Unexpected summer surprises

I barely recognized the boy who walked through my door. It was my eldest son returning from yet another outing with a set of his grandparents, an event that has become so commonplace over this summer break that it barely makes sense to unpack his bag. His hair was now more white than yellow and his normally pale skin was brown. It was only the tell-tale scattering of freckles across the bridge of his nose and up the side of his cheek that convinced me that it wasn’t some random changeling.

Summer Camp Agenda

“We’re happy you are home,” I told him, which was a massive understatement. He had only been gone this last time for three days and yet, unlike his first solo trip, this one felt like forever. I had expected to miss my son, but I was taken aback by how much I had missed the noise, the mess, the smells, the sheer chaos incarnate that is boy this summer.

“I’m happy to be home too!” he said with the gap-toothed grin I remember. His big boy teeth sure are taking their time coming back in.

“You know, you won’t have any more trips except for one last one with mommy and daddy before school starts.”

“I just want to sleep in my own bed.”

He’s had a great time with every single outing, but I can’t blame him for the sentiment. I wouldn’t mind travel nearly so much if I only had a teleportation machine to ensure that I got to sleep in my bed at night. Sure, the hospitality industry might suffer, but I would get such a better night’s sleep, and sleep makes me happy, which makes me more productive, and if more people were productive, wouldn’t that help the local economy – but I digress.

His school will resume in less than one month. Summer is almost officially over as far as we are concerned. After the bags were in, I went outside to check on my garden. As I stepped off the porch, a bit of white caught my eye in the hanging planter. It was a strawberry bud.

budding strawberryStrawberry season in North Carolina begins in April and runs through the month of May. It is pretty much over as soon as the temperatures begin to rise, and we had hit triple digits in June. After the heat wave in June, I hadn’t even bothered to care for the planter beyond the occasional watering when the leaves wilted even after temperatures stabilized in the 90s (or 32+ for my non-US friends). The season was definitely over. But there it was. A flower, with another stem beside attached to the green triangular shape of a forming berry.

No one told my strawberry plant that its season was over. Or if someone did, the plant didn’t listen.

Another blog I read posted an amusing piece this week briefly touching on the subject of acceptance. Acceptance of others for their differences, acceptance for the liberties the film industry takes with history for the sake of drama, and also acceptance that more than likely only half of winter’s audience would take the time to read the message.

“Destiny is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice; it is not a thing to be waited for, but a thing to be achieved.” – William Jennings Bryant

I accept that there is a season for all things, but I know I can’t fall into the trap of doing nothing while waiting. The easy season may come and go, but I can (and do regularly) dance like no one’s watching (or write like no one is reading). Who knows, but if the conditions are right, the work I do today just might yet bear fruit.


Book update. I’ve gotten most of my beta reader’s comments in and am in the process of making yet another round of final tweaks and read-throughs. It is difficult to express exactly how very grateful I am for my reader’s feedback. I believe my story is significantly stronger for their suggestions and I am now even more excited to release it to the public in the not to distant future.


 

 

Happiness and Self Fulfilling Prophecy

I remember my very first performance review. I had sat nervously at my desk waiting to be called into my manager’s office, feeling very much like a student asked to meet with the principal. I watched as a colleague exited signaling that it was my turn. My boss slid a piece a paper toward me detailing his observations on my performance over the last few months. I ignored the positive comments and chose to focus instead on the weaknesses. Seeing them listed out in black and white (and there were more than a few) I suddenly wondered if I would still have a job after this meeting was over.

I am not a naturally quiet individual, but in this instance I held my tongue as I waited for my boss to get to the punch line. I could almost hear the dreaded words, ‘I’m sorry, but…” I tried to tell myself that it would be okay, at least I could say I now had experience, which was a quality lacking previously on my resume. Perhaps this time it wouldn’t take me quite so long to get a return phone call for an interview.

After several seconds of awkward silence, my boss asked me if something was the matter. My worries refused to remain silent a minute longer. I asked him if I was being let go. My boss sat back and laughed. “Of course not.” He then went over his positive comments again with me making sure I knew this time I actually read them, and that I understood that while I had room to grow, he definitely wanted that growth to be with the company. I have been lucky. He was a good boss.

I grew more confident and comfortable with my job and my performance reviews over the years. During one of these later one on ones, my boss asked me where I saw myself in five years. I believe I laughed and said something along the lines of “in your job.” I was only partially kidding.

Nearly five years to the day, I found myself seated on the other side of that desk with my own staff. I learned then that anyone can be an oracle, but before any prophecy can be fulfilled, it must first be either spoken (loudly) or shared (often) for the world to see.

I had unwittingly made a promise to myself that day. I said what I wanted and I did what I said I would. I declared I would be successful, and by most indicators I have been. I have experienced an upward career trajectory. I have a house on the edge of suburbia and cars in the garage. I even have the white picket fence.

But two years ago I realized that I had neglected one other truth. Success by other people’s standards does not necessarily equal happiness. I realized then that in order to achieve sustainable happiness, I had to treat it in the same fashion as one of my career goals. I had to issue a new prophecy. I had to declare I would be happy, and then say it over and over again. I had to make changes to my lifestyle and attitude in support of my goal. I had to pursue happiness just as hard or in some cases harder than I had ever pursued a promotion until my goal was transformed from raw belief to real possibility.

I may never become a household name, but I might. I may never become the CEO of a fortune 500 company, but I could. Those are prophecies for another day. Today, I am pursuing my dreams and not someone else’s. I still have work ahead, there are still things that send me into a rage or sorrow, but I am at peace with the choices I have made, and in this moment, I am content.

 

 

Or at least I am on my way.

I AM

Image courtesy of Florian Klauer and Unsplash

Now welcoming all passengers on board

My eldest is completely and utterly besotted with the Christmas Spirit. He’s always liked Christmas, been a fan of the lights, and the presents, but this year, for whatever reason, has been particularly exciting for him. Perhaps it is because he, on some level, expects that the magic of Christmas might not be there next year. At least not at the same strength. He is in school now and exposed to any number of other children who may have already allowed simple belief to fall to the wayside of artificial maturity.

The Polar Express

The Polar Express (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When my mother-in-law told us that there was a nearby Polar Express event, we jumped at the opportunity to attend. Children and their adults are invited wear their pajamas in public on a decorated train car while staff serve hot chocolate and cookies. After a few Christmas carols, the ride culminates at the round house the staff refer to as the North Pole. Santa appears, giving a sleigh bell to a child. Then everyone is once again shepherded back into the warmth of the car to return to the original station. Just as you think the entire event is over, Santa makes his way through the rest of the car, greeting each passenger and bestowing upon them their own sleigh bell souvenir.

My son turned to me as we walked back toward the parking lot, and with a voice full of wonder announced, “I can’t believe we were at the North Pole!”

It was priceless.

On Monday, the woman who watches my youngest during the day (a terrific stay at home mom who had also watched my eldest from the week he began to crawl), asked how the event had gone. My son described it in epic detail. Later she asked my husband for more details. Clearly my eldest had sold her on the experience. How far away was the museum? What hotels were nearby? How were the people?

How were the people? What an odd sort of question. My husband likely shared the same puzzlement as I did when he told me about it.

She must have seen the confusion on his face. “No offense, but I know this sort of thing is something I know you don’t have to deal with, but I need to know. We’ve had to leave places before because of the people.”

Oh.

wow.

I had no idea…

I guess that was kind of her point.

Did I mention that she is a terrific woman. Well that hardly begins to describe how great she has been with my family over the years. When my eldest was still in her care he once told me that he loved her more than me, and you know what? I was okay with it (mostly). She is the closest person to Mary Poppins I’ve ever met. If there was ever a person destined to care for children, she would be it. I completely credit her for helping to develop my children into the kind and generous individuals they are today (they’ve taught me, not the other way around). After less than stellar early results with daycare (story for another day), I flat-out won the lottery when I came across her ad.

For all those reasons, it was hard for me to imagine that there might be those who didn’t equally love her on sight. But I’d overlooked one thing. She, and her husband, are Iraqi immigrants (and now Americans). While I might know that they were forced to flee their homeland due to religious persecution (leaving family behind who remain to this day at risk), to many others they are Middle Eastern and therefore immediately suspicious.

There are things that she’s heard, and treatment her family has received that had they happened to me, I would likely raise a ruckus. It would be the headline on my personal eleven o’clock news. Everyone would know about it. But for her, the same event might not even be worth mentioning. I used to think that was because she was because she was just a nicer person than I am. Now I am realizing that she remains quiet because unfortunately it is her everyday (although that doesn’t change the fact that she still is a nicer person than I am – case in point: her worrying that she might be offending me).

So this Christmas, give the gift of the benefit of the doubt, peace, and acceptance. That family you see over there, the one that looks so different, maybe just maybe they too are just trying to capture the magic that is this season. Even if you can’t share a background, at least share a smile. It might make all the difference.

Thanksgiving away from home – what could be better?

Has anyone's Thanksgiving ever gone like this?

Has anyone’s Thanksgiving ever gone this smoothly? (image from wikipedia.org)

I considered myself fortunate. We were traveling for Thanksgiving, meaning I wasn’t going to have to cook (a good thing for all involved – just ask my hubby sometime about my poultry cooking skills). I didn’t have to clean. All I was expected to do was to enjoy time with my family. Silly me. I forgot that I was traveling with a toddler.

I had barely closed my eyes on Thanksgiving eve when I heard my toddler’s cry in the adjacent room which he was sharing with his brother. I immediately sprang out of bed to see what was the matter worried that might wake up the rest of the household. I was ready to once again hear, “Where Monkey Man?” This time however it wasn’t merely a request to locate his favorite toy, he was sick, and not just with the sniffles.

I rushed him to the bath while the hubby took care of the linens. Eventually we were forced to turn the lights on while I rummaged around his bag looking for his spare set of pajamas. It turned out I needn’t worry about waking his brother. My eldest didn’t even bother turning over. (Man, I wish I could still sleep like that!)

Cleaned up, my toddler clung to me like a life raft. The hubby passed by carrying our travel toddler cot. (You could smell it from a distance.) Even if we had a spare set of sheets, kiddo wasn’t going to be able to sleep on it again any time soon. I had resigned myself to a night on the couch or rocking chair. when the hubby came by again. This time with a pillow in hand. He volunteered to stay on the couch so that our son and I might sleep more comfortably on a bed.

In hindsight, I think in the end he may have gotten the better end of the deal.

It was still a loooooonnnnng a night. At home, my toddler’s bed is near the ground and has guard rails. My in-law’s guest bed, on the other hand, is very tall and all sides are completely exposed. Each time my kiddo shifted, I worried he might slip over the side and plummet to the ground. I was afraid that the cries we had already heard that night would be whispers in comparison. I tried to pull him back closer to me, but that only served to wake him up enough to remind him that his tummy was still upset.

Several trips back to the bathroom later (progressively less necessary),  I realized that what I was doing wasn’t working. Unless I wanted to be completely worthless the following day, I was going to have to find a way for both of us to sleep. I realized I was going to have to give him more freedom of movement. I placed a few pillows near the bed’s edge, just in case, but then I let him go. Soon I heard soft, contented snores and I allowed myself to also fall into a light sleep.

I awoke hours later to the touch of small fingers on my forehead. (Oh no! Dawn is still hours away – please, please try to go back to sleep!) My little boy whispered, “Where mommy go?”

I answered, “Mommy’s here. Are you okay?” (yep, the couch was definitely the better option)

“I better.” Then no more words. Instead, he snuggled next to me, and the soft snores resumed in short order. Even though I knew right then that it was only a matter of time before I came down with whatever illness my toddler turned outbreak monkey possessed (4 days to be exact), I couldn’t help but smile. I’ll take what I can get.

My toddler used to only want to be with me. Then one day he stopped, and now prefers the company of his dad. All too soon, I know this stage will also be over and he’ll only want to be around his friends. I’ll eventually have to let him find his own way in life, but it is good to know that he’ll still look for mommy now and then.

Parting with an old friend

I remember the day I picked out my stroller. I was so overwhelmed with the number of options out there and had a difficult time staying focused on my need versus want list with all those little kicks in my stomach. I finally selected one of those stroller systems which includes a car carrier that clicks and locks into place. It was easy to push, and could fold down with a single twist of a hand.

This last feature proved to be particularly beneficial to me as my husband went into business for himself slightly before the birth of our first child. My son was planned. The factory closure where my husband worked prior was not. At least it wasn’t planned by us. I would strongly caution others to think long and hard about their decision to start a business at the same time as bringing adding an infant to the family if there are other options on the table, or if you lack a strong local network of friends and family willing to pitch in.

We didn’t know better. He was already chewing on the entrepreneurship option, the factory situation merely sped up the time-table. As a result, I found myself spending several evenings alone with only the dog and the baby for company while the hubby acted as sales, marketing, service, and support for his fledgling business.

As neither of my two companions were exactly strong conversationalists, I decided to take us to the streets. I walked miles upon miles with that stroller, holding it with one hand and the dog’s leash in the other. Neighbors laughed. I looked like I was conducting some southern suburban dog sled race. I embraced the image. I intentionally hammed it up when there were witnesses grateful for the attention of other adults.

Then one day we were walking down our usual route when a cat bolted out from a nearby bush. My dog, a stocky 60 pounds of pure muscle, darted after it, snapping the leash from my hand. Off balanced, I fell, bringing the stroller down with me. My son started screaming as the stroller landed on its side. The sound caused my dog to stop chasing the cat and return to our side full of concern.

Passerbys also came running to help. I stopped trying to compete for the mother of the year award a long time ago, but I still felt like the lowest scum of the earth as I attempted to calm my son. My neighbor pointed to the buckles as I fumbled to release them. “It’s okay. He’s okay. The stroller did what it is supposed to.” He must have repeated the phrase three times before I really heard what he was saying. My son had been strapped into his stroller with its five point buckling system and had suffered no injury. He had only been scared due to the sudden change of altitude.

Have stroller will travel

My eldest helping me to take the baby for a stroll

My husband’s work schedule eventually settled into something more manageable. He was able to join me for walks more and more. The stroller was swapped out for a tricycle. Then our other son was born and the stroller once again became a necessity, but time advances like an avalanche.

Now my sister-in-law is expecting her first child, and is experiencing that same nervous overwhelming feeling I remember so well. My husband and I are content with our two children. We offered to give her the stroller months ago. But the actual act of giving was more difficult than I anticipated. I had so many great memories associated with it. Not just of my boys’ babyhood, but great times with my dog, who has since departed as well. Sending it away felt like I was truly closing the door on that time of my life.

But sentiment was the only reason to keep it around. It might trigger memories, but in the meantime it was going to collect dust and take up space in the garage. At the same time, my sister-in-law’s need wouldn’t become any less real. I had to remind myself, it was going to be okay. It had done what it was designed to do. I had to let go of the physical object. The memories would always be mine, but it was time to send the stroller on to its new home. May it give my sister in law equally great memories.

I now have room for new adventures with wagons, big kid bikes, scooters, skateboards, or whatever else may find its way into my garage over the next several years. I may have closed one door, but that thought is enough to make me look forward to opening the next with a smile.