Taken

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The morning of our four-day trek to Machu Picchu, our guide Harry picked us up in the lobby of our hotel. My daughter and I got into a van with him along with our cook for the trek, and the driver. Not long into the two-hour drive to the trailhead, I realized that we had just gotten into a van with three strange men in a foreign country and were driving out to an unfamiliar wilderness to meet up with two more men we had never met. Aside from accepting drinks and candy from them, we had just done everything we are taught as women not to do. I couldn’t help but think that this scenario could easily be the beginning of a Liam Neeson film. The problem was, I do not have a very particular set of skills, nor do I know anyone with a very particular set of skills that could save us from being taken. I started to take a mental inventory of what I had in my pack that I might possibly be able to use as a weapon. All I really had was a can of bug repellent that I could use as mace, some dull tipped hiking poles that I might be able to poke someone’s eye out with, assuming I had incredibly accurate aim, and a sturdy pair of boots that would be great for a swift kick to the groin. So yeah, I had nothin’. My daughter’s initial thought was that as a runner she would be able to outrun them if necessary (“but not in this altitude.”). Since my daughter’s survival mentality was that you only have to be faster than the slowest person you’re with, I was completely on my own. So there I was, in a van with strangers in a foreign country driving out to an unfamiliar wilderness and realizing that there were aspects of this journey I hadn’t considered, that I was not as prepared as I should be, that I was literally putting our lives in the hands of four strange men, and that I was completely vulnerable.

Vulnerable is a scary place to be because it requires some degree of trust, and while it didn’t take me long to realize that my life was not in danger and that the men that were paid to take care of us were very good at their jobs and completely trustworthy, I was still vulnerable and ultimately, taken.

No, I obviously wasn’t taken in some sort of horrifying against-my-will kind of way, but I was taken in a wonderful surrender-to-the-beauty-of-the-journey kind of way. I had embarked on this little adventure with absolutely no expectation of what it would be like or even how capable I actually was of doing it. Oddly, I think it was this “I don’t really know what the fuck I’m doing, but I’m gonna do it anyway” attitude that allowed me to not only be taken by the beauty of the landscape and the people, but by the beauty of the experience and the freedom that came with being completely present in every moment without judgement or disappointment. I have described this trip as charmed because everything just seemed to go so perfectly right, but I can’t help but wonder if it was a charmed vacation or if it was the attitude in which I approached it that made it seem that way. Certainly, my outlook on life will influence my experiences.

Regardless of our attitude, the truth is, we are never really completely prepared for what the journey of life may bring us. We can plan, save and prepare in every way we know how, but life is always going to present us with situations and opportunities we hadn’t considered. It is during these times, when we are forced to deal with or willingly choose to explore the unfamiliar, that we develop our own very particular set of skills that will help us successfully travel through life. It is during these times, when we are forced to be vulnerable, that we discover not only who we can trust, but that we can trust ourselves and the skills we’ve previously acquired. It is during these times, that we need to accept the fact that we don’t really know what the fuck we’re doing, let go of expectation and judgement, surrender and allow ourselves to be taken by the beauty of the journey and all the experiences that come with embracing our inevitable vulnerability in the unexpected unfamiliar.

 

 

The Power to Heal

imageAs a massage therapy student, I was taught that I do not have the ability to heal people, I only have the ability to make space in the body to allow it to heal itself. In terms of physical healing, I believe this to be true. In terms of emotional and mental healing, I believe the opposite is true. We must create the space within ourselves in order to allow people to heal us.

The Power To Heal is a book in the library of the massage therapy school I went to. It was the butt of many jokes and a friend and I recreated the cover as a spoof for our own book. I admit that I literally judged this book by its cover. I didn’t like the title and I found the cover photo comical in a negative way. I saw this book dozens of times, on the bookshelf, on the table, and even in my own hands on more than one occasion, and I never bothered to open it. I dismissed it based on the assumption that I knew what was inside. Finally, a couple of weeks before I graduated, I decided to look inside, and I opened it. It was not at all what I expected and it was surprisingly lovely.  It was essentially a pictorial of various healers. It illustrated the rituals, philosophies and practices of healers of different faiths, ethnicities and cultures. It effectively and beautifully portrayed that while healing methods are as diverse as the healers, the motives and the intentions of healers are the same.

I can’t help but think about how symbolic this book was to my experience at massage therapy school. When I started school I knew that I had some issues to overcome and some fears to confront, but I in no way considered myself to be someone who needed healing. Thinking about it now, I realize that no matter what we’ve been through, or how far we’ve come through it, we are all, to some degree, broken or wounded and in need of healing. I am confident that my classmates did not consider themselves healers, nor did they have any idea of the impact they would have on my life during the time we shared together.

Much like the pages of The Power to Heal, diversity was the obvious theme. My classmates came from different ethnicities, had various religious and spiritual beliefs, and differing worldviews. Each one had something unique to offer and, individually and collectively, they all had a hand in my journey of healing. Some taught me to trust my instincts, to set personal boundaries and to not feel bad about doing so. One trusted me so implicitly that I learned to trust myself in a way I never had, allowing me to remove limitations that others or I had intentionally or subconsciously set. Some uncovered and embraced my “crazy” side that I had typically kept stifled. Some revealed aspects and qualities of my personality that I had long forgotten.  Many were witness to my flaws and shortcomings but accepted me regardless, without criticism or judgement, which gave me permission to do the same. Most provided the best medicine of all, laughter.  And one, well one requires a whole other blog post to adequately articulate their significance in my healing process (but that’s a piece for another time). Regardless of the part each person played, big or small, subtle or obvious, temporary or ongoing, each was a healer.

It would be easy to make a lovely, superficial metaphor about how the physical structure of my massage school was like the cover of The Power to Heal, and that my classmates were the diverse and beautiful pages within, and while that would be accurate, there is a deeper metaphor. I was that book. I was that book that I glanced past and dismissed numerous times, assuming I knew what was inside and that it didn’t warrant my time or attention. I had to pick myself up, I had to decide to look inside, knowing that I might not like what I found. I had to look inside, open myself up for me and others, not only to see, but to examine. I had to make space for my classmates to heal me in their own unique and personal ways, to heal me in ways I was unaware I needed.

We all have the power to decide to look inside ourselves, the power to open ourselves up, the power to make space in our hearts and our minds, the power to receive what others have to give, and we all have the power to heal.

 

Lisa Moser Valle

 

Receive

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I recently came across this little piece I wrote a couple of years ago:

“In order to receive, we first need to empty ourselves.” Well, it was a good thing I was lying down when my yoga instructor said this today, because I would have fallen over from the force in which these words hit me. Yeah sure, she was just talking about lengthening our exhales in order to deepen our inhales. You know, the typical out with bad, in with good kind of stuff. It isn’t a new or mind-boggling concept or anything, but today it dawned on me in a smack-you-in-the-face kind of way how those simple, unassuming words transfer over to all aspects of life. If I want good relationships, I have to eliminate the bad ones. If I want to be happy, I need to let go of the sadness. If I want to experience more positive emotions, I need to dump the negative ones. I can’t go through life holding my breath. Maybe all my deepest desires are just standing around, lurking in the shadows impatiently tapping their feet and looking at their watches waiting for me to make room for them and welcome them in. I can imagine them letting out sighs of frustration and rolling their eyes every time I choose to hold onto something that doesn’t serve a positive purpose in my life instead of enthusiastically receiving something better. “In order to receive, we first need to empty ourselves.” Something tells me that all of life’s little secrets are just this simple, logical and painfully obvious. Now, sigh it out, take a deep breath…and receive.

I am amazed at the positive changes that have occurred in my life since making an effort to live true to this. As I released the negative relationships in my life, fresh, nourishing people eagerly and happily replaced them bringing depth and authenticity to my life that I had rarely experienced previously.

I am no longer content with shallow breathing. I love the purge of a long, deep exhale and receiving the fulfilling exuberance of the deep inhale that effortlessly ensues.

 

Lisa Moser Valle

 

As She Walked Along the Shore

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As she walked along the shore

She could feel that the sea had been waiting for her
Patiently and expectantly longing for her

She could feel the sea calling her tears home
Gently and warmly inviting them to return

She could feel the sea within her
Freely and honestly surrender to the sea beside her

She could feel the storm of her tears
Violently and uncontrollably crashing back to the sea

She could feel the power of her tears
Forcefully and confidently rolling back to the sea

She could feel the softness of her tears
Calmly and contently rippling back to the sea

She could feel the relief of her tears
Sweetly and gratefully being welcomed back home

She could feel the sea within her unite with the sea beside her
Fully and unapologetically embracing the wholeness of their union

She could feel the natural, enduring, and unpredictable rhythms of the sea
Completely and assuredly trusting that they would never betray her

 

Lisa Moser Valle

 

 

My Perfect Facebook Life (And How You Can Have One Too)

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As I scrolled through my Facebook timeline, filled with snapshots of happy times with friends, fun vacations, field trips with my kids, celebrations of family birthdays, random fun moments and silly or amusing antidotes about my life, I couldn’t help but think, “Gosh, I have a perfect life.”

Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re thinking, and you’re absolutely right. No one has a perfect life. My life, like everyone else’s, has its fair share of personal struggles and frustrations. Facebook allows us to share the highlights of life while leaving out the more mundane, less memorable and difficult moments and challenges in life. Most of us are not sharing pictures of a sink full of dirty dishes, selfies while binge watching Game of Thrones, or discussing in detail the struggles of complicated relationships.

Like most people, I like to share the good stuff, the fun stuff.  Not because I want to impress anyone or create a false façade of a perfect life. Frankly, most people probably don’t find my status updates all that interesting. It’s pretty basic stuff, really.  People are probably tired of seeing pictures of me and my sister at a winery, and are most likely bored to death of the dozens of pictures of my kids blowing out birthday candles. The truth is, there are many people going to far more interesting places, with much more fascinating people and eating much better food.  But that’s not the point.  The point is, my Facebook life is perfect to ME.  It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks or feels about it.  My timeline is a reflection of memes, moments, photos and thoughts that are special, memorable and amusing to me. These are the moments that make me happy. These are the moments I am grateful for.  These are the moments I want to remember.

There is no such thing as a perfect life, only perfect moments. Seconds or minutes when the mundane and difficult realities of life disappear, where we find happiness, laughter, love, joy and peace. These are the moments we need to recognize and put our time and attention on. These are the moments we should be grateful for and highlight in our minds every day. These simple little fleeting moments of perfection are what make life beautiful and memorable. So make them, capture them, gather them, collect them and hoard them. Post them on your timeline and in your mind, share them with others and scroll through them often.

 

God’s Not Bread

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I finally watched the movie, God’s Not Dead, a couple of weeks ago.  I did not want to pay to see it in the theater, but I was curious enough to pay the $5 to watch it at home On Demand.   At first I found the unrealistic portrayal of atheists rather comical and then, as the movie continued, I became irritated.  I was discussing the movie with my 25-year-old son and he jokingly said, “We should start our own movement, #godsnotbread.”  My motive is not to start such a movement, but I am compelled to share my thoughts. I have several issues with the movie, but I will focus on just one; the inaccurate and insulting way in which atheists are portrayed.  It is the propaganda in this movie and other media sources that causes such divisiveness in our country.  The makers of this film could have easily made a pro Christian statement without portraying atheists as complete and utter assholes.

Let me clarify a few things about atheists. We do not abandon our ailing parents in nursing homes. We do not leave our romantic interests when they are diagnosed with cancer.  We do not treat our significant others like hired help, verbally abuse them or publicly humiliate them. We do not sit alone in doctor offices with a terminal illness because, “There is no one.”  We are not angry, bitter, lonely, amoral or immoral.  Most importantly, we are not angry with God.

Atheists are caring and supportive parents, neighbors, friends and coworkers.  We are active in the PTA at school, or homeschool or children. We volunteer in the community.  We fundraise for charities and donate our time to worthy humanitarian causes. We have many friends of different backgrounds and belief systems.  We have loving, fulfilling relationships.  We raise our children to be kind, respectful and accepting adults.

Atheists have good days and bad. We laugh and we cry. We are flawed.  We are human. And while we do not get angry at God, we do get angry.  We get angry when we are misrepresented, misunderstood and misjudged. We get angry when people don’t understand that freedom of religion includes freedom from religion. We get angry when believers try to force their religious dogma on us and others.

When my son first mentioned “God’s not bread”, I’m sure that the word bread was just the first word he thought of that rhymed with dead.  But I can’t help thinking about bread’s religious significance. Bread represents the sustenance, nourishment and fulfillment God often provides for believers. But this isn’t true for non believers.  We are sustained, nourished and fulfilled without the need for a god.

The Christian community respects and admires the movie’s protagonist for courageously defending his convictions as a minority in his classroom.   I wonder if the Christian community respects and admires atheists for courageously defending our convictions as a minority in our country.

Winged Woman

imageWaxing, waning moonlight of a life as it goes by
Wasted, weeping wishes to the stars among the sky

Wicked winter winds with their wanting secret lies
Whisper welcome warnings among the silent cries

Water washes wastefully as a woeful spirit dies
Wading weak and weary but no one else replies

Wailing, wet and worthless, feeling warped with life awry
Wandering worn through weighted webs, beginning now to try

Waking wide and wild, wavering bonds become untied
Wonder wakens, wiping wounds, now cleaned and dressed with pride

Waging war on wincing weaklings that whimper deep inside
Winning whittled battles, a welded warrior watches and resides

Wielding willing winks and whistles, with weeds of worry set aside
Weaving waves of warmth and whimsy, with the willows as her guide

Worthy, witty, wonderful in the weightless springtime sighs
Wondrous, wise and worldly, a winged woman flies

 

Lisa Moser Valle

It’s Not All Flowers and Chocolate Covered Strawberries

 

chocolate covered strawberries I sat down to write a Mother’s Day piece and it began with the beauty of springtime, the chirping birds busy building their nests, the beautiful weather and the celebration of all the dedicated mothers in nature and in our lives.  Then, I got stuck.  I stopped. I scrapped it. Although it was everything people want to hear on Mother’s Day and everything I want to feel on Mother’s Day, it wasn’t entirely honest.  It was sincere and heartfelt, but it was only telling part of the story.  Frankly, Mother’s Day isn’t all flowers and chocolate covered strawberries for me. While I try to focus on the positive in life, the truth is, Mother’s Day makes me sad. Mother’s Day has made me sad for the past 16 years. Regardless of how the day is spent, how many people I am with or what gifts of appreciation are given, I am left, at the end of the day, lonely and wanting. Honestly, I’ve never truly acknowledged this to anyone, including myself.  So instead of writing a Hallmark card piece about Mother’s Day, I’m writing this instead.

My mother had died in March, so on my first Mother’s Day without her, I went alone to the cemetery to take her flowers  (because that’s what you’re supposed to do).  I felt rushed by my husband who wanted to be at his mother’s house at specific time. The cemetery experience was awkward and uncomfortable.  It was crowded and difficult to find a place to park. There were entire families with blankets and picnic lunches spending the day. I didn’t know what I expected or how I was going to feel, but I just felt more confused and isolated in my emotions.  I felt like I had been inducted into a club that I didn’t want to join. This was not how it was supposed to be.

Five minutes before arriving at my mother-in-law’s house, my husband pulled into the parking lot of a local department store. He asked me to go in and buy his mother a gift and have it gift wrapped while he waited in the car with the kids.  I was angry beyond belief. It was a rude and insensitive request. I knew he was choosing to ignore my fragile and irritated mood that day because I certainly wasn’t hiding it very well.  I kept my thoughts to myself and went into the department store (because that’s what I was supposed to do). The escalator dropped me directly in front of the lingerie department which displayed several very sexy little nighties, which were clearly presented in the hopes of enticing husbands who had left their shopping to the last minute.  I knew they were not placed there for daughter-in-laws to purchase for their mother-in-laws to then be gift wrapped and labeled from their sons, but I came very close to doing just that. Buying an inappropriate gift for his mother seemed like a great way to make a statement about making an inappropriate request of me.  One my husband would never forget.  I have very few regrets in life, but the fact that I left that tiny nightie in the lingerie department and continued on to home décor for a picture frame, is definitely one of my biggest regrets. This was not what I was supposed to be doing on Mother’s day.

It wasn’t entirely the events of that first Mother’s Day that made it so difficult.  It was the lack of acknowledgment, by anyone I knew, how emotionally difficult that first Mother’s Day was for me.  People didn’t know what to say, so they said nothing.  People didn’t want to remind me that my Mom was dead (as though I had forgotten), so they didn’t mention her.  People didn’t want to deal with my emotions, so they ignored them. People didn’t want to think about it, so they didn’t.   Everyone just played along with cheery smiles and the assumed social niceties. Everyone just pretended that it was a Mother’s Day just like any other when it was anything but.  This was not how they were supposed to act.

Sixteen years later, nothing has really changed. I often still feel frustrated and angry at my loved ones for not understanding or validating my emotions. Then, I feel angry and frustrated with myself because I know that they can’t possibly validate feelings they are incapable of understanding. I don’t want to burden anyone with my emotions on a day of celebration.  I don’t want to make people feel awkward or uncomfortable.  I don’t want to seem ungrateful for my family and my children.  I don’t want Mother’s Day to be sad. This is not the way I’m supposed to feel.

So here’s what I finally figured out, I play the biggest part in this whole charade. I have never given myself permission to completely accept my own emotions.  I feel selfish for wanting to shut myself alone in my room to cry.  I feel bad for not always being able to convincingly put on a cheery smile and participate in assumed social niceties.  I feel guilty for not just focusing on all the positive aspects of the day.  Hell, I’ve never accepted and validated my own thoughts and emotions, so how can I expect anyone else to do it for me? I’ve finally realized that this is the only thing I’m supposed to do.

This Mother’s Day I am inviting my sadness, my anger, my confusion and my jealousy to the party instead of treating them like unwanted party crashers.  They exist, they are valid and they deserve my attention.  This year I will welcome them along with the joy, appreciation and love of Mother’s Day.  I will recognize them, accept them, and honor them.  They will always be with me on Mother’s Day, so I will embrace them and make peace with them.  I will no longer worry about how I am supposed to feel, what I am supposed to do, how I am supposed to act, or how the day is supposed to be.

Allowing these ever-present emotions does not deny me of the happiness, peace and satisfaction I feel on this day.  It does not lessen the beauty of springtime and the chirping birds or the appreciation I have for all the dedicated mothers in nature and in my life. Permitting all my emotions, without judgment, simply enables me to remember and honor my mother honestly and completely.

I suspect that  flowers will be more fragrant and  chocolate covered strawberries will taste much sweeter now.

Happy Mother’s Day

 

 

Raising Noreen

IMG_3446Raising a puppy for Guide Dogs for the Blind was 4H project option at our first 4H meeting.  My youngest daughter and I were very excited.  This was great.  Sure, it would be challenging but also fun and rewarding. I mean, who doesn’t love a puppy?  The hardest part would certainly be saying good-bye to the puppy after raising it for year, right? Right.

Exactly one week shy of a year from when the Guide Dogs for the Blind puppy truck employees put that furry little bundle of love in our arms, Noreen left our family and was placed in a new home. Her new family will finish raising her until she is ready to return to the Guide Dogs for the Blind campus for evaluation and training.

The experience was everything I expected and nothing I expected. There were the obvious and understood challenges like house breaking and saying good-bye. And there were the obvious and understood fun and rewarding moments like puppy love and watching Noreen grow and learn. But, like most new journeys, there were many situations and life lessons I could never have predicted.  I knew that raising Noreen meant that we were responsible for teaching her the commands and manners she would need before returning the GDB campus. However, I did not realize  that Noreen and I were embarking on parallel journeys in which she would teach me far more than we would ever teach her. Noreen was unknowingly a guide dog, my guide dog, from the moment she was handed to us.

Our first few weeks with Noreen were spent teaching her basic commands like “Do your business”, “Sit” and “Wait” along with encouraging proper crate and tie down training.  We were learning new skills, right along with her, as we were taught  how to teach these lessons according to the GDB training techniques. Although my daughter and I often fumbled through our teaching process and were sometimes frustrated and impatient, these shortcomings did not hinder Noreen’s progress.  She remained an enthusiastic and forgiving student who was always eager to please and seemed to know what to do even when we didn’t.

As we began to take Noreen on errands, daily activities and Guide Dog events, she was learning how to behave appropriately in new environments with unfamiliar people.  It seems kind of odd to admit, but my daughter and I were doing the same. We were learning how to correctly and courteously interact with the visually impaired.  We were learning how to tactfully explain to strangers the acceptable way to approach and greet (or not approach and greet) a guide dog in training.  We were learning the correct GDB protocol for public and social events.  While there was the occasional awkward encounter or personality conflict, the most challenging part of all this for my daughter and I, as well as Noreen, was remembering that social events were also working events and we couldn’t just visit with our friends.

Aside from the GD meetings, outings and events, we had our daily routine at home in which we learned the subtle joys of Noreen’s personality and her company. Our days always started with the same wake up call.  Too polite to whine or cry in her crate when she woke up in the morning, Noreen  would scratch her collar so that the rattling sound of her tags would alert me that she needed to go out. Our days always included Noreen walking through the family room with a toy in her mouth, ears dropped, butt wagging (yes, her entire butt, not just her tail) and clearing the coffee table with one swipe of her tail. They included her morning sunbath on the slope of our backyard with our tortoise Shelby. They included her warm body curled up by our feet while we watched TV at night.  Our days included quiet companionship.

As the time to say good-bye drew near, I found myself torn between wanting to savor every last moment with her and emotionally withdrawing from her in an attempt to make it easier on myself. But the idea of making it easier was ridiculous.  It was not easy, and nothing would make it so.

Now, as Noreen adapts to her new home, we are adapting to our home without her.  As she continues to learn from her new experiences, we will soon continue to learn from our own new experiences when we welcome a new puppy from GDB into our home.

When we decided to raise Noreen, my intention was to give, to give her a home and love, to give her training and socialization, to give her back to GDB prepared for formal training. Although I knew raising a puppy would have it’s rewards, my intention was not to receive, but I did receive, in countless ways.  I expected to be Noreen’s guide through her obedience training and socialization.  I did not expect Noreen to guide me to a better understanding and appreciation of my daughter and of her strengths and weaknesses.  I did not expect Noreen to guide us to new relationships with fellow puppy raisers and to strengthen existing friendships.  I did not expect Noreen to guide my daughter and me to new places, events and people we would never have encountered without her.  I expected to help create a guide dog, but instead, I was given one.

I will always be grateful for the time we spent, memories we made and lessons I learned while raising Noreen.

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My Promise to My Children

 

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This is a quote that has been going around the internet for some time and I still see pop up on Facebook from time to time.  I hate it – a lot. I’m sure the author’s intention was to make a bold statement about their love for their children and I totally respect that.  But I really have a problem with it. Let’s look at this a little closer, shall we?

“For as long as I live I will always be your parent first and your friend second.”  No real problem here, but I think friend fits under the umbrella of parent. Friends are good.  Friends are people we trust, confide in, listen to, respect and enjoy spending time with.  I don’t think it needs to be differentiated from parent. I think a simple promise to be there for them would work just fine.

“I will stalk you, flip out on you, lecture you, drive you insane, be your worst nightmare and hunt you down like a bloodhound when I have to, because I love.”  Whoa! There’s a lot going on in that sentence. Where do I begin? Let me start with the “hunt you down like a bloodhound” part (I’ll get back to the stalking and flipping out in a minute). I figure there are 2 reasons why you would hunt someone down with a bloodhound.  The first is that they are a dangerous criminal.  If this is the case, and your child is an actual dangerous criminal, please call the appropriate authorities and let them handle the situation.  The second reason to hunt someone down with a bloodhound is because they are lost or missing. Again, by all means, call in the appropriate authorities, but keep in mind that if you have been stalking, lecturing, driving your child insane and being their worst nightmare, they may not be legitimately lost or missing but actually hiding from you.  You might want to check the local court-house because they may be  filing a restraining order against you, as most people would do if they were being stalked and hunted.  Now wait, here comes the best part…”because I love you.” What!?  When would a parent ever want a child to accept this type of behavior from any other individual and then define it as love?  Never.  At best, it is dysfunctional and at worst, it is abusive.  This whole bit sounds more like a threat than a promise.

“When you understand that, I will know you have become a responsible adult.” Ummm…actually, I’m at a loss for words. Acceptance and understanding of hysteria as a healthy form of love is the criteria for responsible adulthood? Really? I’m not convinced the author of this quote is a responsible adult. Maybe a promise not to make ridiculous definitions of adulthood would be better. (Yeah, that got pretty snarky. I apologize.)

“You will never find anyone else in your life who loves, prays, cares and worries about you more than I do.” Okay, so that’s a fair and heartfelt sentiment.  As parents, most of us believe this about the love we have for our children.  But really, shouldn’t we desire that they have an abundance of people in their life that love and care about them as much as we do? Shouldn’t we desire great love in many forms for them? Of course, and most parents do.  It is also important to keep in mind, that if you are flipping out and driving your child insane, they will be eager to find love somewhere else. I think a simple promise of unconditional love and concern without the guise of fear and intimidation would be much better.

“If you don’t mutter under your breath, “I hate you” at least once in your life, I’m not doing my job properly.”  Well, it may not mean you are doing your job improperly, but I don’t think it necessarily means you are doing it properly.  Should this really be a parenting goal?  We can’t promise our kids that they won’t hate us at some point, but we should promise them that we won’t try to make them hate us.

It may be hard to tell from this piece, but I honestly try not to judge other people’s parenting styles.  We all know parenting doesn’t come with an instruction manual, and even if it did, every child is different.  We’re all just figuring it out as we go along, using the tools we have and learning from our mistakes.  I think this quote bothers me so much is because I believe that the core responsibility we have to our children is to teach them love. To teach them what love is, how to share it and how to receive it. To teach them love in its purest form, love that is tender, nurturing and trusting. To teach them love without fear, condition or expectation.  There are definitely  days that I fail miserably,  but my promise to my children is to set an example of the love I want them to experience and share throughout their life.

 

Fra-gee-lay

thWhenever I hear the word fragile, I can’t help but think of A Christmas Story and the hilarious fra-gee-lay scene. But recently, I’ve been thinking about the word in a different context.

A few months ago, my 23 year old son slapped an unwanted a label on me.  FRAGILE. Wait. What?  Is this how he really sees me? And as many things go in a large family, it didn’t take long for the rest of the family to follow suit, and find and use every opportunity to playfully call me fragile. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not above using this to my advantage when I need something physical done that I don’t want to do. You know, “Can you please do this for me? I’m too fragile.” But I admit, this new label was taking up way too much space in my brain, and I just couldn’t shake it.  It bothered me…a lot.  But then, I remembered the Gloria Steinem quote, “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.”  I realized I needed to identify the source of my emotions and I asked myself what I always ask myself when someone says something that hurts my feelings or makes me angry… “Is it true?”

Okay, so maybe I always need my reading glasses. Maybe I can’t eat all the things I used to eat.  And while I’m not at the “I don’t want to fall and break a hip” stage of my life,  a 100+ pound person falling on me or knocking me over while the kids are roughhousing,  could potentially cause some damage, or at minimum, a lot of pain at this point in my life. But this doesn’t mean I’m fragile, does it?  This is just normal aging, right?  Please, tell me I’m right.  But I suppose, in the eyes of a strong, healthy 23 year old, I may appear “fragile”.  I beg to differ.

There is a scene in the movie Love Actually, where Emma Thompson’s character is sitting around the Christmas tree with her family. She realizes her husband has had an affair.  She politely excuses herself, goes to her room and begins to cry.  After a few minutes, she wipes her tears, shakes off her emotions, puts a smile on her face and returns to her family. No one suspects that her life has just been changed forever.

This scene brings tears to my eyes every time I see it. I think it portrays a moment that most of us have experienced. A moment that brings us to our knees, a moment that turns our life up-side-down, a moment that is so painful and unimaginable that we want to shut the door, turn out the lights, curl into a ball and cease to exist.  But that’s not what we do. We wipe our tears, shake off our emotions, put a smile on our face and return to our life and no one suspects that we have just been changed forever.

Life, and particularly parenting, is not for the fragile.  There is a strength we don’t know we possess until we are faced with such a moment. There is nothing fragile about the love a mother has for her child.  It is unconditional, enduring and often heart breaking. There is strength behind the quiet dedication, sacrifice and compromise  we give to our loved ones every day that often goes unseen and unappreciated. It takes strength to be silent when we want to speak, and strength to speak when we want to be silent. It is strength that allows us to let go when we want to hold on, and strength that allows us to hold on when we want to let go. It is a strength beyond physical measure.

I determined that my reaction to his label is not because there is truth behind it (okay, maybe a little), but because it makes me feel misunderstood. He has a perception of me that I do not have of myself.  So now I question if I have failed in showing my strength, if I have succeeded in hiding my struggles or if it is a combination of both. Maybe this is an area in my life that I need to strike a better balance.

On New Year’s Eve, my son told me that if I would squeeze a “Pop It” between my fingers, he would not call me fragile for a week.  After several minutes of negotiation, he agreed  not only to refrain from calling me fragile until St. Patrick’s Day, but that he would also refer to me as a badass once a week until then as well. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.  I am under no delusion that he will actually live up to this deal, but I will admit, I felt warm and fuzzy inside the first time he called me a badass.  I know he didn’t really believe it, but maybe…just maybe, if he says it enough times, he’ll start to see it.

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This is how I feel when he calls me fragile

This is how I feel when someone calls me fragile

This is how I feel when he calls me a bad-ass

This is how I feel when someone calls me a badass

A Mother’s Hands

154I didn’t know what to expect as I entered the hospital room where my mother’s body lay.  She appeared peaceful, as if she was sleeping.  I sat next to her bed and took her hand in mine.  It was eerily cold, a cold I was not prepared for, and the reality of her death began to sink in.  I kept her hand in mine and found comfort in the lingering scent of her hand lotion.  It was the scent I most associated with my childhood.  There was rarely a time her hands did not smell of it. I sat for several minutes, holding her hand, not ready to let go.

The scent of her hands lingered on my own when I went to bed that night. I intentionally did not wash them.  I kept my hands close to my face as I fell asleep that night, breathing in the scent, trying to hold onto her.

In the morning, I carefully turned on the shower, making sure my hands did not get wet.  I knew I would never see her again, hear her again or touch her again.  The only tangible sense I had left of her was the scent of her hands on mine. I stood naked outside the shower cupping my hands over my face like an oxygen mask. I breathed in deeply, wanting every cell in my body to absorb her. I reluctantly stepped into the shower.  As the water washed over me, my emotions did the same, and I began to cry.

I find myself thinking about her hands often.  Not only the scent, but how comforting it felt when she gently yet firmly pressed her hand against my forehead to check my temperature when I was sick. I remember her hands folded in prayer or working their way around her rosary beads. I think about the time she spent making clothes and hand embroidery.  I wonder how many hours her hands were tucked away inside her yellow rubber gloves while she cleaned or did dishes.  I see her hands turning countless book pages. I feel her holding my hand as she walked me to school each morning when I was little. I recall her hands pulling weeds, baking cookies, wrapping gifts and doing the endless number of tasks a mother does.

Our hands tell the story of who we are to those who are willing to take the time to listen.  They are an extension of our thoughts and emotions. We can so easily express ourselves with an angry point of the finger, a loving stroke on the back or a playful tickle. They can represent protection or fear, tenderness or harshness, productivity or idleness.  Our hands can express who we are by what we create with them and they allow us to share ourselves with others.  Some hands speak unassumingly and unknowingly, while others speak loudly and purposefully.

I look at my own hands, watching the skin get thinner, the wrinkles get deeper and the dark spots get larger and darker.  I contemplate the story they are telling, who is listening and how it will be remembered.

 

Christmas Card Photo Day

IMG_0274Since my web site is called Memoirs of a Middle Aged Mom, I suppose it is appropriate for my first post to be about my kids.  This picture and the header photo are my 6 darling, perfect little angels *cough, cough*.  I love these pictures for a couple of reasons.  1.  They are simply, really cute pictures.  And 2. These pictures were their idea.

Now, like most mothers, I have been documenting each Christmas with  a Christmas photo of the kids. Over the years  I have gone  to great lengths to have a cute and creative photo of my kids to put into Christmas cards every year. Adorable pictures of them with reindeer antlers and noses, in the bathtub with Santa hats and bubble beards or simple pictures of them in front of the fireplace wearing matching flannel shirts.  As most mothers know, it is often a difficult task to get one child to cooperate for a photo, let alone 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6.  As the kids grew older, they became less cooperative on Christmas card picture day, and not because they hadn’t had their nap or because they were simply grumpy toddlers.  No, they became resistant because admittedly, it just wasn’t that fun.  It was often difficult for me to remain patient and cheery while trying to get them all dressed, smiling and looking picture perfect.  Let’s face it,  by the time it was over, we were all exhausted and frustrated.

A few years ago, the complaining and resistance were at an all time high.  My feelings were hurt that taking a simple family photo seemed too big  a burden to them.  I was hurt that they didn’t care or understand how important these pictures were to me.  After 20 some years of family Christmas photos, I gave in.  I gave up.  For the next few years, there was no Christmas card photo *gasp*.

Until this year, when they were all home at Thanksgiving.  I had regained my conviction for the family photo, took charge and told them that there WOULD be a group picture this year.  They groaned a little for old time sake as I told them to stand in front of the fireplace.  I just wanted to keep it simple as to avoid as much resistance as possible.  And then it happened.  A Christmas miracle.  “That’s too boring.  Let’s do something fun like get in the bathtub (dressed, of course) or all of us in your bed.”  What?  Was I hearing this correctly?  I didn’t care.  Without hesitation I enthusiastically agreed before they could change their minds.  They all hopped in my bed and I took as many pictures as I could  in about 5 minutes,  and called it done. No color coordination, no matching clothes, no coiffed hair or fun props. Just them, as they are, on any regular day.

I know it will be several years before they really understand how special and meaningful these pictures are.  But I bet, one day, they will wonder about the missing years and most likely blame me for the absence of them.  But that’s okay.  They will be happy that we all went though the trouble to document the growth of our family as well as their individual physical growth.  They will laugh about the torment and stories behind each photo and they will be grateful that their mom was such a pain in the ass every year on Christmas card photo day.

 

Just for fun, here are a couple pictures that demonstrate why my kids hate photo day 🙂

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