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.

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.