Moving Beyond Your Own Parental Dream

There have been so many days I have wanted to blog about our recent experience with our adolescent son and his struggle with anxiety, depression, isolation and, we suspect, peer bullying.  Every time I would be thinking about it, I felt like I would be violating our family’s privacy – but we have so much to share that could help others.  In fact, one day late last Spring, at exactly the same time our family was dealing with the exact same issue, I was standing in the front office of my daughter’s High School when a tearful Mom approached the front desk.  She softly requested, “I need to have my son’s transcripts.  He is flunking every single class and has missed over 4 weeks of school.  I don’t know what else to do.”  Instead of rushing over to her and reassuring this Mom in her desperation, I quietly stood alone, stunned, dismayed, angry, and frightened – for her, for her son, and for our future.

Something is going on with adolescent boys that neither my husband nor I expected.  This is not the case for every boy, of course, but it certainly was for ours – and countless others we have discovered, since we began talking openly about it.

The peer pressure and social isolation that girls feel in middle school can be doubly hard for boys – especially boys with a reputation for being “tough.”

When our 190-pound middle linebacker son started coming home from 8th grade last Winter and crying himself to sleep because he was “fat,” we became very concerned.  It developed into an obsession and led to daily, irrational regimens of “clean” eating (absolutely no fat, sugar or carbs) followed by running 6 miles at a time on the treadmill- sometimes twice a day.  He started losing weight quickly but that did not seem to make him happy.  He became sullen and withdrawn and started avoiding going to school.  Within weeks, he refused to go to school altogether – he would wake up crying and tell us, “You have no idea what I go through.”  No, we didn’t.  But he would not tell us.

A mad search for psychological help began, including seriously considering hospitalization at several points.  Meanwhile, school work was stacking up and his friends were noticing his absences.  But our son could not muster the will to care.  We felt desperate and alone, just like the woman I witnessed asking for her son’s transcript.  While our friends were focused on preparing their sons for high school sports and planning their Freshman academic year, we were either driving our son to different specialists seeking help and answers or huddled with him on his bed in his dark room – his “safe place” – and reassuring him that he would feel better soon.  “It has been so long since I have felt well,” he would reply.

Skipping ahead a few months, once we found the right medication and had given it time to reach a therapeutic level, our son started to emerge from his fog.  50 pounds lighter, this was clearly a different kid.  He began riding his bicycle with a good buddy – a “non-tough guy” friend.  By the end of summer, it was not unusual for our son to spend many hours on his bike, sometimes alone, but clearly a much happier person.  When he did start Freshman year, (fingers crossed), we did not have to push him to go to school.  He seems to like it.  And, instead of football, he announced he was joining Art Club.   He brought this home to me the other night:

My beautiful handmade heart from my son
My beautiful handmade heart from my son

As frightening as it is to go through a deep, dark depression with one of your children, something beautiful emerges on the other side:  a new person with a different perspective on who they are and where they want to go in life.  We, as parents, definitely had dreams that our hard-core football player would continue to love the game (and give us something to do with our free time on Friday nights and beyond!).  But it is okay – no, it is a MIRACLE – that this child we watched literally transform before our eyes is happy again and firm-footed in his own journey.  We all learned that goodness can follow a sense of hopelessness. We are closer as a family now – I have my heart to prove it!

What A Shame (90 Days of Using It For Good)

On June 6, 2015, the unthinkable happened:  my children witnessed me out of control drunk and they were apologizing to my sister and her husband for my behavior.  The next day, I did not remember it.  All I knew was I had been having a good time dancing to great music when my sister suddenly refused to serve me more red wine.  I passed out in the dress I had worn that day, and the next morning I had a mother of a hangover.

Today, 90 days into my sobriety with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), I thank God for my ability to still feel shame, otherwise I may have never stopped drinking.

It was pure shame that led me to my first AA meeting 3 days after the incident.  Because, in my mind, nobody had ever noticed I was drunk (nearly nightly) sitting quietly on my couch at home, I had never until that point had to confront the brutal truths about my drinking.

The AA “Big Book”  refers to alcohol as “cunning and baffling.”  Indeed it is.  Cunning because I wanted it in spite of all the reasons why it was a bad idea.  Baffling because it never once made my life better – yet I continuously sought it’s soothing comfort (with strings attached).  I can see now, after 90 days in recovery, how my disease was progressing rapidly.  I changed my definition for needing a drink from feeling “stressed” to the mere fact that it was 5 o’ clock in the afternoon (a cliche because it is true!).

Copyright Douglas Ferrin
Copyright Douglas Ferrin

After about 2 weeks of attending AA meetings, my shame began to fade and, in its place, I felt something I had not experienced in years:  optimism.  I started thinking about all the things I wanted to do instead of have!  That little inkling of hope called possibility started growing in my consciousness.  I was starting to think that a better future might be possible because of the tools I was learning from AA.

Trying to fix something without a tool is magical thinking. One by one, I was getting new tools to add to my toolbox.
Trying to fix something without a tool is magical thinking. One by one, I was getting new tools to add to my toolbox.

Before getting some sobriety under my belt, I would give up before I even started because I just knew I would fail.  One of the phrases I kept hearing repeatedly at AA meetings was, “You don’t HAVE to live your life like this.  You CAN HAVE a better life.”  Okay, that’s a big promise – show me HOW.  And AA delivers.  By talking to people with many years of sobriety, I am learning how to recognize my triggers for self-destructive behavior before they overtake me.  Check out the cupcake photo from my first birthday – I really dig excess!  My new friends with more sobriety than me are teaching me that I don’t have to be a slave to the self-esteem killing, excess-loving beast inside of me.  I can conquer the beast, if even minute by minute some days, by being honest with myself and living a life that sustains serenity.  For some people, this involves daily rituals like starting each day on your knees and thanking God for waking up sober.  I am not ashamed to say that I need to practice healthy rituals to stay sober – I am grateful that I now know other people who share this need!

My children as babies, innocent and playful and loving each other.
My children as babies, innocent and playful and loving each other.

Tomorrow, when I wake up and officially have 90 Days of Sobriety, I will begin my day in somber gratitude to my Higher Power who is showing me that to be good to others, I must first be good to myself.

I can’t believe that in just 90 days I, the “Queen of Dread,” am looking forward to the rest of the journey with anticipation and excitement.  At my lowest point, I told my incredulous husband, “I cannot imagine enjoying anything right now.”  That was the beast talking.  I don’t serve this creature anymore.  But it takes conscious effort, every single moment of every day, to keep the beast quiet.  And I will never forget that it might have been shame that led me to this journey……but it is gratitude that propels me forward.

The 7 Friends Everybody Needs

My parents never told me whom I should choose as a friend, but they definitely showed me. My Mom often spoke of her very first best friend in the 1930’s, an African American girl named Carliss.  They played every afternoon together for hours in the alley behind Mom’s house.  An unusual pairing for the time period and rural setting in the South, to be sure.  As for Dad, he had 3 best friends his entire life and a million acquaintances that he treated with kindness and respect always.  As a kid growing up in a small town, I felt proud knowing that my Dad was well liked and known as a decent, fair, funny person.

With those concepts about friendship on my heart, I have lived a very colorful life sustained by many friends from vastly different backgrounds and perspectives.  Here are the 7 ESSENTIAL friends I think everybody would benefit from knowing:

  • A Kindergartener – Because of their innocence and devotion to making their mark, a kindergartener is about as easy and charming a friend you will ever have!  In my own experience, of course, these were my 2 children, with very different personalities though the same deadly sweet kindergarten-ish enthusiasm.  Isa would hop in the car each afternoon from her long day at school and give me the “dot report” – who received the most velcro-backed ladybug markings on their name to represent bad behavior.  She never had more than 1 and was very proud of this fact!  Mario, on the other hand, shared that his teacher only gave them “7 minutes to daydream,” but later added that she had told him he was “very handsome”!  If you have never been friends with a kindergartener, I recommend seeking one out at once!!!
  • A Septuagenarian – Edith Marsh lived in the apartment below me when I was in my mid-20’s and she was 93.  She had lost nearly everybody she loved in her life except her daughter who visited weekly.  We became best friends!  I would come home from work to find her sitting in her dark kitchen with the television on watching her favorite Kansas City Royals.  She would bring me homemade molasses cookies (I never had the heart to tell her I hate molasses!) and on snow days we would sit on her “divan” and chat about her husband, Homer, who had been so loving and devoted to her.  Edith told me I shopped too much and that I needed to “reel in a husband”!!!!  I was devastated when she died and lonely for a long time, in spite of my many friends my age.  Edith knew something about life that nobody else I had ever met understood – you can’t enjoy it by being a whiner!
  • Someone “Differently Wired” – I have had lots of friends that fit in this category but today, the one that sticks in my mind is another neighbor in the quirky little apartment building I lived in as a single woman.  I think her name was “Ann.”  It seemed she was a bit crazy, as all she did was carry a bag and cheerfully pick up trash in our neighborhood.  Of course, I admired her because of her smile and her bright red lipstick!  So I started talking to her.  Turns out, she believed that the service she was providing was all to honor Jesus, the man to whom she had always compared other men and the reason why she never married!  As odd as “Ann” was, I am always attracted to people who are just a little bit off – because you can learn so much from them if you listen to what motivates them!
  • Someone Who Has Lost Everything -I am cheating a bit here because Buddy was really my husband’s friend, only mine by “association.”  But he inspired us both.  First, because he was a hard-working man and someone from outside the “silk stocking” Law Firm world that most of our friends came from.  But second, because Buddy was surviving the tragic loss of his wife and daughter who were killed by a drunk driver.  He lived everyday with unspeakable sadness and carried the weight of this huge loss on his heart.  Yet Buddy made a decision to try to enjoy life and do some things he had never tried before – a “bucket list,” of sorts.  He was a simple man with lots of wisdom and we were so lucky to know him.  He died about 18 months after losing his wife and daughter in a tragic hit-and-run motorcycle accident.  Even though his life ended senselessly, we had never seen anybody so wounded make better use of the time they had here on Earth.  We both learned from Buddy that attitude is everything.
  • Someone Who Loves Music– We all have friends like this! The one that sticks out in my mind is my Dad’s college friend from Hawaii, Martin Luke.
    Don't Go Under The Old Apple Tree!
    Don’t Go Under The Old Apple Tree!

    He came to visit us a few times as I was growing up and he always brought his ukulele – an instrument that was very strange to me!  My Dad would absolutely light up when Martin would pull out the ukulele and together they would sing the songs of their college years in the 1940’s like “Don’t Go Under The Old Apple Tree”.  I watched them together enjoying this strange music on an odd instrument – 2 friends from vastly different backgrounds – and I understood that music can bring people together who would otherwise never have anything in common.  Very cool.

  • An Idealist – I had never met one until I was in Graduate School and Myra came to speak at a Gerontology Class.  She brought Dan Callahan’s controversial book about setting limits on scarce health care resources by restricting access for patients over a certain age.  And I argued with her.  And she smiled and thought I was “cheeky.”
    My mentor and dear friend, Myra, the first idealist and feminist I ever knew!
    My mentor and dear friend, Myra, the first idealist and feminist I ever knew!

    From there began a long friendship and working relationship with this remarkable woman with wildly liberal ideas!  My life would have been so dull if I had never met this beautiful woman, the Idealist in my life, Myra.  I am still so grateful.

  • Someone Who Is Extremely Kind to Animals
    Our less-than-photogenic dog, Tango, with my daughter, Isabella, her
    Our less-than-photogenic dog, Tango, with my daughter, Isabella, her “handler.’

    I never really gave much thought to animals, their needs and special gifts and their unique place on this planet, until I became a Mother.  Yes, I had pets that I loved as a child and young adult, but it wasn’t until I witnessed the transformative power of love between human and animal with my own children that I began to think of them as very special.  In the last few years, I have met many people who do amazing things in the animal rescue world and I admire them so much.  And the brave friends who help us “escort our beloved pets to the rainbow bridge” I could never do without.  There is one such friend, in particular, Colleen, who does this for people having a tough time saying goodbye to their dear pets – family members, really.  Colleen has a special gift and if you don’t know someone who would lay down their own life for an animal, I recommend you seek one out – they are beautiful souls!

How About Some Sunday “I Need Cheering Up” Lemon Tea Cakes?

Moist Lemon Tea Cakes .... make life a little easier to swallow!
Moist Lemon Tea Cakes …. make life a little easier to swallow!

There are many days when I just need “a little cheering up.”  And…..I will often head to the kitchen and start a very messy baking project as my antidote.  In her infinite wisdom, my Mom made sure I had my own little “kitchen” in a closet playroom growing up along with my very own Easy Bake Oven.  I am sure we ordered and re-ordered those cake batter packets hundreds of times, but the preoccupation with my Easy Bake kept me out of Mom’s way in the real kitchen!!!

Mom was not much of a gardener, either, though we lived on 3 acres surrounded by beautiful farmland.  So, I took it upon myself to begin my education in plant life by purchasing an Encyclopedia of Gardening through some mail-order offer.  I remember sending in my money and thanking the Publisher for helping me to enjoy “gardening through the mail”!

The succulent is consistently reliable in its beauty and health....great addition to any happy place1
The succulent is consistently reliable in its beauty and health….great addition to any happy place1

All this to say, a little something sweet baking in the kitchen and something pretty and green in a pot usually go a long way towards cheering me up whenever I feel down.  And I am “feeling” the back-to-school furor and dread that many parents do this time of year.  A new beginning marks an ending too soon forgotten – and a day closer to our babies leaving the nest.   I have many friends who dropped their beautiful children off at college this weekend for the first time – the day they never thought would happen arrived.  And so, in the spirit of “cheering everyone up,” I offer this post with a new yummy lemon recipe to enjoy.

Moist Lemon Tea Cakes


  • 3/4 cups butter, softened
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
  • 1 1/2 cups flour


  • 2 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/4 cup 2% milk

2 teaspoons lemon extract


  1.  In a large bowl, cream the butter, cream cheese and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Beat in the lemon juice, extracts and lemon peel.  Add flour; beat until just moistened.
  2.   Fill 2-dozen greased miniature muffin cups two-thirds full.  Bake at 325 degrees for 15 minutes.  Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks to cool completely.
  3.   In a small bowl, combine glaze ingredients.  Dip tops of cakes into glaze; place on waxed paper to dry.

All In Good Time

Muddling Through My Middle Age

Recently, I was having lunch with a young friend I hadn’t seen in a while, and we were having a nice time catching up on each other’s lives.  She told me what her plans were for the immediate future, and then added wistfully, “But I’ll be thirty soon, and I’m not exactly where I thought I would be by now.”  Now this was coming from a young woman who has already lived in several foreign countries, is bilingual, and preparing for a career in international service, so at first that remark seemed a bit odd for someone who has already accomplished so much.  But then I remembered how I felt when I was in my twenties, and I understood exactly what she meant.

I remembered when I had also thought that there were certain milestones I needed to reach by a certain age if I wanted to be successful and…

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Learning to “Hold Place” for Myself in My Recovery Journey

I can reach for the support and encouragement I need at any time.
I can reach for the support and encouragement I need at any time.

I have 38 days of sobriety.  This is very encouraging and exciting!  I am not frightened or fidgety, in need of a drink.  But I am tired – bone tired.  I have discovered a wonderful author, Heather Plett, and her writing about self-care gives me encouragement as my steps toward whomever I am meant to be at the end of this journey feel more like impossible efforts against a rushing tide of water.

Captivating and Dangerous
Captivating and Dangerous

But Heather’s work reminds me of something very important:  it is my job to take care of myself first.  She recounts a recent lesson she learned from a jewelry maker about this:

She chose a beautiful wooden image of a tree that has taken root in an unstable place as her reminder that she is capable of caring for herself, as long as she does that first.

Youngest of 7, my sister closest in age to me, Susanna, helps me out in a muddy situation.
Youngest of 7, my sister closest in age to me, Susanna, helps me out in a muddy situation.

But what if, like me, you have lived 49 years of “making messes” and surrounding yourself with people who clean them up?  My only choice is to forgive and love myself or I won’t be able to maintain my sobriety or fully love the children my husband and I brought into this world.

Isa, my older child, is extremely strong - inside and out!
Isa, my older child, is extremely strong – inside and out!
Mario, the younger child, shares his conquest with pride then sets it free (like a good boy!).
Mario, the younger child, shares his conquest with pride then sets it free (like a good boy!).

You’ll notice a lot of water in my post today.  Throughout my life, during times of intense change and uncertainty, I have always dreamed of rushing water.  It carries me to the place I am meant to be – my destination.  Although I am terrified daily of losing myself, losing my family, losing my way – I know these fears are irrational.  Learning to quickly access my “quiet place” deep inside – my source of strength – helps reassure me (sometimes hundreds of times a day) that all is as it should be.

I am not alone on my journey, thank God! My partner and husband, Michael, is with me every step.
I am not alone on my journey, thank God! My partner and husband, Michael, is with me every step.

So, for one more day, I believe I can continue this journey – as exhausting as it can be.  My family and friends that know me and love me understand I may not be the “Queen of Perky” for awhile…..but she will be back and when I find her LOOK OUT!!!!!

Is This the SAME PLACE?

Some beautiful imagery and inspiration from blogger Terry Marotta….



The view from my study window The view from my study window

Right now the air is so damp and sodden!

I feel like I need gills instead of lungs to keep on living.

And the vegetation outside is just drenched with chlorophyll..


Even the inchworms are green, to say nothing of the mold growing on that one clementine that got stuck at the bottom of the fruit bowl.

It looks like a fuzzy green bowling ball for Dopey and Sneezy and pals now.

But seriously..

Can this really BE the same block?

The same state?

Nay, the same hemisphere, that used to look likeTHIS?


Can this be the same hemisphere where, when  the sun began to set and the icicle below halted whatever dripping it had been doing OUTSIDE the house and instead got busy dripping secretly INSIDE, painting so many of our walls and windows a rich caramel brown?

sunset Feb 10, 2014

I mean can this above picture really be  taken from the same…

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5 Years Ago Today, We Gave Up a Dream

The beginning of the journey, the day we bought the land and picked the location of what would become our beloved Tango Canyon.

I have mentioned in previous posts, our family has experience “transplanting” from the City to the Country.  We lasted 8 years.  Sometimes dark and lonely, sometimes like a cable television show where city folks learn how to manage their lives surrounded by unfamiliar creatures like scorpions, wild turkey, tortoises, vultures, newborn deer and copperhead snakes.  But one thing remained constant:  My husband’s dream to be close to his children and provide a simple lifestyle our family would always remember.  We fought with the neighbors, our friends/employers and sometimes each other throughout the highs and lows of our time in the country.  But we never stopped loving each other or our dream.

The children and I made daily sojourns out to the place in the country that was to be our home and they christened it with their laughter and love.
The children and I made daily sojourns out to the place in the country that was to be our home and they christened it with their laughter and love.

Along the way, my husband and I learned that giving up on a dream is not failure or surrender.  It is just an unexpected twist in life’s path that may leave scars but also offers great gifts.  When we returned to the City and the comforts of old friends and family, we had stories and experiences to share that others had only dreamed of.  As one of Mike’s lawyer friends put it, “You have been away from the reservation.  Not many of us have the courage to do that.”  There’s something about going away that is terribly frightening and inspiring at the same time.  On my horrible days, I would frown and tell people, “If you want to get to know yourself really well, move to the f—–ng PRAIRIE!”.

The children's handprints in front of their country home.
The children’s handprints in front of their country home.

The part we are proud of is that our family made its mark on the people and community we grew to love – and they on us.  We did not fit in there nor do we really completely fit in back here in the City because of the lessons we learned in our small town.  But that’s okay.  We had a dream, we lived it for awhile and then gracefully left it behind…..and survived to tell about it!

Our safe haven in the country.....the place we asked our children to leave in search of a new life in Kansas City.
Our safe haven in the country…..the place we asked our children to leave in search of a new life in Kansas City.

So, on the 5th anniversary of our departure from the home we loved so well we named it after Mike’s father’s homeland’s national dance, “Tango Canyon,” I am proud to report that all is well.  Transition complete.  Our journey unfolds before us everyday and it is good.  And we are better for having known the rugged world of Southern Kansas and its inhabitants.