You Don’t Know Him

Photo by Sergio Rota on Unsplash

As I was driving home after school drop off this morning, a guy in a lifted Ford pickup was tailgating me. Because of the vehicle he was driving, I’ll admit I had some preconceived ideas about him and what kind of person he must be, especially because he was tailgating. But, I have been working on not being quite as judgmental and giving people the benefit of the doubt. In situations like the one this morning, I try to remind myself that I have no idea who this person is or what might be going on his life. I remind myself his aggressive driving behavior is not my business. I take a deep breath in, wish him well on his journey, and try not to stare at him with daggers through the rear view (which I am sure he could see since he was that close).

He did eventually pull around me and, due to traffic, landed directly in front of me instead. This provided an opportunity to see his myriad bumper stickers. He had a Marine Corps license plate, so I thanked him mentally for his service. Then I noticed his Blue Lives Matter sticker, an automatic rifle sticker, and a Let’s Go, Brandon sticker. I took another deep breath. These things for sure told me that this guy and I would not see eye-to-eye in a political conversation.

In these situations, when I am even further inclined to judge someone I don’t know a thing about other than what their bumper stickers say, I like to play a little game with myself. I imagine something about them that would make me change my mind about my negative thoughts. So, today I imagined this gentleman owns three rescue pups and visits his grandmother in the Memory Care Center every Sunday. For good measure, I imagined the reason he was tailgating me was because he was late on his way to a parent-teacher conference for a daughter he adopted out of foster care. I don’t know him. This could legitimately be his story. Who am I to say? I don’t know him from Adam. Hell. His name could be Adam.

I mean, it’s probably not. And he probably does hate Joe Biden and think masks and vaccines are for sheeple, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a decent person with many redeeming qualities.

My point here is that we’ve put a plethora of superficial determiners in place that allow us to dehumanize each other and make each other perceived enemies, which is a lot to do to people we don’t know at all. We can try to be better. We can at least give each other the benefit of the doubt. We’ll be wrong part of the time. Sometimes, the jerk tailing you will be exactly who you think he is, but sometimes he won’t. Sometimes he will be more complicated and not just a caricature that can be conjured up based on some bumper stickers, a lifted truck, and poor driving habits.

When The Words Don’t Come But Growth Does

What I have managed to accomplish while my brain has been on hiatus

The past week has been a blur. It seems my head hasn’t had the bandwidth for writing blogs or even thinking, really. I’m overwhelmed. Somewhere between the continuing pandemic, the transitions happening in our family, the addition of a furry ball of love with four short legs and sharpy teeth, and the annual stresses of the holiday season, I find myself a little out of sorts. I think I need a long winter’s nap or a two-week, solo, all-expenses-paid vacation to Bora Bora so I have time for my brain to snap back into place.

If there is good news about any of this, it’s that despite all the craziness I am finally at a place in my life where I know it’s okay to be off. I know I don’t have to be perfect. I don’t have to be cranking out insightful, meaningful pieces daily. I’m allowed to struggle on occasion, to not know what I am thinking, to take a mental break to deal with the business of life and put up a Christmas tree and drive my son to the airport. The last time I wrote my blog every day, I did not acknowledge these things. I made apologies for what I felt was sloppy work. I’m not about that anymore. I’m not here now saying mea culpa to you. I’m here letting you know where my head is right now. I’m telling you that I care about writing, but I also care about honoring my mental and personal space. So this means I am making personal progress and achieving growth. Yay, me.

I even took time to dress my puppy for a photo

Sometimes we have to make compromises in life. Lately, the compromise I’ve been making is less time to write so I can take care of my family and myself. I’m hoping to have some space in my life and my head soon so I can go back to writing about things that make me passionate. For now, though, enjoy the photo of my cute puppers in a holiday bandana because sometimes a post with a photo of a corgi puppy in front of a Christmas tree is the only good we need in the world.

Walk This Way

Mondays are my therapy day. On Mondays when I do some EMDR, I spend most of the rest of the day exhausted, filled with thoughts, and emotionally raw. Today was that kind of Monday. So, while I am still processing some of what I worked on in therapy today and plan on writing more about that soon, for now my brain needs a little break.

One thing has recently become clear to me in this journey I am on. When you’ve spent your life kowtowing to other’s wishes, plans, and ideas for and about your life, it takes a lot of effort to step away from those people and bring your subservience to an end. I thought for many years that I could extricate myself slowly and deliberately from relationships with those who were holding me back without affecting other people in my life. It was a ridiculous thing to ask of myself, but boundaries can be difficult to negotiate. If you are trying to extract yourself slowly, you are likely doing this because you are looking out for someone else. You don’t want to hurt anyone. You don’t want to ruffle feathers. You don’t want to cause trouble for someone else. But what is the cost to you when you are acting against your best interest to make situations easier for someone else? Sometimes you need to choose the nuclear option and immediately disengage without worrying about the fallout because that is the fastest way to get yourself safe. Besides, once you decide to be free, you want your freedom to begin now and not eventually. The hardest part for me about walking away from people who don’t and can’t have my best interests at heart was the feeling that I had to explain myself to others by answering their questions. Why wasn’t I speaking to my parents? Were things really all that bad? And then, one day, it hit me. I don’t owe anyone an explanation about the steps I take to protect myself. I am on a break from my relationships with my parents while I get my head in order, and that is all there is to say about that.

Freedom from negative relationships and abusive cycles is not a luxury. It’s not a frivolous thing that you should put off because you don’t want to trouble anyone or make anyone uncomfortable. Taking steps to secure your mental peace and physical well-being matters in the short and long term. And if that means you have to block contacts and upset a few people, that is the price of taking back your life and your power. Don’t let anyone talk you out of it or talk you into doing the “right” thing (which is only the right thing for them). Look out for yourself. The people who care about you will understand. The ones who act troubled or inconvenienced by your choice have done you a favor by identifying themselves. Don’t give them another minute of residency in your brain.

Life is short. If you’re lucky enough to be able to discern what is holding you back, jettison it. And then walk on.

Keeping Bad Days In Perspective

I don’t know if it’s the time change and the early darkness or the after effects of a difficult therapy session or the puppy’s over-the-top energy today or just the fact that it’s Monday, but today has been a day. I feel like I’ve been chewed up and spit out and then chewed up again, swallowed, regurgitated, and left on the pavement to dry. I have tired on top of my tired, despite having slept well last night.

Days like today, though, make me grateful more than anything else because they remind me that some of my less than optimal days are still light years better than the days many people live. I mean, I think it’s fair that we all have the opportunity to whine about trying times, but it’s important to keep it in perspective. Life offers different levels of struggle. As far as I know, I am healthy. I have a thoughtful, loving spouse, two sons who work hard and constantly strive to grow, a beautiful home filled with everything we need and a ton of things we don’t need but appreciate nonetheless, two sweet puppies, loyal and supportive friends, a functioning and comfortable vehicle, and money to buy whatever food we need. My “struggles” today were more about frustration and exhaustion than anything else, and that’s a fortunate position to be in.

I don’t want to be a drama queen. I’ve taken the first step away from that by eliminating from my life people who cause that type of reaction in me. The next step is walking away from the drama I create in my head that doesn’t need to exist. One way I am working on that is by practicing gratitude. So, tonight, I am grateful that I managed today as best as I could. If I’m given another day, tomorrow I can wake up grateful that I get to try life again and use what I’ve learned today.

I’m Not Crazy For Wanting My Nuts In Order

“Just because you are a little squirrelly, doesn’t mean you are nuts.”

The day has gotten away from me. Most days I keep this blog in mind, trying to plan for what I will write since I promised myself I would write something every day for a year. Most days I have an idea long before 10 p.m. Today, I was so busy I forgot about it completely until 10:40 p.m. I was up at 7:30, fed the new fur baby, did a training and play session with him to wear him out. Once he was secured in his pen, I threw some clothes on and drove Thing Two to school before shopping at Costco and then rushing home to let the fur baby out once again. Then I did some cleaning to welcome my mother-in-law back for her four-month stay in her home downstairs. Immediately following that, I ran to Walgreens (which ended up having too long of a line at the pharmacy for me to get through in time) and then drove back in the opposite direction to pick up Thing 2 from school. I escorted him home, dropped off one car that needed gas, got in another one and drove an hour to the airport to pick up Thing 1 who is visiting for the weekend to meet the new puppy and see his grandmother. After circling the airport a couple times waiting for him, he hopped in and we made the hour-long trip home for a quick dinner. Then we ran back out to Walgreens, which was still too busy, so we went grocery shopping and got gas for his car. When we got home, we exercised the fur baby again, and I finished up some holiday decorating. Now it is 11:08, and with puppy finally worn out, I am writing so that I might actually get to bed before midnight so I can wake up at 6:30 and face another busy day.

Fall is a good time for accomplishing tasks with winter on the horizon and quieter days at home ahead. Our fall is even busier this year because we are in transition, welcoming house guests and helping a high school senior get through his final year, cross-country season, and the college application process. Add a brand new puppy to the mix and you have the foundation for Crazy Town. This is what motherhood is. Still, I would rather be busy than bored when the weather is still warm. It’s a good time to be out and about, taking in the beauty this season of change both in the weather and in my life. I know someday the days will pass more slowly and life will become more routine. So, I am all about reveling in the busy-ness, while looking forward to the day when I can collapse on a sofa, watch the cold weather blow in while I leisurely sip my coffee in front of the fire, and enjoy all I have worked so hard to secure.

I really am a squirrel. I am just trying to get my nuts in order before winter arrives.

Exorcising The Ghosts Of The Past

What I used to record portions of the Live Aid concert in 1985

In the days before the Internet and FaceTime and Zoom and texting, people wrote letters. A stamp, a pen, and a piece of paper were all you needed to share the contents of your mind and heart with someone who was worth the effort of your time and questionable penmanship. As is the habit for many people, I saved quite a few of the letters I received over the years from friends and boyfriends. I kept them in a box that once held my cassette player (back in the days when cassettes were a thing). Over time, that box got rather stuffed with random correspondence. I didn’t open it very often to read its contents, but I dragged it with me each time I moved. It would relocate from the top of one closet shelf to another, from apartment to apartment. There was something about knowing those letters were there if I ever wanted to trot down memory lane or perhaps clarify a memory that had become distorted or foggy.

When my husband and I got engaged and decided to move in together, he was helping me move boxes into my car when he came across that one. He asked me why I was bringing it. After all, if these letters represented relationships that had long since gone defunct, why was I clinging to them? I honestly could not give him a suitable answer. If I’d said I was keeping them for sentimental reasons, that would only make the box more of an issue in our relationship at the time. I didn’t know how to respond. In the absence of a viable response, he asked me if I could add them to the dumpster along with the wooden case holding 100 cassette tapes I no longer needed since he had a CD player he was willing to share. I acquiesced because he had never asked for anything from me, we were getting married and he was my future, and it seemed like a small sacrifice I should be willing to make for someone who had never been anything but kind, loving, supportive, and patient with me. With a pang of disappointment, I lobbed them over the wall of the dumpster, turned around, and tried not to look back. I was twenty-six then, he twenty-four.

In the years since, we both have felt deep regret over that event. He has felt horrible for asking me to toss a box of papers because he felt a little jealous about its existence. I have felt anger at myself for not defending my right to keep them because they were harmless mementos from my youth. But there is no unringing that bell. They are long gone. So now we just carry around the shame regarding that missing box instead of carrying around the box itself, which we have both agreed is so much more emotionally cumbersome than that damn box ever was.

This decision, made in our youth when we were not emotionally mature and had no real experience to gift us with greater perspective, has laden us with invisible baggage that we have hauled for decades. It’s something he doesn’t like me to mention because he feels just that bad about it, but I don’t blame him because the box is gone. I blame myself for not being self-aware enough to tell him it was part of my life I wasn’t ready to jettison. But it’s time for us to unload our disappointment in ourselves and the choices we made when we were younger and not able to see so far into the future. Seriously. Who can see twenty-seven years into the future when they aren’t even twenty-seven yet? The guilt and shame we feel needs to go. That box has long since been replaced by countless wonderful memories and experiences as our life together has been filled with love and fun and two absolutely-perfect-in-nearly-every-way adult sons, not to mention dozens upon dozens of cards and notes we have written to each other and saved. Therefore, I am declaring it time to move on. I may not be able to read those missives again, but I have something much more important. I would never trade my current life, our family, our shared experiences for those pieces of paper and neither would he. It’s way past time for us to toss the shame and self-flaggelation in the dumpster and move forward.

Thought Experiments

Every night we take a walk with our thirteen year old border collie, Ruby. I like to think it’s the high point of her day. Often the walk is just Steve and I, but sometimes we can cajole the boys into coming along. Tonight we got to enjoy their banter. Luke was world building, designing a college. He calls these imaginings “thought experiments.” Joe was, of course, bickering with him about some of his ideas, and I had to jump in and tell Joe that he doesn’t get to tell Luke his ideas are misguided. I’ve been telling him that for as long as Luke has been his brother.

We often walk the same route. We look for the toads that appear after dark. Tonight we saw a tiny one and a big boy we decided to name Chonk. The moon was full and small clouds glided in front of it intermittently. At one point, the moon had a cloud handlebar mustache.

When the world is crazy, these walks are my zen. Ruby has done her best to keep us going out into the world, even and especially during a pandemic. For thirteen years, she has been our constant keeper. She reminds us how lucky we are to be a family, to have each other, to have someone looking out for us.

Times are changing, though. Joe goes back to college soon. Luke is applying for colleges now too. And, sadly, our beautiful puppy girl is nearing her unfair end. Our days on this earth are the same as the clouds floating over the moon tonight. They’re sailing by, indecipherable from one another, here and then gone.

I said these walks are the high point of Ruby’s day, but they’re actually the high point of mine. They remind me of all the good things still left after childhood’s end.

Women’s Rights: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

I watched the devastating footage from Kabul today. I found myself crying, afraid for those left behind. I especially have concerns for the interpreters who worked with the United States during the hunt for Osama Bin Laden and beyond. It wrecks me to think that people who risked everything to help us will be left behind to certain death. There is no easy way to exit a war that cannot be won, but what we saw today was heartbreaking, desperate people clinging to their last bit of hope as it rolled down a runway.

I spent a fair part of my day stuck on thoughts of the women of Afghanistan, women who for the past 20 years have felt something of a taste of freedom. Young women, who have never known life under Taliban rule, are watching the futures they had hoped to imagine slip away. In all the footage today, I noticed there were no women in the streets. The women were home, hiding from the horror of their future. This will sadly become their new normal.

The United States currently ranks 20th in women’s rights. I am disappointed by how far behind other nations we are in terms of equal pay, maternity leave, and personal freedoms. But when I think about the Afghan women, I am incredibly grateful for the freedoms I have known by grace of having been born a woman in the United States and not in Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, or Yemen. The United States might not be the best, but we’re far from the worst.

This world can be too much for my heart. Many days I struggle to find a smidgen of internal peace despite the tumult on the planet. Today was definitely one of those days. I dig myself out of this depression by focusing on gratitude. I had nothing to do with being born here. I, quite simply, lucked out. I may whine on my blog and in my life about my minuscule struggles, but I know how fortunate I am. If you can’t be born a white woman in Scandinavia, Canada, or Switzerland, the United States is still a lucky draw. I have been given a gift I didn’t earn.

I will hold the women of Afghanistan in my heart as I go about my daily life, a life any of them would be grateful to inhabit. They deserve more, and it breaks my heart they will now have so much less.

The Permanence of Impermanence

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Saw this pink flamingo slowly dying on the street this morning. Wonder if someone is missing it? 

You have to pay attention because, if you don’t, you will miss the best things.

My mind has been parsing the notion of loss lately. I’m not talking only about losing a person or pet to disease or losing my children as they grow and become their own people, although these two particular losses have been weighing heavily on my heart recently. I’m also talking about losing things like my hair or the bottle of peppermint oil I had in my hand a minute ago or the astounding piece of wisdom I was about to share but which vaporized before I could pry it from my brain. I seem to be losing everything these days.

When the universe persists in presenting me with opportunities for growth, eventually I catch on to the pattern. And the current rate at which I have been facing loss has given rise to non-stop mulling about the loss and what loss even is and where it comes from and how I can best deal with it in the moment and how to survive it long-term and what I can learn from it to help me along my path. Searching for meaning is what I do as a double Gemini.

Buddhism teaches that suffering is a constant condition of the human experience, and our inability to deal with all types of suffering (from physical pain to the pain of persistent change to the pervasive conditioning that finds us repeating the same negative behaviors from which we need to escape) keeps us from experiencing true happiness. If you are born, you will suffer and you will die. It’s how we choose to approach suffering that determines the quality of life before we leave.

Loss is painful because we have a misguided notion we have some right to claim ownership. We don’t. We don’t own our bodies, we occupy them. We can’t keep them from aging or changing. We may be able to lessen the visible effects of our unhealthy behaviors and the constant pull of gravity and genetics, but we cannot stop our march towards death or the visible proof of that continual process. We don’t own others. They too have a timeline and will move through this life on their own path. Our inability to accept that life is transitory and that the people in our lives are as impermanent as we are creates a path to misery because loss of life is unavoidable. In the poignant words of Walter White, “Every life comes with a death sentence.” We don’t even own items we own. A burglar can take my computer. An auto accident can wreck my car. A fire can incinerate my home and everything inside it. And there is very little I can do about any of it, really.

This morning I looked out my bedroom window into the park-like backyard I am fortunate enough to enjoy. There were finches and nuthatches clinging to the feeder. Squirrels chasing each other around the tree trunk. A mouse scurrying away with a fallen bit of feed corn. A small bunny gnawing a dandelion. This is not the same bunny that inhabited our yard before (I will never forget you, wherever you are, Wobble Bunny), yet our yard still has a bunny. The dead squirrel we found last week has been replaced by another squirrel happy to stake his claim. The players are different but the play is the same. This, in a nutshell, is life.

Loss is certain. Change is inexorable. Pain is compulsory. How we approach and what we take from these guarantees is a choice. My children are almost grown, and I can wallow in sadness about their impending departure or I can appreciate them now. People I love will move on. My hair will get thinner. Items I have lost may show up eventually or they may not. But squandering time perseverating about the loss of people or belongings I could never stake claim to in the first place is useless. I am going to practice appreciating life and its players now. So, I am going to close up my computer, drag my sons out of their basement cave, and take them outside to appreciate the carousel of revolving life in our yard because the only loss I can avoid is a wasted opportunity to own the fullness of this moment just as it is.

Un*#@% Yourself

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Me back in the days before I had self-awareness

Un*#@% yourself. Be who you were before all that stuff happened that dimmed your *#@%ing shine.

If you’re lucky, there comes a time in your life when you wake up. I mean really wake up. And it’s the kind of wake up that comes at the end of a nightmare where you are falling into an endless abyss or your children are drowning before your eyes while you stand powerlessly nearby or you are being crushed under a collapsing building and your lungs begin to burn with suffocation. It’s the kind of wake up that leaves you shaking and stunned and mind blown and sick to your stomach. It might happen from one singular event (“I’m sorry, but you have cancer”) or, as in my case, it might happen over time as the weight of a lifetime filled with little injuries finally snaps something inside of you. Some people never wake up. But, if you’re lucky, it happens, and you can start living consciously.

I went back to therapy yesterday for the first time in nearly a year. I went with the idea that, at forty-eight, it is finally time to get over my obnoxious lack of self-esteem. So, I told her that I need to get my head on straight about myself. I do not see myself as others see me. I self-sabotage my own potential for success. My stinking thinking has got to go. I need tools, I told her. To gain some insight into where we should start, she conducted some basic reconnaissance work.

Her:  What if you won an award? What would that feel like for you? What would you think?

Me:  *head tilt with impressive pensive expression as I tried to imagine facing success*

Her:  I’m guessing you would feel it was undeserved? 

Me:  Ummm….yeah. But that is not the worst of it. I would assume there had been a mistake.

Her: *consciously trying to keep a neutral countenance* 

Me:  I would be thinking that they must have run out of other people to give the award to.

Her: *noticeable eyebrow raise* 

Me:  I would assume I was their last choice.

Her:  Wow. Okay. We have some work to do. 

Being me, my next thought was that she was making a mental note to determine if my insurance would cover enough therapy sessions to help me out because that, my friends, is how deep my internal negativity goes. I am appallingly cynical. It would make for great sitcom dialogue.

After a little more chatting, we came up with some strategies. I need to write a letter saying goodbye to the person I am now and all the baggage she carries that is unhealthy. I need to define who I think I really am underneath all the old junk and what the new me looks like inside. I need to make a list of things the old me would not have attempted because of fear and negativity and then start doing those things to reinforce positive behaviors. I need to decide on a mantra I can use to replace the old thoughts when they creep in and start messing with me. I need to surround myself with positivity and people who support my goal. And I need to be willing to talk about this journey without judging it or myself, which is why I am writing here today.

All this makes my head hurt. A lot. But, it turns out that the copious amounts of wine I have been imbibing and augmenting with generous servings of Ben & Jerry’s are not helping me feel better either. Trust me. I have tried that therapy for a year. It’s possible that only because that therapy didn’t work I had to go to real therapy. (Well….that and an increasingly obvious waistband issue.) I now have no choice but to do the hard work. My desire to change has finally exceeded the ease of staying stuck in the miserable same. It’s a weird place to be.

Putting yourself out there is rough. It’s hard under the best circumstances, but it’s harder still when what you’re putting out there is a shameful something you’ve spent your lifetime ignoring. If it weren’t for the waking up, though, I wouldn’t be sure it was worth it. If it weren’t for the annoying headache brought on by mental overload, I wouldn’t know for sure I am more awake today than I was yesterday. Admitting you have a problem is the first step, right? Well…I’ve done that. Now it’s time to get to work. I am cautiously optimistic that I will like the new me. I think she’s a good kid with crazy potential.