Suddenly Mom

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When I make a connection with an individual student at SOLD and know we have a shared hobby or that I can expose them to more wide and varied experiences related to their interests, I like to try to invite them to spend a weekend with us in Chiang Mai, where I can encourage their passion and give them a glimpse into the wider world out there. There is one such boy I’ve known since he was about 13, who has always had the biggest heart, loves to eat and loves to make people laugh, but who has also had a very hard family life. He seemed to be falling by the way side over the past year, so I extended an invite to him to come visit us for a weekend and we would go do fun things together.

I didn’t hear anything for a while. Then I got an email on Wednesday night, followed by a phone call Thursday morning saying that yes, he wants to come, he’ll be here on Friday, and by the way, his family says I can keep him; they don’t want him to come back.

I literally started crying for him when I got off the phone. Of course he could come stay with us – but for how long? I wondered. My mama heart wanted to wrap him up and take him in immediately, but my brain that has seen the trials and burdens placed on at-risk kids knew this was no simple question. To really help him, we have to be all in. Otherwise, we’re just another source of instability and confusion in his life. Was I about to adopt a (now) 16-year-old boy with attachment issues, a smoking habit, and spotty school attendance record on little more than a days’ notice? Who also was raised in a different culture and speaks a different language? It was unlikely it would come to something so permanent, but I had to be prepared for the possibility that there would be at least an extended stay.

There were ups and downs, and there came a point at which, after taking him grocery shopping to make sure we had on hand whatever snacks, drinks, and breakfast items he preferred, and he immediately went upstairs and closed himself in his room while I boosted Cy on my hip and put the groceries away, where I really, really felt like a mom. More than anything I’ve ever encountered before, having a toddler on my hip and a moody teenager upstairs while I sorted groceries, made me suddenly feel like I have definitely become a capital M Mom.

There was a lot of uncertainty over the weekend, but mostly I just wanted to give him a respite from whatever was happening at home. At the end of the weekend, he decided to go back home with an invitation to return if he ever chooses to. I don’t know what the future holds for him, but I told him I thought he was brave for even coming to us in the first place. It’s a huge step to try to make a change in your life, when you have no idea where you’re headed or what the future will bring. He retreated from it in the end, but he did try.

Playing the Waiting Game–in Life, Marriage, and Motherhood

Strung out on a line

Strung out on a line

When I was in college, the largely unspoken, but prevailing belief seemed to be that smart, strong women could have plenty of fun dating around, but would want to get their degree and all their career ducks in a row before settling down. For some, random hookups were the mode de jour; for others, dating was one long stream of bad men. Only a few had really long relationships. And motherhood? That was for way later, if at all. Pregnancy would practically mean the end of your life. Taking birth control was the only smart choice.

The trouble is none of us had any idea how difficult it could be to find a good partner after college. When you join the work force, you enter a pool of widely varied, but highly limited options. There’s usually a huge age range—which makes finding unmarried age-mates more difficult, and when you spend the vast majority of your life in one office, meeting people outside that milieu gets incredibly hard. If there aren’t any suitable mates among your coworkers (and let’s not even get into in all the potential trials of an office relationship), you can be hard-pressed to find the time or place to even meet anyone else new.

I remember when I was a teenager, I used to dream that I’d go to college, get a fancy career started, find an awesome apartment in a big city, and then find my future husband, whom I’d marry, preferably around the age of 28. After a couple years of marriage, we’d have our first child, probably when I was around the age of 30. Thirty sounded like a good child-bearing age. That still would give me a couple of years to have my second child at 32 or so, and be done well before that fertility drop-off at 35.

I assumed getting pregnant was easy because all you hear, when you’re young, is about the girls who got pregnant even though they only had unprotected sex “that one time.”

I don’t know if it’s by luck or by choice, but I never had a string of bad men or bad relationships. Sure, I dated a jerk or two and a few guys who, though nice, weren’t going to captivate me long-term. But those were always obvious from the start and I never was one to stick around with a losing bet (I distinctly remember one relationship that had a shelf-life of “Four Tuesdays”—my best friend from college will get this reference; there were lots of fun, crazy memories from that episode in our lives). My relationships either lasted a few weeks or a few years—the long ones, even the ones that didn’t work out, were great while they lasted, and important learning experiences in preparation for marriage.

It turns out, I met my husband in college—though neither of us was anywhere near ready for marriage at the time. But we fell in love, probably to both our surprises, and we stuck around each other, even though “not ready” was a big light flashing above both our heads. Toby took a year to travel the world after he graduated college, and in the interim, we had both grown a lot. By the time he came back, I knew I was ready to think about marriage, even if we weren’t anywhere near ready to marry each other. We loved each other; we knew that much. I probably broke a slew of dating rules by doing this, but I told him, in no uncertain terms, that if we were going to be together, it would be with an eye towards marriage. Though we both knew there were no guarantees in this trial run, I wasn’t going to waste time with someone who was only in it “just for now.”

Luckily for me, he was on the same page, more or less, and the years following were a steady learning experience in which we tried out what marriage might look like, what commitment meant, and what it would mean to devote ourselves to another. By the time he proposed to me, I was 26 and we were ready. We had grown into marriage together. We had become ready together. When we did exchange vows, I had just turned 28.

But marriage isn’t the only odyssey one embarks on—there’s also parenthood. Having just gotten married, I wasn’t in any rush to have a child. There was my doctorate to finish and a career to start. Toby was only just getting his career off the ground, and a job in the tech industry at that time seemed volatile and uncertain. We lived in a tiny one-bedroom apartment and had other dreams too, namely involving travel. Maybe living abroad for a while. There was still adventure to be had and a baby seemed more like a huge complication and intense responsibility than the next inevitable step in our life progression. The biological clock had started ticking, but I ignored the bell toll.

Though I had heard that fertility decreases with age, I still assumed it would be easy enough to get pregnant. I did have one friend who was trying to get pregnant and had started fertility treatments. She warned me getting pregnant could take time. I heard, but didn’t hear.

When I turned 30, I finished my doctorate and we made plans to move to Thailand. Work with The SOLD Project was already lined up; all I had to do was get to northern Thailand. We were leaving everything we knew behind. That wasn’t the time to start thinking about babies.

After we got settled in Thailand, and Toby’s work situation seemed solid, I was getting integrated at SOLD and halfway through writing a manuscript, I began to listen more carefully to that biological clock. I went off the pill slightly before entirely ready, thinking it would take a few months for the pill’s effects to clear my system, so that, fingers crossed, I might be 100% ready when it did.

Then, I didn’t get pregnant. Our jobs got even better, visitors came and went, we had grown into life in Thailand…I still didn’t get pregnant. My best friend from college was also enduring her own trial of fertility problems, and my best friend from grad school had suffered miscarriages, and another friend was going through a divorce…so by this time, I was really hearing it: Yes, it can be freaking hard to get pregnant. We traveled to Hong Kong and saw more of Asia. I still didn’t get pregnant. We spent a month in Europe, I didn’t get pregnant. We went back to the U.S. for a month…if I didn’t get pregnant soon, we’d have to think about fertility treatments. I didn’t even want to know what that cost would look like. My mother and sister had both had miscarriages before being able to carry a child to term. My cousin is 40 and still unable to get a baby to take, despite almost a decade of treatments. I knew that even if I did get pregnant, it might not work on the first try, and I had to steel myself for that possibility.

It turn out that it was only when we no longer had a stream of life and travel plans that, after more than a year and a half off the pill, I got pregnant. I’m turning 33 next week, and my dreams of having two kids are now looking more like I’ll be blessed to have one. I’m okay with that, and even saying this, I want it to be clear that I’m not complaining. I doubt I’d make different choices even if I had the chance. I love the years Toby and I have had together, and I think the stability we’ve built and the life experiences we’ve had, having had that time, will only serve our child better.

But I feel incredibly lucky. I feel like it’s only partly our choices, and mostly by chance that things have worked out for us (so far—I don’t want to jinx this!). I look at women I know who’ve been trying for years and years to get pregnant, or friends who’ve suffered miscarriages, or others who still can’t find a life partner, and I know how easily it could have gone a different way.

It’s a myth we tell ourselves when we’re young that we can somehow control life and when and how it happens to us. We make plans for what sounds like a good age to marry, and to have children…and these days, that “perfect age” is getting later and later. Instead of right after college, many push it off to their late 20s. Some women, realistic about demands certain careers make, push it off into their 30s, or even later. We don’t factor in the potential for complications. When we make our timelines, we don’t consider the possibility of divorce. We don’t consider the possibility of infertility.

Though I did get married at 28, the truth is I met the man I would marry when I was 20. It took us 8 years to get where we needed to be. If I hadn’t taken my feelings for him seriously way back then, when I still felt I had other life goals to meet first, or vice versa with him for me, who knows where either of us might be? Maybe we would have found other people to love. Maybe there is such a thing as soul mates, and we really are the only ones for each other. Who can really say? Meanwhile, people perpetuate this fear that marriage really hampers one’s freedom and independence. We’ve found this to be entirely untrue for us. Marriage has given us each a strong foundation from which we can both fly—both separately, and together. It’s made us stronger than we would have been alone.

We tell ourselves, when we’re young, that to be real strong, smart women, we have to put education and career before absolutely everything else. The truth is, life goals can exist side by side. You don’t have to put your ducks in a row…sometimes, you just kind of herd them along together. The trend now is to stave off marriage and family until you’ve lived your life first. What makes for “the right time” is an incredibly personal decision and it varies widely from person to person, but I do think we women do ourselves a disservice when we don’t make clear to each other that there are potential tradeoffs when we put off childbearing; that while you’re busy living your life, it can become increasingly harder (and harder than we think it will be) to be able to bear life. We underestimate how fragile life can be, and how uncertain fertility is. We all popped our birth control pills every day for years, each of us never knowing if we’d be the one who’d get pregnant on the first try, the one who would need years of fertility treatments, or the one who couldn’t get pregnant at all.

We can’t control when life happens to us, but we can be honest and informed about the consequences of our choices, and we can listen carefully to our inner guides about who is right for us and when we’re ready. From an employer’s perspective, there’s never a good time for a woman to get pregnant. But your life is your own. External deadlines matter little compared to the timeline we feel ticking along inside.

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This post was inspired by this one, “26 and Already Pregnant,” by Kate from Eat The Damn Cake. If you’re interested in more fun facts about delayed marriage and child-rearing, check out this post, “The Sweet Spot for Tying the Knot,” by Susan Walsh at Hooking Up Smart.

Random Friday Musings

I was planning to write a Books to Savor post sharing a good read I’d come across recently, and I may still get to that later today, but in the meantime, I’m in the mood to share some random things going on in my brain bucket today.

Here they are, in no particular order…

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- Our little Dot is a pretty dang obedient dog and a sweetheart…except in one area. She is nearly uncontrollable when it comes to barking at the neighbors, gardeners, and any other being that commits the grave sin of existing anywhere near our house without express permission. Because our house is rented, we can’t fence her in properly so she’s free to wander, which was fine when we didn’t have neighbors. But after the flooding in Bangkok prompted people to start moving up to Chiang Mai, we suddenly have neighbors. Neighbors who like to have visitors. So you can imagine how many times a day we have to yell at her and chase after her. Dot doesn’t respond well to negative reinforcement. It only makes her more stubborn and recalcitrant (or worse, she gives us this look like we’ve totally failed her), which makes it really difficult to teach her NOT to bark because it’s kind of ridiculous to only be able to praise a dog when it doesn’t bark.

It’s hard to get completely mad at her because it comes from a protective instinct and she’s only doing what she thinks is her job. But since I got pregnant, her protective instinct has been elevated from day job to High Calling, which is both sweet and utterly obnoxious. So after trying every other thing we could think of or find through copious online research, we’ve decided to try a shock collar on her. It makes me feel incredibly guilty and worried, especially given her usual response to negative reinforcement and I really didn’t want to break her relationship of trust with us. But…after just a few days with it, I have to say…

IT WORKS.

Toby has worked carefully with her in using it and keeps it on the lowest possible setting, so that it’s more a sensation than an actual jolt. But the part I really appreciate about it is that you can press a button, via remote control, to emit a little warning beep before resorting to the shock. He only had to use the shock on her twice before she learned to stop barking, come right back to us and sit down, at which point we envelop her in praise and treats. Now that little warning beep is pretty much all she needs to get her to stop barking and come home. And she doesn’t seem to be exhibiting any signs of feeling upset or hurt by us or the collar (maybe because it’s done by remote control, so the connection isn’t clear to her?). So as long as the warning beep is all it takes to get her to obey when we tell her to stop barking and come home, I think I can slowly get behind using this thing, though I still hope there might be a day we won’t have to use it at all.

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- Sometimes, I get really tired of how debate is handled with political stuff. Almost every day in my Facebook feed, there is something about how people are shooting people up in America and we need to do something about keeping slaughter machines out of the hands of crazy folk and why do we only care about people dying when it’s a bomb and not a gun AND/OR something about how we need to cling to our guns and freedoms, and clearly not having an AK-47 = tyranny, and because one person managed to use a gun successfully it’s a good idea for everyone to have easy access to them. The media, which exists to sell itself (and these days, doesn’t even pretend to care more about sharing real policy information than entertainment), THRIVES on this kind of conflict, pushing wedges where really there aren’t any. The truth is, on most policy issues, most people are pretty moderate (which, turns out is kind of a reasonable place to be, hey?). But the way we talk about these issues is like two echo chambers existing side by side, rather than actually communicating. Which is really sad because it makes it impossible to advance the conversation. I’m tired of hearing the same old drumbeats on either side. I’m tired of people painting each other as crazy and stupid when they clearly haven’t listened to what the other really wants. And here’s a hint: you’re not listening to people if you’re spending the entire time trying to figure out how to prove that they’re wrong and you’re smarter.

Here’s two things I wish people would think about more. 1) If you think the answer to a policy problem (especially a controversial one) is really fucking simple, then you’re probably not looking at it carefully enough. 2) You’re not contributing to an effective solution if you can’t hear or address the concerns of those who disagree with you. Be opinionated all you want. Having strong opinions is good. Being engaged in the world around you is good. But it’s still not actually helpful to assume your opinion is the only one worth having and to only want to hear other people tell you that you’re right.

The really worrisome part is that perpetuating these divisions make people really, REALLY angry, and I fear that not only does it not contribute to good policy, but that it makes people really hate each other, dehumanize each other, and makes it seem okay to be more violent with each other, so that it is no longer possible to reach each other with words. People begin see no other recourse than weaponry.

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- Something else I’ve been thinking about lately is that it can be a challenge learning how to adjust to a parent who is aging. I think part of growing up is dealing with the disillusionment that comes when you realize your beloved parent isn’t quite the superhero you thought they were when you were 5, but alongside that comes the beautiful part of getting to know them as they are, which can make you love them more deeply and more expansively, and can add wonderful new dimensions to the relationship.

Sometimes, though, it is a challenge when you’re confronted with a parent whose age has turned them into someone they didn’t use to be, especially if some qualities you admired have been replaced by something you don’t. I recently realized that, when you factor in time with a relationship, part of loving someone means letting go of them as they once were and finding love and acceptance for who they are now. Sometimes, the change is so drastic you have to find new ways to connect with them, demonstrate love, and support and encourage them. It’s like you almost have to build a new relationship. It’s not easy. But realizing that brought me a long way closer to making it okay.

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- Today I’m baking 5-minute artisan bread. The dough has been resting in the fridge for two days, and I’m anxious to see how it turns out. I’ve made it a few times before, but for some unknown reason (changes in humidity/weather? different flour used?), it comes out differently every single time. So it’s like a surprise every time. We’ll see how well it works today!

So that should probably have made up three posts instead of one. Thanks for indulging me! Tell me, what’s been on your mind lately?

The Kind of Article I’m Starting to Hate

There is a certain kind of article/blog post that I’ve been coming across more and more these days, and each time I read one, I know I should just click away, but I’m drawn to it like a moth to a flame. And just as assuredly as the flame can burn the moth, this kind of article draws my ire.

It’s the “What Not To Say” kind of article.

I’m sure you’ve seen them. What Not To Say to a Disabled Person. What Not To Say to a Working Mom. What Not To Say to a Stay at Home Mom. What Not to Say to Someone Who Has Miscarried. What Not to Say to a Mom With Lots of Kids. What Not To Say to Thin People. What Not to Say to Fat People. What Not to Say to Parents of Kids with Special Needs. What Not to Say to Girls…To Teens…To Pregnant Women…To Recovering Alcoholics…To Survivors of {fill in the blank}…actually, you can fill in whatever you can think of, I’m sure there’s an article somewhere on it.

They always sound so helpful at first, because yes, of course, we want to say the right thing when someone is facing a particularly difficult challenge. We want to empathize. We want to be helpful. We, by and large, want to avoid being assholes.

Of course.

But notice this kind of article I’m referring to is not a “What TO say” article. It’s not advice that tells you what will be helpful. By all means, tell me what I can do to best serve you in your need. Yet, far too many of these articles only focus on lashing out against the words of the uninformed and possibly judgmental.

The effect is, instead of telling you how to help, it basically tells you to shut the hell up. Because when you’re actually faced with a grieving person, can you really remember the full list of 10 Things You Must Not Say you read that one time last October? No. So you are left, mute, with nothing but the awareness that it’s all too easy to say the wrong thing.

Meanwhile, I’m increasingly uncomfortable with the spirit in which these types of articles are written. We all face our own challenges in life. Our struggles are as unique as each of us, and we respond in different ways. What helps one heal or step up may not be useful to another.

The thing is…I don’t feel that other people owe it to us to understand us perfectly. Yes, people often say the wrong things, but how often do they really have bad intentions? If they haven’t been in our place, on what founding do we have the right to expect them to know how we feel? More often than not, it’s pretty easy to tell when someone is just trying to make you feel better. It may be a clumsy attempt. It may even be the opposite of helpful. But isn’t it worth anything that they’re trying?

Of course, there are some people who really are just being hateful, but I don’t think they’ll be won over by a “What Not to Say” article either. They’re not the intended audience – the real audience is the well-meaning commiserators. Just like it would be ungracious to throw a Christmas gift back at someone simply because it wasn’t what you wanted, I find it ungracious to judge others for a failed attempt to be kind. Even words that sometimes sound like judgment are really just awkward, clumsy attempts to try to protect you – a motivation based in love, not hatred or contempt.

Yes, there are better and worse ways to comfort people, to converse with them, to let them know you’re there. Many times, there are no words that can help a person heal or deal. Maybe even most times a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on are worth more than any thousands of words.

But the world does not owe us perfectly eloquent grace or perfectly clear understanding. Each person who loves us is a gift. Each loving intention is its own kind of grace. Embracing them all with loving kindness can do far more to help us heal than focusing on how they fell short of our mark.

 

California is so friggin’ scenic

As I write this, I’m rocking out to Fun.’s “Some Nights” and “Home” by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes. Those two songs have become the soundtrack to my trip home and the epic time we’ve been having with our friends. The latter was playing while we were folding pinwheels and making bouquets out of succulents. And the bride and I grabbed each other and belted out “Home, home is whenever I’m with you” as we danced in celebration of their union and our reunion.

I’m going to remember that forever.

Toby & I drove down the coast route, the Pacific Coast Highway, our favorite way to get from Santa Barbara to L.A.

We had the top down on the convertible. The ocean was candescent with greens and blues. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky.

 

I asked Toby what top three qualities he appreciated most in people. He said an adventurous spirit or drive, self-sufficiency, and being unpretentious about who you are is what he valued most.

My top three are: loyalty, compassion, and an approach to life with a healthy sense of humor.

What are your top three?

Travel has expanded my definition of home. It’s not one place or one scene or one idea. But it’s a large, beautiful home. And my heart overflows.

 

The Melting Years {A Bigger Picture Moment}

My sister is thirteen years older than I am. When I was very wee, she played second mother to me, helping my parents feed, bathe, and clothe me. She helped babysit when my parents worked, in a way, sacrificing a good portion of her youth to take care of little me.

By the time I was old enough to develop a relationship with her that I could remember beyond snatches and glimpses, she was graduating high school, moving out, living with friends, and getting married. She was trying for babies while I was watching The Lion King.

Her first husband was a long story, so I’ll skip to the part where she moved back closer to family, where she has been ever since. But by the time this happened, I was the one moving out, going to college, and falling in love far away.

There was love. Always a tremendous amount of love between us, but little else in common with so many years, life experiences, and differences in the way. We would spend holidays together, with the whole family, laughing and joking. But we didn’t share thoughts, or clothes, or inside jokes like other sisters might, and neither of us likes talking on the phone. There were a few breaches in the age wall – like when she found a new man and started asking me for dating advice, and when I went through a major breakup for reasons much like her earlier divorce and I stayed with her for a week as I nursed my wounds – but still, 25 and 38 make for different people and different life phases.

But then she got remarried. And I got married. She had a second baby, and I was maturing enough to start playing aunt, albeit still from a three-hour drive away. I poured love into her babies as proxy for all the love I couldn’t express to her when I was younger.

And now she’s come to visit and I’m discovering there are no awkward pauses. No shuffling. No wondering what to say or what to do. I’m showing her my home in the country of her birth. I show her the markets and restaurants I love, and watch with a smile as she buys up more food than anyone can reasonably be expected to eat. I laugh as we both reach for the same purses, home decor, and hand-carved goods at the night market. We whisper back and forth about prices and conspire over whom to buy from and how much to bargain down.

We sit by the pool, sharing guavas and dreams, and I’m discovering 33 and 46 aren’t so different after all.

The years, they’re melting away.

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Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take,
but by the moments that take our breath away.” 
- Author Unknown 

 What moments stole your breath away this week? 

Each Thursday, we come together to celebrate living life with intention by capturing a glimmer of the bigger picture through a simple moment. Have you found yourself in such a moment lately? Share it with us! 

Live. Capture. Share. Encourage.
This week we’re linking up HERE!

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Pinnacle Moment {Lenae}

We’re back! Hope you all had a Thanksgiving so yummy it induced a cozy stupor! This week we have a touching story from Lenae at Just Lenae. If you don’t already know this woman, you should because besides being warm and funny, loving and thoughtful, she and her lovely family are on the move. To Azerbaijan. (Where?!) (Yeah, I had to look up how to spell it.) And they’re doing it right smack in the middle of Christmas craziness. So you should follow her on this new adventure – I’m sure it’ll be quite the roller coaster indeed. Anyway, she took time out of the craziness to share a moment that changed her. I hope you’ll take a moment to pull up a chair and join in the conversation.
 

 

From Lenae, titled: My Walk With Red

It was meant to be a weekend visit, when I drove up the California coastline to the small Oregon town where my great-grandparents lived, all those years ago.  I was on the cusp of turning 19, with long, black hair I still hadn’t learned how to style, and grand, vivid hopes for all I hoped to accomplish after I left for the Air Force in a few months.

My great-grandpa wasn’t doing well.  His health had been spotty for years, but it had recently been on the downward decline long enough that my dad urged me to go see him in the rehabilitation home he’d recently moved to.  Just in case.

I don’t remember much about the 6-hour trek north.  I sped along the redwood-lined highway I knew so well and reveled in the freedom of my solitude.  I littered the floor of my parents’ car with empty Mountain Dew bottles and rotated through my favorite CDs.  As for what awaited me once I arrived at my destination, I had no expectations or heavy thoughts about it.  I was enshrouded in a bubble untouched by serious illness or death, moving lightly in self-assured naiveté.

It was a bubble that dissolved easily enough the moment I stepped from the cool, Oregon fog into the rehabilitation home.  It smelled as most medical facilities do –stuffy, sterile—and all sound was eerily muffled and hushed.  I was not prepared for the sight of Grandpa Red, as he’d always been called because of the copper-hued locks of his youth.  He was emaciated and unshaven.  He stirred instantly at the sight of me.

I had great affection for Grandpa Red, but my memories of affection from him were mostly hazy, rimmed in his characteristic sarcasm.  He wasn’t gentle; if he wanted to hug you, he pulled you in under his arm and more likely than not gave you a noogie.  He served in the Seabees during World War II, and filled the Navy-stereotype beautifully with entertaining, salty language.  He listened to Rush Limbaugh in the shop behind the house and enjoyed fishing.   He taught me in part how to have the grand and vivid personality I was carefully stoking for myself.

Yet the man in the hospital bed was neither grand nor vivid.  He was a remnant of the person populating so many of my memories, already faded.  Somewhere in my subconscious I recognized that this, truly, was a farewell visit, but I couldn’t wrap my brain around that reality just yet.  I crossed the room and perched carefully in a chair beside him and did something I couldn’t remember doing since I was a very little girl: I held his hand.

I don’t remember if we traded any polite remarks.  Frankly, I don’t remember anything about that interaction other than how very warm his hand was, and that he startled me to my core by asking if I’d attended church yet that week.  “I’ll be at church on Wednesday,” I offered him shakily, information he wouldn’t know because we’d never discussed my budding faith.

“Will you pray for me, Lenae?” he asked.

After a very long pause –because now I was attempting to wrap my heart around the reality my mind had already recognized—I promised him that yes, I would.

Mortality is an interesting, twisted object to try and hold in your hands.  I’d always been very precocious, very mindful of the darker aspect of the humanity I was a member of, but this meeting with my great-grandfather shattered any perceptions I’d built of my awareness.  I was a typical 18-year-old in that I was quite sure I knew exactly what I was doing… about everything.  And of course, nothing will tear up the roots of false confidence like confronting death.

The rehabilitation center he was in was not ideal.  My great-grandmother was fretful and alone there, pacing the halls of the home they shared not far from the beach.  But I wanted to leave.  I wanted to return to the warm security of the car gliding down the highway, and sing my heart out and slam down junk food and think of how cute I’d look in an Air Force blues uniform.

In the end, there were a few things that compelled me to do otherwise: compassion bred beneath an umbrella of intentional parenting; a heart leaping and jumping in new faith, and ideas of what vibrant service and selfless love actually looked like.  I quit my job back in my hometown to stay there in Oregon, and help my great-grandparents.  The ensuing weeks were an education in one of the most grand, vivid transitions of life – as it were, the exit from life.  It was a privilege to dole out medication, to hear tales told one last time, to observe gratitude delivered in unchecked fullness.  It was shattering to be present for the physical breakdown of a body that was, at a time, strong and streamlined.  I held those warm hands that grew ever warmer as he –we—neared the end, and it seemed he was burning the truth of existence into my soul.  I’d never shared anything very deep with the man, but I was honored to be there with him as he grappled with the inevitable questions we weigh as we contemplate being no more.  I was humbled to be able to pray with him, blessed to see evidence of a peaceful heart just hours before his breath came and went and then did not come again.

It was not graduating from high school or taking the oath at the end of military training that propelled me into adulthood: it was this – the overwhelming, breaking, final walk I took hand-in-hand with my great-grandfather.  I felt in his grip all the love he was never able to convey in words, and when my eyes had cleared, I looked up to the see the sunrise of eternal life as I’d been unable to view it before.

 

I hope you enjoyed this moment, and that beautiful juxtaposition she created between youth and death. I hope you’ll join us once more next week, for the conclusion of our series. Thanks so much for connecting with us along the way!
 

you capture – inspiration

Last week, Beth asked us what inspires us. For me, without a doubt, the answer is relationships.

Our relations with others: how we see others, how we treat them, how we act because of them…

Even our relationship with ourselves: identity, culture, spirituality.
Love, or hate.

I am fascinated by all these things. In my own life, I seek to resolve problems between people and even within themselves. I often find myself in that kind of role and I love it. Part teacher, part confidante, it gives me a sense of meaning in my life. When I’m  not counseling others, I search for and rediscover my ever-changing self. When I am full of something to say, I put it into words, into food, and into comfort.

Some might call it naval-gazing and maybe it is, but I find the better rooted I am in myself, the better suited I am to help others. Therein lies the joy.

I have a little system for all of this right now, but that system is about to go into shock, for on Monday we move to Thailand. The next time I participate in You Capture, it will be from the other side of the world.

See you all on the other side.

Love,
Jade

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the day i {almost} walked away

I almost don’t even know where to begin with this story. All I can say is, if I had a chance to write an open letter to fellow graduate students, I would have a lot to write about. I’ve tried to be as professional as I can with any discussion related to my academic life, but, here now at the end, it’s no longer just professional. It’s personal. It hits deep. It, in some ways, has defined me.

Today, Friday, September 10 is my deadline to file my dissertation. The stakes if I miss the deadline? Two quarters’ worth of tuition… roughly eight grand that I’d have to pay up front and out of pocket because no more student loans for me. I’d been working on my fifth chapter since May and as of Monday of last week, it had already been through at least three major overhauls (And let’s not even get into the fights I had with the computer labs that were never open due to furloughs and management changes and that no longer have the program I need, only a trial version that is lovely enough to crash every time I try to do anything remotely useful on it, and even when I caved and bought the dang program it still didn’t work. Let’s just say that being a student at a public university in these times of economic woe is not fun.)

So that Monday, I had just finished a major overhaul and could see this deadline looming and was praying everything would pass muster. What I hear from my committee that Wednesday night is that I still fail to grasp how to present this kind of information (though until that email, nobody had really told me either). The recommended changes are not few. I begin to freak out because in all this process I have felt like I’d been wandering in the dark without any guideposts, only guard rails to bump into when I’ve gone the wrong way. But it’s no longer May. It’s now a week and a half from my deadline, and I’m trying to work while bouncing between houses living out of suitcases because our apartment decided it was also a good time to get an all-invasive mold infestation, and what I hear is that I still just don’t get it. So I sent a couple of worried emails asking what to do, where do I stand, and is there any hope of the goal in sight.

And I wait. Sickened, tired, and nearing the end of my capacity. (I’m really giving you the Cliffs Notes version of this saga.) Then, Friday, a week before my deadline (and a day before I was also supposed to leave for a very good friends’ wedding) I get an email back saying basically, what you’re going through right now? This pain and drama? You brought it on yourself.

And I broke.

I had already been sobbing my way through the week, and these words pushed me over the edge. The picture from Wednesday’s post? That is from this day I’m talking about here. (I realize I’m not painting a very good picture of my committee right now. In this process there have definitely been times when I could and should have communicated better with them, and there are times when I wish I had gotten a little more clear communication from them. They are actually very helpful and kind people, concerned for the well-being of their students. And they put in major hours trying to help me get done before my deadline. I really did ask a lot of them here at the end. I think, just when it comes to crunch time, lack of communication results in major frustration, on both sides.)

I stared at that email. I walked away from my desk, wandered through the house and into the garden. I was floating. I was detached. I cried and I crumbled and I fell. I was done. Simply done. I had no more left.

And yes, objectively, those words are truth. I decided to pursue this degree. I decided to try for this deadline. I’ve made mistakes along the way. I am responsible. I made those decisions as best as I could with what I knew at the time. But they are indeed my decisions.

But when you’re hurting, to be told: you deserve this? It broke me. And if it were up to only me, I would have walked away right then. I would have looked back on the past years’ worth of time, money and effort, shrugged, and walked away.

I sat on the porch swing. The sun shone down and twinkled on the glass panes and the flowers. It was such an ethereal moment. As much as I hurt, sitting there in the garden with nothing left but tears, I began to find a shred of myself again. I found that, underneath everything that had died, there was one tiny little beating pulse left. I couldn’t go a step further by myself. No, I couldn’t do that. But if I were to have any hope of trying one more time, I would have to do it with someone by my side.

I called my parents and told them I was coming home.

I called my dear friend and shame-facedly told her I couldn’t come to her wedding. She understood. Oh my god, she understood.

My hubby and I packed up our things and drove down to my parents’ house. The minute I saw them and my mom said, “my baby”, I found my center. I felt whole again. How is it I’m thirty years old and still can go home to my mom and dad and find my center? I don’t think that will ever change, and I don’t want it to.

My mom is such a fighter too. I told her the whole story and … well, you just can’t be around my mom and not be infected with her fighting spirit. It wasn’t long before I picked myself up out of the dirt and pulled my boxing gloves back on and got back into the ring.

We worked through the weekend. It was so blessedly fortifying just to have my mom in the same room and my dad pacing about. I sent emails to my committee, working hard to clear up our problems of miscommunication and to honestly own up to my part in where things went wrong. I sent more emails to clarify what I could do to make things right. Meanwhile, my parents fed me and cheered me, steered me straight, and told me they knew I could do this. When I told them I was broken, they said there’s no such thing. Failure doesn’t exist. My husband went off to the wedding with only a bag of goodies I had put together for the bride in my place. At 5 p.m. on Sunday, I thought of her walking down the aisle, and then went back to work. At 6 p.m. on Sunday, I got texts saying they were officially married, I cheered, and went back to work.

And finally…finally… midnight on Monday I had it done. I tweaked a few things early Tuesday morning, and sent it off with a prayer.

Then, I got an email back in response to a question I had about something seemingly minor, and the response was…everything you just did? You now have to do over again.

This is Tuesday. Deadline is Friday.

I couldn’t believe it. But still I worked. I still had some fight left in me and I chugged and chugged to work something out. I didn’t have to redo everything after all, I just had to add a little bit extra to acknowledge the issue that needed attention. And after much scurrying of emails and flurrying of typing and fixing and fretting, one day before the deadline I got the go-ahead to file.

I made it. It’s done. It tore me down, stripped me of everything: strength, pride, ego, even my sense of self. I did get lost along the way. For a long time I was lost and became someone I didn’t really recognize. It was a very dark place. But then I went home and found myself again.

It’s only when you’re stripped of everything that you find out who you really are and what you’re made of. Me alone? Might not be enough. But I’m also my love, my family, my husband, and my amazing friends who reach out and understand.

Circumstances don’t define us. At any moment, our lives can change and we can choose to walk in any direction. What defines us is the direction we choose to walk in.

I choose to walk in the direction of love.

I just happened to pick up a degree along the way.

Join in with everyone trying to find the bigger picture in life.

On Having The Courage To Leave

Having the courage to leave an abusive or dead-end relationship is hard. It’s hard to know if you’re making the right decision. It’s hard to face down fears about what the change will bring. As a reader wrote to me,

“I do fear being alone and I also fear I won’t do better. But recently I don’t like the man I see or how he treats me and I am now deciding should I stay or should I go?”

Here is my response [slightly edited for privacy and clarity, as it was part of a much longer conversation]:

I’m really reticent to tell people how to live their lives, especially knowing so little about you and your life. The advice I’m going to give here is going to sound very strongly like I’m telling you to leave him. But I believe very much that people can only do things when they are ready to. Otherwise there will always be some regret or lingering doubts. It’s better to act when you’re ready and have no regrets than to wonder (and potentially end up back in the same situation and draw out the pain). The advice I give is based solely on what you’ve given me here too. The truth is, nobody knows the truth of a relationship better than the two people in it, even if they can’t see themselves clearly. Even if friends and loved ones can spot a dead-end relationship from a mile away and in the end they’re right, the part of the truth that really matters is what the two people in the relationship can see.

Ok, so here is my advice, such as it is.

I would say “don’t be afraid to be alone”, and “you can totally find someone better”, and I definitely want to cheerlead you on. But that runs the risk of sounding like empty platitudes and doesn’t give you much practical advice. The only thing I think I can really do is say you need to confront those fears, for two reasons. One, if you truly confront them you’ll probably find they are empty threats. And two, confronting them means looking really closely at yourself and you’ll probably find those fears are actually symptoms of something deeper about yourself. Confronting fears is scary, scary business. But it is SO NECESSARY. And SO SO REWARDING once you get through it. I cannot possibly overstate how deep the rewards are and how fulfilling it is to do this.

It might help to think out would happen if these two fears were realized. If you were alone, if you couldn’t find someone else…what would that look like? What part of it is actually scary? Is there a reason (maybe something from your past) that makes you believe you need to fear this? Then maybe take a look and assess: are those scenarios actually likely, are they actually frightening, are there really no other options? Would you really feel much more alone without him than you already do now?

It is scary and takes real courage to end a long relationship. We tend to sympathize most with the person who gets dumped, but being the one to leave takes real courage too. If you come to a point where deep in your heart you know it’s over, I know it’s scary, but have the courage to be the one to leave. You might find the pain of the relationship ending is not nearly so bad as the pain of it continuing. You might feel suddenly free, like a huge burden has been lifted: one you had no idea was so heavy until you got out from under it.

When I went through a difficult time in a relationship, I made a conscious choice. I decided that I would rather be alone than in a relationship that caused so much pain and made me feel so badly. I didn’t want to have to fight so damn hard to be happy. I was too effing exhausted to put up with any more b-llsh-t. I made a promise to myself (and eventually to my now-hubby) that if I was going to get in a relationship again, it had to be REAL. For real. No lies (to each other, but most importantly to ourselves), no false hopes. Just love, respect, and honest effort – with a few laughs along the way.

There, really, is the key: find whatever it is that will make you happy, and is real. Do whatever it takes that makes you feel honestly good about yourself. It is your life to live. Live it without regrets.

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