Mom’s Letter To Her Final Graduate

Dear Peach,

Remember when your puppy would grab a shoe and wouldn’t let it go until you tempted him with a new toy? Even then, he tried his hardest to figure out how to hold onto both, unwilling to surrender a speck of joy. You resemble this as you stand between your high school graduation and your college experience – excited about the future but hesitant to surrender the familiar. 

You’re burning the candle at both ends – capturing time with friends in a desperate frenzy to make last-minute memories.  But time is measured and no matter how much you squeeze into each day, you may never feel replete.

Most days I hardly see you and conversations are limited to relaying logistics. When you surprise me with an unhurried kiss, I melt a little as I try not to count down the number of loving interactions that remain before your departure.

I reassure you that all will be well, while hiding the fact that I’m trying to bolster us both. You think you’ll miss me more than I’ll miss you, but the fact is that you’ll be having entirely new experiences that aren’t meant to have me in them. I, on the other hand, will be in the same setting I’ve always been in, minus you.  My landscape will be missing a beloved irreplaceable feature while you will be painting on a blank canvas.

Encouraging you to embrace this next step is bittersweet. It’s like putting down a good book. Even though I know I’ll love the “Motherhood” sequel in which you become an adult, a small part of me will always favor the first installment, because that’s the one in which I fell in love with you.

Being your mom is a privilege that came with a time stamp. You are our family’s grand finale. When you walk across the stage to accept your diploma, my heart will quiver as my mind plays a highlight reel in the background of the ways in which you have punctuated our lives. 

Who would we be without your steady, stabilizing personality, your enormous ability to forgive, and your signature sweetness? How would we have learned new dance moves or kept up with pop culture and vast music genres?  And what would have become of us without our Resident Peacemaker?

Peach, you have assets that you haven’t acknowledged yet. They’ve always been there, twinkling like tiny stars, just waiting for an opportunity to burn brightly. Don’t be scared to shine. The light from within you will illuminate your path and lead you to authentic joy.

Soon we will pack up a portion of your life and drive it into your future. We won’t be able to fit all that you want to bring along. But soon enough you will find that the only things you actually need to succeed are carried within. 

When doubt creeps in and spoils your confidence, remind yourself that you haven’t made it this far in life by accident. Replace your ‘what if’s’ with ‘even if.’ No matter what happens, you will handle it and I will be right here backing you up. 

Trust yourself. Trust Life. And remember that you are exactly who you are meant to be. 

Love, 

Mom 

Don’t Go Changing – Even Though I Want You To

We don’t waste our time with gift-guessing in our family. Instead, we employ liberal use of wish lists and self-shopping. This practical approach, though less exciting than surprises, is also less stressful which is incredibly appealing.

Difficulties arise when a would-be gift recipient knows not what they wish for. Or when they don’t want ‘things.’

Guilty as charged

For Mother’s Day, I half-jokingly asked Husband to consider lowering the toilet seat. In the game of ‘Pick Your Battles’ I’d never chosen this one. Married readers will accurately assume that this request met with resistance.

These relationship conundrums, despite their relative insignificance, can escalate to unreasonable levels of disharmony. So I dropped the topic like a hot potato. But not before considering why it is that we’re so put-out when asked to modify ourselves.

When I was a child my mother would ask for the same gift every year – “Just be a good kid. Don’t fight with your sister.”

I resented this request with passion.  In my immature mind, the implication was that I needed to change in order for my mother to be happy.

“I’m not enough”

We humans have a bad habit of wanting to sculpt our surroundings to suit our own preferences. We want others to change to make us more comfortable. It’s easy to forget that our opinions aren’t the only ones that matter. 

When we first enter a relationship, we forgive everything and we accommodate for each other’s differences. Over time our generosity fades and we begin to change labels. What was endearing becomes annoying. What was naturally absent now feels intentionally withheld. Tolerance and compromise feel more like sacrifice.

When I fool myself into obsessing over how my loved one’s habits affect me, I’ve forgotten 2 cardinal rules of relationship:

1. I am responsible for my own happiness.

2. I can’t control anyone but myself.

In other words, tend your own garden. Stay in your own lane. Don’t step out of your hula hoop. Keep your eyes on your own paper.

If we want to thrive in relationship we have to be willing to get over ourselves, which should keep us too busy to get tangled up in what other people are doing. Truth is, they’re not doing anything but being themselves. And that’s always ok. Not one of us owns the copyright to Life. Pretending that we do is our demise, but only 100% of the time.

We are quick enough in perceiving and weighing what we suffer from others, but we mind not what others suffer from us.Thomas a’ Kempis

Feast or Fast

I’ve been accused of over-preparing food.

The people who would scold me for said crime are the same ones who would complain if I didn’t make their personal favorite dish for EVERY celebration.

Food is a love language, so I guess you could say I’m bilingual. Fluent, actually. 

The irony is, I eat only a small fraction of what I cook. I’ll spare the details behind my restrictive diet but suffice it to say that I’m no stranger to food anxiety. As such, I’ve engaged in countless elimination diets in an effort to quiet the beast within whilst nourishing myself.

The bright side of ‘selective intake’ is a much healthier body than the teen version of me who grew up in the break-out generation of fast food and sugared cereal.

Much is written these days about the benefits of fasting.  The practice is both fashion-forward and archaic, having been used for a range of reasons from physiologic prowess to spiritual enlightenment.

Pope Francis provided this gem:

The most appealing diet ever! Of course I adopted it on the spot and posted it in several areas of my home like an amateur. Could I not have predicted that Husband would ask me in a sarcastic and self-righteous tone how my fast was going when I became impatient? And immediately after that when I snapped at him for asking?

Seriously, I did pretty well considering the near impossible odds of actually getting over the habit of being myself. I’ve been on the personal growth block long enough to know that baby steps are a win. When anger rises up, noticing it and stopping it 3 seconds earlier than usual is cause for celebration.

The idea of fasting from that which brings us down and feasting on that which raises all of us up, is delicious AND nutritious. Bonus: it’s free food. It costs nothing to indulge in joy and hope and gratitude.

Junk ‘food’ on the other hand comes with a hefty price. Pessimism and resentment are thieves that will rob us blind and ruin our relationships in the process.

Spiritual fasting isn’t any easier than the physical version. I doubt I’ll avoid my propensity to shout when triggered. But if I can shed a few pounds of worry…

I suspect I’ll be a happier and healthier version of me.

Finding Freedom From Parental Worry

Once upon a time there was a mother who worried.

This mother turned her worry into a part-time job and often forgot to enjoy the experience of raising humans. She mistakenly thought that if she worried enough, she could thwart impending disaster and spare herself unimaginable heartache.  

For this mistaken belief, she suffered. Bargaining with the devil is costly and Satan takes all forms of payment. The mother lost sleep, sanity and serenity. 

The weight of worry grew in proportion with the children. Stories of teen escapades were revealed in bits and pieces, making the mother woozy. But shockingly, none of the stories equalled the terrifying possibilities that marinated in her imagination.

In other words, most of the mother’s fears never came to pass.

Reflecting on the fact that she had invested far too much in the fruitless schemes of the mind, the mother determined that it was time to reclaim her peace. 

The mind, she determined, was like an unsafe neighborhood. Best not to enter unaccompanied, lest fear lure her into a dark alley and rob her. 

Over time, the mother learned to keep company with more amiable companions like love and trust. She began praying and practicing the principle of detachment. Gradually, she felt lighter. Anxiety had been a heavy weight to carry.

These days, the mother practices safe thinking with the fervor of a zealot. Now that she has tasted freedom, alternative options have lost their appeal.

When a young adult son shares photos of his escapades….

the first thing she sees is Joy instead of Pain; Fun instead of Danger. And she, too, feels happy. Without fear lurking over her shoulder, the mother is able to partake in the amusement of her children’s lives.

Sometimes the mother entertains Regret and wants to cry over foregone chances at happiness. But instead, she works on self-forgiveness because she’s finally wise enough to recognize thieves in all their cunning disguises.

COVID – The Gift That Keeps Giving

All I got for Christmas was COVID. Needless to say, I hadn’t put it on my wish list. But per usual, Life has its own ideas about gift-giving. 

As an extreme rule-follower, and a self-described pandemic poster child, I thought I would escape 2020 unscathed. Silly human.  If this past year has taught us anything, it’s that our delusions of control are grossly misguided. Life isn’t a puppet for us to manipulate. 

Our egos would have us believe that if we are _______ enough, we will succeed in getting what we want. No matter our age, experience, or level of maturity, we never seem to shed the immature notion that we can bend fate in our favor. When we fail, the disappointment can be hard to swallow.

The mind is like a toddler who can’t sit still in a church pew. Constantly jumping from one thought to the next, future-past-future-past, it repeatedly asks ‘Why?’ and ‘What if?’ edging out any chance of being content with what comes to pass.

When I was carrying my 4th baby, after having lost my 3rd during pregnancy, anxiety ruled my existence.  By cutting and pasting the tragedy of the past into a possible future recurrence, I robbed myself of the opportunity to enjoy what turned out to be a healthy pregnancy. In truth, no amount of catastrophe practice would have saved me from suffering fresh pain had the outcome been negative. Instead of fearing and fretting, I could have chosen to been happy. 

Trying to impress this lesson upon my high school senior who awaits college acceptance letters is no easier than it was to appease the Christmas-morning anticipation she had as a child. We want to know outcomes and reasons so we can end the emotional war within. But it is this need to know that actually perpetuates the battle.

Eckhart Tolle advises, “Give up waiting as a state of mind….snap out of it. Just be and enjoy.” Letting go of anything should be easier than holding on. When I grasp a heavy object in my hand, it takes effort. When I release my effort and stop contracting my muscles, the burden of holding eases. 

The irony is that when it comes to letting go of our ideas about what should’ve happened or what we wish to happen, we find ourselves somewhat incapable of releasing our grip, no matter how much it pains us to hold on. 

Emerging on the other side of illness, I’m reminded that the fear of a thing is often worse than the thing. When one finds themselves face to face with something they dread, there’s no choice but to deal with it. Action brings relief from anticipation.

I’ve never welcomed any adversity I’ve encountered. And yet, I’ve also never met a challenge that I couldn’t shake hands with when we parted. Illness, loss, and struggle are simultaneously impersonal and bespoke, providing for each of us exactly what we need in order to practice making peace with life.

I find myself humbled by Life once again, and grateful for reminding me that I am vulnerable but not victimized. Even in 2020, Life is a place I’m glad to be.

Thanksgiving 2020

Of all the things that have provoked my anxiety in 2020, gravy-making holds an embarrassingly prominent spot on the list. Familiar readers will attest to my solid level of skill in the kitchen.  But the daunting task of creating this undeniably critical turkey-topping has negated any confidence gained from 25 years of culinary domestication.

For years I have left this intimidating aspect of Thanksgiving meal prep to the family matriarch.  But thanks to the pandemic, my pinch-hitter will be absent – safely ensconced in isolation where she will await a socially-distanced delivery of food made by yours truly.

If I’ve learned anything from the relentless ‘growth opportunities’ served up by 2020, it’s that I can do hard things, like surrendering my previously under-appreciated life to a virus, and separating pan drippings from fat to make gravy.

The invitation to rise above something as monumental as a pandemic (or a gravy recipe), has its appeal. A historical glance is enough to remind us that challenge and effort have a merit of their own, irrespective of outcome. If the figurative gravy over our lives doesn’t pan out this year, can we still enjoy the meal?

On one particularly memorable Thanksgiving, I thought I’d be fancy and cook a duck. One duck for twelve guests. Each ended up with a meager morsel of meat. By all accounts, it was the most delectable bite ever taken. Scarcity compelled us to savor.

Being thankful this holiday season may require more creativity than in previous years if viewed by its tremendous loss and hardship. Or it may be the most authentic expression of gratitude ever offered as a result of our whittled-down existence. Perspective will decide.

My offering this Thanksgiving Day is gratitude for all that has been given and taken, from every friend and foe. May our collective sentiments raise us up and remind us that Life, with or without gravy, holds something for us to savor.

Mask Police

Dear person who refuses to wear a mask,

I promised myself at the outset of the pandemic that I wouldn’t play the role of Mask Police.

I’m not interested in facing your resistance to following a simple, sensical guideline. Instead, I don myself with more PPE than necessary, hoping to protect both of us.  What I haven’t mastered are the skills needed to protect myself from my judgment of you.

The world is highly contagious and it’s not just because there’s a virus afoot.  We are sick with hate, resentment, and vengeance. Fear has manifested in the form of civil unrest, political division and interpersonal distress and is infecting the masses in a far more catastrophic manner than a germ.

We know that those with healthy immune systems fair better against any number of assaults from the environment. This is true for the emotional immune system as well. But we may have to dig deeper into the (arsenal) toolbox for the right (weapon) instrument to (fight) build up our defenses against that which threatens our emotional resilience.

I grew up worshipping the Greatest Generation – those born into an unfortunate time in history that filled their early years with hardships. Not unlike us who are living through historic challenges, they lost jobs and lives. Perhaps unlike us, they learned to survive with less and were proud to do their part. Despite the sacrifices, they emerged as a grateful nation, learning to humbly accept a changed life. 

I’d like to think that we, too, are building something of worth – character, or skills, or ideas for reformation. It’s too early to tell, but the forecast isn’t promising based on current patterns of social anomie.

Ultimately, intolerance boils down to the fact that we oppose each other because we’re afraid. Afraid that if you’re right, I might be wrong.  Afraid that if you make your own choices, I might be in danger.  Each person fights with pointed finger for their own individual determinants of safety and rightness. We desperately try to construct ‘the world according to me’ to spare ourselves the discomfort of stretching our boundaries.

A waxing and waning gratitude practice has proven to me over and over that we don’t need to be ruled by fear and scarcity. When we shift the way we think about things, the things we think about change. With this in mind, we may be able to redeem some goodwill between us.

Instead of judging each other for our opposing beliefs and practices, we might ask ourselves, ‘What part of me is threatened by you and your differences?’

Here’s what I know to be true: when I judge you, I suffer.  When I accept you, I am peaceful. The gap between the two is simply a choice.

So, non-mask-wearing human, the next time we meet, I will summon tolerance in the name of inner peace which, I believe, is the first step to world peace. Or at the very least, good sportsmanship at this game of Life.

Love,

Deb

Secrets Of A Lasting Marriage

I hated my husband when I first met him.  As a college girl in constant search for love, my reaction to our introduction was, ‘I could never marry someone like him.’  Twenty-five years later we’re still together. Life has a sense of humor that way.

As we celebrate our silver anniversary, and people teasingly ask us our secret to a lasting marriage, we answer sarcastically, “We still have no idea.  We’re making it up as we go.”

Marriage doesn’t come with a GPS.  And the tour guides that one could consult are limited by the simple fact that they aren’t living your relationship.  The reality of partnership is that it requires Work and no one can do it for you.  As Friend likes to say: “Marriage, not as advertised.”

If I were to renew my marriage vows from the perspective of a seasoned wife, they would sound very different from the original version.  In truth, I had no idea what I was promising when I said ‘I do’ in my relative infancy. 

How could I know what it meant to love through bad times when life hadn’t taken me down yet? 

How could I understand the level of courage, stamina, and flexibility that marriage requires when love was fresh and new?

Instead of promising to ‘honor and cherish all the days of my life’ (which is a cruel set-up for failure if you ask me) I’d say something more realistic like this:

I promise to learn about love with you and do my best to rise to its challenges.

Love is an everyday choice, a deliberate effort – like making a meal. Some days I eat junk food and my body suffers. Some days I offer more attention to my social media page than I do my beloved and our love suffers. Choices.

I’d wager that at some point in every marriage, a couple wakes up to the reality that, for better or for worse, love changes. What was once simple becomes more complicated. This isn’t bad news. Weathered love has character. Its scars tell stories of both tough times and triumphs that render it more durable and perhaps less pretty from the process.  But then, marriage isn’t a beauty pageant.

Dave Willis said, ‘Couples who last aren’t the ones who never had a reason to divorce.” 

I’m no expert on sustainable relationships but this sounds accurate to me.  It isn’t the absence of struggle that leads to happy ever after.  It’s the idea that there’s something beyond the struggle that’s worth finding.

In my experience, love has to be just a bit stronger than fear.  Compassion, a little bigger than judgment.  Patience, a little deeper than frustration. And forgiveness, a little freer than resentment.  Marriage doesn’t require perfection to thrive.  It just needs a slight edge above the alternatives.

Husband and I aren’t a model couple.  Our relationship can be fierce by comparison.  We are loud with each other, raw, and often careless with words.  But after all this time, we know that this too is love.

Words That Need To Be Whispered

This is the best thing that could have happened to me,” she whispered, as if to sneak the truth in through the back door. 

My friend understood that revealing her relief about the current pandemic restrictions might be met with hostility.  Thus the need to whisper words that are too controversial to utter aloud.

Suffering is socially acceptable at times like these.  Tales of loss and devastation are broadcast to the masses.  Attention and sympathy abound for those who are withering.

For those who experience something other than melancholy, silence is the safest option lest they risk being accused of insensitivity or labeled as privileged.

My friend is neither tone-deaf nor unaffected.  She, like many, has lost her income and is hunkering down with her young son.  Her husband works on the front line.  She has reasons to worry.  But she chooses to admit that her sacrifices are a fair exchange for unforeseen benefits.

She has less money but more time.  Fewer activities but more cuddles with her son.   And magically, the pain in her body has waned in the absence of a physically stressful job.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic slammed its fist down on the world, we were Busy. Mindless. Careless. We lived life based on a litany of responsibilities and desires with hardly a thought about the effects of our choices.  Now we are reduced to focusing on basic needs while weighing them against risk.  Should I risk exposure to the virus for a loaf of bread?

There isn’t a person on earth who hasn’t had to adjust.  And no one, not even the experts can predict how this story ends.  This is good news.  Because ‘not knowing’ is where creativity and growth are born. 

This is rich soil we’re standing on.  There is gold beneath our feet, waiting to be mined.  We need not look any further than inside of ourselves to discover the gems that belong to us alone.

Those things you don’t miss from pre-pandemic days are a clue to where your life was leaking, informing you of where you gave away your precious resources. 

The people and practices you pine for beg you to examine their place in your life.  Do you need them or want them and why?  Are you willing to be surprised by the answer?

A platform for self-discovery has been delivered to your door courtesy of Social Isolation. Resist the urge to turn away.  Entertain it in bits until you dare to look it square in the eyes and ask, “What message do you have for me?”

There is no rush.  No obligation.  Only an invitation.  If you choose to seek yourself you will likely encounter a demon or two along the way.  In time you will see that Fear creates holograms, not actual beasts. 

 

Those who live through this, and especially those who thrive through it, will influence the future.  This is the way of adversity, spinning its magic in disguise.  Pain is not for naught. 

You need only bear witness.  Don’t pay more than you have to for clarity.  Blame, worry, anger….are dark indulgences that will lead you astray.

During this extraordinary and astonishing call to presence, may we do our best to remain open to possibility, to respond thoughtfully, and to be kind to others and ourselves.   

May we avoid the temptation to judge and criticize, opting instead to direct our energy toward understanding and compassion.

In short, may we be the sort of people that we can be proud of when all is resolved. 

And perhaps, be able to proclaim in un-hushed voice, the full breadth of discoveries we’ve encountered in this unfamiliar time.

Quaranteaming

With a 22-year old daughter living in Myanmar, my husband and I tuned in to the pandemic long before most. We leap-frogged over a lot of the concerns that are now consuming many a modern parent such as cancelled school and under-stimulated students.

This isn’t a claim that our experience makes us any more informed or entitled to anxiety than others. Nor do we have special dispensation to complain about how this pandemic has been handled by leaders. Rather, we feel a kinship with the world that perhaps is missed by those who have yet to settle into the reality that we’re all in this together.

Engaged in a virtual chase around the globe in pursuit of an invisible enemy, we tried to get ahead of the virus lest our eldest daughter get stuck in any number of unfavorable situations – alone, stranded, sick….Our focus was on formulating a plan to evacuate her from the opposite side of the world as the need arose.

The call to action came in the form of a letter distributed by my daughter’s peers who found themselves ill with COVID-19 symptoms. The terrifying description of their experience within a primitive healthcare system unleashed the parental panic I’d been harboring for weeks.

None of us were sure that our special-ops level of planning would guarantee my daughter’s safety. But after a stressful 50-hour trip, she arrived home, rattled by the experience of traversing the globe under extenuating circumstances.

Although she was glad to have returned to the U.S. through a rapidly decreasing window of opportunity, my daughter was loath to leave her second home, especially the people she grew to love. She struggled to hold back tears when she broke the news to her students that their time together was coming to an abrupt end. For although their country borders China, they had been sheltered from the chaos thus far. Even my daughter, who was acutely informed of the facts via her stateside connections, insisted until the bitter end that she was unaffected.

She wanted that to be true. We all do. But slowly, we’re coming to grips with universal vulnerability. This disease is not selective. Every human being on the planet is, or soon will be, embroiled in this war in some way. None are immune. Many feel defenseless. Each, I suspect, is struggling.

My family has decided to quarantine together at home, even though my daughter offered to isolate offsite when she returned from Southeast Asia. Quarenteaming, we’re calling it. If she, or any of my family falls ill to this disease, I want to be the one to care for them. This isn’t valiant, it’s motherhood.

With all of us hunkered down together, frustrations arise of course, but so do humor and moral support. For the most part, short tempers and sharp tongues are quickly checked by the newest dose of sobering news.

When the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in my town, the local social media group erupted. Meanness and insensitivity dominated. One post demanded that the name of the infected family be revealed. The tone was disturbingly reminiscent of the infamous witch trials which took place in this same backyard in the 17th century.

Tension is high. But if we give in to hysteria and a compulsion to attack each other, we’re doomed to sink our own battleship. We’ll never win this war if we fight against our own team.

Life isn’t interested in blame. It’s also uninterested in assigning awards. This isn’t a competition in who’s doing the best parenting or homeschooling or good deeds. Life isn’t even asking us to be active or productive right now. What life needs from each of us is to shift our way of being, in favor of the greater good, and to apply the best of ourselves to what we now face. Because we’re all in this together.

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