Ending Well (7/06/14)

The past two months have been emotional doozies.  They’ve been all about goodbye.  To my home,  friends, familiarity, comfort.  Though I’ve anticipated it for months, you just can’t imagine what it will be like until you’re in the throes.

It sucked.  How could it not — leaving decades-long friendships, beloved community, wonderful neighbors and the deep connectedness that comes from living somewhere nearly half your life.  I question  if I could ever replicate the special-ness of what this MN life chapter has held, friend-wise certainly.

But here’s the deal — our goodbye delivered to me and our family some of the most incredible gifts of love and connection I have ever received.  Ever.  That likely would not have come our way had we not been departing.  The ones usually reserved for funerals when a beloved is already gone.  And that have settled into my soul as encouragement for our next chapter, knowing I take so much love with me.

Such a give and take — by leaving I am receiving.

A couple months back, I sat with my trusted and beloved life guide (i.e., therapist) who wisely encouraged me to “do this goodbye well.”  She said, “You have five months between now and then.  Be intentional about your ending.  Take lots of photos.  Do what you want to do.  Be with who you want to be.  Say thank you to who and what you choose.  Leave feeling complete in the experience.”

I liked the sound of this and took it on.  I contrasted this ending to four years earlier when Jim and I experienced the ending of our business.  That particular ending was highly emotional, too, but it had a different vibe.  It felt chaotic and like something happening to me vs. me happening to it.

I wanted this ending to feel purposeful and poignant.  I wanted it to be a heartfelt exercise in gratitude for all we had experienced in Minnesota, the highs and the lows, recognizing that it all mattered.

Without a goodbye instruction book, I set about to end well and this is some of what it looked like for me.

  • I read this book and created a theme of “authentic community and joyful choices” for my next chapter, writing in my journal the pieces of life (habits, beliefs, activities) I wanted to take forward and those I wanted to “shed” and leave behind.  I highly recommend this book to anyone experiencing transition!
  • I helped my younger kids pack up their rooms with intention, saving what they deemed important in their “special box” and letting go of other things.  I said yes to everything they were invited to that allowed them quality time with friends.
  • I returned books, magazines, stray clothing and Dvds to their rightful owners.  Sold our snowblower, trampoline and above-ground pool to friends that I  knew would love them well (if you can truly love inanimate objects).  I donated van-loads to charity.
  • I booked a two-hour appointment with the amazing Lisa to revisit our 3 years together, reinforcing for me how far I’d come —how much I’ve learned — since I showed up on her couch in 2011, months after the closing of our 18-year publishing biz, my mind jumbled and confused about what the heck had happened to my stable life.  I will forever remember her firm and loving goodbye hug.  I cried in her embrace while she prayed over me, for my and my family’s well-being.  What a gift that day was.  What a gift she is.
  • We sold our house to a family that felt just right and ignored the realtor’s advice to not make it personal.  I write kids books, for goodness sake — how do I de-personalize my home sale??
  • I scheduled time for lunch and walks with my dearest friends to tell them how much I treasure them and how thankful I am knowing I take them into this next chapter as well.
  • I was more permissive in my parenting, allowing my kids silly amounts of time on electronics to chat and play with friends they would soon be leaving.  I said yes to every sleep over invitation offered.
  • I was humbled by and cried my way through three gatherings orchestrated for me by various friend groups gathered over 23 years.  One dear friend hired a photographer for our neighborhood party to capture me with every person who came and use these photos in a scrapbook complete with personal messages from each person.  I have no words for such kindness.  I.  am.  overwhelmed with gratitude.
  • I cried  more thankful tears to see my kids  celebrated by their friends, too.  A surprise pool party for my daughter, complete with gifts, photo collages and a Power Point slide show.  A going-away party and cabin weekends for both my older boys and their friends.  I, nor they, didn’t expect any of this.
  • I questioned a thousand times why we are moving , suggesting to my husband that I stay in MN alone for the next three years to get my boys through high school, knowing our family unit would crumble and I would likely be a speck of a person from the stress.  I revisited daily the evolution of his job layoff, lack of opportunities for him in MN and a GREAT job in California to keep reminding  myself how we got where we are.
And now here I am, writing from California where we are still awaiting our belongings.  We are living in the in between.  Living between all that love we left and uncertainly about the life we will create here. I can listen to all the wisdom about change being good, but right now I feel lost.  I so baldy want to peer into the future to know that I will somehow be able to replace the important pieces of what we left.
Time will tell.  Until then, however, I feel peace in knowing I did my ending well as I await beginnings.

Dog Gone (5/29/14)

And so the single parenting journey continues as I detailed in this post.  I’m coming down the home stretch, people, with approximately 31 days until THE MOVE DAY.  When I think of actually landing across the country and realize it’s not just a 7-day Spring Break, I may have a full-on breakdown, but I digress.

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Last Wednesday, I hosted a jewelry party at my house to give my girlfriends a last chance to buy jewelry and cards.  We had wine.  We had laughs.  We had sales.  We had fun and festivity.

Then the phone rings at 9pm, and it’s my friend Tanya who is hosting my dog, Otis, at her house so he doesn’t get crazy at my jewelry party. Tanya has a big, fenced-in backyard where her dog and my dog  romp and play like the BFFs that they are.  “Marianne,” says Tanya, tears making her voice all wobbly.  “I know this is the last thing you need but Otis hurt himself really bad.”  “Um, how bad?” I ask. “Well,” she says, “he ran under our trampoline where a bolt was sticking out and he pierced his side and he kept running and …”  “Oh Good Lord,” I said.  We decide I will pick him up in 30 minutes after my guests depart and I will assess.  In the meantime, my party turned into a “what to do about the dog” problem solving effort.  “Shall I call my neighbor who is a vet?” one woman offers.  Another suggests the 24-hour emergency vet hospital.  Another warns that will cost me $500.00.  We eat more hummus and chips and discuss the options.

I pick up up the dog.  It’s bad.  His skin and fur are missing in a 2 inch x 3inch rectangle.  By then, the on-call vet tells me I can wait until tomorrow unless it’s pouring out blood.  It’s not, so I wait.  But I cover him up with a tee-shirt and give him human pain meds to take the edge off.

We head to the vet the next day where she gingerly lifts his tee-shirt and gasps.  “Oh, that’s BAD,” she exhales.  We talk surgery and stitches and an overnight stay.  I kiss his neck goodbye and agree to come and get him on Friday.  But not before my “growing-older” father-in-law comes for a weekend visit with two walkers and cane in tow.  My husband IS scheduled to fly in at midnight on Friday. I text him.  “It will not be okay if your flight is delayed.”

I pick up the dog on Friday.  He has 35 stitches down his side with a “drain” in his flank that looks like a bamboo skewer through his body. He is wearing the cone he hates.  He has meds and instructions.

The holiday weekend is hot and humid and threatening.  The dog and Grandpa get lots of affection from the kids.  Until the dog decides to run away on Monday night.  With 35 stitches and a bamboo stick in his side.

We take him for a walk at the park on Monday night about 8pm and let him off his leash for a little romp as we always do.  Every. other. time. he. comes. when. called.  Not this evening ,as his romp coincides with kids letting off bottle rockets to commemorate Memorial Day (why do they doooo that?) and Otis decides to bolt.  Through the high school parking lot.  Toward the road.  We run in pursuit until we lose sight of him.  Jim runs home to get the van.  We drive and yell his name for two hours.  Friends and neighbors join the search.  We came home to crying kids.  We call the police to report him missing.  We Facebook and InstaGram his absence.  Me and Adam go back out in the van and drive my running route hoping we see him, yelling his name until we are hoarse.

No luck.  It’s dark, close to 11:00pm.

My son asks me why we let him off the leash when we know he is hurt.  When we know people are lighting off fireworks.  “What if we NEVER find him?” he implores.  My daughter is sad mad at Otis for not wanting to be home versus running around in the dark feeling, she thinks, scared and lonely.

I cannot bear the thought of losing this dog right now.  It would be me and Jim’s fault for losing the family dog.  Not before we move.  I really don’t think I have it in me to schedule dog grief right now.  My mind jumps to us moving across the country while Otis is still is Minnesota somewhere.

I start praying to my mom who is likely watching the charade from heaven.  “Mom,” I say, “I need a BIG favor.  Can you PLEASE look our city over and find our dog?”  “Can you gently lead him home to us?”  I continue, “I’m really tired, and I don’t think I can handle not finding our dog.”

Somehow, the house quiets and we sleep with the dog still missing.  I wake up every hour, looking out the window.  I check my phone for texts or calls from the police department.

I hear Grandpa snoring.

And then.  At 5:00am, I hear a whimper outside my window.  The slightest little sound that sounds like…

Otis.

He is on our front sidewalk, pacing back and forth trying to get the attention of one of us to open the door, please.

He is home.  I do not how he found his way.  Or where he spent his night.

I leap out of bed.  I run to the front door and let him in.  I hug him bamboo stick and all.  I wake up the house.  I cry tears of relief and gratitude.

Thank you Mom.

I’m Marianne, and I’m a worrier (4/27/14)

Like my  mother, I’m tenacious and independent.

Like my dad, I worry about everything.

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The pesky, fearful “what if” was modeled well by him.  “What if we run out of money before payday?” he’d ask my mom (to which she’d reply The Lord will provide).  He found anything and everything to fret about.  Taxes, heath insurance, grocery bills, property lines and property taxes, impending rain.  Car repairs and the cost of gas.  If his favorite bread would be discontinued or his preferred doctor would retire.

I lived under his worry roof for 17 years and I think his angst entered my bloodstream through osmosis.

I remember being 4 years old in the back seat of our family  car and peering at the gas gauge while my dad drove.  “Dad,” I’d implore.  “You only have a quarter tank of gas left.  What if we run out?”

When I started my business 20 years ago, my dad naturally introduced doom.  “What if you run out of ideas?”  Wow, I’d never thought of that.  Thanks, dad.

IF I could have hand-picked qualities from my parents to bring into the next generation, worry and anxiety would not be included.

It sucks.  It sucks joy.  It prevents peace.  It resists living in the present.  It gives you stomach aches and wakes you up at 3am.  Sometimes it needs little white pills to keep it at bay.

It’s pervasive.

I hate it. I want to go into my brain and remove the chunk responsible for worry.  I want to replace it with the happy-go-lucky, it-will-all-work-out brain of my husband and others who enjoy this freedom.

Because you know what?  It usually does work out.  Many of the zillion things I’ve worried about have rarely come to pass.  Or they’ve worked themselves out.  Often  in ways better than I could have imagined.  OR.  Sometimes the thing I worried about DOES happen.  And I handle it.   The world doesn’t end.  I learn valuable lessons and I’m better for it.

You’d think after four decades worth of proof on this whole worry biz, I’d have left it behind.  But I haven’t licked it yet. I guess you’d say I live with chronic anxiety.  Can anyone relate?

We are taking on a big move, relocating to California from our Minnesota home of 23 years.  It’s been a string of worries starting with my husband getting laid off.  What if he doesn’t find a new job?  He did.  What if we don’t sell our house?  We did.  In one day.  What if we don’t find a new place to live?  We did.

Here’s the deal.  I KNOW my incessant worrying nature is not good for me or my health.  It feels like a disability, like a big weight on my leg that I shlep around with me as I go about my day creating colorful, inspiring products to share with the world.  The freedom in my art doesn’t perfectly match the freedom of my brain and I wonder how things might change in amazing ways if I could better sync the two??

THIS is what I’m working on, every day.  My daily practice.

When I feel worry rising, I breathe.  I envision inhaling peace and exhaling stress.

I mediate, focusing on my artistic gifts and divine purpose.

I pray and remind me of this promise from Phillipians 4:6-7:  Be anxious for nothing…  the peace of God which passes all understanding will guard your hearts.

I reflect on my life journey, mentally revisiting the many things I worried about that worked out.

How about you?  Are you a worrier?  What’s your strategy for inviting more peaceful, less panicky?

Interrupt me, please. (3/28/14)

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When my mom was still alive, she never called me. I would ask her why, and she would say, “I don’t want to interrupt your life.”  To which I would invite her to do just that.  “You’re my mom,” I would implore.  “You’re not interrupting.  You’re a part of my life, and when you call me, I know you’re thinking of me.”  Didn’t matter.  She still didn’t call, so if I wanted to speak with her, I called her but felt a tinge of resentment that it was so one-way.

Fast forward a generation.

I have kids. Who don’t make phone calls or ever answer their phone. Who ironically, don’t want to be interrupted by me and a jangling phone call. In fact, the other night, I had a lengthy conversation with my son via text while he was downstairs!  We tried speaking face-to-face about a touchy subject, and I was getting nowhere.  But we hashed out the entire thing over text.  I found it all very bizarre and told him so when he appeared upstairs.

An article in the Wall Street Journal noted this phone-phobia thing is all about controlling the conversation:

Millenials have “different expectations for how and when they’d like to be reached.” Phone calls, kids say, are “unwanted” and “outdated.” In other words, I’ll get back to you when I feel like getting back to you.

And get this?  There’s one Mary Jane Copps, a phone-use consultant, who charges $1800/day to write out phone scripts for her clients’ millennial employees!

Adding another perspective, a recent Time article called We Never Talk Anymore noted the following:

Part of the appeal of texting in difficult situations is that it’s less painful — but the pain is the point. “The complexity and messiness of human communication gets shortchanged,” a researcher says. “Those things are what lead to better relationships.”

I guess this all leaves me to wonder what is at the heart of true connection?  Is it speaking face-to-face or voice-to-voice? I believe so — at least part of the time.  As our kids grow up and leave the nest, especially if far-flung, can we feel connected to them if our conversations are purely electronic? Does it make things awkward when you finally connect in person?

I envision the future with me calling up my kid and he not answering.  Five minutes later, I’ll get a text that will say,”Did you want something?”  Yes, I want to TALK with you.  I want to HEAR your voice.  And when I hear your voice, I will imagine the beautiful face that goes a long with it.  The unruly hair, the freckles, the great smile.  I want the spontaneity that comes from unscripted conversation, the back and forth banter.

Am I setting myself up for big disappointment?  I know for sure I need to change with the communication times and accept what is versus how I’d like it to be.  Some of my friends feel they have better relationships with their kids as they text more often than they would ever call.  Perhaps.

As for me?  I think I’ll text to ask if I can call.

Book Giveaway Winners (2/25/14)

Thank you ALL for entering the giveaway for my newest book!  I had originally planned to give away 8 signed copies but added one more to include more entries!  Loved the entries and names … and photos!

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The winners are listed below.  Please e-mail me your shipping address to:
richmond.marianne@gmail.com.  Also please include who you would like the book personalized for, i.e., “For Sarah and Pippy the Pig” or whatever you would like!  These will go out the week of March 10th as I am escaping winter next week!
Thank you all!  xo, Marianne
Meegan Barth Ware and Jeremiah the Bear
Rachel Chennault and Brianna Baby Doll
Kristin Rummer and Ellie and E
Leeann M. Giese and Bunny Tag
Tammy McDaniel Stanley and Molly the Beagle
Erika Ryan and Bun Buns
Sylvia Garcia and Chachita the Baby Doll
Vinny Chuka and Orangie the Teddy Bear
Janet Potts and Teddy and Puppy

Tales and Tenderness from a Trying Week (2/23/14)

I’m a strong girl, friends.  Independent, resourceful,  and generally optimistic.  I’ve done sweeping seasons of challenging circumstances where you hunker down for months of resilience and put a therapist on speed dial.

This week was different, though.  This week was  a series of days filled with unfortunate events that finally sent me up and over the peak of sanity.

Let me set the stage:  I’m single parenting four kids.  After a layoff last fall, my husband took a job in California and started work there in January with family plans to re-locate after the school year winds down.  I co-created and co-agreed on this plan of action.

Enter the Polar Vortex winter of 2014.  Since January 1, school has been called off FIVE days for extreme cold and/or snow.  As of Sunday, the metro area had registered the most days below zero in 32 years; and the 13th longest stretch of consecutive subzero low temperatures.  Our Snow Blower is broken.

I could stop right there and I know you’d understand.

My husband was in town last weekend for 3 days.  It was wonderful.  We went out to dinner. He changed lightbulbs, pounded things in, walked the dog, and drove kids places.  Then he left on Monday.

On Tuesday, I took my child for his second attempt at his driver’s test which ended with a hope that “the third time will be the charm.”  (sad face).

That night, I drove to the Varsity basketball game with my 10-year-old in tow.  Two minutes from our destination high school, I was following my GPS instructions to make a U-turn at the light. That was going fine until a truck plowed into me 90% into my U-Turn, taking out my front right bumper and headlight.  A truck driven by an off-duty policeman no less. I got out of the car and he asked me why I did that, and I asked him where he came from. Apparently he turned into traffic from a restaurant parking lot that I couldn’t see behind the 18 foot high snowbanks. The insurance company tells me it’s my fault because I was making the U Turn. The cop reminded me on the scene not to admit fault, and he didn’t have his insurance card with him.  He did show me his shiny badge though.

As we are driving away from the scene, my son says, “I’m glad Dad has a good job.”  I don’t  explore his logic.

Abra Auto Body tells me they can fix my car in March sometime.  And you need a headlight to take a driver’s test.

On Wednesday night, my 12-year-old daughter joins me and the dog in bed at 11:00pm to tell me she is certain she has a bladder infection and isn’t sure she can endure it through the night. I jump online to look up 24-hour-care clinics and find none. The word Emergency Room sends her into a teary heap. I offer Tylenol,  a heating pad and prayer. It seems to work and she sleeps.

My 16-year-old son pops into my room to tell me he prayed for me at Youth Group that night.  For my strength.  I get teary.

Thursday we go to the doctor, first thing. Bladder infection confirmed by Target Clinic.  “We will have your prescription in 10 minutes,” they tell me.  Except they don’t because no pharmacy within 10 miles seems to be in stock of this antibiotic.  So they find it for me at a Walgreens in a questionable part of town.

I drop said daughter at school and go on search of medicine.  This is when the blizzard starts and continues to snow for the ensuing 24 hours, dumping 12 inches of new snow.  Our snow blower didn’t fix itself this week. But my delightful neighbor boy loves to plow anything in sight and came over to do our driveway.  I ran out in my pajamas, grabbed his face and kissed him.  On the cheek.

My high school friend was diagnosed with breast cancer. Highly treatable they tell her.

My new cute red glasses come in. I can now see far away reallllly well.  And yes, I was wearing them during the U-Turn.

I have therapy for my sore hip.  JC tells me she thinks my hip pain is coming from tight neck muscles. And proceeds to massage my neck for two hours.  I’m delighted she cares about me so much even though I am paying her to care.

I pay Mark, the Hearth Master, to fix my gas fireplace after 3 years of not working.

On Friday, school is called off because of the blizzard.  Basketball games are called off.  By lunchtime, I decide that I will attempt a trip to the bank and to Target.  So I’m waiting at the stop light to turn into the Target parking lot.

And a guy plows into me from behind.  In my other car.  Two cars smashed within three days.  We pull into Home Depot and we both get out to exchange information.  He tells me he has never been in an accident until today.  An accident virgin until he met me.  Super.

He drives away and I have his name, phone number and insurance information on Post it notes all over my dashboard. I put my head on my steering wheel and cry.

My daughter is supposed to get in a car with her basketball team in one hour to drive to Rochester, MN for a tournament.  I decide in that moment that she is not going.  I don’t care if I’m disappointing anyone.  Sorry folks, this pity party is mine alone right now.

I don’t want to be consoled by my husband.  Only a Winter-weary Minnesotan will do right now.  Not picky on age or gender.

I start texting people who love me telling them the latest.  They swoop in with care.  One takes my dog for a play date.  Two others take my kids for sleepovers.  My girlfriend drives me to Saturday’s basketball game.  And invites me out to dinner with a group of her friends from high school. I am overwhelmed with gratitude.

At dinner, we play a game.  “Tell a story from the week and we decide if it’s true or false.”

Me:  “I got in two car accidents this week, one with an off duty police officer.  The other with a chain-smoking, accident virgin.”

Them:  “We would say false,” they explain, “but something like that can only be true.”

It’s Sunday now.  The sun is shining.  And I’m drinking coffee next to my gas fireplace.  All is calm and all is bright.  I slept for 9 hours.My kids are alive.  My cars are drivable.  My husband is employed.  I am loved.

Hello New Week, here we go.

Meet the Kids (2/4/2014)

Four kids.  Those who know me say it doesn’t make sense for the girl who in high school proclaimed, “I’m never having kids.”  And the same girl who at 30 years old reaffirmed, “I just don’t know if I want to do that kid thing.”  Then a devastating miscarriage at age 31 catapulted me into realizing “I think I changed my mind,”  and we welcomed four kids in six years.  It was an emotionally and fertility challenged stretch for sure with three additional miscarriages interspersed.  Two losses at eight weeks and another at 14 weeks.

I was beyond blessed with the arrival of my third child, my daughter, in 2002.  Then my husband cancelled his vasectomy appointment three times and we welcomed Will, number four, in 2003.

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So there they are above.  (L to R) Cole, 16.  Julia, 12.  Adam, 14.  And Will, 10.

When it’s time for a new book, I reflect on my own parenting journey and those of my friends and acquaintances.  I ask myself  what we have in common and how are we unique?  What challenges and affections are universal?  To what can we all relate?  I reflect on the unique relationship I have with each of my kids and what they teach me about love, humor, perspective, encouragement, persistence and gratitude.  And I try to wrap that all up in a book that parents and kids of all ages can embrace.

A couple of the inspirations behind certain books:

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 My Shoes Take Me Where I Want to Go was a book I wrote many years ago that has been discontinued by my publisher but can be found here and there through online outlets.  I adored this book as it was inspired by my son Cole when he was 2 years old.  His dad was putting on his shoes for him while telling him, “Your shoes take you where you want to go.  Inside, outside, down the street and to the park.”  I listened to their cute exchange and used it as a launching for this book that told of the imaginative places one can go, simply by donning a new pair of shoes!   

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I Love You So… was first inspired by the bedtime conversations I had with Cole, Adam and Julia.   I would say, “I love you to the moon and back, down the street, to the post office and back to our house.”  Then they would try to “outdo my bigness of love.  “I love you to the moon, to Mars, to McDonalds, to school, to Florida and around all the stars.”  With this book, I attempted to put into words the enormous, unconditional love parents have for their child(ren).

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I’m Not Tired Yet! was inspired by Adam whose bedtime antics included the “gorilla hug.”  Yep, we’d put our arms around each other and hug like gorillas!  Don’t you??  This turned into the tale of Ralphie Mix, who at age of six, didn’t want to go to bed.  His mom made up all sorts of hugs, squeezes and tickles to get him off to dreamland.

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If I Could Keep you Little was created in a moment of me putting my hand on Will’s head, pushing down, and saying aloud, “Oh, if I could just keep you little, I would.”  I immediately knew I had uttered the words on many a parent’s heart and started contemplating this thought — how if we DID keep them little, we’d miss out on all the cool things ahead on our parenting journey!

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Beautiful Blue Eyes and Beautiful Brown Eyes  paid tribute to Cole, Adam, Julia AND Will — and their  eye color.  I have two of each and — when they were little — would refer to them by eye color:  My blue-eyed girl.  My blue-eyed guy.  Big brown, little brown and laying down brown (the dog.).  And no, I never did a book for green-eyed kids!

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And lastly, my newest.  I’ll Never Let You Go is inspired by each of my kids’ comfort objects — Carl and Buddy, the bears.  Ellie the elephant and Timothy, the blanket — and the role they have played in the family. In this book, Edward the Bear doesn’t want to go to school without Blankie and so his mom explains to him that even when we’re apart, we are always together in our hearts!  Another sentiment to which many parents can relate!

As my kids grow, I am asked by many if I will start writing chapter books for older kids.  I don’t think so.  Kids often read chapter books to themselves, by themselves.  My books are about connection.  Connecting with a parent’s heart and giving them a vehicle through which to connect with their own kids. I feel like the connection piece is my inspiration and calling. And I’m so blessed and thankful for my own children from whom I can learn what this motherhood journey is all about.

A year since Dad (1/7/14)

A year ago today, my dad died.  He was 89 and spry until about two weeks before he passed.  Then a random fall in his living room led to pain which led to Percocet which led to his  giving up on living.  I had long thought my mom would die first, given her advanced Alzheimer’s Dimentia.  But one never knows until it happens.  I miss him.  He was my conversationalist,  though our dialogue was written on a whiteboard passed between us.

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Layton Terrace Memory Care, 2013

Before he died, we could find fault with his increasingly crabby tendencies, his complaining or his incessant worrying about finances, though my brother continually reassured him he.  was.  fine.  Before he died, I would find myself wishing that life had been different for him in many ways.   That he could hear.  That he didn’t worry so much.  Before he died, I would find myself wishing that that childhood had been different for me.  That I had had a dad who was confident in himself, engaged with us kids and not so annoyingly frugal.

Now that he’s gone, I don’t ponder any of the above.  I buried with him any unfulfilled longings and angst.  A lovely peace has settled in, mingled with gratitude for who he was, foibles and all.  I’m thankful for how hard he tried.  I realize more clearly the gifts he gave me, the penchants he passed on. Don’t get me wrong, I would re-script certain childhood chapters if I could, but what’s the point?

What I hold most precious now are his writings he left behind that told the story of him.  He printed out our e-mail exchanges and tucked them in a folder.  I have hand-written letters he sent me through the years.  Prompted by me, he had also written 60 pages of  his life story, re-telling stories from the Great Depression that we would have never known otherwise.  And we have copies of his diaries that he kept for nearly a decade.

I have a growing interest in helping grown up kids connect with their parents before the  “wisdom window” closes.  To capture some of their stories that may go untold unless asked for.

In honor of my dad’s first birthday in heaven — go ahead and connect with YOUR dad (If you’re fortunate to still have him around).  Engage him in conversations you’ll remember when he’s gone, the kind that let you get to know him as a person — and not just your dad.  Maybe some of these for starters?

• Tell me about your childhood house.  Was it big?  Small?  Did you have to do chores?

• What were your favorite classes in high school?

• If you could jump back in time and re-live any five-year time period… when would it be?

• What was the first job you had?

• What was a huge challenge in your life that you overcame?

• What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?

The Good Man Beside Me (12/31/13)

It’s been quite a year.  New friends, partnerships and opportunities.  Losing both my parents seven months apart. It has felt emotionally full.  I don’t think I’ve scratched the surface on fully connecting to everything the year has brought.

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What I do know, however, is how thankful I have been for my rock-steady husband walking through it all with me. While I often ride an emotional roller coaster, he’s kind of like the sun. Steady, unchanging, available.  He’s more left brained and analytical.  I’m more right brained and feeling.  Together, we are pretty darn whole.  Rest assured, it’s not always easy.  We still have many mutually-annoying moments, but as for a life partner?  He’s a gem.

We snapped this photo two days ago at the Mall of America celebrating our 10 year old’s birthday.  We were sitting on a bench, waiting for them to come off a ride. We have concluded that we parents do a LOT of waiting. Before sports events. In bus lines. During hair cuts.  At doctor’s offices.

I looked at the photo on my phone and immediately said, “Look at all those wrinkles around my eyes.”  To which he sarcastically said, “Sure, that’s what you should focus on.”  I immediately was brought back to a memory of looking with my dad through my beautiful wedding photos and my dad said, “look at my bald spot.”  Here we are, re-living my beautiful wedding day and he’s looking at his bald spot.

Jim says, “let’s focus instead on how  much we like each other.”

Yep, thankful for this guy.

Who are your rock-steady pals and life partners?

 

The Season of Letting Go (12/16/13)

This ornament hung on my tree for many years.  Well, it used to be an ornament.  A really, really special one from my dad’s childhood.  When I was a kid, my dad and I used to decorate the tree together because my mom had no interest in doing such. Me and dad would lovingly unearth the ornaments from the previous year and hang them up.  One in particular was a very old glass swan that had been on his tree when HE was a kid.  The swan had no tail, just a hole in his “back area” where a tail should be.

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One year, while I was hanging up the swan, I tilted in just enough when lo and behold, a nylon, brushy tail emerged through his back end!!  “Dad!!”  I shouted upon this discovery, “The swan.  Has.  A.  Tail.”  We both were giddy over it.

When I got engaged to my husband Jim, my dad gifted me the swan to hang on my own tree.  I was deeply touched by his gesture.

Then we had kids who didn’t know to care deeply and tenderly about my swan ornament.  And my then 2-year-old son fell into the tree which knocked the swan onto the floor and broke him into a billion shattered pieces.  And I felt my heart break for what this swan meant to me.  I cried while I scooped up the shards and put them in a Ziplock baggie that I couldn’t bear to throw away.

For a couple years thereafter, I hung the baggie on the tree but that made my kid feel really bad.  And so I finally took it down and stored the broken swan in my own special box of memories, out of sight.  I practiced breathing the disappointment and sadness out of my heart and breathed in the joy of having kids who are excited about Christmas.

This is the ultimate season of expectation.  Will I get the tree up, presents bought, gifts wrapped, concerts attended, love shared, people remembered, lights up, cocoa ingested, cookies baked, charities donated … all before December 25th?  Oh, and perhaps you’re working for an outside employer, too, whose expectations and deadlines don’t pay much attention to the calendar.

Do Your Best and Let Go.

Breathe in gratitude for what you accomplished and let go of what won’t get done.

Breathe in love, friends.  If you find time to do anything this holiday season, breathe in love.  If it’s full in you — you’ll naturally share it with others.

And guess what? No stress required.