Positivity Post: Middle Ground

The recent trend in society focuses on rigid dichotomies. On all issues, it seems, we must fall on one side or the other. We are either one thing or the opposite; for some unknown reason, it is no longer okay for our ideas to fall anywhere in the middle.

Just ask anyone who is directing the societal rhetoric these days. We are either right or wrong. We are either winning or losing. We are a success or a failure. As everyone on social media is happy to tell us, we cannot be a partial success or a partial failure—we are one or the other. There is no longer and acceptable in-between and there is no way to be anything other than an extreme. Or is there?

It seems we have forgotten that all the good stuff resides in the middle. If we are wrong—and even if we are right—there are lessons to be learned from our situation. If we win, there are still important things that we should examine in order to continue the trend of winning. And if we lose, there are moments of greatness within our losing that are worth reviewing. These lessons, these moments, these important messages… they lie somewhere in the middle.

When we have two sides that are opposing—Republican and Democrat, to name a hot one—it is vital that we don’t let our differences get in the way of our progress. We must examine the middle ground to see what we have tossed aside in our desperate need to be right—so right that we forget to leave room for something else.

That middle ground—it is incredibly fertile. That’s where there are ideas and inspirations and moments and messages and tidbits and wisdom and experience that we can use as tools to help us navigate our differences, overcome our struggles, and get us closer to the spot where the sun shines and “argument” turns into “discourse.”

So come with me to the Middle Ground. Let’s go together. Let’s have some brilliant discussion and come up with some inspiring ideas. Let’s toss around our creativity, have some snacks, and share some laughs. If we can meet in the middle [and linger there], there is no doubt that our common threads of color and light and inspiration will lead us to solutions. Perhaps by examining the Middle Ground, we might even rediscover how much we like spending time together in conversation, and we can begin to build a bridge between us.

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Happy New You

If you are looking for resolutions for 2018, if you are thinking about a way to improve yourself as we rush headlong into a new year, take a moment to think about the conversations you play and repeat in your head.

What do you tell yourself about who you are? What societal influences have you allowed to slip into your sub-conscious and become a part of who you are? In what ways have you lost touch with your true, authentic self?

Flush out all of the negative thoughts that make you feel you are not good enough. Move away from the constant pressure of social media and the “friends” you maintain there. Take some time away from the Internet to meditate and reflect on who you are and who you want to be. Do what’s necessary to find your true, authentic self.

That is where you will find your happiness and your best self this year and in the years to come. Happy New Year!

Positivity Post: Secondhand Banana

On school mornings, we have a routine. Sometimes one element or another will change up a bit, but generally, there are things I can count on each morning. One of those things is that on her way out the door, J will say to me, “You can have the rest of my banana.” And every morning as quiet settles over the house, I look on the table, and there rests a two-thirds eaten banana, splayed out for my review and approval.

Now, I will admit that at first, I didn’t see the appeal in this meager offering. As it sat on the table, the empty part of the peel would deepen in color, browning with an unappealing cast of rotten fruit.

But then, I realized that I cut up fruit each morning to have with my yogurt—kind of an “on the fly” fruit salad. Tangerines, melon, strawberries, pomegranate… whatever I have on hand that’s in season. I could use the bit of banana to add to my salad! And so I began to look forward to that little bit of extra sweetness [and love] each morning.

When life (or a teenager) hands you secondhand bananas, make fruit salad!

Snippets of Life

Memories of my life are filed away like index cards carefully placed in drawers, an ancient and ever-expanding card catalog of snippets of life. I can open the drawers, flip through the memories, and see the things that have brought me to this place—this point in time.

Different drawers contain different sets of memories. The good memories fill several drawers, and I can flip through them quickly, as if spinning a Rolodex, or slowly like I am engrossed in detailed research. When I look in one drawer, I can see my children toddling down the hall. There are first words, first steps, first days of school. I pause for a moment on an afternoon spent running around the front lawn, desperately trying to catch leaves tossed and blown on the wind. The giggles are as vivid in memory’s ear as they were that day.

If I work really hard, I can go back to memories of my own childhood: picnics on an old wooden bridge, dressing up for church on Sundays, holidays, and the occasion or two when I walked home from school in the middle of the day for lunch. There are memories of lessons learned, family time, and brief vacations thrown in here and there for good measure.

Silliness weaves through most of the drawers, knit into the fabric of my very being. Here and there, a memory will bring up the humor that my children often take for granted. It is an essential part of our family life.

There are memories I draw upon for inspiration. Times I was the definite underdog, but I persevered and met with success. Times I was on the receiving end of Mercy and Grace. Times when love and laughter were on my side as I worked through a challenge.

The not-so-positive memories are in a drawer of their own, lest I accidentally stumble upon them while I am surfing my pleasant memories. I don’t open that drawer much—I don’t need to. It is stiff and broken and hard to work. It doesn’t quite close all the way, and sometimes, the memories slip out, catching me when I am low, and nagging at the edges of my brain. These memories, they chastise me for… well, for everything. Not good enough. Not strong enough. Not thin enough. Not happy enough. Not. Enough.

And I work diligently to recover and move on as quickly as I can to another drawer. Because the catalog has never been a bad thing. It helps me to stay organized and grounded. And it helps me to move in a positive direction. The good memories outweigh the not-so-good memories. File away the “mistakes made” as lessons learned, and they suddenly become a necessary step in the process. Because every step and every misstep, every turn and every detour, every moment lived through every age is a tiny building block in the process of creating my life. The good, the bad, the happy, the sad, every card in my catalog… these are all lessons learned.

Journeys

It’s been a tough week of walking the line. Some days, it seems gremlins have attached themselves to my brain, and they are sneaking around the edges, working their way into my thoughts when I least expect it. There has been much going on around me—accidents, illness, suffering, loss—all way too close. So many of these situations demonstrate how quickly our paths can veer off course and life can change. But these are also the things that tend to bring my blessings into focus. Being an eternal optimist, I always look for the blessings.

This year, our Thanksgiving table was filled with many family members. But throughout the day, I couldn’t help thinking about the one who was absent… Dad. There was much laughter around me, and I spent the day tip-toeing the precarious line between laughter and tears. Wanting to flee to a quiet spot to cry, but being drawn by the warmth of the laughter. I chose to show up and be present.

Life is a one-way trip, and we’re all going the same way. The clock always moves in one direction. We continue to move forward because… well, it’s the only worthwhile choice. There is no going back for a do-over. If you make a mistake, learn from it and keep moving. If there are gremlins in your brain, holding you back, figure out a way to get rid of them or sneak by them. Just. Keep. Moving.

Life is a journey. Pack what you think you might need, show up (with as much confidence as you can muster), and be present. If you need directions, I can help. Forward. Go forward.

And along the way, be the eternal optimist. Always look for the blessings.

Positivity Post: Small Acts of Courage

While at the grocery store Sunday, I had the unromantic job of selecting broccoli crowns out of the large display bin. You know the drill—check to make sure it’s firm or it’s been sitting out too long…. As I picked through the options, there was a young produce worker next to me, loading up the bin of Brussels sprouts. And while he was working, he started to sing. Quietly at first, but then—when customers seemed to be enjoying his serenade—with more energy.

His voice was clear and even, and several customers complimented him. I had a sense that this was a bit of a risk for this kid, but he took it to see what would happen. Because after all, what was the worst that could happen? No doubt, it took courage for him to start singing [a Disney song] in a public place, but something tells me this young man might be brave enough to sing in public more often.

Sometimes, it pays to take those small risks. Clearly, we can all learn a lesson from this young man. If we can gather the courage to put ourselves out there (in whatever way  matters to us), you never know what might happen. At the very least, people might smile and approve of your first step out of your comfort zone.

The College Search – Tips

I spent last weekend looking at colleges with my daughter. Of course, it had been my plan to complete this process a bit earlier this time around, yet here we are, the fall of senior year, we’re ready to launch, and we are just finishing up our college visits. However, I do think we are in pretty good shape. Of the final three remaining school visits, one is a third visit—to sit in on classes—at the current first choice school; one is an “official” visit to my son’s college; and one is a school that was added to our list just this week. Once those visits are complete, we’ll stop visiting. But for those of you just beginning this process—no matter the age of your child—I have compiled a list of helpful tips.

Start Early. Let’s face it. High school guidance is not what it once was. I remember in my public school days, we sat down with a guidance counselor and developed a list of the colleges we should investigate. That list contained safety schools, reach schools, and several schools in between. Perhaps that is why I have helped my children to create lists of schools that run the gamut. And then we have taken the time to investigate each school and visit the most promising schools on the list, a time-consuming process that should be started in late sophomore or early junior year. Even in the fall of senior year, our list is changing, evolving, and constantly re-ordering.

Invest your time. If you pay attention on the tours, you will know where you will be investing your resources—both your money and your child. If I am going to invest a good deal of money in a school, I want to know about it. Recently, I was on a tour with another mother who was so busy texting that she was not at all focused on anything the tour guide was saying. I felt bad for her daughter, who will receive little meaningful advice from her mother, and I also felt bad for the tour guide, who was more than aware of this mother’s inability to put her phone away and offer her full attention.

Be an advisor in the process. High school seniors are still kids in so many ways. The decision of which college to attend is a big one. My kids have always attended the local schools and been with the same people. How do they know where they will be happy for the next four years? I can gently guide and suggest, and I can push them complete each step of the college process. I can pay attention to things we see and hear on the college visits, but most importantly, I can listen to what my child is saying and how he/she is reacting on our various campus visits.

Don’t be afraid to say the things your child needs to hear. I have been known to comment on the minimal endowment of a school and how that shows fiscal instability. I have commented on the glaring lack of students on a campus as well as inattentive faculty and staff. I have also been known to say, “That wasn’t the cleanest campus I’ve seen,” because maintenance is often the first area where cuts are made. As parents, we can spot problem areas that our children might miss.

Trust your gut (and teach your son or daughter to do the same). Every college campus has its own atmosphere and feel. When you walk onto the campus, you will get a feel for whether the school is a place you will be comfortable or not. The students, the buildings, the attitudes are all apparent, and they all reveal secrets. Pay attention. Feel the feels. If you don’t feel enlivened and comfortable with what you see, it’s probably not the school for you. Then again, if you look around and think, “I could definitely be happy here,” maybe it is your school.

Watch your step. And finally, a tip for the wanderer. If you decide to wander around a school on your own, be careful. Some doors will lock behind you. Those with a school ID can use it to unlock the doors, but those without may find themselves trapped in a hallway or stairwell they didn’t intend to be trapped in. I have no reason (at least not one that I will admit) to know this information. I will just say, trust me on this one. Check all doors before you let them close.

As I finish up my second time through this process, I am constantly learning. Next time, I’m going to complete the college search earlier, especially because my youngest has very busy summers. But also, I have a feeling the third time around—the last time—I might be able to get it right.