For All the Milestones in Life, I Wish You This One Thing

Today, my precious first-born graduates from High School.  My God, wasn’t I just at her kindergarten graduation?  All of us parents share the same wistful feeling about time with our children – it goes by much too quickly.  She’s a healthy, balanced, focused, driven, joyful, beautiful and brilliant young woman now.  What more could I ask for? I must step aside and watch her grow.

If there is one thing I have learned from my recovery, it is there is no shame in starting over.  I do it everyday.  We all do.  The previous 48 years of “all or nothing” thinking really limited my growth and perspective and that hindrance ultimately led to a dependence which became an addiction.  Now I know.  To paraphrase the brilliant Maya Angelou famously, “Once you know better, do better.”

People ask me all the time, “How have you stayed sober?”.  The answer is simple:  each morning when I open my eyes, I thank God for another day of life and I commit to not drinking that day.  I have other things I do, and attending a 12-step program is not one of them.  I did for the first 12 months and decided I needed to broaden my resources and thinking, and have happily managed a workable – if not patchwork – program on my own.  I am enjoying life today instead of enduring it.

Here’s the point I want to make today:  you can change at any time and begin a new path.  My 18-year old daughter is graduating from High School tonight with beautiful dreams of her own.  There were days when she was very young when I would find myself in a heap of laundry and tears on the telephone with my oldest sister saying, “I can’t even take care of myself.  I am so afraid and overwhelmed.”  But life marched on, didn’t it?.

The takeaway I want anybody reading this today to receive is this:

Never Be Afraid Of Starting Over

Perfection is an unrealistic expectation and illusion that does nothing but create resentment and discontent.  Wouldn’t you be happier saying you tried something and enjoyed the moment rather than standing still in perfect silence, terrified by the prospect you can never be perfect?  Motherhood taught me so many things, and especially raising such a determined little character as my daughter, Isabella Bernadette.  When she was 3 and just starting out hosting “play-dates,” I would be so desperate to please the other Mothers, I would constantly intervene and scold her, telling her repeatedly to “share” with the other children.  Her response?

“I want to share with ME!”

Don’t we ALL?  Who can argue with the brilliant logic of a 3-year-old little girl?!

The thing is, we all have to learn to be our own cheerleaders and personal life coaches.  Instead of looking in all the wrong places (e.g., malls, catalogs, bars, escapes), the answer can be found within.  I guess I was too skeptical, cynical and afraid to trust myself.  I know better now, so I am doing better.

What the Rocks Know

As a youngster, I became enthralled with collecting rocks.  Someone started talking about arrowheads and geodes at 4-H and the search for these magical stones became an obsession.  The very idea that these physical objects contained hundreds or thousands of years of secrets and usefulness in others’ hands was thrilling.  I don’t think I ever found either type of rock but the searching, collecting, exploring and handling of all the other rocks I found gave me hours of great joy and my parents some well-deserved quiet.

One Christmas, my Grandmother gave me a rock polishing kit.  I could take the rough, raw, basic rocks and immerse them in a capsule with a cleaning solution and after alot of time rolling around, they would come out sparkling, fresh and soft to the touch.  It was okay but I much preferred the paper grocery bag full of dusty, mossy, grassy rocks I had been gathering.  They were so much more interesting.

It wasn’t until about 5 years later, when adolescence hit and our family moved from our small town to the city that I realized people were like the polished stones.  Life was just one big plate of perfectly shining rocks and it was frustrating to me that I would have to work at seeing everything back in its original, perfect state – raw, bumpy, earthy, rugged rocks.

Fortunately, the disillusionment did not last.  I realized I could make my life a grand rock collecting adventure and that some of the shiny stones were fun to have around.

On my fortieth birthday, my five-year-old son spent the entire afternoon in our yard searching for “heart-shaped rocks” which he proudly delivered from filthy, chubby hands with this speech, “You gotta get old sometime, Mom!”.  I kept them above my sink until a few of them fell into the garbage disposal and ground it to a halt.  I was thrilled he understood natural beauty in the rocks and his aging Momma, and this reassured me his character was set.

It is now eleven years past my fortieth birthday. I still have a few of those heart-shaped rocks curated especially for me.  They serve as gentle reminders of my purpose in life and the kind of person I want to be and others I choose to spend time with:

Kind  – If I had to pick one single trait over everything, of course it would be kindness. Time and time again, practicing kindhearted gentleness brings greater joy and openness.  Judgement divides and narrows everything immediately:  hearts, feelings, opportunities, experiences and most of all, love.

Patient – Yes, patience is a practice that does not come easily when we are young.  At 51, I am a pretty patient person, and I am getting better at ignoring the “productivity culture”.  If all you accomplish in one single day is reassuring people of your love and confidence in them, that is enough for me.  I have a hard time being with “productive people” for long – they are boring.

Resourceful – You can have the IQ of a genius but still not be able to figure out how to manage simple challenges.  More specifically, I am more excited about finding simple ways to handle life that reap positive benefits for the broader world than explaining why that might be a waste of time.  To me, being resourceful is an inclusive approach to living and just being smart can be so selfish.

Creative – There is a time and place to be linear and logical (e.g., when applying for FAFSA support for your college-bound senior!) and the rest of life should be interesting and fun.  I am not concerned anymore about “making sense” to others, I just need to validate creative energy by using it, damn the judgers! Creative people spend more time enjoying taking risks than calculating failures. That’s why I like them.

Simple – I would rather spend the day with a Humanitarian focused on addressing fundamental needs than talking to the most educated, well-traveled person. I am so happy that my journey has opened my eyes to this basic truth and fortunate to have daily opportunities to practice simplicity.  As I am learning, simplicity encompasses more than just getting rid of physical and mental clutter – it is a spiritual practice that helps one focus on being fully present in the now.  When all you have is now, you tend to appreciate it and make better choices.

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Grand Canyon 2012, exploring the ancient rocks with my son, Mario and his friend Andy.  Listening to the Guide talk about the rock’s origins and formation with fascination – this is pure granite.  OMG!

So back to the rocks and their wisdom:  I love holding a rock and thinking about where it has been, for how long, what it is made of, the stories it “knows.”  It is like holding the Universe and all its mysteries inside your palm and exchanging energy.  To me, the unpolished rocks embody all the basic truths about living a good life.  They inspire me to live and put my best (but simplest) self forward.  I like rocks, yes I do.

“Rocks and minerals:  the oldest storytellers.”  A.D. Posey

 

 

 

 

 

Honey, Don’t Leave L.A.

My one and only daughter, my beautiful Isabella, has recently turned 18 years old.  I want to have profound things to say to her but every time I try, just a huge gush of emotion rushes forth.  One thing I do keep thinking about is the time I let her Dad travel halfway across the country with her at six months of age to visit his cousin in Los Angeles.  They were gone for four days, an eternity to this new Momma.  We had no social media in 1999 so I could feel like I was a part of the adventure, only occasional phone calls to hear the cooing sound of her voice.

Through that little separation, I learned many things about my love for Isa and the kind of Mother I hoped to be for her.  I wanted her childhood to be:

  • Full of adventures she could call her own, without me helicopter parenting in the background;
  • Grounded in a strong sense of family and self, so she would trust herself to make big decisions knowing that the love of her family would always support her;
  • Joyful enough so she would look forward to spreading her wings as an adult and sorrowful enough for her to understand that tears shed are a beautiful part of life’s journey and a reminder to be true to oneself and surrender love completely while the opportunity is given;
  • Magical in her own unique way, a time of exploring everything the senses could reach within the safety of a loving home;
  • Solidly anchored in self-love and a sense of personal competence and the ability to reject shame.

Over the years, my Isa’s comings and goings have been very bittersweet.  When she returned home from her Los Angeles adventure, I played with her on the sofa all afternoon and cherished my good fortune to be the temporary guardian of her being.  She hugged me and said “Mama!” when she first saw me after that separation, so I knew then that we would be lifelong friends.  Today, I am awestruck by the beauty, strength and tenderness of her character and humbled to be her Mother.

James Taylor recorded a song in 1979 called “Honey, Don’t Leave L.A.”.  It is his friend’s story about a French woman he fell in love with who ultimately left.  Her spirit was indomitable.  Just like my Isa.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 Things I got Right (and 7 I didn’t) in Motherhood

My Dad used to say with a great deal of disdain, “Anybody can procreate.”  The underlying meaning, of course, was that very few could raise children correctly.  All I really ever wanted to be was a Mother.  More than an archeologist, disc jockey, journalist, lawyer, nursing home administrator, speech therapist, French teacher, occupational therapist, florist or anything else – I have always “just” yearned to be a Mom – a really good one.

I always knew one absolute truth about Motherhood:  If I was going to model my maternal style on my own Mother’s legacy, I had big shoes to fill.   She managed to keep a clean house and serve three delicious squares every single day for 7 children (we won’t talk about emotional upheaval in between!).

Instead of absolute “perfection,” I have always aimed for a more realistic goal in my Mothering:  meeting my child where she or he was and lifting the goodness where I saw it.

In other words, I have been more of a “let love and joy lead”kind of Mom (similar to my vision of the Divine – never harsh or judgmental, always searching for the Light).

Now in their teens, I see my 2 teenagers’ experience of my Motherhood a little more objectively, and the 3 strengths and 7 flaws are glaringly obvious.  Here are the 7 things “good Moms” excel at that I really bombed:

  • Time Management Although we lived right across the street from the Library, my kids were always late to Story Time.
  • Potty Training  Instead of motivational charts, I employed begging and pleading, which never worked. My daughter begged me to make her a chore chart when she was about 6 and, out of frustration, she ended up making her own!
  • Volunteering  I was my daughter’s Daisy Troop leader and those poor little girls never earned badges, it was just too much; I volunteered in my son’s kindergarten class and total mayhem ensued and I had to be rescued by the School Social Worker.
  • Animals and Kids I thought the kids should have a puppy after my husband’s faithful and well trained Labrador passed away; Tango, the Boxer, made our lives wilder and more unpredictable than ever – if we weren’t searching for her with slices of cheese to encourage a timely and safe return home, I was scolding her for ruining a new rug or bringing home cow skulls.
  • Singing No, not ever did my kids enjoy singing with Mommy.  Instead, they covered their ears and pleaded, “No!!!!!!,” but when Daddy started singing, they quickly became calm and content.
  • Nursing When my kids were sick, they wanted their Dad, the calm and steady soul.
  • Cooking One time, a culinary flop was so embarrassing, my 10-year-old daughter got up from the table and started making omelets for our guests.  When I burned the bat-shaped cookies my son wanted to take to school for Halloween, he hugged me and said “Mom, I don’t know anybody who could have done better.”

In spite of these 7 maternal failings, I think my kids learned alot from their experiences!  Fortunately, I managed to get 3 things right, and I think that is going to be enough to seal their future adult lives as positive and productive:

  • Compassion   I am literally beaming with pride even today. When I visit their High School, I am almost always approached by a special needs student who proudly introduces him or herself as my son or daughter’s “FRIEND.”  Somehow, I got this right!  To be kind to the vulnerable and marginalized is not always second nature, and I guess, through living with me, my kids learned to practice (without knowing it) compassion.  THIS and only THIS was my main goal as a Mom, and this job is complete.  Thank you, God!
  • Acceptance/Inclusion There were times my kids were invited to do “yucky” things but instead of avoiding them, both my son and daughter would usually go and then come home and innocently share something amazing with me.  Like the time my son was the only child who attended an unpopular boy’s birthday party and he came home and said, “Mom, did you know you can be 7 years old and STILL in kindergarten?!”.  Or many times I observed my daughter sweetly ask a newcomer something about themselves, with genuine interest and warmth.
  • Celebrate I may have missed a few “learning opportunities” in the positive discipline arena while my children were growing up, but what they did experience alot of was celebrations of all kinds:  the dog’s birthday; the first day the Christmas lights were on in our local park; the joint 5th and 50th birthday party of my husband and our son with the bouncy house; picnics and craft parties with Big Brothers Big Sisters; going to the movies with their cousins; giving Grandma and Grandpa gifts they bought at a truck stop on Interstate 70; taking the first rose that bloomed in our garden to a teacher; sitting on the front porch with our friend with Down Syndrome and eating a Sonic corn dog.  Building moments to celebrate love, life and joy have been regular parts of my 2 kids’ upbringing, and I already see my daughter cultivating that kind of funloving, life-embracing attitude with her friends.  

One thing I know for sure, when we did things at our house, we did them with GUSTO, and for that, I am proud.  I hope my 7 shortcomings are forgiven and that my teenagers continue to move forward in life with open hearts and loving attitudes!  We can’t all be champion chart makers…..

 

 

 

 

 

When The Going Gets Tough, Cheeky Street Heads For Comfort

October was ROCKY on Cheeky Street, friends!  My husband and I have been experiencing unexpected stress and pressure in every area of our lives.  Lots of “fight or flight” hormones are flying around between us, and that is never good on a sustained level.  How do I cope?

Some may find solace in the comfort of one good friend.  For me, when my life starts getting out of whack, especially since I had to learn healthy self-care, I always go back to my “solids”:  Family, Friends, Faith and Food.  

At age 50, I  have had to learn the difference between positive self-care (the kind that nourishes your spirit to move forward ) and numbing (exacerbating fear and anxiety by temporarily dulling natural impulses to react).  I have spent long hours reading about addiction and the brain and the impact that repetitive behaviors and thoughts have on the actual wiring of our brains.  And our ability to re-wire the brain by forging new ways of thinking – reinforced by repeating the new, changed, healthy behavior.

I believe, as neuroscience is starting to discover through research, that humans have the innate ability to literally change the pathways of our brain to become healthier, happier beings.

This means that some old behaviors have to be modified.  Overindulging, which has always been my go-to coping mechanism during stressful times, usually leads to regrets, unhappiness and failures.  In Recovery, my challenge has been to fine-tune my self-care regimen by scaling back on positive behaviors and eliminating negative behaviors.

I’ll start with Family.  As the youngest of 7, my role has pretty much been to entertain the family with my foibles.  If I could make everybody laugh, that would relieve family tension and boost my self-confidence.  And prevent me from ever being responsible – for anything!  I have had to learn new ways of relating to my family – especially when I need their comfort and reassurance – by being honest about my feelings and willing to accept natural consequences of what I receive in return (not just going for the easy laugh).  The result?  While families are almost always complicated, I am learning it is so much richer to connect authentically with siblings and other relatives – instead of going for laughter, I am trying to just be real and say things like, “I really don’t know how to do this – what do you think?” instead of glossing things over with humor.  I have spent 50 years avoiding emotional pain, for whatever reason.  One of the great gifts in Recovery is freedom from the weight of any expectations:  when you commit to just be yourself, be real, get hurt, feel anger or rejection – you find that the Universe manages to nourish you just enough to cope with real life and your relationships move out of the darkness. Family may not always be the first place I look for comfort – because honesty sometimes hurts – but I have learned that my family will never lie to me, and it is up to me to accept the truth or not.

Now about Friends:  this is a complicated part of my life because I have spent so many years trying to please others.  The friends I have are the friends that accept me and have no expectations whatsoever.  I have stopped pursuing “friends en masse” – especially when my heart stings after seeing another “happy girls trip” featured on someone’s Facebook post!  I am a one-on-one kind of girl, and my friends are diverse.  My friends don’t get alot of “tending to” from me because I always put my children first.  So the friends I have are self-confident, tough and resilient.  Not needy.  I don’t have a lot of time or interest to “fuss about” with shallow relationships, so I prefer a few deep friendships.  Some of my friendships have lasted decades!  In any event, in times of deep need, like this past month, the friends I have are thoroughly “on board” with me, even though I am not my light-hearted self.  That is so comforting.

Faith.  That anchor, that sense of believing things are happening for the best, even though you are in the midst of the dark unknown:  it is STILL with me.  Spirit has never abandoned me, not once, never will.  Yes, I get terribly frightened and confused.  Yes, I do and say regrettable things.  Yet I am confident that Spirit will guide me and my family to the right circumstances at the right time.  I try not to let FEAR drown out the voice of CALM.

My faith is a distance runner built for marathons and fear is just a puny little sprinter.  Fear may be fast and furious but Faith is ready for the long-haul.  That’s the kind of faith I am experiencing these days.

Finally, my favorite old friend in times of distress:  FOOD!

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In particular, COOKIES!  How I wish I could be strong like so many of the gorgeous women I see on Facebook, and go for that extra workout during times of stress.  But Madam Cheeky heads for her staples:  Butter and Sugar.  Food is still my weakest link and I am really striving to move toward a healthier body in Recovery.  For now, though, oh my GOD, the cookies are delicious!  This week I baked a batch of – are you ready – Brown Sugar-Pecan Shortbread Cookies – and friends, they did not disappoint.  Here is the recipe for you, courtesy of The New York Times:

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Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups four
  • 1/4 cup corn starch
  • 1/4 teaspoon alt
  • Pinch of clove
  • 2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup finely ground pecans
  • Confectioners’ sugar

Directions

  1. Sift together flour, cornstarch, salt and clove.
  2. Using a mixer fitted with a paddle, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes.  Stop the mixer to scrape down the sides.  Add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed just until incorporated.  Add the pecans and mix just until combined.
  3. Place the dough on a sheet of plastic wrap.  Cover with another sheet of plastic and shape into a square (I was too lazy for this step).  Refrigerate for 30 minutes.  Roll the dough between the plastic to 1/4-inch thick, and into a 9 1/2 x 11-inch rectangle.  Refrigerate for a t least 1 1/2 hours, or up to 2 days.
  4. Position two oven racks so they divide the oven into thirds.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  Discard the plastic sheets from the dough.  Trim the edges to form a 9 x 10.5/2-inch rectangle, then cut the dough into 1 1/2-inch squares.  Place the squares on the baking sheets, then, with a fork, pierce each cookie twice all the way through.  Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and front to back after 9 minutes.  If desired, dust the cookies with confectioners’ sugar while still hot.  Transfer to a rack to cool.

Adapted from “Baking:  From My Home to Yours,” by Dorie Greenspan

Carpe Diem As Passionately As You Can!

“Do you remember spreading your trick-or-treat candy on the floor with your brothers and sisters and trading with each other for your favorites?,” my husband asked me last evening as we watched a Netflix show portraying this tradition.  “No, my brothers and sisters were away at boarding school. Maybe, if I got lucky, one of them drove me around town to trick-or-treat,” I replied.  “That’s so sad, I can’t believe with so many siblings you never had that,” my husband replied.  He’s usually not this sentimental.  But we are both raw in a happy, sappy, parent-y kind of way.

We just returned from a college visit with our daughter, our precious jewel who is approaching her time to move away for college.  That was the conversation we had just before bed on the day we took Isa to the University of Arkansas.  When I woke up this morning, I was drifting out of a panicky dream of trying to keep all of my loved ones inside a bowl.  The bowl was imbalanced and my loved ones were unhappy being crammed in it against their will.  But I selfishly wanted to keep them there to hoard the good times forever.

When I was much younger, I used to create collages for family and friends to capture funny memories and special photos and create something permanent.  I would glue magazine images to coke bottles, homemade cardboard footstools, cigar boxes and more, so happy to have created something permanent out of moments from the past.

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If you lived through the 1970’s, you most certainly recognize this collage of images to capture the essence of that decade.

 

I think aging can sometimes feel like a struggle to create permanence – maybe out of fear or sentimentality – but mostly from the desire to comfort and reassure ourselves of many things.

After all, when we are young, we are encouraged and supported to “try new things” based on the assumption we will devote a lifetime enjoying and perfecting the things we choose when we are young.  When we are older, however, because of the uncertainty of time and limited energy and resources, the tendency to accept or try new things feels risky and pointless.  After all, shouldn’t we just reach a magical age when work is over and all we have to do is sit and bask in the splendor of relationships we have worked our lives to create?  While this is one of the assumptions that traditional American retirement is based on, I know that, at least for me, it is not going to work.

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This is a literal translation of the musical sign for resting.  I love it because music has been a part of my life, I still remember my first piano lesson in kindergarten.  A rest in music, perfectly timed, can elevate an ordinary sound to a glorious experience.

 

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Ripened peaches make me drool, just like life sometimes!  They are the perfect metaphor for aging well to me – we are supposed to continue to experience life and savor everything with gusto.

Aging well is more about accepting impermanence and knowing when to do the 2 most important things in life:  1.  Resting; 2. Devouring the ripened fruit.

 

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My creative photographer husband, Michael, captured this image one summer Saturday morning as we enjoyed watching our beautiful, round and ripened baby girl, Isabella, enjoy her first bagel.

My sweet little baby girl has ripened into a young woman – it is time for her to transition from living with me to expanding out into the big world.  She no longer fits in a bowl, the world is her bowl and I have prepared her for it.

 Painful as it is, launching a child into the world is a beautiful act of creation.  Our daughter is her own person, influenced by genes, experiences and love from home.  She belongs to herself and her footprint in this world is original, unique, and borne of her own spirit energy.

Takeaways from all of this?

  1.  It isn’t sad that I never swapped Halloween candy with my 6 older siblings – at least I never felt that loss until my husband, who is much closer in age to his 2 younger sisters, pointed it out.  Obviously, that experience from childhood meant something to my husband that continues to bring him joy today.  Any time we can grab a fleeting moment of warmth from our past, it’s a divine experience – like eating a ripened peach – that we must stop and enjoy;
  2. Denying the sadness I feel over my daughter’s emerging adulthood would prevent me from fully experiencing what is happening now, and I don’t want to miss the parade. Literally, she is in a parade in 2 hours

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” Anais Nin

Notes from the Mom Whose Kids Always “Had Her Number”

Today, I am home with my teenagers who have been throwing up.  This causes me to fondly reflect upon previous such “special family times,” one which especially stands out in my memory from Spring 2007, the day my kids had to stay home and take care of their parents because they were both throwing up!  My Isa, 7 years old at the time, divided her time that day between devotedly bringing her Dad and me our favorite popsicles then dancing outside in front of the house.  This beautiful memory has led me to reflect upon the entire history of our family and my approach to parenting.  I love being a Mom.  In fact, it is all I have ever wanted to be.  I used to ride my bicycle up and down my driveway as a little girl playing “carpool.”  What I wouldn’t give to have a recording of those imaginary conversations!

Since my daughter is just a year away from graduating from High School, her Senior year of “lasts” looms largely in my mind.  Anticipating each last.  Hoping I will savor and enjoy them to their maximum.  One of the images that I have discovered in my meditation practice this past year (as a recovering alcoholic with 10 months of sobriety) is a moving stream:  if I feel emotionally depleted, I imagine myself dipping a beautiful vessel into a cool, clear stream and nourishing myself with Nature’s goodness.  This type of imagery not only helps me sustain myself without relying on numbing substances, it is also a great way for me to re-frame the present moment.  Instead of dreading new beginnings or fearing endings, I think of life and love as a continuous stream, a continuum that has no beginning or end.  There for me to enjoy, participate in and freely use to sustain those around me (especially my teenagers).  I am going to try to continue thinking about my daughter’s Senior year as a beautiful transition that is part of the stream.

Yet, my thoughts did manage to navigate toward a gnawing, very human question:  if I had it to do over, would I change anything about the way I parented my young children?  I have only five “regrets,” (a word I try to use sparingly, since it is dangerously close to resentment, which a recovering alcoholic cannot afford).  Surprisingly, nothing on my “List of Five” has anything to do with taking away bad things – rather, it is more about wishing I had done MORE of the good things:

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  1.  I wish I had not been so anxious to put my children into all-day kindergarten.  After working with 6-year-olds these past four months, I know for sure how tired they are after a full day of school.  I was a stay-at-home Mom and could have easily managed having a busy 6-year-old at home with me all day.  But I decided to convince myself it would be “good for their social skills” to put the kids in all-day kindergarten.  Ten years later, with so many working families, there are probably few choices other than full-day kindergarten. I wish I had savored my 6-year-olds a bit more.  But what’s done is done.
  2. I wish I had insisted on learning a musical instrument.  We did our best as parents to expose our kids to live music of all sorts whenever possible.  Our kids love music.  But mastering a musical instrument is one of those life skills that is best undertaken in childhood, like learning another language.  It was hard enough for me to get my kids to sports practices and school, so learning a musical instrument did not make it into our “MUST accomplish” top tier of parenting goals.  I do regret this.
  3. Spirituality practice – we went to church here and there and my children were “dedicated” into a church family before we moved 200 miles away – but I wish I had done more to teach them that celebrating and worshiping God with others is a beautiful part of a healthy inner life.  My kids know that within them dwells a Source of love and goodness, and I believe they know how to tap into that and also live a life devoted to making the world better, not worse.  It was so important to me not to force an “ideology” upon them, I may neglected to help guide and nourish the part of spirituality that includes others.  My children are natural Seekers and very resourceful individuals, so I feel good about their ability to move in that direction later in life, if they choose.
  4. More family meals.  We average 1 sit-down family meal together per week.  Better than nothing!  I would get the job done more often now if my teenagers would participate – as I hear, many do!  (I know it is part of many families’ teenagers regular responsibilities to help prepare and serve meals, which is so nice – I haven’t tried that).  Like many moms in recovery, asking for help (or any kind of delegating), is not a natural part of my personality.  I am thankful to still have time with both children at home to approach family meals more like something the entire family should help create.
  5. MOST importantly, in the earlier days, I wish I had cared less about other Moms’ opinions!  I remember hearing the phrase, “She’s got your number!” way too often and feeling hurt or irritated (or rejected by the “elite moms” who were doing it all perfectly).  To this, I can only go back to a very lovely memory I have when, as a new Mom, I was holding my baby girl on one of her first airplane rides and the older woman sitting next to me very gently and kindly remarked, “Ah!  What a beautiful, content baby!  She has EVERYTHING she needs, Mom!”.  We need to do more to encourage and support one another as parents.  For me, that starts with being open and honest with one another.  Being willing to admit that we aren’t perfect parents and we aren’t raising perfect children.  As a Mom of teenagers, I do get more of this from my social interactions with other parents – much more so than in the early, competitive “toddler war” days.

So far, this journey of parenting two individuals with different temperaments, needs, likes, dislikes and aptitudes has been so beautiful.  Looking back, I would like to have been able to relax more and enjoy the small moments.  Looking forward, I am grateful to be living a healthy, clean and sober life, so the future with these incredible people God shared with me will be as vibrant as I feel.11218179_10206971262472700_5085219549381530292_n

THIS

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February 11, 2016 – Pudgey, Mario, Vanilla and me

My husband snapped this photo last night and emailed me with the title, “Evening Huddle.”  It is a helluva happy huddle!  A year ago, I was way off course and quickly sinking to the bottom of my addiction to alcohol.  My cousin sent me a great article recently that describes addiction as “the opposite of connection.”  Bingo!  Total disconnect – by selfish choice – then by habit – finally without any sort of logic or consent at all.  Just dead.

God and my family have brought me back to life.  In just 8 months, I have been fortunate to have regained my sobriety and focus.  And look at my reward!  A puppy, handsome teenaged son (and daughter, who just celebrated her 17th birthday and is overjoyed with her new ukulele), purring cat, large cup o’ Joe, Netflix and hubby all in one room filled with happiness, a roaring fire and quilts made with love by my Mom.

I don’t know why I steered so far off course in the first place.  It is so scary.  I am one of the lucky ones to have been brought back to a conscious, intentional life.  Yes, I feel pain instead of numbness at times.  AND JOY!!!!  Today, I am just grateful for my happy chaos – I am working with kindergarteners in an underprivileged community.  I have a beautiful family, a Mom I can still call on the telephone as often as I want, an amazing AA Sponsor, a life partner of almost 20 years, and many supportive friends.  Whether our family can afford to take a vacation this year or not:  WE ARE RICH.

I read a lot about addiction and recovery now.  If you are looking for inspiration, motivation, or just curious about people’s stories, I encourage you to check out 2 of my favorites:

RecoveryHeroes.com 

SheRecovers.com

You can be as public or private about your struggles as you like.  I have deliberately talked about mine because it helps my healing and accountability.  More poignantly, talking about it helps me live in the present and experience the joy to the fullest.

Go hug your mess!

 

 

Hot Fun in the Summertime: My Childhood Favorite Day

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It was summertime 1973 and the house had a different rhythm – a teenaged rhythm.  3 teenaged sisters and a brother were home from boarding school and there was no rest for the curious.  I woke up early to the sound of Malin and Laurie’s swim lesson in the backyard pool.  Mom was making French Toast and the seductive aroma jolted me out of bed.

Down the hall, I heard James Taylor’s “Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon.”  Jeff was awake and getting ready for another hot day in the fields with Mr. E.P.  Dad was on the ranch in Texas.  Running downstairs for breakfast in my favorite Speedo racerback swimsuit, I slid my fingers across the red velvet stripes on the wallpaper the whole way.  “I will feast on a rolled up slice of French Toast with powdered sugar,” I planned, “then to the pool for a quick swim until I hear the motor of the the ice cream maker churning fresh peach ice cream.”

 

There was nothing better than drying my pruney, water-drenched self atop the air conditioning unit near the ice cream maker in the summer.  My body pressed against the coils with hot air spewing – and leaving a checkerboard imprint on my legs.

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Occasionally, the lure of wild honeysuckle draping across the backyard fence would lure me from my drying time atop the air conditioner and I would quickly hop off long enough to snap a blossom and gently pull the stem just enough to make the natural honey ooze.  Then immediately back to my post beside the ice cream maker:  nothing would deter me from my mission of pulling the paddle with freshly churned peach ice cream out of the magical drum surrounded by ice and salt.

“How DO you do this,” I asked Mom each time.  She was certainly busy but managed to make each day perfect.  I think summer was her favorite time, too.

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Mom and Dad honeymooning in Tennessee 1952

That summer, I rode my bike after supper with Laurie, my 15-year-old-sister.  She was my favorite playmate – she did my hair and makeup, taught me exercise moves, played The Beatles’ red album for me while I fell asleep at night, made homemade pretzels with me and told me where babies came from that summer!  

Summer was a time of electric energy, days filled with warmth and nonstop activity until I collapsed, water-logged and brain spinning with images mysterious teenage music (there was an earlier summer my brother had a cool garage band), posters, phrases, friends, clothes, hair and skincare products and LOVE.  At night, I would maneuver a way to climb in the back of the station wagon to “Circle Town,” listening to “Honky Tonk Women” on the local radio and sipping on a Cherry Coke from Big John’s.

 

When August came and my teenaged playmates packed up to return to school, I was so sad and “Alone Again, Naturally.”  Then the letter writing began – daily trips to our hometown Post Office to check out Post Office Box 156 and look for teenaged news and treasures became my occupation.  What a life I had as the youngest of 7 – each season’s memory dotted with loving memories of what “they” were up to and how much I had to look forward to.

 

 

Dear Mom, You’re My Favorite Badass

My Mother was born prematurely during a record blizzard on December 1, 1932, in Memphis, Tennessee (a night, we learned later, on which her Grandmother was babysitting her future husband, one-year-old Dickie Killion!).   She lived in an incubator the first few weeks of her life before her parents, Opal and Ronnie, were allowed to take her home to Hayti, Missouri, a rural farming town in the Southeastern part of the state.  As a young child, she contracted rheumatic fever and the doctor said there was nothing he could do – he advised her parents to buy a coffin for Rhetta.  So they did.  Fortunately, they did not need it.  And even more fortunately, this impish child who cheated death early in life continued to thrive and grow into a beautiful young woman who would marry and bear 7 children, the youngest of whom is me.

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Growing up in the  post-Depression South, there were certain expectations of young ladies that Rhetta continuously defied.
For instance, one of her very best friends, Carliss, was African American.  They enjoyed playing outdoors together for hours.  To Rhetta, the color of her friend’s skin was of no particular consideration at all.

Rhetta was strong-willed and did not want to go to school.  She recently confessed that she was, in fact, expelled from kindergarten for refusing to stop pulling the little girl’s pigtails who sat in the desk in front of her!  Rhetta did not mind the unconventional.  To her Mother’s horror, while performing in a piano recital, Rhetta suddenly forgot the music so she stood and sang the words instead!  When she was instructed to trim the rosebush – a chore she despised – Rhetta simply cut off all the lovely heads to hasten her task.  When cautioned that young ladies did not get muddy, she rode her bike through every single mud puddle she could find.

Spanking never worked because Rhetta refused to cry!  She liked visiting an Uncle who purportedly had taken up the company of a “woman of ill repute” because the woman was so friendly!  She had a daily habit of stopping along the way from school to home at the courthouse to enjoy a cigarette in the ladies’ restroom.  Rhetta was, indeed, incorrigible!

Mom recalls there was an internment camp for German Prisoners of War (for some reason in Hayti, Missouri!) when she was a child.  Fearful of what unknown harm could become of the adorable blue-eyed blonde little girl, Rhetta was absolutely forbidden from ever riding her bike to “that part of town.”  Well she did.  And Mom remembers talking through the fence to the Germans, they speaking German and she speaking in her inimitable Southern drawl – and relishing the smiles on their faces and laughter on the other side of the fence.  “I’m sure they thought my accent was as strange as I found theirs’ – but we were fascinated with one another,” Mom remembers.

Her Dad, Ronnie Greenwell, was a proud member of the Missouri Cotton Producers Association and Lions Club.  He somehow gained access to President Harry Truman and took his precocious daughter along with him to meet the Great Democrat from Missouri.  Mom only recalls President Truman asking her how she liked school – and that she was fairly bored throughout the encounter!

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In spite of all her youthful spiritedness, Mom managed to easily slip into the “ladylike patterns” of the day and married my Dad, whom she adored, at the tender age of 20 in 1953.  They began a life together in Southeast Missouri in a small farming community where Mom bore 7 children and participated fully in the spiritual life of the Catholic parish to which our family belonged.

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But there was always a restlessness about Mom – she loved life and learning and wanted to participate in the world as more than a caregiver.  She convinced Dad to move to St. Louis, where she began a wallpaper business and eventually became a tax preparer for H & R Block.  She brought energy and life into our family with her diverse group of interests and friends.  Mom volunteered for hospice and a program for teenage runaway girls.  She helped the local United Way with its annual “100 Neediest Cases” Christmas program.  She became enthralled by the study of Jungian Psychology which led her to the work of Elisabeth Kubler Ross, whom Mom personally escorted from the airport to a workshop she attended!  And she handmade beautiful quilts that are treasured by many.

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Now in her eighties, Mom is confined to her bed.  She still enjoys a lively imagination and interest in many people and things, especially the St. Louis Cardinals! Here she is meeting one of her great-grandchildren, a beautiful gift she treasures.

She never fails at giving me the perfect advice.  Ever.  When I was in my twenties, Mom often sent me “Affirmations,” her own compositions in her own handwriting, to help me navigate the difficult adult world.  She once wrote to me, “I love you.  Don’t give your personal power or your $ away.”

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For these reasons and so many more, my beautiful Mom is and always will be MY FAVORITE BADASS!  I thank God every day for the blessing of a life with Mary Henrietta Greenwell Killion as my Mother.