Friday, February 28, 2014

38 Complete

Today I completed my 38th year of life.

I'm pretty stoked about that because I'm not always great at finishing things. I've written before about how I am easily inspired and often start a project with grand ideas. But usually by the halfway point, right around the time when things become more like work and less like fun, my enthusiasm fizzles and I bail, leaving projects either incomplete or hastily thrown together. Because of this chronic lack of follow through I tend to be very hard on myself. My inner dialogue regarding this less than desirable character trait is pretty harsh and ugly, but last night I stopped the conversation.

Last night, as I started drifting off to sleep with the list of all my unfinished work swirling around my brain, I had an epiphany. 38 times I've started a year and 38 times I've finished the year. I have started and finished 38 years, that's 1,976 weeks. 13, 832 days. That might not seem like much to be proud of at first thought but it is.

38 times I have looked a new year in the face and agreed to give it a go. 38 times I have journeyed through the year ... sometimes with smooth sailing, sometimes slogging it uphill the whole way. 38 times I have survived and thrived in whatever the year threw at me and 38 times I finished with a thankful heart.

Life is hard and messy and lovely and exhausting and wonderful and overwhelming. Life is a gift that's almost too much to bear sometimes. Unexpected things happen. Disappointments. Disease. Accidents. Heartbreak. Exhaustion. Depression. Ugliness creeps in and whispers to you to just give up, to call it quits, to allow the darkness to overtake you. But there is another voice. There is the voice of light and life and joy. The voice that reminds you that after every darkness there is light, that finishing is the best way to beat the Ugliness.

I'm proud of myself for finishing 38 years. I'm proud of my stretch marks, scars, laugh lines and extra pounds. I'm proud of the lessons I've learned during this life that I've lived. I'm proud that I know more now that I did ten years ago, that I love myself better and certainly love others better than I did then. I am proud that no matter what life has thrown at me I have stuck to it, I have stayed the course. I am proud to have crossed the finish line 38 times.

The thing is, life isn't a sprint. It's that long race on the oval track (I know, very sporty of me to know the technical jargon), the one where you pass the finish line easily at first but that doesn't mean you're done because there are many more laps. You keep running past the finish line, counting off another lap successfully completed as you continue the race. The finish line becomes less of an end point and more of a marker to how far you've come. Each time you pass it, each time you start a new lap, you sign up for more of whatever the race has for you.

If you're reading this give yourself a pat on the back because you've finished every year that you've started, too. You've not given up. You've kept on moving forward despite hardships, despite difficulties and despite whether you've felt like it or not. You've stepped into each new year, willing to give it another go, whatever may come your way. You are on the track, ticking off laps, too. Yay for you!

And, yay for me, too! 38 laps finished ... many more to go!

Here's to more love, more friends, more growth, more wisdom, more challenges, more victories, more joy, more peace, more compassion and many, many more finishes!

“Ends are not bad things, they just mean that something else is about to begin. And there are many things that don't really end, anyway, they just begin again in a new way. Ends are not bad and many ends aren't really an ending; some things are never-ending.” 
― C. JoyBell C.

Monday, February 24, 2014

What to Expect ...

I have a few friends who have recently become mothers. They were so cute during their pregnancy with their little pregnant bellies and their trendy maternity clothes. They oohed and aahed over their chic diaper bags that coordinate with their ergonomically correct strollers which are a perfect compliment to their swanky infant sling that has some kind of unpronounacable european name. They went to prenatal classes, pre-joined mommy groups, studied infant massage and read up on what to expect once they had baby in hand. Boy, did they read!

They bought books, read blogs, googled and googled some more. They became experts on what to expect but, seriously, they had no idea what they were in for! Even now, months later, with countless sleepless nights, innumerable puke stains on their strollers and a funky smell inexplicably coming from their once beautiful diaper bag, they still have no concept of what this motherhood journey is really all about. And those of us with tweens and teens laugh at them. And those with older teens and young adults laugh at us.

As I look back over my nearly 14 years of motherhood, one thing has become glaringly obvious; those first few years, the years I had studied for, planned for and read up on, those years were the easiest years of this journey ... the easiest by far. I am, by no means, discounting the adjustment, the stress and the feeling of utter inadequacy that new motherhood brings. I remember well struggling through colicky nights and unexplained fevers and rashes. And I also remember the moment by moment decision to just keep moving forward even though post partum depression was calling me to a dark, isolated place. I remember. I remember.

But what I've come to realize is that there were aspects of those days that were so easy. It was easy to create a bubble in my home. It was easy to pretend the world outside of our four, finger printed walls didn't exist. It was easy to be the gatekeeper of who and what affected our lives. Caillou was annoying so we didn't watch it, Raffi's songs gave me a headache so we didn't listen to them. Veggie Tales made us laugh so we sang those songs. Colouring was fun but play-doh was messy so we spent hours colouring and the giant box of play-doh collected dust on the shelf. Nothing existed in our world that we did not allow in.

Then came Kindergarten and everything changed. Our Wee People began to mix with other Wee People. And they learned from each other. Most of it good but some of it not so good. And that exchange of information went both ways. Fast forward a few years and you'll find me longing for simpler days.

Sure, I'm still dealing with funky smells but this time they are coming from my teen age son's room and not the diaper bag. But more than that, we're dealing with influences that can't be easily shut off or turned down. Our everyday life is filled with the unexpected, and mostly unwanted, drama that occurs when you pile 500 hormonal, impulsive teens and tweens into a building for seven hours a day, five days a week and expect them to learn.

So, to my pals with infants and toddlers, I'm going to pass along some wisdom that a few of my friends who are further along in their motherhood journey passed along to me ...

What to Expect After You've Expected

~Develop a good poker face.
     Your kids will say shocking things, do shocking things and ask shocking questions and like the old commercial says, "never let them see you sweat." Whether your kid is saying and doing to shock you or they are coming to you, looking for answers, with genuine curiosity don't let your shock/horror/confusion/panic show. Keep your wits about you and at least appear to be stoic. Keeping your emotions in check will keep the door open to future conversations. If you don't wig out, your kid is more likely to come to you first when they need advice, information or a soft place to land.

~Be honest.
    If you don't know the answer, it's okay to say you don't know. If your feelings are hurt, it's okay to tell your kid. If you're having a tough day, it's okay to let them know. Your kids don't need all the details to your life's struggles but they do need to know that disappointments, hurts and ...well, life ... happens to us all. They need to see that you can come back from a rough day, that you can be appropriate in your anger, that you can grieve, forgive and make mistakes without it being fatal.

~Being good is good enough.
     One of the best, and most freeing, things ever told to me was that I didn't need to be an exceptional mom to raise exceptional kids, I just needed to be a good mom. As moms, we can easily stress ourselves out, trying to keep up with what we perceive other moms are doing. All you need is five minutes on pinterest to convince yourself that you are an inadequate parent because you don't make baby food from scratch, you aren't 'going paleo' and you bought valentines instead of hand making them. We set unreasonable expectations for ourselves and then flog ourselves when we don't meet them. Your kids don't need the world's best mom, they just need you ... you are good enough.

~Be intentional
     If you want your kid to know something, you are actually going to have to teach them ... repeatedly. When your Wee Babe was first learning how to walk you didn't talk to them about it once, help them to stand once and then expect them to know what they were doing from that point on. You let them see you walking. You held their hand as they walked. You caught them when they stumbled and you helped them to stand again. You walked along side them. You called them to come to you. And you celebrated when they finally could walk on their own. You understood that it was a process. You understood that in order to teach your baby to walk you were going to have to model, practice, coach and be intentional with them. That process never stops. Anything that's really important, anything that is worth teaching your kids, is going to be a process. You are going to have to be purposeful when you teach them to persevere, to be selfless, to be brave, to be authentic, to be kind. You are going to have to walk them through with baby steps. You are going to have to be patient. You are going to have to be intentional.

I'm sure there's more to this sequel of What to expect but these are the chapters I'm stuck on. These are the ones I have to read over and over again before they truly sink in. These are the ones I study so that I can make it through this phase of motherhood. These are the lessons my children are teaching me. And, as hard as they are to learn, I thank my kids for having the patience to teach them to me.

There's no such thing as ready. You just jump on a moving train and you try not to die.
~Vic, What to Expect When You're Expecting

Friday, February 14, 2014

Boomerang Love

So, last night it started.

At about 10pm my Facebook feed was flooded by lonely and disappointed people. It wasn't even Valentine's Day yet but scads of people were already anticipating how lonely and lost they were going to feel today. Most of the people cyber-sighing about their aloneness aren't hermits, living in their mother's basements. They are intelligent, loving and caring people who don't have that one person who thinks the sun rises and sets for them ... they have dozens of people who are thankful for the love and relationship they bring into the world.

After reading about a dozen different statuses full of lamenting and disappointment I posted this.

I tried to be as nice as I could but in truth, I was pretty frustrated. I couldn't believe so many people were so willing to overlook the love they have in their life because of the love they don't have. They were so focused on their own sense of loss that they couldn't see how their love, the love they give, is filling a hole in someone else's life. They were missing the point, love is not about how much you get, but how much you give.

The most satisfied and fulfilled I've ever felt in my life are the times when I have reached beyond myself to love someone else. I didn't wait until I felt loved and appreciated to give love. I just acted without thinking of myself and every time, without fail, I have received love in return. When I have set aside my own needs, wants and comfort and offered love and affection to someone else I have been rewarded with the same ... in spades!

A while back I was talking to a friend about the importance of leading through encouragement. She said it is impossible to give what you've never received but I don't buy that. I see examples of people giving generously from where they've never received all the time.

My Dad never knew his father therefore he has never known the protection, guidance and love of a dad yet he has always given those things freely, generously and constantly my whole life. I have a friend who was an only child, never knowing the love, companionship and mentorship of being a brother yet every week he is a Big Brother. He gives his time, wisdom and brotherly love without restraint. I know a lady who was an orphan. She never had a family of her own, never married, never had children yet she is mother and grandmother to many in her church and community. She pours out family love to everyone who has the privilege of knowing her. These people, and dozens more, prove to me that you don't have to get in order to give. And that most often you get once you've given.

Today, I challenge you to give love. Think of someone who you can love on with a note, a treat or a cup of coffee. Focus on giving love and not on getting and I promise you, you'll get exactly what you've been looking for because love is a boomerang. Once you toss it out there, it doesn't take long before it comes back to you at full force!

Love beyond yourself. Love. Love. Love.

The love we give away is the only love we keep.
~Elbert Hubbard