Excuses, Excuses

What was that you said I couldn’t do?

 

“If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.”       ~Jim Rohn

My friend Lisa posted this quote on her Facebook wall the other day. I’ve seen it before but never given it much thought, probably because I’ve never thought of myself as an excuse gal. I like to believe that, as a rule, I make things that I want come to fruition. I am determined by nature. Tell me I can’t do something. I’d love to prove you wrong.

In high school, our marching band was going to a competition in Florida over Spring Break. I wanted to go to Florida. I didn’t play a musical instrument, though. Problem, right? Wrong. The band needed a cymbal player. I could play cymbals. I mean, how hard could it be? Well, I don’t read music of any sort, including percussion music. Problem, right? Wrong. I simply got a recording of the songs we were going to play and memorized where the cymbal crashes occurred. I can walk and chew gum at the same time, so marching in formation while banging some cymbals together would be no problem for me. I was golden. So, I went to Florida with the band. I marched. I splashed in the Gulf of Mexico. I got a ridiculously painful sunburn. I went on a Journey Into Imagination at Epcot Center. It was awesome, and well worth the very early morning band practices on a cold, frost-covered field in Castle Rock.

Thinking back to the quote, though, if I’m honest with myself I must admit there have been a few times when I made excuses about things I should have attempted to achieve. I choose not to acknowledge those times, however, because I don’t consider them to be traditional excuses. I know this sounds like semantics, but it’s not. Here’s why. Sometimes an unconscious lack of confidence in my abilities convinces me that I cannot reach a particular goal. Because I inherently know I can achieve anything I want, my brain simply chooses not to want things I’m convinced I could never achieve. It lets me off the hook. I don’t have to find a way to do something if I convince myself I never wanted to do it in the first place. It’s an incredibly brilliant rationalization, but a rationalization all the same.

The reason I bring this up is because of my recent decision to brave my fears and attempt to write something other than a blog. If I’m being honest with myself, I’ve always wanted to be published…and not just by myself on a page I slapped up onto the Internet or via a bound copy of my master’s thesis housed in the library at Illinois State University. I’ve always wanted it. I’ve just never believed I was capable of it.

When I started this blog back in January and committed to writing every single day without fail, I thought I was doing it to get back into writing, something I’d given up when my oldest son was born almost 11 years ago. What I didn’t imagine, however, was that by practicing writing I would find some measure of confidence in myself. By writing every day, I was able to overcome my self-imposed road block. I realize now that the only current difference between me and published authors is that they tried and I did not. I may not write the next classic American novel. I may not become the next J.K. Rowling or Suzanne Collins. But, I will never know for sure what I might be if I refuse to allow myself the opportunity to find a way to do the thing I have forever longed to do. I look at it differently now. That is all that has changed. If I try, I might fail. But, if I don’t try, I will have sold myself short. That, I now believe, is a far worse fate than failure.

Stranger Things

The reason I now have an excuse to stay home and write.

“It’s not who you are that holds you back but who you think you are not. Judging yourself is not the same as being honest with yourself. You are capable of great things.”

A friend posted this quote on her page today. I can’t stop thinking about it. Oh, how guilty I am of this transgression against myself. I all too often judge myself harshly in the name of being honest with myself. I am a person who learned early on that it’s better to prepare for the worst so you’re not disappointed than to hope for the best and fall flat. It’s such a sick, self-defeating attitude, one I’m sure that has kept me from stretching outside my comfort zone and achieving more for myself on occasion.

I had a conversation with a friend recently that bothered me. We’ve known each other a long time and, as with most long-term friendships, we’ve both changed over the years. I realized as we were talking that my friend was somewhat disappointed in me because I have made choices that have kept me from becoming what I had sworn when I was younger I would become. In his mind, I’ve settled and am not living up to my full potential. (Sorry. I sounded like an episode of Lego Ninjago, there.) I first felt insulted, then angry at him for judging me, and then sad because there is a definite part of me that knows on some level he is right.

I have spent many years selling myself short. When people would ask me what I do I would tell them I’m a stay-at-home mom. I would say it apologetically, convinced that my position made me unworthy of interest. When they then reacted according to my own boredom with my situation, I’d become indignant and hurt that they were not interested in me. But, honestly, how could they be interested in my life when even I wasn’t? I was judging myself for my own perceived failure to achieve a successful career, and then I was projecting my frustration onto them. They were simply following my lead. Staying at home with my sons was a choice, a choice I would make again because I like knowing that I am their go-to person. I don’t think I could have handed them over to anyone else. I don’t think it’s in my nature. I am where I am because I chose this path. So, why do I expend so much energy feeling bad about what I am not and what I have not achieved in terms of a career?

Instead of feeling bad about not having a paying career right now, I need to look at things differently. I have the freedom to stay home and work on the book I always hoped I would write someday. “Someday” just became today. And, instead of depressing myself with the enormity of the task of writing and publishing a book, I’m going to put on my best Tony Robbins and imagine myself on a book tour, signing copies of my story. Why not? Stranger things have happened. Hell… my husband, who has had infinite faith in me from the very beginning, has already started discussing what we should do when the royalties start coming in. Now, that’s the kind of positivity I should get behind. 😉

 

I Get It Already

Oh, how I love my office.

I truly believe that when you need to learn something, the Universe will provide lesson after lesson to get you to where you need to be. The trick is being aware enough to read the signs. Lately, I’ve been somewhat obsessed with the idea of living in the present moment, mostly because I suck at it. I’m always in my brain, planning something, imagining something, dissecting something. I feel I’ve been challenged to get beyond these mental gymnastics. If I’m ever to grow in spirit, I need to get the heck out of my head. This, as my mother would say, is my “growing edge,” which is why it’s so challenging.

This weekend I was slated to travel to a conference to learn more about my options in the writing and publishing industry. I’ve long toyed with the idea of writing a book (likely non-fiction, but I keep an open mind about fiction too), but I’ve got no idea where to start. Before I devote a huge chunk of my time to writing a serious work, I thought I would learn more about the industry and make sure I know what my options are and what I am getting myself into. Well, guess what? Three days before the conference, the publishing company had to cancel the event due to unforeseen circumstances. It’s been rescheduled for this summer, which is fantastic, but I had a hotel room booked, a non-refundable, no changes, there’s-no-way-you’re-getting-your-money-back hotel room. Crap.

I immediately did what I always do when I get news like this. I had a little mental hissy fit. I mean, seriously? I was really looking forward to this. Travel by myself for the weekend. Have dinner with some friends I haven’t seen in a long time. Get out of my daily routine. Relax and recharge before summer starts and the kids are here 24/7. Crap. Disappointed here! Then, something miraculous happened. I stopped to breathe. I actually listened to my own advice and I stopped to breathe. After a couple minutes, I allowed myself to return to my head to weigh my options. There were only two. I could skip the trip. Sure I’d lose the money invested in the hotel room, but I could spend the weekend at home with my family and save up for the trip I’ll have to make later. Or, I could take the trip anyway, see my friends, and spend some quality time alone with my thoughts, my laptop, and my luxury SUV. Either way, I didn’t need to invest hours in the fabricated drama created by an unexpected decision. Instead of wasting time being disappointed and pouting about it, I could make a decision and move on with the present moment. So, I did. As an early Mother’s Day gift to myself, I’m going on my trip this weekend.

With that drama dispatched, I am able to sit here in the shade on our back patio, enjoy the chattering finches and the melodious meadowlarks, feel the warm, spring breeze on my skin, and just be here and now. I’m making progress. Little by little, I am getting better at refocusing myself when I get distracted from the current moment. Granted, I still have a long way to go, but my response time when I get sidetracked by minutiae is getting quicker. So, Universe, I get it already. I see what you’re trying to do here. Believe me…I appreciate it.

 

So We Beat On, Boats Against The Current

Ummm…yeah. No.

I’ve noticed lately that because we’ve had such warm, pleasant weather, spring fever has hit my boys early and relentlessly. They are already mentally finished with school, and they aren’t actually finished until May 25th. I’ve been pestering, wheedling, bribing, and cajoling to get them to focus on their studies.

Today, I made the boys sit down and get to their homework as soon as we walked in the door from school. Joe had 30 sentences to write for spelling. He did not want any help from me. Before I knew it, he was over at the counter stapling a couple loose-leaf pages together. I could tell from across the counter that his work was nearly illegible.

“Let me see your paper,” I requested.

“No, Mom. It’s done. I’m going to put it in my folder,” Joe replied.

“No, you’re not. Give it to me.” He looked at me, fear in his eyes. “NOW,” I bossed.

He acquiesced. The second the paper hit my hand I knew what I had to do. I was not happy about it.

“Seriously, Joe? Do you really think this is ready to hand in?”

It was a rhetorical question. His handwriting, usually difficult to read, was indecipherable. It might as well have been Sanskrit. While he had managed to capitalize the first word in every sentence, some sentences lacked final punctuation. Many words were incomplete. Most of the sentences did not have the spelling word underlined. Some of the spelling words were actually misspelled.

“No way,” I told him. “This has to be redone. This is not even close to acceptable work.”

“The WHOLE thing?” he gasped.

“Yes. You need to rewrite all thirty sentences. Neatly.”

“But, I’ll never get outside to play,” he cried.

“Yes, you will. It’s just going to take longer because you didn’t take your time the first time through. It’s a bummer, I know.”

Although I could tell he was livid (and sad too), he was careful to select new paper without any sign of tantrum, knowing that would bring down the Wrath of Mama Bear. No one wants to incur that. He sat focused for a while and his second paper was much neater, although still not perfect given his “sloppy Joe” penmanship.

Joe struggles with his schoolwork, not because he’s unintelligent but because his ADHD makes it difficult for him. The great weather and the approaching end of the school year are merely additional distractions he must face. I feel badly for him. It is much harder for him than it is for his classmates, even with the special concessions the school makes for him (like allowing him to print rather than use cursive for his written work). I truly loathe making him redo his work, but if I don’t make him do this now he will never learn. So, nearly every day he has homework we go through this same routine. He does it. I make him redo it. It’s like one long Groundhog Day. And this would frustrate the living daylights out of me if I hadn’t seen him catch on in other instances. It takes four times longer than it would for another child, but he eventually gets it. I know there’s hope.

I used to wonder whether the diagnosis of ADHD with Joe was unnecessary, whether we’d rushed to judgment. I’ve since realized that this is not a phony disorder with Joe. If you ask him, he can tell you that every sentence should start with a capital letter and end with a period. He knows it. He is simply unable to translate this knowledge because his brain thinks differently and he processes things unlike other people. Joe and I have a tacit understanding: I will keep harping on him until the basics become second nature, and he will keep giving me reasons to harp so that I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that he truly struggles because of ADHD and not because he’s lazy, stupid, or unmotivated. He doesn’t want to redo that paper any more than I want to make him redo it. We’re where we are because it’s where we are. Someday we will push beyond this, and there will be another obstacle. But, I have no doubt that we will overcome it. That is what we do, Joe and I.

Careful What You Wish For

The four of us together on a sunset hike

Steve and I like to hike. It’s been something we’ve done together since the very beginning of our relationship. When our boys were small, we took them along in Baby Bjorn carriers and then eventually the toddler carrier backpacks. It was brutal, but we refused to give up on hiking. When they were between 2 and 5, I would take the double jogger stroller to Roxborough or Waterton Canyon and push them through the hike so I didn’t have to carry them. Eventually, we accepted that they needed to be walking the entire time, so we slowed our pace, knowing that if we wanted them to become good hikers we would actually have to let them hike. Gradually their skills improved, and the distances they were able to travel increased.

Last year was a watershed year. They were finally able to do 7 mile hikes without getting too tired. We were thrilled. On our hike up Carpenter Peak, we’d have to play crazy games to keep them motivated (the boys yelling, “Stop…you separatist dogs” the entire time) but they were doing it. Although we were happy with the distances they could go, we weren’t pleased with the bribery that would have to take place to keep them moving occasionally. One day I promised them Sonic for lunch if we could get through a three-mile hike with a moderate climb in just an hour. We made it in an hour and two minutes; I had a cheeseburger and a strawberry slush that day for lunch.

Today, we hiked about 8 miles through Arches National Park with them. We never once had to beg them to keep going. In fact, we couldn’t get close enough to them to talk to them. We had to keep yelling ahead telling them not to run out of our field of view. You know what that means? It means THAT day has come…the dreaded day when you realize the torch has been passed and you can no longer keep up with your kids. This notion is especially depressing when you stop to consider the fact that you’re in the best shape you’ve been in for years. How can we be so good and yet not good enough? I’ll tell you how. We’re old. It’s official.

I guess my point is be careful what you wish for. We were so excited to have kids who could keep up with us. Last year they did. This year they’ve surpassed us. If there’s a silver lining in all of this, however, it’s that in a couple years they’ll hit that sullen, resentful, grumpy teenage phase where they come along and begrudgingly shuffle their feet and complain the entire way. I’m thinking when they get to that phase, we just might be able to out-hike them again. That’s something, right?

Is One Of Us A Mule In This Scenario?

It takes crazy determination to finish a 50-mile walk.

The other day, someone told me that I am stubborn. I disagree with that assessment. In my twisted brain, the term “stubborn” means “unyielding,” and I am not that. I’m willing to adapt and compromise where a stubborn person might not. What I am is determined. I’m resolute in what I want, and I will work diligently towards a goal. Sometimes I work so unwaveringly that I acquire tunnel vision and am unable to notice what’s going on around me that might require me to adjust my plans. It’s not that I’m unwilling to change them. I simply am unaware that I should.

Two and a half weeks ago, I got a cold. No big deal. I have kids. I’m used to it. I got over it and life marched on. Then, about a week ago I thought I might be getting a sinus infection. Sometimes you can get over a sinus infection without using antibiotics, though, so that is what I determined to do. I was going to beat this thing without seeing the doctor. No antibiotics for me. End of story.

One, two, three days went by and I tried to ignore the congestion, headaches, tooth pain, earaches, and dizziness. I rationalized it all away, telling myself that the symptoms were improving. I was willing myself to be well, and it was going to work. No questions. On days four and five, on little sleep and with a fair amount of misery, a small doubt hovered in the corner of my brain. But, determined gal I am, I kept right on doing the same old thing I had been doing. No relief. It was on day six that the dreaded thought occurred to me: maybe I should see a doctor? I’d taken a meth lab full of Sudafed, and my head still hurt. Today, on day seven, knowing I would be leaving the state tomorrow for our family trip and not wanting to spend another three days in relative discomfort, I caved and went to the doctor. Guess what? Sinus infection diagnosis and fourteen days’ worth of wretched antibiotics in my future. So much for beating this thing myself.

There is a time for stalwart determination, for unfailing attention to a predetermined goal. I would guess that I went about four days beyond reasonable determination with this sinus infection situation. So, does that make me stubborn? Some might say so. I prefer to think I got so wrapped up in my goal of healing myself that I refused to notice the signs that were telling me to let go. This is not the first time that I’ve done something like this. Sometimes it takes me far too long to adjust my field of vision to see the whole picture. I like to think we all do this on occasion, trek along behind that dangling carrot without another thought. The trick, though, is to look past the end of your nose once in a while and see beyond the carrot so you can adjust your trajectory and avoid making an ass out of yourself.

Every Little Thing Is Gonna Be All Right

Stress is for the unimaginative.

“Stress is an ignorant state. It believes everything is an emergency. Nothing is that important.”  ~ Natalie Goldberg

I know I’m a day late for 4/20, but I am having a Marley moment this morning. Tonight I’m hosting my sister’s bridal shower at my in-law’s downtown loft for 21 ladies. I’m a bit nervous. I’ve been planning this event for four months. My sister and I decided that a non-traditional shower would be best so I suggested a wine tasting downtown, which I thought would be fun, informal, and unique. I made the invitations by hand, crafted wine charms for each guest, researched and purchased 21 bottles of wine (heaven forbid you run out, right?), and determined proper cheeses and snacks to pair with each wine. I spent a lot of time researching, planning logistics, and micromanaging every single detail. Still, things go wrong. They always do. This thought is what is vexing me this morning. I’m certain I have forgotten something and I won’t know what it is until it’s too late to do anything about it. This is not glass is half empty thinking. This is “Please, God, don’t let anyone spill their wine glass contents onto my in-law’s sofa” thinking. (Note to self: research getting wine out of upholstery.)

I’m trying to remind myself that no matter what happens tonight it will all be just fine tomorrow. I’m blasting a little Bob Marley to lighten my mood because as much as a little 4/20 action the day after 4/20 would likely remove my stress about tonight’s party, I’m home with my two boys today and that’s not the example I should be setting. Besides, as my hubby repeatedly reminds me, those type of activities are currently illegal. (Don’t get me started on how I feel about that topic.) In the absence of mind-altering herbs, I’ve turned to reggae for a mental adjustment. Reggae is sit-around-and-drink-beer-on-a-sunny-summer-patio music. It’s live-well-and-rebel music. It’s mell0w-out-you-crazy-white-woman music.

I need to embrace that mindset right now, take a few deep, hearty breaths, and calm down. Any unplanned mishap tonight is simply an opportunity for creativity, not stress. It’s an occasion to showcase my problem solving and coping skills. People will follow my lead as the hostess. If I’m relaxed and ready to roll with it, they will be too. Tonight I’m going to keep Bob in my head singing “Don’t worry about a thing ’cause every little thing is gonna be all right” because you know what? It will be.

 

Faith, Hope, and Frogs

Swimmy (left) and Splashy (right)

Last night I was holed up in bed, trying desperately to keep my brain focused on writing while my body was using every spare ounce of energy to fight a head cold, when I heard Joe call from their bedroom. It was time for me to say their prayers, a ritual that I’ve carried out nearly every night since they were toddlers. I was exhausted and felt miserable, but I hauled myself down the hall to fulfill my nightly duty.

As I was approaching the room, I heard Joe make a comment about one of Luke’s frogs. My boys have each had two aquatic, African dwarf frogs for about 23 months. I love these frogs as much as any mother can love a frog. I especially love Luke’s frogs because, swear to God, they know me and perk up and look at me when I talk to them. That might sound crazy, but it’s true. Luke’s frogs, Splashy and Swimmy, are full of personality and joie de vivre like the boy that owns them.

“That one has been on the top of the water for a while,” Joe noted. “I’ve been watching him. I think he’s gonna die.”

Characteristically, the frogs prefer to hang out on the bottom of the tank and swim up simply to get a breath or feed. It is unusual to see one floating on top, so I could understand Joe’s concern.

“Oh, Joe. He’s not going to die. Don’t be so melodramatic. Sometimes they just like to hang out on top of the water,” I said, trying to alleviate the fears that were evident on Luke’s face after Joe’s dire pronouncement.

When I looked into at Splashy, though, I could tell there really was something wrong with him. From the top of the aquarium, I could see that his rump was red. I couldn’t tell if it was blood, but I sensed it was not good. I’m no herpetologist, but it looked like he might have an inflammation of his cloaca (yes…I had to look that word up). In other words, he might have had a little something stuck up his froggy butt. I figured that was not something I could help him with and since he wasn’t eating, I got a bit worried right along with Joe.

So, when I was done with the boys’ prayers, we paused to say an extra little prayer for Splashy. We asked God to watch over him, help him heal, and to keep him from suffering too long if this was indeed his time to go. I’ll be honest. I say the boys’ prayers each night because it makes them feel better. For me, it’s more of a habit than something I wholeheartedly believe in. I’m undecided on the power of prayer because I’m not sure that there’s a thing I could say to change events in the universe. I’ve never believed I was that powerful. But, I said that prayer for Splashy because he’s the sweetest little frog ever, and I truly hate to see creatures suffer.

By this morning when I went to check on him (at 5 a.m. because I was worried about Luke waking up to a dead, bloated frog), he was back on the bottom of the aquarium. When I went into the boys’ room at 7, he swimming around and his hind end looked considerably less red. It gave me hope. Maybe God is looking out for him. Maybe our prayers for that little frog helped a bit. I don’t know, but I kind of understand why people pray. It’s not necessarily because prayer will fix everything but because it offers hope that perhaps there’s a chance. In the face of the unknowable, hope is all we have.

 

 

Time Flies When They’re Growing Up

The four boys in 2008

Ever since our sons were small, my friend Celeste and I have been hauling them up Waterton Canyon. Since it has recently reopened and the weather has been so warm, we decided to take them up there again yesterday. It’s amazing the difference from the days when we used to have to push them in double jogger strollers hauling sippy cups, diapers, and changes of clothes. Our boys are roughly 1 month apart in age; Joe is a bit older than Celeste’s Sean and Ryan is a bit older than my Luke. Yesterday Celeste and I joked as we walked about how much more difficult the hike used to be when we each had two boys in a stroller, poking and badgering each other. We would simply pray that we’d be able to get through four miles before any meltdowns occurred and then we would dream that they would fall asleep in the car on the way home.

The boys in the canyon in 2012

Yesterday was an entirely different story. For the first time, there was relatively little complaining, and the boys walked the entire way. We walked up the first two miles, saw some mountain sheep along the way, and then stopped at our usual spot to have lunch and throw rocks into the river. Then we walked down without incident. The whole event was easy and pleasant…and shocking.

Time has flown. I look back at the photos of our boys together at Halloween parties and on these hikes and realize we’re watching them grow up. It’s sad and exciting at the same time. I hope Celeste and I are able to continue to drag our boys up Waterton on this hike as they get older, even if they’re whining and trying to text their friends (good luck with that in the canyon). Someday I want Celeste and I to look back on the photos of our boys standing in the river together. We will miss these times, but we will be glad we started a tradition we could trace together and share forever.

Role Reversal

Adults...not grown ups

“Too many people grow up. That’s the real trouble with the world.” ~Walt Disney

According to the law, I’ve been an adult for nearly 26 years. Why does that not seem possible? It should. I’ve gotten my degrees, we own a home, we have had 16 wedding anniversaries, and our oldest son will be 11 soon. Yet, somehow, my brain lives on an alternate plane where no matter how old I get, no matter the responsibilities I manage, no matter what my reality is I’m still not grown up. There are times when I’m standing at a rental car counter and I’m flabbergasted that they are going to give me a car. I almost look around to see if I’m going to get away with it. Or sometimes I’ll be in the middle of a parent/teacher conference and it will almost be an out-of-body experience. I’ll wonder what I’m doing there. It’s like the plaque I have in my kitchen: “Who are these kids and why are they calling me Mom?” When the hell did I get so old?

Although time keeps marching on despite my attempts to turn the clock back, I suppose there are benefits to getting older. When we were in college, we could buy alcohol but we couldn’t afford anything decent to drink. We might not have had to pay all our own bills, but at the end of the school we had to go home and live under someone else’s roof with someone else’s rules. We cared too much about what our friends thought of us and not enough about what we thought of ourselves. We looked good in our own skin, but didn’t feel comfortable in it.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been able to relax a bit. I no longer care all that much if people don’t like me or if they think I’m silly or childish. I no longer buy into the idea that an adult should act with decorum 100% of the time. What I find amusing, though, is that just as I am beginning to let go and to live a little, my children are buying into the idea of growing up and acting accordingly.

Last night, we had an intimate wine tasting dinner at our house with a few friends. I have to admit that I felt fairly adult picking out the wines and planning the meal. We cooked gourmet pizzas and had port and chocolates for dessert. Somewhere between the first and fifth bottle of wine that the six of us shared, though, we got a little loud and started having way more fun than our kids thought we should. Truth is, we sort of forgot that our 8 and 10 year old sons were upstairs quietly watching movies. Well into dessert and conversation I heard the tell-tale ping of a text message on my phone. It was from Joe who was upstairs texting me from his iPad.

“Mom…your friends should leave soon. It is 11:00.”

Crap. It’s 11 o’clock? Where had the evening gone? Ping. Another text.

“Very late, Mom.”

Oh okay, okay. Fine. I texted him back.

“We’ll be upstairs in a minute. Brush your teeth and get into bed.”

“We already are. We are very tired. You need to tell your friends to go home.”

I stalled a while, but eventually went up to check on them. Luke was already asleep. Joe was the lone holdout. He looked exhausted and annoyed. He told me that he wanted our friends to be gone no later than midnight.

Geez. Mr. Bossypants. Way to ruin the fun. By the time Andrew and Heather left it was around 12:30 and both boys were, thankfully, asleep. We’d managed to spend five hours in our own house entertaining friends without non-stop requests or care giving. It felt borderline miraculous.

This morning Joe gave us a hard time about our behavior last night. He said we were way too loud and laughing non-stop. He questioned the number of bottles we had gone through. He told us they could barely hear their movie and that we kept them awake. I had to wonder when our roles had been reversed. We spend our entire youth trying to figure out how to be responsible adults and then we spend our adulthood trying to regain our lost sense of youth. Funny the way it is.