Rent-a-Dad and I never really just do an open ended post about our current thoughts. We tend to save those for our Facebook page of the same title: Balancing Life’s Lemons. Sometimes that leaves our actual blog looking a bit sad with what appears to be very little in the post department. If you are a follower of our blog please also check out our Facebook page. Not only do we share our current thoughts but we also share information from other blogs, current events and information that pertains to current projects and aspirations like fostering.

Even though I always have several blog posts just waiting to be uploaded life has a way of reminding me that our blog, while important to us, is not our top priority. Our family is our top priority, as it should be. Lately for me that has been a reminder to let myself get pulled away from tasks to give more attention to the munchkins in my life. Beyond just being in the “moment”, I think it is always important to remember that this very moment will never happen again. Sure we can do the same things with the same people but it will never quite be the same moment.

This summer I have known it is the summer of change. One munchkin went home to her family before spring even came. We have been preparing two other munchkins in our life for head-start. For me this means my afternoon nap time with cuddles and stories will definitely change as they start their next journey! Since we aren’t even sure yet how much we will get to see them outside of head-start I am trying to soak up as much time with each of them as I can as they will never be this age again!

As a foster parent we get this feeling as if everything is always about to change but really that’s just life. Embracing that feeling and living for the now can be kind of freeing. It doesn’t mean you give up responsibilities or neglect things needing done but it does mean it is ok for one more story or an afternoon nap if your schedule can allow it. Enjoy the now!!!

We all have friends that like to play devil’s advocate to make a conversation a little more interesting and to encourage multiple points of view. The problem is when the devil’s advocate carries that conversation a little too far by always being the “Debbie Downer”. The person may or may not even know that they are doing it but you do as you realize when they say something you always feel emotional and not in a good way. This type of thinking is negative; plain and simple.

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What can one do about friends like this?

My initial answer is to eliminate them from your life but life is not that simple all the time. You may actually care about the person who is always negative. If that’s the case sometimes its best to keep them at arms length or to have more then one friend with you (if your interactions are face-to-face) so you can create a buffer.

Recently I was reminded of how negative one friend (more acquaintance) in particular is.* I know this friend feels he means well and is trying to provoke thought and get me to see things from another point of view but our interactions generally leave me frustrated, angry and ready to slam a door. There is a reason I keep this friend at arms length. My positive attitude never seems to seep in and I have long since stopped trying to let it seep in because this friend has to want to be positive. I can not make him feel anything he does not first want. Even though I know he always upsets me and I want to scream by the time out interaction is over, I have not fully severed contact for multiple reasons. However I need to be aware of how this friendship makes me feel. As the answer generally is “frustrated” or “upset”, I keep this friend at arms length because to fully let him in means my mostly positive attitude turns negative in a flash.

Why can’t I just sever the friendship?

The good news is that most of the time this type of negative person is a just work colleague so while you are outside of work you have control over who you interact with. In this particular situation this friend has belonged to a lot of the same groups and organizations over the past twenty years, if I eliminated those activities to avoid this friend that would be just a bit much. Life is a bit complicated at times.

For me there is a need to believe that if we are involved in a lot of the same circles there is a reason this person is in my life, even if it is peripherally. If I let myself over think the interaction I tend to gravitate to “maybe I am supposed to help change this outlook on life” or “is there something about my life that this interaction is supposed to change”. The answer is probably more mundane “I do you a favor and you do me a favor”. With friends who gravitate to the negative that is actually the best thing I can do, let my interaction be more mundane. If I get too involved I turn into a Debbie Downer myself and that is neither who I want to be nor the path I want to take.

Back when Rent-a-Dad and I were first dating we realized that you can not try to fix all the problems your significant other has but you can help that person brain storm possible fixes. Since then when ever I feel as if I am stuck in a negative rut Rent-a-Dad and I sit down and figure out all the positives to a situation.

I know better then to share this positive thinking technique with this particular friend because past interactions have proven that if I say something like that he will respond with something like “the list of negatives outweighs the positives so I don’t even bother anymore”.

There is a huge part of me that doesn’t know how to respond to this type of thinking as nothing I say has any positive reaction. As my mom would say “Sometimes the better part of valor is just walking away”.

With this friend I let my life be an open book so that they can see what positive thinking can do for someone. When the comments get negative I thank them for their opinion and remind myself that I do not have to collect their comments and hold onto them.

* To protect the identity of the friend/acquaintance I refer to in this post, I have chosen to use words like “friend” and the masculine voice to be the constant theme.

My Corner of the Sky: Finding Purpose

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If life were a musical then Stephen Schwartz wrote mine. The musical Pippin is one I often think of when my life feels a little bit off course. The search for purpose is one that the lead character is burdened with and is a burden I sometimes feel I share.

Finding purpose, more specifically finding MY purpose has been a life long journey.

As a child I would sit and wonder “what did life have in store for me?” I thought about my purpose A LOT. I was one of those children who in so many ways was older than her years but still a child with childlike thoughts, hopes, dreams, and aspirations… and yet… I felt as if I was missing my purpose. So I thought… and I thought… and I thought…

I felt as if it had to have weight and meaning. I HAD to do something with my life, something that MEANT something.

I didn’t dwell on things like “become a doctor” or “become president” as those titles in so many ways do not have the same meaning for me as they do to those who wear them.

Neither of those jobs was my purpose. I just knew that like I knew the sky was blue.

But what was my purpose?

I am me. I have my thoughts. I feel my feelings. Surely that means something? Surely that means I was put here with a reason. Surely… right?

As I grew the thoughts of meaning and purpose filled me. I became anxious about it. I needed to know what was MY plan, what was my purpose.

It was almost like I was haunted by this need. It was something that loomed over my shoulder, just out of reach, intangible… yet weighted… with such… purpose.

So as time went by and I developed from a young child to a child to a young adult, through the difficult years of self-awareness and self-awakening, this sense of needing a purpose took root and made a home in my head.

As a young child, when I would be asked what I wanted to be when I grew up the answer changed from dancer to artist. Never once did I want to be an astronaut or doctor and for that adults often dismissed my answers and tried to convince me that I had a higher calling and meaning to my life. That I needed to put more thought into that answer. Ultimately what I wanted to be was not enough for those who asked.

So I would sit and think. Ponder. What was my purpose?

Through those young formative years I would search for this purpose, this meaning of existence, sometimes in the oddest of places. I quickly found out that kids my age felt talking about ones existence was just crazy. I was even told once by a classmate that I thought too much so I should become a nun, which at the time hurt my feelings. After feeling like no one my age understood me or my thoughts, I began writing down my ponderings, and hiding my feelings. To the kids who called me “friend”, I sometimes felt like a shadow or a person looking through a store window. I felt out of step with my reality. Most deep and meaningful conversations were held with the adults in my life that openly cared about what I thought. My biggest supporters were my mom and brother.

Still… what was my purpose? Not much had really changed since I was a child. Sure my father had been in and out of hospitals since I was in the third grade and I spent a large portion of my time with my brother and his friends all who were about nine years older than me so life and circumstance made sure I was more mature than some kids my age but fundamentally I was still me. So I still saw an artist who lived within.

I had given up hopes of being a dancer by the time I was 14 as I had almost shattered my ankle. The break(s) in my ankle were so bad that the doctors considered pinning my ankle together and told me that I should choose another dream, go back to the drawing board.

The constant theme since childhood was that any adult who barely knew me thought my dreams were too lofty and I needed something more grounded.

By the time I was a teenager I appeared to have life all figured out. Don’t most teenagers think they know everything? Well honestly I didn’t think I had it all figured out but I was now good at “faking it”. I had a timeline in my head of what I wanted to do and when. Surely that was what I was supposed to do. Surely that gave me purpose.

It didn’t always feel that way. I still questioned my purpose and sought answers. I still knew that the sky was blue and I knew what path I couldn’t walk down.

To some it appeared as if I knew what I was doing and where I was going, that I was playing life safely. And by a lot of teenage standards I suppose I was. For those that really knew me, they had worries that I might be spinning out of control just in my own way, as usual.

In so many ways college was the same as grade school or high school. The adults in my life did a good job of pretending that they knew what life was all about and attempted to guide me down the path I should take… but by that point in my life I could see behind the bravado, see behind the façade, and I knew that they, like me, only had just a clue.

While I did learn a lot in college, I still felt as if so much was left undone, unsaid, unlearned…

What held the most meaning were the friendships I made and the bonds I formed. There were a select few that got to see the inner depths of my mind and truly know how I felt. Those few helped me stay focused and stay in college. They were my anchors in a sea of murky waters.

But did I know my purpose?

It didn’t feel that way. I still sought and still questioned. My peers still treated my questions as though they were ramblings of an unhinged person.

Post college there was a friend who I would have deep conversations about life with as our spouses worked on their computers. During one of our conversations I was told to stop looking for the meaning behind everything. That if I kept this search up in the same way I had been doing since I was a child that I would never truly be happy, that I would always be questioning everything around me. That the meaning and purpose we have in life is not one that can always be found in books but rather in the living of it.

Although I can only paraphrase the conversation because the exact words are fuzzy hues to me right now, I remember how the conversation made me feel because it felt as if this great weight had been lifted. The burden of finding my purpose no longer lingered like a ghost just out of the corner of my eye. In that one conversation I knew that whatever I chose to do with my life was THE purpose and THE meaning I had been searching for. That I could stop seeking a bigger reality and focus on just being me.

Sounds easy

It wasn’t

While I don’t go around searching for a higher purpose these days, I still wonder if the path I am on is the right one. I still ponder the meaning behind my life. I still second guess myself at times where I need a clear decisive me.

Honestly…

… The past couple of weeks have been one heck of a topsey turvey ride that I was not even planning on taking.

That’s life though

Right…?

Well that is life as I know it

Some days are just plain Jane types of days while others I look back and wonder “who did I piss off today to deserve this?”

So yeah… sometimes it feels as if I have spent my whole life trying to find MY purpose. Well… I have. I think we all do it, just some of us don’t think about it all the time.

While there are times that I ponder over the path I am on it doesn’t mean that I don’t realize what my purpose is right now or that I disregard its weight. Saying I have spent my whole life searching means I feel as if I am not done yet.

My story is still in progress.

As for Pippin, and his creator Stephen Schwartz, well I can’t argue with the need to find the Corner of the Sky.

Sometimes the world can be too much. It is necessary to respect that need to unplug from the intensity of this world.

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Sometimes I can’t; sometimes you can’t; sometimes none of us can and that is ok.

So what can’t we do?

It could be anything. Today, this week, this month, like many of my friends, it is acknowledging how raw we feel from recent events and the outpouring of reactions to those events.

It is OK to say we can’t

It is OK to let others know that

It is OK to stand by these feelings

It is OK to take a step back and deal with those feelings

It is OK to tune out and turn off

It is OK to mourn quietly

It is OK

Particularly with the way the media can reach far and wide in a matter of seconds it is easy to feel overwhelmed. Then there is social media. Many feel it has given them the voice that has been taken away from them their entire life. That when the weight of the world is too much to bear, or that your opinion has been extinguished, the action to take is to turn to social media to blast your opinion, thus returning power to yourself.

Social media is a double edged sword. It does give us power to be us but it can also cause pain. Sometimes the pain it causes is not to ourselves but to the people who provide us with the most support, compassion, and strength.

Both Rent-a-Dad and I have a wide array of friends: young and old; LGBT and very heterosexual; atheist and those devout in their religious beliefs; liberal and conservative; republican and democrat… you get the picture. From each of these different groups there exist friends who feel the need to proselytize their cause. These can be causes we agree with or ones we will never see eye-to-eye on. After a while it all starts to feel a bit overwhelming.

When we feel overwhelmed it doesn’t matter where we stand on the issue as any amount of advocating feels like salt poured on an open wound. Sadly those doing the advocating may not fully understand because they are so dedicated that they can not always see outside of that cause. They see these causes as worthy and needing validation at all cost. While most of those causes are worthy (in my eyes), I can still feel bombarded at times and as if I am not allowed one moment to not feel overwhelmed. It is never alright for any cause to have casualties of an emotional war.

Even though it isn’t alright, that won’t change the inevitability of it. There are always casualties of any war/cause. We all feel strongly that we are “right” no matter how right or wrong we may be. I do however have the right, at least in this country, to say when I am done and to take a step back. If you decide to keep coming at me when I walk away I am allowed to feel as if I am being harassed, because I am. Even if the person doing the harassing feels that their intentions are good I am allowed to feel that way.

Years ago I was having an ongoing women’s rights conversation with a friend who was on the fringe of a women’s rights group when some sexual assaults took place too close to home. These assaults enraged this friend and she went from being on the fringes of the group to being heavily active. For weeks all of our conversations turned to rape, rape culture, and how there needed to be change in our society. I didn’t disagree with her but when I would try to change the subject or ask questions, this friend would become more adamant with her views, her voice would become raised, and her physical demeanor became aggressive. When I would ask her to calm down or back off she only became furious. When I would tell her I was overwhelmed or uncomfortable she didn’t want to give in because she had a cause and people needed to hear HER and respect HER. When I asked about why my needs were any less valid or important, I was told “because you don’t understand”.

But I did and that is why I felt overwhelmed and needed the space. Her aggression made me relive some of my own trauma. As a young girl who physically developed before her peers, I was forced into several uncomfortable situations with unwanted physical attention. As a young adult, I had a boyfriend who thought that just because we were dating it meant he had consent to try and touch me whenever he wanted and however he wanted. He never realized that being in a relationship did not mean automatic consent. So I know the cause. I have lived the cause. Did that mean I had to preach it? No. Did that mean that because I lived it I had to share all the details of what had happened to me with everyone? No. That is my choice. It is my right to share my story in my own time, if ever.

No means NO and stop means STOP, even if the request is due to an emotional advancement or unsolicited verbal bombardment instead of an unwelcome physical encounter.

When a friend says that they need space or that they cannot deal with your cause right now, normally it does not mean that they do not hear you or support your cause. What it normally means is that they hear you loud and clear; that they support you and empathize with you! But it also means they love themselves (as they should) and that they need time to not feel too much all at once, or to not feel as if they are being emotionally and physically abused by the situation. Sometimes we hear too much, we see too much, and we feel too much so we need a moment (or two) to not feel overwhelmed so we can be the strong, compassionate, and supportive friend we are known to be.

Sometimes those strong, compassionate, and supportive friends need your strength, compassion, and support. If that is something that you are unable to reciprocate at that moment, then the least you can do is respect that friend as they respect you, and give them a little space.

Just remember…

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

And…

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure

 

These are proverbs and phrases that point our how we all can have a different perspective of the same event.

So you don’t have to understand someone’s need for space to be able to respect it. After all, you would want to receive the same kind of respect, right?

I don’t have to agree with you to like or respect you.” ~ Anthony Bourdain

Positive Thinking

How does one do that? Think positively… When the world around you is filled with stories of horrible tragedies and injustices? When your own life has so many hiccups, bumps, twists, turns and hills that you think your life is one gigantic roller coaster… and your distaste for roller coasters cannot be expressed in words…

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While I can not tell you how YOU can do this, because everyone is different and what works for me may not work for you, what I can do is share some of what I find works well for me and even then when the world gets to be too much for me sometimes the old “tried and true” methods need tweaking.

 

  1. Think Happy Thoughts.

There are many scientists out there with studies that show just thinking happy thoughts as Peter Pan suggests can lift our spirits more then anything else. My mom calls this “finding her happy place”. Her most favorite place in the world (well in her mind) is a private beach with soft waves lapping at a sandy shore. I just think of favorite memories (as Peter suggests). Some of those include the first steps I ever saw my nephew take, my first (unofficial) date with Rent-a-Dad, a laid back summer morning with my mom as a child, lazy days with my mom and brother when I was a kid, any trip to Disney world with the actual Peter Pan ride… You get the picture.

 

  1. Take a Deep Breath

Once again there are many scientists and studies that when you feel overwhelmed taking a deep breath can help ease the tension building up in our body from stressful situation.

 

  1. Be Present and Be True

A lot of stress reducing articles split these two up and call them by different names. I find that when I can’t put my finger on why I am being negative that I need to sit down for a moment (give myself an adult time out) and figure out what is really wrong with me. So I am at that moment living in the present- no future thinking here. I try to enjoy that moment for what it is. Then I try to be truthful to myself and to others. I really try to think about why I am agitated at that moment. Generally I am most agitated when I know there is nothing I can do to change what is going on. So I live in that moment. I try to let go of my expectations (that may be too lofty) and accept what is going on right now. If the moment is one that can be changed with honesty then tell those around you what your needs are. “Hey Rent-a-Dad, can I have a few moments to myself so I can reboot my brain?” Asking for a few moments is not unreasonable and may stop a disagreement that feels really silly after the fact.

 

  1. Turn off and Tune out

As a society we often complain about people tuning out but if we can do so in a controlled environment like at home ten minutes before bed time or the first ten minutes after we wake up… that time can help us reboot ourselves. Now “turning off” to me means anything that can relate a bad story to me like Facebook, the internet, television, radio and something old fashioned: reading newspapers and even some magazines. When I am bombarded by all the negative stories surrounding me it is only natural that my own thoughts are going to be rather negative. While I may not be able to change how someone else acts, I can change my own actions.

 

Interested in other stress reducing techniques? Check out this WebMD article: 10 Relaxation Techniques That Zap Stress Fast

 

While it seems like all I am doing is re-hashing different ways to reduce stress or release anxiety, stress plays a large part in negative thinking. Even when we don’t think we are stressed but feel our thinking has turned negative there is generally a hidden stressor we are ignoring. So these are the first steps I generally take towards changing my own perspective.

Being present and true are the two things I feel that really change my negative feelings into positive ones. They give me the chance to ask myself 1) What am I truly upset about;  2) Is there anything about the situation I can change; 3) If I can change the situation developing a plan of “attack”; and 4) If I can’t change the situation somehow finding peace so I can “let it go”.

Just being positive is never an easy task. It involves a lot of thinking and some days a lot of talking to your most trusted confidant. I do a lot of writing when there are days that I can not verbalize my thoughts and feelings. I make lists of things to do so I feel I have some kind of control over my life, and I write letters that I may never send so that I can find words for my feelings.

To help with the daily assault of negative actions and thoughts through the media, I have friends who share cute pictures of animals to brighten our days. I am always seeking out articles and memes that are filled with positive thoughts and energy. Today I found a Facebook page, titled I am living positive, that I added to my ever growing list of “go to” places. If you are someone who can use a good dose of positive thinking and energy, I hope you check out that link and enjoy!

I am a SHAM. Wait. No. That’s not the right title. Stay At Home Mom: SAHM. However the other title is one quite a few stay at home moms connect with when asked “So what do you do?” It’s one of many reasons I intensely dislike that acronym because it in no way describes me or what I do on a daily basis. While I have heard several moms refer to it as a career, I feel that is also an inaccurate description.

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So why the BIG need to find something that accurately describes what I am? Honestly? I don’t think it really did matter until we (society) started making things intensely complicated with labels. By labeling something we give it weight and substance or rather importance or even worse, we strip the importance of something away.

When my mom was a stay at home mom she never felt a deep seated unrest because of labels or society deeming her choice as career-less. She had been highly successful as a daycare employee and manager then as a bank teller and some form of bank manager before my parents decided (as a couple) that my dad had better health insurance and better chances at advancement (they roughly received the same sized pay checks) so my mom would be the stay at home parent. Did she miss working? Only because it would help the family out financially as what she gained as a stay at home parent far out weighed any misgivings that came knocking. When life changed and there was a strong financial need to return to the workforce she did so with the same un-questioning faith that she had when she stepped out of the work force.

Sadly sometime while I was growing up society started name calling any woman who chose to be a stay at home mom as if she were lazy and not wanting to contribute to her family financially. “Those women obviously had no career path” “They must be uneducated and have no brain” Sometimes I feel as if this name calling started because women who had career paths were once given similar treatment in reverse. They were told that they didn’t care about their children or family because they would not commit time to them. They must be back stabbers and step all over their loved ones. So when the pendulum (labeling and name calling of women) had no where else to go it swung hard the other way.

My question: When can the name calling stop? Both types of women contribute significantly to society and neither role should be over simplified or looked down on.

Yes, as with everything, there are those individuals that give both types of women a bad name but I like to think those are the few not the majority.

So when can I give up this deep seated unrest that sits within me over being a stay at home mom? I feel I have. Bear with me as explain why.

When I was growing up I knew that I wanted both to have a career and to be a stay at home mom. I wanted to have a career in my early twenties that I could set aside and return to after my children were well on their way to being “grown”. That during the in-between stage I would be a stay at home mom and do all the things with my kids that my mother had done with me. I felt those activities and love helped shape who I was and I wanted to be able to offer the same opportunities I had to my children. I also wanted to give that time over to sharing my children with my parents as that is what my mother had done with her parents. I had great relationships with her father and mother before they passed on or moved away.

I had no unrest with any of my plan for adulthood, even if somehow financially Rent-a-Dad and I had to change our plans. I started my twenties with gusto going from an Ebay start up shop (costumes & more) to Costume Coordinator for a professional theatre in the Washington DC area to being a Set Designer (designs great… outcome maybe not my best) and Producer (something I excelled at!) for a children’s theatre in Arlington, VA. I loved being a Producer so much that I had gone back to school for further education with being a Non-Profit Executive. When Rent-a-Dad and I made a move south, I also made a career jump and became an Executive Director of a girl’s choir at the tender age of 25.

It looked like I had my life under control and on the path I had laid out for myself. What I didn’t say was that in the time between I graduated college and when I became an Executive Director that I had stumbling blocks and large hurdles to over come. Since I had been in the third grade my dad’s health had been fragile but manageable. Then in 2002 my dad had an uncontrolled diabetic episode that put him into a coma and when he came out of that he needed more help then my mom could give him. Rent-a-Dad and I had lived with my parents when we first moved to the metro DC area to help us get on our feet but after my dad’s health took a drastic turn for the worse we stayed to help my mother out. When we moved south it was to find an area to settle where my parents could join us so my mom could finally retire from a 40+ hour job to take some weight off of her own health struggles.

When I turned 26 with no pregnancy or babies in sight my plan was certainly taking a turn where I didn’t expect it. At the time I thought “let’s go with the flow” as my doctor seemed unconcerned and between my career (my second family as I called it) and my actual family obligations I was quickly burning out. During that time I even began considering staying with my job even when Rent-a-Dad and I did have children. So in 2009 Rent-a-Dad and I sought to change our plans slightly and become foster parents before entering parenthood the regular way. We took classes and waited for the approval process to take its course… but then I got sick.

For months I had not been feeling well, I was a little too bloated and uncomfortable, and my menstrual cycles became more irregular. I went to see my OBGYN and he shrugged it all off saying “try that new yogurt with active cultures”. I tried what he said but nothing worked. A friend who happened to be a high risk obstetrics nurse told me I needed to see a new doctor. Before I did that I did go to my family doctor and he sent me for tests. Turned out I needed surgery. It’s a long story but I had my left ovary and fallopian tube taken out. My OBGYN received a nasty scathing call from my family doctor. Within the year following the surgery I did change my OBGYN and receive fertility testing as well as treatments but no babies. During that time I also received a series of other tests to find out I had IBS.

During all of that my father’s health declined even more and he passed away. He entered the hospital on September 20, 2010, the day after my mother’s birthday, and he never came home. He was in and out of hospitals and medical treatment facilities up until his death on May 6, 2011. It was a tough year. The last month before he passed away I had turned in my resignation but was told, either a co-worker or a board member, to keep it on hold because “How could someone as talented as you throw it all away? Can’t you hire someone to help your parents out?”

To tell the truth that comment stung and not in the way the person who said it meant it to. It stung because I felt like that person never really knew who I was. That being there for my parents and their health was my choice not something I was pressured into.

After my father passed away I stayed on with the choir temporarily as I was figuring out what I wanted and needed to do with my life. It had never been my intention to stay with the choir indefinitely. So when I was struggling with unsuccessful fertility treatments in 2013 I left the choir. I knew it was time to move on. Some saw that as the end of my career and for a time I may have felt that way too but I really felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I felt free to move forward with my life.

Ultimately the fertility treatments didn’t work. By the second treatment I had a feeling that was not my path. So Rent-a-Dad and I re-visited becoming foster parents and by the summer of 2013 we had out first placement.

Because I felt guilty over the need to contribute financially to my family I temped for a while. Then my mother became ill and needed my help. That was when I started free-lance writing but slowly my role as “stay at home mother” and “caregiver” have emerged as the front runners for my time. Slowly the over-achiever inside of me has calmed down with the knowledge that I am not super-woman. I do not need to have a career to feel fulfilled.

When asked “why the change?” All I have to say is…

I have a calling, what some call a vocation. I have been told time and time again by friends, family, acquaintances and strangers that they couldn’t do what I do. Some have gone as far as to say they couldn’t give up their life to take care of a sick parent or be a parent to someone else’s children. I don’t see it that way. I never gave up my life. I never gave up who I am. I am adding to that life and making it richer. I get to spend time with my mother (time that most people do not have) and help children who need one-on-one love just like every other child in the world (time that I cherish and cry over because I know its fleeting) and best of all my husband, Rent-a-Dad, not only understands and supports me, he is my partner through all of this.

So am I sad I gave up my “career”? Certainly not! I have no idea what is in store for me in the future. No one ever really does. I just try to take this crazy thing called life one day at a time. My family seems happy with the choices we have made and I love what I am doing right now. For now that’s all that matters. Others can judge all they want, and they will, but as long I am happy and secure with my choices what does that matter? I am certainly not a Taylor Swift fan but here I have to quote her and say “Shake it off

Missing the Point: A Mother’s Day Tale

My baptism with four generation of women who had an early start at influencing my life.

My baptism with four generations of women who had an early start at influencing my life.

Growing up Roman Catholic I never asked what the reason was for, or history of Mother’s Day. In the United States we celebrate this special day in the month of May. In the Roman Catholic Church the month of May is filled with celebrations for Mary the Mother of Jesus. As a child the connection I made was that May was a month to celebrate mothers (or rather women) and new beginnings such as May Day. Making this connection just made perfect sense to me. End of Story. Well maybe not.

As an adult, Mother’s Day has been a bit more complicated for me. When I went to church on that holiday weekend it became an annual reminder that I was not yet (and may never be) a mother. I would sit in the pew as the priest would talk about how special that weekend was, acknowledge all the mothers in the church that day and ask them to either stand up or raise their hand so the congregation could also acknowledge the mothers present. I always had mixed feelings of regret, disappointment, and feelings that I was being singled out as a bad person as I was a part of the negative space because I was either still seated or not raising my hand.

I know I wasn’t alone in experiencing those feelings. A lot of women feel they are reminded of what they don’t have, and a lot of people, in general, have voiced their displeasure (on Facebook, in blogs and other articles) over a holiday that celebrates the mother that was either horrible or absent from their life. The sad thing about all of this is that those people, myself included, are focusing their thoughts and feelings inward. The thoughts are either self-deprecating or very selfish and very much missing the whole point of the holiday.

Mother’s Day is not about you.

Mother’s Day is not some holiday to point out what you are lacking or about celebrating a person who was horrible to you.

Mother’s Day is exactly about what I thought of it as when I was a child. Mother’s Day is that one day a year where you step outside of yourself to honor or do something special for a woman, or women, who have had an impact on your life. For a portion of society that is their mother (birth, adopted, foster… doesn’t matter) while for others this is the opportunity to recognize other women in their life that made a positive impact such as an aunt, grandmother, sister, cousin, teacher, friend, mentor, wife… the list is limitless.

What I love about the priest currently presiding over our church community is that on Mother’s Day weekend he takes a moment for the congregation to look around the church at all the women seated in the pews as he says “give them all a hand because each of these women has been a mother in her own way”. I love that instead of singling any one woman out that he praises us all, our struggles and our wins. I love that he acknowledges a mother is more than a woman who has given birth. I love that he reminds us to give praise to all the women who have had a hand in making us who we are.

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For those who would like to know a little bit about how Mother’s Day became an official holiday in the United States, Wikipedia has a nice little write up about the holiday. Until writing this article I had no idea when the holiday became official in the United States. I am sharing a Wiki article so as much as with anything else it is open to human error.

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Coming from someone who has struggled with infertility, it is very hard to celebrate Mother’s Day even if you have the best mom, women in your life who have been the greatest influence, and women who you want to celebrate their motherhood. Even though I want the take-away of this article to be a positive one, as it should be, I do want to highlight there are women who find the holiday very difficult to deal with and live through. For most of my twenties (and a portion of my thirties) I was one of those women. I enjoyed and loved celebrating Mother’s Day for my mom but as I looked around me at all the women who were moms, and knew I was not one, I felt this deep aching sorrow which I did not know how to get rid of (at the time). I also felt like my friends who were already mothers tried to tip toe on eggshells around me that weekend and they shouldn’t have. They were/are moms and they should be celebrated. Although I am still struggling with infertility I have made my peace and know that I am a mother irregardless of biology.

Here is an article that I think can shed more light on this struggle and the feelings that accompany it: Happy Mother’s Day… to me. A relative of a relative wrote that article several years ago but the words still ring true for a lot of women and should be shared. It is a good reminder to celebrate the day for ALL the women who have impacted our lives, regardless of biology, to pray for the women who struggle towards the journey of motherhood, and to respect that not all women have a desire to be a mother.

When I am wished a “Happy Mother’s Day” by friends and family I know they have walked with me and prayed for me through my struggles; that they wish the best for me; that they see I am a mom irregardless of biology; and that they recognize the impact I make.

Happy Mother’s Day to all!

Five years ago I was planning on quitting my job and becoming a full-time caregiver for my parents. My mom and I had talked with the physical rehab facility where my dad was staying and he was almost ready to exit their care. I knew my mom could no longer handle the care of my dad on her own and she did not want to be a burden. The decision had to be mine and I needed the support of my spouse.

My Dad

My Dad

Almost one year prior when I had been ill and took almost a month off from work, my Dad loved having me visit on a daily basis. We had time to do things together like craft, cook, and watch movies. We were even able to take long lazy drives. So I knew he would be excited that I would be available to support mom like she needed. I wasn’t stupid to think it was always going to be sunshine and daisies, after all most of the time my dad and I got along like oil and water. He was my dad though and I knew this was what I needed to do. The bonus was that Rent-a-Dad supported my decision 100%.

Then 7 a.m. on May 6, 2011, I received a call from my mom. My dad had been rushed to the hospital with breathing difficulties once again. He asked the facility to call us. Mom sent her love and said we would meet him at the hospital. She then called me so I could drive her to the hospital. I frantically rushed around the house to get dressed, grab a project or two for the hospital wait, and dashed over to my parent’s house to pick her up. We were at the hospital within the hour. Then we waited in the waiting room for what seemed like forever. After finally being asked to come back the doctors took us aside for a moment to let us know something had happened but we didn’t expect that it was the worst.

When they shared the news with us that my dad had thrown a blood clot to his lungs and they couldn’t save him we were devastated. The only peace of mind at that moment was that we knew one of the nurses in the ER. She told us she was with my dad the whole time and that he knew he was not alone.

The words “shocked” “devastated” and “out of sorts” only begin to explain how we felt at that time. My dad had never been 100% healthy since I was 8 years old. I lived with his illnesses for over 24 years and they had become a part of my normal.

My Dad was supposed to come home to us in a week… I never thought he would go to the BIG home… Not yet.

In the days that followed his passing, I began a letter to my dad and scrapped it over a dozen times. I couldn’t think through my pain or see through my tears. Putting aside my own grief, I had to be the rock that my mom needed me to be. I wasn’t yet ready to deal with my own. Now almost five years later I think a letter to heaven is well overdue…

A letter to my dad in heaven

Dear Daddy,

 We are quickly approaching the day we lost your battle here on Earth. It has been almost five years since that day… How did that happen? Where did the time go? How have we survived that long without your quirky smiles or grumbly bear personality?

 The first few weeks people were so kind with their thoughts and actions. When the unfairness of it got to us there was family that knew what to say or to just offer a hug when words seemed senseless.

 Even five years later I play out those last few months… How excited you were over the last minute gift I found for you that Christmas, the home-cooking we “snuck” in to you, and all the good moments we had together… Mom telling me you felt like you had your little girl back and how after she told me that I made sure to dress up on the days I knew I would be visiting with you.

 Then those horrible tornadoes came through our area. The facility you were in had limited power. You were so concerned for others. You were even worried over my health. Those last two weeks I was not the best version of me. What you said and what I heard were two different things. My concern for my own health and work had me so tied up that I couldn’t think outside of myself. I was concerned that my conditioned worsened and that it might even be cancerous this time… For that I am so truly sorry daddy.

What I am glad for is that our last day together was a good one. We had received good news on your progress and that we had a date when you would come home from the facility. The plans we made for all the day trips we would take once you were out made us all happy. You knew I was looking forward to leaving my job and being home with you and mom. You were so very excited about it all. We would figure everything out one step at a time as a family. You were also excited over a project you’re working on so you kicked us out saying we will get enough time to be in each other’s pockets soon enough… We said our “goodbyes” and “I love you”… for the last time… If we had only known…

 Those are words I use often about you Daddy.

 You kept so many secrets from us but I guess that had become second nature to you. Between the generation mindset you had grown up in and the government security clearance you had as a radio operator in the Navy, keeping secrets was what you did. You weren’t used to the “share all your thoughts and feelings” generation that I was a part of.

 So when you requested that I purchase more snacks for your approved of “stash” and I asked (out of habit) how your snacks disappeared so quickly that week, you didn’t need to shut me out or let me assume the worst, that you had been sneaking extra snacks and over indulging, because you were raised not to shout your good deeds from the mountains… But Daddy if you’d only told me you were sharing your snacks with those less fortunate at the facility… to brighten their days during such a miserable time… If I had only known…

 There were so many things like this that I found out after you had gone. It made my heart so heavy that I had only really started to know all of your “layers” far too late. Like how compassionate and optimistic you really were, because I had only seen what years of untreated PTSD and the loss of so many friends in Vietnam had done to your spirit.

 Mom says my ever replenishing optimism came from you. That you always told her “sweetie we will find a way” and that “together we are stronger than when we are apart”. I now know that we weren’t so much oil and water as much as we were magnets, so much alike that we constantly pushed each other way.

 Even though I hear myself say “I wish you’d given me the chance to love you more while you were here”, I am ever grateful that you showed me how to clean spark plugs, use tools properly, make chili, bake and decorate a cake, cultivate a love of photography create arts and crafts, help me develop a science project that evolved over years and took me to the state level, develop a love of obscure things, science fiction, and so much more…

 I may not be able to pass on your DNA but I can pass on your love and through that love I will see you in everything.

Often I think on the conversation we had following your coma. You said “everything will change in 2012” At the time I thought you meant something bad and foreboding but now I wonder if you knew a baby that would change our lives would be born in 2012 and you thought it would biologically be Rent-a-Dad’s and mine… You just didn’t know it would be our first foster child. Children do change everything especially our perspective.

 Some days I cry because you aren’t here to know these children in our lives but somehow I think you’ve been able to meet each one of them before they were ever born and guide them our way and that you have known how much we have needed those children in our lives. How do I know this? JoBe talks to your photos on the bookcase all the time. He even comes to pull me away from chores so I will talk to the photos as well. Stinkerbell has started doing the same thing. Your photos aren’t the only ones they can reach on that bookshelf but your photos are the only ones that they talk to.

 I talk to your photos all the time too Daddy. I still hear your voice in my head…

 “I love you Daddy”

 “I love you too Nic-Nic”

 Always Daddy, Always

 

Living with Loss

Sadly losing a loved one is not something anyone can bounce back from easily. We all heal in our own time and at our own speed. Never let anyone tell you that you have grieved long enough. If the feeling of grief is just too much to handle on your own (and it can be so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise) there are many programs through local organizations and churches. There are also some national programs. Here are three websites dedicated to the discussion of grief and breaking down the myths and stigmas concerning the process:

 

Mental Health America: Coping with Loss: Bereavement and Grief

“The loss of a loved one is life’s most stressful event and can cause a major emotional crisis. After the death of someone you love, you experience bereavement, which literally means “to be deprived by death.”

 

Psych Central: The 5 Stages of Loss and Grief

     “In our bereavement, we spend different lengths of time working through each step and express each stage with different levels of intensity. The five stages do not necessarily occur in any specific order. We often move between stages before achieving a more peaceful acceptance of death. Many of us are not afforded the luxury of time required to achieve this final stage of grief.

The death of your loved one might inspire you to evaluate your own feelings of mortality. Throughout each stage, a common thread of hope emerges: As long as there is life, there is hope. As long as there is hope, there is life.”

 

Help Guide: Coping with grief and loss

     “Grieving is a personal and highly individual experience. How you grieve depends on many factors, including your personality and coping style, your life experience, your faith, and the nature of the loss. The grieving process takes time. Healing happens gradually; it can’t be forced or hurried—and there is no “normal” timetable for grieving. Some people start to feel better in weeks or months. For others, the grieving process is measured in years. Whatever your grief experience, it’s important to be patient with yourself and allow the process to naturally unfold”

34-night

I have always loved ordinary magic, the idea that there is magic and joy in everyday simple things. As I was watching the Disneyland 60th Anniversary special with my family this and two additional thoughts tied to that idea came to mind: 1) I feel lucky to be able to share my love of all things Disney with my family (young and old); 2) Nothing in life is ever promised.

As a small child I never knew my life lacked anything. My life was rich with ordinary magic. My mom & dad loved me, my brother & cousins tolerated the small monster I was, and I had a large family which included blood ties and close family friends. There were epic family gatherings for the holidays from Christmas to the 4th of July and a summer bash for all the birthdays and wedding anniversaries that took place in August; one on one time with my maternal grandparents; stories in French from one great grandmother and English stories from two others. There were morning nature walks with my mom, afternoon walks at the mall with my aunt, play time with my best friend, and evening cuddle sessions with ice cream and my dad. In between all these moments there were TV shows and music from my present and my parents’ past so I had an oddly liquid view of time (wibbly wobbly bits anyone?)

My point is, from my perspective I lacked for nothing…

Included in the time spent with my brother and parents was Friday or Saturday evenings watching Disney movies like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or Swiss Family Robinson and Sunday evenings watching The wonderful World of Disney, Disney Sunday Movie, and The Magical World of Disney. Through these stories I wanted to live in a tree house while wearing a fancy princess dress. I loved it when my mom would describe how magical It’s a Small World was when she rode it at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. As a child I never realized that Walt Disney had passed away long before I was ever thought about. I was just enraptured with watching how the rides like Pirates of the Caribbean had been made. It all instilled a deep love of Disney and a wish to one day go to Disney World.

I remember asking my parents “when can we go to Disney World” and being told “one day if we save enough maybe we can go”. I believe that was one of the first times I realized that my family lacked something (at least in others’ eyes) and that most of the people I knew didn’t see the magic in ordinary things like I did.

My family never went on big or elaborate family vacations like the beach, the Grand Canyon, or amusement parks let alone another country. As a child there was only one time I have been told that my dad took time off for a vacation, which was when I was one or two years old. It was for a visit to my great-grandmother over my brother’s spring break to work on a family tree project. Any other vacation growing up was spent visiting family with my mom and/or my brother. There were even a few times I went with my grandmother or one of my Aunts and their family. I went to Chesepeake or North Beach with my mom and amusement parks (three times) with my brother. I even went on a few church retreats with our youth group to places that were more family vacation destinations than where I went with actual family.

While this may have appeared as if my life lacked something, I was just as happy with visiting museums and getting to help out behind the scenes, nature hikes with my brother and mom, or days spent at the community pool. As a teenager I loved hanging out with my friends so church retreats were just fine and the time I got to spend being an extra set of hands for the summer theatre projects my brother was involved with helped shape who I am. As an adult, there is a part of me that mourns for the child who never had a vacation with my entire family, at least one I could remember. Even so, I know I was blessed to be able to do the things I enjoyed so much with my family.

I often wish that others could see that blessing and find magic in the ordinary.

Far too often I read or hear families complain that “Disney is evil” because they raised their rates so it is hard for families to visit Disney one time let alone annually. To me I would rather save my money and not attend a local park one season for $65 (just admission), than use that money to go to Disney for one day the next season $105. In recent years (at least the past ten years) rates for Disney have always been higher than other parks and Disney waited longer than most of the parks to raise their rates. I saw Dollywood raise their prices to $65 the year prior to Disney’s first rate hike in recent years. Disney’s food rules are also much more lax than any of the local parks. When Rent-a-dad and I went to Lake Winnie (a local amusement park) a couple of years back we easily spent $50 on the park food. I never spent that much on one day of regular park food for two people at Disney because I could bring in my own snacks, water and sandwiches. But that is just food for thought.

Most of the complaints I hear about Disney prices actually come from families that can’t make Disney their annual family vacation. Honestly, other than local residents or those with high incomes, who really could? And why would you opt to put all of your money into doing just that one thing every year? That is just my point of view though.

The first time I ever went to Disney World was a holiday weekend trip as an adult chaperoning for the non-profit organization I worked with. The trip was offered to a group of 50 teenagers. Sadly there was a large portion of that group that turned down the trip, not due to costs, but because Disney was not a destination like Hawaii or France.

For me, I felt as excited as a kid and very blessed to go with a group that felt so much like family, like back in my youth group days. While the girls were in a song session with Disney professionals (only a certain # of adults could attend so I made sure any interested parent was in attendance), the very first attraction I went to was the tree from Swiss Family Robinson. Most people don’t see that attraction as magical anymore and they would like to see it removed to make way for another thrill ride. For me it was as magical as I had ever dreamed it would be and I was once again a kid as I walked through that gigantic tree house. The second attraction was Pirates of the Carribbean as I dreamed of that ride since I was a child and the third was It’s a Small World so I could experience the magic my mom had at the World’s Fair.

Reality is sometimes very different from our dreams and sometimes it is even better if we just let it be.

After that first visit I had no idea if I would ever return to Disney World again after all it took thirty years to make a first visit. I shared my excitement with my family through small souvenirs that would be meaningful to them.

A year later we lost my father. Between my trip to Disney and when we lost my dad life had been pretty bleak. We lost several other loved ones that year, I had a life altering illness/surgery, and my dad was so ill that he was in an out of emergency rooms and hospital stays for nine months. The last nine months of his life he never made it back home. By the time my dad passed away I was so burned out I had turned in my resignation.

Through that year I still found some ordinary magic in simple moments. The day of Christmas Eve 2010, I realized I had very little to give so I made an impromptu run to several stores. My mantra that day was “if I can’t find a close parking space then I am not going in”. Every store I went to I found amazing parking spots and one store while looking for a gift for my brother I found a really good deal on a personal DVD player. The one thing my dad missed the most about home was not being able to watch what he wanted to including all his movies. When my dad opened that gift his eyes lit up and he asked me if the gift was “for real” and I assured him it was. I knew then that gift was the reason I had to go shopping that day. There were a few other moments like that in those last nine months that make remembering how hard it all was worth the pain.

Rent-a-Dad and I had a lot of soul searching in the months that followed. One thing we had thought of doing was a trip just for us. We had missed doing something for our ten year anniversary because of how sick my father was and we had been saving up to do something special. When the thought of Christmas without my father was brought up we knew what we were going to do. Rent-a-Dad helped make my childhood wish a reality. My mom, brother, Rent-a-Dad and I spent Christmas at Disney. It was the family trip I had always dreamed of except my dad was not with us. It was a very bittersweet trip for us all and we had some very emotional moments but it was still something special that I wish we could have shared with my dad.

Since my father’s passing, Rent-a-Dad and I have tried to live without regrets. It was something I strived for as a child and teenager but lost sight of as a young adult who had bills and student loans. Finding magic in ordinary things has always been the way I have achieved my happiness. Yes, I have been able to share my love of Disney not just through Disney movies but through several trips to Disney World. Going to Disney would not have meant one thing if I hadn’t been able to share it with those I love. I am just as happy taking our little loves to Mayfield Dairy during the fall as I was when we went to Disney. Driving around looking at Christmas lights was even more fun then watching the Disney parade and the 4th of July fireworks we caught from four locations in one Walmart parking lot seemed just as magical as any… I would never trade any of those ordinary moments. While I share my love of Disney things, the most important thing I can share is our sense of family and love of finding magic in ordinary places.

When life seems to be very unfair and I didn’t get to do something I so looked forward to, I always remind myself that nothing in life is ever promised. Once I remind myself of that one thing (and shut the door to negative thinking) I find that the magic of ordinary things is all around me. While I may never be rich (in worldly goods), all of the memories I have are priceless.

toxic

“Looking Beyond a Toxic Situation”.

We have all been in a toxic situation or relationship. When we find ourselves in these situations we know there is a need to extricate ourselves from them but doing so can be very hard. In the past year I have listened to friends and family struggling with their own toxic relationships and I have seen a variety of memes on Facebook dedicated to reminding people it’s alright to walk away. I find the juxtaposition of the two to be interesting because they have a common thread that is hidden: blame.

In a recent conversation with Rent-a-Dad, we came to discuss how good things can turn toxic and how when the blame game starts it can seriously taint your view on once positive situations. When that happens no one should ever feel guilty over walking away. Sometimes you just have to abandon the drama and let those empty words of blame fall on deaf ears. Believe me that those words are empty attempts to make you feel guilty over doing what is best for you. And when those words fall on deaf ears expect that those involved will do anything including smearing your name. Don’t let that deter you. What’s good for one person can be toxic for another. It’s just that simple. Trust your instincts that you are right, that the situation is toxic and you need to walk away.

I toyed with the idea of sharing some of my personal experiences but that only re-opens old wounds and who needs that. Instead here is a wonderful thought: it would be great if we (as humans) were more supportive of each other even if we don’t agree. We each have to do what is best for us and ours.