Friday, March 28, 2008

European Vacation Day 8 - Say What?

I took one year of French and four years of Spanish in school, but I never felt able to carry on any sort of real conversation. When we began traveling to Korea and my husband immediately learned a few key words, I realized that he picked up languages much easier than I. Just as I had learned, sometime in my late twenties, that I’m a visual person, I “learned” that I am not a language person. For the past twenty-plus years I’ve convinced myself that my brain isn’t wired to learn language like most people’s. I also was afraid to even attempt speaking in a foreign language for fear of being embarrassed by pronouncing a word incorrectly or using the wrong word. I had an Aha! moment a few months ago when a foreign speaking person said, “Thank you,” to me in English and I realized that I appreciated his effort; I did not feel ridicule that he didn’t say the words exactly right. So, I decided that on this trip I would attempt to say a few things in French and Italian while we’re in Paris and Rome (the London portion of the trip was easy). I’ve done remarkably well and have even found that I’m able to figure out many signs and notices written in French. I wish now that I’d made an attempt to brush up on my French before the trip. My daughter and I are traveling to Spain this summer with her Spanish teacher and a few other students. My plan is to go home after this current trip and pull out the Spanish CDs so that I can speak and understand as well as possible by the time we travel this summer.

I do Sudoku and math as brain exercises, but every time I see ‘learn a new language’ as a suggestion for brainwork, I say to myself, I’m not able to learn languages. Well, I see now that, like my daughter’s squats (see the March 10th entry), I have simply believed that I couldn’t learn languages. The reality is, it may not come naturally to me, but I can certainly learn – and learn I will, merci beaucoup!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

European Vacation Day 3 - A Religious Experience

I’m not very good about doing the typical touristy things. Museums are a walk-through for me. I don’t like standing in lines, waiting for admittance. I’d much rather just wander, see the sights and watch the people. Lucky for me, my husband is a wonderful vacation planner, so I’m somewhat forced to see many of the typical sites through his planning, but we also get in a fair amount of wandering. Today, we started out to do the “typical” London tourist events: the changing of The Guard at Buckingham Palace and a tour of Westminster Abbey. Even though it’s March, it’s been cold and snowy in London ever since our arrival. Today started out looking nicer, but by the time we reached Buckingham Palace, almost an hour before the changing of The Guard, the temperature had dropped, the wind had picked up and the snow had started to fall. I was ready to call it quits, but my husband and at least one of the six children convinced me to stay. Forty-five minutes later, cold and shivering, we learned that there would not be a ceremonial changing of The Guard because of the weather. Disappointed, damp and cold, we set out for Westminster Abbey only to find long lines waiting to get inside. I nixed that with the support of all six kids and we set out for the London Eye Ferris Wheel. There were no lines, it was wonderful and the mood of our day turned around. Afterward, we had a lovely time wandering the waterfront, going through an art museum and walking across the River Thames on a pedestrian bridge.

As we came across the bridge, the weather took a turn for the worse and we debated whether we should just hop in a couple of taxis and head back to the hotel or continue walking. As we discussed the options, we rounded a corner and there to our right was St. Paul’s Cathedral – what a beautiful building! The Cathedral was closed for tours for the day, but people were heading up the stairs and inside, so we followed. We found out that even though tours were no longer available, the Cathedral was open for a free public concert. The kids found seats while my husband wandered around looking at the inside of the building. I stood in the back, in awe of the beauty and energy that filled the space. The beauty, along with the music coming from the choir, overwhelmed me and I found myself standing there with tears running down my cheeks. One of my daughters saw me and was concerned that something was wrong. I had to simply walk away and compose myself; I couldn’t explain the intensity of the feelings that had overcome me.

As we mature, I think we come to a deeper understanding of the beauty of life, the appreciation of all that we see and know. Yesterday, in St. Paul’s Cathedral I had a religious experience that had nothing to do with religion. It was an experience of appreciation, wonder and joy that I never would have understood a quarter of a century ago.

European Vacation Day 2 - Where's the Advil?

Oprah asks, “What do you know for sure?” I am not sure I know much for sure, but, in the context of this blog, as an almost-fifty-year-old person, I now know for sure that one should not travel without an adequate supply of Advil. We arrived in London at 7:00 a.m., tired and jet-lagged. We traveled around the city to get our first glimpses of the many famous London sites. Throughout the day my head felt worse and worse. By the time I went to bed, I had a throbbing headache, but I was sure that a few hours of sleep would help. I awoke at 3:00 a.m. with my head still pounding – time for the Advil. I went to my purse and rummaged through it in the dark. I took it into the toilet (not the bathroom, we are in London, after all) where I could turn on the light – no Advil! I went through my backpack, my toiletries bag, even my suitcase – no Advil! Apparently my travel bottle, which I’d made sure to fill, is sitting at home somewhere. My husband tried to help by preparing a cold compress for my forehead – no good. After two hours of suffering, I remembered that I had a supply of baby aspirin in my daily vitamin baggies. I asked my husband if he knew how many baby aspirin equaled a regular aspirin. He said three or four, meaning that I should take three or four. I thought he meant three or four per aspirin, so I took ten. Ten may have been too many, but I was finally able to go back to sleep and my headache was gone when I woke up. Today, when the pharmacy opened after the Easter Holiday, I went in and bought a new supply of ibuprofen.

Monday, March 24, 2008

European Vacation Day 1 - What Happened to the Calm?

Our family of eight, my husband, me and six children are on a plane headed for a two week trip to Europe. Over the past several months I’ve been relishing my newfound sense of calm. I’ve had a couple of customer service-type situations come up over the past few weeks that would normally have driven me to lose my temper and become irritated as my blood pressure would rise. However, with this new calm, I handled these situations with amazing grace – especially for me. I was even feeling a little bit righteous about myself. As we’ve prepared for this trip, I’ve used my calm attitude to schedule what needed to be done, to start the kids packing early and to get my volunteer work in shape to leave, all with the intention of having our send-off be smooth and easy. Yesterday morning I sat down at my computer to do our on-line check-in and discovered that our travel agent, who had confirmed our seat types two months ago, had messed up so that instead of having the upgraded seats we’d requested, we were in the last two rows of the plane. I called the travel agent, thoroughly intending to handle the matter calmly, but, somewhere between dialing the phone and listening to her lame excuses, I lost it. My voice rose and my blood pressure went up. When I got off the phone, I was appalled that I’d lost my temper. It’s not that I didn’t have a right to get angry – this was a major mess-up, but I realized that I simply did not like the way I felt. The situation left me agitated all day and throughout last night. I only fully calmed down this morning when the airline ticketing agent fixed the last of the seat problems and we knew we were on our way as originally planned.

We truly do continue to learn throughout our lives and, just because we’re adults, the learning process is not infallible. I hope to learn many new things over the course of the rest of my life and today I know that one lesson I still need to work on is how to remain calm when things don’t go as planned. I may have moved up to the head of the class, but I’m certainly not ready for graduation.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

What Happens After the Big Day?

An “over-50” friend recently mentioned to me that when she turned 50 she forgot to think about what comes afterward. All her energies were focused on the big birthday, then the birthday was over and she felt a little lost, didn’t know what to do. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. I feel pretty focused on my 50th birthday. I’m planning a party. I write this blog. I have several friends who turn 50 this year. Yes, it’s a major focus. As I’ve thought about my friend’s experience I’ve wondered if I’m setting myself up for that sort of realization. I appreciate her telling me about her experience because now I know that I need to make sure that I am, in fact, looking beyond May 31st. But, honestly, I think I have the right attitude. The goals I’m setting for myself, the dreams I’m thinking about all go beyond the month of May, in fact, they go beyond this year. I’m looking at this birthday as a time for reflection: where have I been? How did I get here? Am I happy with the ride I’ve taken? And as a time for projecting forward: Where do I want to go? What do I want to do that I haven’t yet done? How will I do these things? The goals and dreams don’t end with my birthday; the birthday is just a chance to take stock and make plans to make the next 50 as fulfilling, or more so, than the first.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

A Wake-up Call

As I travel this year of 2008 the fact of my looming 50th birthday is never far from my mind, but it mostly feels like a special layer that I associate with this year – not something I obsess over daily. However, because I have many friends who also turn fifty this year, the subject regularly bubbles to the surface as another birthday approaches. Today one of my dearest friends turns 50. My husband and I have known her and her husband since college, since before they were married. We have, literally, grown up with them. They and their family are as much our family as the families we were born to.

Last night my husband and I sat in front of the fire talking, once again, about turning 50. He turned 50 in January and I thought he made the transition well. We had dinner last night with a couple who are both a little over 50 and the man said that he had really struggled with the milestone. I didn’t think my husband had struggled much, but when I asked him how he was feeling internally, he said that he did feel that he had a new sense of urgency – a need to do those things that were still hanging around, unaccomplished, in the back of his mind. He had a realization that if he is to do some of those things, they need to happen because there isn’t forever. I immediately understood what he was saying. Writing this blog is, for me, a way of doing something that I’ve wanted to do for years. I’ve talked about writing for more than twenty years, but, with the exception of a few feeble attempts, I haven’t done anything to pursue that dream. As 2007 was drawing to a close and I thought about 2008 and that looming half-century birthday, I, too realized that there were things I want to do that I simply have to “do” or they won’t happen.

A lot of us occasionally procrastinate and, while it’s frustrating to have a task hanging over our heads, it’s also a thrill when the task is finally in process and close to fruition. With my birthday just a little over two months away, I find myself feeling excited. I’m looking forward to being 50. I have life desires that I have procrastinated on and, like my husband, I realize that I need to look at those desires, decide which are truly important and act on them. It’s the thrill of taking a task and making it happen. Turning 50 is, for me, a wonderful wake-up call that reminds me to savor this day and make it worthwhile.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Karma?

I have received many wonderful comments from people who have read my blog. Some come through on the blog comment feature, but many, many more come to me through my e-mail address. Every time I sit down to write I am doing something good for myself. Just the thought process that goes into my mental preparation is a wonderful exercise; then, the act of actually writing is calming and brings balance to my harried days. I write about what is meaningful to me in the moment and I’m always thrilled to hear that what I’ve written has touched someone else. This feels like a wonderful upward spiral: I feel better because I write, you feel better because something I wrote touched your heart and I feel better because you told me I hit the mark. It’s a swirling feel-good energy that we can give each other – hmm, sounds a bit like good karma, but that’s a topic for another day.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Housewife Woes

As a little girl I always knew I wanted a professional career. During my teenage years I toyed with the idea of law school or medical school. By the time I was in college, I realized that the social services was probably more my style. I planned to work for a year after college and then go back to school to get a Masters Degree in social work. By the time the next spring rolled around and I should have been applying to graduate programs, life, including a job, a baby and a new house, had come at me full force and I decided to stay with my job at a bank. I liked that job and I loved the bank, so for the next several years I advanced in my career, first as a commercial banker then as a trust officer. I went through a management training program, became the youngest female trust officer and reveled in my ability to balance both career and motherhood. By the time our fourth child came home, I had been at the bank for seventeen years; I was a vice-president in the trust department; I’d taken on and accomplished several goals; I was ready for a change. Our family life, with four children at home, was becoming more and more harried so I thought it was a good time to take some time away from work, focus on our family and reassess what I would do in the future. That was almost thirteen years ago and I’m still home focusing on our family and, some days, reassessing what I will do in the future. While I haven’t “worked” in the professional go-to-a-job-and-receive-a-salary type of way, I have definitely worked. Not long after leaving my “career” job, I found a passion for adoption support and began volunteering with a local non-profit adoption group, Northwest Adoptive Families Assn. (NAFA). I love the work I do for NAFA. It’s rewarding, challenging and I can set my own hours. I’ve been comfortable with myself in this role and my husband is very supportive of what I do and the role we each play in creating our life together and as a family.

Beginning a couple of weeks ago, my husband’s job became more demanding than usual and he was a bit preoccupied. Then, last week I was sick for almost an entire week. I’m a bit of a baby when I’m sick and I just wanted my husband to take care of me. He tried, but work was still impinging on his attention; plus he was preparing for a four day business trip to the East Coast. So, I spent the week being sick and feeling sorry for myself and then, just as I got better, my husband left on his trip. Additionally, we have a few business dealings in the works and two different professional-types referred to those dealings as my husband’s business, not as our joint business. Then, to top that all off, my husband was featured in the paper because of his professional position. I’m very proud of his accomplishments and happy for the successes he has had, but with all of these circumstances of the last few weeks added together, I found myself feeling left behind, a nobody, a tag-along – dare I say it? I felt like a housewife!

Not being one to wallow in pity I did what I always know will make me feel better – I expressed my concerns to my husband. As I told him how I was feeling, it sounded silly even to me. Why was I letting other people’s uninformed comments effect the way I felt? Why was I letting a few unusual circumstances dictate the way I feel about my life? I know that I love what I do! I know that the arrangement my husband and I have set-up for ourselves works for our family! I know that the life we have created -- in terms of our children, my satisfaction and my husband’s professional successes and happiness, is a work-in-progress that we share together, to which we both contribute. So, I woke up this morning, dusted off my “poor me” attitude, worked out, dressed nicely and I’m off to do what I do, what I love, knowing that I am successful, I am contributing and this arrangement works for me, it works for my husband and it works for our family. Housewife indeed! There are no Bon-Bons in my freezer!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Death and the Cosmic News Flash That Doesn't Occur

Last week we learned that a man we’d known for many years had died in December. We haven’t seen much of him and his wife for the last few years and we knew that he’d been battling cancer for fifteen years, but it was still strange to find out that he had died, and we hadn’t even known. I’m so sorry for his wife and child and what they must be going through. This news that wasn’t “new” has taken my mind back to times when people I’ve loved have died.

News of the death of a loved person changes one’s life forever. One moment you’re one person, with a certain supporting cast of friends and family; the next moment you’re another person. Your supporting cast has changed unalterably. When my father-in-law died, my husband and I had been at an Oregon Ducks basketball game and we didn’t find out about the death for several hours. After seeing that I’d missed a phone call and then learning that my father-in-law had died earlier that evening, my husband and I had to make the long drive home from Eugene. In silence my mind wandered back to 7:00, the time of his death. What had we been doing at the last moment of his life? It had been half-time of the basketball game. I’d gone down to the bathroom and then bought popcorn and bottled water. There was no tingling of my scalp, no flutter in my tummy. Nothing cosmic to let me know that someone in my life had ceased to exist. When such a monumental change occurs, how can we not know?

I wondered these same things when my mom and dad died. I remember learning about Dad’s sudden death from my husband. He came to my office and I spotted him across the room as I spoke on the telephone. I smiled at him and went to greet him as soon as I was off the phone. He asked me to come with him. I can’t remember what excuse he used, probably lunch, but I grabbed my coat and we got into the elevator. I knew something was up, but I thought it was some sort of surprise. In the elevator I playfully begged him to tell me what was up. Finally, out on the street he stopped, turned to me and delivered those awful words, “Your dad died this morning, Honey.” I collapsed against him with a cry. “No!” My life had changed. Changed in ways that I couldn’t even grasp at that time. Changed in ways that, in some cases, I didn’t grasp for years. Changed in ways that I am still discovering. It was about 11:00. Dad had died at 9:15. I remember wondering what I had been doing at the exact moment of his death. Why hadn’t I felt it? Surely I should have known. But I hadn’t. There was no clue, no message to my heart of what had happened.

I didn’t have that problem when my mom died. I was with her. No worries about what I had been doing, whether or not I’d “felt” anything. I was watching her face, listening for her last labored breath. Would this be it? No, she inhaled again. This one maybe? I knew where I was, what I was doing and I “felt” plenty. Grief, disbelief, intense numbing sorrow and an awe at having actually been there, at having watched someone die. She was there, then she wasn’t.

As I’ve thought about the man we knew who died almost three months ago, all of these other thoughts have come cascading back into my mind. I still wonder how we cannot know when someone we love has died. How can we not realize that our life has just changed so dramatically? I don’t have answers, just plenty of questions.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Squats

After two knee surgeries, my athletic oldest daughter has started working with a personal trainer in an attempt to get back the strength and speed she had before the surgeries. Last week, after one of her sessions, she got in the car and proceeded to tell me about the workout. She said that the trainer had her doing squats, but had been hassling her about not going low enough. In frustration, she told him that she just couldn’t squat any lower. The trainer went into his office and came back with a chair, instructing my daughter to assume the squat position and slowly lower herself into the chair. With excitement and surprise she said to me, ”And you know what? With the chair there, I could do it. I realized then that it was all in my head. When I tried it without the chair, I could still do it!” She then said, and this is the big insight, “I wonder what other things I can actually do that I just think I can’t.” This daughter , who is not yet sixteen, had just learned one of the best lessons of her life and it reminded me to look at my own limitations and to figure out whether they are true limitations or only ones that I have imposed on myself. Figuratively speaking, I think I’ll go do some squats.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

To Mom and Dad

This morning I went into my bathroom and saw a piece of notebook paper folded in half with “To Mom and Dad” written on the outside. I opened it to find a beautiful letter from our 13-year-old middle daughter. It was a thank-you letter that took my breath away and brought tears to my eyes. We’ve received a few similar letters over the years, from the same daughter as well as from a couple of the other kids, and it’s always so uplifting to hear words of appreciation from a child.

My husband and I often say, “Parenting isn’t for wimps,” referring to the harder parts of parenting: the tough decisions we have to make, the rules that must be enforced, the ups and downs of children’s and teens’ attitudes and tempers. When we first decided to become parents I don’t think we had any idea how encompassing that role would be, what a major effect it would have on all other areas of our lives. We didn’t make the decision lightly and we knew that a child would be a huge responsibility, but the absolute intensity of that responsibility we couldn’t understand. Now, with more than twenty-five years of parenting experience behind me, I fully understand, and sometimes lament, the reality of that responsibility. Parenting is a tough job, but like any tough job, it has its rewards and I received one of those rewards this morning in the form of a letter, written in pencil on a piece of notebook paper; written directly from the heart of a child.