” A Stretched Limo it is!!!!”

I spoke with my oldest the other day, inquiring whether he would be attending the upcoming formal dance.  In that moment, he shrugged and said that he probably wouldn’t and that he was not sure he’d have anyone to go with this time.  I listened and realized that he had not attended any dances in middle school, I wanted him to have these experiences.  I smiled and gave him a bit of a hint, yes a push, in a direction that there may be someone who would love to go.  We chatted, I waited to hear any more information and was rewarded by some awesome news!  My oldest is going to his first formal dance in a couple of weeks!  (squeal~~SQUEAL!)

He informed me that he had taken my advice (what?) and ventured out in courage, asked, and was affirmed!  He’s going to his first formal!!!!  I am beside myself excited for him.

Details are murky-he told me what he could with a big ole grin on his face-she had checked with her mom to make sure it was cool-all thumbs up granted he informed her that “I can’t pick you up, I don’t drive yet.”  When she responded that she doesn’t drive either yet, he replied, “A stretched limo it is….!”  Uh no, but nice try.

I am so thankful that he told me.  We were alone-traveling out-of-town, and he gave me the low down and was so excited to share it with me.  Yes, I squealed….I still am.  And, I caught the 2 tears that traveled down my own cheeks. He looked at me quizzically to which I revealed…..

I told him that inside every girl, woman, young lady, is a desire to feel beautiful, respected, and the belle of the ball.  We don’t need to be princesses, but we all want to be asked to the dance-we all want to pick out our outfits, dress up, see our date walk to the door, and have them escort us down the sidewalk.  We all want to enter the dance on their arm, float to the dance floor, and lose ourselves in a slow song.  It does not matter how unfrilly the young lady is, she wants to feel and be beautiful and to know someone else thinks so too. She had told him that she had wanted to go, but didn’t have anyone to go with….BIG OPENING!!! And, he took it.  After going over how he will treat her and what he will remember, we talked a bit more.

I know how she feels because I wanted it too.  My oldest son is a goober-he spends a ton of time on war simulation games, is hyper focused on airplanes and history, loves highly intelligent conversation, sometimes tries too hard, and has not yet fine-tuned his “look”( showers are just now becoming more important-he’ll get there).  I have been so scared that he would miss out on those opportunities because I know how cruel the social confines are in high school.  I did not want that to happen to him-I did not want him thinking that he wasn’t worthy or important.  I didn’t want him left out.

I was.  There’s a scene in Pretty in Pink https://youtu.be/O3cCbp_6IoQ   where Annie Potts discusses going to her prom.  It resonates.  Many think it’s no big deal-“hey, you’re 44, life goes on, get over it.”  Yeah, you’re right.  I’m 44 and I’ve never been to my prom.  Never went shopping for that dress for ANY formal dance, never saw my date walking up to my door, never had the clumsy corsage pinning moment, never had any pictures taken by giggling parents too excited to stop snapping. I went to one Valentine’s dance my in 1990 after returning home from a debate tournament, where I barely had time to shower and put one a frilly, lacy pink dress that I had borrowed.  The rest of those 4 years passed with nary an invitation to one dance.  While my classmates paired off or even found themselves supporting each other en mass, I sat at home, knowing full well what people thought of me.  My younger brother even attended my senior prom with a date-and he was a sophomore. (good for him!)

I didn’t want that for my oldest.  I didn’t want him to feel cast aside-I didn’t want him to question his worth based on whether or not you got asked-or got up enough nerve to ask.  The fact is, there were a few isolated instances where I did broach the subject of going to a dance with me-it was never accepted.  I know what this young lady feels.  I know why she said that she wanted to go, but prolly wouldn’t because she didn’t have anyone to go with.  I get it.  She wants to go.

You see, for just a minute, a mere blip on my timeline, I wanted to feel special.  I knew that I wasn’t pretty.  I didn’t wear the name brand clothes, I had no figure to speak of, and most of my classmates would tell you I was flat-out ugly.  I knew that.  I didn’t have a handle on a hairstyle and make up yet.  (I do now!) I was hyper focused on debate and interp to the point of insane competitiveness.  Most of all, I didn’t like me, not even an ounce.  I remember walking around the block that our elementary school sat on, predicting what the next 6 years would be like.  I was right, some of that was a self-fulfilling prophecy, some of it was out of my control.

But damn, I wanted that chance more than I can say.  And every time that Sweetheart Dance, Prom, or other formal came, I sat in my room and cried.  I wandered down to the lake shore, sat on the rocks, and poured my heart out to the fish, who I was convinced would turn into coachmen like Cinderella, and whisk me off to the ball.  Every time that happened it further cemented the belief that I was less than-that no matter what I did, it would never be good enough.  That I would never be pretty enough, witty enough, or simply enough to garner an invitation.  And, yah, after 25-30 years it still hurts.

I didn’t want that for my son.  Which is why in the midst of all my smiles, (which still cover my face), I swiped away tears that revealed decades of hurt (there they go again).  So far, the patterns are breaking and new realities are being realized and I rejoice for him.  This time around, I will take him shopping, coach him on the corsage color, snap a gazillion pics, and smile.  In the quiet of my room, I will find a heart wrenching movie and have myself a cathartic cry and wait for the next go around to celebrate all that my son is becoming.

 

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Hand Me that Mellophone!

This past weekend I got to do something that I have wanted to do my entire life.  I got to be in BAND!

I am not kidding, from the moment my classmates went to the band room in 5th grade, leaving a hand full of us in random study halls, I have yearned for the chance.  Then as classes advanced and I went to their concerts, the desire only grew.  When I was high school, I sat, in rapt attention as I watched field show after field show take center stage.  I came from a school with a long and solid reputation in marching…I wanted to be part of that legacy.  Going to college at SDSU ( NOT San Diego), the PRIDE has had a long and successful tradition.  I was friends with many of them–but I never fit in their world.  I didn’t know or understand the inner workings of the programs and shows they put together.

I know a bit more today. And, I want more.

My oldest son is a drummer-he has never taken a piano lesson, but has an understanding of rhythm and music that comes so naturally to him.  It is truly remarkable to watch him sit down at his trap set and improvise or to listen to him re-create music he’s only heard.  The other day I heard him on his bells practicing away to the tune of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”  

I sat there with a goofy grin on my face, knowing that some of my love for music and theatre has transferred to at least one of my sons.  (the verdict is still out on the other one.)  I knew the song he was playing and then I listened as he maneuvered from the chorus to his own improv of the verses.  He didn’t sing-he just stood there, almost trance-like, fully present to what he was creating.  I fought back tears of my own in that moment.  I could see his love-I could feel how much music means to him, I could sense his connection.  And, because I have that connection to music (and words), I understood him on another level.  “I set him on that path,” I breathed to myself.  YES!!!

So, I decided that since he was entering high school and the instances of my connecting with him will lessen as the years speed past, I would volunteer with the band-and marching band as much as I could.  What began as simply assembling, transporting, and moving set pieces for the field show, gave way to chaperoning.  Now that is a whole new reality.

On a bus, among multiple high school students, all in various stages of morning to NON morning person attitude welcomed me.  After the grunt work of loading coolers and instruments, we took our seats.  I chose a seat up front-“cause parents don’t sit with the kids mom” and waited for us to leave.  Suddenly, my seat was inhabited by a gangly, orange and black braces wearing drummer who could barely contain himself.  “I’m coming to sit with you, mom.  Is that OK?”  OK?  Of course it was OK!  Didn’t he want to sit with the drum line though?  Nope.

Armed with my phone, my Spotify playlist, and a pair of earbuds, I was ready to tune out for a bit.  Toothy grin boy next to me grabbed one of my earbuds, stuck it in his ear, and offered me his earnest face.  “Let’s sing, mom!”  Okey dokey.  Song after song, we thumbs up or thumbs downed our selections and smiled at each other once in a while.  This is what it feels like to relate to your kiddo as an almost adult!!!

The parade is typical of any line em up and move em out parade.  Other than warm ups and the quiet marching before you take the parade route, it’s pretty uneventful.  The field show is where it’s at.

The unloading, assembling, tuning, prepping, and executing a field show is some of the most intricate and detailed work I’ve seen high school students do. Every step, timed.  Every movement has a motivation, each note tells the story.  And, each member is integral.  If a member is out of step, the whole thing looks sloppy-it is a lesson in communication, teamwork, and listening.  It’s also a lesson in ego.  Like you have to set down your own ego and work for the good of the whole.  It’s not the snare that grabs the spot light to win percussion awards-it’s the work of the whole percussion section that lands an honor.  For the artist ,setting aside that ego is sometimes the toughest ask of the whole show.

I loaded, unloaded, gobble-gobbled at students who wanted turkey sandwiches, I taped, tied, untied, and stood behind banners on the field.  I saw behind the scenes what no one watching the show sees.  I saw the counting, the looking down at feet to make sure laces were tied, the nervous grins of good luck, and the extreme concentration of all involved.  It left me speechless.

From behind a large fabric banner, I watched the percussion pit-I am beginning to know these kids-some I have watched for years now (well at least since 5th grade).  Others I am just coming to know.  They are a riot!  Their goofy humor and hacky-sack playing speaks to me and reminds me of games of “spoons” and “Egyptian Rock Kill” that we played waiting for results at debate and interp tournaments.  But standing there, watching them engaged in the show, I was transfixed.

A couple of times I had to choke back tears.  “That’s my BUG out there.  Oh, hit that transition….YES!  Watch your step on the backward march and cross step with that big ole bass strapped to you…..Sweet-he made it!” This was more than watching my son come into his own and realizing a group of people who may turn out to be some of his best friends who have his back play.  ( with his adhd and anxiety struggles-having friends who accept unconditionally have been hard to come by)  I was living a dream.

True, I did not have an instrument in my hand- (boy did I wish I had), but I was watching and listening to something come alive—and I was a tiny, tiny part of it.  Walking back with the students, I could feel their excitement.  They had nailed this show-they knew it, I knew it, anyone who had seen it knew it.  Gathering back to dismantle and load, I looked for my son.  Spotting him, I opened my arms for a big hug-he flew into them!  And, he attempted on 2 different bear hugs to lift me off the ground-  He just needed more arm strength.  I blinked back tears, blamed them on the cold, and hugged him tighter yet.  This!  This is what pride in your child feels like.  This!  This is what having a tight and loving bond with your child feels like–blissful and a myriad of emotions all at once.  I stood quiet some time later and my son ambled over to ask what was wrong-“nothing, it’s just this is my first ever band experience.  I had wanted this my whole life and never got to be part.”  “Well, what did you want to play?”  “Trumpet” I said without a moment’s hesitation-“but the middle of my top lip is not strong enough for that mouth piece-I can only play out the side of my mouth on a trumpet-and forget about the french horn!”  He yells for a fellow bander-she hurries over and my son says to her. “Hey, let my mom try your baritone-(mellophone)!  She’s always wanted to play, but was never allowed to.  See if she can play that one!”  Happily the student hands it over-I nervously wipe off the mouth piece, position my lips and fingers in what I think is the right way and blow.  High baritone notes flowed forth–up the higher end of the scale! “Ok, that’s good!” he said  “Quick before Mr.______hears you playing and thinks it’s one of the kids and we get in trouble!”  Sheepishly I hand the horn back-an impressed look forces a smile–“You did that pretty well-those high notes are not easy.”  “Well, I was a soprano vocalist-we learned to develop good breath support.  With more air, you have the chance for higher notes sounding clearer-or something like that.”  Aaaahhhh.

A long and busy day gave way to standing in sleet and waiting and more waiting.  The ride home was quiet.  The same drummer came and sat with me, sharing earbuds and a smile.  This time though, instead the of the excitement I felt buzzing around him, I sensed peace.  I purposely chose quieter songs on the way home.  A contented sigh escaped from him and I glanced down to see his head resting  heavily on my shoulder….eyes closed, relaxed, damp, and more than a bit tired.

Silently I whispered a “thank you Bug…thank you for allowing me to come along on this journey with you.  I may not ever get to march or learn an instrument, but this is a moment I will remember for a lifetime.”

https://photos.google.com/u/1/photo/AF1QipOrDJJuqHh0ae32as6HUgIkLWPkCacOdHBYr9tN

“We Didn’t Know”

I thought this post was going to take one direction and I sat down fully anticipating giving myself to that.

Then 2 things happened.  I talked to a trusted friend on the phone and Shawn Mendes’ newer song, “In my Blood” infiltrated my mindset and now will not release its hold on me until I wrestle with it.

I don’t want to write this.  I am scared to do so, but after my conversation I am compelled to do so, not for my benefit, but in the hopes that someone, somewhere might derive some meaning, healing, understanding, some SOMETHING from it.

I heard a quote today that “indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter…” (C.Ford)  Oh my goodness.  That will not let me go and the moment that I heard that statement I was triggered.  Now there are a number of areas that my head could go in this moment, but there is one that stands out more than the rest and I am not really sure why.

Before I launch into recalling that moment, the lyrics that seem to have gripped my attention are the driving force: ” I’m crawling in my skin
Sometimes I feel like giving up
But I just can’t
It isn’t in my blood” S. Mendes

As I recall the memory I discovered how raw it left me at that time leading me to some specific changes I made as a result and drove some of my perceptions of who I was.

We all reach the gawky, awkward stage somewhere in 5th-8th grade.  Some hit it faster than others.  Some take their time getting there.  Others move through at a slower pace–all the while each of us is thinking, “ugh, can this part just be OVER already?”  It isn’t until we are adults and can think back that most of us will admit loathing those changes that take place during that time period-it is some of the most insecure moments we experience as young people growing up.  The only comfort I can now take is that EVERY SINGLE one of us goes through it to some degree.  We don’t know it at the time.  Nor are we aware that EVERY SINGLE one of us is questioning who we are, why that massive zit had to appear before the big dance, when we will develop into the men and women we are supposed to be, and a host of other earth shattering issues. (we don’t realize that they are not earth shattering at the time.)  I was not unlike everyone else in that regard but part of the problem was that my “development” happened at a much slower rate than most of my classmates.  Therein lay the problem.

As an 8th grader, I was more than impatiently waiting for certain physical attributes to arrive.  They hadn’t-or at least not to any noticeable degree.  This was the case for most of the year until the tail end of it.  There were 2 things that happened that marked this time as particularly awkward.

One of them was the annual scoliosis checks that the nurses conducted on the girls to make sure that they detected any spinal abnormalities early.  To do this, the girls went one-by-one into a separate room, clad in their jeans and bra so that the nurses could see and feel the spine.  Normally this would not be a problem.  For me there was an issue.  I had to wait until the very last to go because I was wearing nothing more than an undershirt under my sweatshirt.  This meant that I had to stand in front of the nurses completely naked on top so they could get an adequate look. Talk about embarrassing.  It was the worst!!!  I felt so small-PUN actually intended there.  I felt humiliated and a freak.  What was worse is that it was around this time that things in that area had actually started to develop–and well, yeah.

See now is when I’d like to be “giving up, but I just can’t-it isn’t in my blood.”  So I will doggedly forge on.   Few people knew about that particular moment, but it was not long before most of my class was introduced to new developments.

Our junior high was 3 floors, with many of the 8th grade classes on the top floor and lunch was held in the gym in the basement area.  I had a class on the top floor right before lunch and temperatures ranged drastically from top to bottom.  Heat rises you know.  I was a thin girl-and had worn a turtleneck sweater (a reddish orange hue), with a pair of jeans on this particular day.  Never being one of huge weight, I never really thought much of what I was wearing.  I did not grow up in a household that paid much attention to clothes, fashion, or really ever talked about my being a girl.  (NO ONE wants that talk–EVER!)  Nor did we talk about items of clothes that would be necessary as I aged.  So wearing a more skin tight sweater might necessitate some awareness that I did not have.  I should have known–I didn’t, but I soon learned.

Remember that I said that heat rises?  Well, that means that the coldest area is closer to the basement and where was lunch held; in the gym-the lowest floor of the building.  And, by the way- as any teen rom com or drama movie will tell you, the lunchroom is the WORST place for social politics to take place.  It is the feeding ground for every insecurity and class distinction is on clear display.  (Mean Girls cafeteria had nothing on ours).  Standing in line, waiting for my lunch a couple of my classmates ambled by and began laughing.  Now, this was nothing new since I had long been the subject of jokes and laughter.  (another story for another time) This time, however, I was totally baffled.  What had I possibly done this time?  I was just standing there….minding my own business.

The popular boys gathered in number, pointed, laughed, whispered to themselves, pointed again and slapped each other on the back for the newest joke.  “Pointy!  So glad to see you out here today!”  The laughter-it’s stored in the hippocampus-it’s the truth.

Pointy?  Wha-huh?  Did I have a pencil stuck in my back pocket?  No.  Was my hair sticking up?  No.  What the hell?  Girls started to titter among themselves–point and giggle as well.  A couple looked sympathetically my way but were not in a position socially to risk saying anything.  (I get that now)  One classmate waited until I had gotten through the line-when I had traveled to a lone table, through the throngs of classmates that now were laughing and pointing and nodding to one another.  High fives ensued.  What?

“Cindy-it’s time you think about wearing something under your sweaters.”  What?  I had an undershirt–no one had talked to me about anything else.  “Cin-(I hated being called Cin-only 1 person was allowed to and he was currently laughing too) things happen when it gets cold out.  Look down at your chest.”

I looked and everyone was waiting for the dawn of realization that took place in that moment.  Things DO happen physically to people when it gets cold out.  The gym was cold, it was winter in the midwest and I had been on the 3rd floor where heat rises and nothing would have been on display.  Now, however, I sat vulnerable in full frontal point(e). (ballet term there with a double entendre)  OH GOD-NOOOOOOOO The worst “Are you There God, It’s Me Margaret” moment had just taken place.  NOOOOOOOOOO, shit.

Humiliated-now the color of my sweater (one I had been so proud to wear because I was little and petite and damn, it was a good color) I had no choice but to swallow hard, grab my tray, dump my uneaten lunch, and leave.  Tears stung behind my eyes-(giving up, but I just can’t…it isn’t in my blood) “don’t let them see you cry–hold it together—choke it down”  Lumps of shame jammed at the base of my throat.  I ran to the bathroom, vomited the nothing contents of my stomach, and knew undeniably that I was the bottom rung of the totem pole.  I may have been smart and a good student, but I was the lowest common denominator.  A title I adopted and kept through the rest of school.

Grabbing my over sized coat, I muddled through the rest of the day and got home, saying nothing to anyone.  It wouldn’t have mattered anyway we weren’t the type of family that shared those things….(we still aren’t)  I had learned valuable lessons that day.  I learned firsthand about the shame of growing up-what ridicule does to the masses, and how to devalue myself.  And, I did.

Out came the baggy clothes, the nondescript colors, the clunky shoes, the lack of jewelry.  I quietly snuffed out any identifying factor that would reveal a woman’s shape or any sense of femininity.  I drew that shame around me like my winter coat and wore it—never reveled in it- and never reveled in the fact that I could have become an attractive young woman, confident, walking with my head held high.  I learned that how I looked. what I dressed like, and the changes that were happening to me were up for scrutiny and I held myself in contempt.

Why now?  Why speak now?  Because shame is contemptible.  I am not contemptible…..but feeling that way is.  Believing I am and was, is.  And, according to one of my classmates who wrote to me not so long ago (We didn’t know…)  Because there are times I felt like “giving up–but I just cant.  It isn’t in my blood.”

 

Standing Worlds Apart.

There is a scene in the movie, I Can Only Imagine, where the antagonist is seen tossing trophies and mementos of a former football career into a burning barrel and setting them on fire.  You can feel the pain and disappointment in his movements, the charred remains of the barrel hold the soot seared reminders of a life they hoped would be theirs, and never was.  You can almost taste the dreams that now lay in ashes at the bottom of the rubble.  The hurt is real.

Moments later that same antagonist comes face-to-face with the story’s protagonist, a  young boy intent on dreaming his own flights of fancy.  He is a bright-eyed, optimistic, creative, boy- youthful exuberance bubbles out of him as he proudly shows his mother the make-shift helmet he has constructed out of trash heaps he’s ruffled through that day.  It’s a fighter helmet for use in an epic space battle he knows he’ll engage in someday.  As his father asks about it, he shrugs it off explaining that it’s really nothing-just junk.  We know it’s not true-we had just seen him describe it to his mother and heard her remark how hard he had worked on it.  In a swift moment, his father reminds him that, “Dreams don’t pay the bills.  They keep you from all this, from knowing what’s real.” With that he snatches up the helmet, walks to the lit burning barrel, and tosses it in without so much as a glance.  The flames lick at the drawn designs on the cardboard before it too, becomes the same ash as his father’s football trophies at the bottom of the barrel.

“Dreams keep you from knowing what’s real.”  I understand that statement and I wrestle with it daily.  You see, I am a dreamer.  I am a 100%, head in the clouds, fanciful idealist, who has long envisioned a life somewhere else, living out the dreams I have entertained since I was a little girl sitting at the end of a dock, hashing them out with the fish swimming below me.   I’ve known for decades what those dreams look like, I can taste them-hear them, I know them as intimately as an actor knows the character they play on stage.

Many of my dreams do not involve material goods. I want to be comfortable, to have a few nicer things, provide an education for my children and enough to enjoy trips and treats every now and then.  Most of mine are centered on cycles that I want to end, of relationships tattered that I want mended, of perceptions smashed and reputations restored.  I dream of truth and forgiveness and love unconditional.

I know what it feels like to watch those dreams burn to ashes.  Recently, I realized a dream that was singed 25 years ago.  The day I watched,  I Can Only Imagine, with my oldest son, I recall how gut punched I felt viewing that burning barrel scene.  I sat there with tears streaming down my cheeks and it took my son pointing them out to realize how long I had been crying.  I understood the anguish in that scene.

I had a hero growing up.  That hero happened to live in my house, and the sun rose and set on the opinions and actions of him.  When I was in their good graces, I floated.  When I fell from grace, I crashed and burned.  There was a moment my senior year of high school-some 25 years ago where I fell from his favor.  In that moment, all of their pent up frustration, anger, resentment, drama and ego spewed forth and I, like Icarus, flew too close to the sun, melted my wings, and plunged to the earth.  I’ve yet to repair those wings.

That moment shattered the image of my hero and sent them crashing to the earth too.  In all fairness, it is unrealistic to idolize someone that much.   There is no way they can maintain that expectation, nor should they have to.   That kind of pressure, self inflicted or other, is dangerous and often leads to heartache.  I knew that and yet naively believed that after such a fall, I could piece things together and go back to before it happened.  Icarus died mid flight.

I was embarking on a new adventure the summer after this fall out and my hero and I would be attending the same college, situated in the same dorm complex.  I knew I would see them.  I knew many of the same people and I wanted desperately to restore my former standing.  I wanted to matter.  I wanted to fix it.  So, I set about doing so.

This was the time in the fashion world where button down silk shirts were all the rage-my hero had seen one, remarked they wanted one and I knew it.  In fact, that same year we had been at a store together and I promised him his first silk shirt would come from me.  So, I devised what I thought was a fool proof plan.  I saved up my money from the grocery store job I had, marched into the local men’s boutique and purchased the nicest, button down, silk shirt I could find, $60 some dollars later.  I asked the salesperson to wrap the gift because if anyone knows me, they know that I can’t wrap my way through a Christmas present.  They gave me the box and it was full of color and ribbon and festivity.  I beamed with pride, nearly skipping my way to the car.  I knew this would be “the moment”!

I brought it into the house, excited to have something to gift to my hero for their birthday.  I just knew that this would heal all the cracks that had developed in the past few months.  I gave it to my mother for safe keeping and requested that  she not tell my hero what it was or who it was from.  I was convinced that when they opened it, saw what was inside and recalled the conversation where I had promised  this gift, that the ice would melt and all past transgressions would be forgiven!  I couldn’t wait to see the reaction and  hear the lifetime music that would swell in the background as a moment of heartfelt sibling connection was re-established.  I could walk into my college dorm feeling whole again.

Knowing that my presence would be unwelcome during the birthday celebration, I ran to the only sanctuary I had available at the time.  I ran to the water’s edge.  I ran, with a black , cassette tape,  headphone player,  complete with a worn copy of REO Speedwagon in its case.  At the edge of the rocky boat ramp, I climbed into my hidden refuge, hugged my knees to my chin, and hit play.  The swells of familiar music filled my ears as the lyrics to, “Time for Me to Fly” washed over me.

I’ve been around for you
Been up and down for you
But I just can’t get any relief
I’ve swallowed my pride for you
I’ve lived and lied for you
But you still make me feel like a thief
You got me stealing your love away
‘Cause you never give it
Peeling the years away
And we can’t relive it
Oh, I make you laugh
And you make me cry
I believe it’s time for me to fly
You said we’d work it out
You said that you had no doubt
That deep down we were really in love
Oh, but I’m tired of holding on
To a feeling I know is gone
I do believe that I’ve had enough
I’ve had enough of the falseness
Of a worn-out relation
Enough of the jealousy
And the intoleration
Oh, I make you laugh
And you make me cry
I believe it’s time for me to fly  Songwriters: Kevin Patrick Cronin
     Over and over I hit Rewind and played that song, singing to the bullhead, to the algae, to the boats across the lake, to anyone that would hear the lament.  the desire to move beyond this obstacle, to be freed of the guilt, the shame, and the worthless feeling of being unloved was stronger than an anchor at that boat ramp.   I wanted to rail against the pain that walled me in, caged growth and left me clamoring for identity.  I wanted to fly.
     After what I thought was a safe time frame, I ventured back up to house, taking care to watch for signs that the family was not still celebrating.  All appeared calm and I trekked up the gravel driveway as dust and wind from the August swelter settled and the cicadas sang their lullaby.  Pausing at the front of the garage, I looked up the quarter mile drive at the setting sun, reminiscing the many walks to the bus I had done over the years.  Coming to terms that this year my feet would be walking a college campus and hopefully finding themselves center stage in a theatre production every now and again, I closed my eyes and uttered a whispered “I wish…”   “Time for me to fly,” I kept thinking to myself as I walked into the garage, prepared to step into the house.  I stopped at the top of the stairs leading to the door and noticed a figure trooping across the lawn.
     With a determined step that mimicked a march and with a ramrod, straight back, the hero of my childhood stepped into focus from the back of the house that faced the lake.  Eyes trained forward, mouth set like stone, he carried a box in his hands.  I watched, fascinated with his resolute attitude.  The box, gaily adorned in muted pastel wrapping paper and purple curled ribbon was on full display.  Keeping in perfect step he marched to the burning barrel, set the unopened box in it, pulled a match from his pocket, struck the flint against the ragged, rusted, iron edge and tossed in the spark.  Instantly the barrel was flooded with flames that shot a full foot into the air.  The paper, once so carefully folded and taped, curled, sending inky smoke heavenward.  The ribbon turned on itself and caved to the heat. The box holding the silken treasure never saw the light of day.  In seconds hours of work and months of hope was destroyed.  The lid of the box had never been opened, the contents never revealed, a promise fulfilled, never realized.
      It was in those moments of watchful horror that I noticed the matriarch of our clan standing at the top of the stairs also watching my hero’s action with intense interest.  In a voice heavy and choked I turned to her and croaked, “You told him who it was from, didn’t you?”
“I did.” They confirmed.
“Why? I begged you not to.  You knew why I had done this-you knew.  You knew what I was trying to do here.  You knew!”
     Sobs wracked my throat, causing strong resolve to crumble as tears streaked my cheeks.
“I did tell him it was from you.  You have said horrible things to him-I think he’s completely within his right to do this.  So, yes.  I told him.  And now you know.”
Appalled, I stood, watching bits of paper float to the grass across the yard. Smoke settled, and the flames died.   The hero I had loved, and yes, worshiped, turned on his heel and marched back to his refuge to celebrate the rest of his day.  Glancing up to catch her eyes, I waited for something to tell me this was not happening, for arms to encircle me, taking away the pain.  Instead my mother shrugged her shoulders, grabbed the door handle and walked back inside the house.

Standing there, 3 days before a new chapter in my life would begin on a college campus, I knew.  I knew how Icarus felt.  I knew what it felt like to be imprisoned, desperately clamoring to be free.  I also knew the sting of flames that claimed life for its own, snuffing out dreams and suffocating breath.  With tears still streaming, I sniffed my way down the hallway to my bedroom, closed the door, climbed on my bed.  With chin on knees, head down, I mourned the childhood hero that had plummeted to the depths below, leaving a pair of wings, tattered and scorched at my feet.

Addendum:
https://youtu.be/NFj17GYJEj0  Jars of Clay’s “Worlds Apart” gripped me while writing this and motivated the Icarus metaphor.  Thus, I am sharing the lyrics to that song, which oddly fits perfectly in this midst of this whole piece.  Interesting how a Creator magically makes those pieces fit.

Cause I Don’t Believe in You Anymore.

It’s amazing when you come face-to-face with your hero.  I wonder if there is anything like having that person who seems larger than life right in front of you.  You can see them, feel their presence, absorb their realness.  I think there is a comfortable infatuation that exists in that moment.

I know I had one that I entertained.  This person was, (and still is) bigger than life.  Their energy  overwhelming, their capability far beyond what most people could ever conceive.  Interestingly, I lived with my hero.  I saw them everyday.  I watched them rise the social scale in school.  I stood in awe as they traveled the world, increased their awareness and education at some of the most prestigious places of learning.  I saw talent ooze out of every pore. I loved them, adored them, and hated them at the same time. And, I wanted what they had.  I figured that if I lived with it, I could emulate it and the world would be at my feet, just like it was for them.

Much of the time, I was tolerated.  Then, I was annoying—-yes, just like any lil sister would be.  Like the puppy that sleeps at my side, I followed and copied and noted all that was done.  I told myself everyday, “If only” then the rest would fall into place and I would have found my niche.

Oddly enough, I did discover along the path that many of the same activities I had seen them perform, I also had  the innate talent.  After all, it was me up in front of a classroom debating the impacts of the social contract on American values–not them.  I remember the first time I qualified for a State competition ( I was a freshman in high school).  I was performing in humor and as a first year student, I nabbed a state superior.  Not the most common thing to do especially since I came from small town SD and was up against seasoned big dogs.  I bopped up to the front when my name was called to accept my trophy and the head of the activities association shook my hand and commented how nice it was to see someone following in their amazingly talented sibling’s footsteps.  Was I ready to repeat all that success?  You bet.

Bullshit.

I never once claimed that success for myself.  Instead, I told myself it was never enough, never big enough, never enough trophies on my shelf.  (there is not one in my home).  There are 2 moments that stand out to me and weirdly, an Adam Levine song, “Wonder” came into play this weekend.

I remember distinctly being at a major tournament my junior year, a tournament where if I did well, I could qualify for nationals.  I was in top form.  My hero was in attendance and we had a tradition of a “walk and talk” before pivotal rounds, this tournament was no different.  Back and forth between speaking event and debate I ran….I walked into finals ready to take it.  I did.  I claimed top spot in my individual event.  BAM!!!  I recall standing in the line of other finalists, waiting for my name to be called….as soon as third place was announced, I knew I had done it (they take the 2 top spots).  Second was called, it wasn’t me.  I had taken first.  I had arrived.  I gathered the plaque and mug in my hand and through tears I looked toward the back of the lunchroom to see my hero standing there, clapping, nodding their head in approval.  I had done it–I had gained the respect of the one who had alluded me. They later said to me, “I had people tell me you were good.  I didn’t believe it until I saw it for myself.  You are incredible—damn, you’re really good.” I basked in that–and it kills me to type that memory because tears of loss stream down my face with each word I eek out.

Exactly a year later the tables turned and I was ousted. Lyrics flood my head,

“I still don’t have the reason
And you don’t have the time
And it really makes me wonder
If I ever gave a fuck about you”

http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/maroon5/makesmewonder.html

Instead the last line plays in my head: “And it really makes me wonder if you ever gave a F about me.”  At the same tournament a year later, my hero looked me straight in the face, sneered, “I qualified in 2 events my senior year.  Can you do that?  Hell no.  No, you won’t be able to do that, will you?”  These words pounded my brain as I walked into another final round, in a position to repeat my win from the year before….I didn’t qualify in either event.  I was damn close and I lost.  I recall standing in the same line up as the previous year, with the same person in the back of the room…..instead they gloated and shot me the most condescending look I’ve ever received and gave me 2 thumbs down. I was crushed–part of me died in that moment and it will never be resurrected.

I’ve watched the actions of my hero the last few years.  Watched them age, grow into themselves, fumble a bit, fight their way back to where they want to be.  I’ve witnessed them in real life situations and now I shake my head.  I don’t know this person–I wonder if I ever really did–if any of us did.  It really makes me wonder if this is their true nature, to disregard and toss aside human lives like so much discarded trash.  If this is true, did they ever give a F about me?

I have to wrestle with that.  Yet, something stops me.  I looked back down the lyrics list to discover,

“Give me something to believe in
Cause I don’t believe in you anymore
Anymore
I wonder if it even makes a difference,
It even makes a difference to cry. So this is goodbye”

I look at their actions now, listen to speeches they make, glean from what they type–searching for that piece==that peace.  I implore those typed words to give me something to believe in–cause I don’t believe in them anymore.  I don’t believe in that hero anymore.

Maybe after almost 25 years estranged, admitting that I don’t believe in them anymore is the most important first step.  Maybe I don’t have to give a F about them…it’s obvious they do not give a damn about me.  Maybe admitting that allows me a glimpse of what walking away looks like.

I hate this.  I hate looking back at those words, those sentiments seem so detached, so void of the unconditional love I advocate.  I’m not sure I care today.  I might tomorrow, but today, I’ve muddled through so many years locked in silent battle, trying to win the acknowledgment of someone who once held so much of my devotion.  And, it kills me to realize that maybe they never deserved it in the first place.

So, what do you do when you meet your hero face-to-face and they turn out to be not only human, but a rather stinky one at that? What do you do when you discover that their apathy and my reaction to it has almost destroyed me?  How do you say good bye?

Cause I can’t believe in you anymore–Cause I can’t love you anymore.  And today it makes no difference to cry.

 

shalom,

 

 

Fog, like Pea Soup

I drove into work yesterday in some of the worst fog I have ever encountered. It was thick, oppressive, massive, and isolating. It made me think of recent news of a former student tragically completing suicide this past weekend. I know many in their family, I have taught and had multiple connecting points with them and their siblings. I feel privileged to have taught them in some capacity over the years. Driving through the fog, they taught me.
Many will look at a person’s decision to complete suicide as one of the most selfish acts someone can commit. I used to think that. I don’t anymore.
Take fog. Depending on the time of day and the density, it can be all-consuming and frightening–there are also some moments of serene beauty.  As I drove yesterday, I could not see a hands distance from me on all sides. While there may have been, (and were) people traveling the same road beside, in front of, or behind me, I was oblivious. I could not see them, and they could not see me. Normal non-verbal communication that happens with drivers was not seen. Normal signals such as lights, slowing down or speeding up, or a lane change were lost. Eye contact and the bevy of non verbals (yes, even flipping the bird) were gone. In that moment, I was alone. But, I wasn’t. There were others out there, traveling the same stretch of interstate, similar paths and goals, different destinations. I felt alone.
In the case of suicide, this description fits. It’s a dense, all-encompassing fog that breathes heavy, clouds the windows, casts shadows on what we think we see, and impairs our judgment. When the light breaks through, it is blinding in its intensity and after our eyes adjust, we loosen our grip on the steering wheel, turn up the volume on our Spotify playlist, breathe a sigh of relief, set the cruise and motor on.
Being consumed with the painful fog of suicide offers no relief. I say pain here because I believe that is what it is . Wait, I don’t believe it. I know that’s how it feels. I know this pain.
You see, when we encounter moments of intense pain, we will go to any lengths to alleviate that pain. That’s why we have an incredible drug problem out there. People are trying to survive through immense pain. Note that I said, survive, not thrive. When the pain is so crushing that mere survival hurts, a person will do just about anything to find relief. That’s not selfish.
Take a migraine. For those that suffer, it is extreme. I’ve even driven myself into clinics and endured shots to the skull for relief. When it hurts in every fiber of your being, alleviating pain is not necessarily selfish.
Likewise, a person watching a loved one in that much pain will do almost anything to help. We know how helpless we feel when we can’t take the pain away from someone…any parent knows this. Imagine the pain of a child in almost any circumstance, I can guarantee you that most parents feel that pain more intensely than that child and come almost unglued with the want to rid them of it. I have seen my sons’ in moments of pain, their howls of agony rip at my soul. I want to help them and in some instances, I can’t. This is one of them.
In the moment when pain is at its most acute, there is nothing else a person can see or feel. They are not thinking about anyone else, not because they don’t want to, but because they CAN’T. When I am in a migraine cycle, I cannot function for or on behalf of anyone else. I may have the thought that I feel bad for not functioning,but rational thought of taking care of anyone else is gone. This is not to say that I do not love in those moments. I am simply unable to see or feel anything besides the pain and a quest for relief. Relief of pain is not selfish, it is natural and necessary. How we go about that is the slippery slope.
In the moment that a note, email, voicemail, text, or Facebook post is written claiming that we would be so much better off without their existence, there is absolutely no thought to the repercussions of that action. Pain has clouded the mind and fogged judgment so severely that rational thought and action do not exist. All that remains is what the mind and emotions are screaming at that person and all they want is peace.
I am NOT condoning this action. I am trying to grasp hold of it myself and wrestle it to the ground. I want easy answers and they don’t exist. I see others in pain and I want to help relieve it and I can’t. Only the person walking in that pain can and that’s where it’s hard. At the end of the day, I can hurl every strength, show of support, courage and love to a person and I still have no control over their actions. NONE.
That hurts. That’s scary. That’s real. And. it. Sucks.
I know this world. I’ve seen it, mucked around in it, examined its possibilities, attempted to taste its fruit to find it bitter and rancid. My experience is not yours and yours is not mine. But, I have to keep reminding myself that even when I feel isolated and am fumbling in the pea soup, I am not alone. There are others in their cars, on their journeys, similar to mine. I have my own road to take and a destination that belongs only to me, just as they have theirs. They can’t fix me and I can’t fix them. As I remember moments when people wrested bottles from my grip, I recall the deafening scream of silent pain that wanted freedom, that wanted the fog to lift so that I could find relief. Luckily, pain did not win. Tormented plots and twisted thoughts eased and the clouds parted. The fog lifted. I am lucky.
I am lucky because I understand. I am lucky because today I breathe life. Many are not and have not been so lucky and I mourn for them. I mourn their opportunity, I mourn their life. I mourn the level of pain that dictated this as the answer. I mourn because the work continues. But, I also rejoice in a deeper understanding of really dark and twisty places that do not have ready answers. That sounds weird. I rejoice in a constant quest for more understanding and more places of intersection so that I, and many others, do not have to feel so alone.

Layer(ed) Cake

I  looked back on the last blog that I wrote about my son and chocolate cake.  Something struck me mid week and today while doing my own work I stumbled upon a couple stark realizations.

I was penning a new blog where I opened with the admission that I was a thief.  It was matter-of-fact and final.  It was wrong and judgmental and I directed  it precisely at me.  I was unapologetic and fully willing to take the blame and I’ve done that for the last 41 years.

There was something in that last blog that did not sit right with me.  It was the image of me as kid,  sitting at a classroom desk waiting for birthday treats that did not come my way because of allergies.  I wrote out of what I knew to be truth at the time.  It was truth until I peeled back some layers of the cake and revealed a crumbly center.

You see, at that time I wrote that my parents had forgotten to send to the school treats that I could eat.  I trumped up every excuse in my mind, or truths that I  told myself over  41 years, so much so that any other reality was inconceivable.  I never thought to question it, it was my reality.  Then I  discovered there was nothing accidental or forgetful in their actions.  Nothing.

I have 2 children, and my job as a parent is to make smooth the road to adult independence.  It is my job to advocate, support, cheerlead, mourn, celebrate, and “be” in it with and for them.  It is my obligation to do all I can to arm them with the tools they need to be successful citizens, husbands, and God willing, fathers.  Forgetfulness happens and can be forgiven.  Intentional neglect does not.

It nearly guts me to type those words, believe me, it broke me to utter them today.  Even though I was in a trusted and safe place, the amount of pain I encountered is something I will have to muck around in for awhile.  Even in the midst of that safe space I fought like hell the tears that ekked out, revealing my vulnerability.

Intentional neglect.  That is quite an accusation and one I do not entertain lightly.  But, if I examine the facts, it is the only conclusion.  In this day and age, peanut and gluten allergies are as commonplace as uttering the phrase Common Core. (not getting into that debate)  There are whole tables dedicated to the “non” peanut eater and special menu considerations exist for those with gluten allergies.  It is a given that if one child is affected, the whole class is made aware; every effort is made to ensure that all children feel like they belong and no one is left out.

I did not have that luxury and now I am beginning to feel the full impact of that alienation.  While we did not have the internet or smart phones when I was young, the invention of the telephone DID exist…even if we had to use a rotary dial to make the call.  Parent-teacher communication was available.  There was still snail mail, teacher conferences still happened, a stop in to the school was always welcome.  The fact remains that those measures were not utilized.  That intentional inaction led to my feeling even more ostracized and alone, lonely and afraid in a time when perceptions of school were just beginning to take shape.  I learned at an early age that I did not fit, that there was something “wrong” with me, that I was not like the others.

Edward Kleban, lyricist for “A Chorus Line” provided some words that resonate with me

“Diff’rent” is nice, but it sure isn’t pretty.
“Pretty” is what it’s about.
I never met anyone who was “diff’rent”
Who couldn’t figure that out.
So beautiful, I’d never live to see.

Without knowing it, I adopted this philosophy and claimed it as truth.  It’s wrong and it kills me to type that.

Why?  Because what the hell do you do when you put A and B together (and I don’t do math) and discover the truth you thought you knew and what you had constructed your whole outlook on is incorrect?  Worse yet,  that truth is destructive and unhealthy?  What do you do when you realize that people who were charged with your care intentionally neglected to follow through?  What do you do when you peel back a layer and find that there is no excuse for their actions?

They could have picked up the phone to check in every once in awhile.  They could have brought items in during teacher conferences.  They had a whole host of options.  They chose not to.

My mother told me once that because I was such a difficult child, that I was reluctant to embrace her as my adopted mother, and show her love, she quit.   She quit trying.  I never forgot those words and they ring a different tune now.  They quit–they intentionally quit.

Even now I am rolling that around my head and beginning to question 41 years of beliefs I have and finding myself at ground zero.  I don’t know what to do, and I usually have an intellectual analysis, or at the very least, a smart ass comment to diffuse the situation.  I have none.  When I wrote the words, “I was a thief”, I was writing out of a truth that I believed wholeheartedly and called myself.  I was a thief because I used to take sweets from locations in the house, hide them, eat them, and try to smuggle out the evidence.  Sometimes I got away with it, often I did not.  Each time I was caught I was punished for stealing and sneaking around and taking things that did not belong to me.

You know what?  Oreo cookies rocked then, and they rock now.  I know that because I took them, ate them, and liked them.  Maybe instead of stealing, I was surviving.  Maybe instead of looking at the situation and swallowing that I was a bad kid who stole and lied, I was someone who was resourceful and just sassy enough to buck a system I could not control.  Maybe.

That’s a hefty piece of cake.  But, I think it’s important to pick apart all the layers and see what they’re made of.  I think I owe it to myself.  Because what I’m finding that while the cake is chocolate, and appears to be chocolate throughout, there are pockets and whole layers that are bitter like baker’s chocolate.  I know it’s bitter because in one of my sweets’ forays, I took what I thought to be chocolate from the refrigerator and well, let’s just say, baker’s chocolate should be left for its intended purpose…..for baking.

I’ve thought about this understanding all day today and tried to put it in perspective as I parent my children.  I watched my son inhale a  slice of cake for breakfast and I grabbed a piece too.  I smiled at him as he took his first bite and I smile now remembering how his eyes rolled back into his head.  You know what?  Chocolate cake is flippin awesome—it tastes amazing.  It tastes even more amazing when you know someone made it for you, out of love.  Scratch that. Chocolate cake is FREAKIN awesome (insert the intended expletive if you choose)  You know what else?  I am a flippin good mom……I got to share in this moment with my son and I will never forget it.  My son may, but what I hope he remembers is how he felt when he expressed his needs or desires and they were met.

I thought about my mother in those terms today and for a split second I felt sad; sad for both my parents.  I could try to justify this whole blog by saying I was willful, difficult, unruly, and that I did not get those moments with my parents.  Today, a new layer revealed that THEY did not get those moments with ME.  They chose not to.  They quit, intentionally.

God, I wish I could explain the pain that admitting that brings.  I wish I could walk someone through what it feels like to sit and watch 41 years  begin to tumble as jenga block by block is removed.  I wish I could describe the fear of what happens as each block displacement sets the structure to swaying, wondering if the next removal causes it to topple.  I wish I could articulate the confusion I am encountering as I twist and turn this Rubik’s cube, trying to make sense of a reality and truth that is without explanation.  Worse yet, that that truth is wrong.  I wish I could say that this is easy and there is an instant resolution to the 24 minute “Full House” episode where everyone hugs. wipes away tears, promises, and forgives.

It’s not Lifetime movie night.  It’s not easy, it is the hardest work I’ve done because it requires vulnerable honesty, brutal admissions, and concentrated courage.  And, I’m not sure that I’ve got it.  I’m not sure I’m up for the challenge.

All I know is that today, my fork ran into a layer that I did not expect.  Does it cause me to gag, retch, spit out the piece, throw out the rest of the cake; rendering it worthless?  I don’t know.   Do I look deeper into the piece to find out how much of the cake is affected and do I go back to the recipe to determine what happened?  Do I take the information I discover and apply it to my next recipe?  Do I have the guts to enter into the  original story and create a new reality?  Do I have the balls to allow others to join me in baking a new cake?

Tonight, I iust don’t know.  Ask me tomorrow, I may have a different answer.

shalom,

cahl

Your Cake, and Eating it Too.

I frosted a cake last night.  Now that may not seem like a big deal…yah, a box cake with frosting…who cares?  Actually, it was a huge deal.

You see, my eldest son stood in the kitchen the other night and said, “I am so craving a chocolate cake right now.  Chocolate….mmmm”  I can relate.  All I can think right now is that I have gone 4 1/2 days without a Diet Coke and I can just imagine cracking open the can, hearing the effervescence, feel the cool of the exterior as I lift its elixir to my lips…..  (pause while I throw cold water on my face)  I had time last night while I was making supper and spotted the cake mix and thought that it would be nice to surprise my son with a cake complete with chocolate frosting.

He was asleep before it had cooled enough to frost, so I told him he could have some in the morning.  We had to leave early this morning and the look on his face when I cut a slice was priceless.  He held out his hand, took the first bite, closed his eyes and sighed.  You know the sigh.  The Diet Coke sigh as you take in the first taste, sound, feel of whatever it is you adore.  Sinking into a perfectly made bubble bath after an incredibly long day, the smell freshly washed and dried sheets…the AAAAhhhhhh effect.  I smiled watching him.  I smiled watching the pleasure, the joy, the enjoyment he derived from that first bite.  He got me thinking.

In all that I write, I try to draw from truth and my own experience.  So, he got me thinking about what we do for one another and why.  A good friend of mine often says, “we can’t be what we haven’t seen.”  I agree with this somewhat.

When I was young, I was allergic to a ton of food.  I was allergic to sugar, milk, citrus and virtually anything that had spice in it.  My options were limited for snacks and treats.  Now, this wouldn’t be so bad, except that I could not voice any desires or preferences as to what I wanted or needed.  In school when my classmates had birthdays or brought treats I would get a piece of sugar free hard candy and watch as others enjoyed cupcakes and candy and…and…and…..  My mouth drooled, and I am sure I looked like a complete dork with my jaw dropped open and waiting.

Have you ever had sugar free hard candy?  Well, in the early 80’s it left much to be desired and the incessant fear of peanut allergies had not taken hold of the elementary population so classmates who didn’t have treats was uncommon.  I was different. Not different in a good way either.   I was weird.  My classmates would proudly pass out their treats and skip over my desk and try not to look at me.  Sometimes my teacher would call me up to her desk and issue 1 coveted piece.  Then there were other times that the teacher would not call me up to the desk and I would sit in my chair alone and sad.  Even the teachers had a tough time looking my direction.  They knew that I knew.  And, it hurt.

They ( my parents) had forgotten to send anything.  Instead of checking with the teachers and making sure that there was a steady supply of treats that I could have, there was nothing.  I remember those moments as I stared at the table in front of me and blinked back angry tears, quietly vowing that if I had a family, they would never feel that way–that if I had a circle of friends, they would know something different.   You can’t be what you haven’t seen, right?

Oddly enough, my parent’s  behavior translated into similar actions for my birthdays.  Instead of parties with a cake and ice cream or at least treats that I could have, there was nothing.  No parties, no friends over, no cake, no ice cream, no candles to blow out and make a wish.  But I did.  I did make a wish every year that next year I would get a huge surprise party with lots of ribbon-wrapped presents, a massive cake made with non dairy and sugar free ingredients, and the best…..tons of friends and family snapping pictures and singing horribly off key.

It never happened.

And, I never thought it bothered me much.  You know the saying, “You don’t know what you don’t know” ?  Well, I lived that, so I did not know to miss anything.  While I didn’t know what I was missing, I do know what it felt like to want.   I didn’t know what I was missing until I experienced it and it changed my outlook forever.

I remember distinctly the moment a friend of mine decorated a huge Elmo birthday cake  smothered it in orange/red icing and delivered it to a surprise party at a local park they had reserved to celebrate of all things….Me.

It was weird.  I didn’t know how to act, what to do.  Do I host?  Am I supposed to have presents for them?  You see, since I had not ever had a birthday party people stopped inviting me to theirs.  So, there I was, 23 years old, standing there awkward as the horrible off key tune began.  And then it happened.

I smiled.

“I am so craving a chocolate cake right now.”  I was so craving and someone delivered.  I will never forget that cake.  I will never forget the people who gathered.  I do not remember the presents (were there presents?). I don’t remember the conversations, but I do remember how it felt to look at 23 candles—ok 24.  I remember how it felt to know that someone cared, that I had not been forgotten, that I was important.  It felt amazing.

As I blew out the candles framing Elmo’s face, I vowed that if I ever had children they would know….

They know.

“Mom, I am really craving a chocolate cake right now.”  You got it kiddo.

They know if there is a way that I can make something happen, I will move heaven and earth to make it so.  There will always be a supply stashed with the teacher in case they need it.  Their birthday will forever be a huge deal because they are important, necessary, wonderful, and amazing human beings.  If they show an interest in an activity or a hobby and it’s possible to do, I’ll honor that.

I’ll honor that because I know what it means to crave something and not have it met.  I also know what it means to crave and receive.  I’ll honor them because feeling honored is one of the best feelings in the world.

That’s the funny thing.  I didn’t grow up with it, lusted after it, not knowing what IT was. There were singular moments when IT was shown to me, and despite my best efforts to run and hide from it….(The known is more comfortable), I tucked the knowledge that you can break free from cycles and create new realities into my mind for future reference.

Seeing my son enjoy a clandestine (sshhhhh)  breakfast of chocolate cake was a gift I cannot explain.  He closed his eyes, took a bite, and the look of absolute joy brought tears to my eyes.  For now, today, as I type this blog, the cycle is broken.  More than that, he knows….he knows what it means to have his needs met and he knows what it means to have someone listen and respond.  He is becoming what he is seeing……

 

agape,

cindythea.

 

23 years, wow.

23 years ago I was walking into the last semester of high school—I was a senior with a whole set of goals, the last 18 weeks of my scholastic career spread before me, but I could never anticipate what those weeks held.

23 years ago my parents received a phone call on Wednesday January 13, 1993 that my grandfather had passed away at the local nursing home.  We had seen him that afternoon and by the time my parents had walked into the house after visiting him, he was gone.  It was quiet and peaceful and I had a sense of finality because he had spent a number of years living with us as we grew up in the country.  Time that my extended family did not necessarily have due to distance and schedules was a gift that my siblings and I shared.  I had had moments fishing and boating with my grandpa, and he was the only grandparent I grew up ever knowing.  He taught me to listen to the tone and sound of the turn signal on a car.  Every one of them has a certain tone that says something, my grandpa’s old rust-colored car said, “Tooth paste, Tooth paste.”  I’ll never forget that and each time that I’m in a new car, I pause and listen to the turn signal, and I smile, remembering my grandpa.  I smile remembering him.

There were other things that took place during that week that have shaped some of my outlooks and relationships since that time, situations that to this day impact my life.

I was involved in competitive speech activities and had been all 3 1/2 half years leading up to this point.  I traveled every weekend to all parts of the state and met incredible people,–teachers and colleagues with whom I have established solid relationships today.  I had some great friends, and maybe some friends who tolerated me more than they should have had to–but I had amazing connections to people and I remain forever grateful for them.  Many have no clue that it was my connection to them and the activity itself that saved my life and I do not say that lightly.  These were people who I could see every weekend, people who whether they liked me or not, at least respected what it was that I did.  I even had a connection to a family member that was tight, it was a relationship  that I trusted and took great pride in having.  Someone thought I was important enough to invest time and energy in me and I was thrilled to have the attention–thrilled that someone like them was willing to spend time with me and thought I had talent and potential.

23 years ago, I lost that connection.

Having the natural dramatic bent that I did (and sometimes still do), I tended to make bigger deals of situations than I necessarily had to–sometimes that can be a win, sometimes it can cost everything.  As the news was revealed that my grandfather had passed, I reached out to a friend who also knew members of my family and speech team.  I revealed the information and requested that if they came across family members that they be kind and aware of the loss.  That one conversation affirmed a loss that proved devastating.

As the week wore on and the weekend of the funeral took place, I opted to travel to the speech competition out-of-town rather than attend the services.  I felt ok about the decision because I knew I had spent time with my grandpa and had seen him often during his years in the nursing home.  I also knew that I would have a family member that I would see.  I saw them, I approached them, I tried to speak to them….I received a brush off.  More than that, I was ignored.  Throughout the whole weekend I attempted to connect and was ignored.  The situation came to a head when I finally confronted them and demanded to know what was going on….I was decimated.  Their words, their obvious contempt and hatred for my existence was spewed forth as they, in full viewing and hearing of passers-by heard them renounce my relation with them.  In anger and rage they ended their connection, respect, relationship, and family link.  To them, I no longer existed.  The reason?  I had vocalized to a mutual friend my grandpa’s death and funeral.  They felt I crossed a line by revealing that information to a person who would have no relation to us.  To them, I was no longer fit to be called a relative.
From that moment on there was no conversation, there was no acknowledging that I existed, there was no admission that I was alive or related to them.  That behavior lasts today.  23 years later, to the random onlooker, if they happened upon us in the same area, there would be no indication that we were related at all.  Those who know us have simply accepted the situation and do not comment.

That moment sent forth a spiral of crap that continued the whole rest of the year.  I had applied to state university and the night of a major speech competition where I narrowly missed a trip to nationals (i had qualified as a junior and was expected to do so again.), I received a letter from that college telling me that I was not accepted.

What?  But, I had a theatre scholarship waiting for me…What do I do now?  I had not gotten into college?  How is that possible?  It was true.  You see, even though my ACT  science and language scores were in the 27-28 range, my math score was a 12.  The disparity in scores was too great for the college to admit me.  I had failed.  I was a failure.

Within 2 months of each other I had lost a grandfather, a brother, my national qualifying award, my college acceptance, and a scholarship.  I was done.  It was one of the hardest few months of my life.  No one knew the full brunt of the blows I had received.  No one knew on my graduation day that I had to go to the college  and talk to the theatre department who then had to talk to the admissions department to admit me.  I squeaked in on a scholarship.  No one knew that as I walked across that stage to accept my diploma that members of my immediate family were not attending my graduation or my reception.

I felt alone and I felt like a failure.  I felt worthless, unpopular, wretched, and undesirable. I felt like giving up more than once and often wished I had had the strength to end my life.

I did not end it.  I tried.  I did not end it.

Instead, I worked my butt off to be more than I thought I could be.  Instead, 23 years later I stand, knowing that I’m here and still fighting.

I never did qualify for nationals a second time.  I did not attend my grandfather’s funeral, and to this day, my relationship with my family member is no better than that fated tournament in January 1993–they still do not acknowledge that I exist as anyone related to them.  Other family members are content to allow that to take place and I can honestly say that as immediate family, we have not been in the same room with one another in over a decade.  More than 10 years have passed since we have been together, and even then it was stilted, awkward, and filled with emotions no one is willing to admit.

23 years later, I am still here.  23 years later, I have graduated from that college and even attained my Master’s Degree.  I have amazing children and a career path that fills me with challenging moments and people who inspire me.  I struggle too, though.

I struggle with relationships that I’ve lost, I wrestle with how much is my fault, what I could have done differently–what I did wrong.  I rack my brain to figure out how to fix it, how to undo what can’t be undone, and ultimately how to let go of decades of hurt.  I don’t have it figured out–not even close.

Here’s the thing though.  I can’t stop fighting and the idea of giving up is never an option.  I got into the college and department that I needed to by making an appearance and letting them see who I was and what I was capable of.  I maintained my degree by working hard and concentrating on those areas in which I excelled.

Above all, I invest.  I invest in people, conversations, and ideas that mean something.  I invest in loving people and letting them know that I do.  I believe that is half the battle.

I had someone tell me the other day that my words were a shining example of being able to lift people up.  I am a firm believer that words–spoken and unspoken are the most powerful tool we have.  I truly believe that words that people hear can destroy or elevate them.  Likewise, I believe that most of the problems we see happening are a direct result of reactions to words that have never been said.  Imagine the hurt of a child who has worked their whole life to win affection from a parent only to never hear that adult tell them, “I love you.  You are an amazing person and I am glad you are my son/daughter.”

Invest.  Invest everything that you are to everyone you know and those things that fill you.  Invest in not giving in….invest in breathing–because sometimes that is all you can do, just breathe.  Invest in making it at least one more day.  Invest in the fact that you are more than crawling into a ball, rocking back and forth in the corner in the fetal position.

Invest in the fact that it can be done.  I know it can.  So far, at 41 I’ve done it.

 

Shalom,

cahl

 

Carpe What Huh?

Carpe What Huh?.

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