When KitKat and I launched this blog four years ago, we decided on a posting cadence of biweekly, thinking that between the two of us, we could manage an update to this blog once a week. We met that goal for the first six months and it’s been downhill ever since.
We’re more than two months into the new year and I have yet to post my annual “New Year’s” post, brimming with optimism and resolve. Never fear, I HAVE made a few resolutions and have actually made a fairly drastic change in one aspect of my life: I’ve started a new job that is consuming my thoughts and free time.
This was a big deal for me. When I started at my last job, after leaving the company that KitKat and I worked at together, I thought I would stay there until I retire. With my husband’s Parkinson’s Disease, I was anticipating the need for a flexible work arrangement at some point as his condition required me to provide more assistance. I thought that by building some job equity with my company that they would be willing to work with me on a flexible arrangement when that time came. However, when Oskar’s surgery transformed our daily lives by giving us back his mobility, I realized that I had other options. Although I liked my coworkers and my job (well, most of them, most of the time), there was limited opportunity for me to advance.
Early this year, I accepted a new job. The company and my role are interesting and I’m enjoying it (although fully aware I’m in the “honeymoon period”). But the best part about making the switch was remembering that it’s never too late to make a change. After interviewing, I felt a bit nervous—everything sounded good about the position, but it meant going from a comfortable situation where I knew what I was doing to something unknown. And that scared me a little. Then I decided if I was a bit scared, that was a sign that I should rise to the challenge and accept the job. And KitKat had bravely made a job change a few months earlier and encouraged me to make the leap. So I did.
The day I started, my daughter Lucky sent me a quote from her aunt’s Facebook wall, it read:
“There is no statute of limitations on starting over. Re-invent yourself every day. Be the girl who walks barefoot and listens to the blues. Tomorrow, wear a trench coat and speak fierce truths. Be a phoenix. Be ashes. Burn down. Resurrect. Let go of the idea that you must always be who you have always been.”
Then she added, “You’re about to rise from the ashes…” 😉
I loved that because I needed the reminder—and I loved that my daughter sees me as someone who can continue to evolve and grow, even at my “advanced age” (wink). I think, ultimately, that’s the theme of this blog: KitKat and I reminding ourselves—and each other—that we can be whomever we choose and strive to be our best, truest version of ourselves, regardless of the other claims on us…by our families, our jobs and society as a whole. And encouraging others to be their best, truest selves.
That’s what I want for my children, and that’s what I want for myself. And even though it’s sometimes “easier said than done,” it’s ultimately worth it.
A few years ago, KitKat shared a scary Halloween tale of lost socks and lost patience. This year, I have a scary story of my own. A poor rural Chinese family gives birth to a baby boy. This would usually be cause for rejoicing, but this family already has two children—a school-age daughter and a three-year-old girl. Given the political and economic circumstances in China, they aren’t allowed to have three children, so one of them must go. The older daughter is in school and contributes to the household. Due to a centuries-old tradition, the baby boy will be responsible for supporting the parents in their old age. Therefore, the “logical choice” is the precocious preschooler—the girl with the smile like sunshine whose antics make her parents laugh and delight in her warm, open personality. They’re poor and not able to support all of their children. The girl is malnourished despite being well-loved.
The parents are too heartbroken to part with their darling daughter, so her grandparents volunteer to take care of things. They bring her to the train station. With so many people coming and going, nobody will notice a small child left behind. At least, not right away. Eventually a train station official notices the small girl crying on the platform. She’s looking for Lao-ye and Ye-ye and wondering where they are. The station official gives the frightened child a piece of candy and takes her to his office while he calls the local police. He’s hoping it’s a case of a lost child and not an abandoned one, but his heart tells him otherwise. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, children are going from house to house saying “Trick or treat!” The whole evening is devoted to frightful pranks that aren’t really scary, because they’re only make-believe. However, for the girl back in China, the scenario that’s unfolding is truly frightening.
The girl is taken to the police station where they keep her for three days. They are waiting to see if she is in fact a lost child and merely separated from her family or one of the many unfortunate girls whose family cannot afford to keep her, due to a social system that places responsibility for aging parents on the sons.
After three days in police custody, the officials face the sad fact that nobody is searching for the child. They bring her to the local orphanage where she is given a new identity and a chance for a better life.
KitKat and I are both parents of adopted daughters and the story I just told is my imagined “horror story” of my daughter’s early childhood. Blossom was abandoned on Halloween, so witches and ghost decorations in the stores always make me reflect on this. My daughter turned 21 last November. This is a milestone for any young person, because they are finally recognized as an adult in all respects. But for Blossom, birthdays have always carried a little twist: You see, her birthday was “assigned” to her the day she came to the orphanage.
When we first discovered that, I was a little dismayed. “You mean, we won’t know how old she really is?” I thought. Then, upon reflection I realized this was a pretty trivial matter. After all, she came to the orphanage when she was around three. The orphanage director was a doctor and assessed her as being three years old. In thinking about my (many) nieces and nephews, I realized that the margin of error on predicting a three-year-old child’s age is only +/- six months at best (in other words, you’re unlikely to mistake a six year old for being three) so I figured this was close enough to not worry about it. Her assigned birthday meant she would always be one of the older kids in her class, so that seemed to add a layer of security, ensuring she would be sufficiently mature for the various rites of passage.
Traditionally in China, all children were considered “one year old” at birth and then would age by one year at the lunar new year and on each lunar new year thereafter. So the fact that Blossom’s true age was a little “off” from her celebrated birthday actually seemed to pay homage to her Chinese heritage.
When the orphanage officials brought Blossom in to meet us—her Mama and Baba—for the first time, my immediate reaction was “Oh my God, she’s only two!” Our information had told us she was four-and-a-half, but she was a little peanut and didn’t look older than two. I panicked a bit, because as parents of two other children, we weren’t really expecting to go all the way back to the toddler stage. However, soon after interacting with her, we could see that she was no toddler. For example, she could tie her shoes—and we could tell that she was quite clever in making little verbal remarks (even though they were in Chinese and we couldn’t understand anything she was saying). We asked the orphanage director how confident he was in the age he had assigned to her, and he responded, “She’s four alright—four going on eight!” (referring to her precociousness).
So we had no medical reason to change her birthdate—and I had another more important reason to keep it. With an older “waiting child,” the rules are different than for adopting a typical international baby, thus I had been inquiring into Blossom’s adoption availability, only to be told another family was working on adopting her. For whatever reason, the other couple decided not to proceed, and the day the orphanage called to tell me that she was available to us was on her assigned birthday. So, you see, on that day she was “born” into our family as our next daughter. So in my heart her birthday has always seemed appropriate.
Unlike a lot of adopted children, Blossom has never drilled us for details around her adoption. One of the blessings of adopting a child of another race is it’s a pretty in-your-face move. When you see our family, four Scandinavian Minnesotans with a short Asian girl, it’s clear she’s adopted. Which in many regards, has simplified things. And truthfully, although we’re all well aware that Blossom has a different genetic and cultural background (when her parents are acting too weird, she likes to lord over her siblings the fact that she’s actually NOT genetically predisposed to the weirdness, whereas they are), we don’t really give it a second thought in our day-to-day lives. I knew I would adopt before I ever had biological children, so she was always part of “the plan,” and we’re very much a regular family with all of the idiosyncrasies that brings. I wish I could tell her birth mom that our shared daughter is living a life filled with opportunity that she never could have imagined on that sad Halloween in China. And Blossom acknowledges the uniqueness of her circumstances by wanting to contribute to the betterment of the world in some way. And I know she will. She already is.
Someone recently posted on my Facebook page, “Stormy for President! I’d vote for you…” This made me laugh because I view politics as a necessary evil and generally identify as an Independent. I usually have very little to say on the topic and have only been opinionated this year because a madman is in the race. However, the post got me to thinking: “If I were running for president, what would my platform be? What are my beliefs and how do they define me?”
True to my apolitical roots, I’m going to stay away from foreign policy, gun control, and economics (although I have opinions on all of the above) and, as I’m running an honest, transparent campaign, I’m going to tell you what I really believe.*
It’s never too late– Maybe I’ve watched Scrooge too many times, but I honestly believe that everyone has the capacity to change—and at any time—so long as they want to. I keep hoping that will be the case with my 89-year-old mother, but I’m trying to balance that by having no expectations that she actually will change. That’s a tricky balance.
Find a penny, pick it up. All day long you’ll have good luck– I never walk past a penny on the ground without stopping to pick it up. It’s not that Stormy is cheap, but she is thrifty. At one time lack of finances was a very real issue for me, so I like to remind myself how far I’ve come and remember that it still is an issue for many others. Even if I’m blessed with a comfortable lifestyle, I never want to discount money’s worth—even if it’s a lowly penny—out of respect for those who must save every cent.
He who hesitates…is going to have to wait for me– I adhere to the rules of the road (in most cases) but if we come to a stop sign and you don’t go when it’s your turn, I’m not going to sit around waiting for you. I’m going.
Smart people buy used– There are people out there who think buying used is for “poor people” and won’t purchase anything that’s not in the original packaging. Poppycock. You get way more for your money buying certain items used (cars, clothes, everyday dishes and glasses). I’ve admitted to being a bit of a clotheshorse, but people don’t realize how much I purchase secondhand: Like my cashmere sweaterdress from Neiman Marcus, the Missoni dress I wore to my niece’s wedding reception or my new favorite: The black leather moto jacket I bought from ThredUp. The best thing about buying consignment clothes is you get a preview into how well they will hold up and can get high-quality threads for knock-off prices.
If you’re having a terrible day, end it – No, I’m not advocating suicide…just an earlier bedtime. Occasionally, despite our best efforts, some days just suck more than others…but getting a good night’s sleep can improve your whole perspective.
If you’re having lots of terrible days, do something about it – If your circumstances are making you miserable, change them. Oftentimes, the biggest hurdle standing between you and a positive change is your own attitude. Maybe you can’t make a wholesale life change (like quitting your job) immediately, but you can take steps toward change (like updating your resume or brushing up on a skill that will make you more marketable). If you absolutely cannot deal with your circumstances OR if your life is good but you’re still miserable for some unidentifiable reason, PLEASE SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP.
All things in moderation– Fanatics (of any type) scare the shit out of me, so I stay away from environments that encourage fanaticism (sports play-offs, political rallies). I also try to understand both sides of an issue, because there are very few situations that are as black and white as they first appear. But I’ve found that this moderate approach works for other things as well. Dieting? If you deny yourself your favorite foods, it’s probably just a matter of time before you fall off the wagon. If you satisfy those cravings with a moderate amount of chips (or whatever) on occasion, it may take a little longer to lose the weight, but you’ll be more likely to stick with your overall eating plan.
Big changes start with small steps– There’s power in motion and sometimes great achievements are made through lots of little mundane steps. When I was working toward my bachelor’s degree, I was married and raising small children, while also working part-time. Progress was slow, but 11 years later, I had a degree. That success also led me to earning an MBA a decade later…(Thankfully, it didn’t take a decade to earn that one!) The point is, those achievements were the accumulation of MANY mundane steps, but by sticking with them and keeping my eye on the finish line, I got there. This same principle can be applied to so many things. As Woody Allen said, “80% of success is showing up.”
How about you, KitKat? What does your “platform” look like? (And no, I’m not talking about shoes…)
KitKat Weighs in…
It’s KitKat, remember me? I have been a bit quiet as I adjust to a new job while balancing my normal chaotic family schedule. But, there is nothing like a political debate to pull me out of the shadows. Having divorced parents on two opposite sides of the spectrum, I have grown up listening to opinions shared with extreme passion. I learned that it is ok to express your beliefs, and a good family debate is sometimes a great way to firm up your own convictions and even counts as quality family time.
Though I found Stormy’s expressed beliefs undebatable (including the madman), I thought I better add mine to the ballot. Who knows, she may ask me to be her running mate!
Share the real things– I love seeing everyone’s photos documenting all the bests, but don’t forget to share the other real things too. Friends, acquaintances and even random bloggers, who have opened up or provided self-deprecating humor about struggles with kids, marriage, or other life issues have helped me in ways they will never know. Hey, it is nice to learn you’re not a freak with weird thoughts and emotions that no one else could imagine. It’s not about a bitch sessions. It’s just about being real. Otherwise, we all would just see the snippets from Facebook and wonder why our lives aren’t always made up of countless shiny moments like everyone else.
Shake things up – Try new things, learn new skills, meet new people and make different mistakes. Sometimes my risks are bigger like quitting a safe corporate job to join a start up and sometimes it is as simple as changing my hair color. Shaking things up keeps me awake. “To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose oneself.” – Soren Kierkegaard
Keep moving – Sometimes you just can’t fix a rough day or bad situation, but just physically moving will help get you out of the wallow of self-pity. Twisting your body into different yoga poses. Taking a walk outside. Or my personal favorite: turning on music and dancing. No, it may not fix anything, but it provides a momentary escape from a really crappy day.
(This may sound like a contradiction to Stormy’s “end it” advice but think of it as an alternative to those of us who don’t have the luxury to go to bed early. Stormy and I support all lifestyles.)
Your life isn’t all your own – There are many great readings on how to be happy and do what is right for you. I devour these when I see the posts. Who doesn’t want to grow old knowing they were fulfilled in every way? But the real truth is life isn’t all about you. There are friends, family, kids and even strangers who also count. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices or do things for others that may mean giving up some more selfish choices. Your life is part of a community. People who are there to share in the highs, and pick you up from the lows. Your peeps, those you know or will know, are part of your life and decisions. And that is ok—you need them!
Let childrenbelieve– Soon enough we learn fairy tales don’t always have happy endings. But let them discover that themselves. So at my house Santa and the Easter Bunny are real, or at least nothing any of us question aloud, so they will keep visiting. And of course I was a fairy in my 20s with all kinds of mystical stories to share with my daughter whose deepest wish is to also become one. And, I am going to let my son think he has a solid career plan, being that if he doesn’t get recruited by the NHL or MBL, he came up with the fallback job of being a pro-sports lawyer. No reason to crush his dreams with realistic expectations at 13. Plus, it is fun to hear all the things he is going to buy me when he is rich and famous. Let children believe in the whatever after. I find that going along with their imaginations lets me believe a bit in magic and wish bigger too.
Words count– Words hurt, much more than sticks and stones. The things we are told stick with us. Some of the comments told to us out of anger or disappointment, haunt us later. You may be surprised how much someone held on to words you forgot you spoke. It is ok to be honest and tell people the truth. I advocate for not being passive-aggressive and as I mentioned above, being real. The hard part is to remember to also go back and share when you don’t feel that way anymore or when they have made amends. Words also have power to heal. (This is something I am trying to remember in dealing with my own kids—especially navigating around a temperamental pre-teen.)
Arguing is ok– Simply put, if I am not willing to argue with you, that’s when you know something is wrong. There is passion in caring.
Embrace everything that has shaped you – Everyone has made some choices that they may go about differently given the chance. But it’s not just “right” choices that form the better you. Sometimes it’s the other paths where you learn the most. I may not want my children making some of the choices I did, but I hope they safely make it through some unchartered journeys. Instead of living in a cloud of regret, remember the things gained or experiences had. The skeletons in your closet are also your treasure chest of memories and learnings. For example, the R-rated job I took up in college; sorry Mom and Dad but I am still glad I was dumb enough to make that bad choice. Love all of your story—it is what makes you interesting.
Some things are best left alone – As much as I stand for trying new things and always improving, sometimes we need to realize when we already have something good and just leave it alone. For example, take Swedish Fish Oreos. How could someone take one of the best candies, which I will eat until my teeth actually hurt, and combine it with a favorite classic childhood cookie. You took two greats and transformed it into an awful. Another example is taking a yummy piece of bread and then dipping it in a bowl of creamy tomato bisque. Now you just created wet, and pinkish, bread—gag! (I loved those hot lunch trays in elementary school that kept my foods separate.) Basically, don’t ruin a good thing when you have it.
What do you say, Stormy? Should we throw our hats in the ring? The way most Americans feel about their choices this year, we may actually stand a chance. 🙂
*This list was inspired by another blogger whose work Stormy admires. See the original post here.
Sometime in my early 30s, I had an epiphany about fear. I had wanted to adopt an orphaned child (not an infant) ever since I was a kid myself, but when I finally got to the stage in my life where I could afford the process, I had doubts. I already had two wonderful biological children and a happy marriage. What if I adopted a kid who was deeply troubled and screwed all of that up? This fear was holding me back.
Meanwhile, a guest speaker at church told us about a mission trip she had taken to work with Mother Teresa in India. I won’t describe the story that changed my perspective (I’m sure it would lose something in my retelling) but the upshot of it was I realized I needed to have faith in a good outcome and plunge ahead despite my fear.
Those of you who have met my daughter Blossom know that I was immeasurably blessed by my leap of faith.
A conscious choice to “Be not afraid”
Fast forward a few years to when my husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. A highly individualized illness, some people end up in a wheelchair in five years. Others still work for 15 or 20 years. About a quarter of those diagnosed end up with dementia. There was plenty to fear, but we made a conscious decision to not immerse ourselves too deeply in what “could be” and just focus on what he still could do in the here and now. So far, that decision has served us well, and we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the relatively slow progression of his disease.
I recently was alluding to some challenging family issues, mainly concentrated around my elderly parents, and I’ve determined that the source of these difficulties comes back to this same issue: Fear. My mother is living in fear more and more as she gets older. It’s causing her world to contract and leaving her confused and angry. It’s challenging for her adult children because the fear colors her perception—and our concern about her well-being is interpreted as attempts to take away her freedom.
We have nothing to fear but fear itself… and daycare costs
There are many times our lives require us to overcome our fear in order to move to the next phase: Going away to college, moving out on your own, interviewing for a job, asking someone on a date, proposing marriage, deciding to bring a child into the world, letting your children strike off on their own, learning to trust your adult children, learning to trust that things will work out, and finally trusting that, even when death is inevitable, God is by your side.
Having a baby is a common example. Many young couples fear the responsibility of parenting. With news articles estimating that it will cost a quarter of a million dollars to raise a newborn to age 18, it’s no wonder. Yet most of us plow ahead anyway—adjusting our lifestyles along the way—and consider ourselves the richer for it (even while our bank account takes a nosedive). Which brings me to my next point:
Bad things still will happen on occasion…but you’ll be okay
Living a fearless life doesn’t mean that you’ll experience smooth sailing from that point on. Some of the things you fear may actually come to fruition. But there is power in forging ahead anyway and usually you’ll find that 1) Most of the time the thing you feared doesn’t actually happen, or 2) On the rare occasion the bad outcome occurs, you’ll cope with it the best you can, learn something in the process and feel even stronger when you emerge on the other side. And because you’re now living a fearless life, you’ll view these episodes as infrequent storm clouds in your otherwise sunny life.
Recent terrorist activity seems to have activated our society’s collective fear response and the result is ugly. The birth of this country was not a fear-based decision. Our forefathers (and mothers) had good reason to fear the quest for independence—after all, one man’s revolution is another man’s treason—but the shimmering ideal of a free nation was too enticing not to move forward despite their fears. Most of us lucky enough to be born in this country are here because we have ancestors that didn’t let fear stop them from leaving their homes behind in pursuit of a better life. As we watch our neighbors react to terrorist attacks by proposing fear-based restrictions on innocent people in the name of “protecting ’Merica” let’s remember that nothing could be LESS American.
It’s a bad sign when KitKat asks me, “…any blog ideas?” which happened just this morning. If you look back at our postings, you can see that the longer gaps between posts are when we’re waiting on KitKat. Of course, this is justifiable because she has school-age kids and other obligations that keep her very busy. I have way more time to write. Usually, KitKat’s thrilled to have the blog-ball in my court because it gives her more time to work on her next post. But even she can tell I’m in a serious drought—and when she starts gently prodding me, I know it’s time to settle on a topic and get to work.
It’s not that life has been boring. On the contrary, there have been a lot of serious issues consuming my thoughts lately. However, both KitKat and I have noticed that the more something is on our mind, the harder it is to organize our thoughts on the topic and write about it. Consequently, you’re not going to hear about my challenges with my parents (although I’m sure that will be a future topic), or my thoughts on the recent terrorist activity in Paris (my brain will never be able to organize such a cowardly, inhumane act into a coherent post).
For the last couple of years, ever since my youngest flew the nest, I’ve been aware of a lack of purpose in my life. Raising three kids has been my primary activity for the last 26 years and now that they are largely independent, I’ve felt a void. I’ve been seeking out a volunteer opportunity where I could feel like I was doing something worthwhile and after a couple of false starts, joined a program that provides mentors to unemployed/underemployed women.
My first mentee match was unusual, to say the least. I looked up my match on LinkedIn before meeting her—a native of Zimbabwe, spoke multiple languages, won several scholarships, was working on an advanced degree, had previously been Miss Africa, and had started a couple of businesses and non-profits. I met her and we had a great conversation; however, I wasn’t sure how much I could help her. She was a force to be reckoned with and it was clear she would go far in life. In fact, she made me feel a bit inadequate about my own achievements: I had done far less with far more. We tried to coordinate our mentoring sessions but she had too much going on in her life to meet with me. (She was interested in public policy and had been chosen for an internship with the United Nations—seriously!) So while I was happy to have met such an ambitious young woman, I didn’t get much personal satisfaction from “helping” her.
Enter Ellen, my second match via the mentoring program. As with my previous match, I tried looking her up on LinkedIn beforehand, but there was no profile to be found. We met at a coffee shop. I was surprised to see that she was older than me. And then she told me her story. Her first son had died quickly of a brain tumor at the age of four and that sent her into an emotional tailspin (which anyone who’s a mother can understand). She became divorced and later became pregnant and had another son. She never married the boy’s father but supported him by cleaning houses. (After losing her first child, she wanted to make sure her schedule allowed her to be there for her son, as caring for him was her top priority.) Now her son had graduated from high school and she wanted to find a better paying job with benefits so she could start saving money for retirement.
Now here was someone I could help. We talked about how to translate the skills gained from her house-cleaning business into marketable experience—managing a staff, scheduling, selling her own cleaning products. We talked about online applicant tracking systems and how to best present your information to potential employers. (When I suggested that in addition to completing the online application, she also should attach a PDF of a nicely formatted version of her resume, she asked, “You mean put it on a floppy disk?” That’s when I knew I had my work cut out for me.)
At our next meeting, she excitedly told me about a job interview she had the next day. I told her what I knew about the company and helped her research the position online. I gave her tips on what to do/not do during the interview and stressed the importance of sending a thank you note afterward. Driving home, I thought about how the mentor/mentee relationship was benefitting both of us. Although I have been frustrated with my job of late, from Ellen’s perspective I was living the glamorous life—a well-paying job, an experienced team, global responsibility, fulfilling work—and I was reminded how fortunate I am to have all those things.
Meanwhile, I realized that the value I was bringing to Ellen wasn’t in the employment-seeking pearls of wisdom I was bestowing on her (those could be found in any job-hunting book), but in the faith and encouragement I was bringing her: From my vantage point, she was a strong woman who had overcome a lot of challenges and was willing to work hard. I believed in her success, but she needed encouragement.
At one point she said to me, “There’s no dignity in being a housecleaner” and I immediately disagreed: “You provided for you and your son by doing honest, hard work—there’s plenty of dignity in that!” And hearing it from me, she started to believe it as well.
I’m happy to report that Ellen got the job for which she was interviewing. While it’s starting at the bottom of the company and her shift begins at 3 a.m., she was thrilled to have benefits and hopes to work her way up to a customer service job with regular hours. With some help and support, I have no doubt she’ll get there.
And I gained something from the mentorship as well. I learned that getting out of my own head for a while is as restorative as any vacation—not to mention cheaper—and what I take for granted can make a difference for someone else.
If you haven’t guessed from my lack of blog writing (thank you Stormy for picking up the slack), I am a bit behind on things lately. Usually I am pretty good at keeping up with my overly scheduled life. In fact, I take pride in being able to manage a crazy work and home life while still finding some time to spend with friends and do things I personally enjoy. But right now I am ready for a time-out from everything.
As a hockey parent, it is somewhat expected to feel this crazed right after the holidays. In addition to the normal five days a week, tournaments start and, whenever possible, surprise ice times are thrown in. (The coach’s email is always worded as if we won the lottery by getting even more time on the ice.)
This year, on top of hockey, a few more twists got thrown in. My job got repositioned to report directly to the CEO. This sounded like a positive transition until I realized that all I admired about her—including a constantly active mind—meant that I’d be waking up to email brain dumps each morning.
Plus, hockey isn’t our only activity anymore. My daughter is older and ready to pursue her own interests, so we have tacked on gymnastics. Then, my son thought it was a great idea to add basketball to his winter sports schedule. I did protest this terrible idea, but I only have so much energy left for battling with a middle school kid on a non-critical issue. My time-out for myself is letting him make his own mistakes. (I often am rereading the Top 15 Things Your Middle School Kid Wishes You Knew to keep may sanity in this area, and to remember that (most likely) I don’t have an insane alien on my hands that I am letting flounder.
So, my life after work seems to be figuring out who needs to go where and what to feed them (that’s somewhat healthy) in the short time span we have between activities. Life on the weekends is even more chaotic with added chauffeur duties to multiple games and transporting everyone (but me) to meet up with friends.
This weekend, in addition to having almost every moment of the days booked, I also had three hours scheduled for both Friday and Saturday night for volunteer duty in the penalty box during a girls tournament. (Twelve volunteer hours beyond your own team obligations are required if you don’t want to write a big check at the end of the season.)
It was when my sister asked when I had an hour to meet that I realized that I really had no more time. The only opening was between 2:10 p.m. – 3:00 p.m., if we met down the street from gymnastics. I was not looking forward to this weekend at all.
During my drive on Friday night to the arena, I kept reminding myself that it was just one weekend and then I would have all of my volunteer hours in. I couldn’t remember my rationale for signing up to do it all in one weekend. It seemed like a bright idea the month before. In addition to not being thrilled to spend two weekend nights at a rink when I didn’t even have a son playing, I also was a bit nervous. I hadn’t done penalty box duty before. My son had given me a vague warning to not to mess it up, and I had never really paid attention to that job before. In the past, I had always worked at the concession stand. But as a parent of an older player, I now got the benefit of tips from more experienced parents, who told me penalty box duty is a way easier gig than concessions.
Checking in and heading to the ice, I found the penalty box not quite as small as it looked from the stands. It was actually a warm and comfortable space. As the game started, I also realized I had a great view of the game and was able to hear the scoop on what the coaches were yelling to players on the ice and instructing on as they came onto the bench. It was a different perspective. The few times there was a penalty, I had no worries about missing the clock countdown. The players were on it. One girl even reminded me that I needed to be ready in 20 seconds. I am sure they would have jumped over the gate if I was a second too slow.
Penalty box is considered the box of shame. You know you just left your team down a person and the players left have to cover you in addition to their own roles. (Though sometimes the penalty seems worth whatever the action stopped the other team from doing.) A few texts came through while I was “working.” My family was busy trying to figure out what to do, who could come over, and how to arrange rides between different morning games. I texted back, “I am in the box you will have to manage yourself.” I was finding that this penalty box time-out was worth avoiding the chaos of weekend planning that usually consumes Friday nights.
I sat back and enjoyed the game in my VIP seat by myself with the exception of an occasional player joining me for a minute and a half. It is always at the most surprising times when I find a moment of bliss.
After three hours of doing nothing but opening a door a few times, I came home to a quiet house with everyone asleep or out. I poured myself a drink and started watching a marathon of Grey’s Anatomy Season Five. (I am a bit behind on everything!) Making my evening even better was knowing that I had another “time-out” to look forward to on Saturday night.
The other night my daughter asked, “Were you happy I was your baby? Was I cute?” Granted, she probably suspected that this question would stall bedtime at least another fifteen minutes as I cuddled her and told her the story, again, about how it felt the first time I saw her. The vivid memory of sitting at the Eastern Orphanage in Korea anxiously waiting to meet my daughter. Finally, the counselor pointing to a woman walking in with the most beautiful baby girl on her back … “That is her.”
I have told my daughter (by adoption) and my son (by birth) that there isn’t one of their stories about how I came to be their mother that is more special than the other. They are completely different stories, but both include joy; some pain points; worrisome moments; and the delivery of the most incredible gift, unimaginable love, and biggest responsibility of my life. (The toughest part comes in the work and exhaustion of raising them!)
With two children who came to me in very different ways, it is important to me that I celebrate and share with them their individual stories and how it makes them unique. One part of my daughter’s story that I have shared with her is how she has three different moms who each love her very much. This “mom circle” includes her birth mom, her foster mom and me (her mom). In fact, she was told this story from before she was old enough to even understand the words that I was saying. This story also led to her infamous self-introduction: At the age of four, we were at the first day of swimming lessons. A girl walked up to her and said, “Hi, I have a new purple suit.” My daughter responded, “Hi. I have three moms.”
So with the timing of National Adoption Month and soon to be her seventh birthday, I want to attempt to write a note to her other two moms whom I share with the great honor of this title. Since, I have no way to actually get a letter to them, I decided to blog it. Perhaps they will feel the energy of it. Or someday when we go back to Korea as a family, or if Chloe ever seeks them out, it can be shared. Or maybe, it is purely for me to know that I have recognized them and documented something in their honor. So, with that said, here I go.
Dear Other Two Moms:
First and foremost, I want both of you to know that you are and always will be important to both her and me. You are not forgotten.
Birth Mom, I didn’t know you at all except through a few forms from the orphanage that you filled out which shared some basic information about your life and the adoption decision you made. I haven’t read these to our daughter yet, but I will as she gets older.
Foster Mom, I did meet you. Our last day in Korea when you passed her to us for the final time and watching you say goodbye is etched in my mind. Our daughter loves to look at the photo album you sent with us that chronicles her nine months in your family. One of her favorite photos is of her 100-day celebration.
Secondly, if either of you ever do actually read this, please know it could never be enough or say enough to acknowledge and thank you for the sacrifices you both made that brought her to my life. So perhaps consider it more of a note in time with an update and a few facts about how she is doing.
If our daughter was writing this, I am sure the first thing she would mention is “I can braid!” At the moment, it is what she sees as the most exciting, self-appointed goal she has reached. It has beat out the excitement of learning to read which happened around the same time. Her dolls, herself and me are always adorned with different braided hairdos. She would also be sure to mention that she is going to have a piñata at her birthday, is one of the fastest runners in her class and is also really good at the monkey bars.
Actually, she would go on and on and on. She talks a lot. There have been multiple times where she finally takes a breath and then notices, and comments, that I am not fully listening anymore. I have told her honestly that sometimes I can’t listen as long as she talks. She can wear me out.
She does like to tattle. Her flair for the drama can cause the tiniest touch from her brother to create the loudest wail from her. (Though granted, half of the times the wails are well founded and caused from more than a touch). They have bonded as siblings in the truest form. It is a love/hate relationship. But no one better mess with her but him!
I am working with her on not lying to get out of trouble. “You saw me wrong” or “You heard me wrong” is her usual defense. She does not like anyone to be angry with her. Though it doesn’t stop her from doing things that may make us angry. When she is in trouble, it is usually turned around on us and we are told how we hurt her feelings by being mad.
She dresses herself in crazy, unmatched outfits and gets really sad if you suggest she or her outfit is anything but super cute. She loves Littlest Pet Shop but is “not that into” Hello Kitty anymore. She is proud of being Korean and loves to make and eat Be Bim Bop and Japchae. And, there is nothing quite like being caught up in one of her laughing attacks.
There are many moments in my life with her during which I think of you both. I want to know more about the stories behind the photos we look at together. I often reread the adoption forms hoping to catch something that I missed last time. When I am filling out her medical forms, I want to ask you about her family history or if she had the same reaction to colds when she was a baby. Sometimes, I just want to ask you both to tell me, in your own words, how you made such brave and selfless choices. One of you to give her a life you couldn’t provide and one of you to make sure she was cared for and loved till we would arrive. Both of you having to say goodbye to her. Once in awhile laying in her bed, I close my eyes and wish I could show you how she is doing and hopefully you would feel proud or content in the choices you made and the path you provided her. If nothing else, make you giggle hearing some of her perspectives and comments.
I am not a perfect mom but I love her. I want you to know that you both helped to create an incredible girl. I also want you to know there is no way to be eloquent enough to express all that I would like, nor anyway me to be able to cover the full spectrum of all that is her.
Thank you both for making the decisions you did which provided me the opportunity to be one of the three moms blessed to play a part in her life. I hope she gains strength by having received all of our love different ways and carries it with her always. Please know, I don’t take it for granted that I am the one who received the most with her as a constant in my life, thanks to both of you.
As I tell her every night, I love you to the moon and back.
I am sad. Why? No particular reason. At least none that I can directly point to. I am not even sure if “sad” is the right word. Wistful, blue, blah, wishful, lacking … all I know is don’t call it mad. That is what had me walking out of the house the other night.
I can’t say what set me off. Perhaps my hope, or need, for a fun family dinner to dispel the dark mood cloud I felt settling in. A dinner that instead had my son angrily sticking up for, or throwing a tantrum about, Adrian Peterson. “It’s just what they do in Texas,” (said the boy who may have had four spanks/light swats EVER which left me as the only one hurt, due to my guilt over losing my temper). His only motivation was 11-year -old warped thinking that if he argued his point, miraculously the Vikings would have their star back and win again. Or maybe it was my daughter, who left the table ten times to look at her wiggly tooth (her first one). And then there was my husband who just didn’t pay attention to any of us. I wanted laughter, smiles and talk – a distraction from my looming mood. Basically, a pretend TV family. That was not happening.
I was craving having a feeling – and not the kind of feelings I have been having lately.
I’ve been busy worrying about family members: Breast cancer, undiagnosed but life-affecting illnesses, and a liver laceration (of a child who might as well be family – our kids call each other cousins).
I have also been feeling stressed: busy working at a crazy pace with insane RFP responses added to my already over-packed job (and they’re not a marketing favorite), branding and marketing a friend’s new hair salon, and exploring a little side business idea.
Add on to that, dealing with raising a middle schooler and his Jekyll and Hyde emotions.
Maybe my need for the “right” feeling was brought to the surface from the heartbreaking tragedy of a school mom who died in her sleep a few days before. Maybe that is what kicked up the dust, woke me up in the midst of being lost in the hecticness, and made me want to feel something special. Or, perhaps it was just plain and simple craziness. Or it could be my hormones. (I have hit the age where I can blame them for everything). All I know is I needed to laugh. I needed to feel pure joy. I needed to enjoy. I was needing one of those moments of bliss like girls’ night at the cabin, sisters drinking wine on a Sunday, or dancing would give me. I’d had a taste of it recently – a couple of hours with my stepmom and sister just laughing in the kitchen together. But I needed more of that silly stuff that makes the rest of it all worthwhile.
With dinner not going as planned, and my family not giving me what I needed (admittedly it was a losing battle for them before it started), I got distant. Annoyed. Bummed. Resentful. I can’t tell you exactly where it escalated, but basically the words “I can’t do anything without you getting mad. Nothing I do is right,” were the final words muttered to me that set me off. I stood up and left the house without a word.
I walked and walked. I tried to sort through what was wrong. I just knew I was missing something. I stopped and had ice cream. (That helped a little – simple pleasures). Then I walked some more. My head was reeling with how to fix it.
Nothing came and two hours later I went back. My daughter was still wiggling her tooth in a mirror. The guys were each on a couch (squishing my pillows!) and I walked upstairs without saying a word and went to bed. My drama basically unnoticed by anyone else.
It’s a new day – starting with the announcement of a missing tooth. “This is such an exciting day!” squealed my six year old. Decidedly a new attitude was needed from me too. So along with my Daily Love dosage, I added on another cheesy self-love prescription and decided to take the advice to write three things I am thankful for today.
I am thankful for the smile from my beautiful daughter with her first tooth missing.
I am thankful for reading that my son did notice I was upset and texted “you ok? coming home? love you.”
I am thankful for all of the special people who have made me smile and laugh in so many different and wonderful ways, that I miss it when I am down.
Damn, this stuff works. I am smiling at the flood of fabulous memories. I found a natural happy pill. And I’m not crazy – I just like to smile.
The end of August means two things to a Minnesotan: Back to school and State Fair time! Given my kids are grown and my one college-age daughter doesn’t need help choosing a backpack or new shoes, it’s all about the fair for Stormy. Generally speaking, there are two kinds of people—those who love the fair and those who…inexplicably…don’t. Despite the many commonalities between KitKat and myself, this is one area where we part ways. However, with this season passing at warp speed and many of the items on mysummer checklist going unchecked, this was one opportunity I wasn’t going to let pass by.
The Great Minnesota Get-Together has been located in St. Paul since 1885. It’s where Teddy Roosevelt introduced his foreign policy to “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” It’s where 85 lbs of butter are carved into the likeness of a dairy princess. It’s an event memorialized by F. Scott Fitzgerald in “A Night at the Fair.” It’s a place where half a million corn dogs are consumed each year. It’s an institution. It’s nirvana.
People might tell you that they go to the State Fair for the exhibits, for the entertainment, for the animals—and there’s some truth to that—but make no mistake: They really go for the food. While many Minnesotans are pretty conservative in their dining habits, that’s all tossed out the window at fair time when deep fried pickles, cheese curds, alligator on a stick, beer gelato, deep fried Twinkies, deep fried Snickers (really, anything deep fried or on-a-stick), is the order of the day. In our six hours at the fair last weekend, Blossom and I had Reuben bites, an apple dumpling with ice cream, a beer (just me), walleye mac ‘n’ cheese, candied almonds, a prime rib taco, Sweet Martha’s chocolate chip cookies, all-you-can-drink milk (Blossom), a wine slushie (me again), and a roast turkey sandwich. (After too much indulgence, I always crave a turkey sandwich. I guess it’s supposed to signal my tummy that the smorgasbord is over and it’s time to return to sensible eating.)
The fair has lots of free acts and whenever you need to sit down and take a break, there’s sure to be a performance to watch. We watched the CAAM Chinese Dance Theater perform, which reminded me of the performance given to us by the children at Blossom’s orphanage when we adopted her. Later on, we caught the “dock dog” competition of the lumberjack show. Walking by the grandstand, we noticed throngs of teenage girls whipped into a frenzy over a teen duo, “Jack and Jack.” You’d think it was the Beatles, In Sync or New Kids on the Block appearing during their peaks. I hadn’t heard of them, but (surprisingly) neither had Blossom—more evidence that she’ll be exiting her teen years in a couple of month’s time. But the vast array of performers begs the question: Where else can you see Chinese dance, leaping dogs and boy bands in the span of an afternoon?
There’s plenty to see if you embrace the randomness of it all. We saw homemade scarecrows (one of them entered by my kids’ former teacher), some amazing crop art (what some people can do with seeds!) and a whole gallery of really good “amateur” art. Usually the animal barns are another highlight, but for some sad reason, when we visited this year most of the barns were closed for cleaning or some other bogus reason. We were able to see the horses, but had to pass on the cows, bunnies and the World’s Largest Pig. The midway is another prime attraction for those who like to live dangerously, although my favorite ride—the double Ferris wheel—was missing this year, so we skipped the rides. But everyone would agree that the best activity at the fair has got to be people-watching. You can see politicians, local newscasters and other minor celebrities, but the regular folk provide the real entertainment. Much like Vegas, they shed their inhibitions and exhibit behavior they would eschew in their more respectable daily lives—standing in long-lines for yardsticks, donning silly paper hats, eating foot-long hot dogs at 6:00 a.m.
Even if you’re a seasoned shopper, you’ll find something unique at the fair. This year, I bought a cool Indian-motif tank top and Blossom bought a handmade necklace. It’s also the motherlode for items you never knew existed, but soon learn you can’t live without. Case in point: My d’marie Frappe Vino frozen cocktail fusion. This purchase alone will have KitKat rethinking her State Fair ban. Take one box of mix, a bottle of cheap wine, a gallon Ziploc freezer bag and 3-5 hours later: Voila! A delicious wine slushie. (Purchase three boxes and they throw in a free slushy—guess how many boxes I bought?)
Unlike Stormy, I am still in the stage of back-to-school preparations. And as tedious as it is searching for the exact supplies listed for each of my children’s classes, I would choose that over a trip to the State Fair. Every year when the State Fair arrives I listen to co-workers, friends and even strangers in stores and restaurants mapping out their plans for their fair visit. Often these plans include not just one but multiple days, which means it isn’t just an obligation, they have to do for their kids or as a Minnesota “thing.” I have sucked it up a few times to give my kids the State Fair experience I hear they deserve, but for the past few years I have turned over the chore to my husband. I have experienced no guilt at all about missed family time. I am content, actually thrilled, to know I have relinquished all responsibility to attend the fair.
Stormy does sell a good story, and I will pay the wrath of the fairgoers, but let me provide you the fair experience from my perspective.
Granted, there are always interesting items and I love to learn about each year’s newest food vendors. The Business Journal’s article on fair food had me wanting to try a beer gelato and cringing at the walleye mac & cheese. (Yes, mac & cheese is another item on which I differ from the majority of the population by my dislike for it. There is NO way to make it taste good.) But I do enjoy exploring the odd menu options from the comfort of an iPad on the couch. For actually eating any good food available (like the Cajun lobster rolls or prime rib tacos), I want to be able to sit and enjoy it in a cool atmosphere. As for the historical walking fair food, often on a stick, I am not a fan. For example, the popular cheese curds that taste like greasy rubber bands. Or all-you-can-drink milk, by a barn and in the heat: Yuck. I am not above greasy fries or warm chocolate chip cookies but I much prefer to abuse my calorie intake while not standing in line, being bumped and pushed by crowds, and paying triple for the so-called experience.
This may be the one area where I will give kudos to the fair. I did see both Def Leppard and B.B King there. Not often does my weird, eclectic taste get catered to. Though it would be a hard sell to get me to any concert playing there now, knowing the price (and I don’t mean monetary) that I pay for that entertainment. I also don’t mind the skate park. I actually enjoyed some of the stunts (for a few minutes) and as my son was entertained for a long period of time, I escaped for 20 minutes of walking and enjoying a beer—my one moment of fair bliss.
My first memory of a fair activity is being convinced that the haunted house was fun and not to be missed. I knew I didn’t enjoy being intentionally scared in any setting. But, I caved to peer pressure and went in. A few minutes into the haunt, I refused to take a step further and had to be walked out a side door so the crowd of fairgoers could continue the haunted tour. Returning in later years as a mom, our activities revolved around the animal barn and The Midway. I would walk through the animal barns feeling sorry for the animals and me. Growing up with summer visits to an actual farm, I knew we all were happier in that environment. As for The Midway, it simply consists of carnival rides and games. The insane ticket prices cover a shorter time on the same rides that can be found at our community carnivals. The games consist of me helping lug an assortment of prizes (won by my son’s uncanny ability to win the basketball shooting games) through a crowded fair. Again, I would prefer the small community carnival that does the same job with less people to maneuver through with a giant stuffed dog in my arms.
Actually, my first experience of the fair, at least that I remember, was working my uncle’s dollar booth. (My mom obviously shared my fair dislike.) I worked in the Merchandise Mart selling all kinds of trinkets for a dollar. On breaks, I would wander to discover more junk. I was the only sibling who worked for only one season. The next summer I got a job in a small clothing boutique at Southdale Mall.
So again this year, I will pass on the fair. Happy to wave my family off for their Minnesotan obligation as I watch The Notebook again without being made fun of. Though, I will ask them to grab me one of the wine slushie things Stormy mentioned.
Well if you had any clue from my lack of recent blogs, summer so far hasn’t been as relaxing as I imagined. My fantasies of taking advantage of the long, sunny days … or at least nights after work … were quickly ended by what it really means to have kids running “free range.” School activities, hockey, and homework were swapped for random camp times, baseball, and kid swaps in my work parking lot for play dates. Add in random sitter issues (saved one week by Stormy’s daughter, Blossom), and summer has turned out to be more chaotic than the school year.
Granted, I could have signed my kids up for a full-time day camp catering to working parents. But, my working mom guilt often gets the best of me. Why shouldn’t they enjoy these summer months of freedom? I sure miss having a summer break!
So what my kids would describe as a fun summer filled with sleepovers and
sleeping in, has been mass chaos for me. No routine and every week requires a new battle strategy of who to get where and when. My tipping point was last week. A situation where I knew (standing in the bushes in my heels), that I needed some summer enjoyment too.
How did I end up in the bushes? It was my week as a camp driver. We only signed up for “specialty camps,” which means camps kids like but which have no convenience or scheduling around a working parent’s needs. (I will need to do another blog on why everyone else gets what they want, yet I seem to starve myself from all my needs. Even the eyelashes are gone!) Anyway, this week of specialty camp I worked from home in the morning and then took a group of kids to tennis before heading into the office at noon. (I have no idea how parents manage it without a flexible work schedule). One morning I had a conference call for an important pitch. I told the kids that I would be giving hand signals when it was time to be sprayed with sunscreen, grab their racquets and bags, and head to the car. I was proud of myself for organizing it all, including having lunches packed and backpacks lined up in front of the door before the call. The first ten minutes went great. The kids were quiet … which should have been my first warning of upcoming disaster. As I was talking, I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to see my daughter mouthing “sorry” and pointing at the window. Somehow she had knocked out the boards bracing our window air conditioner unit. I was looking at a gap in the window and the air conditioner rocking on the ledge. Throwing the phone on mute, I ran outside. The rest of my call was done on speaker and muted unless I was forced to speak. I stood in the bushes holding up the air conditioner with my phone resting on the window ledge and my other hand trying to jimmy rig the boards to hold the unit in place till we could do a permanent fix after work.
That night, I realized I have been so busy juggling a full-time job and kids running loose that I basically missed the first half of summer. Our “no routine” had us crazier than our over-scheduled winter. It was time to make up for the lost summer. Which meant another list! Yes, my kids groaned as I asked them to make lists of what they wanted to do before summer ended. I was determined to do at least one thing on each list this weekend. KitKat determination took hold. No matter what it took or what hurdles needed to be jumped, I would do some summer activities. I do realize that I work best in chaos and a crunch, even when the task is finding time to relax.
Number one on my son’s list was to catch fish. So we drove up to the cabin Saturday morning and spent the day fishing. The fish even complied with our list, and we had a great day. One item done and I actually relaxed. Hard not to, with a pole in one hand and wine in the other, plus a son who would bait my hook and take off any catches.
I had decided to drive back that night with my daughter, so we could check an item off her list on Sunday. We left father and son at the cabin for a full fishing weekend.
I skipped past number one on her list, Chuck E. Cheese, and chose one further down—which was shopping at the farmers’ market. We had a slumber party in my room Saturday night and in the morning I surprised her with money for the excursion. She made sure to spend every penny. She loves nothing better than to pull out cash and pay for a frivolous item. After a summer of giving up things or putting them on the back burner (well, trying), I had just as much fun buying whatever suited me at the moment.
All in all, it was a jam-packed SUMMER weekend. I ended it sitting outside and watching my daughter and neighbor kids on the Slip & Slide as I looked up things to do in Duluth for a moms and sons trip planned at the end of August (another check off the list). I still had cleaning to do and hadn’t finished my list of dinners for the week but was determined to take a moment to do nothing but enjoy the weather (another item on my list), which I plan to make time for at least once a week.
“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under the trees on a summer day, listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the blue sky, is by no means waste of time.” – Sir John Lubbock
After fully enjoying my summer weekend, I think I am ready to battle another summer workweek. Including managing the text I just received that my sitter has two days she can’t cover.