Grandma’s One Question

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Helping Grandma Rhetta blow out her birthday candles!

Last week my family crammed into my husband’s Prius for the 4-hour drive on Interstate I-70 to St. Louis to visit my Mom, “Grandma Rhetta.”  My kids are 16 and 18 and they insisted we make the trip because it might be the last opportunity for my daughter to see Grandma Rhetta before she leaves home for the first time to start college.  Although we have made this trip more than 100 times, my heart was full of pride and wistfulness over this visit, especially because the kids are nearly grown and Mom is very frail at this time of her life.  She is confined to her bed with only her imagination, visits from friends and family and the television to comfort and occupy her.  Sometimes a short visit with Grandma Rhetta is best, even though the grueling drive on the highway suggests a longer stay.

When people love one another, they willingly take time from their “journey” to be together.  As Mom’s health declines and my teenagers approach adulthood, their journeys are polar opposite.  Yet my kids keep wanting to go back and love their Grandma.  Even though it was a conscious effort by me to foster a bond between my children and their Grandparents, discovering that at the busiest and most self-centered part of their journey they choose to spend time with their Grandma Rhetta overwhelms me with joy and sadness (because I am perimenopausal now!).

We enter Mom’s world – her room – and she lights up with love and reaches from her bed for Isa and Mario.  Before each visit, she tells me many times to inform them she is expecting many warm hugs – and she gets them!  The kids adore Grandma Rhetta’s Southern accent and the warmth and charm it exudes.  Imitating her characteristic sayings has always been funny to them (in a loving way):  “My Stars!” and “Iced tay with lots of lemons!” are among their favorites.  Grandma Rhetta “southernizes” the pronunciation of Isa’s name (pronounced “Eesa”) so it sounds like “Eaze-a-Bella!”.

All those mornings at Grandma Rhetta’s kitchen table being lavished with her love and her special buttermilk pancakes mean something to Isa and Mario, and nothing thrills me more.  I’ll never forget the first time Mom visited Kansas City after Isa was born.  She rushed in the house after her long drive and, without putting her purse or keys down, walked straight to Baby Isa and cooed, “Are we gonna be friends?”.  Indeed they are.

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.

Happiness is Horizontal

These days, I find myself dripping in happiness.  After months of working hard to train my mind to stop being afraid of living, there is now an abundance of joy in my life – more than enough to share without fear of running out.  I think I found happiness because I intentionally set out not to find happiness but purpose.  We ALL want to be happy, sure.  For many, the definition can include many things/pursuits/achievements that bring happiness to one’s life, which, as we all know, can be fleeting.

I tend to oversimplify but that’s the way I get to the core of challenges so here is what I am trying to say:  I found happiness accidentally by searching for purpose on purpose.  And the sweetest discovery is this:  happiness is the sum of the good thoughts, deeds and people you surround yourself with.  It is HORIZONTAL, not vertical, as our culture portrays.  Further, one is more likely to experience joy and happiness in moments of absolute stillness….absent struggle, thinking, working, climbing, scheming, toiling, or anything of the like.  Brilliant!

What has amazed me in this magnificent experience is that my purpose is revealed to me when I am re-energizing my soul, daydreaming, napping, walking, baking, or doing any number of things that are not centrally focused on intensely pursuing happiness.  It found ME, not the other way around!

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Here are 9 general beliefs/practices I have adopted that I believe are positively contributing to my experiencing a life of maximum purpose, satisfaction and happiness:

 

  1.  Ask God for an open heart To me, God/Inner Light/Higher Power is Central to anything growth-related.  Several years ago, my husband and I were struggling in every possible way – trying to dig ourselves out of a hole we thought would lead us to happiness.  I started intuitively praying many times a day, just asking God to give me an open heart so I would be willing and able to accept our fate.  It worked and it stuck.
  2. Stop resisting what “is” The meditation/mindfulness gurus all say that being “present in the now” is the key to living a more satisfying life and they are right.  But it takes lots of practice to train our non-stop thinking selves to just be calm and receive our surroundings without reacting or doing anything.  At the root of all heartache is the desire to change/resist/fight something outside of our control.  I think because, as human beings, (especially in the Western world), we have become so conditioned to “control” our external surroundings using our magnificent scientific abilities.  Don’t do this anymore!   You’ll be so much happier, I promise.
  3. Work to face fears/make things personal  I love love love this the most and have been practicing this the most lately.  Probably 25 years ago, I heard a very wise theologian speak about racism.  His reasoning to counter the mind and heart’s tendency to divide “us” and “them” was simple:  look into the eyes of the “other” and think of their Mother, who loves them so.  Everyone has a Momma!  It helps me to catch myself judging others when I personalize someone or something I might be inclined to disregard.  Make friends with people who are different than you, encourage your children to do the same.  It only brings joy, I assure you.  After working hard to seek situations where you can personalize the “other”, the Universe just starts making it part of who you are.  I started by volunteering at a food pantry.  I was terrified by the “others” at first.  Now they are my friends.
  4. Lolligag, daydream, rest If you have been reading any of the current buzz about personal and professional success these days, everyone is talking about a Sleep Revolution.  It seems we are finally learning that trying to squeeze more productivity out of an already empty person is futile.  We all need to re-charge.  We all need to learn and understand our personal energy limitations and “indulge” in that which renews us.  I am a daydreaming, napping, slow walking fool and much happier for it!
  5. Connect with an animal  My husband amusedly looks at me fussing over our adopted cocker spaniel and tells me, “I don’t know THIS woman!”.  I have gotten more joy from the simple experience of loving an animal in the past few years it is amazing.  Eckhardt Tolle wrote an entire book about the spiritual connection between human and animal in “Guardians of Being.”  The primary benefit of loving an animal, not surprisingly, is that the very act of petting and tending to one’s dog, for instance, causes one to simply be present.
  6. Embrace vulnerability Authors, bloggers and life coaches like Martha Beck, Glennon Doyle and Brene Brown are all talking about accepting our vulnerability and supporting one another’s courage in expressing that vulnerability.  It does lead to joy because it takes such courage to be open and honest.  And it lifts the weight of perfection from our shoulders – multi-tasking and perfection are mere facades of a happy life.  Why not embrace our imperfection, learn to laugh about it and accept it, and be joyous and happy?
  7. Replace “dread” with curiosity I dread most things, especially social occasions.  Let me tell you, what a miserable existence that is.  Learning to control my anxieties with deep breathing, accepting the now and enjoying being present are helping me to dread things less.  I may not necessarily look forward to a “command performance,” but at least I am practicing methods that help me get through social obligations without upsetting everyone around me.
  8. Learn from criticism Boy, could I resent a person who told me the truth in the past!  I am practicing the art of really listening to people. If the messenger offers sincere, loving advice intended to show you how you appear in the world, listen.  The lesson is far more important than your ego.
  9. Befriend your alter ego And speaking of egos, I hereby confess that I have happily enjoyed “alter egos” – my inner hero I want to express outwardly – for decades.  It started in my twenties when I moved away from home for the first time.  I wanted to be “JD” instead of “Joan,” because “JD” was a spunky, brave and light-hearted go-getter ready to take on the world.  In my forties, I was “Piper,” the super fun-loving Momma who could still enjoy a night of dancing.  Now, I am mellowing into “Pippa,” my 50’s alter-ego.  “Pippa” is a mature-ish woman who knows who she is, loves to love and comfort, and looks forward to the future instead of mourning the past.  In my 60’s, I will be “Poppy,” that still-cheeky woman with a secret or two and a sense of humor, but wise and gentle, as well.

So, my friends, I share the greatest discovery of my recent months with you today:  Happiness is Horizontal

You are much more likely to experience it in a state of relaxed acceptance of the present moment!  Enjoy and Namaste.

 

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.

 

 

Abrazos Fuerte for 2016

Dear Friends,

Last year, ironically without anticipating all the difficult emotional terrain I would cover, I selected the word “Awaken” (or awake, I cannot recall!!) as my “Word of the Year.”  Boy did I subconsciously Nail It!  The Universe mercifully gave me lots of wake-up calls……and my Divine Power gave me the strength to answer.  Suffice it to say, our family soared through potentially staggering emotional challenges and I am now a strong, proud “Friend of Bill’s” (aka Recovering Alcoholic).

This year, it took fewer than 5 minutes to imagine my guiding phrase/philosophy:  “Abrazos Fuerte” – Translated from Spanish, it means “Strong Hugs.”  Our wise and adoring Primo from Argentina (Spanish for Male First Cousin), Charlie, always ends his written communication with this beautiful phrase – it is his “signature.”

Cousin Charlie (pictured above, enjoying his 71st birthday in Bariloche, Argentina and in 1998, “supervising”  my sister-in-law Christine in the family tradition of empanada making), is a strong and loving figure in our family.  He is the existing “Patriarch” of the Tamburini family of Buenos Aires, Argentina, the homeland of my husband’s father, Mario Tamburini (my son has his name).

Charlie is the lifeline between my husband and his Argentinian heritage – he can tell us stories and share history that brings the family ancestry to life and provides a strong foundation for our children.  When my husband and I announced the news of our engagement to the Argentinian branch of the family, they sent telegrams of congratulations and Charlie offered me abrazos fuerte in the form of one simple line:  “Grandma Isabel is smiling for she would have found you extremely simpatico.”  Simpatico means likeable and easy to get along with.  WHO COULD ARGUE WITH THAT?!!!!

Anyway, life continues to amaze me and the journey would be impossible without MUCHOS ABRAZOS FUERTE.  As a side note, I should add that the Tamburini family are known to be extremely strong huggers – so much so that my sisters, as Aunts, have had to caution my son Mario before hugging, “Not too hard, Mario!”.  I am the proud Mother of 2 very strong huggers – they will do well in life.

The infamous Alfred Eisenstaedt photo published in Time Magazine from “V-J Day in Times Square 1945” really, for me, visually depicts the spirit of what I hope to achieve in everything I do with everyone I encounter in 2016.  In life, one must march onward and celebrate moments with laughter and abrazos fuerte or else what the hell is the point?

Happy New Year, friends!  May 2016 bring each of you your own special moments of warm embraces that melt away life’s jagged edges.

Love always,

Joanie, the Big Cheese on Cheeky Street

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49 Thanksgivings Later

After 49 Thanksgivings, I finally “get” why it did not matter to my Mom, in her later years, whether our family ate dinner together on paper plates (themed, of course) or not.  The mere fact that we were together was enough for her – and it should have been enough for me – but, alas, I needed more “road miles” in life to fully understand.

This Thanksgiving I am wildly and enthusiastically thankful for 4 Things:

CURIOSITY

PALS come to Tango Canyon
Mario’s preschool class visited our 34-acre wilderness every year for their Spring field trip – here he is greeting the bus!  It was a truly wondrous time.

To be curious is a state of willingness to allow life, ideas, people, nature and the world to enthrall and intoxicate you.  In spite of my struggle this 49th year of my life on earth to discover and maintain a healthy sobriety, I am thankful to discover that I still experience the wonder of a child every single day.  AMEN to that and keep the curiosity coming!

After all, it has been said, “interesting people are interested people.”

SETBACKS

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It has taken me 49 years to learn the slow and steady “tortoise” way – I used to prefer to hurry and get my reward or pain “over with.”

We all experience setbacks and many of them are stunning, paralyzing and utterly terrifying.  Looking back, I really am thankful for each and every setback I have experienced.  Not only am I learning humility, I am experiencing the ebb and flow of the journey and learning to take my EGO OUT OF IT.  I mean, a mortal can only do so much – the Universe is so much larger and powerful, and there is no escaping the lessons we’re each meant to learn.  To me, setbacks are just another way of experiencing mortality and human limitations.  And like Garth Brooks famously crooned, “I thank God for unanswered prayers” every single day.

ACCEPTANCE

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You’d never know it but this picture of my darling children was snapped during one of the darkest times of my life.  Complete shock and uncertainty colored my days, but they, being the curious and resilient little teachers our children are meant to be, marched onward!

My husband and I were “curious” about life in a tiny town more than 200 miles away from our home so we packed up and moved away from friends, family, professional connections, and all the lovely comforts of city life.  We stayed there 8 years.  I joke that 2 of them were happy, but I seriously mean it!  Looking back, that really is not true:  my mental state was not happy because I was fighting the flow of our new lives.  But something super cool I have discovered in mid-life:  you can actually reflect back and accept what was once unimaginable and unendurable and it has the same effect – now my memories of what I thought was a “really dark time” are mostly funny and happy!  I am so thankful for this gift.

MY TRIBE

Boo 16 mos
Becoming a Mother is just one way of earning the responsibility for tending to a tribe.  This is my first little tribe member, Isabella Bernadette.

A wise woman once told me, “Your kids aren’t always going to be this little.”  Obvious statement of fact but, at the time, I could hardly imagine a time when my life was not dictated by play dates, diaper changes, snack times, story times, intrusive “Mom friends” and never-ending messes, usually involving bodily fluids.  This is my beautiful daughter, now 16 years old, at 16 months old.  I hardly remember the passing of time.  Another wise woman, my own Mother, told me, “Honey, life will pass you by so quickly it will leave your head spinning.”  And it has.  She was right, as usual.  I am thankful for my tribe of family, starting with my husband and children and colored with many interesting friends and co-workers.  At the tender age of 49, I have learned how to assess quickly what “works” for my tribe and what needs to just go away!  THANKS be to GOD!!

Happy Thanksgiving, wherever you are, and whether you enjoy it on the finest china or paper plates.  Life is a gift.

 

On Twist Ties, Labeled Baggies and Loving My Clutter

There is absolutely nothing written anywhere that says Moms who carry clean wipes and organize with twist ties and “label-able” baggies are better than Messy Moms.  Yet, on many occasions, I have pondered this.  Yes, life would be simpler if I were a more organized ziplock baggie-type of Mom, but would we be a happier family?  Show me the studies that prove children raised in organized environments thrive and flourish and I might consider (though at 49 I am pretty sure it is far too late) changing my ways.

Like Carrie Bradshaw, each morning I awoke to a boutiquey trail of shoes down my steps and to the front door.
Like Carrie Bradshaw, each morning I awoke to a boutiquey trail of shoes down my steps and to the front door.

I mean, it isn’t as if nobody saw this coming:  when we were dating, my husband recalls the “trail of shoes” in my little pink house – I liked it that way because I never knew what kind of “shoe mood” I would wake up in.  Some people simply need to see their stuff to feel comfortable.

This is cozy.  A bookshelf would be "cold" and uninviting.
This is cozy. A bookshelf would be “cold” and uninviting.

Ask any other Clutter Mom how they manage to run an organized household around so much “stuff” and you will get the same answer:  “I know exactly where everything is and it makes perfect sense to me.”  Just not anybody else!

To me, THIS is organized.
To me, THIS is organized.
The first time I took baby Isa to visit my parents in St. Louis, my car was loaded down with so much baby gear (to improve her intelligence at 3 months), my Dad asked "Where's the BABY?"
The first time I took baby Isa to visit my parents in St. Louis, my car was loaded down with so much baby gear (to improve her intelligence at 3 months), my Dad asked “Where’s the BABY?”

My kids are teenagers now and my family pretty much knows “I Yam Who I Yam,” and they take responsibility for organizing their own stuff.  In addition to my proclivity to create clutter, I also have disastrous handwriting.  So much so that, on many occasions, my children would come home from school claiming the teacher accused them of “forging your Mom’s signature” on papers she had sent home.  Sigh.  For years, Isa re-wrote my grocery lists for me.

Instead of making life more difficult, I think my messy-leaning-habits have created a sense of acceptance, tolerance and love in my household.  Put THAT in your labeled baggie and twist tie your opinions, ORGANIZED MOMMAS!

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Because my children and household are F-I-N-E with their Messy Momma.  I may not be able to whip out exactly what my children need at precisely the right time from my purse, like other Moms, but my kids always understood my struggle with organization and everybody managed to get by.

If you are reading this and have perhaps been feeling badly about your lack of organization, I urge you to to think a moment about whether anybody in your family would be happier or better off but for your personal failings.  I always found the Organized Moms to be a tad boring, myself.  And THAT’s how we ROLL………..

Holding on and Letting Go

Yesterday it became official:  After 20 years of marriage, I am officially 31 pounds heavier than I was on my wedding day.  But I am too busy getting sober, raising teenagers, losing my reading glasses, finding myself, and holding on to the time I have today with loved ones to really give a damn.

Another thing became official in the last week:  my husband believes in the regular “God Winks” I am receiving from my Dad.

I have had some really awful moments in my struggle for sobriety these past 156 days - and Daddy always appears at just the right moment, in the form of a feather.
I have had some really awful moments in my struggle for sobriety these past 156 days – and Daddy always appears at just the right moment, in the form of a feather.

Mike witnessed it as we gazed outside his office window anticipating the start of the Kansas City World Series Parade last week:  out of the blue, a single feather gracefully frolicked in the wind and made its way to the pavement just beneath us.  He looked at me with wonder and said, “Dickie’s here!”.  Yesterday, I was feeling like a little kid again, preparing to meet a new friend and try a new AA meeting, and wanting to just go home and hide beneath my covers.  I ran out to my car before my friend met me for coffee before the meeting to look for my phone:  a single feather lay just beside my car door (it was NOT there when I arrived a few moments earlier).  Dad was reassuring me, “Go ahead and go to that meeting.  You need it.”

I’m holding on and letting go to everything and everyone these days, it seems:  my beautiful teenagers; my youth (and former figure!); things that used to matter but really don’t anymore; my dreams of who I wanted to be and reckoning with the reality of the time I have left to fulfill them or make new ones.

Grandma Rhetta gets a BIG hug from 5-year-old Mario for the beautiful quilt she made him.
Grandma Rhetta gets a BIG hug from 5-year-old Mario for the beautiful quilt she made him.

I am still thrilled and sometimes even enraptured by the journey of life – including the scars I carry as a mid-lifer.  It’s wild to ponder the things that matter more to me now that I know I don’t have a lot of time on this Earth.  I care more about being gentle and kind than winning, at anything.  I worry less about deadlines and more about resilience and protection (social work lingo that I love!).  We live among the wounded and I want to be a healer.

Sally Wilcox. my dear friend, passed these along to me when my family was treated unkindly in a small town. She became a Deacon in the Episcopal Church very late in life and never shied from
Sally Wilcox. my dear friend, passed these along to me when my family was treated unkindly in a small town. She became a Deacon in the Episcopal Church very late in life and never shied from “sticky” situations. I will always cherish Sally, these earrings, and the brief time I had with her.

I guess the trick to living a life of Grace after 50 is to know when to hold on and when to let go.  I cannot be in this state perpetually!  Luckily, I have had some pretty wise friends share their wisdom with me along the way.

Remember the movie, “Fried Green Tomatoes”?  I picture myself often as the character Kathy Bates plays – Evelyn – that awkward midlife woman, pathetically hanging on to a shell of her former self until she meets Jessica Tandy’s character – Ninny – the older woman in the nursing home who shares the story of her relative, Idgie, in segments for Evelyn,  and gives her the gift of strength to prepare her for old age.  I had a friend like Evelyn in Winfield, Kansas.  Her name was Sally Wilcox and she was a writer.  She volunteered to write an article about an old dairy house on our land adjacent to a neighborhood development.  Mike and I saw beauty and grace in this old structure.  Our neighbors saw blight. They wanted it torn down, we maintained it had Historic value and submitted to the City’s requirements that it be boarded up.

Who would have thought that a historic dairy house would be the
Who would have thought that a historic dairy house would be the “mountain we chose to die on” in our small town experience? We learned a lot, thanks to Sally.

The dairy house was designed and lived in by a relative of a well-known architect from the region.  Louis Caton, a musician, lived there for a period of time and was a known local artist and musician.  We romanticized the past and the things that transpired in the old dairy house  but to the neighbors, it represented a hatred they carried for the former developer of their neighborhood and broken promises.  It was ours but, in the end, it was not.  Our fight did not matter because the neighbors won the right to tear it down, after all.  Looking back, I realize the dairy house was just a symbol to Mike and me of something beautiful we had found and wanted to “tend to” for our children.  We imagined a future for them in rural Kansas and all the cool things they might get to do with this beautiful barn like structure set beside a wooded canyon that many children, including Osage Indian children and pioneer children, had played in before.

But maybe we held on to the wrong thing at the wrong time for the wrong reasons which now, ultimately, does not matter.  But I cannot stop thinking about the twinkle in Sally Wilcox’s eyes as she interviewed us and published the article in the local newspaper about it.  In all her wisdom, Sally thought the fight was worth it and she liked us, unlike our neighbors!  One afternoon before a public hearing about the condemnation of the dairy house we were forced to attend at the City, Sally gave me the earrings she wanted me to wear bearing the words:  “People are no damn good.”  I will always love her for her strength and courage and carry with me the memory of my very own “Evelyn,” who helped me confront one of my first ugly midlife battles over WHAT to hang on to and WHEN to let go.

So, here I am, almost 50, getting feathers from Dad and remembering a brilliant older friend who gave me many gifts of wisdom.  In their own ways, they both sustain me as I daily weigh what’s worth my energy and what’s not.

Perfectly Timed Endings

The year was 2000.  It was August.  Kansas City was experiencing an epic heatwave, 30+ days of 100-degree temperatures.  The air was thick with humidity and, at my house, the sound of Barney’s voice and anticipation of the arrival of my second child.  My first child was only 19 months old.  She was really, REALLY, into Barney the Purple Dinosaur.

Weighing in at 207 pounds, my 5’4″ frame was struggling to keep up with Isa, the energetic toddler in love with Barney.  We established a routine that my 3rd-trimester, overly fatigued and aching body could maintain:  Up at 7 for Barney and breakfast; Walk or play with friends until 11; Nap until 1; Drive huge Ford Expedition with Blaring Air Conditioning 1 mile South to Sonic for “in-car picnic” of grilled cheese and milk shake; More Barney until Daddy got home at 6:30.  To say it felt like hell would be an understatement.  To comfort Isa during times when Barney and Baby Bop were not on tv or Mommy could not “find” the video, she had a stuffed version that sang the infamous “I love you” song and also said “Bye Bye.”

Fast forward 6 years.  My two children, now 7 and 5 years old, are not that “into” Barney – they are more obsessed with Sponge Bob and those twins living in a hotel with their singing Mom on Disney channel.  Though he still lives, the once-cherished stuffed Barney now belongs to our boxer puppy, Tango, and lives in the backyard.

Parents everywhere empathized with our total disdain for the Dinosaur with the Annoying Voice.  One friend even told his little girl that she could not watch Barney on tv for several weeks because he had been in an unfortunate car accident and was “banged up pretty bad”!!!!

On a cool Spring evening, I was scooping puppy poop in our yard for the umpteenth time.  It had been very rainy out and Barney, now Tango’s best friend, had seen better days.  I was certain it was his time to go.  Thus, with little more ceremony than slamming his lifeless, once-beloved, purple body in the same plastic bag with my dog’s poop, I bid Barney a final, gleeful farewell.  Then something very suspicious and spooky happened:  this symbol of torture, maimed by a puppy and hugged to death by 2 toddlers, rose from the poop bag and uttered one final phrase:  “Bye Bye!”.  

Barney got the last laugh.  He is a very clever dinosaur.

Isa came running from wherever she was playing when she heard Baby Bop's band!
Isa came running from wherever she was playing when she heard Baby Bop’s band!

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Redemption Slushies and the New Year

1222141156Lately my new part-time job has me pondering my parenting style and life in general.  I sell high-end fashion to women of all ages and, like the trusty “potty training” and “chore charts” often used to train toddlers and youngsters to do the right things consistently, my new employer recognizes achievement in denim sales on a weekly chart that I see every time I go into the break room for more lipstick or a sip of Diet Coke!

As you can tell, my sales are D-O-W-N!!!  I haven’t mastered the art of romancing a customer from the front of the store to the dressing room filled with clothes I have personally selected for her body type.  It remains to be seen whether I ever will.

But this much I do know:  I make every single person I interact with feel good and want to come back!!!

How does this translate to my parenting style?

I guess it goes back to the old “punishment-reward” theory that caused me so much consternation as a parent of lively toddlers.  I never could manage to completely punish bad behavior but rather relished in the opportunity to praise and reward good behavior.  Many other parents along the way criticized my form of “discipline.”  (I don’t even like that word!).  However, I could not help noticing that the children my children played with who were consistently punished for the same erroneous behavior never seemed to be motivated to change through punishment alone.  Hence, my Cosmically Cool invention of the “REDEMPTION SLUSHIE” behavioral modification system.

One very long, hot, windy summer on the Kansas Plains I endeavored to enforce a daily routine upon my children – both to punctuate the endlessly long days and also to provide a sense of “accomplishing” something during the summer as so many of their peers seemed to be able to do.  It never went very well.  My kids know me inside and out.  By the end of the summer, the only routine I had managed to successfully imprint into their bright minds was the afternoon slushie break – many times, an offering of forgiveness for previously bad behavior and a covenant for better behavior in the future.

At the end of the day, I decided I did not care whether the children were “getting” a larger lesson in discipline.  What mattered to me was that they understood they could be forgiven – and that they had the power to forgive others and establish new terms for playing together more harmoniously in the future.

Thus, the “Redemption Slushie” both metaphorically and in actuality has become a mantra to me in my attempt to help form my children’s character as well as my own professional performance.  What it feels like in practice is something like this:  “I promise to push you as far as I can push you in pursuit of living a life of kindness and purpose – and when we falter, as surely we will – we shall re-negotiate the meaning of what is good and share  Redemption Slushies.”

It is my parenting version of breaking bread together.  The relationship model I want with my children fits in a circle of love and trust – not on a hierarchical chart with ugly black dots.  Ultimately, this is what I strive for in all my relationships, so if I ever invite you to share a slush with me know that this request comes from my Source of love – not just my appetite!

Happy New Year and I raise my Slushie to You!!!