My Leap List

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Year of Kintsukuroi

      2015 will be my year of Kintsukuroi.  Kintsukuroi means "golden joinery" or "golden repair" in Japanese.  Japanese artists mix resin with gold, silver, or platinum to rejoin the broken pieces of pottery.  The breakage and repair become part of the beauty of the object, rather than something to be thrown away for the imperfections.
     As I reflect on this year's footsteps, I see the struggle between the darkness and the light.  I went into the darkness more than I liked, and left John, Mandy, and Nick there more than I wanted.
      I am grateful for the darkness for teaching me to let go.  I cannot control other people's paths.  All I can do is shine the light to lead them through the shadows until they can see the sunlight on their own.  When I tried to control everything, I created my own darkness.  When I accepted the changes this year brought, I found new hope and new blessings I never imagined for myself.
     I also found the darkness in myself.  Feeling insecure, letting my perfectionism paralyze me, and the fear of not being good enough to be loved almost cost me my childhood dream of getting my doctorate.  I wish my personal issues hadn't happened at the same time my family was struggling and my professional life changing, but I am stronger now in the broken parts.
     The lightness of the year came from focusing on others instead of myself.  Making new friends, helping others instead of worrying about my own work, supporting my friends, helping the homeless, and the joy of dressing up as a character for children's charities.  These were the moments I shone brightest and remembered my truest purpose.
      I have been broken and sometimes the cracks still ache, but I am Kintsukuroi.  I have rejoined the pieces instead of throwing myself away.  This year I will focus on the beauty of the golden repair and not demean myself for breaking.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Finding My Strength in Bipolar Days

     Being in love with someone who struggles with being bipolar makes my life feel bipolar.  Today was a wonderful day with flowers and kind notes from my friends at work to celebrate Boss' Day.  It didn't even matter that I had to go to a meeting, take the train home, and then walk 2 miles back to work to present at community council meeting.  It didn't even matter that the people weren't happy to hear what I had to tell them or that I have another early morning meeting to present to the people who deliberately skipped the mandatory meeting I had yesterday.
     What mattered was coming home to find out that he had told his boss he was quitting...again.  We went through this a couple of weeks ago.  He said it was too hard and was going to quit.  They set up interviews and started moving forward.  Then he felt horrible and told them he would stay.  They were thrilled and stopped looking for anyone.  Today he changed his mind.  Nothing happened.  He loves his job.  He likes the people he works with.  When I asked him why, the only answer I got is "It's too hard."  When I said, "I thought things were going better now."  He said, "They were for a while."  When I questioned further it came down to the stress of yesterday when he had to get me from work, take me to the eye doctor, and then back to school for a presentation and today that he had to take me to a meeting.  Somehow those once in a while things the last two days have made it too hard to stay at his job.
     I got him this job with some of my favorite people in the world, and it makes me sick that I did because of what trouble this is putting them through.  I am sure when he stops being manic, he will change his mind, but I am also sure they are going to decide this is enough, and I can't blame them.  Looks like I am back to taking care of all of us by myself again.  I am learning so much about what love can do and the strength I have.  Now to refocus on all the good things in my life so I can share love and joy to everyone I meet tomorrow instead of darkness.  

Monday, October 13, 2014

How to Change a Life

     I live for those little moments in life when I can help someone else.  I don't really think about them much anymore because it is just part of my life.  It comes from a dark place, but I recycle it into my own version of light.  Because it comes from my darkness, I don't like to be noticed for it or be held up as an example.  I'm more a pay-it-forward kind of girl.  I am really bad at letting myself hear praise, which is funny because my tragic flaw is hubris.  The past few days have made me realize that as much as I hate having the attention, it is so wonderful to be on the other end and have the opportunity to tell someone the difference he or she makes in your life.  My friends Darci and Dena have been so wonderful at teaching me this lesson the past few days, but the best teacher is, as always, my kids.
     There is nothing like the little 1st grader I worked with last week coming up to me today and saying, "I like you, Ms. Cooke."  One of my former students was in my class for a few months before I left to be an administrator.  Now she is a 9th grader.  She messaged me to say that my compliment brought her to tears.  Then she gave me the best compliment that anyone can give.  She wants to be a teacher like me so she can inspire students and change lives.  If I do nothing else in my life, I have done this.    
     It's funny that all of these little things mean so much.  We may never know how today's actions change a life, but I am so grateful that all of you change mine for the better every day.  We all have this incredible power to hurt or help, to notice or ignore, to reach out or pull back, to shine the light for someone or dim it so ours shines brighter.  We all have more power than we can even imagine.  How we use it can change a life.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Death, Life, Desperation, and Love

     This week has been a tough one for life lessons.  I master one and start feeling a bit cocky in my growing abilities to deal with life, and then the tests get harder.  John and Mandy are manic the past few weeks and that brings its own challenges.  In my world, manic doesn't bring extra happiness and laughter.  Manic means thinking you are an expert at everything and no one else knows what they are talking about.  It means anger at little things that turn into big things.  It is thinking the world is against you and that no one cares about you.  It means taking life-threatening risks that you wouldn't usually take because in the moment you are invincible.  It is really hard for me because anything I try and do makes it worse.  So all I can do is breathe, send loving energy, and hold them close when they sleep.
     Nick has been worrying that he is bipolar, so Thursday we took a long walk together.  I told him how I knew he wasn't bipolar like his dad and sister.  He said it made him feel better, but I couldn't help but feel bad that I was having this conversation with him.  Like everyone's life, mine seems to have veered so far off what I had thought it would be.  I never dreamed I would be explaining things like this to my son or experiencing it with my daughter and husband.
      This week also brought a funeral.  John's aunt died this week and funerals are especially hard on him.  I went to the viewing Friday night.  His mom was struggling to walk, so I held her hand and helped her.  She didn't stay long because she was in so much pain.  She has been such an important woman in my life, and it makes me sad to see her suffering.
     At the funeral on Saturday my sister-in-law, Carrie, sat next to me and held her grandson and my baby nephew, Matthew.  He is only 2 months old.  It was such a juxtaposition of life and death listening to his baby cries mixed with the words of mourning.  The reminders of mortality are always challenging, and my friends reminders to just celebrate the time we have makes me feel like I am failing at one more thing.  It's an area I am still working on being better.
     Last night John and I took the kids to a play at an Off-Broadway theater.  As we paid for parking, a man approached us.  He was very literate and intelligent as he told us the story of why he needed money to go home.  His pain was evident from his words and voice.  The energy he was giving off was so much pain, it almost brought me to tears.  We gave him $20 and he almost started to cry.  Then he begged us to let him hug us.  I wasn't prepared for his energy and it was almost a physical pain the rest of the night.  I know that many of my friends and family will disagree with me, but I always help people in need when I can, even if they are taking advantage of me.  John has told me many times that if it weren't for me, his mental illness would make him be homeless and begging on the streets.  I have no doubt that is true.  Not because of anything I do, but because of the difficulties involved in taking care of someone who is bipolar.  There have been so many times that I want to give up or give in, but I keep going because I love him.  You don't give up on family.  So, I can't pass by someone on the streets who is not as lucky as the people in my world, in hopes that if my family is ever in this place, strangers will help them if they can.
     My friend sent me a kind message about how much I mean to her and all the great attributes I have.  This week I feel like it's all I can do to tread water and stay afloat, so the kind words made me feel like an imposter hoping that she doesn't find out the truth about who I really am.  I thought I was doing better at being me and accepting my flaws, but this week helped me see how far I have left to go.
     But as always, the darkness will turn, and we will see the sunrise again.  It's a new week and the fall colors are beautiful.  I have music and lots of love from my family and friends to help ease the burdens while I learn new life lessons.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Path to Hell and No Good Intentions: Suicide, Robin Williams, and Me

        I have not been well lately.  Truth be told, I have been in a dark place.  I haven't been here for so long I naively thought I wouldn't have to face these demons again.  I could list the reasons why, but really, they are no worse than usual.  In a way that makes it worse because I don't have a reason to be here.  Maybe I needed a reminder of the darkness.  When Robin Williams died this week, it physically hurt.  I thought, "If he could let go, what hope is there for the rest of us?"  The past few days have tarnished the joy he brought us by harsh judgments to him and his family.  That stigma weighs heavy on my soul from the many people I love that have faced the same abyss.  
     I have written about this before, but as a part of my past, or as my family's current fight.  All week I have thought about writing but worried about the impact it would have on my family, my friends, my students, my career.  I had convinced myself to write a post and not publish it so I could talk about it without the judgment, but after all the judgments being shared in the media, I can't add my voice to theirs by remaining silent.  
     The darkness hit hard and fast.  I didn't even realize how hard until I was standing alone waiting for the train.  When it approached, I had to keep myself from jumping in front of it.  I didn't even know I was in the darkness.  On the return trip, I had the same thought.  The next day I caught myself thinking random thoughts of suicide.  I thought about how it would affect my kids.  I was in such a dark place, I found myself thinking if they died too, I could still take care of them on the other side.  When I hear about parents doing this, I have never understood how someone could be so selfish to take their children.  I would never do this to my kids, but now I know the depths of the pain that drives someone to that decision. 
     Yesterday some people I love reached out to help me with part of the problem without even realizing I was in such a dark spot.  It involved travel across the state, a late night phone call from a friend after his twelve-hour-work-day, e-mails, and texts.  It ended with me humbled by the offering of grace in the darkness.  The difference we can make for each other without even knowing.  We are here to truly see each other and support each other.  Their kindness and love unknowingly brought me back to the light.
     It makes me sad that we continue judging each other.  When will we learn that we are all connected to one another?  Everything we do ripples into each other’s lives.  What I do affects you and what you do affects me.  Rather than judge each other, we should reach out in compassion and love.  
     It's a sad world if we let our egos rule.  When egos rule, we judge the perceived weaknesses in each other so we can feel superior.  It is only a worldly emotion that gives a false sense of superiority rather than the true feelings of accomplishment that come from helping others.  
     It is also a sad world if we let fear rule.  If we fear that mental illness or depression is contagious, we let people suffer needlessly.  
     When we judge, for whatever well-intentioned or misunderstood reasons, we make it more likely they will turn to permanent solutions.  When you are lost and alone in the darkness, you literally can't feel the love of everyone around you.  You think everyone is better off without you in their lives.  It is a visceral emotion screaming from pain and fear.  It is not logical in any way.  You may have felt this way if you have ever had intense physical pain and you stop thinking logically and just react emotionally to the pain because it is so bad.  Once the pain subsides a bit, you can return to thinking logically and realize that you weren't in your right mind before.  Depression is the same way.  If by chance you do have a moment of clarity and reach out for help, hearing and seeing the harsh judgments of being "weak", "selfish", and "unforgivable" add to the feelings of despair.  When you already feel alone, hopeless, and like a burden to everyone; hearing people confirm your worst thoughts about yourself makes it is easy to decide the world is better off without you.  
      If you feel people with mental illness or depression are "weak" or "selfish," I am so very glad that you have never been in the darkest pits of hell.  I hope there isn't a time when you have to be there yourself or follow someone you love into the abyss.  I have been there myself a few times, and I have worn a path there continually leading out the people I love.  Rather than spend my time judging the ones who have gone before and the ones who struggle now, I will climb out of the darkness and then go back for the ones left behind.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Learning to Love Veruca Salt, Golden Eggs, and Nut-Sorting Squirrels

     The people I dislike most often end up being my favorites because they teach me things about myself.  One of the greatest and most challenging parts of my life is that I get to work with all kinds of new people every day.  I like to think this is one of my strengths, but there are some people that I still struggle with.  One is entitled people because they often have a disregard for others.
     I have met many in my life, but I never handle it well.  Sometimes I let the other person's wants consume me until I am invisible.   I have tried ignoring the situation in hopes it would go away.  For awhile I was so angry, I fought everyone and everything in a Hunger Games mentality.
     I played with this a little bit last year and did much better than usual.  I guess that was my practice for this summer.  The funny thing about life lessons is that you never know they are coming.  It's too soon to know how I did yet, but if I failed this lesson again, it was a new approach I can add to my "Well, that didn't work" list.  At least I don't keep making the same mistakes in the same way.
     I was feeling annoyed and angry the past few days, but now I think I am lucky to have the chance to finally pass the test this time around.    



Thursday, July 17, 2014

Music and Meanings

     As I wander through life, I have a funny way of making meaning from everything around me.  Even a small feather on my walk holds infinite meaning.  I learned early on that I could believe in the infinite possibilities of "what if..." or I could swirl in chaos.  Everything sacred or nothing sacred.
     Some days are full of the brightest suns, hues more beautiful than my mind can fathom, and I can touch the stars.  Other days are shadows of myself when I get lost in the dark.  The combination brings the texture to my life.  It makes me appreciate life and love in all of its manifestations.  Every time I make it through the darkness, I am stronger and wiser.  I gather up the beauty in the light and shine the others from their darkness.  Infinite light and dark.
     Music soothes my soul.  Knowing others have lived to tell the tale comforts me on the dark nights when everything seems lost.  Songs with a turn of words so perfect I swear it was written just for me.  Some for the dark and others for the light.  Music with a sacred tie to life and to death.  We live with our own background music that grows louder when we need meaning or to share ourselves.  Weddings, lullabies, funerals, birthdays, concerts, singing with our best friends in the car on a hot summer night adventure...music brings us together.  The meaning is sacred and changes who we are.  Theme songs are who we are.  It is what we tell ourselves about ourselves.  It is who we believe we are in the eyes of the rest of the world.  It is more than a favorite song or one that captures the loneliness of the dark.  It is our deepest core being.  It changes as we change.  Mine used to be "Total Eclipse of the Heart" by Bonnie Tyler.  Here is a piece of the person I used to be...

Once upon a time I was falling in love
But now I'm only falling apart
There's nothing I can do
A total eclipse of the heart.
Once upon a time there was light in my life
But now there's only love in the dark
Nothing I can say
A total eclipse of the heart.

I lived that song for many years.  I didn't realize the power I let it have over my life.  It fit who I was and where I was, but I let it define me.  I let it keep me in the darkness for a long time because I thought that was what I deserved.  I still like it because it is still a part of me, but I don't define myself by the darkness anymore.  

     My new theme song reminds me that I am good enough and I can let go of what others think of me.  Lessons I am still learning and practicing as I meet a whole group of new people tomorrow, hoping they like me, and remembering to let go of defining myself by other people.   My new song is "The Middle" by Jimmy Eat World.  Here is my sacred now.  

"The Middle"
Hey, don't write yourself off yet
It's only in your head you feel left out or looked down on.
Just try your best, try everything you can.
And don't you worry what they tell themselves when you're away.

It just takes some time, little girl you're in the middle of the ride.
Everything (everything) will be just fine, everything (everything) will be alright (alright).

Hey, you know they're all the same.
You know you're doing better on your own, so don't buy in.
Live right now.
Yeah, just be yourself.
It doesn't matter if it's good enough for someone else.

It just takes some time, little girl you're in the middle of the ride.
Everything (everything) will be just fine, everything (everything) will be alright (alright).
It just takes some time, little girl you're in the middle of the ride.
Everything (everything) will be just fine, everything (everything) will be alright (alright).

Hey, don't write yourself off yet.
It's only in your head you feel left out or looked down on.
Just do your best, do everything you can.
And don't you worry what the bitter hearts are gonna say.

It just takes some time, little girl you're in the middle of the ride.
Everything (everything) will be just fine, everything (everything) will be alright (alright).
It just takes some time, little girl you're in the middle of the ride.
Everything (everything) will be just fine, everything (everything) will be alright (alright).








Monday, July 14, 2014

My Leap List

     I don't like bucket lists.  I don't like the focus on death.  Other people take it and do amazing things with their lives.  Not me.  I just get depressed at all of the great things I can't do for a variety of reasons, start resenting my life, and missing all the great things that happen to me every day because they aren't big enough to be on my bucket list.
     I decided to make a list of all those little amazing things that I never knew I needed in my life.  I'm calling it my leap list because it helps me focus on leaping over those bumps in the road until I can fly.  This is my list so far.

  1. Riding a train through the countryside
  2. Meeting some of my heroes:  Henry Winkler and Patrick Stewart, and getting to meet one of Mandy's heroes, Sean Astin
  3. Having a cat lie on my chest, wrap her paws around my neck, put her face on my cheek and fall asleep
  4. Eating a Fudgesicle, having the cat jump up on my chest, and start licking the other side
  5. Lots of great concerts
  6. Getting a tattoo
  7. To be continued...

Friday, July 4, 2014

It Matters to that One

     Earlier this week I gave the women I work with a handblown glass starfish with a copy of the starfish poem.  I wanted them to know that even though we beat ourselves up for not being able to save everyone, that it matters to each of the ones we save.  Today I learned that lesson myself.
     Last week a teenage boy made a big mistake.  Today he was caught.  It could have gone down in the typical way - police, charges, firing.  Instead it ended with me spending hours talking to him about all of the things going on in his life.  So much pressure on someone so young.  His story reminded me of myself as a younger teenage girl.  He almost killed himself a few months ago and we were worried this would be his last straw.  Hard choices and difficult phone calls to make.  While we waited, I talked to him about my life and where I had been.  I told him about Mandy and where she had been and where we are both headed now.  We talked about his family, his plans, and the tough parts of life that I haven't ever had to do.  It took up all my last day and I didn't get a chance to say goodbye to anyone or do anything I meant to do.  But none of it matters because people always come first.  No matter what.
      I probably won't see him again, but I hope that he finds peace and love and success and all the good things that life has to offer when you get out of the darkness.  I hope that my words and love made a difference for him today.  I hope they keep him safe and lend a glimmer of light to show him the way home.  It matters to that one, even if I am the one.
   
 If you haven't read the poem, you are in for a treat.

Starfish Poem
One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.

He came closer still and called out "Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?"

The young man paused, looked up, and replied "Throwing starfish into the ocean."

"I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?" asked the somewhat startled wise man.

To this, the young man replied, "The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don't throw them in, they'll die."

Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, "But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can't possibly make a difference!"

At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, 
"It made a difference for that one.” 
― Loren Eiseley



  

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Seeing Through Another's Eyes

     We all want to know that we matter to someone in the world.  Without that weight, we float through life trying to find something to anchor us to the world, a reason to live, a reason to care.  I have been weightless and I have been anchored so tight I felt like I would drown saving everyone else.  Writing saves me, every time.  I write for my sanity.  It gives me a voice when I lose mine in the crowd.  It gives me perspective so I can open my mind to other people's realities.  It lets me share my stories that feel too overwhelming to say out loud, like the sound would make them more real and not just things I can push out of my mind.
     It's ironic that I write a blog, but I forget that other people read it.  It could be private, but I made a promise to my daughter when she was born that I would be always be honest with her.  Not just honest to her or with her, but honest in who I am for her.  All my imperfections, fears, challenges, and triumphs.  Writing a blog makes me accountable in a way writing in my journal didn't always do.
     Today I had to say goodbye to the people I love at school.  Everyone was so kind.  They gave me presents, hugs, and lots of love.  But my greatest gift was from a new friend who told me what a difference I have made in her life because of my blog.  There is something amazing about seeing yourself through someone else's eyes.  Usually I minimize compliments and push the attention to something else.  Today I thought of the joy I feel when I am able to share what people mean to me and the difference they make in my life.  I forced myself to stay still and appreciate the moment.  To know my honesty and my words give strength to someone else is a precious gift.  I am honored and humbled for the gift.  She says she looks for feathers and never finds them.  She doesn't know she is always the angel feather in my life.  She has given me a gift I can never repay.    

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Growing Pains and Mary Poppins

      It's hard to have growing pains.  I hated them as a child, and I hate them now.  Even when I know the pain leads to better things.  The past few weeks have been some of the hardest I have been through.  I let two events in two days get in my head.  I felt like a failure.  I got stuck in my head and let the voices convince me I wasn't good enough or strong enough or smart enough or any enough.  I started my comprehensive exam and found myself at a place I have never been before.  I was frozen.  I couldn't do anything.  It seemed better to fail because I didn't try than try my hardest and fail anyway because failure seemed inevitable.  I tried everything that worked before, but nothing helped.  Mandy told me about her experience with the same thing and the regrets she still had because of it.  It was actually a blessing to truly understand what kids go through when they feel this way because this was a part of life I never understood as a teacher.  It will make me a more compassionate person.  
     I finished it, and I failed.  They gave me one last chance.  2 weeks.  Rewrite and revise.  Get a 215 or be done.  Give up a lifetime dream.  I was scared.  I was stressed.  No sleep and so many responsibilities at work and home.  I decided it wasn't meant to be.  I told my family and my friends it was time to give up.  John came back enough to beg me not to give it up.  I wasn't sure if I could even finish it at that point.  Luckily I work for two amazing ladies that gave me time off so I could finish it.  I got my score last night and got a 215 from one evaluator and a 218 from the other.  Mandy said I must have angels looking out for me to get the exact score I needed to pass.  She also said she didn't know my teeth had skin since I passed by the skin of my teeth.  It made me laugh.  I meet my dissertation chair later this morning.  I was hoping for a day or two to just rest and breathe, but life has other plans.
     Next week I am leaving two schools I love.  I'm old enough to know that some friendships stay with you for life, but most slowly fade with distance and time. It makes me sad to start again when I just felt like I found home, but I am trusting in a bigger power than my own.  I am trusting these growing pains will lead to new adventures with new friends, new challenges, and new rewards that I can't yet imagine.  I am also trusting that everything will work out exactly the way it is supposed to be because it always does.  The darkest hours bring the brightest dawn.  John told me I am Mary Poppins.  When the wind turns I fly off to help the next children who need me the most.  For some reason, that image makes the growing pains seem worth it all.   

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Let it Go

      There is nothing worse than being unable to help someone you love.  It is even harder when the hurt is on the inside where no one can see it.  The boy I love has been fighting this battle for so many years.  He is so tired and so lost.  I don't know what to do to help him and neither does anyone else.  So many doctors and so many medicines.  Nothing makes it better.
     The little girl in me wants to scream and run away.  She wants to leave all of this behind and start over in a new place.  The grown up part of me is trying to hold us all together.  I know something has to give.  It looks like it might be time to let go of the dream I have been working on.  I have known this for a while, but haven't wanted to face it.  But every time I try to push through it, things get worse.  It's probably time to let it go and focus on the people who need me.    

Monday, June 9, 2014

A Woman's Worth

     Tonight my daughter read me online comments about Elliot Roger.  I was horrified at the things people were saying about women they didn't know.  Of course online comments from anonymous people are not reliable sources of information, but it makes me sad that their comments mirror so many news stories lately.
     I want my daughter to know that she has worth because of who she is, not because of how she looks, who she chooses to share her body with or who she chooses not to be with.  I want her to be strong enough to make her own decisions and be proud of who she is.  I see so many people her age defining themselves by men.  Some are marking time until finding completion in a man.  Others have sex thinking they are controlling their lives and calling the shots while living with the harsh judgments of both men and women.  Others are called horrible names because they don't want to have sex with anyone.
     I want her to know that she has the power to decide what is best for her in her own time, not anyone else's time.  It doesn't matter how rich, handsome, polite, or how anything a person is.  That doesn't obligate her to sleep with anyone.  She has value because she is smart, funny, talented, caring, empathetic, and so many other qualities that have nothing to do with her body.
     I can't change the world's view, but I can give her the strength to keep from being broken by the world's misogynistic views.  

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Bandaids Don't Fix Symbolic Blisters

     Writing has always been my solace.  Processing life lessons instead of rushing headlong into the next big adventure.  Sometimes I avoid it so I don't have to feel.  Sometimes I avoid it as a punishment for the things I do wrong.  This week reminded me that hubris is still my fatal flaw. Trying to be perfect so no one needs to question the real me.  Kind of a Dorian Gray thing.  When Luke's mom told me I wasn't enough, it hurt me really bad.  Not just because she saw me for who I believe I am, but because I love Luke so much. 
     Reliving this experience over and over this week shows I need to embrace the process, not just the final results.  This is really hard for my perfectionist side, but it's a lesson I have been sorely needing.  So, I am sharing the process even though it is still painfully raw.  This is an imperfect version of me.  I am willing to do things for others that I would never do for myself.  I need to work on valuing myself.  Loving people so much is a strength, but it is a weakness when I let my value rise and fall with others' opinions.  Conflict is hard, but it is devastating for the other person when you make a final decision before they know things aren't okay.  I need to deal with conflict openly and with firm love so I don't cause more damage for someone else later.  Some teachers don't stay in our lives once the lesson is taught, but that doesn't make your love less real. 
      I have been trying to wear all kinds of different shoes the past few weeks to find some that will stop hurting my poor feet.  My feet are covered with blisters - the bottoms, the tops, the heels.  No matter what I do or how many bandaids I wear, nothing has helped.  A sign I can "run" all I want through life trying to be everything to everyone, but in the end, it hurts the people I love and it hurts me.  I get so busy saying yes to everything that I forget it means I am saying no to the most important things in my life.  I am literally hobbling through life, so I better learn this lesson before I can't walk at all.  Irony loves my life, but I never expected my Snoopy bandaids to join in.       

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The In-between Moments

    Today there is so much suffering and so much celebration for my friends.  There are reasons to celebrate today - birthdays, anniversaries, babies, weddings, and survival.  There are also reasons to mourn this day - deaths, struggles, illness, and injuries.  My friend's little grandson fell into a campfire a few days ago.  His injuries are so severe, he will go into surgery tomorrow to amputate part of his hands.  As I am thinking of her and the baby, I am thinking of all of us.  Spinning in space together on a trip through the universe.  Any moment can be the moment we dread or the moment we hope for.  And in those times, we turn to each other to help us celebrate and to help us mourn.  If only we turned to each other in the in-between moments.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

When You Are Going Through Hell, Keep Going

     When you are going through Hell, there is nothing you can do but keep going.  If you stop, you will never get out alive, but man, it's tough to keep going.  I don't know why the past few weeks have been so hard.  I've been through some really dark times, and these shouldn't have even come close, but these were brutal.
     My passion is helping at-risk kids, but the one thing I never understood until now was how they could willing fail at something they could ace if they would only try.  I guess it was time I learned that lesson for myself.  I let a change in my life knock me down.  I personalized and internalized something that I shouldn't have.  I felt like a failure and had let people down.  I took that energy with me into a high stakes test.  One of those tests that I hate, but get through in one piece.  Not this time.  The more people told me I would be fine, the more I froze up.  I couldn't even start.  I sabotaged myself.  It would be easier to fail because I didn't do it than to try my hardest, and fail anyway.  The only thing that got me through it was thinking of all the people that say they are inspired by my honesty, including my daughter.  I didn't want this to be the example I set for her.  Even though I procrastinated until it was almost physically impossible to finish the test, I did it.  At the end, I was going on 6 hours of sleep in 3 days, but I finished it.  I won't know for a few weeks how I did, but I am okay with whatever happens.  I hope I learned the life lessons I needed to learn so I don't have to be there again.
     Now it's almost time to leave a place that will always have a special place in my heart.  Time to say goodbye to my friends.  Life always works out for the best, even in the darkest times when I can't imagine how things can ever be light again.  So, I am sending all my love to the people and place I love.  And I am focusing on new beginnings.  Having faith that I will be where I need to be for the people who need me.  I hope my angels are ready for this new adventure, cause I think I will need some extra feathers on this journey.  

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Sabotage and Superheroes

     I am facing some big challenges in my life this week.  Not life and death challenges, but the existential kinds that define you.  I was thinking of being quiet today.  I don't come off looking too great in these moments, and there are so many real tragedies going on in the world.  But, as my sister says, life is about "ands", not just "ors." I can be grateful that I am alive, working, able to do so many things others can't do, "and" be struggling with my own internal conflicts.
     It's challenging to have other people control part of my fate.  It goes against my nature.  I like to be in control of everything.  In my magical thinking, my control keeps the world safe and stable.  This week I had choices made for me that were hard and made me feel unworthy.  I am trying to keep my faith through the darkness that everything turns out for the best in the end, even though I can't see it right now.
     This wasn't the best way to start my comprehensive exam for my doctorate degree.  It's a high-stakes test that will decide if I can become a doctoral candidate, rather than a doctoral student.  That means I can work on my dissertation and graduate.  If I don't pass, I will be asked to leave the program.  Everyone keeps telling me I will do fine, but that just adds to the internal pressure I feel.  The test started yesterday.  I found myself staring at the computer all day with nothing to say.  I cleaned the house.  I answered e-mails.  I played games.  I did anything but focus on my test.  I realized I am sabotaging myself.  It's better to fail because I didn't really try than to really give it my all and fail anyway.  I feel this way a lot, but on my good days I can usually push through the darkness.  The earlier news of the week made me feel like a failure.  I couldn't seem to convince myself that this would be any different.
     Luckily, I am better at doing things for other people than I am at doing things for me.  I joined a group called I Run 4 Michael.  The group matches people who can run with people who can't.  I am blessed to be matched with a cute little boy in England as my coach.  Luke has autism, and life is challenging for him and for his mom.  Luke's favorite superheroes are Batman and Spiderman, so Mandy and I decided to do the Hero 5k dressed as his favorite superheroes.  Before I had Luke in my life, I never would have thought about doing a 5k, but the thought of making him happy to see the pictures was enough to make me sign up.  It also seemed perfect because the money helps kids in foster care, another cause I am passionate about now.
     Mandy and I started the race.  We made it to the first marker and could have turned around, but we decided to keep going.  About 150 feet from the halfway marker, we were painfully regretting our earlier decision.  We sat down for a moment, took a breath, and both said, "Let's finish it."  We kept going, made the turn, and headed into the second half of the race.  When we finally got to the finish line, everyone had packed up and left.  I was sunburned, had bleeding blisters, and felt exhausted, but I finished it.  I didn't sabotage the race.  And let me tell you, there were all kinds of real excuses that I could have used today.
     Sometimes life gets hard.  Sometimes you choose to be the villain and sabotage your success.  Sometimes you choose to stay in the race and see it through, even if no one is waiting at the finish line.  Today I chose to be someone's superhero.  Tomorrow I will choose to be my own superhero and give my whole self to the test.  I might fail, but sometimes the glory is in the doing, not the results.



Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mom Lessons

     I was convinced being a mom wouldn't change anything.  Like adding one more person to the mix was no big deal.  Cosmic humor made sure nothing in my life stayed the same.  Other moms had it all together, and I felt like the worst mom ever.  I didn't know we all pretend we are fine because everyone else is pretending to be fine, and none of us wants to be the first to admit we are anything but fine.  When my daughter was a few months old, I started writing her letters.  I decided from the start that I would tell her the true story.  The good, the bad, the ugly, or so the saying goes.  I didn't want her to become a mom and feel as alone as I felt.  I wanted her to know that everything she was going through really was fine, not the pretend fine.  These are some of the highlights and lowlights.
  1. You will end up doing all of the things you swore you would never do.  Sorry to all those moms I judged before I had kids. 
  2. Your heart can actually expand and love each baby just as much as the one before.
  3. Turns out you may have a Jekyll and Hyde personality that is dormant until you have kids.  You can be the most reasonable, polite person... until someone hurts your child.  
  4. You will hide in the bathroom so you can have 5 minutes by yourself.
  5. The word "mom" is the best word in the world, but there are days when they whine it so many times, you will want to change your name.
  6. They are not mini-you's, even at the start.  
  7. When I was a kid, there was a commercial with a lady in a dress and high heels cooking bacon while singing, "I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never let you forget you're a man."  Turns out you can have it all, but you have to redefine your "all."
  8. You will cry when they get shots, broken hearts, and feel jaded with life.
  9. You will be more tired than you ever thought possible, but you will still jump up in the middle of the night when they need you.
  10. Most of the time you are winging it, and you will make mistakes. You just hope the words you say and the things you do in the important moments help more than harm.
  11. Babies smell good.  
  12. You might not mean to, but somehow along the way, you will create a vision of their futures.  You have to mourn that loss, and let them create their own versions.
  13. You can't have an ego and still sing, dance, run through sprinklers, or have lightsaber fights.
  14. When your kids think you are beautiful just the way you are, you stop judging yourself so harshly.
  15. You will learn unconditional love from the way they love you.  
  16. You will begin to see magic in everything when you see it through their eyes.
  17. Just when you think you have it down, another baby comes, and everything changes again.  
  18. You will be the only one bored watching the same movie over and over again.
  19. Time changes as a mom.  Days seem to last forever at the beginning and then you blink and they are all grown up.  
  20. It is worth every single hard thing because they will be the best part of you.
Happy Mother's Day

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Lessons of Love

     I have learned a lot from being married for 25 years. It's hard to admit life isn't perfect, but the beauty is in the cracks.  Kintsugi is a Japanese tradition of mending the cracks in pottery with gold.  I am stronger and more beautiful because of my cracks.  Today I celebrate the breaks, the light, and the gold from a quarter century of love.

  1. You can't always get what you want. But sometimes you get even more than you hoped.
  2. Love is unique.  If you try to compare your love to someone else's, it will always come up short, but their love will always come up short to yours.
  3. You can love and hate someone at the same time.
  4. Love doesn't keep life from stomping in, but it can lead you home again.
  5. Love burns hot and freezes cold.  Both destroy you if left uncontrolled.
  6. It's okay that you don't have the same love you did at the beginning.   
  7. Sometimes you have to be quiet.  Even when you are REALLY, REALLY RIGHT!  
  8. The person you love most can hurt you the most.
  9. You really can feel your heart physically break.
  10. Sometimes you have to do what is best for the person you love, even if it hurts you.  Even if it hurts a lot.
  11. Don't measure how much someone loves you by how well they read your mind.
  12. Focus on what is right instead of what is wrong.  Love is imperfect.  You will always find what you look for because they are both there.
  13. If you give everyone else all the best parts of you, you won't have anything left when you get home.
  14. If you keep score, you both lose.
  15. Trust your intuition.  
  16. Some things can't be fixed with apologies, but say them anyway.
  17. You can love more than one person at the same time.
  18. Love can stretch enough to let you both have different friends and interests.  
  19. Love can heal places you didn't even know were broken.
  20. Love makes you brave enough to do things you never thought you could do.
  21. Jealousy will kill you.  There is a reason it is called a green-eyes "monster."
  22. It's the little things you do all the time that make the biggest differences.  Don't wait for the big gestures.
  23. Even though he loves you no matter what, you should let him see you at your best sometimes, not just your worst.
  24. Forever is a really long time.  It's a good idea to have a friend with you, not just a lover.
  25. No matter how dark it gets, the light always returns.  

I never knew the boy I met in French class 30 years ago would become my best friend, the dad to our two kids, and see me through the best and worst moments of my life.  Love is beautiful, cracks and all.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Death is like that, sometimes

     I have experienced death before.  It's hard to escape it in 45 journeys around the sun.  I have lost pets, my baby brother, family, students, friends, and almost my mom.  In all of those experiences, death was already there before I arrived.  Yesterday I brought it with me.
     The bat was injured and we couldn't tell if it could fly at all.  There were ten minutes until kids were coming out to play.  All the people we called for help refused to come.  We weren't sure if it would bite or if it had any diseases.  It was one of those weird moments when time stops.  I knew what I had to do, but it didn't make it any easier.
     I have always wondered what I would do in those childhood novels like Old Yeller.  Would I have the strength of the father if it meant protecting the other people he loved?  For anything else but the love I have for the kids, I wouldn't have made the choice.
     Knowing it was the best of all imperfect decisions in that moment doesn't make it any easier.  Death is like that, sometimes.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Dawn in the Darkness

You stand on the edge of darkness,
rage seeping out the edges
of the cracks in the facade.
Decisions like stones
in the blackest night,
until God softens us
and dawn begins again.
     


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Using our Powers for Good

     When Mandy was growing up, I always told her, half-jokingly, to use her powers for good.  It was my way of teaching her to become a woman.  We have amazing powers as women, but it is hard to know how to use them.  There are few role models, and society is quick to jump in and fill the void for us.  Strong women are labeled and belittled.  Choose to be the vamp or the bitch.
     The labels bleed and scar.  The wounded women continue the fight, turning their power outwards, determined to hurt as much as they hurt.  The more timid of us hide our powers becoming submissive to anyone and everything that is not ourselves.  We become disconnected from our own power and stop listening to our internal voices.
     Very few women manage to keep the essence of their power intact.  The power to love, to nurture, to protect, to fight for loved ones, to right the wrongs in society.  The essence of who we are is a gift at birth, but we lose it to the musn'ts, the shoulds, the don'ts, and shame.
      I was thrilled to have a daughter and terrified that I would destroy her.  Evil queens in the fairy tales and all that.  That somehow I would see in her all the things I could have been and let my jealousy win.  Some days I do.  Other days I rise to unknown heights and see what I can be.  She makes me a better woman.
      I admire strong, warrior women who stand up for themselves and the people they love.  I admire their ability to hold people accountable and have difficult conversations.  I choose to surround myself with strong women who hold me accountable to myself.  These women heal me.  They share their strength when I am weakest.  They make me laugh when I forget why I am really here.  They make me better than I am alone.  They remind me to have patience in an evolving world.  Their lights shine bright on stormy seas and beckon us home.  Here is to all the strong women who use their powers for good.  

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Brother Awesome

     Today I attended a funeral for a man I never met, and he became someone I hope to be.  The church was overflowing with people wanting to share their love and respect for him.  Story after story shared his love for people, and the service he gave to everyone in his life.  His brothers and sister spoke of having every one of John's friends introduce themselves as his best friend.  He had a way of truly listening to you and caring about what you said.  He lived by the motto that people were more important than tasks to be done.  So much love and laughter for a man that truly loved everyone and lived life to the fullest.  It's no wonder the young men he mentored call him "brother awesome."

Monday, March 3, 2014

Fragile

     Today is Jameson's birthday.  He would have been 18 today.  The anniversary hit me unexpectedly.  I miss him so much.
     One of my little guys at work cuddled up against me so I was holding him like a baby.  He told me, "I remember my mom used to rock me.  I like moms rocking me."  I held him, rocked him, and thought of how fragile we all are.
     

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Some Days are Like That

     Today I'm channeling Alexander in one of my favorite kid books, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.  Alexander is having one of those days and he keeps threatening to run away to Australia.  His mom tells him, "Somedays are like that, even in Australia."
     It was one of the those days.  It started with a 6 A.M call to the bank to see if a real person would answer when they opened back East.  I didn't know that's what we were doing.  I was blowdrying my hair when I was handed the phone.  I talked to a woman until 7 and tried to convince her that I need help.  She told me somebody would call me, but in the meantime I would be in collections and that could mean foreclosure.  So, of course, I started crying.  When I got off the phone John yelled at me because I was supposed to just tell her she could talk to him.  Getting yelled at when I'm crying makes me cry hysterically.  So I went to work splotchy, with a wet hair ponytail, and melting make-up.
     There were people waiting for me at my door to complain about the test schedule I spent hours doing last night.
     There was a 1st grader who brought medicine to school in her lunchbox and gave it to another kid, who got sick on it.
     Another first grader didn't know what to do when there was no toilet paper, so he used his hand, and then kept trying to get it off his hand by wiping it on the stall door and wall.
     An aide yelled at me in an office full of people because she wasn't happy that I hadn't called an inside recess.
     The state office clarified a change in a test that has been changed 3 times since the testing window started 2 weeks ago.  Now the teachers are mad because half got extra help on the test and the other half won't.  No big deal unless your future pay might be tied to the results.  I was the lucky messenger, and they shot me.
     John still isn't talking to me tonight.
     I hit my head.  There was no ice, so Nick got me a bag of french fries.  They weren't tied shut, so french fries fell down my head.
      I want to move to Australia, but I'm writing, breathing, and remembering some days are like that.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Lost in a Crazy System

     I hate money.  It always seems people have too much or too little.  I know it can't buy happiness.  I like the feeling that I have enough to give it away to people in need without worrying that I will need it.
     Unfortunately that hasn't been happening much lately.  I have avoided this topic because there are so many other people in lots worse situations than I am, but today pushed me over the edge.
     Most of you know that John stayed home with the kids as they grew up.  It made sense at the time.  I was already teaching and had insurance, while he was still in school.  There were many days I wished it was me staying home, but I was glad they had their dad.  As they got older, he began to struggle with mental illness.  We still don't know why or what is going on.  Every time we see someone new, he gets a new diagnosis.  The medications keep changing and none of them have really helped.  The newest idea is to get an MRI of his brain and see if there are any tumors or lesions that could be the trouble.  
      With the medical bills, student loans, the $1,100 I owed Argosy for taking a break, and other unexpected things happening, we got behind.  I keep doing more jobs, but I still can't seem to catch up.  With John's illness, he is unable to work, and too proud to be on disability.  I have been trying to talk to the bank about options for paying the mortgage.  It's only a few weeks behind, but it has been for over a year.  It's not enough to default, but enough I keep getting threatening letters from the bank.  The credit counselor sent me forms to fill out before she can help me.  All of the options have to do with foreclosure.  I called the bank again and had to keep punching zero for forty minutes before I could make the computer frustrated enough to get a real live person to help me.  She transferred me to another computer where I did the same thing again.  When I finally found another person, he told me to go to the website and get a credit counselor.  I told him I already did, but wasn't in default.  I told him I wanted to avoid that and work out a plan with the bank now.  He gave me another phone number with another computer....  Basically he said I have to be in default before anyone will help me.  What?  If I am willing to do what I can now, why would they rather have me not pay them for another month or two and risk my house so I might be able to get help?  I feel like I am in the movie Brazil.  

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Dark Side of Love

     "I give up.  I don't want to do this anymore."  I held him while he cried because there wasn't anything else to do.  He faces the darkness and demons alone.  If the enemy was outside of him, I would battle to the death, but I can't fight the demons in his mind.  I am helpless.  It is never enough.  I am not enough.  No amount of love or reassurances or counseling or medicine or comfort or prayers or wishes or bargains I make with the universe are ever enough.  In my darkest moments I wonder if it would be better for him to finally end his suffering.  Then the moment breaks and I shudder with the fear that he will.
     It was the end of Valentine's Day.  My favorite day of the year.  A day of love in all it's variations.  He had been having two days of feeling better, witnessed by the flowers sitting on my table.  I had let a little glimmer of hope in and was crushed with the weight of reality for how quickly things had turned.  I was sad for me, for him, for my kids; sad for the life that should have been, and missing the boy I fell in love.  Heavy thoughts...lost and lonely and failing the person I love most in the world.
     Then I realized it didn't matter if it was Valentine's Day.  It didn't matter if we had a peaceful time enjoying love tonight or if my romantic dreams came true.  Sometimes love is holding someone when there is nothing else you can do.  It is reassuring someone things will get better when you have no reason to believe it will.  It is finding the strength to take care of someone else when you really want to run away and start another life.  Love is hard.  Love is gritty and dirty.  Sometimes it is loving someone through their darkness with no expectations of getting anything in return.  In it's own way, it is as beautiful as the romantic love we celebrate on Valentine's Day.  Love is ALL.  Happy Valentine's Day.  I wish you love in whatever form it takes in your life.  

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Invisible Battles

     The people I love most in the world are struggling, and it makes me heartsick.  When you are physically sick and people find out, they usually feel compassion, concern, and sympathy.  When you are mentally ill, people often feel fear, judgement, and avoid you.  It makes it hard for people to talk about because they know how people will react.  It's a lonely, isolating, dark place to be.  It's also that way for the people who take care of them because they know the people they love will be judged.  They also know they will probably be judged along with the person who is ill.
     I don't usually talk about it because I love them so much and want to protect them.  But, I am learning this doesn't help the problems they face.  My daughter reminds me that speaking my truth in an honest and loving way allows others to not feel so alone.  My hope is we will learn that mental illness is not contagious.  We can love one another just like we do through physical illnesses.
     My grandma had a stroke last week and is struggling with moderate dementia.  Most people tell me that is to be expected with her age.  It is probably true, but that doesn't help the people living through it.  It makes me sad to see her forget me, but the worst part is seeing how much it hurts her.  Watching her fear and confusion when she is lost between worlds and not being able to fix it, is so hard.  Watching her anger when she is aware of what is happening is even worse.
     My husband has been diagnosed and misdiagnosed so many times, I don't even know how to explain what it is.  It's a lot like what life is like for my grandma.  He gets lost and his reality isn't what my reality is. It's sad to see his confusion and fear when he know it isn't right, but not knowing what is right.  Sometimes the depression suffocates him in darkness and he can't seem to find a way out except for dying.  Those are the worst times for me.  Sometimes he rages at me, at people, at God, at life, because it isn't fair.  He tries so hard and it doesn't matter.  Like physical illnesses, it doesn't matter if you are a good person or not.  Sometimes life just isn't fair.
     My kids struggle with pieces of this.  Mandy struggles with bipolar disorder.  She fights every day to get the life she wants to live.  I'm just happy the scars she left from years of cutting are healing, both physically and mentally.  Nick struggles with anxiety.  Sometimes it paralyzes him with fear that we will all die, and other times it is in the background with unending dis-ease tainting everything he does.
     This week was a struggle for all of them.  My hope is something good will come of their stories and their lives, not only for them, but for the other people who struggle in life.  I also hope it helps the caretakers.  It is an unexplainable load to carry by yourself.  If you know of someone struggling, I hope you will see them as a person and not their disability.  I also hope you will offer love, compassion, and civility to them.  All of us fight invisible battles.  We don't need to fight each other.
     Sending you much love for sharing the journey.
       
     

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Love Without Conditions

     One of the hardest things about growing up is learning to love people for who they are and not who I want them to be.  It's easy to love someone when they are perfect, and that's why love is so hard for all of us.  We all want to be loved like we are perfect, and we want to love someone who is perfect.  
     I am learning to love without conditions.  Life is too short to put expectations on love.  At the end of our lives, everything else falls away.  There is no time to redo the things you missed, to replace the words you said in anger, to offer the love withheld.  All we have are regrets to what might have been.  
     Love means that you are always loved, especially when you are at your most unlovable.  Love cuts through time and distance.  It heals invisible scars and leads us through the darkest nights.  It is the only thing we can take with us when we return home.  Love is all.
     Imagine the world we would have if we all loved without conditions.  No thought for religion, or appearance, sexuality, gender, race, or any of the other conditions we use to keep us safe from love.  A world with people transformed.  When you are loved without conditions by one person in your life, you become extraordinary.  You can give unconditional love to others in your life.  The love transforms all of us, one person at a time.  
     My wish is for you to be loved unconditionally.  My hope is for you to learn to love the same way.