OHBD 2015

OHBD 2015

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

To: Superhero Mom

"Mom Rap"
Hey, you’re the best mom, and
no one can do your job, like you.
When they try, you just say,
“No, I’m the best.”
And they go shoo, but there
should be more focus on you,
for all the hard work you do.
I have one son that is best described as a enigma wrapped in a conundrum. He has trouble with many simple things like tying his shoes or not spilling his lunch down his shirt. But he can do complex math and reads well beyond his grade level. He often loses himself in books and in his imagination - a bit like you see in this picture.

He also is moved by music. He can memorize entire songs including the accent of the singer. He is partial to songs that tells a story with distinctive rhythms. He also enjoys including lots of enthusiastic hand motions. Audience is optional.

Although a chatty child by nature, he struggles to express himself verbally when he feel deeply about something. In those instances, he will write. I have found notes he wrote not directed to anyone. I am not sure but they appear to be his attempt to voice what is going on in his head where his oral abilities fail him.

One time, he walked over to where I was working at my desk. He put a folded 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper on my desk next to my laptop and walked away. I picked it up to see what it was. The front of the sheet said, “To: Superhero Mom.” I opened it and inside was the “Mom Rap” above. As I folded the sheet after reading, I saw his self confident closing on the back side – “From: Awesome Son.”
I may not always understand him but it appears he understands a bit about me. I felt my heart swell and my eyes fill. What he wrote included themes us working moms could do well to remember:
1. You are a Superhero to your kids
2. You are the best
3. No one can do the job like you
4. You should give yourself credit
5. You should be acknowledged
6. What you do is hard work

Here is to you “Superhero Moms” out there! This Mom Rap is shared and dedicated to you all. From: your Awesome Kids.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Just Start

There are things I learned over the years I wish I had appreciated earlier. One of those is to “just start.” It sounds deceptively simple. But it is hard. I am generally a perfectionist and want to do it well. I wait for the right moment or enough time – both are generally concepts rather than reality in my life. Motherhood provided a good example the power of just starting. As I blogged about previously, I did try to wait for "the right time" there too.

Before I became a mom, I was working as an associate at a large Chicago law firm. I was judged in large part on my billable hours. I was also relatively newly married. I never felt there were sufficient hours in the day to accomplish what was expected at work and spend quality time with my husband. About three years into that job, I had my first son. Then out of pure, unadulterated necessity (presented in the package of my precious baby boy), I no choice but to find minutes and hours that didn’t exist before to be the mom I wanted to be. I needed to be proactive to make it happen. I requested a flexible work arrangement. I found ways to be much more efficient and brutally prioritize how I spent my time.

But I realized at some point the previously impossible had become doable (at least most days). Other smaller choices I made followed this same path. I loved to write when I was growing up. I had grandiose ideas for science fiction books. I would plan out all the chapters. However, I abandoned creative writing once I headed off to college. I had in the back of my mind “some day I will still write a book.” I really didn’t think I could write for myself on top of my work and now three kids. But adopting our daughter from Ethiopia truly moved me and I wanted to give back. So one day, I followed a compulsion to start to pay it forward and wrote my first blog.  It was around her first Halloween with us. Pictured is my inspiration to “just start” writing. I found the experience and response immensely satisfying, Over the past few years, I expanded into more blogs and a column.

I constantly experiment to find when I am most creative so the words flow out with minimal effort. The act of putting thoughts into a concrete form helps me sort through and understand issues otherwise swirling around in my head. I can’t do it as frequently as I want and it is not the same as penning a best seller . . .but it is good and it is enough for now. I constantly need to remind myself of my successes each time my mind says, "But you don’t have time . . "

If I have passion about the effort, there is a way. And I found doing so provides unexpected fringe benefits. Blogging helped me as a mother examine my chosen path, find enjoyment in more of the little moments, and better connect and understand my kids. I draft professional documents in my current role so resuming creative writing (with help from good editors) and reading lots of others writing beefed up my skills. I can now write better and faster.

For me, the biggest hurdle was getting over my own, self imposed, mental obstacles. Each time I do it, I find success. I still need to pace myself and set realistic expectations. But once I start, I know I am on my way and the excitement propels me forward. It's akin to the feeling I had when I first rode a bike and my dad let go. “Wow - I am doing it!!!” And I wanted nothing more than to keep going.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Hug Me Like You Are Happy With Me!

My eldest made me a mom and opened my eyes in so many ways since. My youngest is constantly reminding me of a number of the things I first learned with her brothers.  They are pictured below sharing a special moment a few holidays back.
I remember a difficult  daycare drop off with her one Friday when she was three. I tried all my usual tricks to settle in her peacefully. I let her visit the baby room (she is a baby freak) and say hello to the little chubby cherubs who beam when she steps in the room. We stopped by the bathroom to “go potty” when I was pretty sure there was no biological need. I gave her many, many “huggies.” She just didn’t want me to go. I reminded her she was a big girl. And we practiced her telling me, “Have a good day at work, mommy.” Normally, she does just that and my day starts with the sense my life is in order. But not this day. . .   I finally ran out of time and creativity. I walked to my car with the sound of her sorrowful wailing (Ma-a-a-a-a Ma-a-a-a-a-!!) ringing in my ears.  

As I drove off with a knot in the pit of my stomach, I recalled the times I felt that way when my boys were younger. There were days when they wanted mom to stay and I couldn’t. I remember questioning my decision to work and whether I was doing right by my precious children.  I can still see the picture in my mind’s eye of my eldest’s beautiful tear stained little face pressed up against his daycare window pane crying for me one of those times.
As my boys grow, their need for mom to be there doesn’t look quite the same. I get requests to come to school presentations and sporting events. They ask for help with homework or affirmation after a tough day at school.  Or some times they just want me to listen. Later that same week as my teenager was sharing his views, he said something that made me feel bad. I stopped him. His usual fun loving, animated face disappeared and was replaced with an anxious, sad look.   I watched as what I said to him sunk in. His shoulders drooped. He remained quiet for a moment or two. 

He then said, “Gimme a hug, Mom!” I said, “Wait a minute.  . . let me get this straight. You made me feel bad. When I told you, you felt bad. And now you want me to make you feel better.” He said without hesitation, “Exactly! That’s what moms do.”    I wrapped my arms around him. But apparently my embrace reflected traces of the feelings he stirred up. He added a qualifier, “Hug me like you are happy with me.”  Whatever bitterness remained melted as I was reminded I had a then fourteen year old who still needed his mom (although not expressed in front of his peers). And he gives me so many reasons to laugh and to learn. 

I can’t make it right for each of my kids every day.   I hate that but I know I need to accept it. But the times I can I cherish. And reminding myself of those, and watch them grow into their uniqueness, helps me survive when I can’t. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

My Date With Harry Potter -- Fulfilling Promises and Resolutions

A couple years back, I saw an email come through at work from my boss’s assistant . They had some free tickets to the Harry Potter Exhibit. I hit reply instantly and requested two.   Good thing I was fast on the trigger finger because they were immediately snapped up. I knew my then nine year old fan would be thrilled. I read the series with my eldest son. He was about the age of the young Harry when we started the series. My second devoured the books on his own when he could read at that level. 
I went home and shared the good news. He was thrilled. Then was the matter of finding time to go. I put as one of my new year’s resolutions that year: spend more time individually with each of my kids. Easier said than done with work, school and sports activities. Weeks went by and I was afraid the passes would expire before I used them (and I felt the guilt start creeping in). 

Around the holidays, my meeting schedule is lighter. So I decided to take him to work with me since I couldn’t find a full, free day. We would go to lunch and then head to the exhibit in the afternoon.  Lunch was a success. But for a kid who loves his food, that isn’t saying much.  We then headed to the Seattle Center. Turns out the program was so popular we could only get an evening time. 

We took the opportunity to explore. We took some fun pictures together in an old fashioned photo booth. We played chess with a huge plastic set the size of my toddler. I lost. He goes to a chess class and knows much more than I do.   He enjoyed explaining to me what he had learned. And it was wonderful to be just us.

In the evening, part of me wished I didn’t have to get in the car and head back downtown. I was tired. Damian was pumped though and I couldn’t bear to disappoint him. When we arrived, he was literally bouncing with excitement as we waited in line. He walked trance like when we entered, studying each exhibit, drinking it all in. I was a bit mortified when he obliviously walked in front of people as if he was the only one there.   I honestly don’t think they registered for him.   

I loved seeing the light in his face.  He recited parts of the book and remembered little details I had long forgotten. He only showed a touch of disappointed that the “grand room” (which was movie set cut away) was not “very grand”. He chose as a memento a replicate of the wand Dumbledore used in the films. My heart skipped with his as we sprinted through the Seattle rain holding hands and trying hard not to get his new wand wet.  One mommy promise kept; one part of my resolution fulfilled.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Motherhood Benefits -- Courtesy of Facebook

Facebook gave me the opportunity, with a small time investment, to keep in touch with a wider circle of friends and family.  I enjoy seeing the photo of the day from a grade school classmate, hearing about a winning team from a colleague, and exotic vacation adventures and mishaps provided from all parts of the world.  I like sharing my writing and photos and getting the instant “like” or comments. 

I have come to learn about another side of my husband through Facebook.  His friends are many of his former colleagues and assistant coaches, former students and athletes since he has been a teacher and coach for decades.  He also connected with friends and acquaintance from his native Greece before he emigrated over 20 years back.  Since those communications are in Greek, I can only imagine what they say but it reminds me of the person he was before we met.  He uses games like Farmville and Cityville to interact with a broad variety of people.  Getting updates that my city born husband is “harvesting his crops” or “has found a pig on his farm” makes me smile.
When our then thirteen year old son asked to join Facebook, we said, “No.  All your friends live around us.  You can call them up or ride your bike to visit them.”  But he persisted.  When we were in Greece visiting my husband’s family, he asked again if he could join.  He appealed to his father’s desire for him to share a connection with his homeland.  “Dad, If you let me join I can keep in touch with my friends here and your family.  Given the time change and distance, phone calls and visits are hard.”    Hmmm . . not a bad argument.  After setting parameters (we were friends, no “unfriending” us, no inappropriate content and a lecture on dangerous folks lurking on the Internet), we relented.  He had his own request. “Please, don’t post messages on my wall.”  We agreed and chuckled.  I was reminded of when I was his age.  He immediately set up his account and invited friends from both Greece and Seattle. 
Now an additional enjoyment of Facebook is the peak it gives me into different sides of my firstborn.  His “likes” evidence our shared interests and those that are uniquely his.  His status updates on everything from getting braces to painting a wagon to going to a Seahawks game demonstrate his wide ranging thoughts.  He is visibly growing up as you can see from this image I captured of him (despite his best efforts to hide).  And I have very mixed feelings about that.  Facebook allows me to watch a portion of his life without intruding.  He posted two quotes that had me laughing out loud because they captured his essence. 
“The man who smiles when things go wrong has thought of someone to blame it on!”
 “Don't be so serious. If you can't laugh at yourself, call me...I'll laugh at you.”  Thank you Facebook.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

What makes it all worth it . . .

One weekend, I was making my kids breakfast and getting the boys (9 and 13) ready for their many weekend sports activities.  We had dry cereal in the interest of time.  And one of my boys said, “I wish you would make us pannekoeken (Dutch word for crêpe like thin pancakes).”  They love to eat this treat with melted butter and powdered sugar.  I had a similar response to this choice which was a staple in my Dutch parents’ household  I sighed deeply feeling my temperature rise.  I hated those kinds of comments.  One part of me felt guilty that I didn’t get up earlier so making them was an option.  The weekends are often the best chance for a more leisurely breakfast.  I too enjoyed them.  The preparation time and the great conversations that seem to start once everyone is digging into a special meal.   Another part of me was annoyed and more than a little concerned that I was raising children who felt entitled to order what they wanted for breakfast and expected someone to make it for them.  I responded to that later part and said, “You should be thankful you are getting a breakfast – many kids are not so fortunate.  I wish someone would make me breakfast one time.  What a treat that would be.”  Crickets . . .  The boys ate their cold cereal and went on with the days activities.

The next day was Sunday.  I was looking forward to a rare opportunity to sleep in.  These opportunities felt so decadent.  No alarm, no rushing about, heaven.  I woke from a deep sleep to the gentle and then not so gentle nudging of my nine year old.  “Mommy, mommy!!” he said.  I replied in as nice a voice as I could muster which didn’t sound so different than totally grouchy to my ears, “Not now sweetheart, mommy wants to sleep some more.”  The nudging continued, “Please, mommy.  I made you breakfast.”  I am now starting to wake up.  But I am still not quite willing to give up on the delayed start which is treasured after a long week of work.  “Thank you honey, you can put it on the table next to the bed and I  promise to eat it as soon as I get up,”  He persisted.  “Just look mommy, for one second.  I want you to see what I did.”  I rolled over and cracked open one eye.  I see his beaming face holding a plate with an omelet, turkey bacon, a slice of wheat toast and a small glass of orange juice.  I told him thank you so much as he set it down.  He then started to leave the bedroom. 

At this point, spending this quality time with my son was getting the upper hand over the desire to crawl back under the covers but it took a bit more.  “Come back here.  Please tell me why did you make me breakfast this morning.”  He said, “I felt bad when you said no-one makes you breakfast.  I thought I could make you breakfast and you could eat it in bed so you wouldn’t have to get up.”  At that point, hiding under the covers no longer had the same appeal.  I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and sat up a bit straighter so I could balance my plate on my lap.  Leyla (my two year old) climbed up the opposite side of the bed and snuggled up next to me to “help me” eat.  Damian sat next to me with a happy glow on his sweet face.  What a glorious way to start a morning.  And a terrific reminder that sometimes your kids surprise you and show you are having an impact.  These are moments I try my best to savor when they occur and hang on to for when things aren’t going quite so positively.  Here is a picture of Damian and Leyla with my special treat.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Motherhood Challenge: Teaching Your Kids to Think Critically

There are so many, many things I want to teach my children before they go out on their own in the world and I can’t be with them every day.  When they were infants, I helped them learn to communicate their basic needs. When they became toddlers, I taught them how to stay safe if they weren’t with me. As they continue to grow and mature, I shared how they should to relate to others and how to be their best selves.

In recent conversations with my teenager about what I desire for him at this phase, I find myself focusing him more on developing and embracing critical thinking.  This skill will help him navigate the challenges I know lie ahead.  I don’t want him to just accept something he hears or reads.  I want him to consider the agendas of the sources, to fully understand the opposite position and then draw his own conclusions.  He is often frustrated by my questions that are part of this effort, “How do you know that is true?”  “Where is the data?”
These recent talks took me back to an earlier conversation with him when he was in third grade.  We were listening to NPR on a ride home and the topic was capital punishment for a felon convicted of heinous crimes.  When I stopped the car, I could tell he had been listening intently.  I asked him what he thought.  He quickly said, “He was an evil man. I think it is right that they give him the death penalty.” 

I didn’t like how quickly he accepted what he had just heard as truth without giving it more mind share.  So I asked him, “What if the man was your dad.  And you know he didn’t do it but the jury convicted him anyway.  Would that change your conclusion?”  I could tell he was thinking now.  His brow furrowed and he did not respond for some time.  I felt comfortable I made my point and he would give the opposite response now.  I had my pat answer ready, “See when your perspective changes, your conclusions often do too.”
However he explained instead, “I am really glad I don’t have to make those kinds of decisions because now I don’t know what is the right answer.”  I was floored with his ability to grasp the complexity inherent in this discussion.  It was now my turn to give thought to what was an appropriate response.  I told him candidly, “I don’t know the right answer either.  But since most human systems have flaws, I have a hard time supporting the death penalty because we could get it wrong.”  He nodded and went back to lighter topics typical to an eight year old.

We since have had deep discussions on a number of topics including science and religion digging into hypothesis versus facts.  He likes to challenge me.  He will more likely take the opposite position than agree.  He often presents something he has read or heard as “fact.”  I found a great quote I shared, “Facts are the hypothesis you believe.” 
He recently took up composing songs while we had more down time on vacation.  He asked me about what types of things he could write about.  He recognizes he doesn’t have much life experience and has grown up mainly the child of privilege.  I explained, “We all have areas where we struggle; questions we can’t find answers to, or things we don’t understand.  You should write about those that are personal to you.”  I told him. “A good test of whether you are writing something worth someone else reading is whether you feel uncomfortable sharing what you wrote.”  I found for me when I put a bit of myself on the page, I feel it immediately and it often elicits an emotional response.  And those posts generally are the ones that elicit a corresponding reaction from my readers. 

He came back a few days later and wanted to sing me a song he had written.  He was clearly both anxious and uncertain.  I sensed he had put quite a bit of himself in this piece.  When he sang, his words spoke to me and put expression to questions I struggle with still.  He also gave me a precious glimpse into the depth of thought that occupies his teenage brain.  Again, like when he was eight, I was amazed and taught a beautiful lesson by my son while in an effort to teach him.  I am proud of the young man my first born is becoming.  I got permission to share his song below.

Science V. Religion by Vestigial WisdomShare
I am so confused by these ideas I amuse
What is true, what is real
Believe in God that is the deal

Life is crazy
Able to faze me
Sun is blazing
Light years away
Should I pray?
Did God create the world in 7 days?
It is the most complicated maze
My mind is in a daze
Romeo and Juliet all of Shakespeare's plays
Are great to demonstrate
The questions...what to make of what is on our plate
Be yourself or be a fake
Can't have your cake,
and eat it too!
My ideas and dreams just flew
Like the finches
Who inspired Darwin, their beaks unique by inches
Evolution, confusion, dilution, absolutely no resolution
We cannot understand how we came to be
So we just try our best to shamble up a theory
The Big Bang is hard to see
Making my eyes bleary
The Bible can also not be looked at clearly because...

I am so confused by these ideas I amuse
What is true, what is real
Believe in God that is the deal
We came from fish
That walked out of the ocean
What a wish
What an insane notion
The physics, the laws of motion
The chemistry, the Hogwarts potions
Too hard for me to understand
My brain just crammed
With questions, my mind is jammed
Sarah Beth's
It is a mess
Baptized, I know I'm blessed
I'm on an information quest
I'll never have all the answers right
Thats alright
I just hope to make it right
Do science and religion need to fight?
Either way, it takes a leap of faith
God, Jesus, and the holy spirit
I wish they would appear it,
Would make things easy
I don't fear death, I'm just a little queasy...
About the unknown
Look how much our world has grown
Billions upon billions of years old
Silver and gold
A domineering deity
Is it possible?
Some believe
Answers is what I truly need but...

I am so confused by these ideas I amuse
What is true, what is real
Believe in God that is the deal

Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Perfect Day: Jimmy Johns + South Lake Union +Starbucks + Seattle Sounders +Jazz = Wisdom & Love

Recently, I work up in the morning to excited shouting. There was a deer in our back yard.  Sure enough a lovely doe was tentatively tiptoeing around the lower portion. I asked my eldest son to see he could chase it out before it ate everything I loved. He gave me a teen look of disgust and begrudgingly headed out. By this time, the deer had made her was up onto the large hill which represents most of our back yard.  My son climbed up trying not to catch her attention.  He then gingerly got to where he was behind her and had her moving the right direction.  He was on the verge of success.  Then his younger brother Damian, an aspiring photographer, burst out to catch this moment for posterity.  The doe bounded even higher.  I could hear my eldest exclaiming his frustration for all to hear.  Damian hurriedly went upstairs to where I had been observing from a window with a smile that told me he rather enjoyed it:  first the deer and then this little expected gift of a payback to big brother.

I was taking Damian to work.  I purchased tickets to attend a JazzEd concert fundraiser so we could spend some time together. He is my middle child and I know sometimes he feels it acutely.  Rather than drive back and forth, I was bringing him with me.  I warned him I had a regular day so he would need to occupy himself. He still enthusiastically agreed. He took it a little further than I anticipated as he pulled out and read a book on the ride – so much for my visions of deep and meaningful conversations.
My first meeting was with a senior executive so I wanted to make sure I was on time.  I hurriedly got him set up in my office and left.  When I returned he had written on the “white board” in my office.  “I have the best mother in the world.”  “Signed Damian Angelidis.”  Forget meaningful conversations, this is so much better!

My business lunch was cancelled so I asked Damian where he wanted to go.  He could choose anything.  He said, “Let’s go to Jimmy Johns.  Last time I came with Dimitri he didn’t want to go.”  I could see how much being able to make this choice without critique or being overruled by his brother meant to him.  He ordered a sandwich named “the Ultimate Porker” because it contained all pig meats. But for me it was perfectly named for him too.  Since birth, he has been myopically focused on what he is going to eat next.  We laughed together about the dual meaning.

Jimmy Johns lived up to its fast reputation.  We headed toward South Lake Union a few blocks away to spend our remaining time.  We saw an amazing tree growing in the water which Damian captured. 

We also ran into this wonderful circular 300-foot long woven stick sculpture named a “Spiral of Hope”. Damian cheerfully ran through and posed.

Damian wanted to get back so we didn’t miss seeing the cave bear. This is random piece of folklore at my work he has seen at various times.  He wanted to take a picture with it and had a specific idea in mind.  I was struck by the pure bliss Damian took from something this simple.

I took a break in the afternoon and asked Damian what he wanted to do.  He suggested Starbucks and wanted to know if a “Venti” hot chocolate with extra whipped cream was possible.  We ran into a friend who chatted with Damian chatted for a few moments.  He told me, “I really liked him.  He must be very smart given what he does.  Also he has a big head like me.”  I love this kid’s positive energy and his random thoughts and connections.  I ran into the friend later that week who mentioned his brief interaction with Damian had uplifted him.  You can see Damian enjoying his Venti Hot Chocolate with one of the sculptures on campus he likes.

My last meeting of the day was in a café. I asked Damian to join me because we would leave for the concert directly from there.  When I met my colleague, he said it’s loud inside because a few of the Seattle Sounders were visiting.  Damian perked up and immediately ran to see more. We met in the lobby with the happy sound of fans and stars in the background. Damian came back animatedly asking, “Did you hear my question?” He explained he asked the team manager, “What do you think your chances are in the MLS?”  And the manager responded, “What do you think our chances are?”  Damian replied, “I think they are pretty good.” His grin spread from ear to ear. I asked him later if he was nervous.  He responded, “Oh course, but how often do you get the chance to ask a question of a professional soccer manager.”  Well said, my son! He got his picture taken, signed poster photos as well ate free pizza. 

We then went to the main reason Damian was with me. The JazzEd benefit was in a cozy bar café with a stage. We were seated in the back at a corner booth by the window.  Damian snuggled close to me and put his arm around me.  He said, “I am glad it is just us.”  He took pictures of the various performers who ranged from the beginner to a jazz great. He texted his dad to let him know what a great time he was having.  And challenged him, “What are you going to do with me?”  His dad’s response made him laugh and reply, “That would not be a very good day.”  When the performance was nearly over, he said he was ready to go home. 

 And he added, “This was a perfect day.” He then, because he can’t seem to help himself and loves the details, listed all the things about the day that he thought made it perfect.  After a brief pause, he added while looking me directly in the eyes, “I hope it made it nice for you too.”

A few days later, we were discussing this day.  He mentioned it was disappointing that the following day, I had an issue with his brother and wasn’t very happy.  Then he added, “You know it wasn’t really a perfect day, when you were gone a long time I missed you and wanted us to be together.  And  I know I annoyed you sometimes, but there was so much good stuff that happened that it really felt like a perfect day."

My Damian makes me think.  He hit on a lot throughout this day and his analysis of it. Perfect can be simple and everyday things.  There is no perfect day if you can’t let go of what is not perfect in it.  And it becomes more perfect if it is a shared experience especially with someone you love.  There will always be the next day that might be something very less than perfect.  But that’s life and what makes those perfect days so precious.

When I told him via email (I was traveling) I was going to write this blog to capture our special day before we forgot all the glorious details, he emailed back, “Thank you mom for making our perfect day stick by sharing with everyone.”

I wish I could bottle the wisdom of this 11 year old in these moments. I love you my sweet, complicated, quirky middle son. Our perfect day and your thoughts will “stick” with me forever.  You made it REALLY NICE for me too!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

What Makes Family: Sisterhood of Friends (and Mothers)

Even before we adopted our daughter, I experienced family that didn't share my DNA.  I believe, for women in particular, there are friends who become so much more that only "family" can truly capture the essence of the relationship. I visited one of my "sisters" this summer. In many ways, our lives are so very different. First, there is the locale.  She lives in Utrecht in the Netherlands and I live in Seattle, Washington in the United States. She has four boys under the age of 10. I have three kids spread out – now 15, 11 and  almost 4 -- two boys and a girl. She specialized in third world development and planning, going to places and impacting issues I only approach intellectually. I have been a lawyer, and most recently a business person, in the corporate world where basic human needs take a back seat to profit and customer objectives.

We have known each other for more than two decades.  (I wonder when I will get used to using this type of reference. Anything with a decade included makes me feel old or like I am becoming my parents-- but I digress.) I met her because she was dating a friend of my cousin.  I had dropped out of college when my pre-med studies were not going as planned and moved to Europe to sort out my life. We enjoyed getting to know each other.  But I am not sure I would have guessed then how our connection would root and grow. She was a few years younger than me and still in high school.  We bonded over the joy of being together and issues common to your late teens and early twenties.

We stayed in touch through many changes and the new issues that dominated each period.  We moved through various relationships and professional pursuits. One time, she came and visited me with her sister and few friends when I was first married in Chicago.  Having never been to the United States, they were most intrigued to visit the American South including Nashville and New Orleans -- this is part of the magic of Cindy.  She comes at life from such a unique and interesting vantage point. We are pictured below with Michael – how young we all look. She also completely showed me up as she danced in the wee hours at my second wedding (I am a bad dancer or as I like to think an "entertaining one" and in this case there are pictures as proof) in Thessaloniki to my first husband (a story for another post).

We became even closer as we shared the experience of motherhood. She came with her first new baby in tow (and unbeknownst to all of us also pregnant with baby #2) to the baptism of my second son on the island of Patras in Greece. Many times we missed each other’s life events of births, key birthdays and celebrations because she was in a far flung part of the world working to make a true difference with clean drinking water or health education or I had professional and personal obligations that conflicted.  But our relationship helped me truly understand that "good enough" can be "good."  We took whatever small opportunities we had to connect whether by phone, email, facebook or the cherished in person visit. I make a point to see her if I am in Europe even if it is for a day – either by myself, with one of my children or with the whole family. Below are pictures from a couple of those visits.  No matter how long it has been since we touched base, I feel the continuity of our connection.

When we got together this July, it had been five years since both families were included in the fun. A lot changed. . we each had a new little one – hers two and mine three. But much was the same. We can still just pick up where we last left off. It is so easy and comfortable. We talk about anything and are comfortable being together in silence too. She has a depth and wisdom that makes me want to be better. And nothing seems to faze her for long. She had four difficult pregnancies, various health and job concerns and still -- she is consistently one of the most upbeat and positive people I know.   She inspires me to positively persevere when I hit my own life speed bumps like medical or job concerns.  Just thinking about her brings a smile to my face and peace in my heart.

The kids play like cousins – also completely at ease with each other despite their limited physical contact and language challenges.  We laugh because her blond children look like they should be mine and my dark haired ones more resemble her.  Given her abiding love of Africa, we enjoy the irony that I am the one to have a child who was born there. My kids must have picked up on our relationship because my three year old asked if she was, “Auntie Cindy?” And separately, my then ten year old son asked if Cindy was my sister. I love both questions because they reflect what I feel in my being.  The answer to both is a resounding “Yes, in all the ways that count.”

We spent the week in a duplicated row house across from Cindy’s family home with the spiral staircases that uniquely challenged my 6'2' husband. Seven kids and four adults was just too much for one small three story Dutch abode. We shared amazing home cooked meals Cindy prepared which reflected the diversity of her experience in Africa, India and Indonesia.   And we found so many reasons to laugh, from the accented words spoken by all in tongues unfamiliar to them, to inside jokes and memories that seems to naturally await to surprise and delight around each turn. We revisited a small restaurant on the canals where Cindy and I share one of our most memorable experiences. Cindy and my eldest are pictured enjoying a more relaxing experience this time.

Then I was visiting with my 18 month old  Damian.  Cindy’s eldest was about one year. We were sharing a morning coffee with babies in strollers, completely engrossed in our conversation. The waiter approached with a worried look and asked if I was missing anything because a man had been bending down behind my son’s stroller. I checked and sure enough my wallet was gone. Cindy sprung into action and ran in the direction the waiter indicated for the fleeing pick pocket. Amazingly within moments, that seemed an eternity at that time, she returned proudly waving my black purse in her hand wearing a satisfied grin. 

I asked her what transpired. She said she caught up to the man and yelled, “Give me back the wallet or I’ll kill you.” She surmised that the fact that she was still speaking English to the Dutch thief in addition to the threat was too much. He hurled my precious belonging directly at her and sped off the opposite way. One thing you must know about Cindy to fully appreciate this story is that she is almost always well put together in a dress and heels.  This day was no exception.  She sprinted like a heroine in an action movie -- the one where you think, "No one dressed like that could or would be moving that quickly or easily."

Cindy is my family through years of shared experiences including amazing joy and devastating sorrow as well as a depth of love and understanding that words are completely inadequate to capture.  She and I share a sisterhood of friends and now mothers – one I learn to cherish more with each passing year. 


Saturday, March 24, 2012

Snow Day -- Escaping From The Past

Working at a retail company, traditional holiday parties are challenging. This year my team requested a “snow day” instead during January. I had personal misgivings. But their enthusiasm was infectious. One expert snowboarder took it upon himself to make arrangements for the beginner to the experienced. When “snow day” arrived, I dropped my daughter off at the crack of dawn so I could make it for my 9 a.m. lesson. After one wrong turn (I am directionally challenged even with a GPS), I felt the stress rising as I knew I was cutting it close. I then narrowly missed getting a speeding ticket (the car in front was not so fortunate). Then in the time it took me to register what appeared to be a parking lot behind high white drifts, I passed it. I felt my stomach knot up – no cell signal and no turn off for miles. I finally could make a safe u-turn and after some time arrived at that same spot with a dark storm cloud hovering over my mood. I pulled on my newly purchased ski pants, Seahawks hat and braved the cold. The sunshine was hard to resist. I spotted some excited people waving. I looked a little closer and saw they were my team. I felt the beginnings of a smile pulling at my lips.

After a few minutes, I am fitted with boots, skis and poles. One other team member, an engineer who recently moved from India, was the only other beginner. Our group included two teenage boys. I felt compelled to tell the ski instructor not to expect much, since my last experience – many years before had ended badly. Our instructor pushed us but with an innate ability to know what to say. He shared unique motivating words to the engineer versus the youth or myself. The lesson was over much quicker and with more success than expected.

After a festive lunch, my engineer friend and I were left to make it down the mountain with our newly acquired skills. When we were riding up the ski lift, he candidly shared, “I am scared.” I thought, "So am I," as I recalled my only other skiing experience besides the morning. But I told him instead, “Don’t be. What is the worst that can happen? We fall when we get off and we have done that already.” Our first trip together, we had ended up in an unceremonious heap with each having the other’s poles. We both laughed at the memory.

I grew up in Colorado where skiing is the norm but it wasn't for my family. I was about 17 when a good friend and a good skier said we should ski and hang out together in Vail. My buddy gave me a few pointers and up we went. My first sign of trouble was getting on the ski lift. It took quite a number couple of tries resulting in empty seats heading up the mountain with groans from those behind us. I remember feeling the sting of humiliation and thinking to myself, "I am not going to repeat that torture." When I saw a sign, “get ready to jump”, I wasn’t taking any chances and I jumped. Too bad the end of the line was a bit further up. Again I felt the heat of gaining unwanted attention.

My friend good naturedly collected my skis and poles and helped me get into the correct position. I kept falling over and over. At one point, I thought was getting the hang of snowplowing. I could stay upright and move at a controllable speed. I felt great and turned to share with my friend who was trailing me. She shouted and pointed but I couldn’t understand. Comprehension came when I felt myself launch into the air and land between two trails. I then had to endure many skiers ask, “How did you get up there?” as they skied past. Little did they suspect I had come down. My descent continued slowly one fall at a time. At one point, I threatened , "I am taking off my skis and walking down." as I didn't think I could take any more embarrassment. My friend reminded me it would take much longer.

So I valiantly continued but there was no joy. When we could see the bottom of the mountain, I heard catcalls from the chair lift. I knew it wasn’t my skiing which was mainly an effort to stay upright. My friend skied up behind me barely able to speak from laughing. Apparently in all my falling, my jeans (a common choice then) had spilt. I made the unfortunate decision to wear red long underwear for extra warmth which were now on display. When we arrived in the lodge, I sat down and vowed not to ever get up -- feeling totally miserable after the experience. I did not attempt skiing again that day or any day since.

As we began our first solo trek down, I recalled vivid details from that day decades ago. I remembered how worrying about how other's perceived me stole my confidence. In the morning, I saw it play out again. As I watched the teenagers try to learn, they insisted on attempting to maintain some control over their appearance. This effort was not only futile but counterproductive. As an adult, I made it slowly down the hill, reveling in the fear of being just this side of out of control (okay mostly this side). I didn't care what I looked like or what anyone thought. This was part of my journey. I wiped out hard just as we were about to call it quits. I was supremely gratified to get on my feet again without assistance and continue. When I removed the ski boots, I felt I had exorcised my previous experience. Euphoria was mixed with the pain of blisters forming on my shins from too tight boots -- I earned both.

I reflected on the long drive back how fear has the capacity to paralyze. And I realized again how facing it down, even if it requires a healthy nudge from others, produces the most exhilarating growth. I am looking forward to skiing again and taking my family. They are all athletic and I am sure will find many reasons to laugh at my efforts. But I am okay with that. Thank you to my amazing team for an amazing day!