Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Sweet Sixteen

My oldest daughter’s birthday is today; she is now sixteen years old! She has been counting the months until this day for the past two years. It is obvious that this is a major birthday for her. When she came downstairs this morning, she was truly glowing. As I looked at her and thought about my impending birthday, I thought first about what I wish for her and then about what I wish for myself.

My wish for my daughter is that the anticipation reflected in the glow on her face actually becomes the reality of her day, the reality of her increasing abilities, her increasing freedom and her increasing maturity. Sometimes, when we have spent so much time looking forward to an event, the actual event turns out to be less than we had imagined. I hope that is not the case for my daughter today. I hope her reality of being sixteen is all that she had imagined it to be.

My wish for myself is that I wake up on my birthday at the end of next month, with the same type of glow that my daughter had today. In fact, I hope for both of us, that each of our birthdays for the remainder of our lives, gives us that type of glow as we look forward to and anticipate all that is still before us.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

We Grow Older -- Children Do Too

Since we returned from Europe three weeks ago, I’ve been busy with the normal family stuff as well as preparing for an adoption conference that I’ve co-chaired which is happening this Saturday. In the midst of this, I’ve also been helping my second son prepare to move. It was fun to go shopping with him earlier this week to pick out some of the items he’d need to stock his first apartment. He’s nineteen and has been ready to move for several months, but it has taken time for him to get all of the pieces put together. My husband and I have encouraged him; we understood that it was time for him to move on. So, as I’ve been busily getting back into the post-vacation routine and preparing for the conference, I’ve also done this and that to help my son prepare for this move that I knew was coming, that I encouraged him to pursue and about which I felt good.

This morning I woke up early to see my husband off on a business trip and to have time to write my son a rite-of-passage letter. As I wrote the letter, I began to comprehend the reality of what would happen today. It has been many years since I dropped our oldest son off at college and, somehow, I’d managed to avoid remembering how hard that was. How I cried down the two flights of stairs from his dorm room; how I sat in the car with tears running down my cheeks; how I drove the two hours home with a continually wet face. This morning I suddenly realized the impending end of childhood for my second son. He’ll still be our son, he’ll still need us. Hopefully, he’ll still ask for advice now and then, but once he’s moved out, he’ll never again be a child in our home. Even if he someday returns to live with us, it will be as a young adult who has experienced life on his own.

So, I cried some this morning and I thought of my son often today – wondering how his day was going, how he was doing in his new apartment, whether or not he’d eat dinner at the cute little table we’d bought on sale at IKEA. Then, this evening, my phone rang. It was my son, calling to check in and let me know how his day had gone, that he was settling into his apartment nicely and that his girlfriend had come over to make dinner and they’d eaten at the cute little table. It was hard to anticipate this emotional-umbilical cord break. It was hard to hug him, wish him well and say goodbye, but it felt great to hear his voice on the phone, to hear his excitement and to know that he is doing fine. The anticipation of separation hurts, the reality of saying goodbye is tough, but the reality of a child growing up and being capable is sweet!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Enjoy the Ride!

This morning while I exercised I watched an episode of Oprah that I had TiVo’d awhile ago. Oprah and author Marianne Williamson were discussing the “new” middle-age and how a shift in perception can change how we age. Oprah mentioned that Maya Angelou had once said to her, “The fifties are everything you were meant to be.” I’ve been trying to look at turning fifty as a positive experience, but this statement moved the event from simply positive to eagerly awaited. I think I’m on the right path with my volunteer work in adoption and my efforts at writing, but now I’m wondering what I can do to take this path and make the next decade the one that will truly define me. I know that in order to make the decade spectacular, I have to take action; sitting back and waiting for something to happen just won’t work. Maybe that’s what decade birthdays are all about: a time to take stock, look ahead with anticipation and figure out how to truly be the person we wanted to be when we grew up – even though that dream person is no doubt different at fifty than she was at ten and will probably be different still at sixty.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Ya Gotta Have Friends...

Last night was my monthly Pokeno evening. Pokeno is a game similar to Bingo, but played with playing cards instead of numbered balls. I’ve been playing Pokeno for almost four years with a group of women from my neighborhood. When the group first started I knew only a couple of the women, now I count them all amongst my good friends. We are in some ways very similar and, in some ways, very different, but we all share a friendship that’s based on more than just living in the same neighborhood. We’ve had babies born, family deaths and surgeries; through it all, we’ve helped one another with prayers, support and prepared and delivered meals. We keep in touch throughout the month with e-mail and an occasional “field trip” – Washington Square one time, pedicures another; and, once a month, we gather at one home or another to play the game that brought us together. We eat, we drink, we laugh and gossip – the rule is, “What happens at Pokeno, stays at Pokeno.”

This is really the first time in my life that I’ve had a group of girlfriends. My husband is my absolute, forever and always best friend and we, as a couple, have a few other couples – two specifically that are our best friends, sometimes more like family than family, and I have a couple of other friends that I put high on my list, but this is my first experience with a group of girlfriends. I’ve made a few new friends over the last couple of years, when I’ve been in travel groups and I’ve seemed to “click” with a couple of different women. I felt like I’d known each forever, yet we were, really, just new acquaintances. Recently someone said to me that sometimes you don’t make good friends, you recognize them – I like that idea.

I know that I’ve always valued good friends, but I think as I’ve matured, I’ve come to realize just how special it is to have a friend – whether it’s a spousal best friend, lifelong family friends, a group of women who love to laugh together or someone I just met, I truly do value the connection of friendship and I think the advancing years just make the value seem even higher – yet another example of the positive side of getting older!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Life Lessons -- Learning to Give

The following essay I wrote a few years ago was printed in The Columbian newspaper on April 2, 2008 (see yesterday's blog).

I was three years old and asleep in the backseat, so I only know the beginning of this story from what my parents told me. We were on our way home from visiting family friends in The Dalles. The adults had sat up late playing pinochle, so we were traveling the two hours home in the middle of the night. In those days I-84 was a small highway, not the freeway it is today. There were few cars out at that time of night, so it was easy for my mom and dad to see the car slowing and pulling to the side of the road in front of them. Suddenly, as my mom recounted, there was a burst of blue and then it was dark where the slowing car’s lights had been. I woke up as our car slowed to a stop behind the dark car. My dad got out and walked up to the disabled car. A man got out and the two of them went to the front of the car and raised the hood. My mom, never one to sit by, got out, too, telling me to stay put in the backseat. A woman got out of the passenger side of the car when my mom approached. The four adults stood talking at the front of the car. Eventually my mom and the other woman opened the back door of the woman’s car and looked in. Mom came back to our car and said that we were going to give these people a ride into Portland so we would have to make room. As she moved our coats, toys and miscellaneous belongings into the trunk, she explained that the family was having “hard times”, a condition I would grow up to learn that my parents had had their own share of. This family knew people in Portland who they could stay with if they could just get to town. Mom and the other woman started pulling children from the backseat of the other car. There were three or four of them, all young, plus a very small baby wrapped in a blanket. My mom called it a “blue baby”. I know now that it probably had some heart problem, which, for that time, probably also meant it wasn’t going to live long. At the time, all I could picture was a round healthy baby with blue skin – how strange!

It was a cold damp night and these children who piled into our car were dressed only in lightweight clothes, no coats, hats or blankets, except for the blue baby. I don’t know how we did it, but we all managed to get into our car; I do remember that it was very cramped. We drove on to Portland and to our house. We all went inside and, while the other father placed a call to the people they knew, my mom went to work feeding everyone and then bundling up the children in blankets on a hide-a-bed couch so that they could rest while waiting for their ride. She then went through our house gathering clothing, coats and blankets that she packed into bags to send along with this family. I was very young, but even then I was in awe at what my mom and dad were doing for these people. I didn’t yet understand wealth or poverty, and I didn’t understand that we were not wealthy people. We had a small home, we had food on our table, but there was never any extra. We lived within our means, but those means were limited. Yet, here was my mom, packing up our things to give to this family who had less than us, who currently didn’t have a home or a table on which to put food they probably couldn’t afford anyway. In response to the thanks and gratitude of the other parents, my mom kept saying, “It’s okay; it’s the least we can do. We all go through hard times.”

My life was changed by what happened that night. At a very young age, I learned about selflessness, giving and respect. I’ve often wondered what became of that family. Did they find a place to settle? Were they able to make it through their “hard times”? Do any of those children remember that night? Were any of their lives changed by the quiet generosity they experienced at the hands of my parents? I like to think so.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

What's Next?

Earlier this year, as our family sat around the table after dinner, we opened up our box of Table Topics and someone drew out a card. Table Topics is a box of cards each with a question designed to promote conversation. Our version, the family version, asks questions such as, “Who do you sorely miss?” and “What’s one thing you’d like to know about the future?” On this particular night, the card drawn asked, “What one goal do you hope to accomplish this year?” It was January and we’d all been thinking about resolutions, so this was a good question. We went around the table answering the question. I purposefully called on others to answer, leaving myself until last. I’d just started writing my blog, which, in itself, was a huge step out for me, but I had an even bigger goal that I was a little afraid of stating out loud.

I’ve accomplished a lot over the years, but I’ve always been a little afraid of making my goals and dreams known – what if they didn’t happen? I thought I’d feel embarrassed if I tried something and wasn’t successful. So the thought of stating my personal goal to everyone gathered at our dinner table made me a little uncomfortable. However, this is the year of my “big” birthday and I realize that if I’m going to accomplish goals, I have to make the effort to get started on them. So, when it was finally my turn, I took a deep breath and stated, “I want to have something published this year.” There, I’d said it and, a little to my surprise, my family was extremely supportive of my goal. One of the kids pointed out that writing a public blog is, in a way, being published, but I wanted to be published by someone else; by someone else reading what I’d written and finding enough value there to print it.

Last night I came home from dinner out to find my older children waiting to show me something – a page from the April 2nd edition of our local newspaper, The Columbian, delivered while we were in Europe. On this page was a picture of me taken when I was about four-years-old and a story I had submitted for the paper’s Everybody Has a Story feature. I was shocked and thrilled! Of course, I knew about the story – I’d submitted it. And I’d known they’d liked my story because they’d written back and asked for the picture, but I hadn’t known that it had actually been published. I felt like I’d been lifted onto a cloud. Sure, it’s a limited circulation (apparently only one person I know actually saw it and that’s how I finally found out about it) and I didn’t receive payment of any sort (other than the incredible feeling of accomplishment I’m experiencing), but I did achieve my goal. I stated the goal, I took action to accomplish it and the goal was achieved. I’m happy and now I’m excitedly asking myself, “What's next?”

Saturday, April 12, 2008

AARRGGHHHHH!

I’ve been a proponent of positive thinking for many years. Somewhere along the road to maturity I realized that positive thoughts made the day better regardless of what else was happening. I realized that my reaction to events had as much as or more effect on the day than the actual events. I read The Secret when it came out and I’m familiar with The Power of Positive Thinking and You Can Heal Your Life. Last night we watched The Sound of Music and I was pleased to realize that the power of positive thinking is even espoused in that movie made forty years ago. The song, My Favorite Things is all about positive thinking. When the dog bites, when the bee stings, when I’m feeling sad; I simply remember my favorite things and then I don’t feel so bad. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t perfectly practice positive thinking, but I do try. I try to be aware of what’s happening around me. I try to mentally pull myself out of a bad situation in order to take stock and readjust my thinking – most of the time.

Our oldest daughter turns sixteen in a couple of weeks and, as she approaches the birthday that for her is momentous, she becomes more and more irritating to me. It’s not just her behavior that’s irritating, it’s also my reaction to her behavior. I’m not always pulling myself back and readjusting my attitude. Sometimes, I choose to just let it go and to let the situation unravel. Sometimes I choose to not show the maturity that an almost-50-year-old should show. Then I wonder if my impending birthday has something to do with this. Perhaps I let myself mirror that 16-year-old immaturity in order to offset the realization of the 50-year-old expected maturity.

I’m hopeful that three weeks from now, when my daughter has turned sixteen and has her coveted driver’s license, I’ll find myself feeling more like myself, more like the person who does believe in the power of a positive thought, the person who does believe in PMA (positive mental attitude), but for now, I’m just trying to maintain some level of dignity while I wallow in this my-daughter’s-driving-me-crazy self-pity.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Mawage

As a partner in a long-term marriage (30 years), I often wonder what makes our relationship work. This morning, watching TV while I worked out, I saw an interview with Bette Midler, one of my all-time favorite performers. She and her husband have been married for 23 years. Bette was asked if there was a time when she felt they had consciously decided to make their marriage last and Bette responded (and I’m going to paraphrase here) that she did think that at some point there was a realization that there was something bigger at work than the day-to-day irritations; something bigger to work toward. As I listened to this interview, it occurred to me that looking at the marriage itself as a separate entity is perhaps one of the keys to long term success. There aren’t just two people in a relationship, the relationship itself is a partner and the goal is for both people in the relationship to work toward nurturing that third partner. Sure, my spouse and I have a few issues with each other, but those little day-to-day problems are nothing compared to the greater good of the life, the marriage we have created together. I don’t recall a time when we made a conscious decision that we would make our marriage work, but we certainly realize, with hindsight, that making it work has been a priority for many years. As I look around at friends and family who have successful long term marriages, I see others who have also set their marriage as a priority, others who make the effort to set aside problems and irritations – some big, some small – to create a relationship that nurtures both people as well as the union itself. Perhaps that’s what makes the dweam of tru wov in mawage possible.

(For anyone who doesn't know Buttercup and Westley, the last line is a Princess Bride reference – rent it today.)

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Family Motto

On the plane home from Rome I watched the movie The Great Debaters starring Denzel Washington. I had read an interview with Denzel Washington where he spoke about his family’s motto, which was included in the movie. The Washington Family Motto is, “We do what we have to do so we can do what we want to do.” I liked that when I read it and I liked it when I heard it in the movie.

Our family doesn’t have an official motto, but we do have a similar saying, “Because that’s what we do.” It’s a no-excuses statement – never mind what everyone else is doing; we meet our commitments, we don’t whine, we just get the job done. I recently said this to my eleven-year-old son when he woke up on the morning of his last basketball game in an “off” mood. I checked him for fever, asked about ailments – none of either, just “off”. So, I stroked his hair back from his forehead and told him, “This is the last basketball game of the season. You go to the game, you play your hardest and then you can come home and veg for the rest of the day. You just get through it because that’s what we do.”

As our family has gone through the last two days, recovering from our trip and illnesses incurred on the trip along with jet lag and the expected massive amounts of work to catch up on at home, school and office, our statement and the Washington Family Motto ring in my head. The kids were all tired yesterday morning when it was time to get up for school, my husband, the last one to get sick, is still recovering, I’m looking at three weeks of intense work before an upcoming conference, but we all got up and we all set about doing what needs to be done. Last night we had a nice, quiet evening and enjoyed the feeling of accomplishment from having made it through the first day back in the real world. I’m proud of our children for their commitment to jobs, school and activities. I like that our family is strong-minded and tough-willed. We work hard, but we also laugh, love, tease and have fun – because that’s what we do.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

European Vacation Postscript - Why Do We Travel?

Yesterday I woke up in Rome. Last night, freshly showered and in clean pajamas after a twenty-six hour travel day, I crawled into my own bed with my own pillow and relished the feeling of being home. As I drifted off to sleep, I wondered why we travel when it feels so good to be home. Our trip to Europe was a whirlwind of historical places, museums, world-famous sights and cultural experiences. In the old days, people used to spend months doing “The Grand Tour” – we did it in sixteen days. In the old days, there wasn’t the technology and media coverage we have today; traveling was the only way to actually see sights – we had already seen these big sights in movies, on TV, in high-quality photographs, on the internet. So, why do we travel?

Some of the sights we saw, some of the art, were disappointing. For instance, we went to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa. Okay, now I can say I’ve seen the Mona Lisa, but I don’t think one takes a trip like this to be able to say, “I saw that.” I also saw Michelangelo’s Pieta, a sculpture I’ve seen in pictures many times, giving it only a cursory glance. Seeing it in person unexpectedly moved me to tears. I will never again give the Pieta a cursory glance when I see it in a picture; I will gaze at Mary’s left hand, at her face filled with love and I will do that only because I traveled.

When we arrived in London I was anxious to try real English fish ‘n chips – hah! What a disappointment that was. The fish is full of bones! Even at the restaurant that claimed to debone their fish, I still found a plate’s worth of bones. Did I travel for that? No, but in Italy, I ate food that made me stop, close my eyes and savor every bite. Tomatoes, pasta and truffles that tasted like nothing I’d ever eaten before. The Macaroni Grill may be a good place for a family dinner out, but it doesn’t prepare real Italian food – I know that only because I traveled.

I’ve seen pictures of small European streets that look only wide enough for a pedestrian or scooter. We walked on those streets; we felt the uneven cobblestones under our feet, smelled the food as we passed a cafĂ©, and heard the language as a group of people walked by. In fact, we drove on those streets, but not on a scooter, we drove in a small bus/large van – a vehicle big enough to hold our group of eight. My husband at the wheel, me navigating, children in the backseat alternating between giggles and screams – we drove through streets so narrow, the side mirrors rubbed the walls of the buildings we passed. We walked on deserted back alleys off Fleet Street in London that left us with creepy thoughts of Sweeney Todd and Jack the Ripper – real goosebumps from real experiences and only because we traveled.

As I drifted off to sleep last night, I realized that, while it does feel good to be home, it also feels so good to expand our experiences, to really see, hear, feel and taste other languages, other cultures, other sights, other foods. We are who we are because of our experiences – our childhood, our family and friends, our day-to-day lives help shape the people we are and, by traveling, we expand those experiences, expand ourselves – we may find new confidences, new attitudes, new understanding. We can snuggle down into our own beds with our own pillows and drift off to sleep knowing that the bed is softer, the life is sweeter because we traveled.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

European Vacation Day 15 - Michelangelo

Today we toured the Vatican. We are not Catholic, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from the experience. I did know that Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel was a “must do” for me on this trip. After many corridors and rooms, we finally made our way into the Sistine Chapel and….I was totally unmoved! I was so disappointed to feel that it offered nothing more than many of the other rooms and halls we had visited – such a disappointment! I’ve gotten used to that feeling on this trip. While there have been many highs and many moments of awe, there have also been several times when the reality of the experience has not lived up to the expectation. The Sistine Chapel fell into that category. Then, only a few moments later, we went into St. Peter’s Cathedral, the largest Catholic Church in the world. Its size is almost incomprehensible. And, while I found the size and the extent of the art absolutely amazing, what truly moved me was just inside the door, to the right as we entered. We went over to see The Pieta – Michelangelo’s statue of a young Mary holding a dead Jesus. Michelangelo was a twenty-four-year-old unknown sculptor when he carved this statue. Mary is depicted as a young girl, not the almost-50-year old woman she would have been when Jesus was crucified. Yet, the statue of her holding him, with her left hand outstretched as if questioning “Why?” “How could this have happened?” literally moved me to tears. How can any parent understand the death of a child? No matter the religion, no matter the age of the child, a child is always our child – in our hearts we know that whether the child is a two-year-old, a twelve-year-old, a twenty-year-old, a forty-year-old simply doesn’t matter; she or he is still our child, still the one we care for, love and protect. We are always the parent, they are always the child. Looking at this statue, no matter the religion, no matter the culture, it is clear that Michelangelo, at the young age of twenty-four, understood the love of a mother and a child and his portrayal is simply breathtaking!