When The American Dream Becomes The American Nightmare

Two little things I’m grateful for every day.

Just finished a long phone conversation with my youngest sister, the kind where you talk about life on the grand scale, where you are, who you’ve become, and why. I like to have conversations like that every once in a while, a little come-to-Jesus meeting with myself where I take a good hard look at my life and figure out where I’m at. My sister is a person for whom “bored” is a four-letter word. On some level, I think she’s unintentionally sought out drama in her life because she simply doesn’t know how to live with dull, humdrum, it-is-what-it-is life. But, that is the stuff life is made of. Life is not always parades and fireworks. Sometimes it’s leftovers and dirty diapers.

I think that we Americans truly mess ourselves up with an unrelenting focus on the fabled “American Dream.” We’ve come to believe we’re entitled to life in the highest order. We expect that we will be able to have it all. It’s a tall tale. You can’t have it all. There’s not room in life for it all. It’s like trying to cup running water in your hands; you can only hold so much and what you don’t have room for will fall away. Most people on this planet pass quietly through their lives, and their names don’t go down in history’s annals like DaVinci or Aristotle. Most people touch only the lives around them. That’s it. Somewhere along the line that stopped being good enough. It’s too bad.

We should have dreams and plans. We should pursue them. But, we should also accept that life is beautiful even without parades and fireworks. We’ve lost the ability to treasure the little things because we’re waiting for the next big thing. When was the last time you sat down in a forest and paused to hear the wind in the trees and to smell the pines? When was the last time you watched a ladybug in your hand and wondered at it and appreciated its small life? When was the last time you stopped thinking about what you were missing out on and honestly marveled at how much you have? I think, for most of us, it’s been far too long since we last took the opportunity to be grateful for the down times. What we’re missing in our run-around, 24/7 active lives is the peace that comes from being still and not asking anything from life, but simply existing momentarily in it without demands.

The happiest people in this world aren’t the ones who have it all. They’re the ones who are sincerely happy with what they have. When we keep looking for the next big thing, we’re missing the myriad little ones that are given to us daily…the parking spot close to the store on a snowy day, the first cup of coffee of the day that someone else pours for us, the unexpected hug. It’s only when you stop expecting big things to fulfill you that you can let the little things that have always been there fill you up.

The World’s Best Kindergarten Teacher

Luke with Miss Jackie at Unique Prints. He had to try to stay inside the barrel why she tried to toss him out. He loved that game. The look on his face is pure joy. Money well spent.

My boys were fortunate enough to have the world’s best kindergarten teacher. She literally changed their lives with her insights into them and their issues and with her genuine love for them and their uniqueness. Sandra was the first one to suggest to me that there might be an issue that was causing our oldest son to be years behind his classmates in terms of fine and gross motor skills. It was Sandra that pointed us to Unique Prints, a therapy gym specializing in children with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Sandra gently helped us to see what we had not understood or were not willing to acknowledge. Our boys needed extra help, and there was no shame in that.

As I look back now over the last five years, it’s amazing the progress I’ve seen in my boys. They still battle some sensory issues, but they’ve come such a long way. The time I spent driving them an hour round trip to Unique Prints two or three times a week so they could “play” in the occupational therapy gym while I sat in the waiting room was well worth it. Because of Joe’s original diagnosis with SPD, we were able to diagnose more quickly that he had ADHD as well. Therapy is expensive, but we were fortunate to have great insurance that paid for most of what our boys needed. There are plenty of people out there who want to do the right thing to help their children but don’t have the means we do to get them the help they need.

When our youngest was in Sandra’s kindergarten class, he had a classmate with whom he continually knocked heads. I often worried about Luke in these tussles because Luke is a small kid and his classmate was on the other end of the size spectrum. I was concerned that Luke was being bullied because Luke told me he was sometimes afraid of the other boy. I went to talk to Sandra about my concerns, and she pulled me aside and let me know that the other child involved had issues of his own. She never disclosed exactly what was going on with him, but she told me that his family struggled with his issues the same way we were struggling with Joe and Luke’s issues. She also told me that they were good parents who were trying to do the best for their child that they could. Her honesty about the situation helped me to understand. I felt bad that I had looked at that other child the way I’m sure other parents had looked at my children with their issues, with no compassion or desire to understand but with judgment. And, in the end, when the other boy left the school to get more specialized treatment, I was truly sad to see him go.

Today, Sandra posted a link to this video for a family looking for assistance for their not one, but two, sons with autism. The family would love to get a therapy dog to help their boys. But, therapy dogs cost around $6k, and that’s a lot of pocket change for most families. I watched the video because Sandra had recommended it, and Sandra is good people. I immediately recognized that the older son in the video was Luke’s old classmate. I watched the video and had a good cry. It’s amazing how life works sometimes, how it puts you in touch with people and situations that, if you’re lucky enough to be paying attention, will teach you the lessons you need to learn.

Life is hard. We all have our challenges and limitations. We all are on a journey that no one else can take for us. I can’t expect other people to be patient with my sons’ issues if I’m not willing to be patient and understanding about the struggles other families are having. And, as hard as it has been at times to parent my unique, sensory-challenged boys, I’m so incredibly blessed to have gotten off as easily as I have. Sometimes it takes a special reminder to bring you back to gratitude and peace with the way things are. Today I’m grateful for such a reminder courtesy of the world’s best kindergarten teacher ever….the one who even manages to teach adults a thing or two.

What I Need Is All Around Me

“What I want is what I’ve not got, but what I need is all around me.”  ~Dave Matthews Band

I was pedaling furiously on my bike on its indoor trainer today, listening to my iTunes library on shuffle when Jimi Thing by the Dave Matthews Band came on. I’m fairly certain I know the entire Under the Table and Dreaming album by heart. Today, though, for some reason, this song lyric hit me more directly than it has before. It perfectly describes how I exist most of the time. I am always wanting something that I don’t have, looking over someone else’s shoulder and wondering if what they have might have been better for me. I live more in my head than in my heart, which is wrong on more levels than I can count.

The struggle to get out of my head and into the present moment is a non-stop task for me. I feel like Sisyphus, compelled to push that rock to the top of the hill only to have it come loose and roll down before I achieve my goal. I know in my heart that I have everything in the world to be happy about, but there’s always this little part of me that ends up battling the monstrous “What If” beast. It’s a horrific waste of time.

I am exactly where I am supposed to be. Everything I have done has led me to become the person I am today. If I strip away everything that I want (or think I want), what remains is what I need and nothing more. And, that is where my focus should be…on my loving and supportive spouse, my crazy and fun kids, my amazing friends, a safe and secure home, and good health. As with so many things in life, the key is gratitude not greed. So, I’m going to focus on the second part of that lyric, rather than the first part. What I need is all around me. Why bother worrying about anything else?

Dorothy Was Right

 

On the ride home from Moab today, we made the boys turn off their DVD player for a few minutes so we could recap our weekend’s adventures, the good and bad parts, the things that will stick with us in our memories.

My birthday is May 27 and this is what I would like please.

 

I loved how when got to the Comfort Suites in Moab and checked into our room, Joe’s exact comment was “Whoa! This is the nicest hotel room we’ve ever stayed in!” Keep in mind that our son has stayed at both The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs and The Hotel Jerome in Aspen, not to mention a 4-star resort on Captiva Island in Florida and several top-tier hotels in Norway. Apparently, those places have nothing on the Moab Comfort Suites. Good to know he’s not been spoiled by his travels. Joe’s favorite part was the hike to Delicate Arch (even though we scared him by taking a slightly off-track route along a seemingly perilous edge). He complained, however, that the traffic in Moab was “the worst,” a fairly amusing comment from a kid from Denver who sits in traffic all the time. Even with the April Action Car Show there this weekend, Moab could not possibly rival Denver’s traffic. Besides, we got to see all those cool, classic cars.

Luke buried at Sand Dune Arch.

Both boys agreed that the most fun arch in the park was Sand Dune arch. (Gee. I wonder why.) They also thought the hike to Broken Arch was the best, and that Double Arch wins the award for being the coolest arch. Luke’s only major disappointment was that the Moab Brewery did not have any plain vanilla ice cream and so he had to go without dessert last night.

Steve and I both thought the hike we did with the boys last night in the Park Avenue section of Arches was the best part. We were there on the desert floor, surrounded by these massive rock “fins.” It was sunset, and it felt like we were the only people in the world. (Although as Joe, Master of The Obvious, pointed out, we really weren’t the only people in the world because someone else had made that trail.) Still, it’s rare to have a trail to yourself and it’s even rarer when that trail is in a national park. If Steve and I had a complaint, it was only that our hotel room appeared to be located underneath that of a family of four large elephants with very heavy feet who, oddly enough, decided to walk the stairs next to our room repeatedly rather than taking the elevator. Aside from the somewhat noisy hotel room, we thought the entire trip was a success.

Park Avenue at sunset

We all agreed, though, as we pulled off C-470 and began heading south on Wadsworth toward our home with the sunset illuminating the sky, no matter how much fun we have on any trip we are always happy to pull into our neighborhood. Traveling is something we all love to do, but Dorothy was right. There’s no place like home.

 

It’s A Wonderful Life

It’s been a really great day for me, so I thought I would share a bits from this day in my life.

And the award goes to....Luke!

The day started with us taking the boys to school before we headed out for our family trip. The impetus for stopping by school was a surprise for Luke. I’ve known for a few days now that Luke was selected as Student of the Month at Hope Christian Academy. This is a big deal because I know Luke has been working really hard. He didn’t expect it, but I knew the surprise would mean the world to him. When the principal slowly narrowed the winner down…a boy…in second grade…his name is Luke…I could see him about to burst. And, when she asked Luke to come up to the front of the room, he ran up the aisle like a crazy contestant on The Price Is Right. We were pleased that he was good enough to hug her and say thank you. On his way back to our seats, he was passing out high fives to other students. It was the cutest. Luke rode home with the plaque in his lap, telling us where he would like us to mount it to the wall in his room. Sometimes, it’s the smallest things that make the biggest difference to people. When we got home Luke told us, “This has been the best way to start a weekend.” I had to agree.

Mike...we salute your plucky determination

We finally got on the road for our trip around 10:30, several hours after I had hoped we would leave. Still, it was vacation so we were going to act that way. Schedules be damned. We’d get to Moab eventually. We cruised west on I-70, stopping briefly to picnic in Eagle before heading to Fruita where Steve had heard of a coffee store we had to visit. (Personal note: No matter where we go, there is always a local coffee shop we have to visit. We’re doing it to protect the American Dream by buying from independent coffee shops as much as we’re doing it to satisfy our caffeine addictions. Or so we tell ourselves.) We get to Aspen Street Coffee and, lo and behold, there in front of the store is a sculpture of Mike the Headless Chicken. How cool is that? Mike, the story goes, was a rooster whose head was severed by a farmer in 1945 and yet he still survived for 18 months after his decapitation. Mike is a legend. There is a festival in his honor each year in Fruita, a town on the western slope of Colorado known for its agriculture, its mountain biking, and one bad-ass headless chicken.

Sunset hike...check.

We did finally get to Utah. As we drove down the scenic byway toward Moab, Joe waxed rhapsodic about how he felt at home here. The kid was seriously ready to pack his bags and move in along the banks of the Colorado River among the towering red rocks. We told him we’d have to think about it. We decided that a sunset hike to Delicate Arch would be an awesome way to cap off our day, so we headed into Arches National Park at 6:45 p.m. It’s a “strenuous” 1.5 mile hike from the parking lot to the arch, so we hauled it to make sure we’d catch the 8:06 sunset. The boys, who are unbelievable hikers, ran ahead as I tried valiantly to keep up, glad I had started taking those antibiotics yesterday. I hadn’t seen Delicate Arch since a trip with an ex-boyfriend in the summer of 1991. That was another lifetime ago when I was a different person. Today, the weather was a perfect 60 degrees, the sky was flawless, and we arrived at the arch at 7:40 to view the sunset. We sat there with a crowd of photographers and watched the sunset light up the arch. It just doesn’t get better than that.

Some days, you’re given the opportunity to remember how wonderful life is. Today was one of those days. I’m the luckiest gal in the world.

Jockeying For A Better View

Cloudy and cool is better than windy and snowy any day.

“To live happily is an inward power of the soul.” ~Marcus Aurelius

I found this quote today and it really got to me. There are too many times when I find my happiness tangled up in things outside my control. Other people in my life seem to struggle with this too. They will become upset with me because I did not react the way they wanted me to. In those situations, I tell myself that they are crazy for pinning their happiness on me and whether or not I disappoint them. What I fail to see in those moments of criticizing others for their bad attitude is how frequently I employ that ridiculously self-defeating thought process myself.

For the past two weeks I have been working to retrain myself or at least to gain back some of the control over happiness in my life. When my attitude goes downhill, I stop to look at the situation again for a positive. If I can’t find one in that particular situation, then I go outside of it and look at my life as a whole because I know that on the whole my life has more reasons to be grateful than to be grumpy. This morning we’d planned to go on a long ride with friends because the weather was supposed to be perfect…unseasonably warm and sunny. At 8:30 a.m., however, as we were getting ready to leave it was still 43 degrees outside and overcast. I hate to ride in the cold and was annoyed about the change in the forecast. Exactly who told Mother Nature she could screw with my weather for ride day? Instead of being cranky about it, though, I decided that even without perfect weather there were plenty of reasons to be happy about this ride: great people to ride with, the freedom to leave our kids for a few hours and get out, the beautiful lack of snow, health that allows me to ride 36 miles without pain, and the fitness to get up a short but steep 10% incline without much suffering.

It’s easy to be negative. The world around us provides ample amounts of bad news. It takes real determination to be happy and to live with gratitude. Happiness is always a choice. If things don’t look right to me from one point of view, I jockey myself around until things look a little better. Sometimes all you need for a an attitude adjustment is a little wiggle room.

I Like Big Butts

My friend Kelly posted this Nike ad as her Facebook photo this week. I immediately loved it. I love the photo. I love the text. I love the idea behind it. The entire campaign takes women’s scorned, maligned body parts and shines a positive spotlight on them. There is an ad for big butts, thunder thighs, man shoulders, tomboy knees, and stick legs. I so wanted to find an ad like Kelly had that I could relate to and that could be my inspiration. Sadly, none of them worked with my body issues. While my butt is what I call “fluffy” (as opposed to flat), it would be unfair to characterize it as big. I do have muscular thighs, but they are not actually thunderous. I am not broad shouldered from swimming because my idea of swimming is sitting poolside with a Coke Zero and my iPod. And, while I do occasionally have tomboy knees acquired from falling while inline skating or not clipping out of my bike pedals fast enough, that one doesn’t truly resonate with me either. My legs, belonging to a woman of approximately 5’4″, are not even remotely long or stick-like. Wait a minute. None of these fit because I have no body flaws? Impossible! My hyper self-critical mind simply wasn’t looking hard enough.

My Popeye calves
My Popeye Calves

So, I took a good, long look at my entire body today, reviewing its perceived imperfections from head to foot. I thought it might be fun to create my own inspirational ad since Nike didn’t bother to make one that suits me. I’d lose the message of the campaign if I attempted to put a positive spin on my “too many Hot Tamales” muffin top or my arms that have that aging woman, chicken-fat thing going on where my triceps used to be, so I scratched those off the list of possibilities. I kept thinking. The only thing that might be campaign appropriate are my large calves. The ad could read like this: “I have bulky calves. They get bruised from my ski boots, make it difficult to pull off my skinny jeans, and remind me all too much of Popeye. But, they get me places. They crank up stairs at Red Rocks and whip through miles on my bike. They’re not dainty, but they could kick your butt.” Okay. Okay. I’m not exactly Don Draper in the advertising business, but you get the idea.

I noticed that an odd thing occurred as I reflected on my body and its imperfections today: they seemed to disappear. Yes. My calves are bulky and not traditionally effeminate, but any day I’d take my muscular legs over another woman’s long, straight, piano legs. There’s also nothing wrong with my butt, which has that C-curve from doing chair pose and crescent lunge in power yoga, but at least it fills out the pockets of my jeans. That extra skin that comprises my muffin top? I earned that by carrying two small beings around on my inside for nine months…each! Think about how amazing that is. Every scar, bruise, and imperfection is part of my story, part of the whole of me. My body isn’t perfect, but neither is anyone else’s…no matter how enviable they seem.

Do I think Nike’s ad campaign was successful? Well, it didn’t make me want to run out and buy any Nike gear, but it did make me think. Mary Engelbreit said, “If you don’t like something — change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.” I’m going to work to change the way I think about my body. It might not be worthy of a photo shoot in a Victoria’s Secret catalog, but it’s strong, healthy, and capable. That in itself is pretty awesome.

I Am A Golden Goddess!

My screaming deal on designer denim

Yesterday, I posted that I hate shopping for shopping’s sake. I hate trying on clothes. I hate shopping around. I prefer to get what I would like to have with the least amount of actual physical effort and for the least amount of money. Normally, this means that I happen across something that I want in a store, say a pair of shoes. Then, I go home and look for them online for the least amount of coin and free shipping. It’s a combination of laziness and my incredible desire to avoid having to speak with an actual sales associate in a store. I won’t drive all over town looking for deals because I can find them on my computer without having to come in contact with another human being. I don’t even need to greet the UPS or FedEx employee when they leave my purchases on my porch. I’m oh-so stealthy like that.

Today, however, I was forced to go shopping in a store. Months ago I purchased a deal through LivingSocial for designer denim from The Blue Jeans Bar. Last year, I bought my first pair of quality jeans there and blogged about it. Ever since I bought my Fidelity jeans, I’d been meaning to go back to buy another pair. The coupon gave me $75 to spend for $35. Most of the jeans in that store run between $150-$225 a pair, so a $40 savings is quite helpful. About a month ago, I received an email notice that the store I purchased the coupon for was moving from Littleton to Vail. Knowing I would be way too lazy to drive to Vail for shopping I didn’t really want to do in the first place, I made a mental note to get into the store before they moved. The email said they were moving on the 29th, so today I hauled myself down there.

A handwritten sign on the door noted that they were closing the 25th. Holy cow was I cutting it close. In preparation for the move, they’d liquidated most of their stock. The sales gal gave me two pairs in my size from the slim pickings on the shelves, a pair of skinny jeans and a pair of trouser jeans. I tried them both on and was amazed to find that they both felt and looked great. I figured I had the coupon and they were marked down so I could probably squeak by with getting both without hubby raising his eyebrows at me.

The sales gal rang them up to the tune of $160. I pulled out my coupon. She wasn’t sure I could use it with the sale items. Dang! I strong-armed myself into believing that I was getting two for the price of one so it was still a good deal. After a minute, she seemed to reconsider the coupon and said, “What the heck? We’re closing tomorrow anyway.” I’m guessing she didn’t want to have to pack them up for the move. Score!

My grand total for the two pairs came to $86. I handed her my debit card, she bagged them up, and I walked out of the store on Cloud 9 3/4. Seriously? When do I ever get deals like this? When do the stars align and I find denim at more than 50% off AND have a coupon too? I did the math. I saved 68%. I’m sure that in the history of shopping, greater deals have been had…but not by me. All I know is that every time I put on those perfect jeans, I’m going to feel comfortable, fashionable, and smug because I will know that my 7 For All Mankind jeans cost me less than $43. Today, I am a golden goddess of shopping.