Reconnecting

Sometimes, I like to sit with childhood acquaintances and reconnect. These are the people I’ve known since I was very young—in grade school or high school. These are the people who knew me before I headed out into the world and discovered that the “real world” was maybe not everything it’s cracked up to be.

These people, they can often pull me back to my roots and ground me in “home.” They can help me remember both the innocence of childhood and the struggles of growing up. And they can remind me of the near-constant growth I have experienced since being on my own.

I like to engage these people in conversation about how life has turned out—what has happened in all the years since we last spoke? I will frequently get an earful of the good, the bad, and everything in between. Sometimes, if the friend is not local, these reconnections might involve long email or text exchanges.

Either way, my favorite thing to ask is the question: Has your life turned out the way you thought it would?

I love listening to the answers to this question. It’s a bit of a surprise question at first. The person wants the obvious answer to be, “Yes, of course it did.” But ultimately, the person stumbles through to the real answer. Though the responses vary from one person to another, they are always the same.

Here’s the interesting thing. When I ask that question, no one ever says, “Yes, my life has been exactly as I planned it all those years back when I was in school.” No one says that. Ever.

The fact is, life is not what we expect it to be. It is full of surprises—both good and bad. It is full of trials and triumph, pain and passion. Life is full. Sometimes, life is a struggle, and sometimes it’s a breeze. Sometimes life is amazing, and sometimes it is broken. But the saying is true: Life is what you make it. If you choose to take what life throws at you and make the best of it, then you will have the best life you can. Focus on the positive, weave yourself a network of support, and keep pushing forward.

No, my life is not what I had planned back when I was younger. But every day, I work on growing and moving in a positive direction. And even though it’s not what I planned, every day, I am very thankful for the life I have.

{Photo by Hush Naidoo on Unsplash}

Advertisements

Family Time

Yesterday, I was with my three nearly-grown children, and we stopped at Panera for lunch. At the table next to us was a young family. Mom and Dad were there with two young daughters—one about nine or ten going on sixteen, and a younger daughter of five or six. In the middle of the meal, Dad said good-bye and left to go to work. Mom stayed at the table with the girls while they all finished their lunch. As they sat there, it was hard not to notice that Mom’s cell phone was sitting on the table, loudly and regularly letting her know she had messages and notifications. Each time the phone alerted her, she looked down and responded.

Lately, I have noticed more and more parents interacting with their phones rather than their children. And I have heard from my children that many of their friends are on their own to make food at home, eating on the run, in their bedrooms, or in front of the television. So here’s my question: when are you spending uninterrupted quality time with your children? How do you show them that they are important and worthy of your time and undivided attention?

I have written about this before, but early in my parenting—and even when our family structure shifted, and I became a single parent—I established dinner together as a deeply important part of our day. This is the time when we come together as a family—and we are together for an important purpose: eating our evening meal. But dinnertime has become so much more over the years. Dinnertime is when we connect. We check in on each other. We talk about life, issues, morals, values, and what is happening in our individual lives and in the world. This meal has become a regular and expected time together as a family.

Now, I have two children in college, and they are home for the Christmas/winter break. Still, each night when I get home from work, we sit down together to consume our evening meal. We laugh, we talk, we eat. And now that they are older, we hash out political issues and share our views, we discuss environmental dilemmas, and we weave together the fundamental pieces of our day into an intricate tapestry that solidifies our family connection.

The unwritten rule, and one that is mostly followed, is that there are no devices at the table. This is family time, and devices are a distraction. Constantly looking at a device and responding to notifications demonstrates that we are not giving others our undivided attention. And it pulls us apart rather than bringing us closer.

And so… about childhood—this is time you will not get back. Establish a daily time to put away your devices and sit down with your children. Talk to them. Listen to them. Learn from them. They are amazing little people who will grow up to become wonderful adults. And those adults will need to know how to connect—deeply and meaningfully—with others. Scheduling some daily time to connect with family can make all the difference.

Believing in Magic

Navigating the many aspects of childhood can be an interesting journey. There are a million situations in which kids walk a line between the reality of the world and some magical thoughts of their own making (or the making of society), simply because their imaginations allow them to believe in magic. Santa. The Easter Bunny. The Tooth Fairy. This list is lengthy.

Recently, when I was sorting through some (very) old papers, I came across a reminder of my previous parenting life, back when all three of my children still had one foot firmly planted in the magical, and it was my job—as a parent—to make sure the magic remained for as long as possible. But as a single parent, things didn’t always go smoothly.

After all, perpetuating magic is a difficult job. Everything we say… everything we do… it’s all being registered by the little ones around us, even when we don’t know they are listening. Magic takes careful planning, much thought, attention to detail, and a lot of work. It is no wonder, then, that sometimes we slip up.

The note I recently uncovered reminded me that the Tooth Fairy forgot to come. It was one of those moments when I was—no doubt—jolted awake in the early morning hours when I realized that I had forgotten my role in the magic just a bit too late. Despite my best intentions, I had failed. Instead, I had to make up a story about why the Tooth Fairy didn’t come, and some blending of various reasons came out. Unlike Santa, the Tooth Fairy can’t always get to every house…. Teeth are heavy, and if she collects too many teeth one night, she has difficulty flying….

Really, I don’t remember the story I made up, but it seemed to be enough as the child in question believed me. And somehow, over the years, I was able to instill just enough lasting magic—despite occasional slip-ups—that a bit lingers in my now grown children. Because if you think about it, shouldn’t everyone hold onto a little bit of magic in their lives?

Patience

This year has been a challenge. Changes blew through, bringing a different schedule, more intensity, and a shift in focus away from where I want to be. The election brought dissonance and division and the general society has been difficult to tolerate. I turned off the news and frequently found myself turning to music as my chosen distraction on the way to work. I took a step back from social media. In fact, in the past month, I have chosen to observe for a while. Just observe.

One point I have taken from my observations: it seems patience is a trait that few people possess nowadays. We are not nice to each other as we go about our daily business, and I think it’s because we are wrapped up in our own lives. We fail to look outside of ourselves, put ourselves in another’s shoes, and recognize that each of us, in whatever way possible, is trying our best in that given moment.

Case in point: recently, I was in line at the local CVS. I was behind the woman who was next in line. But the customer at the counter had left her wallet in the car, and she apologized as she ran out of the store to get it. This tiny little wrinkle seemed to throw the next-in-line-woman into a tizzy. She began sighing. Loudly. She shifted from one foot to the other. She tapped her foot on the floor, and she turned to me and rolled her eyes, most likely in an attempt to pull me in to her impatience.

Meanwhile, I was feeling sorry for the woman who had run to the parking lot. I could so see myself leaving my wallet (my keys, my brain…) in the car—even though I’ve never done so—that when the impatient woman tried to pull me in, I smiled sweetly while I clutched my tissues and my M&Ms. The forgetful woman was gone for two—maybe three—minutes, but her brief absence certainly annoyed the woman behind her in line. And when we are impatient and not taking advantage of the downtime to enjoy the moment’s pause, time tends to pass more slowly.

This small instance of impatience is one of many I have witnessed in the past few months. I have to wonder: what is the hurry? Why are we so unable to relax and support those around us rather than rush past them with little care for anything outside of our own lives?

Before I judge or become impatient, I am going to take a deep breath and imagine what the other person might be going through. Maybe she forgot her wallet because her first and forever best friend just passed away, and she is trying to hold it together. Maybe the person who is still stopped in front of me at a traffic light that has turned green has a job that just isn’t paying the bills—and the bills are due. Maybe the woman whose cart is in the middle of the aisle at the grocery store is distracted because her grown child is an addict, and she is at the end of her rope.

Patience. It is one of the best gifts we can give to the world. And one of the best gifts we can give to ourselves as we navigate the world. Take a deep breath and give patience a try.

Traffic

It’s been a crazy busy ridiculous fall. Wednesday was Halloween, and I didn’t have time to buy candy until after work. On Wednesday. Because I’m efficient like that. When I left work, I discovered that everyone was exiting the highway where I usually enter, and that can only mean one thing—traffic is bad. Very bad. Going south when I needed to go north was probably not the best idea, but I needed treats for my little goblins. Maybe the errand would allow the highway to clear up a bit.

The candy run was quick. As I cashed out, I texted my son that the highway was backed up and I wasn’t likely to be home right away. Back in the car, I selected some good driving tunes and settled in for the long, slow trip. Navigating the entrance ramp, a nice driver in an SUV waved me into the lane in front of him. I thanked him, and there I sat, moving at a snail’s pace along with a bajillion other cars.

Now, there’s a certain way this is designed to work. If people are patient and friendly and kind, the traffic moves smoothly, and we all get where we are going. It might take a little longer, but we’ll all get there. But Friends, listen… people are crazy! I mean, not necessarily you, per se, but there are a lot of impatient people on the roads. And when there are a lot more cars on the road than usual, it can be downright dangerous.

Here’s the thing. Everyone on the road is behind the wheel of a potentially deadly weapon. When one person decides that he or she needs to be in the front of the line, and the front of the line is well beyond the horizon, things are not going to go well. In fact, when I exited the highway (onto a relatively long exit ramp), I had to sit through three light cycles to take my left-hand turn. Just before I turned, a car came speeding up on my right and cut into the smoothly moving line of patient drivers. Really?

If you are that impatient when you are on the road with so many other people, what are you like when you are not in your car? Are you really so self-important that you can’t obey the rules of the road, putting everyone—including yourself—at risk? Most importantly, what is all the rush about?

Perhaps instead of constantly pushing to get to the front of the line, pushing the speed limit and the driving abilities of both you and those around you, you might, instead, think of your driving time as an opportunity to be present in your life, notice the people around you, and reflect on where you are going (both right now and in the grander scheme of your life). Put away the phones, the food, the notepad, the book, the map, the list, the GPS, etc. You might use this as an opportunity to commune with God or with nature or with yourself. In other words, you might use your road time as a chance to slow down to the speed of life and think about what really matters.

And then, when you have mastered the art of being patient and kind while on the road with so many people, you might take that skill out into the rest of the real world. We could use some patience and kindness in society these days. Perhaps our time on the road is where we could begin. If we can be kind to the person who simply wants to switch lanes to get out from behind a particularly slow truck, we might be able to be kind to the person whose arms are too full to open the door. If we can be present while we are driving, maybe we can put down the phone while we are interacting with the cashier at the grocery or the waiter at the restaurant or better still, our children at home who just want to have a real conversation.

Because what I have found is that kindness snowballs. It starts out with one small gesture and it grows in momentum. As you move throughout your day, be present. Notice what is going on around you. Make one small gesture of kindness and see if it grows.

 

{Photo by Robin Pierre on Unsplash}

Blind Spot

It’s raining, and I’m driving to work, making my way down the highway a bit faster than I should. Cars are passing me, but I continue at the same pace, resisting the pressure to succumb to their impatience. My exit is not far off, and I need to move one lane to the right. I turn to look over my shoulder to check that the lane is clear, and I am startled by a large, red truck hanging out in my blind spot. An entire truck, bright red and visible even amid the road spray from the rain. How is it that something so big and bright is able to hide right next to me?

This, I realize, is not unlike the route my summer has taken. My life will be traveling along on what seems like a good path, headed in a positive direction, but then I notice something big and startling hanging out in my blind spot. I try not to swerve from my path to avoid it; I try to remain calm.

The past few weeks, it seems, there has been much that is hiding in my blind spot. These “life issues” hover on the periphery of my life, just out of my vision. So close yet so hidden. Every now and then, when I least expect it, they poke their heads out to taunt me: “Here I am!” mocks Loss. “Gotcha again!” shouts Grief. “Be quiet!” whispers Insecurity. “Not good enough,” chants Inadequacy. Each and every time, as I am caught off guard, I retreat within myself.

But I am tapping into my resources. This summer, I have been involved in some work with encouragement, wellbeing, belonging, and courage. Research that has affected me very deeply. And an important part of each of these is vulnerability. Vulnerability is at the heart of much we face in our lives; it’s a valuable part of connection—both to others and to ourselves.

The (involuntary) break I’ve (accidentally) taken from my blog has not been good for me. I am happier when I am writing and posting regularly. I am more centered and able to deal with the challenges—big and small—that life tosses in my path. Not writing has allowed me to realize that maybe what’s hiding in my blind spots needs to be tackled head on.

And so, I open myself up to the vulnerabilities. I will stand and be brave in the face of all that is hiding—the sadness and sorry, the challenge and grief, the insecurities and failures. By allowing myself to feel all of my emotions and be vulnerable, I can live into joy.

Grow your Good

On Friday evening, I was driving to my daughter’s dance rehearsal. The sun was low and the traffic was heavy with summer weekend tourists. I was alone in the car, and my mind was flipping through the pages of the day, churning through a brutal narrative of destructive self-talk. I am not enough of this, and I am too much of that. It was the typical inner focus on my flaws and deficiencies.

As the weight of the evening’s inner monologue grew clear to me, I stopped myself and worked to redirect the narrative. You’re not stupid, I tried to convince myself. But that wasn’t much of a redirection. The statement needed to be positive rather than negative. You are much smarter than you give yourself credit for, I ventured. You have good ideas and you follow through. Better. A good deal better! You are enough, I told myself.

As I pondered my self-talk, I reminded myself that I’m not the only one who’s killing it in the self-bullying department. While so many people seem to believe in themselves without a problem (or they’re faking it), other people struggle as they navigate their daily lives. Our inner critics are not kind. But most people couldn’t possibly be as brutal in their inner monologue as I am. Or could they?

What if… just for today, we stop comparing ourselves to others? Everybody is unique, and everybody has their own talents that they bring to the world. We all have positive aspects and negative aspects, and most of the people I know spend inordinate amounts of time focused on fixing the negative when they should instead focus on growing their good. Despite what social media might suggest, nobody’s life is perfect. Accept what you have and work with it. Grow your good.

What if… we began to tell ourselves the truth rather than some warped version of the truth we use to make ourselves feel bad? We could focus on the child we made smile while we were standing in the grocery line. We might consider how well we handle the demands of our job. Or we might look at how a great sense of humor helps us through the day.

What if… just for today, we stop keeping a laundry list of all the things we have done wrong. Better yet, what if we rip up that laundry list and throw it in the trash? Or maybe we could bring it with us the next time we go camping. Then we could throw it in a campfire and watch it slowly melt away into ashes.

What if… just for today, we were to celebrate our successes rather than dwelling on our failures? We might recognize that we have raised good children, or that we handled the latest two-year-old temper tantrum with a patience we didn’t have yesterday. We might see that we walked half a mile more than we intended, or we beat our personal best in our most recent marathon.

What if… just for today, we rewrite our inner monologue? What if we focus on all the things we are rather than all the things we are not? What if every time we heard ourselves engage in negative self-talk, we changed it to a positive statement? By doing so, we might give ourselves an opportunity to see the good in ourselves and the possibility for our future.

And what if… tomorrow, we were to do the same thing?