The Standardized Vacation

On a recent Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast, the host and her co-host sister talked about the benefits of a “standardized vacation”. It struck a chord with me.

I’m a travel buff. Have suitcase, let’s go! I’ve been one to explore new places as often as I can for as long as I’ve lived but there is something to be said about hitting the easy button especially now that we have kids. Enter: the standardized vacation.

Here’s the basic premise: same location, same hotel, same time of year, same length of time, same people, same restaurants, same activities.

Beautifully simple.

Nothing to think about, nothing to plan. Just do what you did last time, and build upon what you know, if you want.

anton-sharov-133628-unsplashMyrtle Beach, SC, has become our go-to vacation, like 5 million other Ohioans if I had to guess! We found our favorite hotel about 10 years ago, and we even get booked to the exact same room each time we go. It’s glorious.

We know exactly what to pack. Rule #1 is more bathing suits, fewer clothes. Rule #2 is bring a laundry basket and a small bottle of Tide so I can do a quick load mid-way through the trip and recycle what we wear. Rule #3 is bring whatever gadget you can’t live without and the charger. We’re not hard-core enough to unplug entirely while we holiday.

Last night my husband and I laid in bed and talked about how excited we were for this trip. We drive it. He’s not a fan of the drive, but he talked about how he was actually looking forward to it this year because he knows exactly what to expect. No thinking involved whatsoever.

Seriously, we laugh the whole way to South Carolina because nearly every car on I-77 has Ohio plates and we know where they’re going: Myrtle Beach or Hilton Head. It’s 11-hours non-stop, which means we have found ways to minimize the number of stops along the way and make it a 12 hour trip max, barring traffic.

Our routine involves hitting the road at 5am. We gas up and load the suitcases the night before. The kids sleep walk to the van with their pillows and PJs on, and they’re crashed out for the first four hours of the trip. From our house in Ohio this takes us to Charleston, WV, where the kids change clothes, we all get a potty break, we gas up if need be, and switch drivers. I’m better on the curvy roads though West Virginia regardless of the weather, courtesy of growing up in the tri-state area of Ohio, Pennsylvania, & West Virginia.

Waze is my favorite travel app for this trip. It’s crowd-sourced in terms of traffic jams, road hazards, and speed traps monitored by police or state highway patrolmen. Waze conveys the speed limit and whether you’re over it, and gives you that wonderful metric, the estimated time of arrival, otherwise known as the “time to beat”. LOOOOOOVE Waze.

The car is still pretty quiet as the kids are now awake but on their devices with their headphones or maybe they watch a new movie we buy and laugh. The two of us adults get loads of time to talk and talk, or we take turns napping while the other drives.

I drive four hours till we hit the North Carolina border while all of us nosh on ham sandwiches, snacks, and drinks we’ve packed, and then we stop again for a bio break, gas up and switch drivers for the last time. Then my husband drives the final four hours to our hotel where we check in, unpack, relax for a bit, and then head out to dinner.

We hit up Walmart for some food while we’re in the area. Our hotel has a kitchenette so we alternate meals out and in for lunch and dinner. Breakfast is free at the hotel so we eat up and take our time feasting on all kinds of hot and cold food items.

I remember the first time we made this trip as a married couple with an 18-month old baby in tow. I basically had my husband back the van floor to ceiling with the entire nursery: you know, Pack-n-Play, stroller, tub toys, travel high chair, lovies, baby food, an entire box of diapers….it was endless. You couldn’t even see out the back window. He looked at me like I was nuts. I wanted all the comforts of home. Nothing like having a baby attached to your hip on vacation. It defeats the purpose of getting away for a few days if you don’t have a way for your precious kid to be mobile, clean, and safe.

Now it’s funny how little we need. Beach towels, beach toys, electronic gadgets, headphones, chargers, bathing suits, sunscreen, sandals, laundry basket with detergent, clothes for three days to last us through eight, sandwiches, snacks, drinks, and that’s it. I don’t even sweat it anymore. If we forget something, we just buy it down there.

It helps that we go the same week each time, for the same length of time. We know what restaurants we’ll hit up. We rent beach chairs for the week. There is nothing else to even think about other than which putt-putt place we’ll visit on which day. If we want to sleep, we sleep. If we want to splash in the pool or lazy river, we do. If the kids want to build sandcastles or boogie board, they do. No debating, no thinking about it. We just rotate between 3-4 activities at most. It’s as low key as vacation can get.

And me? Mama Louie? I sit and read under a giant umbrella with my coverup, sunglasses, sunhat, and SPF maxed out, courtesy of a melanoma diagnosis 25+ years ago. It’s a bummer as all the kids just can’t quite understand why I can’t play with them in the sun. Thankfully they have these bronzed bodies courtesy of their Hawaiian and Asian genes and didn’t inherit my pale Eastern European skin.

Man, we love the ocean. Now some people prefer lower-key, very scenic Hilton Head over Myrtle Beach because they think the latter is over commercialized. Parts of it are, but we don’t do that stuff. We don’t walk Ocean Boulevard at all hours, slipping in and out of the souvenir shops. We just skip that. It’s pretty easy to avoid the mass of humanity while you’re there.

Yep, our hang is the beach itself and the amazing putt-putt places. Our kids think putt-putt (mini-golf to some of you) is the most glorious thing ever. It doesn’t take much to entertain our kids and we’re fine keeping it that way, at least for a few more years.

We’re all excited to go back. Hawaii, California, Utah, Colorado, and Florida have been incredible these last few years but it’s time to hit the easy button and return to our home away from home, just the five of us. We have often wished that we were there with a larger group but then we realize that others may not enjoy the next-to-nothing we like to do, so our week away is always just us.

I can already hear the waves in my mind.

Image by Anton Sharon on Unsplash.com

Celebrity Talk Is Cheap, So They Say…

I’ve noticed a trend among conservative or right-leaning individuals in the US to bash the opinion of celebrities which are often more left-leaning and liberal. This strikes me as really odd.

I’m not even one to be awestruck by celebrities…I’m kinda put off by our country’s celebrity worship culture…but to bash celebrities for having an opinion? Something about that rubs me the wrong way.

gritte-346468-unsplashThe arguments against celebrity opinion have had a couple of different facets, regardless of whether the celebrities in question are artists like singers, actors, and comedians or athletes:

  1. Celebrities have a huge following among the national and even the world population, making their extracurricular activities particularly vile because their opinions contaminate the thinking of large swaths of people who look up to them.
  2. Celebrities get paid money to do whatever it is they do and therefore they should simply stick to that and nothing else. Like a certain Fox News person coached Lebron James recently, “Shut up and dribble.”
  3. Celebrities live in gilded mansions with bodyguards and have no idea how common people live so therefore their opinion has no value in the real world.
  4. Celebrities by and large exhibit a liberal point of view, one where anything goes and any manner of amoral behavior is perfectly acceptable.
  5. Celebrities contribute nothing of value to society, unlike the common man who holds down a “real” job, so the very platform upon which celebrities exist in the first place has no merit whatsoever, destroying any credibility they could possibly have to express their opinions.

Let’s break these arguments down.

1. Celebrities have a huge following and unduly influence whole populations of people.

Yes, people become famous for all kinds of reasons. And other people will follow the antics of the rich and famous for all sorts of reasons. For heaven’s sake, there was even a show about this on TV several years ago. I never watched it. The showcasing of how people flaunt their wealth never appealed to me. Instead I admired people who used their wealth or their talents to positively impact the world around them. But I digress.

Sometimes a celebrity’s efforts are awe-inspiring, like Olympians who train for years to hone their skill. Olympians understand sacrifice, humility, teamwork, sportsmanship, rules, endurance, strength, failure, perseverance, disappointment, success, luck, and glory. Other people are eager to connect on a personal level with these individuals, to understand what it takes to be a champion, what it takes to be the best in a given sport. Because more often than not, the characteristics these athletes exhibit are transcendent, traits that can be applied and lead to success in real life. Despite the Herculean efforts these athletes exhibit, the common man connects deeply to these stories of human triumph.

Even if someone isn’t Olympic caliber, as an athlete they still have a talent, and a passion or zest for the sport that got them to national or sometimes international levels of recognition. Many of the same attributes apply.  There is a reason why so many parents want their kids to play a sport because of the life skills it teaches them. Sure, some parents only see dollar signs and want their kids to make it big, but there is inherent value delivered via sports that is realized later in life. Certainly it’s inspiring for a kid to see someone who happens to look like them also be the best they can be.

Much of the same could be said for actors and musicians, really. Those kinds of celebrities touch people’s hearts in an altogether different way, an emotional one. But that’s just like life, isn’t it? It takes all sorts of people to make the world go round, and some people value the heart over the body and vice versa.  Actors and musicians and writers literally tell the stories of our humanity. They elicit a huge range of emotions and replay the ancient tales of what it means to be human. To be able to do that well, to touch us or get us to laugh even in dire times, is a gift.

So sure, actors and musicians, comedians and writers, are admired for their work, and they are asked about what it takes to get there. But it doesn’t stop there. These artists are often inspired by the people whose stories they tell, inspired enough oftentimes to want to be an advocate for change when they aren’t on stage. Sometimes their art is a parallel to what goes on in American life. How can these artists tell a story and avoid talking about what it means to them personally, especially when they are interviewed and asked those very questions? They are gifted storytellers of their chosen medium…of course they are asked about their work, and use their gift to tell the story yet again and again but in a different way.

Now granted, there are celebrities who are famous simply for being famous. Take Paris Hilton…whose only claim to fame was her family money. Her antics were ridiculous. And yet she somehow got her own “reality” TV show which only served to prolong and heighten her fame. I saw no redeeming value in Paris Hilton. I couldn’t understand people who wanted to emulate her, or who just outright adored her. Maybe she was adorable, but she mostly played dumb. I wasn’t a fan of her for all those reasons…I tried to avoid her but it was hard to escape her influence on pop culture for those several years she was the It Girl.

And then there are the people who become celebrities for infamous reasons…like the over-tanned mom, or the over-zealous, misguided, trigger-happy vigilantes like George Zimmerman. Go figure. Our First Amendment gives all kinds of people a platform to use their voice for their 15 minutes of fame or to prolong it even further on Twitter and social media as they now have the option to do.

No doubt, if you have a way to touch millions of people, you’ve been given a gift beyond the art or the physical prowess that got you there in the first place. The Bible says we should not hide our light under a bushel. For better or worse, celebrities use a gift that was given to them.

2. Celebrities get paid to do what they do. They should do that and nothing more. I.e., “Shut up and dribble.”

Yeah. I have a problem with the “shut up and dribble” kinds of statements. It sounds so incredibly sinister to me, like a master to a slave, not to mention the overtly racial overtones directed toward Lebron James.  This is akin to saying, “Shut your piehole. I don’t care one wit about you as a human being. You are here purely for my entertainment and enjoyment, period. I command you do to what I want and nothing more!”

Ew.

Can you imagine saying something like that to a waiter? “Shut up and deliver my food.” Or a teacher? “Shut up and teach my kid.” Or a mechanic? “Shut up and service my car.”

In a society where we recognize that we should acknowledge each other as human beings, see the whole person, connect with one another and engage in dialogue….we have a part of society that looks down on others as if they were servants instead of equals.

Even if that isn’t what people mean, that’s how it sounds. And that’s downright ugly.

Good thing Ronald Reagan didn’t follow that sort of advice long ago. Where would we be as a nation without The Great Orator? Should he have stuck with acting? Was it wrong for him to evolve into a governor, and then a president?

3. Celebrities live in gilded mansions with bodyguards and insane amounts of money. They have no idea how the common people live and couldn’t possibly speak on their behalf.

Certainly there are certain celebrities who were born into rich and famous families, and they could very well be out of touch with the average American. Jane Fonda, I’m looking at you.

However the vast majority of celebrities grew up in average families like you and me. They didn’t have gobs of money growing up. They didn’t have bodyguards. They didn’t jet-set around the world or live in mansions. Sometimes they struggled for years before they made it big…struggled on a level that the average American with a steady job can’t appreciate.

And there are celebrities who have been rich and famous for decades, part of that enormous Baby Boom generation that has so strongly influenced American life for 40-50 years now. Over time they may have forgotten what it was like when they were young. They hire bodyguards for sure, because even benign crazy people don’t respect personal space or personal property, and some level of protection is completely reasonable.

But to bitch and moan that celebrities are out of touch with the common man? As if these people don’t deal with illness and sorrow, insults and betrayal, death and destruction… These unhappy events come for us all over the course of a lifetime. Some of us become more somber and wise because of it, and some of them embrace the joy of life even harder as a result.

4. Celebrities by and large exhibit a liberal point of view where anything goes, including all kinds of amoral behavior.

Yes, all kinds of celebrities exhibit a liberal point of view, and a whole bunch of them are conservative too. Perhaps we should disregard the esteemed opinions of Scott Baio, Clint Eastwood (who was talking to an empty chair on national television a few years ago), and Stacey Dash, who’s now running for Congress. Should I list a few more? Who was it that visited the White House last year? Kid Rock and Ted Nugent? Role models, are they?

And what about this criticism of amoral behavior? I struggle with this one a bit. Is it amoral when pastor Joel Osteen refused to open his enormous church to hundreds of Houstonians in need of shelter post hurricane, even though that is exactly what Christ coaches us to do?

Or is “love is love is love is love is love is love” amoral?

I’m confused by this. One man’s morality is another man’s sin. It isn’t quite as binary as you might want to believe it is.

5. Celebrities contribute nothing of value to society, rendering invalid their platform to speak, unlike people with “real” jobs.

Really? I suppose I could repeat all of my earlier points on this one. As a society, we place value on what celebrities say and do, for good and bad. Some of us have exerted a certain level of effort to be in the spotlight…a moving piece of art, a sacrifice and precision in sport that enthralls us, an ability to communicate that connects with our souls and minds. These celebrities came from somewhere to get where they are. They come from us.

If you had a platform, you’d use it too. You use it every time you share your own opinion at the coffee shop, water cooler, or Facebook. Celebrities just happen to have a much larger audience than you.

Maybe I just have a soft spot for expressive types, since I am one myself and I feel most at home around those sorts of people too.


Surprise! Now I want you to go back through each of my points. You could easily make the argument that Donald Trump is one of those celebrities that people disdain so much. For heaven’s sake…he came from money he didn’t earn himself. Lived in a bubble his entire life, a gilded penthouse literally. Never held a common man’s job and avoided military service when he was needed. He is a reality TV star and that was the extent of his celebrity to a very large degree until he graduated to the biggest stage in the world. Until this election, he held a liberal point of view. ANYTHING goes with this guy. He is the very definition of amoral.

Tell me again how celebrities ought to shut up. It would be a boring world indeed if they did. It seems to me you can’t complain about some celebrities and not all of them. Like it or not, their opinions are here to stay.

Image by Gritte on unsplash.com

Controlled Chaos

Monday evening. Sitting here trying to figure out how another weekend blew by. I can’t believe February is almost over and I wonder what I have to show for it. I am just exhausted from the never ending stream of things to do for myself, our family, each individual kid, our extended family, friends, the house…..it’s endless. And I feel guilty because I don’t volunteer for anything in our community…but I have no idea how I could possibly squeeze that in along with the demands of my job. I don’t have the stamina and I don’t want to let people down. It’s just non-stop crazy.

For the longest time I’ve been fascinated with the concept of a patron saint, someone Godly that represents a body of people or maybe even an individual. I often wondered who my patron saint would be. Then it hit me. If I had a personal patron saint, it would have to be Martha, always the busy body. Mary Magdalene sat and visited with Christ because she realized the gift before them all, while Martha huffed and puffed that there was so much to do to and no one offering to help.

Yeah, Martha’s my home girl.

You should see my massive “to do” list. I scare people when I show it to them. I break it up into three buckets – the stuff that I really want to tackle this week, the stuff that needs to happen fairly soon (maybe the following week), and a third list of stuff that needs to happen eventually. I write all of it down so I don’t forget about it, and I have a version for work and for my personal life.

I keep all of it on Microsoft OneNote on my work computer. I discovered this life-changing tool maybe about five years ago and can’t believe I had not found it sooner. All you need to do is type…everything is automatically saved. You can easily drag and move around whatever you type on the page, so whatever I put in one bucket can easily move into another if the timing changes.

As things pop in my head throughout the day (at the most inopportune times, of course), I can write them down on the respective lists, and then organize them by theme (different projects at work, meeting agenda planning, action planning, vacation checklists, blog ideas, home projects, etc.)

If you have access to the Microsoft Suite on your work computer, I urge you check this software out because it has made a world of difference in how I stay organized, versus writing tasks and ideas down on random pieces of paper and then transferring it to a master list that I would write over and over, like you used to do with those Franklin Day Planners once upon a time. I can’t do it justice in explaining the value of OneNote in this blog. Really, I can’t. You just have to see for yourself.

85fifteen-323873-unsplashFor some crazy reason I also started using a personal planner last year, Ink + Volt. I now have a red 2018 Ink + Volt planner. I don’t know why I use both methods to stay organized, but I do. I know there are all kinds of planners out there but I don’t need a cutesy one with stickers. Mine has a substantial cover – book quality – with page markers and prompts to ponder. It’s big enough to be easy to write in and small enough to throw in my purse. It has a section for you to plan your year, each month, and each week.

I enjoy checking off a task that I teed up for the week but lately I keep carrying over the same stuff from week to week. True, I’ve been making minor progress on each of my tasks but I am not getting the satisfaction of being completely finished. That bugs me.

March is almost upon us and in my planner, there is a prompt for what I will focus on in March. I feel so scattered. I don’t know what to do.

On one hand, it’s Lent. Lent gets all kinds of bad rap from people who don’t observe it, and I’m not exactly a role model when it comes to my personal observation of it, but one of the purposes or benefits of Lent is to close yourself off from outside distractions and draw inward. Many people use this time to pray, to fast, to break from the demands of the outside world. This is a good thing, a very necessary and helpful thing. Good thing it comes around once a year. And I suppose I could do that. I probably should do that. If you only knew how scattered and fractured my mind was, you’d know why this is a good idea.

But March is also my husband’s 50th birthday, and a way to celebrate and honor him. This is a man who at this point has lived eight years longer than his own father, a topic comes up quite often for an event that happened 42 years ago. No matter what I do, I don’t do enough to honor my husband. He deserves every good thing and I continually fail him as a wife, supporting him the way I ought to. I’m still really selfish and let my needs come first. Right this very moment I should be ordering a cake but I may very well just go to bed, at 7:30 pm.

I’m also having mixed success with the detox I started last month (see Detox Day 5), and feeling kinda bad about that. And I still haven’t cured the wanderlust that hit me pretty hard 10 days ago. Which leads me right back to Help Wanted. Sometimes you just want to call up your mom, wave the white flag, and ask for and get the help you need. But I don’t have that option. I’ve never had that option. I’m not looking for pity – it’s just the way it is.

So today I’m tired. And feeling a little uninspired. And wondering what March has in store for us. Will it feed our souls or punch us in the gut? Will it be the punctuation needed at the end of winter’s monologue? And why do I feel the need to control chaos anyway?

Nitey-night…

 

Image by 85fifteen on Unsplash.com

Dear Fellow Parishioners

For the record, I’m weighing whether or not to read this letter aloud during coffee hour or have it added to next week’s church bulletin…

Dear fellow parishioners,

Recently a question was raised whether the church rules had been relaxed such that it was now ok for people to walk in and out whenever they wished during the Divine Liturgy. In particular, a comment was raised about children in the parish with “bladder problems”, and how on at least one witnessed occasion, someone walked in during the Gospel reading and brushed up against the robes of Deacon Dan while he was preaching.

Let me confess right now that our youngest, the youngest child of your newly elected church president, is one of those children. He’s 7. He loves church. We’ve made a point to sit in the front rows since he was a baby precisely because he was enthralled watching the priests and seeing the icons, and these last few years he’s been pretty close to the action when Deacon Dan reads the Gospel.

Archangel-Michael-webOver the years at Archangel Michael, this son of ours would ask me questions about the icons during liturgy. I took the time to teach him right then and there, in the middle of service, because it was so encouraging to me when he would remark over the story he recognized in the pictures. Our son spends an inordinate amount of time hugging me during liturgy, and I feel like it must make for the biggest scene to all those who sit behind us, but you know what? He’s 7. And I love him, so I hug him back, the entire time. I want every little thing about church to be a positive experience for him, because the language, the motions, the things we do over 90 long minutes, don’t really resonate too well for him since he’s just a little kid.

I mean, I know plenty of Orthodox Christian adults who don’t understand the language, the motions, and the things we do in church despite witnessing it every single week over their lifetime, so I cut our youngest some slack for not understanding. And like his two siblings before him, he’s going through classes right now to receive the sacrament of holy confession for the first time this Palm Sunday. I’m sure he’s learning more about liturgy in the process, to supplement what I, a cradle Orthodox, have been trying to teach him these few short years. But 2nd grade, when a child is 7-8 years old, is when the church considers the child to be of the “age of reason”. So again, I cut him some slack if he isn’t a perfect angel in church every Sunday. His halo might need a little polishing, but it isn’t too awfully crooked.

We drive 35-40 minutes each Sunday to arrive at Sunday School which is supposed to start at 9 but doesn’t really start until 9:10 or 9:15, and then we jump straight into church at 10:00 am. No break in between. At this point, he’s the only one that has breakfast.

For whatever reason, during each of the last five Sundays he has told me about 20 minutes into liturgy that he needs to use the potty. I tell him no, and then I see that look of desperation on his face. He pleads with me a couple more times, and I try to hold firm, but realize that I know my kid, and he’s not being mischievous. For whatever reason, he’s gotta go. Nature calls. After all, 2nd graders get potty breaks mid-morning in elementary school, no big deal. I judge whether it’s too close to the Gospel to let him go, but I usually let him because each time he’s asked, he has enough time to return to his seat before then. I don’t follow him to the back of the church to police his actions because he doesn’t need that kind of supervision.

I’ll be honest, I’m a little exasperated myself, because one recent Sunday our youngest had to go an unprecedented 2nd time during liturgy. I shot him that look that only moms can deliver, and chided him, “You JUST went!”, but you know what? I trust that he knows his own body and his own needs, and I’m not going to crush his spirit over something like this because he’s only human, and he’s only 7.

It’s a good thing it takes all types to make the world go round. The way I see it, you can be dismayed over the lack of formality and respect during liturgy, which I suspect has been an issue for a couple of millennia, or you can rejoice that young people grace the halls of this temple when so many other churches are falling silent without the melody of young children inside.

There is a time and a place for everything under the sun, so it says in Ecclesiastes. So in this time and place, I want to say to the other parents with young children in the church: you are welcome here.

  • What? Your infant is crying inconsolably? That is music to our ears, because you, and your child, are the future of this church.
  • Your toddler squeals with delight having broken free, running a beeline toward the altar? That is a joy to behold. Didn’t the Lord say, “Let the little children come to me”?
  • Oh, what did you say? You have a rambunctious child, maybe even one with ADHD? I get it. I know you’re exhausted and overwhelmed and YET you still come to church anyway with your family in tow. GOD BLESS YOU. You have a choice and you choose to spend it with us in communion.
  • And to those of you with a child on the spectrum who is longing for a welcoming community? I pray that we offer that collectively to you. I get how hard it is for your kid to fit in and you want nothing more than for him or her to be welcomed here. I pray that we open our arms to you in a loving embrace.

You are welcome here. Don’t let anyone make you feel otherwise. We are all sinners. We are all broken in some way. No one here is perfect, but we come together to grow and learn and love in Christ. Some of us know the rules of the church very well, while others of us know only the love in the heart. No one is to despise the other because of it. If you had heard the Epistle reading I delivered this morning (Romans 13: 11-14:4), that was the whole point.

Yet sometimes, because we’re human, because we don’t understand what cross you already bear, our guidance can sound unforgiving. However I want you to know that we welcome you. Come exactly as you are. Just come, and be in communion, in a community, with us.

In Christ, Denise

PS – The restroom, should you or your child need it in the middle of liturgy, is toward the back of the church toward the elevator. You are most welcome to use it.

Itching to Go Go Go

Saturday morning. For the first time in ages we don’t have anywhere we need to go, anything we need to do. Seriously. I just checked our online family calendar and the last time our Saturday was completely clear was July 22. Almost seven months ago.

Sigh. Life as an American family in the Midwest.

For the last two weeks, I had forewarned the whole family that today was the day we would clear out this storage room in our basement, the one we have dubbed the “yoga room” ever since we moved in 13 years ago. I always thought it would be cool to have a little sanctuary in the home, a room where you could light a candle, go to be still and quiet, meditate, pray, or maybe even stretch and do some yoga. All these years later, it’s still a storage closet.

I should take a picture of this room to show you what it looks like today. It’s a total mess. We just throw things in there when we don’t have a home for it or don’t know what to do with it, or maybe the kids have outgrown something. But today that room is out of control. We still have empty boxes from when we moved in stored in there.

So today is the day we’ll clean it out: stage what we’ll keep, donate, and trash.

Except I’m itching to go. Go anywhere. Oh man, the travel bug has bitten me hard today.

Honestly we have a WHOLE DAY with total freedom and we can just get in the car and go. I don’t know where. Maybe we’ll make a trip to Detroit and visit the Henry Ford Museum. We’ve never been to Detroit, really, and my friend’s visit to the museum last year inspired me to go check it out. It’s three hours away from our house. It’s a day’s round trip, if we want to make it that. I suppose there are other places we could go but they aren’t novel. Traveling to Columbus is pretty close, and our family there is wonderful and the shopping is amazing, but it isn’t something NEW. Besides, I’ve got that new year’s resolution going about not buying one stitch of new clothing. That’s mostly a rule for myself, but there is no need for temptation.

So now I’m torn between the knowledge that June 30 is likely our next totally free weekend when we can tackle the yoga room (believe me, it’s a family of five effort but why in the world would we want to spend a potentially beautiful summer day in the basement??), and the wanderlust I feel right now. Darn it. I don’t want to be the rational, responsible adult at the moment. I just wanna go go go.

I’ve always loved road trips. Seeing new places. Anything, anything at all, to inject a little diversity into the same old, boring, day to day experience.

And I am bored. I don’t travel for work like I used to. I used to get my fix of travel as I often flew to a new city every week, sometimes a couple of times during the week. Now I commute 30 minutes one way on a country road to another small town which is a remarkably pleasant, bucolic drive. Sometimes the sunrise will leave a blanket of pink fog on the gently rolling farmland and it takes my breath away. I wonder if any of my coworkers making the same commute see how beautiful it is, or whether they take it for granted. Equally as lovely are the golden sunsets I sometimes catch on the drive home; honestly the scenery is what you’d see in a movie, it’s that gorgeous. And once in a while, I am completely mesmerized by a huge swarm of starlings dancing over the countryside, morphing into their fantastical shapes. Sometimes the air is black with starlings, like you’re staring at a lava lamp in the sky.

I never stop to take a photo because I can’t possibly recreate the beauty I see with my own eyes on an old iPhone.

 

Beautiful as that commute can be oftentimes, I am itching to go go go!

I’m trying hard to resist the urge to take a random day off because that’s not really enough to satisfy the travel bug. Every single day, I’m reminding myself that we are using a few days of the kids’ spring break in late March to hit up a water park an hour from our home. It will definitely be a change of scenery, but I’m a little worried that it won’t be enough to tame the travel bug. I also get to head to Georgia for two days in March for a conference.

And if those two trips aren’t enough, then at least our trip to Cuba in April should do it. My husband turns 50 next month. He loves cigars and music, and obviously neither of us have been to Cuba before so boom!  Royal Caribbean had just the right offering to satisfy him. As a musician, he had the good fortune of traveling the world a bit more than I have, so the usual ideas of where to go to celebrate his golden birthday were not so novel but Cuba fits the bill.

He and I have an ongoing rivalry as to who will visit all 50 states first. He’s currently beating me 47 to 45 or something like that. I am a teeny bit miffed about it because I had been way ahead of him for years, but during one of our anniversary trips he got to knock off Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi when we road tripped it from New Orleans to Destin, Florida. He hadn’t been to any of these states before. So not fair!

For the record, I haven’t been to Alaska, Oregon, New Mexico, North Dakota, or Delaware. I’m sneaking in one of those states this year. Don’t know how. Don’t know exactly when. But I’m going.

I’m itching to go go go. But today, the yoga room is calling my name.

PS – Four hours later the yoga room has been mostly emptied out. Some stuff has been already been donated, and the rest has been staged for this week’s trash. I’ll be channeling my inner om inside that room in a few months. I promise to share pictures.

 

Simplify or Magnify?

Regarding that last raw post of mine, you are probably asking yourself again,

“Hey uh….Where is the ‘Laugh Love’ part of the blog name???”

Yeah…you’re gonna have to get out your wide-angle lens when you read this blog.  I know I’m all over the map with topics. I definitely cover life, the love part is sometimes tough love, and there are definitely loud, long laughs. Maybe all of them don’t translate to the written page, but we make a point to inject humor as much as we can.

So believe me, events like the Florida school shooting this week leave me virtually speechless, there is SO much that I want to say but I’m exhausted just trying to get the words out.

It’s times like this that I want to circle the wagons and just focus on my immediate family. That’s kind of my default mode as it is…just focus on us, just the five of us in this house. Maybe because we didn’t grow up where we live now and our closest family is a few hours away so we don’t have a ready social network where we live, and our travel schedules once upon a time didn’t allow tight friendships to form. I don’t get caught up in a bunch of parties and drinking, I don’t have a ton of extra time to devote to things like the PTO…and believe me, if I had a bunch of free time, I’d be focused more on my own health and developing desperately needed friendships, and that’s proven very hard to do without a lot of drinking involved. I’m so tired, I’m afraid I’d fall asleep. I just can’t hang like I used to, like the moms who are 15 years younger than me.

But back to the whole “circle the wagons” concept….for many Christians it is now the Lenten season and for some denominations like the Catholics and Orthodox, it’s a time for quiet reflection, closing out the distractions of food, drink, entertainment, and obsession of every kind including politics. To look inside your own heart and understand what you personally can do to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give shelter to those in the storm, and so on. Directly and indirectly. Figuratively and literally.

Maybe some people think this inward focus is quaint, old-fashioned, or dogmatic on the part of the church. Ok. Regardless of whether your church or your religion is commanding you to do it, I do believe there is value in scaling back, simplifying your life to the bare necessities so you can channel your energy first toward inward reflection and then finally to outward action, to wherever your heart says it is needed the most.

I struggle with this myself, with ways I can be most effective, most impactful. I had this conversation with a superior at work, and she told me that my purpose in life was to live a happy life with my family and to go have adventures with them.

On the surface, there is nothing wrong with that but 1) it sounded a little hedonistic when she said it to me, and 2) I personally have always longed to be and do something more, and I struggle with my ability today to do more than influence my own family. And if I fail to do that job well, what business do I have trying to make a positive impact elsewhere?

This brings to mind one of my favorite quotes:

“If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters very much.”

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

Maybe in light of the events in Florida, this is a time to just stay home a little bit more, and hug your family. Spend time with them. Listen to what’s going on in their hearts.

And if you can’t do either of those things – figure out how to be still with your own family or how to help those who need it most – then spend the time helping yourself. Start there. Be still and just be you.

Maybe you think that sounds selfish. I’m telling you it is not.

God knows when my children were much smaller, there were days of utter exhaustion, endless chauffeuring, laundry, baths, homework, shopping, doctor appointments, and on and on, that I wanted to fall into a heap and cry. I wanted anyone, anyone at all to come to my house and stay for a week or a month or a couple of years to help me out. Other than my husband, there was no one.

I wanted to cry but there were no tears. My self talk was brutal. Like hundreds of thousands of mothers before me I told myself I needed to buck up and shut up. Just do the job. Hundreds of thousands of mothers before me had it much tougher than me. But still, I would have given anything for just a little bit of help. Someone to hold me and tell me it would get better and everything would turn out ok. That mothering in this insane world would get a little bit easier as your children got a little bit older and self-reliant, even if the risks got a lot scarier.

philipp-berndt-173197

So if you’re wondering how in the world to get through your days, whether you should simply your life or magnify your contributions – and I’ve heard some of you ask this very question – I’m here to give you permission to do whatever you are called to do. And if you need a break, then take one. Cancel appointments for yourself or the kids and rest. Or cancel those routine appointments and responsibilities and take that extra time to expand your reach beyond what you usually do.

If ever you have wondered what choice to make, you’re not alone. And whichever choice you make, including none at all, is fine.

 

Photo by Philipp Berndt on Unsplash

Parkland…

I don’t have astonishing words of wisdom to share here today. Just like all the other times, I am horrified and heartbroken over senseless violence committed once again by a disturbed young, white American male. Someone who you could’ve guessed was up to no good. Some asshole who is so freaking miserable he wants to scatter the pain across as many families and as many headlines as he can for all time and eternity.

I’m going to be frank here. I’m tired of the bullshit statements people make: that guns aren’t at fault. This young man isn’t a domestic terrorist. Go ahead and tell me mental illness is at fault. Or tell me that a lack of parenting is the problem. Tell me that it’s WAY too soon to be talking about legislation or pushing any sort of anti-gun agenda while families are grieving. That we should be offering our thoughts and prayers to all those affected. That this violence can’t be stopped. That Democrats are trying to take everyone’s guns away. That we should arm our teachers with guns. That’s a good one. America and its government doesn’t value education enough to arm teachers with paper and pen for each student but by God, the solution is to equip each teacher with a gun.

Total bullshit. Sorry. That’s how I call it.

It seems to me we are demonstrating loud and clear that Americans love their guns more than they love their children. We broadcast it to the world, and every bullet that kills a child is another exclamation point to drive home that fact.

Don’t like it? Do something about it.

Don’t shut down conversation or dismiss outright a given cause or solution. I think all ideas need to be on the table and considered. We need a dialogue about this and we’re long overdue for a step in the right direction. Motionless and vulnerable is inexcusable.

This morning, my husband was deeply disturbed by a comment made on Facebook by a senseless resident of our town who claimed that teachers don’t do enough to protect students. You see, my husband is on a supplemental music teaching contract with our school district and two neighboring ones. He visits several facilities between the three districts, and he’s around middle school, junior high, and high school kids all day.

He told me, and I don’t doubt him, that there isn’t a teacher alive who hasn’t thought about what they would do in a Parkland, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, or Columbine situation. There can’t be a teacher alive who hasn’t given thought to the real possibility they could DIE on the job, simply teaching, and ultimately protecting, our young people. Die and leave behind the family at home. Yet some ignoramus is willing to insult teachers  with a clueless comment like that.

Don’t tell me there is nothing we can do. I don’t believe it. Don’t tell me now is not the time to act. Don’t tell me I’m trying to take away your right to own a gun.

I call bullshit on all of it. I’m tired of seeing America bury its children over lawmakers’ refusal to tackle one of our toughest problems.

But oh sure…let’s go spend $1 billion on a border wall with Mexico, because that’s the real problem in America.

Folks, we’re riding the Trump train straight to hell. Recognize the scenery?

 

Alms-mighty

fabian-blank-78637Every year I file my taxes and I’m confronted with cold, hard facts about how much I have donated to charity during the year before. Sure small money trickles out here and there supporting the Girl and Boy Scouts, various extracurricular programs at school, and special collections but the big ticket items are the ones I take time to itemize once a year. I shake my head over my failure to get better, fulfilling my Christian duty to feed the hungry, clothe the naked…my duty to help those less fortunate than me, to make the world a better place.

I vowed to do differently this year.

One of the things I’ve been harping on at work lately is “what gets measured, gets managed”, so in our recent weekly family meeting, the Louie Scoop, we shared with the kids how much we donated to our church in 2017. After all, we had just gotten the giving statement in the mail. We also had the kids prepare donation envelopes of their own last year, to get them physically in the habit of supporting our place of worship since it operates and conducts its outreach only with our help. The statement included their donation amounts.

It was eye-opening to them and us, frankly, to talk about what we had given and our desire and obligation to do more as individuals and as a family. Plus my husband and I want conversations about money to be normal, not taboo. We realize that makes us very different than other people but hey, given the financial status of most citizens of the US, it seems like an idea whose time has come. Besides, charitable giving of money, versus time, is one of those things that otherwise flies under the radar for kids.

I realize too that I have a worldwide readership here, and Americans are so incredibly prosperous whether or not they believe it. That said, all things relative, Americans can do much better managing their money and personally, our family can too.

This self-reflection got me to thinking that other than church and the United Way, there is no charity I routinely support. Sure, various groups pop up every now and then and the Red Cross is a repeat recipient given the sheer increase in natural disasters over recent years, but I am bothered that I have lived this long and haven’t examined my heart enough to see where I can make a difference and channel my money there to some degree.

I count my blessings too, that I haven’t been struck by tragedy compelling me to support a particular cause. But status quo isn’t good enough for me. I’ve done well enough financially and I can do more for others.

To drive the initiative a little harder at home, my husband and I told the kids during our latest Louie Scoop that we would donate a multiple of their age to a charity of their choice during their birthday month. Their eyes lit up.

Our youngest, Lance (7), piped up in the meeting: “Hey, who comes and takes you away in a car if you’re sick?”

“The EMT? The ambulance?” we probed.

“Yes, that’s it!” he exclaimed with a giant grin. “The ambulance. I want to donate to the ambulance, because get it? AM-BU-LANCE! It has my name in it!”

I’m telling you: that kid? He cracks us up. “Yes, Lance, we can donate to the ambulance in your name when your birthday rolls around.” He really is something else…

Our daughter’s birthday was the same month we mentioned it in our family meeting so the timing was right, and she knew immediately what she wanted to do: save the pandas. She already knew of a charity that protects them but we went online and did a little more research to confirm which institution she wanted to donate to, and boom, I sent the money in. It brought a smile of satisfaction to my face. I hope we always do this.

While I’ve got some work to do studying what charities I want to support, and it will likely be support women and children, our kids demonstrates once again that they GET IT. Just when we wonder if the concepts we’re trying to teach them will resonate, they show us again and again they are WAY ahead of the game.

We are trying our best to raise warm, open-hearted people who are alms-mighty.

 

 

 

Help Wanted…

kristina-flour-185592This past weekend, I admitted to a group of fellow dance moms that I burst into tears when my daughter was born, so very scared facing the reality that I would once again  navigate the mother-daughter dynamic, as the elder this time. The group of them was shocked. After all, my daughter is lovely, full of verve and spunk, good humor, high energy, creativity, and initiative. I adore her, and we love each other dearly, going on 10 years strong.

It wasn’t as if I didn’t want a daughter. We decided against learning the baby’s gender during my pregnancy. For all those months, I convinced myself I was having a boy, even though the pregnancy felt very different to me hormonally and physically. It was a breeze. I even felt pretty. I should have picked up on all those cues, but I ignored them. I didn’t want to think about what it would mean.

Given the puzzled looks from the dance moms, I found myself saying out loud, maybe even admitting to people, for the first time that I had an awful relationship with my own mother and I was terrified I would repeat it with my daughter, as if it was destiny, part of our DNA. I don’t even talk about this intimate fact to my best friends. It was as close to an out of body experience I’ve ever had, to finally hear myself saying those words out loud for the first time, after all these decades.

That’s when I was asked, “Do you still have a difficult relationship today with your Mom?” I heard myself saying quietly, “Oh, my mom died long ago, 30 years ago this April”, as if the status of our relationship just didn’t matter anymore.

What I didn’t reveal was how my relationship with my mother has fluctuated in every which direction over these 30 years, sometimes good, often full of anger, frequently loaded with remorse for not only what actually transpired between us but also what ought to have infused that most sacred of relationships. But mostly, sadly, after decades of self-reflection and some bouts of therapy, she and I are still mired in dysfunction, the two of us on opposite sides of the veil that separates life and death. Intellectually I know I should forgive her and move on, but the more I ponder our lives together, the more I struggle with what was.

I want what I never had. I want what will never be.

She was unable to give that to me. I don’t know how much of it was in her control.

I run the risk of coming across like a spoiled brat saying all this. I will catch endless hell from older cousins who worshipped and adored my mother. Their relationship with her was far, far different than mine. They have no idea what it was like for me.

For decades, I have struggled with the commandment to “honor thy father and thy mother”. I have so far obeyed that commandment by staying largely silent. But staying silent means continuing to struggle. Is there any possible way to honor my mother specifically by talking about this? Did our relationship exist the way it did precisely so I can finally share this story and release the pain, not just for me but others? To help others feel less ostracized by their flawed parent-child dynamic?

50 years is a long time to shut up. Maybe time’s up. If I don’t write about it, no one, including my own daughter, will know what I went through and how it feels and how it informs the choices I deliberately make regarding our lives together every single day. Maybe it will resonate with other hurting daughters or open the eyes of some myopic mothers. Maybe I can help the motherless feel less alone. Maybe, just maybe, I can help daughters realize how fortunate they are when they have or had a good relationship with their mother.


My mother Katherine was beautiful, dark-haired, petite, gregarious, lively, feisty, self-assured, relatively independent, and stubborn. She grew up during the Depression, and eventually she and her mostly older siblings were abandoned by their alcoholic father, leaving the group of them to care for their own mother who didn’t work or speak English. My mom and her sisters adored her, but when grandma was hit by a car and left invalid, it was my mother, a 30-year-old wife with two young children and a third on the way, who was left to care for her.

My parents lived next door to grandma. She would scream in the middle of the night to be heard from one house to the next for my mother to come and carry her to the outhouse and then back into the house to bed. This went on for a few years until grandma died and my older brother was born. How do I know this? These events repeated in mom’s dreams for 25 years after grandma died. She would often wake with her heart racing, remembering with urgency how she had to check on her sweet, tiny mother.

Life was no doubt tough for my mom. She had her moments of fun and laughter, but life wasn’t easy. By the time I was born, she lost both of her parents, in-laws, and a few siblings. The siblings died too young, too soon, just as their adult lives were getting going, in the decade after World War II had ended and people were expecting to live happily ever after.

I was my parent’s 21st anniversary surprise. My oldest sister had just started high school and my brother was now six. At 45, Mom had pitched all of the baby gear and had to start over. She thought she was going through the change of life, but discovered she was pregnant in May. I was born a little over three months later in early September.

For the first five years of my life, my most vivid memories were hanging with my mom and her sister, my Aunt Nancy. It seemed we were always going for a car ride, visiting a local park, going shopping in downtown Wheeling, or hanging at home while they did each other’s hair. Both my mom and my aunt operated beauty shops in the basement of their respective homes.

I stayed at my aunt’s house a lot in those days. She never had a daughter. Her two oldest boys were already off to college at that point and her youngest was a teenager who was often at school whenever I visited. Then I started school so obviously the time with these two women was scaled back but I still stayed at my aunt’s house quite often.

When my mom and aunt weren’t physically together, they talked on the phone several times a day. The “pipeline’s hot today!” my Dad often remarked. My aunt’s number was dialed so often, I can still recite the rhythm of her telephone number, whirring on those old-fashioned rotary dial phones.

This went on until I was 10, when Aunt Nancy died after a relatively short illness in her mid-sixties. Mom was devastated. She was closer to her sister Nancy than any other human being, my father and her own children included. She lost the will to live. For the next 10 years of my life, my mother sat crying at the kitchen table, or crying herself to sleep on the sofa or in her bedroom. Untreated depression. It was shameful to admit you needed help. You simply didn’t seek treatment for depression back in the mid-1970s and early 1980s, unlike today.

When I look back at my early childhood I realize now that Aunt Nancy, who I loved dearly but who was one tough cookie, was the loving presence in my life. I don’t know if my mom was emotionally capable or, frankly, interested in being there for me. I know she recognized her obligation as my mother, but given how frequently my aunt stepped in, I’ve grown to question what the hell was actually happening in those early years of my life. It has taken me 50 years to realize this. And anyone who would know the real answer to my questions is dead.

From age 10-20, it was as if mom was incapable of loving me. Sure there were brief moments of normalcy but day in and day out, I heard how I was good for nothing, I couldn’t do anything right, and she wished she was dead. I’m not exaggerating. I have daily journals from this period that recount my experience.

She spent her weekday afternoons watching that sensational Phil Donahue show, and then projected her every last new-found fear onto me, without one spec of consideration for who I was and the values I already had cemented within me. It was humiliating and demoralizing. Honestly, my mother’s biggest expectation was that I would become barefoot and pregnant, totally dependent on others to care for me, and/or I would get AIDS.

I can’t begin to express how ridiculous this was.

Let me put who I was into perspective: I was a straight-A student nearly my entire academic career, a teacher’s pet repeatedly, president of nearly every club I could join since 5th grade on, marching band flag captain for three years, senior class salutatorian, high school homecoming queen, a college scholarship recipient several times over, a representative for our county in the Ohio Junior Miss program, a virgin who didn’t smoke or drink, a kid who went to bed at 9pm and didn’t abuse her 11pm weekend curfew when she had the good fortune to be out, an overwhelmingly sweet-natured girl, an obedient daughter, a self-starter, a weekly church-goer, and the only child left at home starting at age 11, leaving me to thoroughly clean the house top to bottom every Saturday. I also held a job from age 17 on. I didn’t do anything unless I gave it my best. I didn’t know what I wanted to study in college, but I knew I was going. It was a given in my mind that I would go for as long as I could remember. There was not one doubt in my mind that I would graduate college, leave the Ohio Valley where I grew up for good, and make a success of myself. I was that driven. I was that certain of it.

However the grief goggles my mother wore kept all the good that was me far out of focus. I know in my heart that I was a good kid. A sweet, smart, polite, driven albeit somewhat quiet kid. I used to think she became grief-stricken after my aunt died, but now I truly wonder if she was aggrieved as soon as she learned she was pregnant with me.

I’d love to tell you I was strong enough to hold my head high when she was living and delivering her daily downer expectations. I knew she was wrong about me. I told her she was wrong. I kept thinking, surely, she would realize her error and snap out of it. She never did. I tried to reason with her. I recounted my virtues to her countless times, in countless arguments, but it didn’t matter. She didn’t see me. She didn’t know me. She didn’t understand me. Whether she loved me is certainly debatable.

Right? I mean, hearing these endlessly critical words from my mother so often? I don’t know if she realized the long-term damage she was doing. She was running on auto-pilot that last decade of her life. But her tactic had the same effect that Donald Trump aims for. Hear a lie repeated often enough and you’ll start to believe it no matter how preposterous it is.

It eventually got to me. I went through frequent periods of untreated depression myself starting in high school. There came a day once where I got off the bus in the morning and marched my butt straight to my band director. Of all the teachers, I felt he might have understood what remained unspoken. He took one look at my tear-stained face, puffy eyelids, and red nose, then led me straight to the band office and shut the door so I could hide quietly, alone for a few hours to compose myself.


For decades, I have dissected my relationship with mom, crying rivers, wailing, fuming in anger, then whimpering for what never was, what seems to me countless other mothers and daughters have or had. For decades I have learned, to my horror and shame, what a loving mother-daughter relationship is supposed to look, feel, and sound like, from the outside. I’m like a pauper with her face and hands pressed against cold glass, staring at the shiny baubles in the window of a fancy store whose threshold I can never cross.

The grief of losing your mother is one thing. Losing her suddenly when you’re relatively young is yet another thing. But the grief of learning little by little what that most sacred of relationships is supposed to be like, should have been like, and never was, is ten thousand times worse.

Why couldn’t she love me and guide me? Why did she choose instead to mock how I looked? Why did she deliberately cut off my long hair time and again, butchering my haircuts to make me less attractive? Why is it she never once told me I was pretty? Why couldn’t she cheer my success? Why couldn’t she see any of that? Why couldn’t she tell me she was proud of me, lift me up even higher than I did on my own, when she saw what I wanted for my life, how I wanted to soar? Why couldn’t she foster with me what she had with her own mother? Why did she value her blood relatives more than her husband and the children she birthed? Why couldn’t she cultivate with me what she did with some of her nieces and nephews who saw her as a overwhelmingly loving, fun, demanding, yet bubbly matriarch fiercely dedicated to family!? The IRONY. Tell me why that woman showed up for my cousins and not for me?

Did she just run out of steam? Was I emotionally orphaned by my mother at birth?


She died suddenly when I was 20, during my junior spring semester at college. The last three-four months before she died, we were finally starting to get along a tiny bit. After two years away from home, maybe she started to miss me. Maybe she started to see that I was (still) a straight-A student, in a demanding honors program, living successfully in a clean apartment, having secured an internship and a job while going to school full-time, yet making enough money to responsibly pay my own rent and tuition, cook my own food, and pay my utilities. Maybe she could see my graduation on the horizon, and huh: maybe she realized I still hadn’t wound up pregnant and yes, I was AIDS-free.

I stayed in school that semester. My classmates were blown away by my tenacity. They assumed I would drop out. Wouldn’t anybody else under those circumstances? For starters, I didn’t have the money to waste on a semester of tuition without the grades to show for it. But I didn’t have the heart to tell my peers that her death was a big relief. No longer would I have to listen endlessly to anyone fully expecting me to be a worthless piece of crap.

I’ve been pretty lucky. In these 30 years since, I’ve only had two people try to push that bullshit on me, both times at work. One was a cocky boss who succeeded and I spiraled downward in such a way that it took me several years to recover. The second one was an arrogant bastard who couldn’t wait to misplace his blame on me and kick me when I was down just a couple of years ago. He helped jump-start the process all over again. This time the downward spiral lasted only about two years but I’m pretty sure it shaved 10 years off my life.

Needless to say, I approach my relationship with my own precious daughter differently in every possible way. That’s not what this essay is about, though.


Help wanted. I long for a mother, in that way that only mothers can, to witness my life, and notice how far I’ve come. To say she is proud of me. To say I’ve done good with where I started and what I had to work with. To tell me that I’m on the right track, or to gently coach me when I stray, when I need it. Gosh, to tell me that I’m pretty or lovely or kind. Anything. Anything a mother would say.

You have no idea how deafening the silence is.

I need a mom, a real mom. I am jealous but mostly insanely happy for those who enjoy that special bond. Doesn’t matter if it was for a short while or a lifetime. They had it and it is glorious to see that sort of love. It is so helpful to see these kinds of role models. I look everywhere for those role models.

I will bite my tongue whenever someone tells me what a great job my mother did raising me and how proud she must have been of me. No, no. She was ill. And I was a kid unable to help her. By the grace of God, I’m able to function somehow and hopefully she’s found peace where she is now. I worry about that. I worry that she will find no peace until I do. That’s why the relationship between mothers and daughters is sacred. It’s a forever thing. I must be able to forgive and move on. And in the way you are forced to do when your mother dies, I have moved on. And I have forgiven her. At least I try. I know she was only human with very limited resources to help her through her grief.

But I’m human too, and my heart is broken. I don’t let on. Really, it’s been 30 years…there is only so much you can dwell on it and try to be mentally healthy. I always thought it would get better with time. It doesn’t. The feelings just morph and roll endlessly like ocean waves in the open sea.

Still I know this help wanted ad of mine will never be answered, not on this side of the veil. And it won’t be needed once I get to the other side. From time to time, I’ve tried adopting women to be a mother to me, but after a while it feels forced, or worse, I am encroaching upon sacred territory, the real mother-daughter relationship these women actually have. I have learned there isn’t a sister, cousin, in-law, or friend who can fill my help wanted ad.

So I will sit here and rock with that ache for a lifetime longer and vow to do better with my own daughter. What else can I do?

Photo credit: Kristina Flour on unsplash.com