Photo Credit: Christina Bynum-Breaux, Simply Black and White Photography, Keller, Texas
When my boys were little, I worked hard to teach them how to resolve their differences without hitting one another or seeking out parental support for their cause against the other. If they fought, I would place them both in time out and ask them to think about a solution to their issue that could make them both happy. My goal was to forge a stronger relationship between the two of them and to teach them positive resolution skills.
I think of this today as all of humanity is facing the single biggest threat to our lives, both literally and figuratively. This COVID-19 virus is pulling the rug out from under every foundation that has held us up, and we are quickly finding that those foundations have been built on sand. Our jobs have disappeared overnight. Our health is threatened by sharing the air we breathe with the person standing next to us. We are fighting among ourselves for food, toilet tissue, sanitizers, and more.
Like my boys when they tussled, we have a choice to continue divided or to find common ground. At this moment in time, we’re all in time out together – rich and poor, Republican and Democrat, black, white, or brown. Whether we want to accept it or not yet, we are on the same team. And teams don’t successfully make their way down the court or the field without a unified effort. Our very survival depends more upon our ability to support one another and work out solutions than on winning or losing as individuals.
Our world and the human beings that inhabit it have become so broken, and I can’t help but wonder if a crisis like this isn’t nature’s way of correcting our path – of shining a light on the fact that our selfishness and the divisions we’ve created with our unyielding stances are killing our bodies, our souls, and our planet. We have to stop waiting on someone else to fix it and take responsibility for making a conscious contribution to healing by taking the small step, every time we are faced with a me versus you choice, to choose us.
My children, our love should not be just words and talk; it must be true love, which shows itself in action. 1 John 3:18
Be always humble, gentle, and patient. Show your love by being tolerant with one another. Do your best to preserve the unity which the Spirit gives you by means of the peace that binds you together. Ephesians 4:2-3
I sit working at my kitchen counter, mulling over a pile of mail in front of me. Last weeks’ vacation is now a memory, and I’m struggling to fall in sync with everyday life. Outside, the clouds hang heavy and dark over the massive oak tree that sits in the open field across the street. They have threatened rain all day, but instead they brood overhead for a while longer.
Until a few days ago, I enjoyed watching the birds dart among the branches and listening to their songs float on the air. Today, I notice a silence. Their talk has been replaced by the dull roar of trucks dumping dirt in large, red mounds that mar the peaceful green of the clearing. The dirt is pushed around by a tractor, and the frequent dinging of the backup warning is only slightly muffled by the closed window.
The soil looks out of place like it belongs on a baseball field – rusty and heavy. Unexpected memories flood my thoughts, and I’m taken back in time to days when my sons were young and the after-school hours were consumed with baseball practices and uniforms were stained orange from heroic slides into second base or diving catches behind home plate.
For a moment, I am sad. An emptiness remains in my soul where those days of motherhood once resided. The sadness quickly passes, and a smile replaces it. The sound of boy chatter rises up in my ears, and the sweet, sweaty smell of them fills my nostrils in spite of their absence. The ghosts of a life that once was linger around me for a few brief moments, and then they dissipate into thin air.
The dinging of the tractor brings me back to the kitchen and my mail. Perhaps there will be more of those days if or when my grand kids come along. Until then, I’ll look forward to a visit with my oldest son this weekend and the adventure of a new photo expedition next month. Life is in constant motion, me with it, but oh the places a pile of red dirt can take you!
I’m not getting any younger . . . I hate to admit it, but I’ve learned that I have a need to begin employing some defensive dog-walking measures if I’m going to survive my dog responsibilities going forward.
We moved to temporary quarters in a townhouse late last year when our house sold a little more quickly than we’d planned. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but we quickly had second thoughts when our college-age son and his dog, Daisy, showed up for Thanksgiving. Oops! We no longer had a yard. So, you know what that means – taking care of business means walking the dog about four times a day. Rain or shine. Sweltering or freezing. Yep.
Yes, I know what you’re thinking. If she belongs to your son, why isn’t he walking her? My husband asks the same question all the time. All I can say is that when I look around for someone to whom I might delegate responsibility, I’m usually the last one in line – my son is out, working, or sleeping. I’m pretty sure my husband would let her potty in the house before he would take her out for a walk. Besides, walking her also gets me out of the house and moving – something I don’t do often enough these days. At the end of the day, maybe I’m just a sucker for a cute face.
Whatever the reason, it’s me and Daisy hitting the trails most often, and I’m no match for her youth, curiosity, and 75-pounds of power when a squirrel crosses our path or a tea-cup Yorkie attacks us in our own driveway. So, I’ve come up with a list of recommendations that I find helpful in the prevention of busting my sacroiliac or dislocating my shoulder when emergencies arise. In the interest of mankind, I thought it best to share them.
Prepare with the Proper Equipment & Supplies
Prior to departure, make an inventory of your supplies – harness or collar, leash, id tags (for when they run away from you), poop bags, etc. Wear proper shoes and prepare for inclement weather. If you don’t have enough hands, consider a jacket or pants with pockets or a fanny pack (don’t laugh) to hold your gear. Always carry your phone in the event you’re faced with calling for backup – assuming anyone in your household is within helping distance. If you must, call animal control. It also comes in handy if you ever have to take photos or video to prove whose dog started a fight.
Assessing Danger Upon Exiting the Home
Always make a quick assessment of the potential dangers when exiting the house. Any number of possible distractions, including but not limited to, lizards, rabbits, and birds, may be startled by your exit thereby causing quick movement that will send your dog into a hunting frenzy as your attention is on locking the door. An unsuspecting walker risks grave injury from sudden jerking of the leash. Oh, and it takes the dog two weeks to forget that one of those distractions was once there. Daisy leaps out in anticipation every time we open the door.
Hone Your Observation Skills on the Trail
Once on the path, remain alert at all times, scanning ahead for any potential danger – ducks, birds, frogs, lizards, rabbits, etc. – and remaining prepared to divert the dog in a new direction to avoid distraction and the possibility of sudden jerking and injury. This will include keeping an eye out for the folks that exercise and potty their dogs off leash. There is always someone that thinks the rules don’t apply to them.
Clean Up After Your Dog
Always walk with a supply of two or more bags for cleaning up your dog’s “business”. As sure as you don’t, they go three times, usually in someone’s front yard, usually with that someone peering through the window ready to pounce on you and report you to the neighborhood association for the infraction. Never mind that their dog’s “business” is still fermenting nearby in another neighbor’s front yard. Our HOA has recently designated pooping stations throughout the neighborhood. The thought of that made me giggle. I assume people without dogs came up with that idea. It’s like establishing doggy restrooms and expecting that owners are able to coerce their pet to poop on command exactly in that spot. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but I’m skeptical. My dog always goes in a stranger’s front yard. Just saying.
Know the Danger Zones
Repeated experience on the trail will educate you to areas of potential danger – habitats for rabbits, nesting ducks, yapping dogs, etc. Prepare ahead by securing the dog leash by wrapping any slack around the hand and looping through the opposite hand in the event that your brute strength is required to restrain your pet. I often imagine myself unconscious on the sidewalk for hours while Daisy sits protectively by my side after being the cause of taking my feet out from under me to begin with. I like to think I’m taking the extra measure of prevention – prepared for anything – and avoiding the outcomes of my imagination.
Biking with Your Dog
I’ve only done this twice, and it is my intention to stay to the path on my own two feet in the foreseeable future. I strongly recommend training your dog to run on the bike before you head too far from home – and maybe consider adding training wheels for stability. I have two scarred knees and one elbow from forgetting to let go of the leash when the dog crossed over in front of me or took off after wildlife. The effect is something like when you forget to let go of the rope when skiing on the lake. Nothing good comes out of it, and you wonder how you’re still in one piece when it’s all over. Daisy and I were victims of the Great Skunk Escapade while biking last year. I’ll save that story for another time.
Always Leash Your Dog
I’m guilty of trying to sneak Daisy out to an open area just across the alley from our garage for a quick potty. Going for a walk every time nature calls gets old. I’m not always in the mood to sweat or get rained on or freeze. Sometimes, I ‘m just not in the mood. Anyway, I pay for it almost every time I trust her to potty and come straight back inside. More than once, she’s bolted into the underbrush in pursuit of something I never see or hear. I fear the worst – an encounter with another skunk, contact with poison ivy, or having to explain to my son that she’s gone missing. All of it makes my stomach flip and churn with stress. On top of all that, she’s returned every time covered in these tiny burrs that result in anywhere from five minutes to an hour of grooming to free them from her coat. It just makes sense to save myself the heartache and put her on the leash. Last year, my bright idea to let her off leash led to the Great Swimming-in-the-Pond-for-Two-Hours Escapade. I’ll save that story for another day also . . .
Always Dress, Wear Shoes and Have Your Eyes Handy
You never know when you’ll be up in the wee hours of the morning for a potty call. I rarely escape unseen by one of my neighbors when this happens. It’s like they wait out for the entertainment of seeing what I’ll be sporting as an excuse for clothes in those silent hours of the day. I’m sure I’m quite a sight – hair all over the place, glasses (when I can find them), mismatched sandals, and my nightgown.
Walk in the Dark at Your Own Risk
If you choose to walk your dog at night or in the early morning hours, most of the precautions you might take in the light of day are wasted efforts. Short of donning a pair of night-vision goggles, you’re at the mercy of your quick reflexes when a surprise arises. Add to it the unlikely, but still possible, chance of encountering suburban wildcats and coyotes or running head on into the man-size webs of the spiders that drop from the trees after dark, and you’re just asking for trouble. I can tell you for sure that I’m going to do more damage to myself than the dog could ever do (and probably lose the dog) if the spider scenario presents.
Photo Credit: Simply Black & White Photography, Keller, Texas
Some days you just feel like you’ve pulled the arm on a coin slot machine and silver dollars are pouring all over your feet! That’s how Mother’s Day was for me yesterday, and I wasn’t even in town to spend it with my boys.
Instead, I’m away enjoying the generosity of my husband and anticipating a photography workshop several hours away from home. Since my youngest couldn’t be home from college in time for the big day, we had already decided to consolidate our Mother’s Day and Father’s Day celebrations in June, so I skipped out of town a couple of days early to visit a close friend that lives near my destination. Truthfully, I wasn’t expecting much to happen. Mother’s Day was on pause as far as I was concerned.
Maybe that’s why the flowers and text from my youngest son, phone call from my oldest son, and text from one of my shared sons lit up my sky like the 4th of July. (Isn’t that a line in a song?) It’s hard to express how blessed and overflowing your heart can feel at all the goodness in your life sometimes – just like those coins pouring from the slot machine. It just keeps flowing out in a stream that puddles at your feet and grows into mounds the longer it goes.
It’s the next day, and I still feel the glow of the gratitude to have such loving and giving young men call me mom. I’m grateful for their love and their appreciation for all I’ve given them over the years. In return, I am grateful to them for being one of the most significant sources of refinement that I have ever had. I doubt they will ever know the many gifts that they have given me that have molded me into a far better person than I ever was when I held them (or met them-I’ve been blessed with an extra helping of shared sons) for the first time.
For me, the true blessing in motherhood is in understanding that the experience will forever change me in ways that I never could have anticipated. I am a better human being thanks to the joys and challenges of being a mother.
I know – I’m stealing the title of a very famous book (Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, 1946) as the header for this post, but it’s the one that fits. I haven’t yet read it to know if I’m stealing his ideas, so I’ll risk being repetitive. All I know is that we all look for it at one time or another – that sense of purpose that makes life on this Earth mean something.
I ran across a quote from an old blog post by Terri Savelle Foy today that really made me think about purpose and about how many of us may have missed the boat on our own purpose by buying into the belief that our contributions only matter if we’ve done them on a large scale – you know, been famous for saving a corner of the world in some way that makes newspaper headlines. It made me wonder how many days I’ve wasted and left no positive footprint. I asked myself a big what-if question – what if our most important purpose is in the day-in and day-out kindness we offer to loved ones and strangers?
The more I think about it, the more right that option feels, and it helps me to see how we can all have so much more influence than we are led to believe. What if we helped that frazzled mom quiet her crying baby instead of scowling at her in anger for failing to control it? What if we smiled at people and looked them in the eye, acknowledging their presence, instead of passing them by as if they are invisible? What if we held the door for the person behind us? What if we told them they had the most beautiful color of blue eyes we’d ever seen?
We don’t have to be rich or have lots of free time. We don’t have to have any extra resources except for being present and being mindful that we have a choice to be kind or a choice to be hurtful in that split second of our encounter. What if our choice to be kind changes the whole trajectory of someone else’s day? I think of the times that I’ve been the recipient of someone else’s kindness, and my heart kind of swells at the realization of how often I have the opportunity to make a difference in another person’s life with one small act, word or expression. I don’t want to waste any more days being caught up in things that won’t matter when I’m gone. I want the time I have left on Earth to count, so before I run out of it, I’m making a commitment to look up and to participate in a positive way. I get more clarity all the time – we only have one chance to make a difference in the right now. Just do it! (Yes, I’m stealing again – this time from Nike, but it fits.)
Your life is precious. Every single day you live is a day recorded in history never to be relived again.
Several years ago, I began making more road trips than I ever have – visits to my parents, moving kids to and from college, weddings, funerals, and girl trips with my friends. Most of my travel is getting to some place for a specific purpose and then turning around for home – definitely nothing to get too excited about! But this last couple of years, I’ve started to wonder more about the places I visit as well as the stops along the way. I find the lure of the billboard advertising “the best thumbprint cookies in Texas” almost too much to pass up, and I find myself veering off the highway more and more often to indulge those little wonderings.
Over time, I’ve come to appreciate taking the road less traveled when opportunity allows. My excursions tack a little extra time on to my trips, but I take a lot of pleasure in finding the occasional treasure along the brick-paved streets of long-abandoned downtowns, the beautiful detail of historic buildings, and the faded paint of advertisements on the brick walls of buildings. If I’m lucky, I find a local cafe, a bakery or a cute little place to shop to help break up the drive. I figure I may as well see what there is to see while I’m in the neighborhood.
In the back of my mind, I hear the words to an old Seals and Crofts song, We May Never Pass This Way Again. I am reminded that life is short and that I must make a conscious choice to seek joy in each day lest I get lost in the monotony of my routines. For me, this means taking everything in and avoiding the temptation to take it all for granted as I speed through life. It means stopping to feed my curiosity on the road and at home – by seeing what is around me and enjoying something every day that I’ve never noticed before.
My friend, Barbie Armenta, and I have had regular discussions lately about our struggle to uncover our authentic selves from the facade that we have somehow constructed over the course of our lives. She’s recently launched a personal coaching business (you can check her out at rightcombination.net), and I’ve helped her with a project. Lucky me – I’m getting the benefit of her training in casual conversation, but it’s really made me think.
I can’t say I’ve been aware that I wasn’t being true to myself all this time. I mean there was no conscious effort to become an imposter. It was a slow and silent concession I made that was likely the result of striving to survive in a world of perceived perfection where I unwittingly tried to be who I thought I was supposed to be. Add the need to protect myself from the criticism that might come my way should I let my true self shine, and you have the perfect recipe for “posing”! True selves are quirky and prone to fall outside the mainstream and threaten a humiliating lack of “likes” on our Facebook or Instagram feeds. Keeping it between the lines and blending in is just so much easier – at least for a while.
With maturity, flying under the radar and blending in become unsatisfying and at some point feel like a flat-out lie. It’s exhausting to pretend when everything in you is busting out to just be real. It’s like wearing your Spanx too long. Sooner or later, your muffin top wants to spill over the top and gasp for breath.
So, I’m taking a stand. In 2016, I’m on a mission to get over myself and the fear of being rejected for living out loud and just being who I am. At 55, I’ve already wasted so much time, and I’m worried that it’s running out! With an average life expectancy of a little over 81 years, if I started today (and made it to 81), I would only have a little over 25 years left to pack in all the things the real me has wanted to do and be for all this time! I’d better hurry.
The decision feels like I’ve stripped down and am preparing to run through the world naked. I’m petrified, but I can hardly wait to discover what is on the other side. No doubt portions of the journey will be painful, but overall I am hoping for the liberating joy of being the person that God created me to be in the first place.
Here’s to skinned knees, bruises, and a full heart! I’ll let you know how it goes.
“Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”
Brene’ Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are
The fabric of our family was torn when my oldest nephew lost his battle with mental illness, depression and alcoholism and took his life as the days of January came to a close. Our loss is fresh – our hearts are laid open and overshadowed with grief on a daily basis. I trust that it will ease as the days pass, but in the meantime I’m searching for a silver lining in a very dark cloud. I’m unwilling to believe that Andrew’s death will leave us with nothing more than a heavy heart and a profound guilt that we might have done something to change his path.
I know if I linger in my sadness, I will be swallowed up in the darkness, but I also know he would be devastated for any of us to get lost in the awful place that took the light from his eyes and left him hopeless. So, I’m asking myself what he would want me to take away from this loss in these days following his death. He and I spent a lot of our time together pondering the essence of life and happiness.
Lately I feel moved to connect and reconnect with the people I care about. Somehow I feel he’s urging me to have no regrets as I move forward. He’s inviting me to get real and share thoughts and feelings with the important people in my life before it’s too late.
And so, I have something to tell you…you know who you are, I hope.
I’m sorry that I’ve let the busyness of life overtake me for so long. I never meant to get lost in it and lose my ties with you. Nor did I mean to make you feel like you were less important to me. I am beginning to understand that commitment to the things of this world has limits, and relationship priorities should trump all else.
I love you with all my heart and soul. You are my family. You are my friend. I wish I’d told you more often. I promise I will say it more in the days to come.
You give my life texture, richness and meaning. Without you, I am less me. We are interwoven as intricately as any tapestry through our relationship and our experiences.
You challenge me to be a better person even when you don’t know it or I’m not willing to admit it.
I’m so proud of you for all of your accomplishments and the person you are.
I forgive you and myself for the things we’ve said or done that have come between us. I no longer wish to hold on to the petty things that divide us. I relinquish my need to be right for my need to have you in my life.
There is more to be said – more than I can cover in the text of this post. I promise you I will say it as we move forward.
Andrew, if you can hear me or see this, I love you. I have always loved you, and I am grateful that we connected so deeply over the past few years. I wish I could have helped you more and told you one last time just how precious you are to me. You have made my life deeper, wider, more colorful, fun, understanding, and loving by being in it.
If there are guardian angels out there, I trust that you are watching over your flock of family and friends and guiding us through the pain of living life without your smile and your goofy laugh. It’s the picture I hold and the sound I hear when I think of you…our beautiful, blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy. We miss you.
In memory of our lunches, our yoga sessions and the hours of philosophical discussions, I leave with the words of one of our favorite authors:
“Your time on this earth is a gift to be used wisely. Don’t squander your words or your thoughts. Consider that even the simplest actions you take for your lives matter beyond measure…and they matter forever.” ~ Andy Andrews
Getting the doing part done has proven a bit more of a challenge than I thought it would be. The month of May began with me relaxing on the beach with a friend in Galveston. Little more than a text message, poor communication, and one kid’s return from college later, I had derailed into old patterns faster than a speeding bullet. My youngest son, Blake, arrived home with his new puppy, Daisy, in the early hours of a Saturday morning, and by Monday, I had already turned down a path that wasn’t on my map a few days earlier. Big diversions come in small packages.
Before I get much further, let me clarify that I’m not blaming or justifying my actions in any way. I made a choice. I had every intention of making my son be the responsible party for his new bundle of fur and energy, but the truth is that he was no more ready to parent Daisy than he was a new baby. And, when he got a job and was gone all the time, the caretaker in me stepped up to the plate. Before I knew it, I was raising Daisy, not so much for him, but for her. She was in our home now, and I saw that she was very smart. I wanted her to grow into a “good” dog, and I also had a home and my sanity to protect! Puppies are puppies, and she was a puppy with a capital p.
I dove into my role as Nana to Daisy, and like young mothers who find themselves overwhelmed with the responsibility of caring for a newborn or toddler, I slipped into early mornings, play dates at the dog park, games of fetch, and any number of other activities that would result in sweet Daisy’s exhaustion and sleep. I gave up morning showers, makeup, and styling my hair knowing that all such efforts were wasted energy when I would only be returning to play outdoors to sweat it all off again. My baseball tan returned as dog park tan, and shadows of an old self lived again. Ponytails, flip-flops, and workout clothes were my uniform, and at day’s end, I was ready to hand off the puppy to anyone that would take her so that I could get a break. I had all the markers of young motherhood, but at 53 it came off looking like I was just a slacker. I am sure my friends and family were beginning to wonder about the changes in me.
Anyway, the months passed, and I gave them up to the care, training, and love of Daisy. Sometimes I hoped that Blake would decide he’d made a mistake so I could keep her when he returned to school. But, in my heart of hearts, I knew that in spite of our bond, she was clearly his dog. It was as if she knew that he was the one that had saved her from an uncertain future. Her joy when he walked into a room was palpable. She wagged her tail so hard that her bottom swayed with it causing her to waddle as she met him on the front steps of our living area for cuddles and kisses. I knew she loved me, but she loved him more.
In mid-August I moved my boy and his dog back to school in Mississippi to figure out their new life together. It’s been tough on all of us, but each day it gets better. Always reflecting, I look back on the summer now and understand that Daisy came into our lives as much for me as she did for Blake. Only he will ever know her significance in his life, but for myself, I am beginning to see that she taught me about the need for reasonable boundaries when it comes to giving myself up to the needs of others. She taught me that sometimes I have to say no, sometimes I have to put myself first, and that “getting the doing part done” will only come when I understand these things. Who would have ever thought that such profound lessons would come in the guise of a 9-pound ball of black fur?
Life has a way of swallowing you up when you’re not looking. Lulled by the rhythm of routine that comes with the adult responsibilities of career, marriage, child-rearing, and parent-care, the hours turn to days; days to weeks; and weeks to years. I call it coasting. Wrapped in the cocoon of what we know and what we do, we forge ahead and rarely look outside ourselves to see that beyond our own margins there is more. In a way, it’s a type of selfishness, but it is seldom a product of intention. Instead it just happens, most likely of necessity; but, then one day, if we are lucky, we awaken from our black and white world. And when we finally do, it is like being born again to a world where all the sights, sounds, smells, and touches come to life. We begin again… Continue reading →