Archive for the ‘Life Lessons’ Category

Eleven

Eleven years ago.

Eleven years of days, hours, minutes; some blinking fast like a firefly I can’t catch, some crawling with a glacier’s pace. Eleven years ago, I was given a gift, the greatest, hardest gift. Eleven years now of guidance, growing, learning, changing, crying, praising, heartbreak and happiness. Eleven years ago, a piece of my heart was taken from within me, and placed in the outside world.

I named her Sophie. And though she had that piece of me within her, she became herself, an individual who is independent and fierce. And though she has always been exactly who she is (to me), as she approaches eleven, she struggles to find her place in this big, amazing world. And, as part of my heart, it is my job to help her navigate that path, although I fail regularly and spectacularly. Some days I barely make it to the end, wondering how anyone ever saw fit to place me in charge of another human being. But we’ve made it this far, these eleven years, all the while learning about life, love, heartbreak, and happiness together.

Have you ever laid in the dark of night with your child curled into the crook of your arm? You’re wide awake with a racing mind as she twitches and settles, falling asleep in the safest place she can imagine. Soon, over her even breathing, you are left to watch the terrifying thoughts of night race by, wondering how you will ever be able to lead your tiny human safely from childhood to adulthood, protecting her from the harms of this world, teaching her right from wrong, helping her navigate learning, and friends, and technology, and kindness and decency, and individuality, when you are unsure in any given moment whether you yourself fully understand those things.

Eleven years now, I have thought, and searched for answers, and prayed and cried, and laughed, and felt my heart expand in ways I never could have imagined. It seems impossible that much time has passed since the day I first held my daughter, feeling terrified and elated, refusing to put her in the bassinet and instead letting her fall asleep on my chest, until finally the nurse gently convinced me to let her take Sophie for a few hours so I could sleep.

Sophie's Birth Day

Year One took us from the uncertainty of how to care for a newborn without breaking her, hurting her, or coddling her, through Sophie standing on her own, on her first birthday, ready to step away already and do things her own way.

Eleven years is a gift many don’t get.

I often tell Sophie, in the moments when we are alone, just her and I, don’t forget someday when a memory pops up of us seeing a hawk standing on the ground; or us screaming, upside down, on the biggest, fastest roller coaster we could find; or seeing a rainbow that ends right above our house, that we are the only two people alive that share this memory. It’s an amazing and terrifying thought.

Year Three, and Sophie seems to remember many things, yet I don’t even know how she could. She remembers begging her Daddy not to leave, crying, and feeling like it must be her fault because he left anyway. She remembers watching Hachi with me on the couch, and how we had to pause the movie for ten minutes because we were crying so hard we couldn’t watch it. Crying for the dog who mourned his master, and crying for us because our lives had so drastically changed. She remembers the Orange Juice Incident, as she calls it, which was just Sophie throwing a huge tantrum at bedtime, and me doing the best I could to deal with it.

Sophie With Apple

Eleven years and I have laid awake more nights than I can count, racked with worry and tears, wondering, Am I doing this right? Am I making the right decisions? Will she be okay?

Year Seven, and everything changes again. I meet someone new, someone who has the potential to be that male influence she so desperately seeks out, because despite my efforts, I can never be both Mom and Dad to her no matter how hard I tried. But with new comes change, and this year revealed more to me about how broken we both had been. For much of this year things felt bleak and hopeless, that I had failed and I was submerged, barely above water, dealing with as much change for myself as she was with new routines, personalities, new family members, and opportunities.

Eleven years is a long time to figure things out, but that is a fallacy because you can’t figure it all out when things keep changing. You just hang on and hope for the best and keep getting up every day to face it all again. Some days I am so proud I can’t even speak it. Other days I am so disappointed and crushed I wonder if I will be able to carry on. This child, my child, has been given to me for these eleven years, but she is not mine. She is herself and I have to let her fail even when it slowly kills me inside. I have to stand behind her with my arms outstretched when the very people she trusted and depended on let her fall.

Sophie & Me

I will catch my Sophie, even when I won’t buy her excuses. I will back her, even if her words cut into me. I will defend her when nobody else will, and I will stand up in the ways I feel are right, even when nobody else agrees with me. I will love her unconditionally when she trips, when she hurts, when she’s lost, and when she’s angry.

I was told, recently, by a person who used to matter greatly to me, that I will never be the parent this person was. It was meant to be an insult, but I took it as a compliment. I will never be the kind of person who abandons my child, disappoints her, changes on her, or leaves her to cry herself to sleep at night wondering why she’s not good enough for me. I will never insult her, put her down, make her feel less than. I will expect her to act right, show respect, take responsibility for her words and actions. I will refuse to put up with any bullshit from her, and will teach her to not take any bullshit from the people around her, even the ones who are supposed to care. I will never make her feel like she has to change herself for me to accept her.

Year eleven, and I tell her, my baby, my big girl, “Don’t ever let anyone make you feel like you have to hide who you are.” So many times, she’s been asked to act a certain way, be a certain way, say this, don’t say this. Now my job, once again, is shifting so I can help her navigate this rocky path, as I have learned the hard lessons hard way and am better equipped to help her.

“What if I don’t know how to be who I am, Mom?” she asks. “If I make this choice, or that choice, the choices that make me different, will it change how you see me?”

Sophie B&W

Never.

When you were two, when you’re eleven, when you’re twenty, never, Sophie, will you change in my eyes. Because to me, you’ll always and forever be my perfectly imperfect child, the piece of my heart that is fiercer than me, more independent than me, smart, beautiful, talented, funny, frustrating, walking around in this world, blazing the path I was too afraid to blaze. No matter what age, what birthday, I will be able to look at your face and see the brilliant individual person you are and the tiny fierce baby you were and know that they are the very same person, and I will love your faults, and your fears, and your accomplishments and your failures equally.

For eleven years, my heart has had a body and a name, and it’s taken form in the world and I’ve been allowed to watch, and to teach, and to love this piece of my heart named Sophie, and even though it’s supposed to be her birthday, it’s the best gift I’ve ever been given.

 

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On Persistence and honeybees

Two stories from our weekend in Branson, MO.

Saturday Night

Luke and I ate a so-so dinner on Saturday night at the Grand Country Buffet in Branson, MO. We only picked it because: buffet. Luke liked a large selection, and I knew I could find something for me. But unlike Furr’s, which we were used to, the food seemed tired and oily. It was passable. Luke rated it a 6 out of 10. I liked the dinner roll. It was like eating a buttery pillow. But I wanted a better dessert than what they had there (soft serve and old cookies), so I suggested Cakes & Cream on Route 76 for ice cream. I looked up their website on my iPhone while we finished eating dinner, showing Luke that it served sugar free items that he could eat.

The ice cream shop was supposed to resemble a 1950’s diner, with lots of chrome and neon. We both bravely passed up the funnel cakes for plain ice cream. With sugar free butter pecan in a cup for him and a mint chocolate chip cone for me, we left the restaurant and headed up the steep parking lot to the motorcycle. The lot sloped down from Route 76 to the restaurant, forcing everyone’s parked vehicles to look like they were in a glacially slow landslide. The motorcycle was parked at the top, next to a curb and a small grass hill climbing to meet the sidewalk, making a fairly comfy seat. Here we had a view of the restaurant directly below us, a mini golf course to the right that kept playing a tinkly “You’ve Won!” tune, and a Mexican restaurant to the left that for some reason smelled of grilled steak. The sun was still setting so the sky glowed peach. It was warm enough for us to eat ice cream in our sweatshirts without chill.

A red Impala pulled up to the curb next to the restaurant’s patio. I watched a lady climb out of the driver’s seat while a heavyset older woman struggled to exit uphill from the passenger side. As I was paying attention to her plight, the driver’s side lady and a well-dressed young man in his late teens were unloading a large black case from the trunk.

“Wonder what’s going on there?” I said.

We watched for several minutes like an audience watching a mime. The young man put on a tie to go with his button down white dress shirt and black dress pants, fiddling to get it just right and pressing his black hair into place several times. He chatted with the two women from the car as they stood on the outdoor patio. I took them to be his mother and grandmother.

I was curious the longer I watched. Clearly we were watching a performer set up, and Luke and I agreed to stay. I had questions: What would he perform? Would he be any good?

The young man unrolled a long orange extension cord and dragged it around to the outside of the patio area to plug it in, clearly having done this here before. The big black case held an amp, and he removed an electric guitar from a guitar case that had been lying on the ground behind a table. He set up a small folding table and placed his phone on it, hooking up a silver microphone while his mother fussed over the arrangement of a large plastic tip jar.

After a mic check, he pressed play on his phone. He sang the vocals and played guitar himself, while his phone provided the backup music. We heard “Maybe Baby” and “That’ll Be the Day,” by Buddy Holly, “Bye, Bye Love,” by the Everly Brothers, and “Runaway,” by Del Shannon. It made sense, early 50’s rock-n-roll played at a retro 50’s diner.

He was a decent guitar player and he had a fairly good singing voice, but that’s not what impressed me. There are a thousand other kids his age with better singing voices or a more technically perfect style, but I guarantee they are not performing on a Friday night. This kid had to work his butt off to pursue a dream of singing.

How many places had he called that turned him down? How many hours had he practiced those songs? How many performances had he done for friends and family, or just for exposure or experience?

This kid had something many other “better” singers didn’t have: persistence.

It had taken him time, work, and effort to get here on this Friday night. We took a short video of his performance to show our kids and dropped a $20 into his jar, because we admired and respected his commitment to his dream and what it took for him to get up there and sing.

Later, Luke and I agreed that we preferred that small performance more than any of the professional shows we had discussed attending in Branson. The young man wasn’t a paid professional, or well-known, he was just a kid pursuing his dream the old fashioned way. To me, it sounded like success.

Sunday morning.

We just made it to Starvin Marvin’s for the breakfast buffet. I paid our bill after we ate. An older lady, her short auburn hair and glasses on a chain saying more librarian than restaurant manager, inquired about our trip. I told her we had come to Branson from Arkansas for a weekend getaway. She said she noticed our helmets and my tightly braided hair and mentioned that her husband and herself were frequent bikers. My braid reminded her of a funny story about her daughter, who braided her long thick hair when she rode bike with her husband, the lady’s son-in-law. She said her daughter rode with the son-in-law once and got a bee stuck in her braid, which then proceeded to sting her neck.

The lady said, “Now she swore it stung her 3-4 times, and I had to tell her, no you know a bee can only sting once and it loses its stinger.”

The daughter said, “Well it hurt a lot! It felt like 3-4 stings.”

The lady said the kicker here was that the son-in-law was following behind a bee transport truck, which was clearly leaking some of its cargo, but that he was not a confident rider yet and was trapped in the lane, behind the truck, in busy Washington, DC, with his wife repeatedly punching him in the shoulder because she was getting stung.

I laughed at her story and joking agreed to tell Luke to steer clear of suspicious cargo trucks. As Luke and I walked to our own bike, I started telling him the story until the lady emerged from the restaurant with a pair of sunglasses, asking if they were ours. Luke had left them sitting on the table. Luke thanked her for bringing them out, and I joked that he would have been pretty mad if we drove off without them, considering we were about to be riding for 3 hours and he had just bought them yesterday.

Before the lady turned to go back inside, she leaned over to Luke and said, “Be sure you stay away from any bee trucks!”

She then got to retell her story a little for Luke, who jokingly replied, “And how long after this was the divorce?”

“Oh, no, they didn’t divorce. My daughter passed away seven years ago.”

Oh.

Luke commented that this must have been a favorite story of theirs when she was alive.

“Oh, yes!”

The lady seemed delighted at the chance to talk about her daughter, Celeste. She and her husband had lived in Annapolis, MD, in an old Victorian they were restoring. She worked for the FBI and the son-in-law was a retired Marine who joined the CIA.

Now life was different, but the son-in-law was trying. He’d dated several women since his wife’s death, the lady told us. None of the relationships went anywhere. He even proposed once, but when he mentioned taking his fiancé to see his other mother, she balked and said, “I am not going to visit HER mother.”

He proceeded to politely ask for the ring back and told her to get her things and get out of his house.

When he told her his tale of woe, Celeste’s mother told him, “When you meet the one, none of that will matter. But . . . whatever you do, make sure you let her pick somewhere else to live. A house, a condo, a tent! Don’t move her into that house.”

She paused.

“Don’t do that to the next girl you love, because Celeste’s ghost lives in every room of that house.”

We parted ways after that, agreeing that life is weird, and funny, and heartbreaking. I never learned that lady’s name, but Celeste’s story stuck with me as we rode out of Branson (with no bees in sight).

I thought about the small glimpse into another life, the truth and the heartbreak of it. Sometimes, no matter how you try to move past them, your ghosts do haunt every room. You just have to accept them and keep on living anyway.

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If You Could Choose Your Thoughts, Which Ones Would You Choose?

If You Could Choose Your Thoughts, Which Ones Would You Choose?

My mind is so full of everything lately that I feel like I’m scattered to the breeze like a dandelion puff. No matter how hard I try to grab every one of those little cotton-y pieces, some will always slip away. I was having a hard time coming up with a topic to write about. I thought I might write about positive thinking, (okay, truthfully my lack of), and how I believe always thinking positively may not actually be that helpful.

But then I felt that overwhelming anxiety crawl over me, the one where I feel a little lost and full of disconnected thoughts that end in Danger! Closed roads and broken bridges.

I wondered if my cluttered mind was to blame. For, as in real life, when I can’t seem to relax or work in a room or house that is disorganized or dirty, I am beginning to feel like I can’t work within my disarrayed brain. Maybe I needed a little guidance on clearing out my mind, and then I would be able to write something that made actual sense.

And I found this: a post written by Farnoosh Brock for the blog Becoming Minimalist, called Declutter Your Mind.

A few points in the article hit close to home for me, but one in particular hooked me. It’s something you hear and realize you’ve always known but didn’t really know: No two objects can occupy the same space at the same time. And, if you follow this logic further, no two opposing thoughts, one positive and one negative, can occupy your brain at the same moment. You HAVE to choose one thought or the other to devote yourself to.

That’s right: choice. Suddenly my two coinciding thoughts, one about positive or negative thinking and the other about my cluttered mind, fused together and I found myself with something to say. Something to write.

I Don’t Want to Be Pollyanna

I’ve been really thinking about all that negative thinking lately. How often I use it, what it does or doesn’t do for me, the stress, anxiety and worry I allow myself to feel because of negative thoughts, and even the relentless messages we seem to get from media and social media about positive thinking. Everything wants to convince us that positive thinking is the solution to every problem. The underlying message is that each of us is somehow to blame for the consequences that befall us because of our negative thinking. (So, now I can add guilt to the mix, too? Thank you, society!)

To be honest, I got kind of pissed about this. What if I don’t want to be relentlessly positive all the time? What if I see myself more as a realist? I know we are told to make the best of a bad situation, and try to look for the positives in everything and everyone, but c’mon. That leaves out some of real life, doesn’t it? It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, for without the rain, the rainbow wouldn’t even exist.

In all of the ongoing thinking I’m doing lately about thinking (hmm, that must be Meta…), something in the Declutter Your Mind article spoke to me. The author gently pointed out that the positive and the negative exist there in that brain of ours, shaped by our lives and our beliefs and our relationships and our upbringing. We store all of it in our mind, whether it serves us well or doesn’t. But just like that storage unit you pay for by the month that you wouldn’t need to waste money on if you just got rid of some crap, your brain may be able to lighten the load if you got rid of some of the useless crap in it.

The author asks you to imagine you have to leave your very large, very familiar, very comfortable castle in your brain because it has become so overstuffed with thoughts, fears, worries, memories, etc., that it’s time to move to a new space, one that is wonderful, but tiny.

Of course, as with any move, you’ll have to dispose of a lot of shit.

What would you take with you? What would you leave behind? What do you think would be most useful to you from here on out? Where would you go?

I liked this idea. A lot. My brain is already busy sorting things into boxes marked Yard Sale, and I only read this article this morning!

My Castle Was a Prison

The castle in my brain was built many years ago by a little girl who needed a protective fortress, but over the years that protection became a prison. High up in that one tower where she spent a great deal of her time, she could only see the things she chose to see. Or was told to see. She didn’t have much interest in things that were uncomfortable, scary, or unfamiliar. As with all “safe” things, her castle tower became stagnant and restrictive, but she felt stuck there. For a while now, she has known she doesn’t even want to be in a castle.

I’m no longer that little kid, and I don’t want or need a protective fortress. I learned that the dragon I was so afraid of wasn’t out there, waiting to get me. My dragon lived right in my castle, never very far away. It was always letting me know when I wandered too far from where I was “supposed” to be.

Now that I know better, I would choose to get rid of the stifling cocoon of my castle, and end up in a place where I can find peace and the ability to grow into who I’ve wanted to be for years, but thought I couldn’t.

Imagine a New Way, Because That’s What Brains Do!

I want to trade my castle for a cottage on the ocean. Not the tropical beach, maybe somewhere on the Atlantic seaboard, but without the nasty gray winters. My cottage would be small and weathered, but very sturdy, with large windows that faced the beach and ocean. I would be able to sit inside and watch storms roll in, or watch the sun over the water. There would be seagulls, but not the annoying kind. A nice stretch of beachy sand for making castles, but also some rocks with tide pools, filled with starfish, crabs and mussels. You can smell a hint of salty air and damp sand. Every so often drifts the scent of fried dough or cotton candy from carnivals, or backyard barbecue grills. There’s a soundtrack of shushing waves on the shore, pleasant and calming. Sometimes when the ocean is angry, the waves crash and roar, and I enjoy that, too, like nature’s version of my favorite rock song turned all the way up.

I don’t know if you’re an ocean person, but for the last ten years I’ve lived right in the middle of the country with no ocean in sight, and this new castle-turned-cottage sounds like Heaven. It may seem silly, if you think about it, to imagine setting up a place for your brain to live, but also in a weird way it makes sense. Why banish your mind to places that are cold and dreary and scary? Why live in the house of cards built by a little kid, long ago? Why not give your thoughts a place to rest that feels . . . homey? You spend all day, every day with your mind, so what’s the harm in creating a place for it that makes it happy?

Now, as with every move, there’s the big decisions about what to bring with you and what to leave behind. What can I get rid of that has been hurting me, causing me to make poor choices, or holding me back? I think I have a moving truck’s worth of those things.

More importantly, what do I want to have with me for the rest of my days? What memories and beliefs would I use to decorate the walls of my cottage, to furnish the rooms, to make the light slant in through the blinds just right as the sun rises?

I can tell you a few.

How I’d Decorate My Mind’s New, Improved Home

Memories, beliefs, feelings.

There’s me in the west corner of my yard as a kid, right where our yard met our neighbor’s yard, where for a short time each spring, hundreds of tiny purplish-white flowers would blanket the ground, and I would lay in the middle and stare at the blue summer sky with nowhere to go and nothing to do.

I will take my belief that a person works for what they want, and that it’s okay to start small, and that being able to support yourself without having to rely on other people gives you a lot of power and pride.

I will also hang on to the feeling I’ve had my whole life that I was meant for things that are bigger than I could imagine. I don’t know why I’ve had this feeling, or why it’s taken me so long to believe maybe it can be true, but it keeps me going.

The moment when I was first allowed to hold my daughter in the hospital bed after she was checked by the nurses and I was stitched up by the doctor would be my over-the-mantle memory. We were brought back to the hospital room and she stared up at me and I stared down at her and that was that. I don’t know if most people are fine with their babies hanging out in the little newborn bed beside them, but I refused to let go of her. She laid on me that whole first night, except for a brief time when a nurse named Stephanie, who I recognized from my high school and never realized was a complete angel, convinced me to let her take Sophie down the hall to the nurses’ station so I could sleep while they spent several hours holding her and loving on her, putting my frantic new mom mind completely at ease.

All my favorite things would live in the rooms of my mind:

The smell of coffee and of bakery scented candles. The taste of homemade apple pie.

Looking outside the front door at night and seeing the first snowflakes of the year drifting to the ground, when the world is so quiet it feels like you’re in a snow globe.

A brilliant blue fall sky above leaves of brown and red and yellow, where you stand outside and there’s a slight chill in the air and the leaves are crunching under your feet, and for one brief moment, you feel so amazed and happy to be alive and existing that you almost can’t breathe.

Christmas, with the old movies, and the sugar cookies, and decorations, and the smell of a real tree, and keeping the dream of Santa alive for one more year.

Opening a book and reading the first few chapters and then ceasing to exist in your life until the book is complete.

Looking at your children and feeling as though you would never have to be given anything else in this life because they exist and what more could someone ask for?

Realizing that someone loves you for what you are and what you aren’t, the achievements you’re proud of and the thighs you hate, and that you don’t have to do anything other than exist for them to feel that way about you.

A note from your best friend who you’ve known since high school letting you know she misses you and couldn’t imagine going through life without you in it.

Things that make you laugh so hard your sides hurt and it’s hard to catch your breath.

All of these amazing things and more would live in me so I can appreciate every day what makes my life mine.

I would take my knowledge, and my curiosity, my doggedness when it comes to finding out information, facts, the truth. My want to improve and get better every day. A little bit of my naïve belief in the goodness in most things and people, but not enough for me to be taken advantage of. My fascination with weird and creepy things that is something I can’t explain but don’t want to let go of. My abilities: that I’m physically able, can quickly learn new things, can draw, paint, write and read. The way I soldier through even when I don’t want to. Even though I may leave some of my darker moments in that Leave-Behind box, I will take all of the lessons learned from those trying times because without them, I wouldn’t have been able to come as far as I have.

This is just the start of what I would take with me to my mind’s cottage by the sea. Just as in real life, this process is probably an ongoing one, for how do you take a lifetime of accumulated stuff and decide what stays and what goes? You do it piece by piece, of course. And if there is a habit, thought, belief, or emotion that is not serving you but you can’t seem to let go of yet, you can even give yourself permission to keep it, for now. Maybe set it up in the new space and see if it fits.

Maybe whatever negative thing it was seemed right for an imposing, drafty, elaborate castle. But in my seaside cottage, I might find I am finally able to let go, for good, because it just doesn’t belong anymore.

And that’s a choice I can make.

 

What would you choose?

Let me know what you think in the comments!

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If you're not the boss of me, then who is?

In my other life as a preschool teacher, the phrase “You’re not the boss of me!” was incredibly popular. The kids said this to each other more times than I can count. They said it to me on a few occasions, too. It was the perfect way for a kid to express independence and assert that she is in charge of her own self, dang it. Nobody else can truly control what they say, think, or do. We adults can sure try, but as anyone who has dealt with a toddler or preschooler knows, the illusion of control only lasts so long.

Now, several years removed from my teaching career, that phrase popped into my head again after I noticed many adults I deal with whose actions say the same thing. Except the people I’ve been dealing with show that, as evidenced by their childish, immature, and manipulative ways, they are more likely to say, “You’re not the boss of me! And . . . neither am I.

They dislike being told “what to do” by others, but they’re not even the boss of themselves.

What happens when grown adults run around blaming other people for their actions, punishing other people for things they have done wrong, and hiding their crappy life choices? It’s kind of like dealing with a bunch of adult sized preschoolers. You can’t reason with them. They don’t see things rationally or logically. They want to be victims and pretend that the unhappy and unfulfilling lives they are living are the fault of everyone else on the planet except the one true responsible party – their own self.

Lately, I feel an overwhelming sense of disappointment with some people. Too many are parading through life behind a trail of lies, fake promises, hidden agendas, and carefully crafted illusions. The bosses of their lives are the Joneses, social media, anyone who ever did them wrong, and the people who they allow to run their lives.

Now me, I am the first to admit that it has taken me far too long to see that I am the boss of my own life. I spent many years letting other people dictate how I should live, what was best for me, and what I thought. The past several years were spent in eye-opening (sometimes agonizing) realizations about myself, my life, and the people in it.

But at least I own it.

The stupid, messy ways I’ve handled some things? I only have me to thank.
The times I should have stood my ground and didn’t? Right here, I’m guilty of that.
The people I let push me around and steamroll me? I gave them permission by not saying anything.

That’s the thing with being the boss of your own self. You begin to understand that the things in your life that you are proud of, you own. The things that you’re ashamed of? You own those, too.

Now, please don’t misunderstand. The things that happened to you when you were a child and the times you weren’t allowed to act and speak, those things weren’t your fault. But now that you’re an adult, if you are still holding on to those childhood acts of injustice in order to justify your right to act out, punish other people, destroy your own health and well-being . . . well, that part is on you.

Being in charge of yourself means accepting that the person who had to endure those tough times was just a child with limited skills and coping mechanisms. Now that you’re an adult, you have resources, people, family, and professionals to turn to, to help you deal with the fallout of decisions you made, or were made for you, when you were a kid.

The reason this topic has been on my mind lately? I have been dealing with several different situations where adults refuse to take responsibility for their own words, thoughts, and actions. Instead, they want to blame others, lie, refuse to act like rational, civil human beings, and generally run around like the world owes them simply because they exist.

The weighty effects of people like this (negative people, people who are dealing with far more mental demons than I could ever dream of conjuring up, mean people, and people who are simply overwhelmed by life) are pretty extreme. When someone in your life refuses to take responsibility for their own thoughts and decisions, it forces you to make difficult choices and deal with the fallout of the bad choices of others, especially when there are children involved.

In short, it’s physically exhausting and mentally draining.

And, I might add, unnecessary. Because really, deep down in the depths of their tiny black souls, most of these people would love to be the boss of themselves and live the happy, fulfilling lives they pretend on the surface they are actually living. However, years of abuse, disappointment, victim hood, or learned behavior that was taught to them by an adult who was equally, if not more, screwed up than they are have taken their toll, and these people no longer feel in control of anything at all.

And feeling out of control is a scary way to live life.

Maybe the reason this strikes such a chord for me is because, up until the last several years, I was one of those people, too. I wasn’t the boss of me, and I certainly didn’t know how to become that. In fact, even though I’ve come a long way, I’m still working on it. And I figured I would write down some thoughts on this to help me along my path. Maybe it offers you some insight, too.

How to Be the Boss of Your Own Life

  1. I have said this in a recent blog post, but it bears repeating: Realize you have NO control over the thoughts, opinions, actions or choices of others. Ever.
  2. Realize that the consequences of what you do, say, feel, or think will sometimes be unexpected or even uncomfortable, but you have to be prepared for that and understand that it’s normal because     . . . see Number 1!
  3. Drive your own horse and cart. When you hand over the reins of your life to other people, it’s no longer your horse or your cart. You are merely a passenger who does not have a say in whether the horse and cart travels to a sunny meadow with butterflies, or careens over the side of a cliff and crashes on sharp rocks. You gave up having any say when you decided you weren’t in charge.
  4. Own your actions. This doesn’t mean you have to be Suzy Sunshine all the time. Quite the opposite, in fact. It means you accept that you are human and you will fail, feel hurt or angry, have bad things happen, have good things happen and make choices regarding your life. In turn, you have to accept that other people will react to your failures, do things that cause you to feel hurt or angry, blame you for bad things, ignore good things, and question your choices. And they have a perfect right to do all of those things, because they are busy being the boss of their own lives.
  5. Which leads me to the most important point here: Be the boss of yourself that you wish you had. The fun, understanding, sometimes tough (but always fair) boss. Give yourself days off, assign yourself work you love to do, run meetings that are fun and productive, and encourage yourself to treat other people well. Encourage yourself to treat you well. Don’t allow yourself to be a victim, or take out your anger on others, or let life get the best of you. Most of all, be the boss who believes with all his or her heart that you can be fantastic and human all at once.

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Do you believe you’re the boss of your own life? Do you sometimes feel like the people you deal with act like they aren’t the boss of their own actions or words and it has a big effect on you (or your family, friends, or kids?) Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

5 Tips for when you feel like "I Have No Idea What I'm Doing!"

Have you ever said, “I have no idea what I am doing. How am I supposed to do this?”

I can totally empathize, because lately I have been feeling this on a grand scale.

Guys, here’s my confession: I have no idea what I am doing.

I’ve felt this way for a long time, actually. But lately it’s become a little overwhelming. There’s a lot going on in my life: we’re dealing with the normal family things, plus jobs, and all the regular crazy stuff. On top of that are some other things that are a little abnormal:

  • We’re in a custody dispute over two little girls, and we’re diligently providing all the information we can come up with to our lawyer. Plus, that situation is stressful to deal with. How can a parent deliberately withhold a child from the other parent out of spite? It’s unthinkable.
  • I am dealing with the fallout of some deep rooted family issues, and the stress and sadness is at times overwhelming.
  • I just turned 37 (omg!), which is maybe why I am dwelling on the “what am I doing with my life?” stuff.
  • Even happy things can cause life to tilt slightly off balance. We just got a puppy, which changes the dynamics of our day-to-day a little bit: I haven’t spent this much time thinking about another being’s frequency of going to the bathroom since my daughter was a baby!

So, I understand some of my feelings of being unhinged and overwhelmed come from life circumstances. I also know some of it comes from who I am: I am a creative person who was taught for years that feelings are ignored, not dealt with. Now I feel ALL the feelings, and yeesh…it’s rough learning at 37 what I should have learned at 7.

And some of it comes from that longing.

Do you know that longing? It’s the one where you are super aware of the gap between where you are and where you want to be. Do you feel stuck or trapped in a place that isn’t entirely your choice? A job you need versus one you want. A place you’d like to be but can’t get there for whatever reason. A life circumstance that just isn’t happening even though you desperately want it to? That’s the longing I’m talking about.

Here’s my gap: I work a part time job for a non-profit organization. It is a job that has meaning (yay!) and a steady paycheck (double yay!).

However…

My dream is to be an artist and writer. It’s all I think about, read about, and do. I’ve tried several times to let go of it, but it won’t leave me alone. So, here I am at 37, knowing I need my part-time job to stay afloat, and I need to devote a certain amount of time to life, and family (and sleep!), which leaves me the leftover time to make this shit happen. Or not. Or maybe I could… Or, no, it’s too hard and overwhelming, plus I don’t think I’m talented enough. But, yes! I could be awesome! (Do you see the issues here? This is what’s in my head on a daily basis. Sigh. Talk myself in, talk myself out.)

This blog is part of that dream of mine, too. It’s also one of the main areas where I am certain I have no idea what I am doing!

I read a TON of blog advice. Everything from design and graphic tips to writing great posts to promotion, and everything in between. I Hoover up blog advice like it’s going out of style. In a way, it’s an obsession, and it’s also completely overwhelming.

Why? Well, I’ll be honest: the one thing every blog expert says you HAVE to have before running a successful blog, I don’t have.

I’ve read a million times that a successful blog knows its niche, its worldview, its focus.

I’ve lived long enough to know that focus is not my forte. I feel more like I’m stumbling around in the dark looking for the light switch (Oh, there it is! No, never mind, that’s a picture frame. And, ouch I just stubbed my toe! Where was I again? And so on…) Oh, I’ve tried! I’ve done the exercises where you make up your “one person,” or you narrow down your niche, you pick something you can help people with, etc., etc., etc., grrrrr….

Still. stuck.

For whatever reason, I know I haven’t quite got it yet.

In my kinder moments, I know the truth. That nagging, frustrating feeling of “I have no idea what I am doing” only requires the addition of one little word:

. . . yet.

I have no idea what my focus is . . . yet.

I have no idea how to be successful with my art . . . yet.

I don’t have any idea how I will become a writer . . . yet.

Because one day, I will be those things, and can look back on the time when I didn’t know what I was doing as a necessary stepping stone to “getting there.”

That doesn’t make it easier. We all sometimes have to sit in the space of not knowing, of feeling inadequate, of feeling trapped by life circumstances. So, to help you and me both get through, even though we may be facing vastly different things, here are some suggestions. I hope they help.

Why You Feel You Don’t Know What You’re Doing (& What to Do About It):

  1. What you’re told: Your creative work won’t get you anywhere. Maybe your art, music, or crafting dreams were squashed early because your family or an influential person told you you had to have a real (cough, cough 9-5 cubicle) job. A sensible job. You can do your craft as a hobby, these people said. You need to work at a real job to support a family. And so, you grew up believing the very thing you wanted was impractical or, at worst, irresponsible. What to do: It’s 2015. The rules that used to apply are changing fast. People don’t believe in working their lives at one steady job until retirement. There are so many options available that could fit your vision, you just have to take the time to find them, and then pick the ones that best suit your goals, skills and lifestyle. It is do-able, and there are people who are proving it everyday. Have faith that one day you’ll be one of those people and there will be newbs looking up to you. (I need to tape this one to my own forehead).
  2. What You Feel: Your work is amateurish, or you doubt your skills. You see the work of other people who are further along the path than you, and their work looks like the Taj Mahal while yours is a rotting shack in the woods. It sucks when your passion outweighs your skills, but this is the reason why you have the passion! To make you work to build those skills without losing your drive to do the thing. Every creative person has doubts about their ability. I would be more worried if you had no doubts! What to do: The answer you didn’t want to hear. Hard work. If there’s a piece of your dream that you don’t feel skilled in, fix it. Build that skill. It may take time and it may be frustrating, like learning to tie your shoe at age 30. But in today’s world, you really have no excuses (I am critically eyeballing myself here, ahem) because the information is all out there! You can read a book, Google it, YouTube it, ask an expert, go to school, take a course…literally the options available to you are endless.
  3. What Worries You: You’re of a certain age (15? 34? 70?) and either feel like your dream isn’t happening fast enough or you’re running out of time. There are actually two ways to look at this one, because time is something we all have, and time is something we all waste. What to do: First, you could clear out some unnecessary stuff to make time for your dreams and goals. Then, if you are really serious about pursuing them, you will use that time to work on them. If a few weeks or months pass and you’re still not making progress, maybe that’s the time to ask why you’re not doing what you say you want to. There’s another part to this “time thing” that’s a little less concrete, but bear with me. Maybe it’s not happening fast enough because it’s not time yet. There’s something that needs to happen, some skill you need to learn, or some experience you need to have before your dream can become a reality. You may not know why or what is supposed to happen yet, but if you listen closely to yourself, you may hear a little voice saying, “Just relax. It’s not time yet.”
  4. What You’re Dealing With: Someone doubts your dreams. Maybe it’s you, or maybe a spouse, parent, or trusted friend. If it’s another person, he or she has enough influence over your thoughts and actions to make you doubt yourself and believe him or her. Sometimes these people mean well and just don’t want to see you fail. Sometimes these people secretly hope you will fail because they are jealous, negative, or unsupportive. (Sucks, but it happens . . . too often). What to do: It’s scary, I know. But you have to listen to you. Even if the person is well meaning, or even if it will impact your life with this person (working long hours, less money initially, being on the bottom rung . . . whatever their “reason” for why you shouldn’t) should be acknowledged. And then thrown out! Not in a rude or mean way. You can tell them you appreciate their concern (or not, it’s up to you) and then go ahead and do what you want to do. You may have to change some things to make it work, or you may even have to consider the possibility of letting this person go if they are unwilling to support you. But this is your life, not theirs. When it comes right down to it, you’re the only person who has final say. Period. End of sentence.
  5. What You Think: Everyone is an expert. Have you been on the Internet lately? You can’t throw a stick without hitting an expert in the eye with it. Experts on love, health, sports, celebrities, politics, the environment, and more. There are celebrities who are experts. There are experts on which experts are better. It’s exhausting and overwhelming. But you, over here in your little corner of the world, don’t feel like an expert. At least, not as expert-y as all those other ones out there with their websites and YouTube channels, and fancy Internet University degrees. Am I right? What to do: First, define expert. Basically, all it means is a person who has knowledge or skills in a particular area. Hey, that’s you! And me! The only thing we don’t have, like the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, is a piece of paper (or nowadays a website), proclaiming our expertness. So if all that stands between you and what you want is not feeling like you’re expert enough, it’s time to get rid of that thought. Don’t lie and puff up your knowledge, but understand that to someone who knows little to nothing about your area of interest, you are the expert!

There you have it. Five tips to get you and me through this weird time of feeling like we don’t know what we’re doing. The best part is, you may find that someday you’ll recognize it in someone else and can pay it forward by helping them.

Are you struggling with the gap between where you are and where you want to be? What things in your life are making you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing? Do you have any other tips besides the ones I gave? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

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Woman on bench photo credit: https://unsplash.com/mikael_k: By Mikael Kristenson

Who Cares What Everyone Else Thinks? (I do)

Who Cares What Everyone Else Thinks? (I do)

I am rarely on time. It used to really bother me.  Even when I would think I was going to be early, something would happen and I would be barely on time, or late. Never is this more apparent than when I have to drop my daughter off at school. Some mornings, we keep it together enough for her to arrive early and get there for recess. Sometimes, just at the first bell. But as the year wears on, inevitably, we would slide into Home as the late bell was ringing. We would always make it just in time. I would still usually stop at the office and sign her in, just in case.

One morning, just a year ago, was one of the most humiliating moments of my adult life. I signed Sophie in at 8:31 am, one minute late. The assistant principal came out of her office and started to leave, but stopped when she noticed us standing there.

First, she singled out Sophie, “You’re late quite often, aren’t you?”

Sophie shrugged and looked at me. “Sometimes,” she said.

The lady looked at me. I became an instant deer in headlights. “Oh, no, oh, no!” was all I could think. Then came the barrage of questions: Was there a reason for this lateness? An unfortunate hardship the school didn’t know about? Did I simply not care about the importance of timeliness in an educational setting?

“No,” I stammered. My face was on fire and my eyes were swimming with tears. I said the first lame thing that popped into my mind. “I just have several people to get ready in the morning.” As I stared at her, mouth hanging open, she proceeded to berate me for bringing my child to school late, compromising Sophie’s academic career, and making her teacher’s job harder to do . . . in front of of several school staff members and several parents and children who came into the office after I did (technically making them later than me). Then, without even a backwards glance, she left the office.

I laid the plastic-flower topped pen down and gulped back my tears, took Sophie’s hand, and left the office.

Sophie, bless her, simply said, “It’s okay, Mom, don’t let the Dragon Lady get you down.”

It took me a long time to want to go back in that office. To this day, I still cringe when I see the lady who gave my my public dressing down. The rest of that day was spent reassuring myself I wasn’t destroying my child’s education because of my personal fault: lateness. Questions floated through my mind all day: Am I disrespectful and rude? Is my child suffering because of me? Do all the people in that office think I’m a bad parent? And so on…

 

You see, I care what other people think. A Lot.

 

Here are some quotes I found related to the Google search term “what everyone else thinks.” You might be familiar with some of these: they are often written in a catchy font over a sparkly background and shared on Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest.

Joyce Meyer said, “You can not live your life just based on what everyone else thinks.”

Nishan Panwar said, “The biggest mistake people make in life is to worry what everyone else thinks.”

Even Oprah Winfrey has weighed in on this issue, “If you make a choice that goes against what everyone else thinks, the world will not fall apart.”

Another popular quote: What everyone else thinks is none of your damn business!

I have always been too concerned with what everyone else thinks and, more importantly, what everyone else thinks of me. Is this you, too?

My over-investment in other people’s opinions is nothing new. One incident in a school office over being one minute late was enough to knock me down several pegs. But I had sort of an “A-ha” moment the other day. Luke and I were having a conversation that, for one of the first times I can remember, really made the danger of this type of thinking crystal clear.

We have been talking for a week or so about getting another dog, and we don’t exactly see eye-to-eye on the issue. I am happy with our “one-Boxer” household. He has his heart set on getting another Dalmatian (he’s owned several). Not just any Dalmatian, but a puppy to boot. I have been working very hard on not appearing to be as against this “new dog” idea as I really am. In fact, I realized I didn’t want to tell him I felt guilty that I wasn’t excited about getting a dog, and I (subconsciously) didn’t want him to think I am a bad person because I told him how I really feel.

He thought I was worried about having to take care of the dog when he and the kids wear out the newness, but I had to fess up that I am actually worried I will not like the dog. I have had dogs in the past (one being a Dalmatian) that I simply clashed with, personality-wise, and each time it happened I would feel terrible about it, because it’s not like it’s the dog’s fault. On the flip side of that, a couple of the animals I’ve had that I really enjoyed passed on as really young pets in rather tragic ways, and I was also worried if I got attached, something would happen.

The problem here was that I was so anxious over this issue and unwilling to honestly state my opinions about it that I was causing it to become a BIG elephant-sized issue instead of a little one. My fear was that Luke would forever look back on this point in our life and say something like, “Yeah, I really wanted to get a cute little Dalmatian puppy, but Jaime threw such a fit I couldn’t get one.” Not only was I scared about what he’d think when I stated my opinion, but I discovered that over the course of my life, I’ve been conditioned to behave according to two principles:

  1. I cared so much about other people’s thoughts and opinions that I was hesitant to state my own.
  2. I was convinced that if my opinion conflicted with another person’s, my opinion automatically didn’t matter!

 

Whooo boy.

Have you ever been faced with a realization about yourself that startled you? That was so accurate and eye-opening that you wonder how you existed before knowing this? (I believe this is probably what’s referred to as an epiphany.)

My epiphany: I had been letting my hang up about valuing other people’s thoughts and opinions over my own shape my life!

Ouch.

From the time I was a small child, I can remember being caught up in thoughts about other people that sounded like, “Are they happy?” “Do they like me?” and “Maybe if I [insert random action here], it will cheer them up, make them less sad, or calm them down.” I learned that keeping my mouth shut kept things calm and helped me avoid drama and conflict, two things I hated most of all. But never in my thoughts did I question, “What’s my opinion here?” If another person thinks this or says that, okay, but when did I decide it was okay to strike myself completely out of the conversation?

In placing heaps of importance on the actions and thoughts of other people, especially those who I felt I had to please, I didn’t understand or value what was in my own head. I usually snuffed out my own feelings or pushed them down so far that I didn’t have to deal with them.

Don’t do this, people! Do you want to know what this eventually does? After years and years of ignoring your own thoughts and feelings, they’ll start to come out anyway, and it will scare the hell out of you! Talk about a nightmare for a person who worries what others think! Suddenly, you’re having these strong feelings like anger or frustration, or sadness, and you’re:

  1. Embarrassed or confused that you feel the way you do.
  2. Unable to hold what you’re thinking and feeling inside, so you’re having to deal with the aftermath of saying what’s really in your heart and in your head.

Now I understand for many of you, this is not really an issue. You may notice or understand what other people think about you, but you let it have little to no impact on your own life decisions. You might not, as the quote said, give a damn what anyone else thinks.

Sorry, I couldn't resist...

Sorry, I couldn’t resist…

Eventually, all of us will reach the point when we ask ourselves, “Why do I care? Who cares if they think that? Let them. This is my life, not theirs!” Some people learn this in preschool, some after many years of adulthood, and some . . . maybe never. I’m 36 and I’m in the process of finally learning this for myself.

The truth is, you have absolutely no control over what another person thinks. You could, in theory, bend over backwards, do nice things, say nice things, and be there for a particular person, and if they don’t like you, for whatever reason, they’re still not going to like you. They may think you’re trying to get something out of them, or that you’re being fake. No matter how hard you work to change their thoughts about you — you can’t. And then you just wasted a bunch of time and energy on something that isn’t adding anything positive to your life.

That assistant principal? My daughter still goes to that school. I was still late last year. Other times I was early, and sometimes I was on time. Does she look at me when she sees me and think to herself, “There’s that disgraceful mother who doesn’t care enough to get her kid to school on time?” Maybe. Or maybe she doesn’t even remember that particular encounter. Maybe she was having a bad day. Maybe she thinks, “There’s the mom of that little girl with the cute short hair.” Who knows? I don’t, because I’ve never asked her. Does it have an impact on my day-to-day life, what she thinks of me? No. Does it make me think about the impact a late person has on others and make me try harder to be more responsible for arriving on time? Yes. But even so, I’m still going to be late sometimes, and that’s just how it is.

The biggest lesson here, for me at least, is that you can only control what you think. So the next time you catch yourself worrying about another person’s thoughts or opinions about you, remind yourself that you’re not psychic and can’t read their thoughts, and even if you could, it’s not your job to change those thoughts, or act according to those thoughts.

Your job is to be you, regardless what anyone else thinks of that.

P.S. – Puppy note: We ARE getting the puppy. After Luke and I discussed the issue and he got me to tell him what was really bothering me about it, he said the magical words: “I get it and it’s okay you feel that way.” We discussed compromises and how we would handle certain issues, and suddenly the elephant-sized issue shrank to normal size again. In fact, there is a tiny part of me that is excited. Shhhhh…!

 

Dalmatian Puppy: Right Spot Dalmatians

Dalmatian Puppy

Do you care what others think? Or are you the type of person to do your thing regardless of the opinions of others? Do you have any suggestions for those of us who care too much what others think? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

 

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Photo credit: Life of Pix.com/

On Getting It All Wrong

On Getting It All Wrong

There are certain people in this world who just seem to know.

They know how to get things done, why things are the way they are, even who they are, deep down.

I am not one of those people.

There are many days (most days?) when I just feel like I’m a mess.

I tell myself I will get up with the alarm (the first one, no snooze). I will not be late to wherever I am going. I will not be frustrated, overwhelmed, or lazy.

I will tackle my day and all the things without procrastinating.

My house will be clean and organized so all the chaos and clutter will not affect me mentally.

I WILL remember to feed the dog before I leave the house.

These are the things I tell myself, yes.

But then something goes terribly awry, and nothing in my day is as it “should” be.

It’s all wrong.

And that, right there, is really to root of the whole problem. My day isn’t living up to my expectations of how the day should go, and so I come to the conclusion it is wrong. And when one thing is wrong, so is another, and then everything, and suddenly I am down the rabbit hole of “I am a mess,” and “Will I ever have it together?” and I look at others and that little voice whispers, “Look! Her day went perfectly AND her house is spotless…what the hell is wrong with you?”

There are some of you out there who are relentlessly positive. The little things pop up and you crush them like a bug and soldier on buoyed by a wave of cheerfulness and positivity.

I envy you. I really do, and not in a bad green-eyed jealousy way. It’s just that by now, I realize that is not my way and I am sorta okay with accepting that.

My temperament, my outlook, my habits, and my internal voice all play a part in this, and these are things that I’m not going to have a whole lot of success changing. Mostly, “they are what they are.” I can try to work with them, little by little. I can try not to be so carried away by the gusts of anxiety, little worries, big worries, what-ifs, and doubts. But honestly, I am more Eeyore than Tigger.

I just am.

Maybe you are, too.

And, at some point, that just has to be okay. Can you imagine a world filled with relentlessly positive Energizer Bunny types, rushing around grinning and spraying sunshine everywhere? Where would be the depth of feeling? The highs have to be balanced with lows, just like light is balanced with dark, and evil is balanced by good.

It would be the same if the world only contained gloomy, dreary, grey attitudes. We’d all be like lemmings, looking for the nearest cliff to fling ourselves off.

There’s always going to be days were it just feels all wrong. We’re going to obsess and worry about those days, and all the little moments in those days, too. We might even apologize for it: “I’m sorry, I know I’m worried and a little down for what seems like no reason. I’m sure it will pass.”

And it will. There will be moments where you feel absolutely bursting with pride, love, happiness, and good. It will feel like you are the most awesome person who ever existed and you will be incredibly grateful to be living right now, in your own life. Moments like that are so needed, for when the dark moments arrive, we can remember, “Wait, what about that moment when life was awesome? Wasn’t that real? I want that again.”

I am by nature a creative, an artist. I don’t think I would be so good at it if I were just steady. If I only had a small range of feeling, from good to mediocre to okay to great and back again. I really do go from “YAY!” to “This sucks!” to “Oh, shit!” to “Woo hoo!” to “Damn it!” and everywhere in between. Sometimes all within the same hour. Maybe you do this too, and it feels like you’ve strapped yourself unwillingly into a roller coaster that someone else made you ride.

However frustrating it is in those moments, I realize that I wouldn’t be able to use that for being an artist if it wasn’t there. I write it down, I paint about it, I draw a picture, or I create a character. A musician makes a song, one that sticks in our heads and makes us feel a certain way. A dancer moves and we can almost see the feelings come to life.

The times when it’s all wrong makes it easier for an artist to connect with others. We can show that we understand, that we sympathize and empathize. We can help someone else know they are not alone.

And sometimes we feel really, really alone.

But we use our creative outlet, whatever that may be, to share how we are feeling. And if even one other person says, “Oh my God, that’s exactly how I feel, too!” then we know our art, our words, or feelings, and our lives mean something.

It’s okay for us to get it all wrong. Because then we can appreciate when it’s right, and better yet, for those of us who are artists or creative people, we can help another person see that being wrong isn’t bad, and it isn’t something you have to experience alone.

Are you Eeyore (a little gloom & doom)? Or are you Tigger (relentlessly positive)? Do you have a creative way to carry you through the days when you get it all wrong? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

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