Connecting

Dear Mom [Week 6]

Hi mom,

Wow, it amazes me at how much your voice has become a healing balm for my soul. I wish I would have recognized that more for dad before he was gone. Thanks for my pep talk on Wednesday night. Oh, how validating it is to just talk with someone over the phone who can see straight through the cellular airwaves. “Alice, you sound so tired. I hope you can get to bed  early tonight.” Even if I didn’t, just hearing that you wished it for me gave me greater strength to endure. Thank you, mom. For Wednesday and all the thousands of other times just like it. How fortunate I am to have you in my corner.

I was out walking Olive last night at 10:30 PM and a truck hauling a trailer full of stuff drove by. I had to sit down on the curb for a bit because my heart and mind felt like dad had just passed by showing me that he is still hard at work and happy. Then, I had a dream last night. It is my first I’ve had of dad since he passed away. I was showing a friend a video of my dad of how healthy he was on the day he died. He reached out from the cell phone screen jumping and hopping, waving and smiling. He was laughing. I never recognized the  full value of his smile until he was gone. While I dreamt, his smile filled my whole soul with light. It illuminated from his eyes and mouth to his face and everything beyond.  I woke up so happy. I felt like dad was telling me not to worry because he is right back to his old healthy happy ways. How much fun we always had with you and dad! Compared to our neighbors’ possessions, we had next to nothing, but we sure did have everything. I felt like we really got the best of both worlds. A third-world country carefree closeness combined with so many first-world conveniences.

I’m sorry these letters are getting harder to decipher.  I am so tired all of the time, and it is hard to write. I can’t even seem to think straight. When you called last Friday from the DI crying, it truly broke my heart. I wish I could take away your pain, mom. I hated (and still hate) that you were (and still are) lonely, but then when you said, “I feel better, just hearing your voice,” it made me so humbled and grateful that even though I can’t take it away, I could provide a little comfort in the moment. I am so glad Adam could come visit. I am partially jealous that he has the kind of freedom to do that, but I am more grateful than anything. I need to make it a priority to come visit very soon, no matter how crazy busy I am. Adam is just as busy, if not more so.

It’s Friday, therefore I should be getting homework done. It’s 1:13 PM, and I have yet to even start. I’ve had a great day. I woke up and listened to President Uchtdorf’s talk from Women’s Conference, and consequently I just wanted more. I then listened to Elder Holland’s talk from the Priesthood Session. In between my new visiting teacher came over. God has been with me today. He answered my prayers. He never answers in the way that I want Him to, but He does answer. I’ve been really preoccupied with LG and Abigail lately. One of my questions going into conference was how I could help both LG and Abigail with their individual struggles. I get so impatient, and I know a majority of the time I just exacerbate stuff. When I asked the question, I hoped God would tell me exactly how I could MAKE them do what I know is best. Ha. God has never answered me one time, in all my almost 43 years, to tell me anything about anyone else. Today, has been true to God’s pattern.

Between Sunny (my visiting teacher), Holland, and Ucthdorf I got three witnesses all telling me that same thing. I need to have more faith, I need to love better and deeper, and I need to be patient and kind. They all sounded just like you, mom. Maybe someday Abigail will actually write me a letter that says, “Hey, mom, thanks for telling me what I didn’t want to hear. I know you love me. And, you were right. My entire life.” Well, there you go, mom. There is everything you ever wanted to hear. You know me well. I know that you love me. And, I hope I can learn to love like you do, more devoutly and patiently. Why does it have to be so hard? I wish I could just make everyone else change to my liking, instead of having to work on making myself more like-able.

As I sat pondering how I could make the changes I needed to make, I saw a video a friend of mine posted on facebook. It was a song by Andrea Bocelli and Katherine McFee called “The Prayer”. As I watched and listened to the beautiful lyrics, I started praying along.

I pray you’ll be our eyes
And watch us where we go
And help us to be wise
In times when we don’t know

Let this be our prayer
As we go our way
Lead us to a place
Guide us with your grace
To a place where we’ll be safe

I pray we’ll find your light
And hold it in our hearts
When stars go out each night
Remind us where you are

Let this be our prayer
When shadows fill our day
Lead us to a place
Guide us with your grace
Give us faith so we’ll be safe

We ask that life be kind
And watch us from above
We hope each soul will find
Another soul to love

Let this be our prayer
Just like every child
Needs to find a place
Guide us with your grace
Give us faith so we’ll be safe

Need to find a place
Guide us with your grace
Give us faith so we’ll be safe

I almost felt like I was praying to both God and dad. I hope that doesn’t come across sacrilegious. When I got to the part where it says, “Let this be our prayer, just like every child, needs to find a place” I got a fourth witness. It was an answer from God, about me, about you, and about dad. It was jetted straight through my skin and brain and arrived straightway to my heart. “Create a place for every child, just like your mom and dad. Be their place. Be their safe place.” That means, I have to do that for everyone. Not just my kids, but my husband, too. It’s a daunting message. How can I ever do that when I am still such a child needing such a place? But, I will try, mom. I will try. How I love you and dad. You both have issues, but you both keep trying. You are children who need a safe place, but despite your own needs being met or not, you always created that place for others. You know how to love. Thank you for showing me what that looks like. I will try to be like you, mom. And like dad. Because ultimately I know I will end up looking like God.
Two more songs followed as I typed to you just now while listening to “The Prayer” again trying to muster my strength to get up from my laptop. I don’t want to. I just want to stay here where it is safe, and I won’t mess anything up with my controlling, impatience, criticism, or aggressiveness. The songs were “Time to say Goodbye” and then “Hero.” I could hear dad’s voice singing. He told me we will go together again in a ship, and that even though he knows he’s my hero, he was just an ordinary dude who kept trying and loving. I could hear him say, “Alice, you can keep trying. You can keep loving.”
It’s not Wednesday night. You aren’t on the phone. It’s Friday morning, and for the second time this week I got a pep-talk from my parents. My dad called all the way from heaven. How about that? I didn’t even have to ask you to talk to him. He just knew I needed him.
I love you, mom. Until next week… here are the lyrics. I hope you get to hear dad telling you about the ship you will sail again, too.

 

Excerpted from “Time to say Goodbye”
When I’m alone
I dream on the horizon
and words fail;
yes, I know there is no light
in a room where the sun is absent,
if you are not with me, with me.
At the windows
show everyone my heart
which you set alight;
enclose within me
the light you
encountered on the street.
Time to say goodbye
To countries I never
Saw and shared with you,
now, yes, I shall experience them.
I’ll go with you
On ships across seas
which, I know,
no, no, exist no longer,
with you I shall experience them again.
I’ll go with you
On ships across seas
Which, I know,
No, no, exist no longer;
with you I shall experience them again.
I’ll go with you,
I with you.

“Hero”

There’s a hero
If you look inside your heart
You don’t have to be afraid
Of what you are
There’s an answer
If you reach into your soul
And the sorrow that you know
Will melt away

And then a hero comes along
With the strength to carry on
And you cast your fears aside
And you know you can survive
So when you feel like hope is gone
Look inside you and be strong
And you’ll finally see the truth
That a hero lies in you

It’s a long road
When you face the world alone
No one reaches out a hand
For you to hold
You can find love
If you search within yourself
And the emptiness you felt
Will disappear

And then a hero comes along
With the strength to carry on
And you cast your fears aside
And you know you can survive
So when you feel like hope is gone
Look inside you and be strong
And you’ll finally see the truth
That a hero lies in you

Lord knows
Dreams are hard to follow
But don’t let anyone
Tear them away
Hold on
There will be tomorrow
In time
You’ll find the way

And then a hero comes along
With the strength to carry on
And you cast your fears aside
And you know you can survive
So when you feel like hope is gone
Look inside you and be strong
And you’ll finally see the truth
That a hero lies in you
That a hero lies in you
That a hero lies in you

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A Simply Marvelous Life

caroline-harpWhile going through old class notes for my current paper, I found this story I wrote last spring. I remember how it made the student that presented after me cry. I felt so bad as she approached the podium upset. She explained that my story was especially tender to her because her dad had passed away recently. How was I to know that within months I’d be in the same “dad gone” boat?

I remember telling my dad of our plan to take a gift to the orphan boys and how he loved it. He wholeheartedly sanctioned it to my kids and he shared an inspiring story of his own. He cried. What a tender memory. He believed in the art of compassion. He lived the art. How grateful I am for him and his  example. He inherently knew that the true joy of life was within our relationships with others.

I am grateful to have come across this story today. I’ve been in a school slump, not feeling up to the writing task. Today’s discovery reminded me of the importance of storytelling. Even if I am not the most eloquent storyteller.

A Simply Marvelous Life

“Those poor, poor boys,” Mother said loud enough for the room to hear as she read the newspaper. I asked her, “What boys?” She explained. Twenty years before she used to work with this guy. They were nothing more than acquaintances. “But still, it’s just so tragic.” He was dead now among the remains of his personal jet. It crashed on take-off in Colorado. The crash also killed his wife, and two of his five children.

Mother seemed obsessed over the three children left. It was hard to understand how complete strangers to her sabotaged her heart for months. She talked about them to everyone. Her friends. Her kids. Sometimes she would even talk to random strangers about how grateful she was to be alive. “Shopping with a toddler is hard, but it makes it easier when I think about how blessed I am to be alive.” When the family knelt in the family room every night, mother would sometimes pray out loud for the family. “Bless those boys.”  When I complained about chores or homework or getting my phone taken away, she would remind me to be grateful. “You have both your parents, and all of your siblings. Remember, life is marvelous.” When Christmas neared mother told us that in the quiet of one morning she heard a voice in her mind. It was a woman begging, “They must have a gift from us under the tree.” Asking our forgiveness mother said she hoped we’d understand her stealing from us. She had withdrawn from her Christmas account, upsetting her carefully budgeted plan, to buy something for the orphans. She apologized and explained that we might have a little less this year. “But, I just feel it my duty to provide a gift for them from their dead mother. I can hear her voice as clear as day. I can’t ignore it.”

As Father drove us to the next town over, Mother watched her five elves stretch and giggle among the large sack of gifts in the back. The wrapped gifts would be left anonymously. “Because that is the best kind of giving,” mother said. The boys’ names, the ones their mother gave them, were monogrammed on their blankets. A note was included reminding them of their mother’s love, all the way from heaven. “She had found a way to hug them, through the mind of a stranger.”

Mother had done some serious sleuthing to get the names and address of the boys, but could hardly believe her eyes as they pulled up. When they verified the house number to the information on the paper in mother’s hand, everyone voiced their utter shock. A chorus of “no way” echoed the yelps of surprise as the vehicle reached the top of the mountain. The boys lived in a literal mansion. Mother laughed. “What in the world?” We all told her we should take the gifts back home, but she directed her elves to drop the gifts on the doorstep. “Be quiet. Don’t let anyone see you. Hurry up before someone calls the police.” As we sprinted our way back to the modest minivan that cowered under the massive gate, my little sister spared a glance for a golden harp glowing through the windowed fortress. We jumped in. The tires peeled. My baby sister described the harp’s shine to her amused mother. How badly Caroline wanted a harp. She had even written to Santa for one. She didn’t know what I knew.  Santa had already bought her a harpsichord. It was the last Christmas purchase she had made right after the wrapping for the boys’ blankets.

We never knew it, but in those first few moments driving home, mother deeply questioned the meaning of helping where help didn’t seem to be needed. Those boys had more than she or hers ever would. The answer came quick, at the traffic light on the way home. Flashing behind her eyes, red and green, it spelled one word. C-o-m-p-a-s-s-i-o-n. Mother turned to dad and said, “I guess tonight we got to help meet an emotional need, not a physical one.”  Yes, compassion knows no class structure. Or biases. Only pure love. And that night both mothers had managed, from separate realms, to teach their children the true meaning of Christmas.

The next day mother listened as her baby girl, surrounded by her parents and four siblings, transformed our family’s condo into a two-bedroom castle with music from her harpsichord. As Mother closed her eyes to enjoy the marvelous moment, a familiar angel voice spoke to her mind one last time, “It sounds just like my harp.”

 

It’s About Who’s Waiting For Us in the End.

Come with me back to a high school track meet. It happened two weeks ago. I sat in the stands watching my teenage daughter and hundreds of other high-schoolers, all vying for their own personal records, hoping to beat out all the other competitors. Unlike the athletes, I, however, had a completely opposing mantra for myself. “Let it go, Alice.” “Let it go.” The Sunday before, my track-star daughter, my husband, and I had a heart-to-heart. Come to find out, I have always put undue pressure on the poor girl in all areas of her life, but especially when it comes to sports and grades. Yeah, I’m not proud. What can I say? She’s my firstborn? That doesn’t really cut it. You’ll be relieved to know that I am working on it. I have specific goals, one of which is not being result-obsessed.

So, my daughter had just run her 100m. Unlike her past track experiences, she’s not typically in the Top 3 this year. She’s running at the middle of the pack. Thus the mantra. “Let it go, Alice.” I was pep-talking myself, “This is about your daughter, not about you. Abigail is having fun. Abigail is getting exercise. Just because you want her to be in first place, it doesn’t mean that is where she needs to be. Be happy. Love your girl. Let it go.”

Then an amazing thing happened.

the end

It was the boy’s mile. The mile takes forever. As my thoughts were repeating in circles, I haphazardly watched the male athletes going round and around. I watched while I wrestled with my only baby boy and started imagining his future. I wondered to myself if I could master being a better mother by the time he takes to the track. I hoped I would never put too much pressure on him, too. I questioned whether or not he will even be an athlete and silently wished I will be able to embrace whatever it is he decides to love, even if he only loves it with mediocrity.

The race was over….or so I thought. My mind moved on. Then, right in front of me, I saw some super energetic young man rally his whole school to their feet. He hooted, hollered, jumped, cajoled, begged, and demanded full participation. I silently hoped, “Oh, I don’t wish that for Max. Please let him be an athlete, instead of a cheerleader.” Stay with me. My mind was abruptly changed.

It so happened that there was one runner left. He was way behind the pack. He belonged to this crazy make-shift athlete turned cheerleader’s school. This runner was a runt. He was slow. He was in last place. Yet. Yet, as he slowly made his way to the finish line in front of the crowd, his school was cheering for him like he was an Olympic gold medalist. All because of the efforts of his crazy encouraging teammate (that he hadn’t even seen rally the crowd) his stride quickened. His chin lifted up in pride. There was a wide smile on his face. The finish of this race is one he will never forget. Neither will I.

I hid my face in shame for being such a proud person. And because I was bawling my eyes out. I whispered to Max, “You don’t have to be an athlete, but please be a make-shift cheerleader wherever you go.”

Then I ran over to tell Abigail that she did awesome in that 100m.

The following Sunday, while I was driving to church, this song came on the radio. It took me hours to find it but it was worth every search effort.

Enjoy.

It’s not about how fast we get there, it’s about who’s waiting for us in the end.

Royal Teenagers (And I’m not talking about their pain in my @$%)

Just the other day, one of my girls said to me, “Mom, your blog used to be cool. Now it’s all boring. You never tell any good funny stories anymore.” I laughed. Agreed. And then threatened her to go public with her latest shenanigan. She immediately understood what I meant when I said, “I can’t tell everything about you guys anymore and you guys are all my funny stories.”

I thought I was the only one who had quit telling stories about my kids.Then it was brought to my attention that there is a lack of material about what it is like to parent teenagers on this here web. I can’t find the first article I read, but here is another one. It’s a legitimate concern. As a veteran blogger I get the very real struggle. As your kids get older, you can’t just air their dirty laundry. I mean, really, now their dirty laundry is actually bras and underwear. And boys. And other people’s kids. And raging hormones. Bad decisions. The list goes on. Any good parent should be careful. (Unless their kid is making millions in the movie industry, of course. JOKING)

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My two teenage daughters and the one coming right up on 12 would NOT appreciate me being totally honest. I can’t tell you everything. I can only tell you the good things. This is a problem for me because I am all about making the internet an honest place.

I can tell you that this meme

<<<<<<<<<<<<<

is not exaggerating.

When it comes to raising teenage girls, a hurricane does hit the bathroom every single morning without fail.

Raising teenagers is hard.  Personally, I think taking care of babies is harder. I should know, I have both right now. Ha! Babies are physically exhausting, but teenagers are engaged in emotional warfare at all given times. It’s not that they want to be bad, it’s just that they need so much reassurance. You know the saying, “Those that need love will ask for it in the most unloving ways.” Well, it’s true. Teenagers are some of the worst culprits.

Teenagers ask for love with eye rolls, insults, self-depracation, rebellion, etc. They make stupid decisions because of their overriding programming for belonging. They are desperate to know that they matter. They want to be told everything is going to be o.k. They just need to feel safe. (Kind of like us adults but add in lethal doses of hormones, acne, and bullies.) Makes me think of this skit.

Yet, when teenagers act like they do, they make everyone around them want to run for the hills instead of giving them hugs. I actually like the mental challenge that they present. Call me crazy, but I’d take the mental marathon over the monotony of diapers and feedings any day….except yesterday. Yesterday was really bad. Sometimes your teenagers will make you wonder if they have any brains at all….that was yesterday. As a parent who is left screaming, “Have you heard anything I have told you for the past 15 years?” I can assure you that like with all phases of parenting some days are way better than others.

Getting to the point of the post in 3,   2,   1.

In all my three years of teenage experience, I have actually figured something out. My job is to OVERLOVE my kids. I need to love them to the point that they won’t need to ask for it in the most UNLOVING of ways. It’s so hard to do. It requires a lot of sucking it up on a parent’s part. A lot. It feels good to have figured out my job: to train my teenagers out of asking for love ineffectively, but it is also a daunting task…especially when they “hate me.” (That was yesterday.) I am supposed to 1- help them inherently know that they are worthy and loved. No matter what. And 2- If and when they are feeling unlovable, downtrodden, and like a screw-up, they need to know how to effectively ask for and *receive the love that they need and it is my job to teach them. (*We all know those people who need way too much love. I think this is a result of them not learning how to receive what is given to them.)

[You should read that last paragraph again because I honestly think it’s the secret to a happy life. Not just for teenagers.]

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When all else fails, and I am ready to ring my kids’ necks, I remind myself. They are royalty. They are princesses. Even if they are acting like evil stepchildren, I remember that I am going to have to answer to the King when I get home. He is going to ask for a play by play. If I pass, I will earn a place in the royal family. Not just any old place. I will be adopted in and be made a queen. I don’t know about you, but I desperately need to be royalty.

wpid-photogrid_14248156443752.jpg.jpegOne way I give myself this daily reminder is when I play taxi. Every time I pull up to the school, the field, the kids’ friends’ houses, the church…wherever I am picking them up, I text them an acronym.

YCA

Your carriage awaits.

They are royalty.

wpid-wp-1424969976432.jpegYesterday, I employed a new tactic. It’s called the special dinner. I thought, “If she is acting this bad, she must be really desperate,” so I pulled out the linens, the glassware, and flowers. I made a nice dinner. We all toasted her. We wrote down what we loved about her. Just because she is grounded for five weeks it doesn’t mean that we should quit loving her. If I’ve learned anything I’ve learned that they need the most love when they are in trouble….which is often as a teenager.

I guess we’ll be having a lot of special dinners.

When I explained the reason for the new tradition of a special dinner, one of my kids declared, “So, when we are slamming doors, crying, breaking rules etc…we are going to get a special dinner….l guess I am getting a special dinner every night.”

Teenagers!children of god

The 3 Keys to Managing Your Kids’ Emotional Hypersensitivity

I am not a licensed therapist,  but write this post as a very experienced mom who understands emotional sensitivity.

Some people say to do nothing at all if you have a child who is overly-sensitive. They argue that to tread on a child’s emotions is to kill their spirit. Others try to break their kids of it as if they are a rodeo horse. As an overly-sensitive adult and a mom of 5, I say the best thing you can do to help your child with their hypersensitivity is to give them 1- awareness, 2- tools, and 3- model healthy behavior.
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1 – Awareness sounds like it should be so easy, but it can be really hard to approach a sensitive child about their sensitivity. hurtyfeelingsThat’s where Hurty Feelings by Helen Lester comes in. It’s a cute and fun easy-to-read picture book that will keep your kid’s attention. It is also packed with an emotional-wellness-punch. Fragility the Hippo is super-sensitive. This book explores what happens when one takes offense too easily and it also offers a great outcome in overcoming the problem…I’ll give you a hint….the answer has to do with Fragility finding her own voice. You can find the book at Amazon, here. I highly recommend it for its entertainment value as well as for the great opportunity it will provide to approach a sensitive (ha!) subject with your sensitive child.

My only other piece of advice with awareness is DO NOT approach your child with this subject when they are in hypersensitive meltdown mode. Wait until things have calmed down….way down. Maybe even broach it over a special dinner. Definitely make sure you are showing love and support and not criticism. Ideally it should be a constant dialogue. “Uh-oh, here comes that flood of emotions. What should we do about it?”

2 – Tools. There are all kinds of tools that your kids can learn when it comes to over-sensitivity. I’ve been going to therapy for years to learn and really internalize them. Here a few of the ones that I have found most helpful:

1- Self-esteem. This is NOT giving your child something to be proud of. That can help temporarily, but will not solve the problem long-term. Self-esteem is rooted in an inner dialogue which consists only of the message, “I am worthy.” Period. Every individual has worth. Not because of what they accomplish. Not because of who loves them. Not because of anything except for the fact that they are an individual and they are of worth. Religious people might call this being a child of God. I am not sure what atheists call it, but whatever you teach your child, just teach them that they are of infinite worth just because THEY ARE.

2- Order of love – This goes hand in hand with the self-esteem. It is something my current therapist harps on in every single session. It is a principle that has slowly changed my life and the life of my husband. The order of love should be like this: from God, from self, for others, from others. Many people get this screwed up and they seek to find their worth from the latter places first instead of giving it to themselves. It screws them up. Royally.

3- The victim triangle – In the triangle you have a victim, a pursuer, and a rescuer. Learn about it. Change it. If you are being bullied or your kids are being bullied, congratulations, you have perfected being the victim. Change.

4- Boundaries – Usually your kids are struggling with this because you haven’t taught it to them with your own behavior. Boundaries can be tricky, but I have found they are VITAL to emotional health. Essentially, you have to learn to say no. You also shouldn’t be an over-pleaser. You need to honor other people’s boundaries. Here is a good place to read the basics. I also highly recommend the book Boundaries by Townsend and Cloud.

5. Get rid of the shame! Feelings are feelings. No one should be made to be ashamed of how they feel. They literally can’t help it. Always validate feelings (for others and yourself) and teach your kids to process them healthfully. One of my daughters processes well when doing sports, the other by painting. Sometimes we all just need some alone time.

One of my husband’s cousins contacted me a while back and asked me for advice about one of her kids who is highly sensitive. She said, “You seem to have a good handle on processing your emotions.” I busted a gut. If she only knew! The reason I have a handle on it is because if I didn’t learn to process my overabundance of emotions I literally would have been locked up years ago.

As a mother I completely get her concern. One of my daughters is overly sensitive too. {I won’t say who or things could take a downhill real fast.} As a mother it is very very concerning to see her create this huge black hole around herself. Even as her family we are afraid to approach her a lot of the time. This daughter takes everything to heart and she gets hurt by the most random stuff. You have to walk on eggshells around her. She doesn’t fully realize that because she is so sensitive she is actually hurting her ability to connect with others. She is holding herself hostage with her emotions all of the time. Because she is sensitive she is perfect prey for bullies and the equally emotionally unhealthy. We are constantly trying to raise her awareness and give her tools to help.

This brings me to my last point: 3 – Modeling healthy behavior. If your child is struggling with being emotionally healthy it is very likely that you are too. I get my overly sensitive daughter. I am just like her. Over the years I have learned how to manage the sensitivity. I’m always practicing at it. I’ve also learned that being sensitive is not always a totally bad thing. In some ways my sensitivity is a huge blessing: I can see things going on around me that others don’t. I tend to appreciate beauty more. But more often than not my hypersensitivity has caused me trouble.

Recently after being in a social situation with some friends, one friend lamented to me that two of the other friends were making fun of her. I hadn’t noticed it. I asked the friend, “Are you sure they were talking about you? Could you just be overly-sensitive? Whenever I see two people talking, I always think they are talking about me. No matter who they are. Even if they don’t know me I think they are out to get me.”

I’ve learned to calm my sensitive inner dialogue in these types of situations. Awareness of my over-sensitivity has probably been my greatest aid in overcoming it. The second best technique I already mentioned above. I have worked hard on loving myself and letting go of whether or not others love me. I’ve had to stop living my life to please other people. It was literally making me insane.

As I’ve learned to be emotionally healthier I have noticed my kids improve also.

The good news is that your sensitivity makes your beautiful self even more beautiful. You can learn to manage it and as you do, you will have greater happiness and so will your kids.

I recommend going over here and testing yourself. And here and here you will find some good suggestions on managing your emotions. Here is a great list of what NOT to do. Here is a great list of what optimal emotional health looks like. If all of this isn’t enough, do not be afraid to find professional help. For you Utah County Utah locals our therapist Joyce is really great. For the rest of you, ask around. Make sure you get a good therapist. There are a lot of quacks out there.

7 things I learned in marriage counseling.

Eighteen years we’ve been married. Time has dragged on forever on a lot of days, but just as many have flown by as fast as the family-pack is devoured by our hungry children on Taco Tuesdays. It’s been the best of times. It’s been the worst of times. As a wife, I gave myself an A+ for over a decade….I was oblivious to my own short-comings and blamed my man for most all things wrong in our family. When things started getting more complicated we started marriage counseling and my perfect oblivion was brought to a screeching stop. Those darn psychologists always have a magical way of making people see the truth. And my magical mirror is harsh!! It took the best of professionals (and multiple ones, at that) to help me see the many ways that I had failed and continue to fail in my marriage, but I’m the better for it.

stuck

I read a poignant article  the other day entitled “What Your Husband Really Wants” and it had my mind racing in and out of the many ways I’ve learned to give my husband what he wants. And just like kindergarten, everything I need to know I learned in marriage counseling.

Number 1 – He wants to be your hero. My husband wasn’t able to be my hero because my fierce independence and “I can do it myself” attitude never allowed him to be. Much of the time I would be running around the house like a tornado on its way to Oz all upset that once again he was sitting on the couch while I so desperately needed a break. How could he be so oblivious? Unbeknownst to me he was sitting on the couch because after many years of trial and error the genius of a man knew it was the safest place. He thought he was being my hero by getting out of my way when I really needed a hero to switch me places and take some of the responsibility off my spiraling shoulders. Well, in marriage counseling I’ve learned the hard way that if the queen wants a knight in shining armor, she has to let him be the king. If every time he tried to help, I bit his face off for something then he figured I would be happier if he was out of the way.

2 – He wants to be your lover. I feel like this is the area where I probably struggle the most. I don’t want to get into too much detail as I have to remember that this very post may be accessed by future employers and/or my mother-in-law. Let’s just say that it takes two to tango. I have learned that I am equally as bad at receiving as I am at giving undivided attention. Sure I can go through the motions and I have A LOT (ha!), but if my heart isn’t there then it is just as damaging to my husband as leaving him exiled on the couch. At one point our therapist gave us a “touching” exercise. We were to take 30 minutes each where the other would just touch us all over. We weren’t allowed to talk; we had to be naked. It totally wigged me out. It took this exercise for me to get in touch with a lot of real hang-ups I have….seventeen years later. My poor poor lover was constantly being rejected. This area is a real battle for me. I have learned that sex isn’t meant to be just physical but is best and healthiest when it’s emotional. It takes vulnerability to create true intimacy.

3- He wants to be your best friend. This is an area that has been our marriage’s saving grace. Since the very beginning my husband has been my best friend: I love being with him, I tell him everything, and he is the first person I call when I have good or bad news.  I also know that he considers me to be his best friend, but as is true with all of my friendships, I have a lot of room for improvement. I am a horrible listener which makes connection very one-sided. My impatience is not helpful to either side of the friendship and my quickness to problem-solve and rescue instead of just supporting is hugely problematic. Here, it boils down to trust…I can be a much better friend when I trust myself to be a good friend and I trust my best friend to take care of himself.

4 – He wants to understand you. For a lot of women this is a problem because they aren’t willing to share their deep desires. Like me, they also aren’t forthright with what they need. I, in my great need to be understood, over-share everything with a hidden agenda of control. I’ve been let-down (by my own hypersensitivity and others negligence) in my life so much that I feel like I have to now control everyone around me so they won’t hurt me. “I love daisies, but they can’t be orange. For my birthday, here is my list…make sure #2 is just the right size. No, we can’t go there to eat, you know I hate Indian food.” Trust me, we could do this all day. I guess what I have learned the most here is that being truly understood trumps any manipulated derivative that he could offer. I’ve had to let go of control and accept what others have to offer. What is more important: that he gets me the right kind of flowers or that he knows I’m having a crappy day? That I get what I want for my birthday or that he loves me enough to buy me a present? That we go where I want for dinner or that he wants to be with me on a date?

5 – He wants to protect you. It would be interesting to hear my husband’s opinion on this one, but I think he would probably correlate this to what I’ve already said about letting him being my hero. If I am all suited up in body armor of my own making and I think I can wield a sword better than he can then what is there for him to protect? I don’t need to be weak to be protected, but I do need to be humble enough to let him stand next to me on the enemy line. At the very least I need to not stand across from him with my gun pointed in his direction. That’s figurative not literal, in case you are wondering about how necessary marriage counseling is for us. A healthy relationship requires an “it’s me and you against the world” mentality.

6 – He wants to make you happy. There are two things I’ve learned about happiness. 1- No one else can make me happy. 2 – I can’t make anyone else happy. People can however work together with others for mutual happiness. The fact that my man goes to marriage counseling with me is the best way that he has shown me how important my happiness is to him. I have learned how to be happy without him. He has learned how to be happy without me. Therefore WE have learned how to be happy with each other.  My happiness increases as his happiness does and visa-versa. This makes me very happy.

7 – He wants to be himself. This is perhaps the trickiest of the seven. What should we do as human beings with inherent flaws especially when we are in a marriage? Is it really fair for my husband to be himself if being himself hurts me in some way? Is it fair for me to be overly critical (which I am) because that is just the way that I am?  Yes, we want to be ourselves, but, yes, we should also try to improve – especially for our spouse. I remember well the day we met with my psychiatrist who was discussing the behaviors associated with my bipolar disease and the management of such behaviors. LG asked, “How do I know the difference between Alice being bipolar and Alice just being Alice? I married her because I love some of these things about her – even if they are bipolar.” That, my friends was the most romantic thing I had ever heard. I think back on it often. He loves me for me, even if me is kind of screwed up. I try to give him the same benefit of the doubt although I think he is better at this than I am. I have found that I am always the best at letting him be himself when I put his needs above my own and he has learned that I am better at overlooking his weaknesses when he lets me know his awareness of them and how he is working at fixing them.

So, there you have it: my cliff’s note version of three years of marriage counseling. Yes, it has taken me three years to work my way up from a big fat F to a pretty solid C, if I do say so myself. I can honestly say that my marriage is the best and worst thing that has ever happened to me. It’s the worst because that mirror it forces me to look in is so very harsh! It’s the best because when I look in the mirror and start to cry at all the flaws that I see in myself, my man has always been there to love me through it. It’s my honor and privilege (when I succeed at it) to do the same for him.

Why? Because the amazing man that is my husband LeGrand makes me happy. He is my protector. He gets me. He is my best friend. He’s my lover. He’s my hero.

I feel a song coming on:

I belong with you. You belong with me. You’re my sweetheart. I love you LG.

Relationships

I got up at 7 am and tried all day to blog and between three non-working keys on the laptop (that have fixed themselves miraculously) and the million other interruptions/to-do items, I never even typed in the blog url to get started until ten o’clock tonight. How I’ve needed to write. It’s silly, this love affair I have with writing.  It’s as if the blank page is my sanctuary. I fill it up and become the sanctuary for myself.

Firefly Lane is my latest read.  My 4-star review can be found over on GoodReads. The book is about two best friends over a thirty year period of time. It was heart wrenching and touching in every single decade. It made me wish for a friendship like that of fictional Kate and Tully. I have great friends but none who know me as well as these two knew one another and none who have been around and close for 30 years. Well, maybe my sisters count. I’ve known them a long time and they are pretty intimate with my insanity.

2012-11-27 11.36.24

As I set down this book upon completion I was overcome with the idea that relationships are all that matter. The only thing I am taking with me when I die is my relationship with God, my relationship with myself, my relationship with my family, and my relationship with my fellow human beings. That’s it.

I can hope that I can take my relationship with paper and a pen but it ain’t gonna happen. Anything I write is stuck in mortality. Hmm. Maybe that’s not actually true. Maybe this explains my love with language. Like Kristin Hannah, I can write something that could inspire someone to have better relationships. If I do, they will take that inspiration with them….take my words with them. Even though that is a total tangent, it’s cool.

It lifted my spirits today to know that material stuff is petty. It’s not necessary for a happy fulfilled life. Sometimes its a hindrance.

So, life has been pretty crappy around here lately. Our landlord decided to sell the house we have been renting for the past two and a half years. We have a home here and love our neighborhood, but now we have been forced to move on. It’s been hard and emotional.

Not only is it hard to leave our beloved home, it’s also hard because LG and I made the decision to be financially responsible and make a significant downgrade. The downgrade is depressing yet necessary so that we can save money to not just get into our own home again but to be financially secure once we get there. We could have borrowed money to buy the house we are in and saved ourselves the hassle of moving, but if and when the furnace went out, we’d be in trouble. We have learned the hard way that we really don’t want to borrow money and we also don’t want to put ourselves in a position to need to be rescued.

So in the next few weeks we will be leaving our four bedroom 2,600 square foot home with a beautiful yard and a heaven-like neighborhood to reside in a 1,400 square foot 3 bedroom basement apartment with ONE bathroom!! It just sucks. There is no other way around it. There is nothing worse than knowing I am a parent who is failing my kids. They aren’t getting the stability we want them to have. They don’t get a lot of what we want them to have. What feels really crappy is knowing if we hadn’t taken our vacation last year to Disneyland, we may have had a different outcome now. If I would have known at the time that I was choosing future stability over one nice vacation for my kids before they fly from the nest, I don’t know what I would have done.

I do know one thing: I’m not taking my place of residence with me when I go, but we will all hopefully take with us the memories that were made. We will even take with us the memories we are going to make while fighting over the one toilet for the next few years. Somehow that makes this broken mom feel o.k. with it all. It also makes me feel better to know that the relationships I’ve forged in our current home are not just gone because I am moving, they will continue with me forever.

A song comes to mind.

Be the Rainbow

After recognizing my lonely state a few weeks back I decided I needed to be proactive about connecting with others. I realized I have a tendency to isolate and expect others to befriend me instead of reaching out to them. This may sound untrue to those who don’t me well because I believe “extroverted” would be on the Top 10 words people would use to describe me. Really I am extroverted, but only those who take the time to see past my surface and know me well, know that I tend to shut off the world, sometimes when I need it most.

Every human needs a place where they can honestly assess themselves. This blog is where I am choosing to be honest. I hope you don’t mind. { Time for some lyrics – I hope you don’t mind, I wrote down in words…how wonderful life is when you’re in the world.} Thanks for reading, if you are. Wow, there is power to putting words out there just for yourself. I pretty much don’t think anyone is reading this and I love it that it’s o.k. [I love that I got happy enough with myself to disable comments.]

So, back to working out the loneliness. I reached out. In the past couple of weeks, I did a bunch of out-reach. First, I went over and helped a friend move. I kind of forced myself on her. She didn’t seem to mind. I also continue to take the children of a friend on bed-rest on a weekly adventure to the park and library. Then I went over and helped another friend move. She also didn’t seem to mind. I got really brave and requested from the ladies from church that come on assignment to visit me once a month that we go to lunch. They seemed happy to oblige. I kept looking for ways to reach out and offered to bring another friend’s children home from swim lessons. I was already there and she lives right around the corner so it was nothing really. Another silly little thing: I answered my phone when a friend from high school called and found out that we will be having a great reunion dinner coming up very soon. I can’t wait. (I would normally just ignore something like that. – Should I admit that?) Last, I sent some giftcards via facebook to some family members who weren’t expecting it. Just for fun. Just to get outside myself.

rainbow

Guess what happened? I got immediate and tangible payoffs. Do you want to hear them? Well, you don’t really have a choice because I am telling you…isn’t that the point of this here blog?

I had fun with the first friend moving. She made me laugh. She also helped me to understand that it’s o.k. to not have a spotless house all the time when you are raising a large family. In fact when her kids came over the other day and our house was less than pristine, I was totally able to relax about it. That’s huge.

I had the privilege of being with my friend’s kids the day that their baby brother was born at 28 weeks –  he wasn’t supposed to come that early. I got to see their faces as they saw his first picture posted on facebook. What could possibly be of more value than that?

I got to have a powerful moving experience at the other friend’s moving day about the roles of women and men. I will share more about that in it’s own post in the near future.

I had a great lunch out with two fabulous ladies that are fast becoming some of my greatest friends. I only have one friend that I do lunch with since moving back to Utah, so to add two more feels pretty darn good. Lunch with the ladies is a great source of joy.

My sweet friend for whom I took kids home gave me a gift-card to my favorite restaurant. It was so unnecessary and undeserved but it made me feel loved and it helped me recognize how well this friend knows me and how wonderful it is to have a friend like her.

And last but certainly not least, I got dubbed as the coolest aunt ever for sending a gift-card through facebook. I even got my own post. Kylie is my newest niece (gained my marriage) and she is a gem! Check out the pic.

aunt

The moral of the story: Maya Angelou may have not always been an angel, but she sure knows what she is talking about when it comes to being a rainbow. It is pretty awesome being a rainbow!

Cat and Dog on Relationships

Recently Updated3A friend just posted a cute video of her pets and I had one of those moments of recognition. I borrowed stole some still-shots from the video for visuals. First, her mean kitty came up to the new kitty’s cage to hiss at her. Then the sweet sweet dog came and chased the mean cat away and hovered over the kitty to let her know she was safe.

While watching I was like, “Crap, I’m the mean cat.” I want so badly to be the hovering loving protective dog, but if I am honest with myself, I guess I should be honest with you too….I might reach nice dog status 30% of the time. The other 70% I am definitely in the cat-scratch-your-eyes-out mode.

I’m just cranky. People threaten me.

As I watched the mean kitty all defensive and aggressive, the principle that the therapist has been trying to teach me came to my mind’s forefront:

I have to rid myself of the fear of abandonment if I am ever going to have fulfilling close relationships.

In plain terms – I can’t be scared of other people because if I am I will use aggression, control, and other ineffective defense mechanisms to save myself from being hurt. Acting in such ways just causes me hurt because it pushes people away and that is what I was afraid of in the first place.

Funny sidestory – I am just remembering my kids showing a video from their ipod of Caroline crying the other day. One of my kids said matter-of-factly, “Caroline has abandonment issues.” Their 9 year old playmate was like, Wha? What is abandonment issues?” Yes, this is the stuff we talk about at our house.

Back to the dog and the cat. Remember my recent post about feeling lonely. I’m learning how vital relationships are to living a happy fulfilling life. We all need to connect. Joy is found in connection. I believe  progress will be easy if I can let go of the fear.

To gain greater connection with others I will be working on seeing others as harmless little kittens that need my love and affection, not as threats to my stability and way of life. All the pet owners in the world have room for another pet….even the cranky cats.

“Yesterday I was a dog.
Today I’m a dog.
Tomorrow I’ll probably still be a dog.
Sigh!
There’s so little hope for advancement.” ~Charles M. Schulz

Don’t listen to him…there’s always hope for advancement.

Lessons from the trail: grandpas

be my friend

Watching these grandpas walk together on the trail forced me to take inventory the other day. Am I a good friend? Do I have friends I can count on?

I have so much room for improvement.

I get lonely often. I have been trying to cultivate my relationship with God to a deeper level and feel successful. My relationship with my husband is better than ever (thank you marriage counselor.) I’ve also been spending a lot of time with my kids – can’t get away from them – blasted summer. However, I still get lonely.

At the same time, I like being alone. I don’t feel lonely when I am alone. Weird, eh? It leaves me wondering what my loneliness is trying to tell me because some of my happiest times are when I am alone. I guess when I am alone I am closest to God so that explains that. So what is this loneliness and why do I often feel it when I am surrounded by people?

As I run and bike the trail, I see all kinds of people engaged in all kinds of activity. Lately, though, I’ve been paying the greatest attention to the people who walk with a companion.

They always seem engaged in a beautiful thing with and without conversation. When there are just two people they always seem to genuinely be enjoying one another’s company. The picture above depicts one of these scenarios I found most touching.

I just read an article from the LA times that linked loneliness to premature death. I loved this line.

Anyone familiar with Henry David Thoreau knows that isolation does not necessarily lead to loneliness, while the story of Marilyn Monroe shows that a strong social life can still leave you lonely.

I think for me personally, I experience loneliness because at 39, I still struggle with emotional maturity. At least that is what the therapist said. Ha ha. I want to learn how to be closer to people. I want an old man to walk with on my path….o.k. maybe an old woman as I have an old man in my husband already. I’ve been on the prowl for a friendship that will be more deep and fulfilling, but so far it has been a challenge for me to find. Living in a society where putting on airs seems mandatory makes it almost impossible. There seems to be so much competition to be the best in everything nowadays instead of an atmosphere of  “hey, you’re screwed up, I’m screwed up, you want to be friends?”

At the same time, I over-share and over-communicate, and maybe seek out too much emotional support and encouragement. I air my dirty laundry in hope of acceptance and am often left disappointed. I also struggle with comparison so it’s hard for me to befriend people who are out to prove themselves better than me.

I find myself pulling away from people who are surface friends. I can’t handle being surrounded by perfect people. I need real. Part of me worries that maybe I am expecting too much from others and not focusing on myself enough, but I think that is just paranoia talking. I think what is really happening is that for the first time in my life I am getting in touch with the real me: the good, the bad, the ugly. I am learning to love myself and accept myself. Like a person who trains with friends for a marathon: when the person is running consistently 2 minutes faster per mile, it’s time to find new running partners. For me, as I seek out emotional wellness, it means that surface friendships are no longer enough. The other people are two minutes behind and I can’t stop my personal best to wait for them. It hurts. It’s a painful change, and maybe even sometimes a lonely place, but eventually I think I will find them and I will be all the better for it.

I am left pondering is true friendship able to be maintained despite emotional wellness?  I guess the real question is “should it be”?

I am going to open comments on this post only. I would love to hear kind feedback on how to create and maintain quality friendships.