat sushi. But other than for sweet things, he’s never shown a preference before). And, he couldn’t tell us.

The good news, and what I’m counting on, is that the increased frustration means that Peanut will work harder on his communication. That he’ll learn to speak.

I don’t have all, or even many, of the answers for where this path will take us. And I’ve no idea what life will bring to the table in the future. But I do know that along the way, like today, I have to let go of my dreams. And grieve. And then let Peanut guide. And remind myself that in these four years together, our lives are already more beautiful than the plans and dreams that I had for us.

Sharing an oreo shake with Daddy. A perfect end to a perfect day.

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Filed under May 2013