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.

 

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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

 

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