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

New Chances

It’s the First Day of School…..again.  Moms and Dads all over the world proudly and wistfully send their hearts out the door as their children take on a new year of challenges.  I am all too familiar with the emotions this day brings.  Big expectations and hopefulness, with a sprinkle of tears over the loss of another year of youth.

The start of a new school year is like a new chance – an opportunity to discover, redefine and experience life.  Our kids probably don’t see it this way, but we parents know how rarely in life we get new chances – and how easy it can be to squander such a beautiful gift. THAT’S why it is bittersweet for us.  We don’t want our kids to really know about the frightening and painful parts that new chances bring.  Sentimentality overtakes our senses and before we know it, we are overlaying the new chance with memories, stories, pictures and gratitude our children were once innocent.  That’s how the first day of school feels for me, anyway.

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Mario’s “Turkey Hand” from pre-school.

The backpacks stuffed with homemade craft projects coming in the door are in my past now.  I have them all, they are overflowing in plastic tubs but many of them I have framed.  The innocence and tenderness expressed through the art my children have  bestowed upon us is one of the best experiences of parenthood. Now, instead of art projects, I look into their eyes for those signs of love and expressions of how they are relating to the world.  This morning, I saw a freshness in my son’s eyes I have not seen in many years.  Hopefully some of the storms of his early adolescence have passed.  In my daughter’s eyes, I saw a beautiful, spirited young woman on the brink of leaving the nest – her “senior year” eyes.  She loves her journey, and I think we are both on the same page:  enjoy every minute.

So this brings me to my final point this morning:  I have also been given a second chance, and today is a wonderful day to celebrate and “mark” it.  14 months ago, I began my recovery from addiction.  I have been given a second chance to savor the present moment free from the numb world of alcohol.  Living in the real world, fully present, each day committing to accepting my journey without altering it in any way – is a beautiful second chance.  I am ready for Sophomore and Senior year of High School and incredibly humbled by the gift of this second chance.  Even the difficult days are grounded in goodness because they are real and offer second chances to grow into the future.

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

e.e. cummings

 

 

 

 

 

34 Acres, 2 Kids and a Boxer Named Tango

“I just think you’re distracted,” Scott, the Dog Trainer, kindly pointed out.  I had failed to work with our uber intelligent Boxer puppy in advance of our training appointment once again.  “It would only take a minimal amount of work and Tango could be competing in….” (the rest of the sentence made no sense to this City Girl).  We had fancy “AKC” papers (whatever that means) that were supposed to be officially “filed” someplace, for some important reason that eluded me.  All I knew was that after letting the puppy outdoors for more than 20 minutes every 2 hours, the first thing she did was waddle over to my favorite new beautiful rug, squat while gazing directly at me, and potty. “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!  I FEEL LIKE I JUST BROUGHT TWINS HOME!,” I would scream in exasperation.  My seven-year-old daughter had to take over the role of “Handler” (what the HELL is a handler, anyway?).

 

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Oh, how the kids loved “Tango,” a name that was, in the early days, in competition with “Tiara.”  The final name decision came down to 2 main factors:  1) We had named our 34-acre piece of Kansas paradise “Tango Canyon” to honor my husband’s Argentinian heritage; 2) It brought joy to my husband and me that the neighbors, with whom we were feuding legally, had to hear us yelling “Tango” several times a day.

And, just like the enchanting and wondrous dance from Latin America, our Tango was complicated (because she was smarter than me), challenging (because we had no fence in Paradise/Tango Canyon), and charming (the Country Club Superintendent knew her personally from all the times she ran away and the Rancher across the street could never catch her fast enough to return her home, away from his cattle).  Tango became a kind of precocious Peter Rabbit in our parts and I was the tired and overwhelmed Momma Rabbit, constantly in search of her infinitely curious Peter.

The escapades involving the chasing of Tango and her valiant return home are too numerous to recount here, so since it is Memorial Day, I will recount only one.  I mentioned Ranch across the way from our land but directly across from where we lived was a beautiful cemetery called Highlands.  It overlooked the whole town of Winfield, Kansas as well as the Walnut River.  Memorial weekend was our favorite time to live across from Highlands because of the constant flow of townsfolk who would bestow their loved ones’ graves with silk flowers that later blew away in the fierce prairie wind – and my kids would gather like treasures in the wagon and lovingly present to me!  There was also a beautiful and somber Ceremony of Remembrance that the local Armory sponsored among the hundreds of flags placed throughout the cemetery by the local Rotary club.

Around 10 am each Memorial weekend Saturday morning, we would hear the patriotic trumpet music from Highlands and up the driveway we’d ramble to watch.  I guess one Saturday, when Tango was about 2, we forgot.  Or the kids were in the basement and the noise from the tv overpowered the patriotic trumpet music.  So we forgot to go, but Tango didn’t.  Off she trotted by herself (she was quite accustomed to this), to enjoy the lovely service in honor of the American fallen heroes.  When the ceremony concluded and everyone had gone home except Tango and Sergeant Pfeffer of the local National Guard, the 2 left together in his truck and returned to the Armory about 3 miles away in town.  There, Tango spent a wonderful weekend with Sergeant Pfeffer as the newly appointed “Armory Mascot.”  Sadly, I probably did not even notice that Tango was missing until late in the day on Saturday.  The kids became aware of it and set out to find her, calling “Tango” all over our land until dusk.  When she did not reappear, as usual, we became concerned and decided to call Dr. Warren, the local vet who knew just about every pet in town and was the unordained “lost dog network” figurehead.  He had not heard anything, but promised to keep us informed.  We slept better that night knowing our good friend, Dr. Warren, had his ear to the ground in search of the missing Tango.

The following day, our home phone rang a few times with the id “National Guard,” so I did not pick it up, assuming it was some kind of fundraising call preying on the emotions of patriotic Americans during Memorial weekend.  The same thing happened on Monday.  Oddly enough, Tango had not reappeared, either.  Our lines of search and rescue were going cold, but the calls from the “National Guard” persisted.  I never put it together that there could be a connection between our missing Tango and these annoying calls.  My seven-year-old, Isa, had to point it out.  “Mom, call them back!” she urged.  So I did.  On the other end of the line was a very pleasant and kind voice, Sergeant Pfeffer.  “Hi, this is Joan Tamburini, I have received many calls from this number,” I began in my irritated big-city tone.  “Oh, great! I think we have your dog,” Sergeant Pfeffer proudly announced.  He then told me the story of how Tango had wandered up to his group during the annual Remembrance Ceremony and how she had lingered by him when the rest of the crowd disbursed.  “She just happily climbed right into my truck,” he amusedly recounted.  “So she’s been here with me all weekend, keeping an eye on things and enjoying the Armory.” Oh. My. God.  Instant embarrassment and apologies from my fast-talking city mouth.  And my Isa stood before me, hand on her hip and lips pursed, judging my incompetence.

Retrieving our Tango from the Armory and meeting the delightful Sergeant Pfeffer gave our family something to do that boring Memorial Day in 2007.  When we arrived, Tango greeted us personally and gave us a tour.  She would have been the perfect Armory mascot.  But we brought her home.  And the adventures continued…….

 

 

 

T-365 Days ‘Til Our Household Shrinks

I LOVE BEING A MOM.  I especially love days when JUST being a Mom gets to be my main focus.  Today was one of those days.  It was great!

Though 17 and 15, my daughter and son still need their Momma for support, advice, caring, guidance and help shaping their world views.  (They need Dad, too, for all the same things.  We do it differently, of course!).  It is late May and they are weary from a long school year.  My daughter is a little teary as the pressure of her impending Senior year mounts:  ACT prep; Drill Team camps, practice, leadership; saying goodbye to friends who will be leaving for college; making plans for her departure from the nest; bonding with her friends through each of the “lasts” of 12th grade.  Yesterday, I left a pair of socks with the word “relaxed” in her room for her – an “I love you” just from me for her sweet dancer’s feet.11194554_10205531647904213_7725532153420392392_o

My son, who is very much a free spirit and his own person, drudged through his 9th grade year – it has been a long year for him and he his looking forward to summer and a possible career as a life guard!  A week ago, he referred to each remaining day of the school year as “7 hours of soul-crushing disappointment.”  This morning, as it poured rain in Kansas City, and I had the entire day off to myself, I received this text from my son:  “If you get me I’ll give you a foot rub and 3 quarters.”  So I did!  We went to lunch and had a wonderful time.

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I may not always get things “right” as a Mom.  But I try and I definitely enjoy the experience.  My children know I love them and they will always be FIRST in my world.  I have been fortunate to be able to spend alot of time at home with them.  And, like many other Mothers have said before, I can honestly say that I have found things to LOVE and enjoy about every stage of their young lives.  Somehow, it always works out that the stage we happen to be in together feels like my “favorite” stage until it changes again and the new stage becomes my favorite.

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I made peanut butter cup pancakes for dinner – it sounded good to my son and will be comforting to my daughter when she comes home a little melancholy after attending her boyfriend’s graduation.  I love being a Mom.  I love living in the moment. What a beautiful blessing it is to have the privilege of bring another human being into the world and preparing them for their journey.

 

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

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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Recovering In Community

I told my counselor today that this summer I allowed myself “permission” to just sit quietly (a lot!) and rest, reflect and heal.  When I decided to get sober this past June, I had no idea that I would feel emotionally drained for so long – the exact opposite of what I was expecting.

We overuse the word
We overuse the word “balance” like we do “love.” It is a commitment and daily effort, like love.

 Ironically, for me, the clearer my mind becomes, the less I seek the chaos that was once my life – am I now addicted to peace?

Talk to anybody who has been in recovery for more than a couple of years and they will nod in complete agreement and understanding and say, “the longer you are sober, the more you will enjoy a quiet life.”  The trick is learning how to quiet the things that once stressed me emotionally without alcohol.  This must explain my present state of fatigue, I am like a child learning to ride a bike without training wheels.

Thus, the subject of today’s blog:  How does one successfully “recover in community,” with normal deadlines, stresses, demands and all sorts of other messy obstacles life presents?  I began my sobriety without any kind of in-patient treatment, so I have been “hanging out there” in community trying to stay sober and keep my life going for five months.  It is tiring.  I wish I could say it is thrillingly exhilarating – the gratitude I feel each morning for a new day, a healthy and loving family, and my sobriety is comforting.  But maintaining it all makes me well – TIRED.

I am still in nurture mode with 2 teenagers
I am still in nurture mode with 2 teenagers

Doing what is best for my 2 very different children without the influence of alcohol is certainly much easier and more enjoyable!  However, some days it feels like I don’t have as much to give as I’d like.  My body, mind and soul feel tapped out because all I can do is just “be” and “love.”  Is this enough???  I see other parents (whose sobriety status I am not aware of) really “managing” their kids’ lives and this clearly is not what is happening under my roof.  And the gnawing question I have, now that I am sober is, “what’s the difference between the way I loved drunk and the way I am loving sober?”.  Or anything for that matter.  And I think the answer is caring and feeling versus numb and complacent.  I think my body hurts and my spirit feels tired because it hurts to feel and process one’s thoughts in healthy ways all day long, especially when you are responsible for young adults.

Recovering in Community works best in the company of a safe friend
Recovering in Community works best in the company of a safe friend

When I talk about these fears and feelings to my non-sober friends, I kind of get blank stares.  Other addicts know exactly what I mean.  It’s what makes us all different and interesting, right?  So I continue to make room in my life for AA meetings, conversations with others who are focused on their recovery, and living a day to day life that is healthy, balanced and aimed at giving my family the right kind of love – without cheating myself.  That’s enough for one person to handle.  And that, my friends, is how I am attempting to “recover in community.”

The “Family Bed” Remembered

For years our family slept together in the Master bedroom- pets and all
For years our family slept together in the Master bedroom- pets and all

Just going through some old photos this morning and found this gem and HAD to write a quick blog post.  This is 2008, our daughter Isa was 9 and her brother, Mario was 7.  Those were our pets, Tango the boxer and Boris the cat.  We lived in a beautiful 5,000-sq ft home on 34 acres.  At bedtime we might as well have had a studio apartment!  For at least 2 years, this is what the “family bed” looked like.  Mike (my husband) would sigh when the lights went out and quietly say, “There are ALOT of beating hearts in this room.”  I loved it!

As Dad got “grumblier” about the situation, Isa would type “contracts” for him to sign designating a specific future date when the “family bed” situation would cease – but she always “filed” for an extension!

Fast forward to 2015:  both children are normal (okay, that’s debatable!) and sleeping in their own beds.  But they have memories of many nights in our “shared sleeping quarters” watching movies, talking, laughing, playing with the pets. Some people think this is nuts and I do sort of get their point.  But I am SO GLAD we did it.  It gave the children comfort when they needed it and we have lots of fun memories to look back on….especially after they flee the nest, which I am dreading, of course.

So, my advice to parents of young children struggling with the bedtime routine:  give up!  Enjoy being together now.  I know there are all sorts of studies now encouraging “the family bed” but I don’t know where they are or what they are saying about the benefits.  I know my 1950’s-era parents thought I was the WORST POSSIBLE type of wishy-washy parent while this was going on.  The 7 of us were sent marching up the stairs at bedtime with 1 “regulation size” cup of water and ordered to SHUT UP AND GO TO SLEEP!  Anyone who dared get out of bed and tiptoe downstairs again had better be ready for the WRATH of my DAD!!!

At one point, tired of the “charade” of pretending to resist my children’s nightly pleas to sleep on my floor, I just gave in and bought 2 air mattresses at Wal-Mart for the Master Bedroom floor.  In my opinion, this was one of the best investments I ever made.