Hey, how are you? It’s been awhile, huh? I just amused myself by looking back at last years’ SINGLE post and realized that here I am a year later, at almost exactly the same time and writing the first post of 2015. The good news is that life continues on, more or less the same. Which means that we’re all still here and we’re all OK, and sometimes that has to be good enough. And there’s no one who can help you remember that quite like your first cousin. My cousin Chrissy (even at this age it seems completely foreign to refer to her as Chris, like everyone else does) was the first cousin I met after arriving on this big blue marble. Settled outside of Baltimore, Chrissy and I were born six months apart, but we might as well have been living six planets away. Growing up I would see her (and eventually her sister and brother) twice a year, at Christmas and in the summers when they would pack up their grey Chevrolet Citation and drive the fifteen hours from Catonsville to Rolling Meadows and eventually Algonquin. In terms of time spent together, the actual total of days must equal less than six months, but in terms of impact on my life, the memories and connection I have with Chrissy is immeasurable. I was reminded of this during my recent visit to Baltimore (for work) when I had the chance to stay with Chrissy and her family in Sykesville. We spent many hours first at the kitchen table and then on the comfy overstuffed couches in her basement catching up, reliving old times and re-establishing our connection. There was the trip to Ocean City and the one in the Adirondacks too. There were family weddings and reunions from days gone by. There was the inevitable comparison to our younger cousins, and of course there was much conversation about our shared roles as the eldest daughter. Having lost her father, Roger, at the age of twenty-two and the loss of my mother at the age of forty, we not only share the responsibilities of being the firstborn, we also share the sense of loss that only comes from prematurely losing a parent. We both have a keen sense of the importance of family, but also share the frustrations that come with such priorities – dealing with perceived disappointments of siblings, the continual perceptions of “having it easy/the perfect family”, or just having to be the perpetual rock through a myriad of family dramas. There’s nothing like being able to have an open and supportive dialogue with someone who’s in the exact same boat you are – paddling along, desperately trying to keep things steady and moving ahead, despite the sometimes turbulent waters you encounter. It was incredibly reassuring. And familiar. And in discussing all of the events that have happened as the years have passed by, one thing became extremely clear to me: though you may be miles and miles away and your time spent apart significantly outnumbers the days spent together, there simply is no substitute for the love and shared history of your first cousin.
Holy crap – the year’s already almost a quarter way complete? April begins next week and I can hardly believe how quickly the days appear to be flying by. Add to the list of proven cliches everyone tells you: “the older you get, the faster the time goes.” I find it utterly astounding that we’re three months into 2014 already and yet it seems that I’ve accomplished so little. How can this be? So to remind me of where the time went, I revisited some of my posts from last year. And what did I find? That almost to the date exactly, it has been one year since my father’s cancer was diagnosed. It’s been five months since the hardest time of my life began. And it’s been one month since my Dad got the “no cancer!” confirmation from the doctors.
2013 was one of the worst years of my life. It was the year of layoffs at work, doctor appointments, rounds of chemo, hospital visits and voluntarily nursing my Dad back to health while he lived with us for the better part of two months. It was the year I learned to live with disappointment in myself and others. It was the year I learned to say no to obligations I could no longer bear. It was the year I rediscovered the healing power of nature (in both the Highlands and the UP). And it was the year I confirmed just how strong I could be. 2013 left me exhausted.
So imagine how thrilled I am now to be in the midst of 2014. Right out of the gate this new year came on, bold and strong like a charging horse. Full of energy and unexpected opportunities, 2014 has proved to me how quickly fortunes can change. Yes, things may be terrible rightnowathisverymoment, but if you stop. If you work hard. If you breathe. You will get through it and come out on the other side changed for the better.
I am so thankful for this year. I am thankful for change. I am thankful for the opportunity to work hard, doing things that interest and inspire me, and I suppose, more than anything, I am glad that 2013 is at long last behind me. Yeah, life is good.
Ten is the golden age, as I’m finding out. Ten is the year my darling boy – the one with the sweetest heart and the deepest sense of empathy – begins the official transition to responsible adult. For his entire life, my butterfly gazer and daydreamer wandered through life in a world unique to himself. The distracted nature of his little old soul gave my husband and me fits. “Why wouldn’t you realize…” our sentences would often start when he would fail at things like being organized, or planning or anticipating. The simple acts of picking up after oneself, or thinking ahead to work more efficiently, seemed impossible. And worse yet (or at least to us, his overcontrolling parents), he – the darling boy – didn’t seem to be too concerned about it. Or anything else, for that matter, unless it involved someone getting hurt or feeling badly. No, the darling boy, with his sweet heart and deep mind, careened through life, moment-to-moment, without concern or preparation for what awaited him.
That is, until, the golden year. I could not have predicted how much I have seen him change in a matter of months. Clothes go in the basket, not on the floor. Electronics are recharged when batteries are low. Dishes are put into the kitchen and even sometimes, even the dishwasher. And just yesterday, he actually decided to put a warm case of soda in the fridge – of his own accord. Yes, unbelievably, this darling boy is getting older, and more responsible and dependable than I would have ever thought possible.
So, imagine the irony in the tinge of sadness I feel in this development. All this time, all this annoying time, the darling boy needed us. I mean, really, really needed us. And now? Like all of the other parents of every generation have come to realize, we’re coming to the point where he needs us less, which will lead to the point where he hardly needs us at all. I love that darling boy so very much and I am so very proud and in love with the idea of him being a wonderful and reliable and kind person (much like his father), but I must admit, in the strangest possible way, I may begin to delight a bit more, when I find that stray sock outside of the basket.
The word stretch is a funny one. It’s both a verb and a noun and has a multitude of uses and definitions. A stretch can be long or short. It can be positive or negative. You can have a stretch of good luck or bad luck. You can stretch yourself too thin or not enough. When the horses are coming down the stretch, for better or for worse, you know the end is in sight. So the word stretch, for me, this year, has more relevance than ever before.
We are just over mid-way through 2013 (aptly represented by the snake). I have to say this has been a year (as the Chinese predicted) of very high highs and very low lows with not a lot of inbetween. 2013, like almost no other year (except for maybe 2009) is proving to be one that challenges me and forces me to stretch like no other. This year, I must trust others more to help me, when I have not much more to give. I must believe in the flexibility and durability of relationships, where I can stretch them as thinly as possible without fearing of their breakage. I must push myself to stretch my optimism and energy – to continue to believe that whatever happens next, in the end it will be for the best. And I must be wary of the stretch – that no matter how reliable and pliable and strong things may seem, that everyone and everything has a breaking point.
So it’s not a stretch (sorry, couldn’t help myself) to say that I’m approaching the second half of this year with some wariness. I’ve had some amazing time with friends and family in places so wonderful that I can hardly believe that I was there. Conversely, I’ve also had days so terrible and full of fear that it took all my strength to soldier on in the belief that things eventually will get better. I realize that there are many things I have to attend to and no matter what, I will have to continue to stretch and balance and just try to do the best I can. After all, it is almost August, and if you listen really closely, you might just begin to hear those horses coming right around the bend…
Cancer is an equal opportunity bastard. And a sneaky one too. For years, I deluded myself with the idea that I didn’t really need to worry about cancer, because I really didn’t have a history of it in my family. I come from ‘peasant stock’, I would flippantly say – implying a heritage of poor but hard-working people with long life spans of serfdom and servitude. Well, that’s true, except of course, for my Grandmother, who died of breast cancer. And of course there was great-aunt Fran, who finally stopped eating in surrender to her lung cancer. Right, and Mom – whose thirty+ years of smoking finally caught up with her too. Come to think of it, with my Dad’s recent super rare nasopharyngeal carcinoma diagnosis, I just turbo-boosted myself from someone completely unconcerned with cancer, to someone who is starting to recognize it as a potential part of my destiny. Scary stuff.
So today I am finding some comfort (and inspiration) in being surrounded by people WITH cancer. People who are getting chemo treatments, like my Dad. People who may or may not be accompanied by a loved one. People with grey faces, and thinning hair (or bald heads). People from every class, every color, every ethnic and cultural background. And all with one thing in common: there’s a bastard they are fighting against with everything they’ve got. And here’s the great thing: right now, in this multi-curtained room I’ve spent the better part of six hours in, no matter who they are or where they’ve come from, they are getting excellent care and treatments that are more effective than ever before. Is there a guarantee that they’ll be cured? Not by a long shot – but at least all of these brave and amazing folks that I’m surrounded by today have a much better chance at recovery than ever before.
Cancer is like the uninvited asshole who shows up at your party, trashes the bathroom, breaks the heirloom vase and drinks all your beer. If you’re lucky, you’ll have some friends or family and the support you need to help you kick him out. Sometimes he gets the hint and never comes back and sadly, sometimes, in the middle of the night, he comes in and burns down your house and takes everything you’ve got. You’re never guaranteed one outcome over the other, but it’s nice to know there are more options than ever before to help you put up a stronger fight than you ever thought imaginable.
My father has cancer. Not just any cancer, but a racquetball-sized tumor in his nasopharynx that is slowly overtaking his ability to hear, swallow and eat. The good news is that despite the aggressiveness of the growth, the prognosis is extremely positive. Odds are, he’ll be OK. Or at least the odds are in his favor – which means his future looks much more favorable than my mother’s did at the time she was diagnosed with lung cancer three and a half years ago.
Ah yes, cancer. To be honest, it’s a fucking pain in the ass. And I’m not even the one who has to go through the radiation and chemo. I won’t be losing my sense of taste, hearing and maybe the ability to swallow for a year. I certainly won’t be the one who may require a feeding tube, home healthcare and all the other bullshit administered by people who say things like, “on a scale of one to ten, how much pain are you feeling?”
And yet, I am feeling pain. It fluctuates – from a three to a five and maybe on my worst days, maybe a six and one quarter. Five years ago I was sailing through life, having largely avoided any of the nonsense that cancer brings to a family. And then, the smoking caught up with my mother. And now, who knows what’s caught up with my father (his cancer is ridiculously rare)? And here I am, the living cliché of the oldest daughter, trying to determine where he’ll live, what kind of care he’ll need, what his insurance will pay for and the big fat stinking lot of all of the crap you have to deal with when someone you love has cancer.
So there’s that. And I have to make sure I don’t completely screw up my job and lose a big account or let anyone down. And I have to make sure that my little family – my amazing husband and darling critters don’t get shortchanged of time and attention any more than they already do. And I have to navigate through the bullshit that defines sibling relationships (resentments, jealousies and issues of control). Oh, and yeah, I have to make my dad feel better: “No, you’re not a burden.” “Really, I’m happy to do it.” “Is there anything else you need me to do?”
If other members of this club are known as the “sandwich generation“, then I’m a freaking double-stuffed Oreo.
I’d like to feel sorry for myself, but I just can’t. I know people who are dealing with pain, grief and situations so terrible it would make me crumble after only a minute of trying to endure it.I have a loving husband and children. I have a roof over my head and friends who care about me. I have vacations planned, a rewarding job and as safe a place to live as could possibly exist. I have healthcare. Most importantly, I have freedom.
Good perspective to keep I think. As this ridiculous journey progresses, I only hope that I can keep it.
May you have the hindsight to know where you’ve been
the foresight to know where you’re going
and the insight to know when you’re going too far.
– Irish Blessing
I’ll admit it – I’m drawn to Europeans. I’m not sure if it’s because I was born there, or if I just idealize their lifestyles so much (free healthcare, more vacation time, charming historic buildings – what more could you ask for?), but I have always had a sense that I could easily move to the UK, or somewhere else in Europe, and be completely content. Europe, to me, has always seemed a welcome alternative to the intensity, vastness and roughness of the US. Or so I thought.
Recently, friends of mine from Dublin were in town for a brief visit (Believe me, this sounds way more hoity-toity than the reality. I don’t have lots of friends to start with, and the fact that two of them are based in Europe is an accident and definitely not representative of some sort of International lifestyle – I’m frankly not that interesting). We spent the better part of three hours reconnecting over drinks and one of the subjects that my friend inquired about was the state of my husband’s career and how it was progressing. In updating her on his promotional status, one of the things I mentioned is how I am also encouraging him to develop his own business as a post-retirement option. The way I see it, it’s quite possible he’ll get frustrated with the political nature of his current career and he should have an alternate option to pursue once he reaches that level. I have no doubt that he’ll be wildly successful in the business I’m encouraging him to start and fully support him in such an effort. In recounting these beliefs, my Irish friend commented to her husband, “Now that’s just what I love about America: I love the can-do spirit here.”
I had never really thought about it before, but she’s absolutely right. America IS vastly different from Europe because we still believe that anything can be done, at any time, by anyone willing to put the effort into doing it well. Yes, I believe our country is massively screwed up and I know that my more liberal values are not in harmony with a vast majority of my countrymen. However, Elaine’s comment made me realize that despite these differences, for the large part, we are all united in a belief that things can always be made better with commitment and hard work. Call it American optimism, a ‘can-do’ attitude or just plain moxie, I’m sure glad to possess it and even more glad to live in a country that fosters it. We may not have all the charms that Europe offers, but I’ll take limitless possibility over five-hundred year buildings any day.
Instead, I posit there are other, much more important milestones way more worthy of recognition. To me, these are the true triumphs of parenting (at least based on what we’ve experienced to date):
1. The day your children can successfully shower, wash and dry themselves off (without completely flooding the bathroom or leaving so much soap in their hair that it squeaks).
2. When the four/forty rule finally applies and you can finally ditch the nightmare safety torture device known as the standard car seat for a booster. Also applies for when you can switch your child from a rear-facing to a front facing car seat, although believe me, those still feel positively medieval compared to the “devil-may-care” freedom a booster seat offers.
3. The day you officially retire the baby bag (whether that be a vinyl bag covered with chicks and bunnies or the urban version of a messenger bag) – a life free of binkies, sippy cups, wipes and the emergency stash of goldfish crackers/fruit snacks is completely liberating (and about 15 lbs. lighter).
4. The day you realize your children CAN carry their own stuff. Be it a laundry basket full of clothes, their carry-on backpack through the airport, or the groceries in from the car, take my word for it. The day you regain full status as a parent versus a sherpa, you’ll all be the better for it.
5. When your children finally understand the concept of money and saving. Seriously? Having a kid actually grasp the fact that they don’t needthisveryjunkytoyrightthisveryminuteormyheadwillexplode not only saves you from much stress and duress at the store, it also makes you realize you might actually be imparting some good sense into those critters who live in the rooms down the hall.
While one of my critters has actually graduated to double digits, I realize that there are also other victories to come as they get older. I’m very much looking forward to them and think it’s got to be a better way to process the bittersweetness of how quickly those little lovelies will grow up, don’t you?
First, a confession: we completely overindulge our children. There is no doubt in my mind that they have too many legos, too many clothes they don’t wear, too many games they don’t play and too many craft projects they will never ever get to. I could rationalize why we over provide for them, but the truth is it doesn’t really matter. It makes us happy, the children aren’t spoiled and eventually the winner is the resale shop and the not-for-profit it supports.
So yes, as long as the children aren’t spoiled and we’re not driving ourself into financial ruin, the only problem that remains is where to put all of this stuff. We have a hundred-year-old-house with only two closets and small room sizes. Attempt number one: we finish off the attic and turn it into a playroom/family room loaded with storage for books, games, toys and the like. Children’s response? It’s so far atop the house (it is the third floor) that they don’t like being up there alone and toys eventually migrate downstairs to be played with in the living room.
Move on to attempt number two: Move hundreds of legos (and some games) one floor below the main floor into the unfinished basement along with a TV, karaoke machine, drum set, keyboard and floor mats for impromptu concerts and wide open play space. Children’s response? It’s creepy down there and (shudder) the spiders. So masses of legos eventually migrate upstairs into the living room to be played with.
Despite our best attempts to corral the toys they always end up underfoot in our main living room. Maddening? Yes, but we happily tolerate it. Why? For our children, at least, as much as they love their toys and the space to play and be creative, what they love most of all is being part of something – being near the action and the comfort of their parents and the activity and chaos of being a family. My children are getting older. Soon enough, there will be days where they’ll be stomping up to their rooms, slamming their doors and demanding privacy. So for now, I’ll spend a few minutes each evening picking up the legos from the floor, collecting the stuffed animals from the sofa and returning the crayolas to the craft drawers in the closet, all the while enjoying the fact that they are proof of something much larger that happens in our small home everyday.
It’s almost the end of the year (maybe even the end of the world, if you’re a Mayan). I’m desperately craving a creative spark to generate some creative writing skills (and if you’re reading this, you probably are too), but as I’m in the midst of last-minute shopping, high-caliber proposal drafting, new company scheming and dreaming, and trying to complete the to-do list on my desk before I’m outta here for a week, it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. So instead, I figure I might as well copy what every one else does this time of year: put together a list. Here goes:
Five things I learned in 2012.
1. Good doesn’t always will out, but when it does, it’s tremendously reassuring.
Not to get all political or anything, but the truth is I want an intelligent president. Not just someone who’s willing to be “the decider”. Not just a guy who wants the job, but someone who wants to lead in a way that considers the will of the people with an objective eye to what’s in the best interest for them. This year, that happened. It might have come closer than we would have hoped, but it did, and in my opinion that’s a good thing. Especially in light of all that’s happened in the tail end of this year.
2. The only way to get comfortable is by being uncomfortable.
We live in uncertain times. I work in an industry that is changing by leaps and bounds on a monthly (if not weekly) basis. My children, my spouse and I all continue to get older. And no one knows what tomorrow brings. That said, the only constant is change. You can spend a lot of wasted energy fighting it or trying to master every single little detail, only to have them be irrelevant in a week. I’ve decided it’s a hell of a lot easier, and way more fun, to embrace the change. Learn to be more flexible. Embrace continual learning. Train yourself to fly by the seat of your pants. Just enjoy being part of it.
3. Life is good. Definitely much better than it’s been.
Seems to me as people get older, their nostalgia for youth and relevance clouds their judgement of just how good things were “in the old days.” As bad as things seem today, I have to believe they are better than they have been. Women and minorities have a right to vote. Small groups of people have more tools than ever to create radical change. Obesity, not starvation or cholera or polio, is one of the biggest health problems in the US. And the youth of today volunteer more than the generations before them. Yes, the economy is still poor. There are too many people who struggle every day. But don’t let the challenges of today get in the way of seeing all we have accomplished.
4. The heart wants what it wants.
I’m a pretty predictable person and I know what I value and what I want. That’s why it’s hard for me to understand when people don’t want the same things I do – whether it’s who they love or how they love them. As I get older, I’m softening on this view. Look, I want a dependable partner who not only loves me, but looks out for me and helps me. Not everyone wants this. And you know what, as long as that person is truly happy, it doesn’t matter. Yes, it’s different from me, but not worse. I suspect this learning will go a long way as my critters get older and start creating their relationships.
5. You’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with.
2012 has been what I call a “stretch” year. I’ve learned a tremendous amount (of really boring stuff that I won’t recite here, but all insanely important for my professional career). There’s no way I could have gotten through it without the commitment of a great team of smart and dedicated colleagues who support me, work hard, and share my common goal of doing the very best work. I’ve been very lucky to have found them and continued to grow with them. They help me do great work because they are great people.
So there you have it – five things. It’s really just a smattering of what I’ve learned, because it’s been a devil of a year, but nonetheless it’s been a good one. And I’m looking forward to an even better one in 2013 (assuming the Mayans were incorrect, of course).