Category Archives: Relationships

An unexpected Christmas Present

The other day, I was reading Facebook and my daughter Lucky posted a video clip from the musical “Scrooge”—a holiday favorite in our house. Along with it, she posed this tongue-in-cheek challenge to herself:

Personal goal: To reach (Ghost of) Christmas Present levels of combining a jovial and uplifting attitude with being generally insulting.

Although I don’t aspire to insulting anyone, striving toward a “jovial and uplifting attitude” sounded like a fine idea.

Last year, I wrote about the lessons I learned from the Ghost of Christmas Past, but this year Lucky’s post made me think about the lessons I could learn from the Ghost of Christmas Present.

If there’s one thing living with my husband’s Parkinson’s has taught me, it’s the importance of living in the moment, but I’m notoriously bad at this. I’m constantly looking into my future through a negative lens. I’ve had a really tough year at work and was so busy I couldn’t take much vacation time. Since we have a use-it-or-lose-it policy, I found myself with 16 consecutive days off and decided to use this time to really live in the present and enjoy both my family and the holidays.

On my first day of “vacation,” we had plans with my sister and her husband to see one of my husband’s former co-workers whose band does an annual holiday concert. We had seen them years before, so I knew they were a good band—but I knew the concert itself would be challenging for my husband who has trouble standing for long periods or navigating through crowds when his meds aren’t working. But he was game to go, so we bought tickets and I hoped for the best.

We got to the rented hall, turned in our tickets, had our hands stamped and were given a red Solo cup for pop or keg beer. My brother-in-law said it reminded him of a college kegger, and the atmosphere was equally festive. There were ugly Christmas sweaters, sequins, Santa hats and light-up jewelry. The security staff was very friendly, and everyone was filled with holiday spirit—as well as spirits of another kind (in addition to the beer and pop, people could also bring in their beverage of choice). However, all of the tables and chairs were already full of partygoers who had arrived early enough to grab a space.

PopbangWith the first song, the dance floor filled. My husband promptly (and predictably) announced that his meds were cutting out on him and he needed to find a wall to lean against. This was the dark cloud hanging over the evening and I felt a bit defeated—here was another potentially fun evening that was going to be ruined by Parkinson’s. Luckily, we found a space among the empty benches lining the walls of the hall and we set up our base there. With a raised ledge that was wide enough to sit on, it was ideal. It was possible to sit comfortably and still see the band and the dance floor. My sister and her husband headed to the dance floor, but since dancing is nearly impossible for my spouse, I was resigned to sitting it out.

However, the band was just too good for me to remain sullen, and the various “spirits” were taking effect. My feet were tapping, my body was swaying and the next thing I knew, my brother-in-law had dragged me out to the dance floor. From that point on I embraced the present by channeling my past. I partied like my 21-year-old self the rest of the night. I danced with my brother-in-law, I danced with my sister and I even managed a slow dance to “our song” with my husband. We stayed til the very end of the party and then grabbed a bite to eat afterward.

By deciding to accept the gift of Christmas Present, I had a surprisingly good time. But how many potentially fun moments had I missed by worrying about the future instead of living in the present? This is one Christmas lesson I need to remember all year long: If I like life, life will like me.

Stormy finds her “happy pill”

A couple months ago, KitKat posted a blog whose title caught my eye: Looking for a happy pill. This phrase jumped out at me because I’d been doing the same. But unlike KitKat’s metaphorical search, mine was literal. This wasn’t an overnight decision. As I mentioned in an early post, I was raised by WWII-era parents. One of the legacies of my upbringing is a strong sense of personal responsibility. In other words, if something was bothering me, I should just “quit whining and figure it out.” Therefore, my view of mental illness in general and depression in particular was that the only time medication was warranted was if the individual couldn’t manage to pull things together on his/her own.

dancing_drugsFast-forward to this past year. As readers of this blog, you know I haven’t hidden my struggle with the changing dynamics in my life—my husband’s illness, my kids leaving home, a frequently stressful job, aging parents, etc. But throughout it all I kept trying to will myself to keep a proper perspective (I’m still more fortunate than most of the world’s population, after all) and not dwell on things I can’t change. Despite this, I found myself sinking further into… persistent… unhappiness. It wasn’t full-out “depression” the way I had always thought of it (not being able to get out of bed, suicidal thoughts, etc.) but I found that things I could formerly let roll off my back were bothering me—a lot. Whereas I would normally be driven to tears once or twice a year, I was finding myself crying weekly. And I found myself raging against loved ones at little provocation. Basically, I felt like I was losing it, and I worried that if I couldn’t get a grip, I’d risk my job, my sanity, my friends and my family.

We're all madI explained it to my therapist this way, “I’ve lost my resiliency.” I asked for his opinion on whether he thought anti-depressants would help and when he said yes, I responded that maybe I’d wait until the fall to consider a prescription (thinking I’d really need it when the weather turned cold). He challenged me on that—why would you wait when something could potentially make your life better? We talked through my bias against medication and my general control-freak nature, but at the end of it all, his case was compelling and I made a consultation with someone who could prescribe the required meds. After talking with her and explaining how I reacted to various “triggers,” she commented, “You have a lot of stressors in your life—actually, I’m amazed you made it this long without needing something.” This made me feel better about embracing better living through chemistry. She made a recommendation that she thought would best address the combination depression/anxiety I was experiencing and gave me a low-dose prescription.

At home that night, I read up on the medication and my concerns came creeping back. The drug required a slow ramp up and had a long list of potential side effects. Yet, at that point, the potential gains still outweighed the drawbacks, so I swallowed the pill—both figuratively and literally.

My experience with mind-altering substances is limited to alcohol and caffeine, so I didn’t know what to expect. When you take something that is supposed to affect your brain, it’s natural to analyze every feeling and thought—is this me or is this the medication?—I asked myself a dozen times a day. I felt a bit “spacey,” but knew it may have been my imagination since I was told it would take at least three weeks for the medication to take effect.

Eventually, I determined that I had noticed a subtle improvement in my outlook. It was by no means a “magic pill,” and my biggest concern—that the drugs would alter my core personality—was unfounded. I was the same person and the same things made me upset, only I had my resiliency back. Minor setbacks didn’t drive me to tears. I was able to put things in the proper perspective and deal with things without falling apart.

I wished I had sought treatment months before, instead of buying into the notion that medication would be taking the easy way out. However, I ultimately decided I’d rather seek help and be happy than be self-sustaining and miserable. After all, when I think about my mother (who has been moody and challenging for as long as I can recall) I wonder if maybe she doesn’t have a serotonin imbalance?

Funny-crazy-peopleYet, even after gaining a clear benefit from the drugs, it wasn’t something I wanted to broadcast (after all, it’s one thing to have people think you’re a little crazy and it’s another to give them proof). 😉

Then what has changed? Obviously, if I’m making this a blog topic my perspective has shifted and I can tell you when that happened. In mid-August, I was mourning the death of Robin Williams—along with the millions of other people whose lives he’d touched with his exceptional warmth and humor—when I learned that he had recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. A disease my husband has had for more than a decade. I think our thoughts about this news were the same: This disease we live with every day was the thing that tipped his depression over the edge. That was an incredibly sobering thought. It made me realize that it’s impossible to know what other people are dealing with, so I thought if I could admit to a little bit of craziness myself, maybe it would make it easier for someone else to seek treatment if they need it. So there you go. I’m a little bit crazy. Crazy like a fox.

Reflections of an “innie” in an “outie” world…

I just got done with an 11-hour strategic brainstorming session with a client and my brain is mush. Now, let me explain that I’ve met all of the attendees before, this is a client I like, and the ideas we were discussing were interesting to me. Nevertheless, I’m completely exhausted.

Why? I’m an introvert. And trying to be “on” all day has resulted in the depletion of my energy. Worse, I had something on my mind that was troubling me—nothing to do with anyone in the room—but for someone who wears her emotions on her face, it required overcompensation to not look as though I was bothered by any of the topics we were discussing.

introvert-not-shyThis introversion comes as a surprise to a lot of people, because I’m not necessarily lacking in self-confidence and people don’t think of me as “shy.” For example, I once gave a sermon at church—something I know many people would be terrified to do—and was fine with getting up in front of a bunch of friends and strangers and expounding on the topic of faith. Yet, this sermon was delivered by the very same person who religiously avoids going to parties if I don’t think I’ll know anyone but the host.

I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I wanted to be invited to my friend’s slumber parties, but I didn’t really want to actually go to them. I remember one time when I was trying to leave a friend’s house after an afternoon of playing together. She wanted to continue our games, but I was completely drained by all of the togetherness. I needed to go home and read a book or something and literally begged her (an extravert, clearly) to let me leave.

Because of this tendency toward introversion, people who don’t know me tend to think I’m aloof and unfriendly. That’s not true, however. I just detest small talk and polite conversation for the sake of filling the silence. Cocktail parties find me either talking to a small group of people I know or staring at my phone pretending I just got an important text or email to which I must respond.

On the other hand, once I know you and trust you, you’ll have trouble shutting me up. Heck, if I’m comfortable and in a sociable mood, I can be downright chatty. (My dad lovingly called me “Motormouth” as a teen—a name that I’ve used to describe my daughter Lucky once or twice.) However, even in these discussions I disdain small talk and usually prefer talking about Things That Matter over sports and weather.

In fact, those who know me well can attest to the fact that I rarely hold back my opinion and enjoy engaging in a lively debate. This can make people uncomfortable—particularly when you come from the land of Minnesota Nice. However, there’s usually no hostility involved. I just appreciate a well-articulated argument. In most people, these traits add up to an outgoing nature, so many of the people who  have observed me in these situations are surprised to learn that being in groups for too long can suck the life out of me if I don’t get a chance to recharge.

As a working parent of young children, I’d try to step  outside of my comfort zone and chaperone a field trip once or twice a year. (Here’s a tip for the rookies: Choose a play over the zoo, it’s much easier to chaperone kids when they’re sitting still.) But as much as I enjoyed getting a peek into my child’s school life, these outings always left me horizontal on the couch for several hours afterward, lying in the dark with a glass of wine, repeating to myself: “Must…recover….sanity…”

But part of being an introspective, introverted grown up is realizing these things about yourself, so I know when I’m being “taxed” by too much extraversion and need some alone time to recharge. My husband understands this, too. For example, there was always a predictable point on a family trip—the epitome of togetherness—where I’d declare “I need to be by myself for a while.” (In my defense, we didn’t have cable TV at home, so my kids viewed any stay in a hotel room as their chance to have a Nickelodeon marathon. By the third day of this cartoon smorgasbord, I felt like an Animaniac myself.) But my patient, indulgent husband would grant me temporary asylum and hold down the fort while I abandoned him at the Embassy Suites with three squirrelly kids watching Pinky & The Brain.

One of the most challenging places to deal with an introverted nature has been at work. Marketing and Sales teams are heavily comprised of extraverts. So, since that’s where I’ve spent most of my career, I’ve had to convince each new set of coworkers that I’m not unfriendly or stuck up, I just work more effectively on my own (with input and review at appropriate intervals, of course). Just don’t ask me to create a PowerPoint while a group of sales people sit around me throwing out ideas. These same folks can toss ideas back and forth all they want and I’ll sit and patiently listen. And, then I’ll go back to my quiet little office and try to make sense of it all. Trust me, you’ll have a writingbetter end product letting the introvert get her way. Being a manager of people has been challenging as well, since most introverts gravitate toward individual contributor roles. My marketing team may tell you I’m not the most nurturing boss, but (I hope) I make up for that by working very hard, looking out for their best interests and advocating on their behalf.
While I am probably a bit atypical as an introvert—I think most of them are “quieter” than me—I’ve noticed that Facebook gives introverts a way to recognize and acknowledge each other in a heavily extravert-oriented society. The Internet has numerous “quizzes” a person can take to determine where they fall on the introversion/extraversion scale, and it’s been interesting to learn via Facebook just how many friends and acquaintances are introverts trying to adapt to an extraverted world…like me.

Introvert4In my family, four-out-of-five of us are introverts (on the other hand, my youngest daughter, Blossom, could be the Poster Child for Extraverts), so adaptation is the name of the game. But I’m encouraged by the increased awareness around the differences of introverts and extraverts. It’s a positive step toward gaining acceptance—or at least understanding—for those of us who are otherwise too easily misunderstood.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking for a happy pill

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.

Click to watch my version of fun family dinner

Click to watch my TV version of family dinnerblack-play-button

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.

Nothing like starting a day a few bucks richer

Nothing like starting a day a few bucks richer

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.

  1. I am thankful for the smile from my beautiful daughter with her first tooth missing.
  2. I am thankful for reading that my son did notice I was upset and texted “you ok? coming home? love you.”
  3. 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.
A moment of bliss in NY with my special people

A moment of bliss in NY with a couple of my special people

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.

Running away from home… Cali style

As I mentioned in my last post, KitKat’s tale of Vegas fun inspired me to schedule a trip with my two best girls—my darling daughters. The impetus for the trip was to use an airfare credit my youngest had, and the premise was visiting a high school friend who had moved to LA a few years earlier. However, as I mentioned in my last post, the real motivation was trying to regain my sanity by getting out of my frenetic rut and spending some quality time with my girls.

First of all, I was just pleased that my daughters wanted to travel with me. It’s true I was paying for everything except the one plane ticket, but even so, I can’t imagine myself at that age wanting to take a trip with my mother to visit one of her friends—or at any age, for that matter. Our tastes are just too different.

I’d never taken a trip with just my girls before, but from our family excursions I knew that traveling with Lucky (22) and Blossom (19) would be akin to vacationing with The Odd Couple. Indeed. To illustrate my point, we were leaving on an early Thursday a.m. flight, so I asked my girls to drive home from their respective cities Wednesday afternoon with everything packed. Blossom arrived two days early to babysit for KitKat (whose regular summer sitter was unavailable) and had her suitcase ready and waiting in the living room the day before. Felix Unger all the way.

Lucky started the long drive home on Wednesday afternoon, forgot her contact lenses, realized it an hour into the drive, returned to her apartment to get them, and finally made it down to our house at about 9 p.m. on Wednesday night—a bit bedraggled and with a suitcase full of dirty laundry that still needed to be washed. Clearly our Oscar Madison.

Both girls were ready by the appointed time on Thursday morning, though. So after a quick trip through the security lines, we were sitting on the tarmac, waiting for stormy weather to pass. We touched down a bit late at LAX and got our rental car. Blossom (our Felix) was my human GPS. She pulled up all of our destinations on her smartphone and gave me real-time directions out of the rental car area and smoothly onto one of LA’s infamous multi-lane freeways toward my friend’s house. (Her quick-draw-with-an-app skills also came in handy later, when we were looking for a pharmacy and grocery store.)

I already knew my girls would click with my high school friend. Dot is just one of those people who can make friends with anyone—because she is interested in everyone and everything. In fact, her pseudonym comes from her role in a high school performance where she played an Uber-Geek with complete and utter commitment (something the self-conscious Stormy wouldn’t have been able to accomplish at 16). As Lucky said after meeting her, “I love her. She just radiates positive energy.” Not a bad sort to hang out with 😉 which is good, because that was our plan: An unstructured vacay comprised of some cheesy Hollywood/LA type of activities and lots of hanging out.

That first afternoon we hung out at Dot’s pool and plotted the rest of our visit. We decided to tackle Universal Studios the next day. Since Lucky graduated with a film degree and Blossom was deprived of the Disney Experience bestowed upon her older siblings, it seemed like a clever way to kill two birds with one stone. Or in my case, entertain two diverse daughters with several hundred dollars in admission and overpriced burgers.

Universal Studios was a blast. It had been a long time since I had been to an amusement park, and I was amazed by what can be done with computer generated special effects. Likewise, the studio tour was fun—spotting familiar scenes like the town square from Back to the Future (a favorite movie for our family of Michael J. Fox fans). Throughout the day, I was acutely aware that it would have been a very different experience with my husband. The crowds, long lines and sprawling theme park would have been challenging for him to navigate. It was fun to have the freedom to explore all parts of the park and not be worried about wearing out my spouse.

That evening, we went to the Hollywood Fringe Festival to see one of Dot’s friends perform. It was a sweet, engrossing play and our front-row seats put us nearly on stage in the tiny theater. After spending all day at the theme park, we were a bit tired. But since we were trying to pack as much as we could into a short vacation, we were glad we were able to catch this unique performance during our trip.

Lucky was inexplicably delighted to discover Nicholas Cage's handprints. Yes, Nick Cage.

Lucky was inexplicably delighted to discover Nicholas Cage’s handprints. Yes, Nick Cage.

The next day was our “tourist” day. We went into Hollywood to see the famous sign (from a distance), tour the Walk of Fame and people watch. Afterward, we drove to Santa Monica and had a late lunch on the pier. Lucky was excited to play in the ocean—she couldn’t recall the earlier Disney trip to Florida that Blossom missed and had no real memory of swimming in the ocean as a child. After a long day, we got home early in the evening, but Lucky wasn’t ready to call it a night just yet. She said, “You know, if I was on vacation with my friends, we’d probably go to a club or something.” I said, “You know, if I was traveling with my friends, we’d probably do the same thing.” So Lucky determined we should go back to Universal and explore the “City Walk” portion of the park—which is basically shops and restaurants and rather reminiscent of our own third-floor Mall of America. And Blossom, being Blossom, was happy to go with the flow.

hiking_LASunday was our last full day, and after the previous two jam-packed days, we decided to dial it down a bit. We texted Dot in the a.m. to see if she wanted to go hiking, and she led us on a beautiful trail up in the hills. Afterward, we hung out in her pool again, where Blossom (my usually practical child) learned you shouldn’t try to scoop a bee out of a swimming pool with your bare hand.

Dot is married to an actor. He’s not Brad-Pitt-with-paparazzi-hiding-in-the-bushes famous, but he’s recognizable, respected and steadily working…while still able to live a pretty normal life. (Which, when you think about it, is probably the level of success one should strive for, if one goes into that business.) He joined us at the pool where the girls got a big kick out of talking with him and realizing that—even though they’ve seen him in multiple TV roles—he’s a pretty normal guy, all in all.

Later that afternoon, we drove through Topanga Canyon and up the coast to Malibu to meet my husband’s sister and her husband for a seaside dinner on the deck at Duke’s. Lucky ordered King Crab legs and kept her eye out for dolphins and whales (no luck spotting them, though). I had fish tacos and the house specialty—a Mai Tai. It was fun catching up with my sibs-in-law, and I was envious that what was a vacation outing for us was just another Sunday night for them. Our Minnesota summer has been turbulent from the start, so the consistently 80-and-Sunny LA weather was mighty attractive.

Oh those vacation romances! Meet Blossom's new boyfriend...

Oh those vacation romances! Meet Blossom’s new boyfriend…

On our last day, our agenda centered around going home: Get up, shower, pack, hang out by the pool for an hour, have lunch, return the rental car and check in at the airport. (Can you see my control-freak side rearing its head?) I had timed out how long we had for each activity, but Lucky (Oscar) wasn’t operating on my timetable. We got into a bit of a tiff about it…the result of too much togetherness, I think. The fact is, I could travel with Blossom for a year and experience nary a kerfluffle—we’re just that compatible, and she’s a great traveling companion. On the other hand, Lucky and I are not much alike in terms of our hobbies, but we’re emotional twins. I’ve just been on the planet longer that she has, so I’ve learned how to fake my confidence. It frustrates me to see her wrestle with the same insecurities I had at her age when I know—KNOW!—that she has such strength and competence and intelligence inside of her. But I also realize she has to figure that out for herself, so I apologized to her once we were both in a better mood.

We arrived home tired and slightly crabby, but with some fun memories to carry us through the next long winter. All in all, the trip was a success. Not only for me getting a rare chance to spend time with my darling girls, but for being able to take a “vacation” from Parkinson’s—something, sadly, my husband can’t do. I think there are more such forays in my future (as long as I’m paying). After all, there’s some truth to this adage:

If momma ain't happy

Because I know that when I’m happy, everyone around me is happier, too. I just hope Lucky learns this lesson sooner than I did. And, more importantly, realizes that her happiness is in her hands.

 

Baby bird gives mama bird lessons in flying solo

I’ve mentioned in a few posts how my youngest has flown the nest and how this has left me in a bit of a free fall. After spending 24 years actively parenting, it’s a little unsettling when you’re no longer needed except to dispense money and advice on occasion.

Child #3 left for college on Labor Day weekend and has barely looked back. She settled right into the collegiate routine, making friends and getting good grades. As her mom, I’m very happy that the transition was so easy on her, but I found myself missing her tremendously during the fall months.

A picture really does say a thousand words. Her smile in this orphanage photo was a promise of everything that was to come once she joined our family.

A picture really is worth a thousand words. Her smile in this orphanage photo was a promise of everything that was to come.

That’s because she is not only my baby, but from the time that she was very small, she was also my steady companion. Whether I was running errands, cooking dinner, visiting my parents, or doing chores—Blossom (in Stormy fashion, not her real name but a variation of her Chinese name) was always at my side, ready to help. However, during the last couple of years of school, I didn’t see much of her: Between school, work, sports, and volunteering, she simply wasn’t around.

So I was pleasantly surprised to be given an opportunity to spend time with my youngest over her Christmas break. Originally, Blossom had been planning to leave town shortly after Christmas, but her trip fell through and most of her friends had to head back to campus before her, so she found herself home for an extended break without any real plans.

During this time, we hung out a lot. We went shopping together. Despite my daughters’ no-holds-barred fashion critiques, Blossom wanted some pointers on how to evolve her look from high school jock to sophisticated undergrad. I remembered shopping with my mom at the same age (something I used to hate because my mom—having birthed nine kids—was never very happy with what she saw in the dressing room mirror) and was flattered that my daughter actually wanted my help. Being the experienced shopper that I am, I helped her get the most for her dollars and she came home with a bunch of new looks.

She accompanied me to the gym a couple of times, once as my personal trainer—a task she took very seriously. Why was I paying someone else to do this when my little sadist was as effective as any of them?! We also went grocery shopping, cooked together, and she visited me at the office, meeting my coworkers and going out for a “business lunch.”

pantry

Six boxes of lasagna noodles. Are we anticipating a global pasta shortage?

Blossom also helped around the house, taking down all my Christmas ornaments—heck, she even tackled my pantry solo. A daunting task, given I’m an impulsive grocery shopper who loves to cook.

I reflected on how much Blossom had grown up since leaving for college just a few months earlier. And I realized that, in many ways, she was a more functional adult than her older and ostensibly wiser mother.

My youngest is incredibly competent. The family joke is that it’s because she doesn’t share our genes or that it’s the result of “that good Chinese orphanage training.” She just dives in and does things. She doesn’t hem and haw or overthink things or dither around and get sidetracked (as I’m known to do). And it’s impressive to watch. She’s not intimidated by anything and she’s incredibly organized. As an employer, I’d hire her for any job in a heartbeat.

At the same time, she’s incredibly thoughtful and compassionate. When I was staying with my dad who has dementia after my mom’s hip surgery, she offered to go with me because, “I want to get to know Grandpa better and I know this whole thing has been hard on you.” She must have made an impression on him, too, because I was surprised a week later when my dad actually remembered where Blossom was going to college. (Heck, after 7 years, he still can’t remember where I work.) In fact, after one particularly trying day at the office, I came home late and she offered to 1) make me dinner and 2) give me a backrub!

The night before Blossom was to leave, I told my husband how much I was going to miss her. I realized she had temporarily filled a spot that my husband’s Parkinson’s had left vacant in my life. Although I’m an introvert, there are some activities I can tackle better with someone at my side—cajoling, challenging and encouraging. That’s Blossom in a nutshell. I know I can’t rely on my grown kids to fill that gap, however. They have their own lives to live and their own adventures before them. It left me thinking about how to address this on my own, and that’s when I realized my baby bird could teach me some lessons about flying solo.

A fierce competitor...against herself

A fierce competitor…against herself.

I decided I would do well to model a few of her behaviors—the ability to jump into a task without procrastinating, for example, or the genuine interest she shows in everyone from the butcher at the grocery store to her older relatives. As parents, we usually think of ourselves as the one teaching our kids, but as my kids have grown, I realize it’s a bit like horticulture—we’re propagating the strongest features, cultivating the best traits—and so I’ve learned there are many things they can also teach me. I hope that by learning from my kids, I’ll be able to fill my own garden with more blossoms and less weeds.

New year, new resolve…

Happy New Year, Dear Readers… Welcome to the Clean Slate that is 2014! As you may recall from one of my first posts on this blog, I take New Year’s Resolutions seriously. Last year, for example, I chose three:

  1. Assume good intentions in other people.  
  2. Do something nice each day for myself and another person.
  3. Don’t overthink things.

These were excellent resolutions for me. But while I made progress, I can’t say I mastered any of them. So I was tempted to recycle these, but meanwhile I had dozens of new ideas swirling around in my brain—things to try, ways to grow, mantras to live by—and I didn’t want the end result to look like this:

Woody Guthrie’s “New Year’s Rulin’s” – While number 3 is amusing, 19 is the one I like best.

Rather than try and commit 33 separate ideas into actionable behavior, I decided to categorize them into a few Big Ideas that I could focus on for the year. Once I settled on this year’s themes, I realized that my new resolutions are really just an expansion of last year’s.

For example, I’m modifying Resolution Number 1 to “Assume the Best.” This expands the original idea beyond assuming good in other people’s motives to assuming positive outcomes in all aspects of life—everything from work projects to getting stuck in traffic. There’s a quote my dad has used (although my Google search attributes it to a number of people) and that’s something to the effect of “Worry is like paying interest on a debt not yet incurred.” This strikes me as particularly true. There have been a number of times I worried about something that didn’t turn out nearly as catastrophic as my mind had imagined.

I was tested on this my first day back at work after the holiday… and I failed, giving into a bad mood. Sure enough, the thing that was stressing me out—not being able to find a hotel room for an upcoming client visit—turned out just fine (thanks to a resourceful coworker)… Now, I’m not naïve enough to think the worst won’t happen on occasion, and I’ll still think through how to deal with a negative outcome—but I’ll make an effort to not waste valuable energy stressing out about an imagined problem until it actually occurs.

An outing to a wine bar to "make my own happy day"... This is NOT Stormy & KitKat, but most definitely are "Troublemakers" as the wine indicates.

Making “my own happy day” with a couple of friends and a bottle of wine that obviously has found its rightful owners.

Resolution Number 2 is being expanded to Make Your Own Happy Day.” Credit for this one goes to my niece. During my last hair appointment (she’s also my stylist) we were catching up on all sorts of things and we got on the topic of how each of us is responsible for our own happiness. She said when her young son is crabby about going to school, she tells him, “You have to make your own happy day” and I thought that was excellent advice. We all hold so much power to make our own days better and happier—by calling a friend, indulging in a small treat, kicking back with a good book for half hour, taking a walk outdoors on our lunch break—yet we often fail to seize these moments. In 2014, I’m going to be mindful about doing the small things I can to “make a happy day.”

Resolution Number 3 is becoming Turn Negative Inward Thoughts into Positive Outward Actions. This is loosely related to Resolution 1… KitKat and I both tend to get caught up in negative thoughts at times and while assuming a positive outlook is one step toward fixing that, the best antidote for a control freak who’s feeling out of control is to control something—anything—in a positive way. I can either become overwhelmed at the thought of making all the cosmetic touch-ups needed to put our house on the market OR I can tackle a small job and cross one thing off that list. I can fret about the overdue mammogram or dentist appointment OR I can take five minutes and schedule them. I can beat myself up for not working out OR I can jump on my exercise bike.

994400_10152061525469523_665319223_nA coworker once had an insightful screensaver message that said, “The best way to get rid of an unpleasant task is to do it quickly.” So my last resolution will focus around taking action toward the things that are bothering me rather than just stewing in the stress.

KitKat made an observation in our last post that jumped out at me, “you are great at giving sound advice and not so good at taking it yourself.” Does this mean I’m doomed to fail at these resolutions? Well, time will tell, I guess… but meanwhile I’m going to assume the best! 😉