Go Ahead — Ask For Some Help Already

This post is for all of you helpers. You know who you are. You are the ones who take on more responsibility than you need to, who feel overworked and under-appreciated because you don’t know how to share the load, who don’t know how or when to ask for help or even that asking for assistance is not only important but healthy.

I am your people. I grew up believing I could only count on myself. I had no problem helping out others. I learned that if I wanted something done the “right” way, I had to do it myself. It never occurred to me that perhaps someone else might have a better way of doing something or that I might learn something useful from their efforts. I didn’t know how to ask for what I needed, so I told myself I didn’t need anything from anyone else. If someone disappointed me, which happened on occasion precisely because I didn’t know how to ask for what I wanted, I labeled them as untrustworthy and went my own way. It was a vicious cycle. Each time I tried to trust someone and was disappointed, it was further proof I could only count on myself. And so I went through most of my life taking on more and more, trusting less and less. Since no person is an island, I created for myself an untenable situation. I became stressed out. I continually felt put upon. The truth is, eventually, we all can use some help. Wise people understand burden sharing provides insight, camaraderie, and a sense of belonging. Taking on everything solo fosters isolation, frustration, and bitterness.

Every night as I’m finishing with dinner prep and we are about to serve, my husband asks if he can plate some food for me. Most nights I still say no. Most nights I tell him I can get my own. I grew up feeling self-sufficiency was proof of competency. Other people ask for help. I don’t need help. That was the lie I told myself. The more I took on, the more others relied on me for that service and the more exhausted I became. My life only began to improve when I started letting others share the burden.

I’m still learning it is okay to let others do for me. They might not do it exactly the way I would have done it, but that can be good. Sometimes when I let someone else do something their way, it’s a growth experience. Other people can be a great source of fresh ideas if you let them bring their gifts to the table. I’ve learned a lot through watching others do things their way. Sometimes I adopt their method because it makes that much more sense.

So, my challenge to all my control freak comrades is this: find a few moments this week when you are feeling overwhelmed and ask for help. You can start small. Ask for help bringing in groceries or walking the dog. If you’re meeting a friend for lunch, suggest a place closer to you for once rather than driving across town to meet them like you have always done. People who are willing to seek help and rely on others occasionally create for themselves a sense of belonging. I think we could all use a little more of that feeling these days.

I promise you this. Once you start asking for assistance, once you start allowing others to be there for you the way you’ve been there for them, you won’t go back to your old ways. It’s liberating to let go of unnecessary responsibility. And, believe me. When someone is insisting on contributing, it’s because they want to. Understand that accepting their offer doesn’t mean you’re incompetent; it means they feel they have something positive and useful to offer. Maybe it’s not about you at all. Maybe it’s about them and their desire to be involved.

There’s nothing wrong with asking for what will make your life a measure easier. Sharing life’s burdens makes life better. You just have to be willing to let go of a little control. No one of consequence will think less of you.

Sadness Is On Me, But I Am Not Sad

Senior year for our youngest has flown by. I know this is how it works. Senior year is heartbreaking, expensive, and fast as hell. I tried to keep it together while standing there watching the photographer take his senior photos. I struggled when I had to compose his senior page for the yearbook. He applied to five private colleges (University of Denver, St. Olaf, Reed, Whitman, and Skidmore), received acceptances to all of them, and then committed to attending Whitman in Washington with his brother, which gave me a measure of comfort while still making me sad. With that decision made, I designed his graduation announcements. And today I created a graduation collage for display at his high school in May. Jesus help me. It feels like the universe is trying to break me.

I would like to think all of this is preparation so I can cry myself out before the actual graduation ceremony, but I know that is a false hope. Graduation is rapidly approaching. So I went ahead and made a countdown clock to the ceremony because I need to prepare myself. As of today, we are 60 days out, which means I have 60 days to cry myself free of tears lest I end up an ugly-crying, embarrassing, Alice Cooper look-a-like at the ceremony. I don’t want to be that momma. Luke deserves better.

I have a distinct memory of a time when Luke was around six months old and woke up in the middle of the night. I remember sitting with him in a rocking chair in our living room, rocking and waiting for him to drift back off to sleep. When Joe woke up in the night, I would get so frustrated about the sleep interruption. As he was my first and I was not used to missing out on sleep, it was a struggle for me to be present when all I wanted was some damn sleep. With Luke, though, I knew it would be my last time to hold my sleeping child, so I tried to focus on the moments, to appreciate that this little person needed comfort and I was that comfort. It’s such a different feeling now as I focus on my present moments with Luke because I know he is almost finished needing me. I suppose this is what drives the sadness I am feeling. We have come full circle, Luke and I. My baby is ready to launch. And although I knew this day would come eventually and have been preparing for it since Joe’s graduation, the reality of it happening now is something I’m not sure I would ever be able to prepare for.

So, perhaps, I will go to graduation and cry like the soft, mushy person I am on the inside because this too is part of the experience. I don’t have to like it. I don’t have to stay dry-eyed for it. I have to be there in it because there are only two constants in life, growth and change. Wait. I forgot taxes. So I guess that makes three constants. Growth. Change. Taxes.

I found this on Facebook the other day and it offers a different perspective of sadness:

So I am recognizing now that sadness is upon me. It doesn’t have to live here. It’s just here now. It doesn’t define me. I am not a sad person. I am a happy person with sad moments. And it’s okay to be sad sometimes. We’re meant to be sad sometimes. It means we’re fully experiencing what life offers. Sometimes we want it to be offering lollipops, unicorns, and rainbows, and it instead presents us with pain, overwhelm, and darkness. That is when we need to remember that if the sadness can be upon us, so too can the rainbows. I have 60 days to figure out how to find those rainbow-covered unicorns that hand out lollipops. If I can’t find one, maybe I’ll just have to become one. I’m sure the other parents would appreciate a lollipop at graduation. I think they’ve earned at least that.

Choosing Happiness

“The key to being happy is knowing you have the power to choose what to accept and what to let go.” ~Dodinsky

I am working on this now as part of my experiment with boundaries. There are things I have chosen in my life that have not been making me happy. So now it’s time to choose happiness over obligation, over fear, over what others think is right. For some people, choosing happiness is easy. I struggled to recognize what happiness was. What I choose to accept now is that I get to choose. It’s not about what others think is right for me or what others want for me. Now I get to choose what I want for myself.

I’m excited to get my life on track. My life. Not the life others chose for me.

Kids Are Only Exhausting Until They Become Adults

The dog on her daily W

While taking the dog for her nightly “W” (that should be read as the sound of the letter W), I wandered by a house where a toddler was whining heavily in a garage. I heard a parent sighing and trying to coax them into the house. It took me back to the days when my sons were young and when I was that exhausted. It feels like a lifetime ago, and it kind of was. I realize now that what was so exhausting back then was the being fully responsible for someone else. The kid is covered in dirt and is also somehow sticky and he needs a bath, and he’s never going to stop playing long enough to use soap on his filth. That, unfortunately, is my problem. It makes me tired thinking about it. I felt for that neighbor with the whiny toddler. As I passed by, I sent him some silent encouragement. “Don’t worry, buddy. You’ll get through this.”

Tonight, my oldest son called from college. We don’t talk often on the phone. When he started school in Washington, I told myself I would let him have his space. He was free to call me when he wanted to, but I would only reach out via text. It was both a good way for him to start his own life without parental interference and a good way for me to accept that his life was his alone now. Putting some distance between us was difficult at first, but it was crucial. How could I expect him to adult if I was checking in, making him feel he had to worry about what his mom thought of his choices? Plus, it has given me space to consider what’s next for me in my life. And it’s always a fun surprise when he calls.

As Joe was updating me quickly on his life, talking about feeling overwhelmed with papers coming due simultaneously, I gently reminded him about the syllabi and how he can figure out ahead of time when these things might happen. Then I told him that I know he will get it worked out and next time he will probably manage his time better. College is about learning, and that learning isn’t only done in classes. It’s done in figuring out how to manage your workload, how to balance friendships and extracurricular activities with obligations, and how to step out of your comfort zone to find out who you are and who you might want to be in the future without anyone else telling you what that should look like for you. Once he had chatted with me long enough to realize that it’s his problem how he chooses to complete the four papers he has due this week while not falling behind with his assigned readings, he said he was going to go for a bike ride to clear his head so he could get down to it. “My work here is done,” I thought.

The thing about letting your kids go is that it is hard. You cry. You miss them. You slowly come to understand that your life with them will never be the same. They are no longer yours. They are free and they are their own people. And that can be hard to wrap your loving-parent brain around. Where once you really were the boss of them, now you are merely an advisor, and that is only if they award you that position. What I’ve come to embrace about this new dynamic is that giving my sons their freedom also gives me mine. So, yeah. I miss the hell out of Joe. Ninety-five percent of the time, that grown kid is a goddam joy. I don’t, however, miss being his keeper. I don’t miss cleaning up after him or keeping him on track with deadlines or making sure he has everything he needs for school. Those are his issues now. And my issues now are making sure I have ordered my favorite espresso beans, taken time to give the dog her W on a gorgeous fall day, and gotten tickets to that comedy show I wanted to see. My new responsibilities are a lot more fun than bathing a whiny child at the end of a long day and then falling into bed exhausted so I can wake up and do it all over again.

If you keep moving forward, you eventually come out on the other side. It’s not so bad here.

Back when our kids wiped us (and themselves) out

Oh No! She’s Gone Full KonMari!

IMG_4015Let go or be dragged.  ~Zen Proverb

A few weeks ago while I was out of town, my husband messaged me and told me he had been watching the popular Netflix series, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. I rolled my eyes. He’s always loved the idea of simplifying, even as he continued to purchase new travel bags and backpacks, the latest home automation gadgets, and new paraphernalia for his hobbies. It’s quite a conundrum for him, the desire to pare down while feeling the pull of shiny things. Still, he said he was cleaning out his closet using the KonMari method, going through boxes of old sweaters and t-shirts I have been begging him to jettison for years. That had to be good, right?  

When I got home and witnessed the magic Marie’s art of tidying up had brought to his closet and office, I got a little inspired myself. Although I twice yearly empty my closet of items that didn’t see the light of day over the past few seasons, I emptied my closet of everything, setting it neatly on the bed, and appraising each item in terms of joy. In some cases, the decisions were easy. Love the details on this top. This makes me look ten pounds heavier. This dress gets so many compliments. Pretty sure I’m never getting back into this pair of pants. In other cases, I struggled. Eventually, I unloaded two full kitchen bags of items whose existence caused me a tiny discomfort when I opened my closet, either by being too small and therefore a reminder of how my body has changed or by inspiring guilty feelings knowing I had wasted money on them. And, in the end, when I looked at the closet filled only with items I can and will wear, I felt lighter. I told my husband I was grateful he jumped on the Marie Kondo bandwagon. 

This notion of evaluating things for how they make me feel has set me on a new path. What if I took a critical look at my life and assessed what areas are bringing me joy and commit myself more fully to those? Wouldn’t my joy exponentially increase if I said goodbye to obligations I accepted long ago when they fit me but which no longer make me happy? Could I eliminate some bad habits, like playing Toy Blast on my phone when I need to get out of my brain, and make space for activities that foster growth rather provide mindless escape? What if I off-loaded some limiting thoughts that arose as a necessary protection mechanism but that now only chain me to an outdated version of myself? If removing items from my closet made space for mental tranquility, what were the possibilities if I examined the people and relationships in my life? I could start by reducing my social media footprint. From Facebook I could drop those who aren’t in my life in any substantive way, people whose posts and comments don’t align with the life I want for myself. Through that process, I would gain greater understanding of what is valuable to me and then I could consider the personal relationships in my life. Which ones make me better and more joyful? Which ones support and encourage and which ones frustrate, sadden, and tether me to past negativity? Where can I find peace and space without judgement by acknowledging my gratitude to people and situations I’ve outgrown and then taking a deep breath and moving forward purposefully without them? 

“Keep only those things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard all the rest.” ~ Marie Kondo

I’ll be honest. I’m nervous about undertaking this gargantuan mental and emotional cleanse. Tidying my house is a safe undertaking. Tidying my head space is discomfiting. But, like every other life on this planet, I am daily running down the clock. I can either let go of what doesn’t serve me or I can spend whatever time I have left in this beautiful world being dragged behind it like a water skier who has fallen yet hasn’t realized it’s time to let go of the tow line. It takes a special kind of stupid to keep repeatedly making the same mistakes. So, I’m letting go of what has been dragging me. I’m going to go KonMari on my life so I can wrap my arms around better things. 

 

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!

The Silence That Gave Me A Headache

 

When five days became five years…
 
I dropped our boys off for summer camp high in the Colorado Rockies this past Monday. It was a first for all of us, their first time going away alone (although they did have each other) and our first time being home without them for a week. When I drove down the dirt road away from them, it was bittersweet. I was excited for their adventure but already aware of the hole their absence was creating in my life. For fourteen years, these two beings have comprised the entirety of my reason for living. I hardly recall who I am outside the mantle of motherhood. And it’s at times like these that I feel most vulnerable and exposed. Who the hell am I anyway?

I enjoyed an oddly silent, solo lunch and a peaceful ride home without constant chatter about Halo and Mario Kart. I stopped at the store and bought groceries for two, cooked a meal for grown ups without having to omit ingredients, and enjoyed a drink with dinner. Hubby and I slept uneasily that night in a house that was too damn quiet, as if we noticed the missing heartbeats of the two neighbors who usually reside in the next room. I spent most of my week cleaning like a woman desperate to reclaim her once spotless home. Over three days I made a sizable dent in the clutter and bit by bit the house began to look like no one lived in it. It was a hollow victory. The cleaner it got, the emptier I felt. And that’s when, for a split second, I pondered my loss, not having a career to fill my days and fulfill my life. To derail that train of thought to nowhere good, I popped the cap on a bottle of hard cider because, well, I don’t have a job and 2 pm is 5 pm somewhere, and I smiled for my good fortune.

Big changes are on our horizon. The boys will be heading to a new school in 2016, which means a move back to the city for us. While I am dying to escape the suburbs and the HOA and the insipid neighborhood banter I never felt comfortable around, there is melancholy in my soul as we prepare to sell the only home our little family has ever known. And directly behind the gate we will walk through as we move forward, the gate through which all the possibility and potential of the future exists, lies the burial plot of things we’re leaving behind…sandboxes, playgrounds, slip and slides, and snow forts. Saying goodbye is part of moving on, but I have always been better at hello.

It’s been a rough week for me as I cleaned house physically, mentally, and emotionally. I am glad to be leaving some things behind, happy to explore new options and reinvent myself. Some things I thought I could count on, though, have evaporated while I stood in disbelief, grasping as they morphed from liquid to gas before my eyes like water vanishing of a scorching, summer sidewalk. I am better and stronger for this trial experience of life, once again, without children. Steve and I have talked about cashing in on our house and using the money to travel more with our sons before they move on to their own life adventures without us. The past fourteen years have been a blur, and we want to eradicate any potential for a Cats in the Cradle ending in this family. I will miss the things that are no longer part of my life, but I am curious what I will concoct to fill the vacant spaces going forward. 

We will claim our handsome, capable sons on Saturday and be grateful once again to have a disorganized house filled with bedlam. The time for permanent quiet is not long off now, and it’s approaching much more rapidly than I ever could have anticipated in June 2001 when Joe was born. But before it hits I think I will buy Luke that electric guitar he wants. I might buy that drum kit I have always wanted too and knock percussion lessons off my lifetime to-do list. If there’s one thing I have learned this week, it’s that silence leaves me way too much time to think. I should probably focus on doing things as noisily as possible from now on. Maybe I can get some pointers from our sons?

Game, Set, Match

Can you see my bunny mind working?
Can you see my bunny mind dwelling on this blog?

Yesterday my sister sent me this Bunny Buddhism quote from the back cover the book:

What the bunny mind dwells on, the bunny becomes.

A couple weeks ago, my friend Heather convinced me to sign up for tennis lessons with her. Neither one of us had taken a lesson since middle school. With the end of the kids’ school year approaching, it seemed like if we were going to do something for ourselves the perfect time was dwindling quickly. So we signed up for Beginner Tennis 1.0, relieved that they didn’t name the class Beginner Tennis 0.0. Heather suggested that our motivation to complete the class should be earning a darling tennis skirt for future lessons and impromptu games. I liked that idea because it seems pretentious to show up at a court wearing a tennis skirt when you’re incapable of hitting the ball over the net. My real reason for signing up, though, was not clothing related but age related. I believe that we stay young by trying new things. I’m comfortable with aging, but not so comfortable with the idea of becoming old. Tennis lessons and a cute Athleta tennis skirt seemed like a good way to practice being actively alive and in the moment, open to life and its possibilities, and not the least bit fearful of being old.

Of course, as I drove to the lesson this morning, I began to revert to my typical thought patterns. I was becoming nervous. The negative thoughts were creeping into my bunny mind. I have wonderful friends who don’t have this problem. They approach every new adventure with enthusiasm and excitement. They are never disappointed because they don’t take everything seriously. They know how to laugh at themselves and they possess the fortitude to keep on trying even when others might think they are embarrassing themselves. They are my heroes. So today as I drove to class, I centered my thoughts around those friends and that bunny quote. If my thoughts are negative, I am negative and negativity consumes my actions. What if I approached the lesson with a can-do attitude and no fear of failure? What if I housed reality, rather than faulty assumptions, in my back pocket? Reality is that I haven’t taken a lesson in 33 years. There will be foibles, flubs, and faults. I’m going to miss the ball sometimes, but it doesn’t matter because I am a 46-year-old newbie. It’s not only acceptable, it’s expected. I kicked the self-limiting thoughts to the curb and confidently walked toward the indoor tennis courts thinking, My bunny mind dwells on fun.

The instructor wasted no time getting us hitting balls. In the first three balls he tossed to me, I missed two of them. Normally, this would have put a serious chink in my confidence. Today it did not. I’m a beginner, I reminded myself and got back in line to get ready for my next opportunity to take a swipe at the ball. Midway through class, I knew my attitude of fun was working. I was having a good time. I wasn’t hitting every ball, but I was hitting most of them and they were going where they should be for the most part. As the balls were lobbed at me from the machine, I noticed I wasn’t tense or stressed about hitting them. Instead I was focused on my set up and on the finer points of my stroke. I kept my attitude light and shut down my negative self-talk. It worked. Class flew and by the end I honestly felt as if I’d learned something. What was even better was that I wasn’t over thinking or second guessing anything from the past hour. I’d had a great time. That was all I’d set out to accomplish. No need to rehash missed balls or worry about how goofy I looked. I’d tried and I’d enjoyed myself. It’s all good.

What the bunny mind dwells on, the bunny becomes.

I’m going to keep working on this bunny mind thing because initial results confirm that it’s true. Where my thoughts go, I follow. Unchecked, my mind conjures all kinds of ridiculous, untrue assumptions about who I am and what I’m capable of. I’ve got to train my bunny mind to focus on possibility and positivity. When it wanders into clover fields filled with manure, I need to turn my thoughts around, step over the crap, and head back the other way. My goal for this year was to lighten up and have fun. I am working on it each day. If my bunny mind keeps dwelling on it, I’m sure this year will be game, set, and match for me.

 

 

 

The Tale of Two Bunnies

These two bunnies may resemble each other but they are unique in their bunniness.
These two bunnies may resemble each other in form, but at the end of the day they are unique in their bunniness.

I have two sons. Although there are some similarities between them, mothering these two boys forced me to acknowledge the universal parenting truth. Parenting is not a case of nurture versus nature, but rather a case of how you choose to nurture your child’s nature. Now the fact that I know this to be true should in no way imply that I understand how one actually achieves this goal of parenting differently in the best interest of each child’s personal growth. I struggle with this daily because, like most parents, I would like to believe that in a nod to fairness I love my sons in the same way and treat them equally. It’s just not true on a day-to-day basis. They’re different people. They have different strengths and weaknesses and present unique challenges and lessons to me as their mother. They are both easier to raise than their brother in some ways and more difficult to raise in others. It is what it is.

My oldest son, Joe, has moderate ADHD. What that means for him is that he is impetuous, has a hard time focusing on anything, and even though he often knows the “right” way to do something he usually forgets to do it. As a parent trying to teach him to function in the world, his struggle with working memory has been a plague upon us both. When he was very young, his lack of follow through was something I did not think much about. I wrote it off saying he hadn’t yet reached that developmental milestone. But by the time he was six and his four year old brother began following through on things and completing multi-step directions where his older brother could not, I knew something was amiss. Still not aware that his brain struggled with working memory and processing speed, which was why he could listen to me rattle off a short list of things to do and then not remember to do them, I wrote it off as his personality. Joe was forgetful. It was his nature. It was my job as parent to correct this error in his way of doing things. I hounded him. I repeated things until I was hoarse. I followed him around, riding rough-shod over every single thing I asked him to do to make sure he would do it. About this time in my parenting journey, I really could have used today’s Bunny Buddhism quote:

I cannot impose self-discipline upon other bunnies.

I cannot force Joe to behave the way I behave because he is not me and he never will be. His brain does not work as mine does. It is as unique and interesting as he is. And no amount of badgering, belittling, or begrudging will make him act in the disciplined way I wish he would (if only for the sake of his own well-being and sanity). Even if I nurture him by providing charts and introducing him to life hacks to work around his memory issues, this is his dragon to slay. He will take from me what his mind is willing to accept and use and in time he will find his own way through trial and error, peaks and pitfalls. Likewise, I will never be able to stop his brother Luke from chewing on his shirts and leaving holes as if a goat has been wearing them. I don’t understand why he does it, but I know I can’t make him self-disciplined enough to cease and desist. It’s just not happening.

Perhaps someday Joe will remember to hang up his towel and put his clothes in the hamper. Perhaps not. He is his own bunny. He needs to find his own way in his bunniness. I can nurture his nature, but I can’t affect the outcome. And to try to do this only damages the relationship we have. I have made my own bunny peace with Joe’s memory issues. Oh. I still make him come back upstairs to hang up the towel he left on my bathroom floor because, well…I’m not his slave. But I no longer think it is my duty to turn him into the towel-hanging kid his brother is. He’s a different bunny than his brother who chews shirts who, in turn, is a different bunny than me (the one whose mother tried unsuccessfully to stop her from biting her nails).

My journey to zen is aided daily by my children who are teaching me more than I will ever be able to teach them.

What To Expect Is The Unexpected

My most unexpected expected things

A week ago tonight, my husband and I were not in a good place. We were grappling with the knowledge that our youngest son (our easy one) might be severely dyslexic and in need of a lot of help. We couldn’t decide which news was worse…the fact that he was dyslexic and would struggle with language, writing, spelling, and reading his entire life or that perhaps the best thing we could do to help him in the long run was to move him to a “special” school that caters to children with learning disabilities. The whole thing stunk worse than a dead mouse in a car’s heating duct.

When you find out you’re pregnant, you run out and get a copy of What To Expect When You’re Expecting because you want to know what you’re in for. You’re excited about what the future has in store. Last Monday night, after we’d received the less than positive news from the dyslexia specialist, we took the boys out to fulfill a promise we’d made a couple days earlier. We went to Target to buy more Skylanders because, well, why not? While browsing around in Target, I saw a copy of that ubiquitous pregnancy bible. I suddenly hated that book. I stared at it with contempt.

“That book is worthless,” I told Steve.

“Why?” he asked.

“Because it doesn’t matter what happens when you’re pregnant. When you’re pregnant, you believe everything is going to be perfect. You’re going to have the delivery of your dreams where everything will go exactly as planned. Your child is going to be born healthy. He’s going to be strong and flawless enough that he can do all the things you hope he will do. He will speak two languages by age 5. He will make the winning catch in the baseball game. He’ll take calculus in 10th grade because he’s just that smart. He’ll get accepted to five, Ivy League colleges and give the commencement address to his high school class as valedictorian. When you’re pregnant, you can see no other outcome. What they need is a book called What To Expect Is The Unexpected,” I said quite bitterly. I was in a very bad place.

The past week of my life was far longer than I wanted it to be. Last Wednesday night I remember looking at Steve and asking him how it could ONLY be Wednesday. Hadn’t we lived a lifetime since Monday? I wasn’t sure how I would make it to the weekend. But, I did. And with each passing day and with each little bit of additional information about dyslexia, we began to feel better. What had looked so bleak was beginning to look palatable. On Saturday after we saw the James Redford film, The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia, we understood that dyslexia is no longer the brick wall that it once was. There are programs that can help a dyslexics greatly. And, we’re in the position to help our son. No matter what he needs, we’ll be able to make it work. They say knowledge is power and they are right. The more we learn, the more we recognize that this diagnosis does not equal doom. Luke’s already on the road to getting the help he needs. With some hard work and a little perseverance, Luke will still be able to do a keg stand at college someday. And, unlike most parents, we’ll be proud because he worked hard and made it there on his own.

When my boys struggle, and they do it a lot, I remind them that every single hardship they are enduring while they’re young will only make them stronger and more resilient as they get older. I tell them that the kids that have it easy now one day won’t have it so easy and, for those kids who’ve never had to fight to overcome an obstacle, life will seem suddenly, incredibly, and insurmountably difficult. For my boys, though, and for all kids who have to put in longer hours, life’s hardships will just be another day at work. My boys may have it rough on the front end but once they get through these challenges, they will know they can tackle anything. And, although it does not seem like it to them now, that experience is a gift.

Twelve years ago I was expecting my first child. I had the book. I thought I was ready to go. What I realize now is that even with the book, I had no clue. What I thought I wanted for my sons was the wrong thing. The universe corrected me and, as hard as I took it sometimes, it was absolutely the right thing. Life is not for sissies. And if there’s one thing I know now about my boys for certain it’s that they’re not sissies.