Category Archives: Family

just purging this from my brain has made me feel much better

On a friend’s recommendation I’m reading the Quaker book Let your Life Speak, by parker J. Palmer – and apparently mine has been bound and gagged in a corner for years – professionally speaking that is.

Now, unlike the author I was probably closest to my true vocation in high school than I am now as a marketing manager for corporate America. I desperate wanted to be a private detective. This was shocking to my mother – as it would be to any sane parent. But my future loves of history and genealogy follow the same lines of looking for clues to find answers.

…So how did I end up here, on the 11th floor of an office building creating powerpoint presentations and web pages? Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I work for a good company, they pay me well, I enjoy my peers, and many would probably love to be doing exactly this!

Well, for starters I went to business school, which for the record I LOVED! It challenged me to do and study things that I never thought I could be successful at. So that was all good. And then I got a job and a promotion, and then a better paying job, and so on..

But job after job (12 years later) I’m less and less satisfied even though I’m more confident, smarter, making more money, and much better at what I do than ever before. I realize that there’s a huge gap missing for me that this type of vocation – that occupies 8 hours of my waking day – doesn’t and never can fill. This isn’t just a “I’d-like-to-read-more” gap, this is the soul punching gap that makes you think “what the F am I doing here??”

The one gap it is filling and the one that can’t be underestimated is $$$. And for many years that was enough. When I was a single mom I could tolerate the daily grind better; I had no choice so I did what I needed to do. Scary thing, choices are.

I’m married now, and for the first time in my life I am faced with the reality that I could quit and do whatever it is I really want to do. Great Right?!

Several of my personal psychoses are standing in the way:

1. Guilt (that’s always a top choice) – guilt over the fact that my not having this job will mean taking my kids out of private school. My son’s school I especially love and it’s been so good for him. We aren’t zoned to great elementary schools. Am I doing them a disservice for a selfish reason?

2. More guilt – I just got married and we bought a new house, expenses are going up not down. My husband has changed his life style a lot to be with me, is it fair to make him the sole bread winner? Massively changing our lifestyle after only a few months of marriage?

3. I don’t have any clue what else I would do! Well, not NO clue, but not enough of a clue that I could justify it by saying “I’ve always wanted to do this!” – Whatever this is. I’m not exactly following a dream, I’d be sort of test driving dreams.

4. Ego – could I go from corporate, six figures to nobody overnight? I would be much harder than I think.

5. Stupidity – people are killing for jobs in this economy and I’m talking about giving one up? Am I crazy?? Should I just be stuffing cash in a mattress as fast as possible until the world implodes?!

Ok, I don’t really think the world will implode. I’m quite an optimist normally. But, admittedly, impatient. But how do I tell the difference between just being impatient for my attitude/job to improve vs. denying myself the opportunity to be truly happy and contributing – in whatever vocation that may be??

Time is the biggest tease in my life. I have a lot of great ideas that I’d like to pursue (at least I think they’re great), but with what time? Between work and kids and possibly more kids I think I may be able to do something I want in the year 2030! I’m drowning in not-for-me-ness…so I tie the gag on my life a little harder and go back to work so that everything will continue to work.

P.S. Writing this is the first time I’ve smiled all day, including the chocolate milk shake I got for lunch.

Any advice is good advice!

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today

Today, no matter what day it is, is all I can focus on right now. There’s a lot of wonderful stuff going on in my life, but it’s all happening at once (of course!) and so I’m just trying to live moment by moment.

Last week, my fiancé and I bought a new house. Our first house together, a great start to a new life. Plus the kids love it!

Yesterday, I put my current house on the market. I sat and reflected last night what a wonderful house that has been for me for the past 4 years. How much it did for my self esteem at the end of a failed marriage. Buying a place of my own and recreating my life was made more wonderful by this little home.

Today and tomorrow I’m participating as a blogger in the Healthy Kids, Healthy Schools summit here in Houston. It’s an honor to be a part of such a great cause and to help bring attention to a much needed topic – our kids health.

Next Saturday, I’ll get married. This of course has been top of mind for some time and I’m still a little dazed that it’s happening next week! I can’t wait to see all our friends and family coming from all over. I don’t even know how to articulate how excited I feel and how much anticipation I have.

Post “honeytrip” we get to pack and move into the new house! I’ve already started the packing of course but I think once we move we’ll finally feel somewhat “settled” into this new exciting life! My personal evolution.

a christmas reflection

I’m reflecting on Christmas this Christmas morning and have read a blog post from Slate that does a great job articulating much of why I like the secularization of Christmas. I’m by no means a non-believer, but I spent a very non-God Christmas (no church mainly) and loved it. I loved letting go of the guilt (at least for a while) of not doing it right, and focusing on my family, good friends and just reveling in as much happiness as I could.

Merry Christmas everyone, whatever that may mean to you!

purging

I was 15 years old, I think.

Sitting on the edge of the hotel room bed, stiff as a board. Afraid to move almost.

My brother was watching TV or listening to music or something that I was far to consumed with fear to notice.

I wonder if he sensed the tension?

Amazingly I’m not even sure what the conversation was I’d had with my father, or if I’d even had it yet. But I must have because they were arguing about it, about me.

My best recollection is that I’d decided not to come back to visit them the next summer – my fear wasn’t about his reaction or anticipated anger that his daughter didn’t want to see him. On the contrary, anger would have proved he cared.

It was her, my step-mother’s reaction that I most feared. And fear is the right word. I sat there listening to them trying (maybe not very hard) to conceal their argument in the bathroom of the hotel room. I wanted more than anything to stand up and say “It doesn’t matter, I’m not coming. No one’s to blame, I just don’t want to.”

Sounds simple now anyway. Maybe I was afraid for him – she was always yelling at him. Maybe I didn’t want what I said to get him in more trouble.

All I know is that this moment is one that has had one of the most lasting impressions on me throughout my life. It was the first time I remember feeling that I wasn’t standing up for myself and it felt awful! Throwing up would have been a welcome relief.

How did that hotel trip end? I don’t even know. I have this habit – probably a good one – of blocking out the bad memories. Needless to say I don’t have many of my time with my dad and his wife.

But this one was different; even then as I was sitting on the bed, it was changing me. I never wanted to feel this way again. So completely left out of my own life, a total lack of control over my fear. It froze me in place and at times felt like my head would explode.

The situation may not sound too dramatic, and it probably wasn’t in reality. But for that 15 year old it was obviously the culmination of years of fear, silence, and dealing with an overbearing person. All I know is that I think back on that day with both regret that I didn’t stand up for myself in whatever small way I could have; and pride that I used it as a positive influence to change the way I let others interact with me now. I don’t know of any other memory that I have such conflicting and simultaneous feelings about.

It feels good to write about it. It is a relief, if for no other reason than it was good to get it out. I don’t think of my step-mother now as someone I fear at all. I’ve since stood up to her and even get the sense that she’s slightly intimidated by me now. But that day and those feelings are so easy to bring back up – that’s how I knew they were important. I had to understand them. That point may have made me more of who I am than any other single day in my life.

my 15 minutes…

http://www.kuhf.org/site/PageServer?pagename=main_thisibelieve

My Page

This was such a fantastic experience. I still can’t believe I got to do it! It’s certainly taught me the power of perseverance – only 2 years after writing the article and giving up completely on it’s being published. I think my favorite part was having my own kids ask me when I would take them on a trip like that 🙂

confessions

I’d almost forgotten what it felt like to write for pleasure. I’ve been writing a lot for work lately but it’s just not the same. I’ve realized too what a wonderfully cathartic process writing is for me. I know this because I’ve felt very much not at peace since I stopped. I find my mind gets muddled by little petty things and I start to loose focus on what really matters.

Reading is the same way, and that I have been doing. But the religion theme was weighing down on me and I had to move on to something lighter. What I ended up reading was a book called “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man”. Hardly light if you’ve read it. But something everyone should read. I made my book club read it and vowed to give it to everyone I knew having a birthday, which thus far has been my brother.

For me it was one of those eye opening books where you go “holy crud, does our government really do this??” Now I’ve had people tell me I’m naïve and everyone knows this is how our government behaves. Which frankly is a lame answer because it betrays a sort of “oh well” attitude. I actually bought a different car because of it… my immensely small effort to get away from our dependency on oil (despite the fact that those I love most work for oil companies!)

So my guilt’s been getting the better of me. I’ve almost completely stopped going to Catholic Church with my ex and the kids. It’s more than just being lazy – I do feel like it’s just not honest. And if I want to teach my kids honesty shouldn’t I demonstrate that? My ex has also been pissing me off lately by subtly playing the guilt trip of my non attendance. Which only made me not want to go more!

I’m still not sure what to do about my feelings or how to talk to the kids about my spiritual needs vs. theirs. I still fully support their church attendance I just want them to understand two things: 1) no matter how right you think your religion is, someone else feels just as strongly about theirs, 2) no one can prove any of it anyway. These are harder things to teach than they might sound like. And since I still believe very strongly that I’m totally right about things and others are wrong, I’m having a hard time figuring how to live out this particular theory in a very kind and generous way. Any ideas are appreciated!

the physical years

I used to say that raising babies (0-3) was a very physical process, they crawl, run, hide, need to be carried, dressed, fed, etc. As a parent you are phsically exhausted. I was pleased when about age 5 they could suddenly do everything for themselves. I actually had time to drink a hot cup of coffee, exercise for me, read a book…the bliss was not to last. When they reach about 7 (sometimes sooner) the world of extracurricular activities opens up and you’re back to the exhaustion. Between baseball, soccer, ballet, communion classes, birthday parties, you name it – most nights are choc full of things that have nothing to do with me. I drive and take pictures and cheer that’s my role. Don’t get me wrong it’s fun – but once again no hot coffee, very little reading, haven’t jogged in months…you know the pattern.

So in the midst of a particularly long, tiring evening of things that didn’t involve me I realized that the day would come when they would be able to take the car keys and go themselves and I would want desperately to be with them and know where they are and what they were doing. I would happily give up my coffee, books, you name it to be sure of thier safety and just spend time with them. Needless to say, I’ve felt much better about my chauffer duties after that. It’s a pleasure to see them grow and do things they love. I know these years will go by much too quickly.

Ok, so now the funny thing. My daughter’s birthday is in a few weeks. We have a ritual that before every birthday and Christmas we have to fill up a bag with old toys, books, etc. that we don’t want anymore to donate. That way we make room for the new and do a good deed at the same time. My daughter has a very difficult time parting with even a broken toy necklace. Tonight is the night of her purge and she’s in her room crying, but very lyrically saying “what am i going to do? what am i going to do! i love EVERYTHING!!” in between huge sobs. You have to know what a drama queen she is to truely appreciate it probably – but it’s so funny. She’ll find things to donate, she always does – but she does get attached!

joy on ash wednesday

Ok, I know it’s not Ash Wednesday anymore, but I felt had to digest my feelings from yesterday. It was a plethora of parental joy moments for me. Not something I get everyday.

I used to say that I didn’t feel like a “real” parent until my kids hit age 4 or 5. This is when parenting moved beyond the care & feeding stage (feed them, make sure they walk, talk, sleep, etc.) to the real emotional work. Helping them learn to care for others, share; understand why someone was mean to them and the like. It is much more exhausting than midnight feedings!

Yesterday, we were discussing Lent. My son said that instead of giving something up he was going to give back. He had decided to read a bedtime book to his sister every night. My heart swelled, how wonderful! How thoughtful! (Plus, it meant I would get a break from reading – horrible I know.) Now you never know how my daughter will react to things, but considering the spirit of Lent she too was thrilled and sang her brother’s praises in the car ride home.

I was so pleased with what was obviously superior parenting skills (!) that I decided to take them out for dinner. It was here that my son confided in me that he was really having trouble at school and wasn’t sure how to handle the bullies in his class. Now the fear set in, that familiar – “oh dear, I’m supposed to be able to guide him through this and I have no idea how to do it” feeling.

No knowing what else to do I just asked questions about the who’s, the what’s, the how it makes him feel, etc. I gave him an analogy of being Luke Skywalker and bringing his friends over from the “dark side”. Well, this definitely struck a cord with him. [Star Wars, by the way, is a constant theme in my life] Eventually through all the talking he got to a point that he felt comfortable with and I got one of the biggest compliments: “mom, you’re a little better than the teacher at this stuff”. 😉 Wow! And I was just fumbling through!

So, as I begin my attempt at seeing more beauty in the world (see “impatience“) it should come as no surprise that once again it the lesson is from my kids. They are a constant source of joy and inspiration when I least expect it. My daughter has an amazing ability to move on – she can be devastated one moment and laughing the next, forgiving whoever had so disturbed her. I am in awe of her. My son’s big heart and practical approach remind me of myself – without the cynical taint of adulthood.

I was thinking about this last night when I saw and NPR story titled “On Ash Wednesday, Religion and Joy

On this Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent and a period of fasting, Father James Martin reminds us that joy is one of the upsides of being religious, although it’s not mentioned nearly enough among the faithful.

Lately, I’ve been more focused than usual on the non-joy of religion. My journey is at a point where I have more questions than answers and because of that I find I’m frowning more than smiling; which is probably affecting my ability to see the things I’m blessed by. So I’m taking this chain of events as a wake up call. I will take hint from Father Martin’s piece and focus on the joy. I suppose this means I’m giving up pessimism for Lent!

the re-education of religion (and Howard)

I’ve been reflecting on how my young impressionable kids are learning about religion. Through the eyes of someone who is in the process of re-learning it (me), much of what they are being taught makes me want to add in caveat after caveat. I find I answer most questions they pose with “well yes, but…”

We approach teaching our young about whatever our preferred religion is in a very matter-of-fact, this-is-how-it-is way. My children believe in Jesus as heartily as they do Santa right now. And there was a time in my life when I did as well. This makes sense probably for most people. I certainly didn’t question it until my own crisis in faith occurred.

Some of us will grow up and never question what we were taught, never seek more or stumble across things that might make us question our faith. I have no clue what percentage of the population that is by the way. There are others who will, somewhere along life’s path, find something in a book, a college lecture, a personal experience that will cause doubt. That doubt may lead to an eventual total rejection of religion or at least that religion for another. Or it might cause one to dig deeper to find out more. This is the group I place myself in.

I’ll admit I’m bitter. I feel a bit duped. Why wasn’t I taught all these other “things” (the existence of non-canonical gospels, the historical realities of early Christian times, the vast differences in types of Christianity, the corrupt nature of some religious groups) before? Were people afraid that I would never believe that no one would ever believe if they knew this? I don’t want to set my kids up for the same crisis.

I hope that the people who are our religious teachers, our priests, our ministers, our rabbis, etc. are not ignorant of these facts – but they have faced them and moved past them. They have found their faith despite things that may shed doubt on it. I hope they are not the ones who don’t question anything and accept all they are told. That never makes for a good teacher in my opinion.

I’m jealous of those who’ve accomplished this. And I want them to write a guide book. 😉 Ok, maybe I’m only slightly exaggerating. But I feel we don’t hear enough out other people’s struggles with but eventual acceptance of their faith. Surely people do this. I would love to have guidance on how to accomplish this. I don’t want to let go of Christianity, it feels like such a big part of me. But I want to know that I can get to a faith that combines my questions and my beliefs.

I think this is one of the reasons I love reading C. S. Lewis. His writings on Christianity are so intense; you can feel his faith on the pages.

I wish my grandfather Howard was still alive to talk to about this. He was a man of science, from whom I inherited my love of history and also a very devout man of faith. He always appeared to me as a child and even as an adult (he died when I was 27) to have all the answers. It’s ironic that I spent so much time with him talking about everything: his past, family, history, college, men, but never religion. And not because it was a taboo subject; it was just one that didn’t interest me at the time. How much I would give to have that discussion with him now, to have his insight and guidance.

This is one of the few regrets I have in life.

joy moments

I started a tradition with my kids at the dinner table called Joy Moments. Each night we go around the table and each of us list our “joy moments” for the day. These are, as I tell my kids, whatever made you smile. It’s [usually] a fun exercise and a great way for me to hear about my kids days. There is the occasional squabble about who gets to go first and then it’s all downhill from there!

My kids never have any trouble listed 5-10 joy moments for the day. One of them is always “eating dinner with my family”, which of course I LOVE! On the flip side, I do occasionally have a hard time coming up with some bit of joy from my day. If it’s a particularly bad day the joy moment is picking up my kids and coming home. Not a rousing endorsement for my life. So of late, I’ve really tried to learn from my kids and focus more on the little joy moments and try and over look the general feeling of blah at the end of my work day.

One way I do that is to save the last 1/2 hour or so of the day for catching up on my blog reading, especially the Quaker blogs that I regularly visit. I find the most inspiring, wonderful thoughts there that really help me focus on the Positive. This routine has made a huge difference in my dinnertime joy moments. As a matter of fact, the online Quaker community was a wonderful surprise to me. I’ve just recently started attending meetings and the wealth of support and information online is amazing. I don’t think I’ve seen this much virtual positiveness anywhere else online. Keep it up!

My second trick is a slight variation on joy moments. I call this “the good things”. As I lie in bed at night, right before I fall asleep I list all the good things that happened to me that day. These are not necessarily joy moments. They may have even been stressful at the time, but with the day behind me I can look back and see what events really had an overall positive impact on me. This practice helps me focus on the unexpected good that can happen during the day. And understand that even what we don’t appreciate at the time can be a source of strength for us.

My last tactic right after the “good things” is to visualize what good things or joy moments I want to have the next day. It’s about mentally preparing me to have a good day. The things I envision don’t always happen of course but that’s not really the point. My brain is already thinking positively about tomorrow.

Try these out; share them with your kids. It’s a wonderful experience.

burial vs. cremation

There seems to be a mode of thought within some groups (my family being one) that its better to be cremated and have your ashes scattered rather than be put in a box in the ground for all eternity. I would agree, that when phrased this way, being buried (once dead of course) is highly unappealing. I also realize those thoughts are part of the corporeal identification that I have as a living human being. Once dead my body won’t have any meaning to me so I could say that I don’t really care what my bereaved family does with me! But that’s not true either.

As I’ve gotten older the more I contemplate this idea. When I picture my own death it always includes a picture of children, grandchildren, hopefully great, great, grandchildren visiting my tomb in some peaceful field or grassy hill. I like the fact that there will be a place with my name on it and date of birth, death, some other meaningful piece of information listed. A physical place for family and friends to go to feel they are “with” me or at least close to me.

My mother’s parents, who I was very close to, were cremated. They chose to rest for eternity in the stop shelf of a mausoleum. It’s not a place I enjoy visiting. I have to cram my neck just to see their names. How much nicer it would be to sit under a tree next to a tombstone, reminiscing. Admittedly I’m from Texas where we still have a lot of space to bury people in the ground. And I should be thankful that at least I do have a place to visit them, to go where I can pay respects, talk, pray, whatever strikes my fancy. My uncle was also cremated with his ashes scattered over a lake. Beautiful ceremony and location, but I wonder if his kids feel like they need a place to connect with him. I wouldn’t know where to go.

Unless your personal theory of God and death dictate that you should be scattered to the wind to get to wherever you believe you will go after death, consider a more permanent placement. Think about how future generations will connect to you. Maybe you don’t want them to but really, there’s not much you can do about that. And frankly I don’t think you’ll care much once you’re gone.

You may also think that I’m putting a bit too much emphasis on the physical need to connect with someone. Possibly, but when I took a road trip to reserach family genealogy, I was surprised by how much visiting a grave enabled me to get a feeling for my ancestor. From where they were buried, to who was buried next to them, to what was on the stone; all of these things gave me a greater understanding of the person.

I constantly tease my mother that she can put whatever she wants in her will I’m going to put her in the ground because that’s where I want to visit her! She’ll be gone and won’t be able to stop me. Ok, I’m not really that mean. If I did that then my kids would probably cremate me and scatter my ashes just to avenge their grandmother!

beginning the journey

What does it mean to be a religious person? I would have defined it as someone who believes in God, goes to church, prays, maybe makes charitable contributions of time or money – something like that. And all those things probably do apply. There was a time that I would have qualified under that definition. The problem was I didn’t really feel like a religious person. I wasn’t sure what faith felt like. I can remember sitting in church looking around the room wondering if all those people were getting more out of the experience than I was. If there is a moment to pinpoint when my journey began, that would be the most concrete.

Despite my very minister filled family, there was a profound lack of knowledge on my part of even the basics of religion. I wanted to “get it”, whatever “it” was. I had no clue how to start my own journey of faith, so I did what I always do, I started studying. This will come as no shock to those who know me. I would be a professional student if I could afford to quit my day job. As a lover of history, I picked up a book that I was sure would answer all my questions. – A History of God, by Karen Armstrong (no need to start small!). It took me three years to finish it. But when I did I was hooked. I was a bone dry sponge soaking up everything I could. [By the way, if you haven’t read anything by Karen Armstrong I recommend ALL of it.]

A History of God didn’t answer all my questions. If anything it left me with more. But it opened up concepts and ways of looking at things that I had never considered before. Not because they are such unique concepts per se; it’s just that I had never been taught anything. I had never been challenged to really understand the subject of religion. In my younger years that made me shy away from the topic. I had no clue how to even have a mild discussion on the subject without feeling ignorant.

To my surprise and glee, I discovered that the more I studied the more connected I felt to God and this thing called faith. That’s when I realized that there isn’t one thing to “get” about whatever religion you practice. It’s a constant journey, a constant path that must be nurtured in each individual’s way. Sitting in church was not nourishment for me. It still isn’t, but it serves another very important purpose. Continually learning and reading is how I nurture my relationship with God.

The feelings of closeness to my faith and my God have waxed and waned during this time. The first time I doubted my new found faith I was fearful that I had lost something I thought I had figured out. Now I take it as an opportunity for deeper understanding. I welcome the challenging parts knowing that I will come out on the other side so much more enlightened. I also understand that it won’t be the last time that happens. That same philosophy applies to any obstacle (physical, emotional, work, family, etc.); it is something to be embraced and met head on because the faster I deal with it the faster I will be in a much better place.

Today I sit in church not because I feel I have to to be considered a good religious person and not because I expect to learn great things from the pulpit (although sometimes that does happen). I’m there because it’s a time for me to reflect on how I’ve impacted the world around me and what I can improve upon. And a time to remember to be incredibly thankful for what I have. I have gone from being a very skeptical almost cynical Christian to one that, still with a huge journey in front of her, has no doubt of her own faith. All thanks to a book.