Thursday, June 25, 2009

Summer with a cherry on top

This summer I plan on doing a regular outing every Thursday that is different and fun and in nature. Maybe it's a new place or maybe an old favorite. Either way, I will plan the itinerary and invite a bunch of friends with kids and hope for the best. I made a promise to myself to practice having the mentality that it is 75% about me and my kids and 25% about sharing the fun with friends. I want to avoid allowing myself to be even remotely disappointed if no one else joins us but rather pleasantly surprised if anyone does. It's definitely a fine line between being selfish or thinking about others. After all, there is a big thrill to be had in seeing the joy of the moment that I had a little hand in helping make happen. Maybe that's why I love and excel at being an organizer.

I managed to convince two other moms to drive about fifty miles to a cherry farm to pick fresh cherries. I picked cherries once as a child and remember fond memories about my experience and wanted to share the same with my own children...and good friends, too, of course. The farm seemed waaaaaaaaaay out there...far away from any place any of us knew. I dreaded the worst of complaints but instead saw happy eager faces ready for something new and different like me. One of my friends did admit, though, that the drive to such an unknown destination was a bit out of her comfort zone, but I totally sensed a willingness for adventure and a chance to change the limits of that comfort zone.

I totally understand that feeling. Three years ago or so I felt the same way. I made excuses why I wouldn't go, like it being too far, too weird, too whatever. But, with the help of a few (what I considered) adventurous friends, I made a conscious effort to push myself past that fear and instead welcome the opportunity to broaden my horizons and step more and more out of my comfort zone. As a result, not only did I discover some wonderful places that I had no idea existed near where I live (and have lived my whole life), but it actually changed me as a person. The more I did it, the less I was afraid and the more daring I got. I'm not exactly jumping out of airplanes, but I certainly make less excuses and take more action. I no longer label myself as the one that doesn't do something unless I over-analyze it and consider all of the consequences. I am finally a do-er and it feels great.

This is all weird for me because I find myself in the position to lead the way for others to take the daring plunge, too. It's a strange feeling when you label yourself for so many years a certain way, then turn around and can no longer claim that comfortable distinction. Where once I turned down a group trip to pick apples an hour away or hunt for owl pellets in an area that I didn't know, I'm now the leader encouraging others to follow me in my adventures.

Today while we were picking and, uh hum, sampling the cherries, I had a few quiet times where I looked up at the trees and clear blue sky and marveled at the absolute beauty of the cherries and the near perfect moment. Honestly, it was heavenly and I felt completely in my element and well within my comfort zone. I didn't care that my kids were dirty and covered in cherry juice or even worry about the "long" drive home or if anyone else was having a good time. It simply felt peaceful to be there just in that moment. I actually felt like it was a shame that everyone else wouldn't want to be there enjoying the time like we were, where a few years ago others probably thought the same thing about my reluctance to join them. I totally understand because I've been there, but damn it feels great to be on the other side.

Monday, June 22, 2009


The day after school ended, we surprised our two kindergarten graduates with a much needed vacation to the local mountains of Big Bear. The first year of school took a big toll on all our lives, mainly from the way-too-long days, the social angst, annoying habits they picked up ("awesoooome!") and major life changes we endured. We went from tons of time in nature to way too much time indoors. So ya, we desperately needed to regroup, be free to just be, and say goodbye to school and hello to summer.
We each had different moments when we let go of our routine home life and embraced being away from it all. For Quinn, my nature boy, it was pretty immediate -his first step out of the city and he was all smiles. My daughter, Talia, who's world revolves around the people she loves and knows (she's an over-thinker like her mom), finally relaxed after I found it necessary to talk (plead with her for my own sanity) to her about not mentioning school anymore. I hear from many frustrated parents that they never hear a single thing about school from their kids, but my daughter more than makes up for that. Daily details of who did/said what in class permeated our lives. When she mentioned a classmate that sadly had to go to after-care like it was in the present day, I realized enough was enough. I explained that school was done now. That school was our lives up until Wednesday, and now it is summer. School is over. Summer is now. Let…it…go. No mas. She can talk about a fun day at the beach with her friends or swimming at grandmas, but no more so-and-so in school ordered pizza for lunch two weeks ago or that mean bully hurt her feelings. In a moment of inspiration, I came up with the code word “grasshopper” as a reminder signal to stop talking about school and to change the subject. After a few practice runs, she never mentioned school again. Whew! As for me, my stress melted away the after getting my feet wet in the refreshing cool stream near the waterfall we hiked to on the second day. For my man it was after he found the perfect campground for his annual guys (drink beer, fart, and be manly men) camping trip. After we were all on the same page, we were full of smiles and tons of silly.
After my anxiety washed away, it got me thinking. That “grasshopper” conversation the day before – it was so symbolic of what our getaway was all about. Our day-to-day lives end up being so much about either the past or the future but not enough about the present. We end up with too many “have to’s” and "shoulds" and hardly any time for just being in the moment. For instance, about 95% of all of our television watching is recorded on our dvr. We watch a show that was on two days ago and fast forward through it. In Big Bear we watched huge gray squirrels play outside and the neat coyote walk down the road next to our car on the way to go fishing. With school it was about remembering (forgetting) to sign permission slips for field trips the next day and planning for important school events weeks away. During our vacation we focused on not tipping over the canoe and marveling at the beautiful scenery. At home we get anxious constantly hearing about the dismal and dire state budget news and the drastic cuts to services and schools, but in the mountains we didn't hear about any of that, only news of an excellent trail to hike and how to get there.I'm certainly not claiming that I didn't think at all about the future, like daydreaming about owning our very own cabin in the mountains (heck, I even bought a lottery ticket while we were there) or the responsibilities awaiting at home, but as a whole I think I did pretty well. Now that I'm home, I try to remain relaxed about the piles of laundry to do and vacation items to put away and the bills to pay. One load at a time, right? I'm certain that the combination of (mostly) being in the moment for four days in nature does wonders for the soul and is as necessary as eating healthy, annual check-ups, and a regular girls night out on the town.
So, while I sit here in the present enjoying my glass of red wine and favorite honeycomb candy that I bought a few days ago in Big Bear, I am also thinking about my fun plans for the week and future vacations during the summer. In one moment I can be in the present, past, and future and feel totally fine with it. It's all about a happy balance, you know?

Friday, June 12, 2009

A rosey perspective

The end of the school year is on my mind. My plans are to relish these last few days of relative freedom and take full advantage of my precious time alone to check off items on my list of things to do and run various errands (places that are much better without two kids in tow). So, yesterday after I did some work and cleaning, I head out get a few things done before I pick up the kids. I make it to the post office to mail a package that's been sitting in my car for a ridiculous two months. Done. Whoohoo! Next up, Trader Joe's to buy some much needed items. I am on a roll! Then it happens - my cell phone rings. It's school. Uh oh. Quinn has a fever and feels yucky. Darnit. DARNIT!!!!! I reroute and head for the school. So much for my ambitious plans.

Silly me for thinking I was in charge. Life, especially parenting life, likes to make it's own plans with or without our blessings. I have no choice but to surrender and make the most of it. This morning after I waive goodbye to Talia who is being taken to school by my more-than-willing-to-help-out mom since Quinn is not going to school, I slowly walk up to my front door and on the way I literally stop and smell my blooming roses. Gorgeous and instant mood lifter. I announce to myself and the family of snails "I'm going to cut some roses!" and bring in three different amazing smelling and brightly colored gems.

So, while I rotate between taking care of my sick child, my current difficult puzzle (tons and tons of sky!), and work on my laptop at the table, I smile at and smell my beautiful roses and feel totally relaxed and calm. Unlike my girlfriend who only recently was able to take her adorable baby daughter in public after being confined to home for the first seven months of her life (she's fine and thriving now thank goodness), this is only temporary. It's actually a blessing in a weird way. It's humbling and makes me feel grateful. How lucky I am to be so easily available for my relatively healthy children when they need me the most. I am reminded that I don't have much control over things and how good it feels to surrender. And those lovely roses that are all mine and there for my enjoyment for months and months each year - I sure love them. On the other hand, if I get this latest round of whatever this sickness is, I won't be singing such a happy smelling tune. Humm, maybe I'll just go ahead and join my loudly snoring child for a little afternoon shut-eye myself. Zzzzz.....

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Looking toward summer

Maybe it's all this annual seemingly endless June gloom - the cool overcast mornings that teases bits of sunlight all day. Or, perhaps it's these last few weeks in the school year that have tested my last nerves because my kids (and most of the kids in their classroom) are all out of whack and anxious and have too much pent up energy and are forgetting to be respectful people and my very own sweet kids fight more and more each day and mimic other classmates who aren't so nice and I've just about had it! So, ya, I am beyond ready for summer break for all of the above reasons...and more.

I am well aware of the term "Be careful what you wish for" and in a few weeks I might be going out of my mind trying to keep my kids occupied and sane. Plus, I'm used to having over 6 hours a day to do as I please and I love my new found freedom. But, there is definitely something to be said about getting grounded again - being less restricted all day and the feeling of freedom to explore in the great outdoors and focusing more on themselves and our family rather than a classroom full of mixed personalities and moods and rules. Don't get me wrong, I am not putting down school or the other classmates. This first school year was wonderful. But for my two young children who spent the first five years of their lives mostly outdoors or doing calm quiet activities and around a few close buddies, this whole 6.5 hours a day five days a week thing was a complete change in lifestyle and view of the world. They not only learned how to read, multiply, and recite the food pyramid, but also the names of all of the Transformers and expressions like 'what tha?', 'naner-naner pants on fire', and 'stupidhead'. A classic school education indeed!

While my ideas about the summer include lots of swimming, beach, sun, hikes, favorite places that we miss, new places to explore, visiting with old and new friends, and easy going days with no plans at all, I am also aware that it will never be like it was before school came into our lives. My children are still the same wonderful people that I love, but a lot different, too. Not only do they look more mature and are a few inches taller (our food bill seemed to double - yikes!), but their small world is no longer just about what I want for them. They have stronger opinions, moods, emotions, and preferences that I don't always agree with, but that's what is supposed to happen, right?

I'm honestly a little worried that I won't be able to cut it anymore. Will I go out of my mind from lack of personal freedom that I'm accustomed to now? Can I keep their days interesting and fun? Am I being way too hard on myself and over thinking things? Like I said to Talia the other night when she was crying that she will miss school and her friends, I'm guessing she will be crying when it's time to go back to school because of all the fun she will have this summer. Maybe, just maybe, it will be better than ever because we will now appreciate those places and activities and friends that we miss so much. I think it's better to remind myself of the expression "Absence makes the heart grow fonder" which might help dissolve those insecurities and instead make me feel hopeful...and a little excited. Oh, now I can't wait!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Should I stay or should I go now?

You know sometimes when you find yourself surrounded by similar situations and conversations and wonder if there is a message in all of it? This week I heard firsthand about two dramatically different personal stories from two girlfriends. In both cases, each friend has a husband that a experienced a major dramatic life changing crisis resulting from unresolved issues or new revelations. One friend chose to stay with her husband while the other chose to leave him. For each story, I can understand wanting to leave and I can understand the desire to help their partner through their crisis. It could totally go either way. I feel no judgment about their decisions and there is no right or wrong here. So, what makes the difference between leaving and staying? At what point does your overwhelming misery and unhappiness override the "for better or for worse" vows?

It is obvious that my girlfriends deeply love their husbands and regardless of whether they stay or leave it is very painful and heartbreaking for them to face. When I think about my two friends and their situations, I can't help but wonder what made the difference? Both men are good people with big hearts who are going through a tough time and both women are strong, smart, and caring. Is it their family culture, experiences, and support? Personal needs or limitations? Financial security or fear? Their partner's willingness to get help? There is obviously no simple answer. Life is extremely complicated.

When I was in my early twenties, things were more black and white. I went through a few important relationships - I made hard choices about boyfriends and toxic friendships with no regrets. I did what I felt was best at the time. I remember thinking that a deal-breaker in a marriage would be infidelity. I thought I could tolerate many things, but if my husband cheated on me that would be it - the absolute worst. Without hesitation it would be goodbye cheater and hello singlehood! I could never trust him again and would never forgive that violation of our vows. Only, well, now that I'm approaching twelve years of marriage and have two children and a good life together and hopeful future, I'm not sure I would choose to walk away from that without a fight. The world as I see it is no longer so black and white, but mostly different shades of gray. Would I be really really pissed and hurt if I found out my husband cheated on me? Of course I would be. But, honestly, I just don't know how I would react or what I would do. It's more than just the two of us now and I no longer view divorce in the same way. I'm not saying "hey, go out and cheat on me because I'll still stay with you", but realize it's much more complex than I ever imagined.

One thing I know for sure is that you just never know what life will throw your way and how you will handle it. Many years ago a friend of mine was getting divorced and someone said to her "That will never happen to me" and I remember how much my friend was hurt by those words. I don't know if it's karma or life being what it is, but that same person who hurt my friend is now teetering on the edge of going through the same thing herself.

I also know that when someone I care about is going through a difficult time, in most cases they don't want you to tell them what to do, but instead need to feel loved, supported, listened to, and not judged. And, now that I realize this, I do my best to treat people who are struggling with that basic courtesy and care. I can only hope that when it's inevitably my turn to be in a rough life situation, that my loved ones will treat me the same way.