When Someone Great Is Gone

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My father-in-law and our youngest

In the early hours of the morning, our family got smaller. My dear, 88-year-old father-in-law passed away peacefully at home with his nuclear family close by. It was three weeks to the day the oncologist told him he had perhaps one to six months left. But Jim was always a little impatient and ready to get on to the next thing, so he left us sooner rather than later. He was not one to dawdle and he hated to be late.

I first met him at a restaurant for a family dinner when my husband and I had only been dating a few weeks. That night is largely a blur to me except for the memory of Jim sitting next to Steve at the table. At one point, I looked over and saw he had his arm around the back of Steve’s chair and was leaning in close to talk to him. I knew then that Steve was a keeper. With a loving, engaged, affectionate father like that, how could he not be?

Jim loved to tell a story. At parties, he’d be in the center of a crowd holding court. Sometimes he would tell the same story again, but he’d tell it with gusto as if it was the first time you were hearing it. Not too long ago, he began a familiar tale and we must have given him a collective facial groan because he immediately said, “I know you’ve heard this before but I don’t care. I love telling this story.” And so he did. It was the story of the day my husband was born in a hospital in Geneva, Switzerland. He got to the point in the story where events in the labor room were gaining momentum and he recounted again the nurse saying to the doctor viens vite and then he reminded us again (although we already knew) that viens vite means come quickly. Jim shared dozens of stories with us over the years. And having traveled to more than 100 countries in his life, he was a man with myriad stories to tell. Every painting in the house he shared with my mother-in-law, every piece of decor he’d hauled or sent home from other countries had meaning. He surrounded himself with tokens and trinkets relating to memories.

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Jim and Marlene in their custom painted golf cart

He loved to buy mementos and gifts almost as much as he loved opening them himself. I’ve never seen a grown man relish gift opening the way Jim did. Christmas will never be the same without him. Each year on his birthday, he requested homemade butterscotch pie, and my mother-in-law would dutifully oblige to create the dessert she says requires every pan in the kitchen. I decided today that henceforth we shall continue to celebrate Jim’s birthday on April 17th with butterscotch pie. Steve and I will also be carrying on Jim and Marlene’s tradition of grog, toasting with a drink at 5 p.m., because it’s important to celebrate every day with the people you love.

It’s hard to overstate the impact Jim had on my life. After a successful career at Caterpillar, climbing up in the ranks to land as Vice Chairman back in the 1980s, Jim enjoyed sharing what he loved with people he loved. He put not only his two children through undergraduate and graduate school, he also paid for graduate school for his children’s spouses. That wasn’t enough, though, so when our sons were born he created educational trusts for them, which have allowed them to attend private schools for children with learning disabilities that Steve and I might likely not have otherwise been able to afford. Jim shared his love of travel with us too by taking us on incredible vacations to England, Norway, Alaska, the Galapagos Island, and the Exuma Cays in the Bahamas. Then, as if all his generosity hadn’t been enough, he and my mother-in-law flew the six of us to Tanzania last December for a glamping safari because they wanted to hear our stories even if they couldn’t be there to share in them themselves. Because of his generosity, I was able to stop working when our oldest was born and to stay home to raise our sons, to be there for them for whatever they needed, from occupational therapy to dyslexia tutoring. So much of what our little family of four has and is comes as a result of Jim’s kindness.

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On one our fabulous family vacations

His show of love and affection didn’t, however, just arrive through financial means. He was loving and supportive always in all ways. He regularly read my blog and when he came upon one he really appreciated or that really spoke to him, he would send me an email. After one post I wrote detailing the struggle I was having trying to decide if or how to celebrate my fiftieth birthday, he sent me this message:

You are being too hard on yourself. Have a birthday party and pay attention to your therapist. You are loaded with good qualities.

My father-in-law gave without expecting anything in return. He never offered unsolicited advice. He never said an unkind word to me or my sons. He was a tall man with a heart that must have taken up 5 feet in his 6 foot frame. He lived his life his way, which was never halfway. I admired that and often dreamed of being able to emulate it.

On the occasion of Jim’s 80th birthday, I wrote him a letter and told him how much he meant to me, how he had changed me and my life, and how grateful I was to be part of his family. It wasn’t much, but it was all I could offer to the man who ostensibly gave me a life greater than I ever dreamed I would have. It breaks my heart to know I won’t hear another one of his stories or get another one of his hugs at the end of the day but, dammit, I am one lucky lady to have been part of his final inner circle.

We’ll see you again someday, Jim. You might have to wait a bit, though, because we want to make it to 88 too. We’re not ready to viens vite.

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The luckiest ones

 

A Little Help From My Friends

IMG_0631I am in a weird place. I don’t mean I’m at a bat mitzvah for a bearded lady or a Buddhist retreat for biker gangs. It’s not that kind of weird but, for me, in the spectrum of my life it’s unusual. For a while now, I’ve been parading around masked as a functioning adult while I am mentally checked out. I don’t have GPS coordinates for where my brain is currently located, but I am acutely aware that it is not with me. I suspect it followed through on a thought I had for a fleeting moment years ago when the boys were young and I was overwhelmed. Perhaps it got in a car, started driving, and kept on going until it was in the Yukon and then stopped somewhere silent amidst towering pines that sway in the wind, where it could rest and breathe and stare straight up into the emptiness of the sky to swallow the current moment and be peaceful in the present. It must be happy there because it hasn’t returned my texts or sent a postcard.

Meanwhile, my life has been proceeding without it, my body carrying out the day-to-day routines that comprise my life (grocery shopping, laundry, cooking, appointments, etc.) while my mind is on hiatus. Outside the house and in front of others, I function on autopilot appearing totally unchanged. Inside the house, away from the judgment of others, I disappear. Incapable of dealing with the heaviness in my heart, I check out. I binge watch television or flip mindlessly through my social media feeds. I spend hours playing games on my phone. I look at real estate I will not be purchasing. I load up and abandon myriad online shopping carts full of items meant to fill the void I feel. Sometimes I even doze at midday. I am not myself. I would like to coax my brain into returning, although I’m not sure I have the energy to manage its re-entry.

Depression is a place many people live and understand. I have never been one of those people, though, fortunate enough to barrel through life with imagined purpose. I love to create and move and learn and grow, but I am not doing any of those things. I miss them, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to do them. This is how I know depression snuck in a back door when my best self was distracted by life changes I didn’t want to allow, like my children growing up and my family members suffering from illness and my own body betraying me with its aging. And, me being me, afraid to ask for help or admit weakness, I went missing.

I’ve been gone for a while now and, dammit, I miss me. It’s time to find my way back from the endless forest. I know it’s going to be a long, desolate road home. It starts with a lot of walking and a little hitchhiking help from a therapist or two. As I get closer, it will include a lot of fake-it-until-you-make-it bravado. The journey out of depression can’t begin until you recognize there is depression. Well, I’ve finally got that part figured out, and that is progress. As comfortable and safe as it has been sitting in bed, taking up space, and remaining checked out to protect myself from the pain of all the things I cannot control and don’t want to accept, it’s time to come back. The Yukon is a lovely place to visit when you need to catch your breath, but it’s isolated and lonely long term. It’s no place to spend the rest of my life, however long that may be. I need to stop wasting my ephemeral time.

I’m heading downstairs to bang on my drums, to beat out a rhythm I hope my brain will hear and follow home to a long overdue reunification with my body. If you catch me glued to Netflix or on my phone playing video slots, give me an encouraging, two-handed nudge forward. I understand now that I can’t do this alone, and this is why I am calling out my depression here. Hold me accountable. Send up a signal flare. Put me back on course. Let me ride on your handlebars when I don’t think I can walk anymore. I could use a little support, loathe though I am to admit it. I promise to do the same in return if you ever need it.

Sometimes It Really Is A YOU Problem

Fifty (or fifty-one if we’re being specific) is a marvelous thing. With five decades behind me, I now understand my place in this world much better than I have before. I’ve learned that I am not as important or influential as I thought. I am not responsible for everyone else’s feelings. After fifty years, I am free of the burdens and expectations of others. Mostly.

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I was raised to believe I was the direct cause of other people’s suffering. You know the phrase, “That sounds like a you problem?” Well, everything negative that happened in my interactions with others was a me problem. It all rested squarely on my shoulders. If someone was unhappy with me, it was because I was selfish or lazy or thoughtless. There was no onus on the other person. I was to blame. Always.

The natural consequence of believing that my every mistake, misstep, or misspoken word made me less likable was a conditioned level of fearfulness around other people. I didn’t dare express what I liked because someone else might not agree and that would be awkward. I didn’t feel comfortable asking for what I wanted because that might put someone else out. I was terrified others would see how naive and foolish I was if I spoke up, so I kept to myself. I played along. I didn’t ask questions. I didn’t impose. I didn’t want to rock anyone else’s boat. It wasn’t until I hit fifty that I realized my concern for not rocking anyone else’s boat meant I never learned to sail my own.

For most of my life, the you problem comment bothered me. I found it haughty and mean-spirited. Eventually with therapy, I began to understand that diagnosing a you problem had less to do with being dismissive of someone else’s feelings than it had to do with being responsible for my own. A you problem is a problem you are responsible for. Nothing more. Nothing less. As long as I own my part, it’s okay to wish, hope, or expect another will own theirs. Believing someone else is responsible for their own feelings is not dismissive of my responsibility to them. It acknowledges that I am responsible for only my part in the transactional nature of our human relationship. It allows another the opportunity and responsibility to accept their fair share. It’s equality.

I still live my life trying to be decent and fair to others. I still try to consider other’s feelings and cause no harm. I still strive not to be a burden. I just no longer accept that I am 100% responsible for someone else’s reaction to what I say or do. I can only be responsible for myself. If you’re reacting negatively to what I say or what I need, you should examine why it bothers you because that is a you problem. It feels good to let you shoulder your own feelings and expectations. It feels good to let that go.

 

 

 

London: Borough Market, The Shard, Ships, and Greenwich

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When London is more like Phoenix

On our first, full day in London, we were in for a sunny scorcher, two words not often associated with the city. Knowing that shaded, indoor spaces would be slammed with tourists seeking shelter from the heat, we decided to be bold and plan for an outdoors day. We chose to start with a hop-on, hop-off Thames excursion, hoping that the water would miraculously make the day more bearable. It was a nice thought, anyway.

We used our London Pass, got our tickets, and climbed aboard the first boat towards Greenwich. A river cruise is a good way to see a city from a different vantage point, so we take the opportunity when it is presented. We headed up the Thames and disembarked at the Tower Bridge with a plan to walk to Southwark. It was almost 11 by then and the heat and sun were already turning taking their toll on us, so we walked deliberately towards our first stop, the Borough Market.

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We chose the market on the advice of an English friend we met last year while in Italy. His recommendation was spot on. The Borough Market is the kind of place I wish I could shop daily. Situated under railway arches, the market offers stand after stand of fresh fruits and vegetables, bakeries, artisanal cheese, cured meets, cold juices, and ethnic food. My first stop was to claim a gluten-free cherry scone. The boys, who had only three weeks earlier returned from a trip to Asia, grabbed some chicken laksa from a Malaysian vendor to check the authenticity. We later opted for some freshly squeezed orange-mango juice to combat the heat. I’m not sure I would have put a market on our London to-do list with our teenage sons, so I am grateful to Lee for planting the idea. It was a do-not-miss destination with wonderful dining options for everyone.

From the market, we made a beeline to The Shard. The Shard was not part of the London skyline when we visited 22 years ago. Begun in 2009 and opened to the public in 2013, the tower is a relatively new London fixture. Comprised of reflective glass panels, The Shard is a striking bit of architecture, with the lovely side benefit of being able to offer 360-degree viewing platforms at 69 and 72 floors up, respectively. On a good day, the view is said to be 40 miles. To add to the experience, The Shard has bars on both those observation decks, so it’s a great place to grab a quick drink and take in the scenery. Steve and I ordered a couple Aperol Spritz and toasted to our English friends, Lee and Jo, for the sightseeing suggestions they had provided that were turning out to be gold.

Our next stop was the HMS Belfast. Our youngest son is a history buff and is especially fond of war machines and weaponry, so a visit to this retired, WWII warship was a must. I’m not entirely sure a visit to a metal ship in the midst of a heatwave was a wise choice as I melted each time I entered an enclosed area to view an exhibit, but Luke thoroughly enjoyed his time there so it was worth it. It’s a fine place for history buffs and is easy to get to from Tower Bridge.

About the time we wrapped up at the ship, the temps were nearing a 102-degree heat index so we headed back to the river to catch the boat again, headed up to Greenwich. After discovering there was no cool spot to sit on the boat (the upper deck’s metal seats got a big NO vote from me and the enclosed lower area was getting zero pleasant breeze even from the open windows), we settled on the lower deck out of the sun and sweated our way up to Greenwich.

When we disembarked, we planned to hit the Royal Observatory first to visit the Prime Meridian before heading back to tour the Cutty Sark. With our London Pass, we cruised in through the admission area at the observatory and went to wait our turn for a photo op because, let’s face it, the Prime Meridian line is nothing more than an Insta spot. We had fun standing on either side of the imaginary line separating east and west hemispheres. Joe stood on the western side with his head in the east while Luke stood in the east with his head in the west. It summed up their personalities…Joe at home wishing to be traveling east and Luke out and about dreaming of home. 

After our obligatory photos, we cruised back down the hill to the Cutty Sark. I will admit this was one of the places I had a hard time getting excited about while we were planning. Knowing, however, that a visit here would mean something to Luke, I sucked it up. It turns out that the exhibit is well done and fascinating. The Cutty Sark is the last surviving tea clipper, a sailing ship built to bring goods quickly from east to west and vice versa. A large fire in 2007 could have destroyed the ship but she was undergoing restoration at the time and most of her masts and planks had been removed during the process. As a result, 90% of the Cutty Sark, which first launched in 1859, is still original despite the fire. The exhibit allows you to walk under the ship as well as stand on her decks. The visit was a fascinating trip through history to a time when the Cutty Sark was the Amazon Prime of the day. 

When the top-rated Indian food restaurant we were hoping to dine at had too long of a line for our hot, exhausted, cranky selves to tolerate, we chose a small, Naples-inspired pizza place called Rossopomodoro in Covent Garden. The food and wine were good (a decent gluten-free pizza can be hard to come by), and we were long overdue for some rest and sustenance. At dinner, we reflected on our day. I joked that I couldn’t wait to tell people I’d gotten my tan in London.

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Crashed out 

We arrived home having logged over nine miles and 22k steps. Despite the hot evening in our basement flat sans air conditioning, we crashed out early, dreaming of London’s typically cooler temperatures and cloudy skies.

 

The Subtle Art Of Raising A Keeper

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Ready to be a suitable suitor at 2

My oldest had his wisdom teeth out a couple days ago. He’s been fortunate, and it’s been mostly not a big deal for him. He’s had no bruising, very minimal swelling, and pain that is manageable with over-the-counter relief. Last night, however, he didn’t sleep well. So he awoke at 5:30 a.m. to take some more Advil and when they kicked in he fell back asleep. Great, right? Wrong. He had a coffee date planned for 9:30 this morning. I didn’t know this, but somehow wandered down to his room at that time to check on how he was feeling.

He was pretty out of it as he awoke. He looked at the clock on his phone for a long five or six seconds while it registered in his brain.

“Shit!” he exclaimed as he moved the blanket back and slowly sat up. “I was supposed to meet Ella.”

“When?” I inquired.

“Right about now,” he said.

He’s never been late to pick up his girlfriend. Since he started dating last spring, I’ve learned a great deal about my son and how he conducts himself in matters of the heart. He is considerate, continually thinking of what she might like and dreaming up creative ways to show he cares. He is flexible, willing to rework plans to make the most of their time together. And, he is timely. Usually.

“Text her and tell her you overslept because of your mouth. Tell her you’ll be there in a half an hour. Grab a quick shower. You’ve got this,” I told him.

I knew he was worried. He doesn’t like to be late. Once when he was three, in an absent-minded parental state of exhaustion, I got on the highway to take him to school. Problem was the highway was in the opposite direction of school. He noticed immediately and told me I was going the wrong way. He began to panic, fearful that he would be late, that his teacher would be upset with him, that he had ruined his perfect attendance record. I spent the fifteen minutes rerouting to get him to school apologizing, explaining there are dozens of different ways to arrive at the same location and assuring him it would be fine. When we walked into school, he ran to his classroom. I heard him loudly tell the teacher, “I’m late because my mom went the wrong way. ” Subtle. 

At 9:45 I heard the door to the garage open, so I went to say goodbye. He was showered and ready to go, but I noticed his thick hair was uncombed and unruly.

“You didn’t fix your hair,” I noted.

“No time,”  he said.

“Nuh uh,” I replied. “You have twenty seconds to fix yourself. Stay right there.”

I dashed off to get the hair cream and reappeared in seconds to help him tame his mop. At the time, it occurred to me maybe I was overstepping my bounds, being too motherly to someone who is no longer a kid but an eighteen year old with a car and a girlfriend. Then I shoved that thought right aside because sometimes it’s good to have someone around to help you out in a rush. Everyone benefits from a little help sometimes, and it’s good to understand that. The devil is in the details. That is the kind of thing I want him to remember as he crosses this bridge from youth into adulthood.

“If you’re going to make a girl wait for you, it’s good to make sure you’re worth waiting for,” I told him as he got into the car.

Many times as a much younger woman I sat waiting for a guy who was late. Many times said guy showed up just as he was, not the least bit concerned about his disheveled appearance or apologetic about his tardiness. The boys who weren’t like that are the ones who stand out to me now. The ones who took a minute to throw on an attractive sweater rather than the crappy, acid-wash denim jacket they wore to school. The ones who bothered to put on a cologne they knew I loved. The ones who showed up with a flower they’d grabbed at a gas station convenience store. Those guys were the ones who made me feel special, the ones who were worth waiting for. I like to think my son will be one of those someday, even if he needs some guidance to get there.

 

 

 

When “You Did It” Isn’t Enough

Today marks my sister’s last treatment. It’s been almost a full year since the day she called and told me she’d found a tumor. I’m an internally positive, intuitive person, so when my sister called that day I had no sense of impending doom. I told her that she would not have to face this alone. I told her I would help in any way I could. And I told her I knew I would see her healthy on the other side of all the shit she was about to endure. I believed it with all my heart.

Less than three weeks later, I was with her in Connecticut as she started her chemotherapy. I was there as she shopped for a wig. I witnessed the beginning of her hair loss. I scheduled the appointment to have her head shaved, and I stood there as her beautiful hair fell. I sat with her when the side effects were piling up, creating new problems in an immune system already under attack, and I did what I could to bring her a measure of peace in the midst of her physical and emotional misery. I never felt it was enough. But I also never had a doubt that, like her high-school-varsity-cheerleading self, she would jump high enough and kick hard enough to send cancer to outer space. I left her five weeks later in the caring hands of our middle sister and returned to my family.

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Sisters

When the six chemo rounds were finished, the tumor in her lymph node was shrunken enough to operate. The post-chemo scans were flawless. I flew again to Connecticut to be there as she underwent a five-plus hour, life-changing surgery. Being the strong-willed Aries she is, she emerged from it like a boss, bouncing back more quickly than most. I stayed another month with her while she was stuck at home, recuperating, unable to work or drive, waiting to get the all clear to resume her life. One cold winter afternoon, while we were in the midst of another binge-watch marathon, the call came in. The removed tissue had been examined with a fine tooth comb. They found nothing. Not a trace. The cancer was gone.

Still, my sister is not one to do things halfway. She continued with the prescribed course of treatment, which meant 25 radiation sessions followed by months of additional immunotherapy treatments. She did this all while dealing with daily shots of blood thinners to combat a clot she developed from her chemo port. She did this all while working full-time at an impressive new job, moving into a new home in a different town, keeping up with her two dogs, and continuing her workouts. She blew my mind, the literal embodiment of how much a human can endure.

Today before she began her last treatment, I sent her the only appropriate thing I could think of. I sent her this song because she didn’t just do it, she fucking did it. As Jason Mraz points out at the beginning of the video clip, you can tell someone you did it and they might not hear that. But if you tell someone you fucking did it, they will probably hear that shit. There are times when swearing is more than just appropriate. It’s imperative.

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Yeah, you did

So, I send this post out today to all of you who have been killing it. To all those of you who have slayed. To those of you who have faced something that seemed insurmountable that you still, perhaps to your surprise, overcame. I send it also to those of you who are starting to think you can’t do it, believing you might not persevere, suspecting it’s all too much for you. Don’t believe a word of the negativity you’re feeding yourself. Keep fighting. March forward. One foot in front of the other. One damn day at a time. And, soon enough, you’ll too be celebrating that you fucking did it.

 

Editor’s note: This is not the first time I have written about this song because I love it that much and sometimes it’s just that appropriate. Those earlier posts can be found here and here.

 

Be Dory In An Ocean Filled With Marlins

What we focus on expands

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Currently focusing on these organic, biodynamic wines in the hope they will expand

I was flipping through my phone yesterday morning when a news story caught my eye. I know you saw it too. The random backfiring of a motorcycle in New York City caused a panic and sent hundreds of people running for cover, fearing they were being fired upon. Last weekend’s mass shootings, added to the unacceptably long list of mass shootings already logged, have us all on edge. We’ve become like soldiers suffering from PTSD, and most of us are suffering from it without having experienced a real-time mass shooting situation. We’re suffering from empathetic PTSD, expecting we are the next victim. We’re on high alert constantly. Everything we see and everything we hear is cause for panic.

We feel unsafe. Understandably so. There have been shootings at schools, churches, malls, restaurants, movie theaters, grocery stores, and concerts. There is not a location in our nation where you can consider yourself safe from gun violence. Through constant connection to news via our devices and social media, we have been conditioned to anticipate catastrophe.

Like most, I’ve struggled to keep my head on straight despite the barrage of negative news. I’ve worked hard to teach our sons by example that a life lived through fear is no life at all. Our oldest hasn’t been comfortable in a movie theater since the July 2008 shooting in Aurora, Colorado, but we still take him to movies. We have to. Life is filled with risk. How will he learn to live with his discomfort if we give it a foothold? Where do we end up when we allow the possibility of gun violence to stop us from taking full advantage of the freedom our country allows? 

I found this chart to help my sons put things in perspective. The possibility of something bad happening is omnipresent. The probability, however, is not what we think it is.

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Taken from Skye/Gould Business Insider

 

Yes. You could become the victim of gun violence, but that potential is far less than the potential of falling victim to an accident or a prevalent disease. So, do you hole up in your home, hoping to stay “safe” (whatever that means) or do you live your life? I’m not implying these statistics aren’t alarming. They are. We just need to shift our focus away from catastrophe and onto reality. Heart disease is the most likely scenario for most Americans, but it probably doesn’t stop us from eating foods we shouldn’t or sitting on the couch when we could be getting some exercise. We weigh the overall odds and make a choice. We decide the pleasure of eating the cheese fries is worth the risk of artery damage. We tell ourselves, you gotta live, right? And we are right.

Shit happens. No amount of wishing shit didn’t happen is going to change the fact that it does. Can we do something about gun violence in the United States? I’d like to think so, but while we struggle to climb this Everest-level problem we can make small changes that will positively impact our lives now. We need to stop smothering ourselves in every detail of every depressing news story and turn our minds to what matters, what we can control, and what positivity we can foster. Delete the news apps (or at least silence the constant notification barrage) and withdraw intentionally from the things that make us anxious. It won’t change the reality, but the distance we create might make us sleep a little easier. It’s not about burying our heads in the sand. It’s about choosing to place our energy on positivity in the present rather than borrowing trouble from a future we cannot control.

Finding Nemo was released in 2003, when we had a 2 year old and a newborn. It was the first Pixar DVD we purchased for our sons. I couldn’t tell you precisely how many times I’ve seen it, but it’s a lot. As our sons have grown and started spreading their wings, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on that movie, the constant soundtrack to my sons’ young lives, thinking of poor, anxiety-ridden Marlin who in his fervor to avoid losing his son causes that exact thing. It’s easy to let negative past experiences ruin current positive ones.

I understand why the folks in Times Square started running when they heard the backfire. I probably would have joined them. It was a knee-jerk reaction fomented by 24/7 coverage of our mass shooting nightmares. We’re conditioned to expect the worst. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could consciously choose to return to a time when a motorcycle backfire might cause us to startle, maybe quicken our pulse rate a bit because of the unexpected loud noise, but that is where it would end? Perhaps as a collective we could decide to be less like fearful, negative Marlin and more like glass-is-half-full Dory by engaging in some short-term memory loss. It’s time we stop terrorizing ourselves by focusing on worst case scenarios. If we’re going to focus on something, let’s focus on good and watch it expand.

What A Whole Lot Of Crazy Will Get You – Family Travel

Some are born crazy. Some achieve craziness. Some have craziness thrust upon them. These three lines are all applicable to me. I was born crazy. As I grew, I became adept at increasing my inherent craziness. Then I got married and birthed sons, which left me surrounded by additional craziness. Given the relative level of insanity I have been able to conjure from thin air, it’s no surprise that in January, whilst overcome by oh-my-god-I-hate-winter-and-want-to-run-away syndrome, I began planning a family summer trip to Europe. I live my life from trip to trip. As soon as I finish one, I begin planning the next. In my dream world, I leave Denver at least once every three months. Not because I don’t love it here, but because the world is calling me.

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Hey, Europe…you all ready for this?

I planned a three-leg, western European capital-city tour beginning in London. We’d spent weeks narrowing down our packing choices to fit into carry-on luggage. I’d rented us apartments in London, Amsterdam, and Paris. I’d purchased train tickets. I’d booked sightseeing tours and printed out Tube and Metro maps. I’d taught the boys a few useful French phrases. But, for all my planning, I was apprehensive. We’d always traveled on tours where someone else was responsible, with full knowledge that if something went sideways it would be their job to resolve it. This trip was all on me. Still, I reasoned, the four of us are capable and seasoned world travelers who should be able to overcome any obstacles thrown in our path, provided we don’t end up choking each other out of exhaustion, hunger, or frustration first.

 

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Some of us can sleep anywhere

We flew Air Canada to Montreal and then on to London. The airline, god bless their little hearts, ended up changing our itinerary from a two-hour layover in Montreal to a six-hour one, because why not? About fifteen minutes after we landed, I realized my wedding band was missing. A quick mind combing brought me to the conclusion that when I took my ring off to put on hand lotion during the flight I became distracted by something else and forgot about the ring. It must have fallen from my lap onto the floor or into a crack in the seat and, being exhausted, I had forgotten I had taken it off in the first place. Damn. To kill the six hours in Montreal, we tried some poutine, bought a deck of cards, and played endless rounds of Crazy 8s. Eventually I stopped flagellating myself over my lost ring. We’d bought it in Maui, so I now had reason to plan our next trip.

When we finally landed at Heathrow, it was not quite 11 am and a heat wave already had us at 85 degrees. Operating on almost no sleep, we found our way onto the Underground and landed at Victoria station. From there, we wandered around awhile, melting in the sun under our backpacks, waiting for our Vrbo check in time. We found a Pret a Manger (a quick food/coffee shop that became my London go-to because it has gluten-free and healthy items), grabbed some sandwiches and a protein box, and set off in search of a picnic spot. We googled a nearby park and arrived only to discover it was a private and gated park from which we were banned like mangy, stray dogs. So, we gave up, sat down in some shade outside said private park, and ate on the sidewalk. We are flexible and know when to cut our losses. 

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Cambridge Street – our home in the borough of Westminster

After checking into our rented flat, a basement apartment on a residential street in the Westminster borough, we headed out to show the boys some sights we were looking forward to seeing again. Steve and I had traveled to London in 1997 with his folks. We arrived on August 30th. Princess Diana would die in a car crash in Paris in the early morning hours of August 31st. We were there in the week leading up to her funeral and witnessed the mourners and piles of flowers and endless lines to sign condolence books. While we enjoyed our visit then, we hoped this trip would find the city lighter in spirit.

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Westminster Abbey

We began our whirlwind tour by hauling it over to Westminster Abbey, a 20-minute walk from our flat. The line was short and we went right in. Much to my surprise, our teenage sons were fascinated by the abbey. They were struck by its size and architecture, as well as by the history contained within. They stared for a while at the markers for Charles Darwin, Winston Churchill, Isaac Newton, Stephen Hawking, and Nelson Mandela. I stood in Poet’s Corner, paying my respects to Jane Austen, George Eliot, and the Bronte sisters, greedily wishing they were given greater due but grateful they had been recognized at all.

After leaving the abbey, we walked the short distance to Big Ben. Apparently I had fallen down on my research because we found the clock tower shrouded in scaffolding as repairs to the facade are being undertaken. The clock face was still exposed, but we were not going to get an Insta-worthy photo of the tower on this trip.

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Churchill War Rooms display

Undaunted, we pulled out our London Pass again and walked to the Churchill War Rooms. Although it hadn’t been by intentional planning on my part, our trip coincided with the 75th anniversary of D-Day Invasion. Our sons are both world history buffs, so I knew they would be fascinated by the War Rooms as I had been back in 1997. As it was my second time through and I was tired and growing hungry, their comprehensive exploration of the museum was less charming than it might have otherwise been.

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Washed out photo of a weary and sweaty London explorer

From there we wandered to Buckingham Palace where we witnessed the motorcade for newly elected Boris Johnson disappear behind the gates on the palace grounds for his first official visit with the queen. The boys, being boys, aren’t much for palaces, so we ended our long, hot day with fish and chips at The Laughing Halibut before heading back to put our feet up. We opened all the screen-less windows, put on some local television to settle into British life, and drifted off excited for what London would share with us next.

The Best Cure For Middle Age Is Teenage

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I saw the above passage in my Facebook feed yesterday and promptly copied and saved it because I love it when other people write my feelings succinctly and turn it into an inspirational post so I don’t have to.

Before having children, I heard myriad dark tales of the harrowing experience of raising teenagers. Having eons ago been a teenager myself, I recalled the endless battles with parents, the scramble to balance friends and boyfriends and homework and extracurriculars and part-time work and social activities, and the confusion surrounding figuring out who I was and what I was supposed to do in life. I remember that time as exhausting and exhilarating, a period of self-development precariously balanced with self-loathing.

When my sons, now 18 and 16, were toddlers, I could not wait for them to get older. I longed for a time when I could understand what they wanted and discover who they were. And, through the infinite magic of time that speeds up as we age, I arrived here more quickly than I ever imagined.

While my parents struggled with their teenagers, I’ve found mine to be 10% terror-inducing and 90% delightful. Letting my son drive off at 6 am with his brand-spanking new driver’s license to head to the mountains for a hike, well…that’s terror-inducing. But waking up the next day, pulling up Google Translate on my iPhone to start brushing up on my French for an upcoming trip and finding my sons have been doing the same, well…that’s delightful.

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My sons have brought out both the best and the worst in me over the years since they arrived and made us a family. Fortunately, as I have aged, I have relaxed a bit, which has made experiencing my sons’ teenage years more filled with laughter than fraught with frustration. If you get out of your kids what you put into them, I must have given my all.

 

My Life Is An Open Book

“You get whatever accomplishment you are willing to declare.” ~Georgia O’Keefe

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I recently had a novel idea. Not an idea for a potential novel, but the notion that I had more or less already written one. I began blogging in 2009 when our sons were 6 and 8 and I could cobble together enough minutes in a day to return to writing. I kept handwritten journals for decades, but when we had the boys that fell to the wayside along with exercise and sleep. For years, a nagging voice in the back of my head has told me I should write a book. My frontal lobe, however, had predetermined I had neither the time nor the talent to undertake the endeavor.

A couple weeks ago, I was sitting in bed with Steve at the end of another long day, doing a verbal dump about a writing group I was joining. I was, as usual, doubting myself. What made me think I had anything to contribute in a writing group? So many people call themselves writers. The title seems meaningless and arbitrary. I haven’t been paid to write in almost 18 years. I had the sense I would be out of my league in any writing group, and I said as much to Steve.

“It feels weird to call myself a writer. It sounds pretentious. Seriously. What have I written?” I whined.

“What about your blog posts?” Steve asked.

“What about them? That’s a hobby,” I dismissed.

“How long have you been writing your blog?” 

I had to think about that for a minute. I’ve had several blog sites. My first posts were on a blog I called Suburban Sirens, both referring to the sirens beckoning me back to writing a the time and the sirens I fully expected to hear in our suburb as the mental hospital ambulance arrived to take me away.

“Looks like I started in late summer of 2009,” I said, perusing the posts on that original blog.

“How many posts do you think you have written since you started?” he continued.

Another good question. I visited all four sites where I kept posts and checked for post counts. I did the math.

“It looks like it’s a little under 700,” I answered.

I let that sink in for a minute. Had I really written 700 short essays? Holy crap. A bold idea crept into my head, so I threw it out into the world.

“I should print them out so I have them somewhere other than online,” I said mostly to myself. “It would be fun to go through them and see where I’ve been and where I am now.”

“You should do it,” came the response from my ever-supportive spouse.

The negative thoughts snuck in.

“That would be a lot of money in paper, notebooks, and printer ink. And what would I even do with them? It’s not like anyone is going to sit around and read them. They will just sit on a shelf. What’s the point?” 

I’m back in therapy. One of the things I am working on is believing I am worth the effort. I am worth showing up for. I am worth asking for what I want, and I am worth not accepting less than what matters to me. I am worth taking a risk on. Wouldn’t printing out my blogs be a step in that direction? How bad is it if I think my own writing efforts aren’t worth the expenditure of time or money? Am I really worth so little? Perhaps growing my self-esteem begins with the simple act of cherishing my own thoughts enough to decide they are worth the money. No further justification necessary.

So, I bought a ream of paper, a few three-ring binders, and some page protectors, and I began the mundane task of copying, pasting, formatting, and printing each of my posts. It’s been an eye-opening endeavor. It’s allowed me to relive my experiences as the mother of young sons. I’ve been able to recollect some events I had long forgotten, and it’s been fun sharing these with my husband and my sons. It’s also afforded me the opportunity to witness my own growth. Like going back and reading my journals from junior high and high school, I’m seeing who I was and how far I have progressed. It’s been good for me on many levels, mostly in validating the hard work I’ve done both in parenting sons and writing reflections about my life. Some posts made me utter, “Wow…that was pretty good.” Those moments caught me off guard. I wouldn’t have owned that two years ago. Progress!

I’ve done a little more math since and determined I have written roughly 519,750 words about my life since 2009. An average book chapter is around 4,000 words. This means I have created what equates to approximately 130 book chapters. I guess it’s time to stop believing I don’t have the energy or time to write a book. I’ll also have to stop believing I have nothing to contribute.

By turning my life into an open book, I may have inadvertently written one or two.