Wednesday, December 31, 2014

It’s Not Time For Good-Bye, No Matter How Much It Hurts

Many of you reading this likely know what a crazy year 2014 has been for me, particularly the last few months.  Let’s tally just a few of the hits, shall we?
  • We lost my grandfather’s cousin, who was like an aunt to my mother and almost like another grandmother for me.
  • We lost my husband’s grandmother.
  • I started a new job, which while in itself has been a wonderful experience, it was so difficult to say good-bye to my former coworkers and not to be able to work hand-in-hand every day with the amazing people at my (now former) client.
  • I caught the flu early in the season, in October.
  • I am now fighting another flu strain, because of course I am.
  • I unexpectedly wasn’t able to spend Thanksgiving – the holiday closest to my heart – with my kids.
  • Traveling to my in-laws’ for Christmas was a true, longer-than-24-hour trains, planes and automobiles experience.
  • My younger sister passed away just before Thanksgiving.

And, of course, we all – in this country and in many cases throughout the world – have had to experience and try to get our heads around the events and tragedies of this past year: too many police-related tragedies and too much unrest to enumerate, Snowmageddon, three tragic and almost surreal airplane disasters, unrest with North Korea and Russia, the Ebola outbreak, and the loss of several beloved icons who had a positive impact on our world, just to name a few. It’s been a rough year all around.

Several people have made the comment that I must be ready to say good-bye and good riddance to 2014. But you know what? I’m not. 

Yes, 2014 was rough, and I wouldn’t dream of hoping that 2015 will mirror this past year.

Still, we have a choice in what we do with the difficult events that life throws our way. We can hate the moments that hurt us, or we can learn from them. We can regret them, or we can bear in mind that even as we go through the worst experience, the fact of the matter is that we are here to experience it, and that alone is something to be grateful for.

When my kids were little, my husband asked if we could teach them to say a prayer before bedtime. I agreed, but with the request back that I could write the prayer, since I’m not religious. Here is what our kids learned and memorized and will say at bedtime (when they remember to):

Dear God,
Thank you for today, and thank you for tomorrow.
Thank you for our joy and even for our sorrow.
Thank you for what’s been and all there is to be.
And mostly, God, I thank you for always loving me.

That “thank you… even for our sorrow” bit was very important for me. We forget to be grateful for our moments of challenge and sadness. (Apparently I’m intended to be incredibly grateful for the year 2014!) But those trying and difficult moments mold us and speak to our hearts and help us realize even more keenly how fortunate we are in our moments of joy or even those times of simple peace and calm.

Here’s the thing: I am grateful for 2014. While I hope 2015 will be different and happier and more steady year, sort of a more committed-to-happy type of year, I refuse to just say good-bye to 2014. No, I’m not willing to do that. Instead, I’ll just say “thank you.”

Happy New Year, friends. Welcome to 2015.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Dear Airport Baskin Robbins Kenny Rogers

Hey you. Yes, you, Kenny Rogers. I’m looking at you.

Well, yes, of course I know that you’re not really Kenny Rogers. Still, you’ve done a great job of turning yourself into a shrine to the Gambler himself:  well-groomed salt-and-pepper beard and mustache, collared shirt and pressed blue jeans, artfully sculpted grey-and-white feathers of hair so neatly parted down the center of your scalp.

Here’s the thing, Kenny: even if you were Mister Rogers himself (the singer, not he-of-the-beloved-cardigan), you shouldn’t hold up the line like you’re doing, chatting up the lovely ice cream maven behind the counter. We are, after all, standing in line at a Baskin Robbins within the concourse of an airport. In other words, those of us in line with you likely need to board flights pretty soon. Very soon. Please-let-us-order-our-ice-cream-and-get-our-ice-cream-and-eat-our-ice-cream-before-we-are-ordered-to-board-an-airplane soon.

Pensive Kenny. Must be thinking about what flavors to include in his double scoop.
Photo courtesy of
We haven’t got tonight, Kenny. We have a few minutes. We’re not islands in the stream, either. We’re hungry – or even hangry – passengers looking for some sweet, frozen goodness to boost our moods and our blood sugar.

Keep up this behavior, and no, we won’t always love you. We won’t even risk falling in love with you, whether or not you’re a dreamer. Darlin’, you’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, you’ve got to know when to fold ‘em, and you’ve got to know when to pay ‘em and move out of the way of the rest of us.

Oh, see?… my flight’s boarding now, and I haven’t even had the opportunity to order. I’ll remember this, Kenny. I’ll remember it through the years. Just you wait.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Missing “Hey, Meg!”

A week ago was my fmphtphepyidu-rd birthday.

Typically, I love my birthday. I’m not the woman who shies away from getting older. Quite the contrary. Every year is exciting to me, from the experiences – both new and routine – to the wrinkles and the white hairs to the memories and everything in between. Aches and pains, while not exactly pleasant, are still something new and therefore something to grab my interest. Having to hold my iPhone a little further away in order to read the typeface… it’s new. All of these things are part of life. They’re going to happen, so might as well embrace them and find a way to enjoy them. And that includes the celebration of each year completed on this earth. Hurray! (It’s also a lovely excuse to eat cake. Nothing can be all that bad that includes your favorite cake.)

This year, though, was different. Markedly so. This year, today, I had to work hard to make it through the day.

My little sister passed away exactly three weeks before my birthday. It wasn’t expected, but it wasn’t entirely unexpected either. No matter the circumstances, it happened, and it really sucks.

I’m not the kind of person who gets mired in sadness. No matter how hard something hits me, I have to focus on living, on joy, on the future, on doing something that will have a positive impact on someone else. As far as we know, this is the one life we live, so why waste it being self-serving or wallowing or worrying or becoming stuck.

During the week after my sister’s death, I didn’t allow myself the time or luxury to feel anything. I didn’t feel mired or depressed, but I also didn’t feel joy, or worry, or confusion, or devotion, or much of anything. And now… now I think I might be stuck.

It occurred to me a couple of days ago that I haven’t really cried. Not really. Not fully. And I definitely haven’t cried – truly allowed my heart to grieve openly – among the people I love most. In that first moment of shock and devastation, I howled tears of desperation with my husband. But since then… no. It’s as if when the people I love are around me, I put on a “me” costume, a defective one that was created without tear ducts.

Don’t get me wrong. Tears have been shed during this past several weeks. There were a few at the funeral, and during a business trip airplane ride, I found a continuous, unstoppable stream of tears silently pouring out of my eyes. Still, the real grieving hasn’t happened.

On my birthday, there were moments when it all hit, the reality that I’m now the oldest of four sisters, not five, at least on this earth right now. In those moments, I keenly felt the hole in the universe, the emptiness that was created when my sister passed from here to the next place. And I felt my heart start to rip open, ready to let the sadness pour out. But then, each time, this strange sound exited my throat each time, completely unbidden, like no sound I’ve ever heard before, and in my surprise I found myself closing my heart up again. I found that I wasn’t ready to feel yet. Not yet.

The problem, though, is that I don’t know that I’m able to feel much of anything right now. Keeping my feelings about my sister inside, keeping them from manifesting fully, has meant that I’ve had to hold everything in. There’s this wall I’ve built between myself and my heart, and there’s another I’ve built between my heart and the world. And the world feels flat, and so do I. Flat and grey and an echo of myself.

I don’t know how this all ends. I don’t know how to get back to me. I know it needs to involve a catharsis of some kind, a ranting, a real and honest release, and an acknowledgement all the way down to my soul – past these barriers I’ve erected – that my little sister is gone. I have to accept, fully and completely accept, that I’m never again going to hear her husky alto voice say, “Hey, Meg!” I know I have to do this, not just because it’s reality but because until I do so, I won’t be able to get back to me.

I just… I don’t know how yet. What I do know is that I have to get out of this “me” costume. Because it’s too tight, and it’s defective. Who ever heard of making a “me” costume without tear ducts?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Battle of the Deadly Nuts

Those of us who grew up in any generation prior to the current 20-and-under crowd find ourselves astonished at how many children in our kids’ classrooms and playgroups have moderate-to-severe allergies to nuts. Having someone else’s child come over to your house to play or sleep over, or even making fun snacks and treats for your child’s birthday, can be a bit of an emotional rollercoaster: What can I make that’s safe for everyone? Will this adjusted recipe still taste good? Did I touch any of the cooking utensils or dishes with anything that has been in contact with nuts? Am I absolutely certain that my ingredients are nut-free in every way imaginable?

peanuts for nut allergy post
Faces of Death.      
image credit to
Let’s face it. Nut allergies are scary. They’re scarier to deal with (for us average parents of non-allergic children) than milk allergies or gluten intolerance or other food-related sensitivities. For some reason – whether backed by science or simply what makes the news that we read – nut allergies seem deadlier and more insidious. There are individuals who can even become horribly ill – or worse – from being in proximity of nut particles in the air. I mean, come on! If the idea that you might accidentally distribute the almost invisible dust of death out into the breathing space of a highly allergic child isn’t terrifying, I don’t know terrifying.

Hence, the inception of periodic peanut-free flights and the dramatic rise in popularity of pretzels as airplane treats. (Not sure why plain M&Ms haven’t become the obvious replacements for peanuts, but that’s for another discussion.)

Let’s get serious, though. As with anything that requires tremendous care, consideration and some level of restriction, the need to accommodate individuals, even children, with nut allergies tends to upset some people.  Moms and dads alike rail against the concept of requiring all school snacks or brought-in birthday treats to be peanut free. They act persnickety about the parents of these children taking a moment to send out pre-birthday-party emails about the precautions needed to keep their kids safe. The list of grievances is long and the frustration real.

So let’s go there. Let’s get real.

The reality is that if these parents didn’t take these precautions, their children would be put in danger, sometimes mortal danger, every day in this country of ours where so much of what we ingest and are exposed to includes nuts or nut particles. If that’s not clear enough, let me be more concise: These parents who insist on these precautions are protecting their children. Their kids. The young people they not only are required to raise and care for but that their instincts drive them to protect… especially from anything deadly.

Some parents (of non-allergic children) who feel inconvenienced suggest that children with such severe allergies should not be allowed in public schools and shouldn’t be included in common outings and parties, stating that if exposure is so dangerous, these sensitive children likely should be kept tucked away from kids and crowds and mishaps. Let’s face facts. This reaction isn’t about the safety of the kids with the nut allergies. They’re about the fact that the safeguards that are put in place may occasionally inconvenience their kids. Essentially, it’s a douche-y response.

For the parents of non-allergic children who get bent out of whack by precautions that are established to protect children with nut allergies, I put together a little comparison for you, an if-this / if-that list if you will, to help define which option might be the best option – keeping severely allergic children separate from other kids or finding ways to include them safely.


If we restrict snacks and treats to those that are nut-free, your child might have to wait until she is at home to eat and enjoy her beloved peanut butter sandwich or the granola bar with nuts or her favorite brownie. You might also have to avoid making cupcakes to bring in for her birthday, since the ingredients may not come from a nut-free facility. I know this is rough and a huge let-down.

If we don’t restrict snacks and treats to those that are nut-free, the child with the nut allergy could die from accidental exposure to or ingestion of nuts or nut particles.


You have options here. You could grumble but accommodate, possibly frustrating your child that he’s going to have to wait until after his party to eat his favorite cake. You could not grumble but accommodate, with the same results but likely with a better response from your child who believe it or not does look to you as an example of how to respond to the world. I know either of these options is emotionally wrenching, and the whining might be difficult to bear. Of course, you could refuse to accommodate, be a completely and total douche canoe, and exclude the allergic child from the party. (Hopefully in that last instance your child will be a better human being than you and will apologize to his classmate for your douche-ocity.)

If you don’t accommodate but simultaneously don’t say anything back to the parents, or if you claim you’ll accommodate but actually do not, the child with the nut allergy could die from accidental exposure to or ingestion of nuts or nut particles.


If we allow a child with severe nut allergies to attend public school, precautions have to be put in place to keep that child safe and alive, just as precautions are in place to keep any non-allergic child safe and alive. That includes becoming a nut-free zone (see above for all of the strife that will put you through).

If we keep a child with severe nut allergies out of public school, your child will be able to eat her favorite snack when she wants to. She’ll be able to bring in whatever tasty treat – for lunch or for snack or for celebration – that suits her whimsy, or yours. Your child will get straight As and will be guaranteed years of happiness and future professional success simply from lack of stress over the restrictions of a nut-free school zone. Angels will weep with joy.

If we keep a child with severe nut allergies out of public school, we put that child’s education, emotional health and future at risk. Some parents are exceptional at homeschooling and put public school education to shame; however, others struggle, either from lack of knowledge, difficulty understanding how to convey concepts to a young learner, or simply from the economic strain of having to choose between full-time employment and the education needs of their child. We have schools for a reason – not everyone is a good teacher by nature; the choice to homeschool should be just that – a choice. Also, there are the inherent emotional risks of potentially reducing opportunities for the excluded child to have peer-to-peer social interaction – again, this is entirely dependent on the parent’s strengths to accommodate this. In short, you risk a child’s childhood for the sake of others’ convenience.

I suppose that’s the most difficult part for me to get my head around, this idea that anyone can feel that their child’s convenience is more important than another child’s safety. It’s one thing to care more about your child than any other child, but it borders on a pathological lack of sympathy and empathy to put your child’s desires above another child’s health or well-being.

I can understand feeling frustrated about being restricted from doing or having something you love or crave, and I can understand feeling frustrated when your child faces this type of restriction. But when this is put into the context of accommodating-my-frustration-versus-putting-someone-else-in-mortal-danger, especially when that someone else is a child, suddenly I don’t really feel such a strong need for that thing I miss. I don’t feel such an urge to fight for my kids’ taste buds to be satisfied at any given point in the day. And when I think about one child being entirely excluded from a rite of passage (yes, school is a rite of passage) just to allow another child the freedom to eat whatever he or she wants during the learning part of the day, the whole argument seems not just a little bit pathetic and selfish and awful.

So if you feel strongly that your child faces powerful injustice at the hands of the nut-free power lobby that his God-given and constitutionally defended rights to eat his Nutty Buddy or his Snickers bar or his grandmother’s banana nut bread are being infringed upon, please feel free to whine and gripe and carry on. Have at it. Clearly, you have your priorities in good order. And when you “swear to God” that you’re the kind of person who is selfless and looks out for the good of others, don’t be surprised if I gingerly but quickly put a little bit of physical distance between us. I’m not fond of standing that close to a lightning rod.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

I Choose Love

I’ve had a bit of a heavy heart recently. This past year – and last year as well, truth be told – has seen the passing of too many close, dear loved ones. The kind of loved ones that hold a huge part of your heart tightly with them at all times. The kind of loved ones whose presence is always somewhere in the back or even the front your mind, a sort of protection against the world when things are rough and an additional uplift when things are wonderful. The kind of loved ones who leave a ragged, aching hold in your heart when they’re gone.

I’m crying as I write this. This is strange, because at the passing of some of these beloved individuals, I didn’t shed a single tear. The shock of their passing was too great for my emotions to wrap around. For others, the tears came hard and couldn’t be held back, no matter how much I tried. But tonight, as my thoughts wander from one missed loved one to another, the tears come softly.

The most recent loss came just a couple days ago, and it was a doozy, and it came only weeks after another loss. I won’t go into the who or the why, but suffice it to say that this was one of those losses that cut deep. I haven’t cried yet, but I suspect it’s coming. My mind just cannot comprehend that this vibrant and amazing human being, someone I have known literally my entire life, isn’t here physically any longer.

The first time I experienced a loss like this – the kind of loss that takes days and days to accept – was almost 20 years ago. My grandfather – the patriarch of my family and one of the most impressive and dynamic and brilliant and loving and exceptional individuals ever to walk the earth – passed away exactly one week before my first wedding (yes, I’ve had two weddings; deal with it). To say I was stunned is an understatement. I found myself alternately silent and giggly throughout his funeral and burial; his lack of existence on this physical plane was too ridiculous to accept. Two weeks later, however, the dam burst as I was attempting to drive home from work, and I had to pull over in a parking lot where I cried uncontrollably for two straight hours.  It was the first of many such sessions.

Tonight, my thoughts wander and dance and drift across the idea of protecting one’s heart against heartbreak, of keeping love at a distance to avoid just this sort, or any sort, of deep ache and sadness. I wonder, as many others do, at the futility of loving as fully and deeply and openly, knowing heartbreak could always be imminent and that hearts are fragile things.

The thing is, I am aware – every minute of every day – of how fortunate I am to have as many close acquaintances and colleagues as I do. Even for those people who aren’t necessarily close friends, I would do just about anything, and I know that so many people in this same group would do the same for me.

Still, there isn’t a huge number of individuals I would consider very close friends, but to those who are I give my whole heart, freely, without limits. That’s a risky thing, if you think about it. That involves an insane amount of trust – not just in each person but also in circumstance. In that situation, each individual has the power to crush your heart, but so does fate. And fate’s been having a bit of a field day lately.

Add to this the fact that I’m an emotional person. I’m essentially a giant ball of emotion crammed into a small body. I practically burst at the seams with emotional energy – mostly happiness, but anger and frustration and giddiness and sadness and everything else come in this package, and pretty dramatically so. Heartbreak is no different. It can be a bit overwhelming.

So that begs the question: is it better to continue to love deeply and trust wholly and give my heart fully to each loved one, or is the potential for pain and heartache just too much to bear without putting up some boundaries and protections? It’s a quandary.  

For now, I think that I can only continue to open my heart widely, to dream broadly, to love fully and to accept that by doing so I make myself vulnerable to heartbreak and the aching pain of loss. Because there is power and brilliance and unparalleled beauty in loving so completely. And eventually, after the pain of a deep loss has eased somewhat, the memory of such a love brings its own satisfaction and helps heal a hurting heart.

Tonight, I'm counting on that. I'm counting on the fact that the memory of this most recently lost loved one eventually will bring a smile where tonight the loss feels like a grey shadow, an emptiness in the world that this beloved soul used to fill so perfectly. It will happen, and for now I'm focusing on remembering how fortunate I was, how incredibly lucky I was, to know her and to call her family and to have her around for so many years. What a gift that was.

So for me, for now, I choose love.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Is It Me, Or Is It SkyMall: Part 2

Two years ago – interestingly (to me, at least) almost two years ago to the day – I wrote a post called Is It Me, Or Is It SkyMall?  In this little old post of mine, I noted a few SkyMall listings that had me giggling during a pretty irritating flight to Phoenix. 

Are you familiar with SkyMall?  If not, I’m gathering you don’t travel a lot, because these fancy catalogs grace the seatback pocket of pretty much every passenger jet in these United States of America. (Sidebar: Why do some people refer to our country as “these” United States of America? Are there other United States of America someplace else? I’ve never seen other United States of America on a map. Are they underwater? Is it Atlantis? Inquiring minds want to know.)

As I was saying before I so rudely interrupted myself, there must be something about flying in late June that makes SkyMall suddenly seem more attractive, because a few days ago, I found myself yet again perusing the paper luxury mall of the sky, and yet again I had to suppress giggles so as not to disturb my very austere-looking neighbor. She did not seem like the amused-by-SkyMall type. She did not seem like the amused-by-even-very-obviously-amusing-things type. In fact, she was so intimidating that I tolerated her air vent blowing air on me (yes, on me) throughout the flight that seriously could have stopped global warming in its tracks. I couldn't even find the nerve to reach up and nudge the vent back her way.

Anyway, without further ado, yet again here are some prime examples of the joys that one can consider purchasing in SkyMall these days. Enjoy.

Okay, so I have nothing against "party cups" that are rimmed with salt and lime for margaritas. Even ones that scream "flies in the face of sustainability" and "oh my goodness how lazy can you be." My issue is that the package - peeking out behind the cup - calls these "restaurant-style" cups. To exactly what restaurant are they referring? Because yeah... no.
You know why I buy fine leather furniture? So I can completely and totally cover it up with a light brown quilted thing.
Maggie thought her mouse infestation problem was bad, with the little holes she found behind her cabinets and the torn edges of cardboard cereal boxes. She had no idea just how bad it was about to get...
I still think this looks like a cat peeking out of a giant webcam.
No. No no. Never. No. The critical thing about this item of torture isn't that it's cheesy and floats around your pool and sings Italian songs at you. It's that it sings a grand total of 3 Italian songs at you. Three. Over and over. If you have ever been around small children for any length of time, perhaps you have a concept of what that's like, to hear the same song  played or sung over and over and over. And over. 
There's this large spot in my backyard that just looks so empty and lonely. What could I put there to bring together the aesthetic of the green space? I know! A 5-foot dromaeosaurid theropod dinosaur with three strong, curved claws, including one that's characterized as a slashing weapon used to disembowel prey! Totally what that space needs.
And, of course, I couldn't follow up the original post without this. Because a 6-foot-tall Easter Island "Ahu Akivi Moai" Monolith Statue demands to be included. Curbside Delivery Available.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Kindness, Honesty and Father’s Day

As I sit typing this, it’s very late at night the evening before Father’s Day. As with any Father’s Day, I can’t help but think about the amazing fathers in my life – my Daddy, my stepfather, my father-in-law, my grandfathers (including my stepmother’s father) and my husband.

If you know me even a little bit, you know how much I value both honesty and kindness. I hold these two values above just about any others. Both of my children are whip smart and funny and personable, which I think is wonderful beyond words, but I tell them that what makes me the most proud of them is their kindness and compassion. And from friends and family and colleagues and random strangers and trusting forest creatures, I always ask for honesty, even if what someone needs or wants to (or simply should) tell me isn’t pleasant, and I offer the same in return.

I learned these values from the fathers in my life. Every one of these fine, brilliant men epitomizes (or epitomized) these traits. Any one of them could have been just as successful in some aspects of their lives – or possibly more successful – if they had been less kind, less honest. But every one of them chose this path, and for that I’m forever grateful. They not only insisted that my sisters and I behave with compassion and truthfulness, but they demonstrated these values every day.

These dads all know (or knew) the value of telling the truth, no matter how difficult that truth is to share. And for that, they were and are trusted. They have credibility. And to a man, they knew that compassion and a welcoming, caring soul aren’t signs of weakness but rather of great strength, and that such kindness, when shared, helps create strength in others. Taken together, kindness and honesty become even more powerful than either trait alone. And each of these men hold, or held, power beyond measure, because they are and were the kind of men in whom people – including my sisters and me – entrust their hearts.

So on this Father’s Day, I want to thank these men for exemplifying the kind of person I want my children to be… the kind of person I hope I am and that I strive to be.

Thank you, Dad, and thank you, Mike.
Thank you, Papa Jack and Grandpa Herbie and Papi.
Thank you, Bill.
Thank you, Shawn.

I love you all. Happy Father’s Day.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Feeling Invisible and Being Enough

Do you ever have that moment when someone says something and it resonates to your core? It’s almost a palpable punch to the gut, and you feel like you’ve just been taught something about your soul that you should have recognized before but never quite understood until that very moment?

This morning, I was at church (yes, I periodically attend a church even though I’m not religious… I am an enigma; deal with it) and the young man giving the sermon was discussing how he felt growing up. And despite one key difference – that he was teased for being tall, while I was noted for being short – a good part of his story sounded like my own. I felt a strong connection to his story when he talked about being an academic achiever, about how he always made As in school and how this was part of his identity as a youth.

But what hit me was what he said a little later about this drive to achieve. It hit me hard. What he realized about himself, later in life, was that while he was growing up, he didn’t really like himself all that much, and that his pursuit of achievement wasn’t really an effort to achieve success or knowledge. Not down deep. It turns out that he was trying to achieve “enoughness.” He was trying to be “enough” – good enough for someone else to like him, fun enough for others to want to be friends with him, cute enough for girls to notice him… or simply enough for him to like himself.

Trying to achieve enoughness. That’s a pretty powerful concept, isn’t it? This idea that a person might be motivated not purely by an interest in the achievement itself – be it academic or sports-related or familial or health or some other such goal – but by the need to prove to yourself that you are somehow enough. Enough to be liked. Enough to be loved. Enough not to be replaceable.

The statement – “trying to achieve enoughness” – hit me like a telephone pole to the forehead when you’re walking down the street and texting at the same time.

I’d never really put that “trying to achieve enoughness” feeling into words before. It’s something I’ve recognized about myself, somewhere inside, for a long time. When this man said what he said, he could have been talking about me.

Am I still insecure about myself these days? No. I’ve learned to like myself. I’m going to live with myself for the rest of my life, so I might as well be happy with who I am – intellectually, physically and emotionally. And I am. I’m pretty damn fond of me. You should be, too. I’ll introduce you to me sometime so you can see for yourself.

But when I was young, I felt… well, if I’m being completely honest, I felt small. I felt insignificant. It was as if my short stature reflected on the outside how I felt on the inside. And the way I coped with that was to focus my efforts hard on my academics. I was too clumsy to excel in sports and too shy to try to be a class clown or some sort of clique or class leader. But I could learn and test with speed and ease. And I did. And I leaned on that and cherished that and tried to be proud of that… and I always felt good about what I’d done but could not manage to feel good about me. I felt like the effort was enough, but that I wasn’t.

Before my mother calls me out as a liar (hi, Mom), I feel I need to clarify that I also was very headstrong and confident in my beliefs. It's easy to confuse a child who is solidly assured in his or her convictions with one who is confident in himself or herself. But there's a difference. I always have been clear and certain about what I know or what I feel in my heart. However, that confidence didn't extend to my feelings about myself as a person.

Now, because I was shy, my shortness played another role in this saga in that it allowed me to become invisible when I wanted to be. If you’re small in stature and relatively slim in build, it’s amazing how much you can make yourself blend into the crowd… into the walls… into the corner. To become invisible. It was both a blessing and a curse for me when I was young. When I wanted not to be noticed, I would make myself unseen, and I would feel safe. But the flip side of that is that if you can go unnoticed so easily, it’s easy to feel unremarkable. It’s easy to feel not noticeable enough. Not interesting enough. Invisible. Don’t get me wrong; around my good friends, I could laugh and banter and act crazy and feel at ease. I could let loose and have fun. But it was all too easy for me to disappear among the masses.

These days, as I stated, I’m at ease with myself. I’m happy and confident with who I am and with the life I lead, and I don’t need to hide from or apologize to the world. I’m no longer shy or reserved (as far as you know), and I quite enjoy doing activities that require me to be noticed, such as participating in conferences or giving presentations or public speaking. You can’t try to fade into the background or have doubts about your enoughness to do those things effectively! And I don’t want to try to fade into the background any longer. I do what I do because I enjoy it, not because I’m trying to prove something to anyone. Not even to myself.

Still, once in a while, when life or work runs a little off-kilter and things aren’t going as I want or expect, I admit that I feel that old nagging tug on my heart, hear that whisper in my ear that suggests that maybe, just maybe, I’m still not enough. Maybe I should fade quietly into the background while I buckle down and try to work harder or do more or somehow be better…  to get back to achieving enoughness. It’s tempting sometimes, because it feels so secure to have that focus and that invisibility.

The feeling is real, for certain, but fortunately it’s fleeting. No matter how much I can relate to that girl that I used to be, no matter how much I can still feel that pain in my heart and that ache in my belly that she felt all those years ago, I’m no longer the same person. Because I know who I am, and I’m happy with who I am, and I refuse to feel “less than” – for anything or anyone. I’m happy now. I am… enough.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Smiles and Ice Cream and Lollipops (Oh My!)

You know how there are certain people in the world who always seem to know, instinctively, when you need a little boost, a nudge of positivity, and then they also know exactly what to say to brighten your day? They’re amazing human beings who help us recognize light and joy in the world. They make us all believe in the good in humanity, even when we’re struggling to see the good in ourselves. I have this friend, Sunny, who epitomizes this group of individuals. She is this, personified.

I am not one of those people. Not by my nature, at least. But I’m trying to change that.

A few months ago, I wrote a post about how on this one particular day that I was flying home from Dallas, the TSA agents at Love Field clearly were on a mission to make people smile.  I talked about the significant impact that the simple act of making someone smile has on both the person who is encouraging the smile and the person who ends up smiling.

Today, a friend of mine sent me and a few other people the link to this Tedx presentation, below, from 2010. The broad theme of the presentation is “everyday leadership,” and the title is “Leading with Lollipops.” But it’s about more than leadership. The talk is tied together by this notion of the power we all have to make a positive impact on the people around us, how we don’t have to have a certain title or status or special experience to make a powerful, positive difference for someone.

Recently, I’ve been trying to take these kinds of lessons to heart. I’ve been thinking a lot about those little things that have happened to me throughout my own lifetime, the compliments and kindnesses I’ve received from acquaintances and strangers that they likely forgot minutes after they occurred but that I still recall with deep appreciation days, weeks, and sometimes decades later.

  • The janitor at the highway fast food joint who, back in 1989, yelled happily to my best friend and me as we left, “Bye, Beautiful!”
  • The woman in the grocery store check-out line with me, back when I first moved to my current locale 18 years ago, who gushed about the flowers I was buying for my mother.
  • The random strangers I’ve encountered over the last several months who have stopped me – in an elevator, on the sidewalk, in the mall – to compliment my hairstyle.
  • The colleague who went out of his way countless times to say the words, “I appreciate you, very much.”
  • And, of course, the TSA agent who called me youngster a couple of months ago!

I could go on and on about the light-hearted comments and heart-felt kind words that continue to sit with me and that have made a difference in my life and my view of the world.  How can you see the world and the people in it as anything but generally good, if not brilliantly beautiful, if a stranger can turn an average moment into a small miracle by the simple act of noticing you – you who at any other moment in time are a stranger to him or her but who in that moment are the center of his or her attention – and expending the energy to let you know that you were noticed? That, at the very base of it all, you made a happy imprint on their existence, however fleeting, and they wanted to be sure you knew it?

As for me, finding ways to bring a momentary spark of joy to random strangers is not part of my nature. I don’t have that internal, intuitive drive.  Heck, if I just follow my instincts, I’m lucky if I remember to compliment or even appropriately express gratitude to those nearest and dearest to me.  It’s not that I don’t like to pay compliments or don’t see the value in doing this. Quite the opposite. But I don’t have that instinct.

The fact is, though, that I know how those compliments and comments make me feel, and I love the feeling I get when I know I’ve done the same for someone else. 

Therefore, my mission lately – and yes, I’ve chosen to accept it – is to try to make a positive impact on one person (as often as possible, a stranger), to give them a reason to smile, however minor or brief, every day. It’s a dinky goal, I know, but at the end of a year, that would equate to 365 smiles. After 10 years, 3,652 smiles (or 3,653, depending on where leap year falls within that 10-year span… yes, I’m a nerd and had to be that specific). Even if this made a more lasting impact on only a small percentage of these individuals, then that's still a good additional amount of positive energy added into the Universe. And boy, we could use all the positive energy we can get in this day and age.

I’m not quite up to managing to do this 100% of the time, but I’m making the effort, and it’s starting to come a little more naturally now. I'm even trying it more at home. I mean, if you're a person of the female persuasion, you must know the positive impact I had on my daughter's day just by taking a moment to teach her the joy of sharing ice cream straight out of the carton.

Mmmm... chocolate. You know you want some, too.
This – the mission, not the ice cream sharing – doesn’t take a lot of energy. You should give it a try. Approach a stranger – in a non-threatening, non-stalkerish way, please – and pay them a brief compliment. And then walk away and let them go about their day; this isn’t an effort to find friends or dates, for heavens sake. Sheesh. If you’re a little shy like me, the biggest hurdle is overcoming your worry that the stranger might not appreciate your presence or invasiveness. If that’s the case, so be it. Smile yourself, move one, and be proud you made the effort.

Their lost smile is, well, their loss.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

What Would You Do: If You Had A Bonus Life

I’m jealous of video game characters. Sure, they’re a little two dimensional, even when rendered 3D-ish. They often are trying to save someone or trying not to be killed by any manner of strange and nefarious creatures and weapons and enemies. Other aspects of video game characters pretty much sum up the life of a typical adult:  you go around and around doing the same things in the same environment, trying time and again to accomplish the same large and small goals, attempting to attain a new level of accomplishment (to “level up”) with either the support or hindrance of outside forces that seem to control much of what you do.

Vanellope von Schweetz from "Wreck It Ralph" (please don't come after me, Disney...)
But there’s one thing video game characters often can obtain that we in the real world cannot – a bonus life. Now, don’t get all Born Again or reincarnation or CPR on me just to make a point. You know what I’m talking about: a full, complete, additional life to continue the task at hand.

Over the years, I’ve often wondered what I’d do with a bonus life. I’m not talking about a do-over of this life or what I would do if I could live consecutive lives so that I could exist for longer than a typical life ala the Cullen Family. I’m talking about being split into two individuals – two of myself (my husband just cringed reading that) or even more than two of me! (my husband is now hyperventilating) – living completely separate but concurrent lives.

Assuming income needs and family obligations weren’t factors and that I actually had the physical and intellectual ability, here are some of the professions I might choose – in no particular order – if I were given the privilege of actually enjoying a bonus life:
  1. Travel Editor – True story, the very first job I was offered  after college was a research assistant gig for a famous travel editor who approached me after I watched the taping of a morning show on which he discussed something travel-esque.  He said he kept 3 assistants on staff at all times and that with the connections I’d make working for him, if I wasn’t employed elsewhere within 18 months, he’d fire me. I turned it down because the pay was low enough that I would need to find a roommate (oh the humanity!). Stupid, stupid, stupid…
  2. Marine Biologist (researcher) – I almost applied to colleges to study marine biology but decided not to because of all of the documentation that goes into research work. Because what I do now for a living doesn’t require documentation.  SMH
  3. Public / Motivational Speaker
  4. Barista
  5. FBI Forensic Pathologist
  6. Writer of Newspaper or Blog Articles (like Dave Barry or Dan Pearce) – I’m talking about consistently and for a living.
  7. Administrator of a Children’s Hospice
  8. Clinical Psychologist
  9. The Lead on a Show akin to the Daily Show
  10. Lawyer – I came very close to applying to law school several times. When I was young and had no qualms about going for the jugular, I was pretty stellar at arguing. And I was mean.
  11. Running Coach / Personal Trainer
  12. Sommelier – Just for the knowledge of what is awesome and the access to it. Oh yeah, I said it.
  13. Mediator
  14. Dolphin Trainer – Yep. Influenced by Flipper.
  15. Singer and/or Stage Actress – And my husband thinks I sing show tunes and movie songs a lot now. If I did this for a living, good luck tolerating my presence. At all. Ever.
  16. Detective
  17. Cruise Ship Crew Member
  18. Organizational / Industrial Psychologist

There are so many additional things I could do with a bonus life. The mind reels. (Oh, a reel… I could be a Film Projectionist…) What would YOU do if YOU had a bonus life to live right this moment?

Sunday, May 4, 2014

I May Not Be A Smart Man

I may not be a smart man. In fact, I'm not a man at all. But I know what "old" is. At least, I do as of this morning.

So there I was, sitting in my car at a red light, looking for and removing white hairs from my 'do, when I looked in the rear view mirror and noticed my son watching me. His eyes caught mine, and he decided to enlighten me with a little advice.

Check out those white invaders in my rich brunette locks! Out! Out, I say!
Bear:  "Mom, you may have some white hairs, but you're not old."
Me:  "No?"
Bear:  "No. Forty-two is still young. You are young and beautiful."
Me:  "Why thank you, angel."
Bear:  "Think of it like rounding. Forty-nine and under, you're young. Fifty and up, you're old."
Me:  "Are you saying that when I turn fifty, I'll be old?"
Bear:  "Yep."
Me:  "Cool. Then I have a while yet to enjoy my youth."

There you have it, folks. If you're forty-nine or younger, you're young. Otherwise, just give up and accept your elderly status.

So says Bear.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Fathers and their Truths and their Love and their Realities

Recently, I had a discussion with a good friend of mine about some of the recent blog posts written by fathers to their daughters about today’s ridiculous standards of beauty and about the importance of being a strong partner in a relationship, a woman who holds her partner to a high standard of respect and love.  My two favorites are by Dr. Kelly Flanagan:

If you have a chance, I strongly recommend reading these posts. I don’t care if you’re male or female, young or old, have daughters or not. They’re exceptional. They speak volumes not only about the pain and worries and insecurities so many of us women have felt at one time or another in our lives but also about the character of the man who wrote the posts.  My heart swells when I think about him and other men who can so deeply grasp and sympathize with these issues and who go to such directed efforts to help their daughters see beyond these influences, to reinforce to girls that they are intrinsically and unambiguously worthy of love.

My dad teaching me the importance of a classy chapeau.

I’m not going to go into the details of these and other posts.  You can read them for yourselves.  The question my friend and I pondered – my friend is the father of two daughters – is whether this and other male authors of such posts live and internalize the “male side” of these articulated beliefs.  I’m curious if they are representative of the men they would want their daughters to love and value.

It’s not for me to judge, even if they aren’t. But it’s just something I wonder about.

For instance, in the first post above, Dr. Flanagan encourages his daughter not to focus on her external beauty but rather to seek her value in her internal beauty and sense of self. He tells his daughter, The world wants you to take your clothes off. Please keep them on. I love what he and other dad-authors say about being strong and choosing your dream and not being worried about the exterior over the interior. 

But I did wonder, in the back of my mind, if the authors themselves are influenced by and attracted to a woman’s exterior, by flawless skin and youthful appearance, as much as any other men. I wonder if, beneath the higher thinking they demonstrate, they also see a stunningly attractive female “as a pretty face and a body to enjoy.” Do they actively seek out images of “hot” women, naked or otherwise? Do they find some small disappointment in how the faces and bodies of the women in their lives compare to the world’s standards of perfection?

The second post delivers an equally powerful message about what Dr. Flanagan will and will not consider important in the man his daughter chooses to be with.  I love, love, love, adore, value, worship (add your own verbs here) this message:  Little One, it is not, has never been, and never will be your job to ‘keep him interested.’” I reread that statement a number of times, tears welling up in my eyes. This one hit home. It hit home hard.

Do you know how many men make it seem like it’s our job to keep them interested?  Not all men, most assuredly, but so very many.  Sorry… about to go on a rant… but I’ll reign myself in.  Suffice it to say that I fell a little in love with Dr. Flanagan with that one statement.

Again, Dr. Flanagan isn’t alone in posting these sentiments; he just happens to have articulated them in a way that was powerful for me. But other fathers are stating the same thing out in the webiverse, urging their daughters to stand strong as equal partners, to accept nothing less than complete respect and true adoration from the men they choose.

Which makes me curious about their relationships with women in their lives. Do they take responsibility for helping sustain the interest between themselves and their partners? Do they work hard to keep their love and desire alive? Or do they sometimes get complacent?  Do a few of them move beyond complacency toward allowing themselves to be open to emotional influence from another woman rather than deal with the challenge of facing an issue with their partner?

As I stated above, it’s not for me to judge. I’m not curious about these things with a focus on learning negative things or pointing fingers. I absolutely would not denigrate what these men say or downplay the importance and validity of their messages if they themselves were imperfect. They fact is, we’re all imperfect. Also, the relationships between these men and their wives or girlfriends is none of my business… for all I know, they might in fact be the role models we all want for the boys who someday will woo and win the hearts of our little girls.

I love what these men have to say (especially Dr. Flanagan... I think I'll start a fan club... or a Flan club... but no, that sounds like a foodie thing... nevermind). I value it more than I can express. It sings to me and reinforces my faith in people. Their words give me confidence in the world in which my children are growing up.

I’m just curious, that’s all.
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