Life

Ripping the Band Aid Off Slowly

Sunset over our big backyard

We spent most of our weekend cleaning out the home we lived, loved, laughed, and lazed in for thirteen years as we witnessed the growth of our young boys. The home lists for sale this week. I like to think of myself as a thinker more than a feeler, a pragmatic philosopher and not an emotional romantic. I am, after all, the self-proclaimed Queen of Rationalization. But everywhere I looked in that house this weekend I saw the breadth and depth of a time in my life that I sped through, head down, focused on the step in front of me like a marathon runner on Mile 20, telling myself I could get through if I just kept moving forward. All the moments, all the memories crept back in as I tried to harden my heart and make conscious decisions about what to pack and what to deposit in the gargantuan roll-off in the driveway. In a word, it was, well, suck. There was an overwhelming, unwelcome deluge of emotion. And it kind of pissed me off because, Christ, dislodging over thirteen years of your life isn’t difficult enough without tears weakening the brown paper boxes you need to move? As I worked, my head tried to distract my heart. It’s good to clear through all this junk. We’re lucky to be doing this consciously and over time. We were long overdue for a cleanse. And this slow, intentional adjustment has been good for the boys. They are so happy in and committed to their new habitat. Still, the goddam tears welled and I cursed while I imagined Luke lying on the kitchen counter under a tanning bed of bilirubin lights, Joe sculpting his own sandbox Pangea in the backyard for his plastic dinosaurs, Steve sprawled on the basement carpet causing “stormy seas” for the young sons who were passengers in his imaginary boat, and me sitting on the back patio on a spring day with a coffee and a constant soundtrack of meadowlark songs. This is suck.

 

Buddy and the boys on his last camping trip

Towards the end of the day yesterday, Steve brought me a box. This particular box had been sitting on a shelf in his office for six years. The box contained the ashes of our sweet Lab/Springer mix, Buddy. I’d like to say we’d held onto the box and his ashes out of a soft-hearted inability to let him go, but the truth is we’d always planned to release him back onto the open space where he occasionally stole an afternoon frolic by jumping our fence, an act that left me in a pickle with toddlers in the house and a dog too far away to capture with a shout. Time got away from us. We never seemed to find the perfect moment. It was too cold, too muddy, or the concern over rattlesnakes was too great. Or we were just too damn busy. And so Buddy languished in a plain, wooden box for years, buried only in good intentions. Yesterday, as the acknowledgment of limited time in this space surrounded us, we decided it was time to say goodbye and set him free at last.

 

Small memorial service

So, on a cloudy, cool, dry day (devoid of snake business), with the exhaustion of moving and daylight savings time mellowing us out, the four of us hiked out onto the open space a ways behind our house, found a lone yucca plant that looked like a spot where Buddy may have once relieved himself, and said our final goodbyes. I watched as the lighter ashes swirled and drifted in wind, the heavier remnants of his bones spilling onto the soil. It brought me a beautiful peace in the midst of all my sadness, a sense of closure not just to our time with Buddy but also to our time in this house that holds so many of our memories. While I intellectually appreciate the idea of ripping the band aid off wounds quickly, I guess I have always been more of a slow, painful band aid puller, someone whose penchant for overthinking causes long-lived and painful goodbyes that I suffer without a peep, wearing a poker face and telling anyone who inquires that I am fine.

We all grieve in our own way. We spent years mentally preparing our sons for this change. They have at times over the past few months expressed their sadness about leaving. We’ve made sure to let them know that sadness is to be expected. We’ve talked as a family about the last memories we would like to make in our old home. All the while, we’ve been pointing our noses in the direction of our new home, creating a space we love and can fill with new hopes, dreams, and memories. There have been times when I wondered if all this dragging on was a wise choice, but after our memorial service yesterday I no longer doubt our decision. We’ve had the perfect amount of time to make our peace with change and to allow our hearts to grieve and to grow. We are ready to say goodbye. And while there certainly will be tears shed in our last few hours in our old house, it is now our old house. Let’s hope it sells for a lot of money. I could really use a trip to Maui!

Good Enough

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Me and three of my favorite things

The seven and a half years between when I turned 40 and today have been the best seven years of my life. They have not been the easiest. During this time, I learned my oldest son has ADHD and my youngest has dyslexia, and I struggled to gain acceptance and create a better situation for them at school and in their lives. I had a devastating falling out with a person very close to me that caused years’ worth of complications in my family. I began experiencing the unpleasant side effects of early perimenopause. I was depressed for a while. And I went into counseling for the first time in my life as I wrestled with the external changes messing with my reality and the internal battles being waged in my head as a result of aging and staring straight into the face of the midlife beast. As a result of all these things, however, I am more at peace than I ever have been. I live in the moment. I have greater perspective about what is important to me. And I couldn’t be where I am now if I hadn’t trudged through the quagmire of muck that now lies behind me.

This morning I saw a meme that riled me up. It said, “Addicted to Bettering Myself.” I’ve seen that saying before, but it has never elicited as strong of a reaction from me as it did today. Today it just didn’t sit well. So, I have been reflecting on it, and I think I finally have it figured out. When I turned 40, I was concerned about being 40How in the heck did I get so old? Is this the beginning of the downhill slide that comes with being over the hill? How can I make 40 better? What do I need to do before it’s too late? I was consumed with answering these questions. I became addicted to bettering myself. I became more concerned about my physical appearance as I noticed more readily the effects of having lived 40 years. I became intensely interested in physical exercise. I monitored my workouts and chided myself when I fell short. If I put on weight at the holidays, I hated myself. I took classes in things I thought I teetered on the edge of being too old for, and I did things that were out of character because I thought my time was running out. I expected more of myself at a time when the events in my life were requiring more of me as well. I stressed myself out racing against a clock I could never stop.

Then an amazing thing happened. I let go. I can’t say when it happened or why, and it doesn’t matter. Suddenly I was grateful more often than anxious. I was tuned in more often than tuned out. I stopped letting others tell me what was best for me. I stopped taking myself and everything around me so goddamned seriously. I chose to let go of control more often. And I stopped looking outside myself for acceptance. I decided that trying to be “better” was more harmful than helpful to me. I accepted that my existence has power, worth, and value even if I never do anything other than breathe. It sounds Stuart Smalley of me, I know. But I decided I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And, doggone it, people like me.

I am positive my friends who have escaped the clutches of the midlife monster are nodding their heads knowingly at me now. You were right, Leanna. Things did get better. I’ve let go of the situations, misconceptions, and lies that tortured me for years when I felt time was running out and I needed to be more (whatever that means). I’ve learned to not give a flying fig about most things because most things are background noise we choose hear over the symphony we could be enjoying if we let ourselves.

I don’t mean to belittle people who are addicted to bettering themselves. We’re all on our own journeys, and there is no right or wrong way to travel our individual path. And there’s something to be said for making the most of the time you are given, for being restless and ambitious, for wanting to age with grace and in good health. I have zero intention of going gentle into that goodnight myself. The Grim Reaper had best be prepared for a wrestling match when he comes for me. The difference for me at 47 than me at 40, though, is that he’ll be coming for a woman who doesn’t want to leave because she’s too happy to step out and not a woman who feels she can’t leave because she’s not finished becoming something she never realized she always was…good enough.

The Pelican Brief – A Fishy Tale

This is the kind of goldfish problem I could solve.

This is the kind of goldfish problem I could solve.

And from the Sometimes Things Just Work Out file….

A couple of years ago, someone released a few goldfish into a small lake near Boulder, Colorado. Over time, those few fish turned into a population of approximately four thousand goldfish. These goldfish, harmless though they may seem, could as a non-native species potentially damage the local ecosystem for the native fish and birds, so the people at Colorado Parks and Wildlife began working on fixes to the growing quandary. They had narrowed the possible solutions down to either shocking the fish with electric currents and then feeding them to birds of prey at a local raptor rehabilitation facility or draining the entire lake. As of last Friday, the story, which had been picked up and shared by news agencies around the globe, was still being reported on while officials determined the best way to proceed. Today, however, when folks from the Colorado Parks and Wildlife division showed up with trap nets to get a sample of the fish population in the lake, they found 26 green sunfish, two largemouth bass, 10 painted turtles, 18 tiger salamanders, and only four goldfish.

While they were trying to figure out where the goldfish had gone, wildlife biologists observed some American white pelicans feeding on the lake. The pelicans, which migrate to the area for the summer, presumably spied a lake full of bright orange fish calling to them like a neon sign for an all-night cafe on a deserted highway. After the long, migratory trip up north, I imagine they couldn’t believe their luck to find an all-you-can-eat buffet stocked and spread out for them upon their arrival. Ka-ching. 

Without fuss or taxpayer expense, the fishy problem was solved. And now the folks at Colorado Parks and Wildlife can take eradicating the goldfish at Teller Lake Number 5 off their list of things to do. The pelicans, simply doing what pelicans do, unexpectedly made their jobs a little easier. You have to love it when you have a problem and, while you’re racking your brain trying to figure out exactly how to solve that problem, the universe intervenes and takes care of it for you. That, my friends, is kismet.

Still, I can’t help but think how much trouble we humans create for ourselves. Sometimes we carelessly act without thinking how our choice might play out further on down the road. And when we’re not mucking things up for ourselves that way, we’re tangled in the act of solving the problems we unintentionally caused in the first place. I swear sometimes that we’re really not that far off the ape brains we started with.

I am a firm believer that everything we need as a species, everything we have ever needed, is here for us on this planet and we need only look for it. Sometimes, just sometimes, we get a little nudge to remind us of this fact. Today, it was pelicans from heaven.

Hey Kanye…Get Off My Beck

Kanye needs to go stand in a corner.

Kanye needs to go stand in a corner.

“Popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige.” ~Birdman

I didn’t watch the Grammy Awards. I never do. But I was nosing around in the news yesterday and saw that Beck won for Best Album, which apparently felt like an upset win to some people. I like surprise wins because they mean someone unsuspecting earned something they deserved at a time when no one believed. It’s a small correction in the balance of the universe. It’s a beautiful thing to pull the rug out from under those who expect without humility or gratitude.

Full disclosure: I like Beck. I have for decades. I think he’s incredibly talented and intriguing. His music shows a range of creativity and depth at a time when our external lives are becoming increasingly superficial. There are those who have criticized him on his latest album for shifting from edgier, quirky pop anthems to slower, quieter, more introspective ballads. They say this album isn’t “Beck” (as if they know him better than he knows himself) and that he’s lost himself or sold out. Those critics haven’t experienced enough of life to embrace the process of personal growth. I believe Beck is Beck but in a different place and time. We all deserve the opportunity to explore who we are in our entirety and not merely to live the roles others ascribe to us.

At the Grammy Awards when Beck took the stage to accept his award, the annoyingly ubiquitous Kanye West had another one of his now infamous, tantruming-toddler moments. He approached the stage in a huff, seemingly prepared to pull another scene like he had with Taylor Swift after her 2009 VMA win, but he pulled back at the last moment and sat down with a smile, a clown simply wanting to draw attention. After the show, however, Kanye let loose, embarking on the epic, diarrhea-of-the-mouth tirade we knew he wanted to play out at the awards ceremony, chiding the awards committee for “disrespecting art” and saying that “Beck needs to respect artistry and he should have given his award to Beyoncé.” I worry about Kanye. He’s a child living in a world of grown ups. I’m not sure he has people around to tell him not to run with scissors. But, wait….perhaps running with scissors while sporting an enormous head and an over-inflated sense of self-importance might be a positive thing for Kanye and every other person on earth? There’s more than one way to burst someone’s bubble.

I had already purchased a couple of songs off Beck’s winning Morning Phase album last year, but after hearing Kanye’s inarticulate and attention-seeking rant I went ahead and purchased the rest of the album. Seemed like it was the least I could do to support the humble, affable Beck after his “shocking” win. I haven’t listened to Beyoncé’s nominated album because, well, I am not a Beyoncé-type-music fan. But I have listened to Beck’s album quite a few times since my hasty download yesterday morning. Morning Phase is a solid, hauntingly beautiful, cohesive work, an album that the Grammy voters were right to recognize whether or not Kanye West agrees. And Beck, recipient of five Grammy Awards from his sixteen Grammy nominations spanning his twenty-year career, is not some obscure, talentless hack who is barely worth the notice. You would hope that Kanye and Beyoncé, with 21 and 20 Grammys respectively, could graciously acknowledge that sometimes other artists should get to take home a gramophone trophy. It just makes the whole awards ceremony idea a little more sporting, don’t you think?

I may not be his biggest fan, but I understand that Kanye West is an important artist. Certainly the Grammy committee believe this as well by nominating him 53 times. No one but no one, though, believes in Kanye’s importance more than Kanye. And, dear sweet Lord baby Jesus, Kanye thinks he’s so important that he’s begun talking about himself in the third person. His bombastic arrogance makes me tired.

I can’t say if Beck’s album is less deserving of a Grammy than Beyoncé’s but I do know this. Kanye West is the kind of self-aggrandizing artist that gives all creative types a bad name. So, yeah. I’m glad Beck won and accepted his award with class and decency while Kanye looked down his nose at him. I’m glad Beck won because it’s refreshing to see an alternative music artist get a little spotlight time in such a public forum. Most of all, I’m glad he won because the world needs a whole lot less Kanye and a whole lot more Beck. Sunday night, Beyoncé may have lost out to the original Loser, but Kanye was the big perdedor.

Relax…Nothing Is In Control

A typical Colorado ski morning sunrise

A typical Colorado ski morning sunrise

“Life isn’t as serious as the mind makes it out to be.” ~Eckhart Tolle

I got to take the boys to their ski lessons today. For me this meant a 5:30 a.m. wake up call, followed by a quick trip to Starbucks for a latte to help wash down my Lara Bar breakfast on the ski-traffic-heavy drive to Winter Park. As the sun was coming up, I sipped my daily dose of caffeine and listened to my sons discussing Pokemon…again. I looked up occasionally from the road to witness the sun tinting the snowy peaks the palest shade of baby-pig pink. Colorado is awesome. And, as much as I gripe when the alarm goes off at 5:30 on a weekend morning meant for sleeping in, and as mind-numbing as hours crawling along in round-trip ski traffic can be, I’ve accepted that ski lesson Saturdays are a miracle. They just are. They fill me with inexplicable gratitude.

I skied a few runs with the boys and their ski instructors this morning before taking off to do a few runs on my own. As I was waiting in the singles line for a quad lift at the base of the resort, I made a mental note that it wasn’t going anywhere fast. I looked to the loading area and determined that they had stopped the lift. If you ski, you know lifts get stopped all the time to help load or unload passengers who need extra time. Not a big deal. I looked away to take in the ski racers cruising down the run to the right of me. When I looked back, I noticed that the lines were getting longer and the lift was still not moving. Clearly, this might be something bigger than a stop for a person who had difficulty getting off the lift up top. I was confident it would start again soon, though, so I stayed in line.

While I was waiting, the guy behind me in line got a phone call. I got to enjoy every word of his not-so-private, personal conversation. It went something like this.

“Hey. Yeah, babe. I don’t think I’m going to make it up there in time for the next competition. I know! Well, don’t be mad at me. I want to be up there. The lift is STOPPED. I can’t go anywhere. No. Seriously. It’s stopped. They just brought over a maintenance dude so I don’t think they’re going to get it moving anytime soon. (He began to get more agitated.) What do you want me to do? I can’t fix the lift. I can’t believe I’m going to miss the competition. I’m so pissed. Yeah. This is bullshit. I can’t believe this is happening. I can’t miss another competition! (Here he got really sarcastic and caustic.) Hey. I get it. You’re mad. I’ll get there when I get there. No. Seriously. What am I supposed to do? Yeah. Whatever.”

At this point, he disconnected the call, muttered under his breath a five-letter word for the woman he’d just spoken to, and started complaining to another person in line about the lift situation. He was animated, irate, and nearly ready to start a bar-level brawl with anyone who might be in charge of the lift. The lift was still not operational, and I could hear him huffing and puffing in disgust behind me. He could have been a toddler.

While he was doing this, I looked around. There we were. Healthy, fit, and privileged enough to be able to afford the not-entirely-inexpensive sport of snow skiing. It was a gorgeous, sunny, 40-degree day standing there in the unmoving line at the Zephyr lift at 9,000 feet. Everywhere I looked, there were people who were taking a day with family or friends to enjoy a fun activity in the beauty and majesty of the wintry Colorado Rockies on a nearly cloudless morning. It was a perfect day, even if the yahoo behind me couldn’t see it through the cloud of his righteous fury and the fog he had generated with his Big Bad Wolf heavy breathing.

Realizing that it was silly to wait when there was another lift 50 yards away, I backed out of line and skied toward the Arrow lift, kind of happy to be leaving Mr. Grumpypants behind. The Zephyr lift did get started again, shortly before I boarded my nearby chair. On my ride up, I thought a lot about the guy behind me in that other line. It seemed like such a waste to get bent over something utterly out of his control. He was so wrapped up in his world, in his disappointment, in his annoyance, that he couldn’t even take a deep breath and enjoy the situation for what it was…a nice muscle break in between ski runs. End of story. The competition went on without him. And I’m pretty sure everyone’s world continued to spin without him there. Even his.

I recently saw this quote I’ve been repeating as a mantra lately. Relax…nothing is in control. Seems to me one of our biggest flaws as human beings (and yes, I’m sure there is some perfectly rational psychological mumbo-jumbo to explain why it’s imperative to our survival) is our inability to accept that the vast majority of what happens in our lives is beyond our control. You can choose the perfect outfit to wear to the meeting, but not be able to help spilling coffee on it when the light rail lurches to an unexpected stop. You can choose your college major, but not the fact that ten years after you graduate with said degree it may be obsolete. You can choose your lovely suburban home, but not the criminal who decides its contents would look better as cash in his wallet. Relax…nothing is in control is the same as the old, tried-and-true shit happens. It does. And no amount of indignation, profanity, or foot-stomping is going to change that.

Take a look around you. How much of your time do you waste railing against things beyond your control? Where has that gotten you? Take a deep breath and take comfort in the fact that nothing is in control. When the unexpected happens, look for the gift there. You can usually find one. And if you can’t now, hopefully you will be able to someday.

And Just Like That All Was Right In The Universe

Squeeeeeeee!

Squeeeeeeee!

Sometimes you just know things are meant to be.

A little over a month ago, I told my husband that if The Decemberists (an Indie folk rock band I’m partial to) scheduled a concert in Denver this spring or summer, I would be there. I’ve already seen them in concert. A few years ago I stood in a cramped theater surrounded by hipsters with long beards, swept up in a sea of flannel, and swore to my friend I would see them live in concert again. And then I told hubby that the scheduling of said concert could possibly preclude all sorts of previous engagements, including but not limited to graduations, anniversaries, vacations, and surgeries. I kept checking their site for a concert announcement while waiting for their latest album to drop. And drop it did. Today. Nothing makes a lousy Tuesday masquerading as a Monday better than the long-anticipated release of new music.

This afternoon, I got a concert alert stating that yes, in fact, The Decemberists will be bringing their North American tour to Denver this spring. I’m not going to lie. I did squee a bit when I saw the message title. When I opened the actual message and examined it a little more closely, however, I honestly released a sound that was somewhere between a girly squeal and a coyote yip. I didn’t even know I could make a noise like that. Not only are The Decemberists coming to town, but they are coming to my favorite venue, the iconic Red Rocks Amphitheater. On my birthday. And Spoon is opening up for them; tickets for their last show here sold out before I got one and now they are coming back as if to make it up to me. Are you kidding? Did I mention this is all going to happen on my birthday? On. My. Birthday.

I know I am an infinitesimal speck of dust in an unfathomable universe. I know that by comparison this one event is meaningless and smaller than the smallest particle comprising a grain of sand when you compare it to something like this photo of the Andromeda Galaxy. But, when things like this happen…when everything seems divined by some higher, magnificent power…I take note. I stop for a minute, take a deep breath, and wallow in perfection because I know that this the-world-is-amazing-and-I-am-so-fortunate-to-be-alive feeling of utter joy will pass soon enough, probably when I have to deal with Joe’s science fair experiment again. Luckily, that too has only the importance of the tiniest particle on a microscopic particle comprising a grain of sand, so it’s all good. The universe is awesome.

Circumstance Is A Weak Choice

Scenic view or septic tank? Your choice.

Scenic view or septic tank? Your choice.

“I am who I am today because of the choices I made yesterday.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt

Here is my blanket statement of the day. There are two kinds of people in this world…people who embrace choice and people who don’t. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this differentiation. I know many people who live their lives through the filter of circumstance. Things happen to them. They are firmly locked into the victim mindset, unable to let go of what is now in the past. Life has been unfair to them, and life has made them unhappy. But life is unfair to everyone in one way or another, and this is where choice comes in. When something unwelcome happens to you, you unexpectedly lose your job or your child or your home, for example, that is circumstance. How you deal with circumstance is choice, and that choice is the difference between lifelong happiness or lifelong disappointment.

I’ve cycled through both the victim and the champion role in my life, gratefully remaining more on the champion side as a rule. Sometimes I would sit in suck-i-tude for a while before putting on my big girl panties and making changes. And it’s true that sometimes you need to let yourself be where you are in your disappointment, sadness, and regret. It’s part of the human condition. But I’ve realized that remaining stuck there is a waste of time. Life is too short to hang out too long where grief and sadness reside. I am in charge of writing my story. The people I have most admired have taken what life has handed them and worked it in their favor. It might not have happened overnight, but it happened. It’s a process.

Now that I am better at not relegating my life to well-gee-it-is-what-it-is, I find myself struggling with the appropriate way to act when others are marooned in the quagmire of circumstance. Some people only feel better when they are getting attention and sympathy from others, and the best way for them to do that is to remain lodged and helpless in their unfortunate circumstances. When you are involved with people who rely on you to make their life better, interactions with them are exhausting. How do you show empathy while maintaining self-preservation? It’s a tough line to walk. I’m working on being compassionate while remaining cautiously distant so I don’t get sucked into their vortex of pity-poor-me. That attitude is like the flu and, if your choice mindset is underdeveloped or suffering a setback, you can catch that victim bug more than once. And I have.

I don’t want to feel trapped by anyone’s circumstances, including my own. I want to be creative and find ways to negotiate obstacles as they arise by determining what choices I have in the situation. I know I don’t have to own or be responsible for any choices others make to remain trapped in their situations. Intellectually, I understand that, but I invariably wrestle to free myself of others’ negativity and focus on my own reactions instead. I’m striving to be braver and to recognize the bad for what it is…a chance to grow and adapt. I’m getting there. And, someday I will successfully be able to navigate the landmines that life’s victims leave for me. For now, all I can do is worry about myself and tread lightly in the direction of positivity.