Archive for the ‘family’ Tag

Looking Back

Today would have been my mother’s 80th birthday. And this past May 19 was the 20th anniversary of her death. I wrote in a recent post, about the unexpectedly emotional response that I had to finding her jacket at the back of my closet, that my grief had evolved beyond needing that physical reminder of her to recall her fondly and reminisce. That’s true. I don’t need an object to remind me of her presence. But pictures, objects she owned, fragrances she wore, even food she liked to cook and eat, are all powerful touchstones for memory. Yet I’m comforted by the fact that I can call up her memory, image, even her words and the sound of her voice, just by thinking about her.

Memory is a fickle thing. For a while there, I wasn’t able to recall her on demand. It scared me a bit and was the source of significant angst for me. My brain would lock up and then start castigating me for my failure. “What kind of daughter are you that you can’t remember your dead mother’s voice!?” My anxiety’s voice is loud and brutal sometimes. But eventually, after intentional effort to both fix her clearly in my mind and to quiet the grief and fear that causes that memory block, I have restored my recall ability.

I think about my mom a lot. Probably more often than I ever expected. Most of the time it’s casual recollections incidental to mundane daily experiences. A particularly juicy bite of tomato in my salad might make me think of the way she so, so enthusiastically enjoyed tomatoes, often eating them like you would an apple (shudder). Or hearing a fragment of an old country song, especially a Marty Robbins or Patsy Cline tune, will make me smile as I remember her singing them as she moved around the house or drove her car. The simple, un-forced recollections of how she was on a day-to-day basis bring me a lot of joy.

Sure, the big, stand-out memories are there. Like the time she appeared in my 7th grade chemistry classroom like an avenging angel to contest an unfair and incorrect grade on a major assignment that my teacher refused to discuss with me. I remember, even today, that while there was fire in her eyes and vigilance in her body language, she retained an impeccable level of calm, civil, professionalism in her voice. That struck me particularly, as my mother was not above raising her voice to get a point across, at least to her children. So that particular example of civil confrontation and negotiation has stayed with me and has had at least as much influence on my own professional demeanor as the negotiation training I received in law school.

Or there’s the numerous memories of her bedside manner when I was sick or injured as a kid. (I was and am a klutz, so these memories are legion.) My mom was a no-nonsense, almost cold medic. When I was in 4th grade and a neighborhood bully yanked me off my bike with a jump rope and the skin on my neck was severely abraded, my mom’s calm, clinical attention in the face of my hysterical, tearful reaction was instrumental in the fast, infection-free healing that followed. But it wasn’t until I was grown and out on my own that I realized that what I thought of with some hurt as her coldness and callous disregard for my suffering was actually her attempt to control her rage and revulsion so that I would freak out less and calm more quickly. Again, she taught me a lot about crisis management that I never would have learned and fully internalized in my book-based management training.

And, of course, there are the more fraught, some might call them traumatic, memories of her in moments of anger and disappointment. My mother could be hard, loud, strict, demanding. When disciplining me, especially with physical correction, I admit that I experienced moments of fear. That was part of the point, I’m sure. But I also remember being sure of myself because of her consistency, knowing what consequences (good and bad) would follow from what types of actions. I never feared that I didn’t know what she’d do or how she’d react. I could count on a firm consistency, even if it was harsh. But I could also count on fairness. I remember getting punished for telling my older brothers where she had stored cookies she’d baked for a church function, when I had done no such thing. And when my mom discovered the truth she apologized and made sure I, in my nascent and burgeoning sense of justice, understood that she had made a mistake because of false information and that she would be sure to do better verifying the facts in future. In that incident I learned that my mom, whom I held in awe, was fallible, but she was honest, fair and accountable to correct her mistakes. It’s easy to describe in this way with my adult brain, experience and vocabulary. As a five year old, all I knew was that my mom admitted a mistake, said sorry, and was careful to not make the same mistake again. That was huge for me then and remains a cherished lesson today.

Her consistency and follow-through really stand out for me and have contributed in material ways to my professional development. For example, she taught me about contract negotiation in high school. When I first learned to drive a car, she strictly enforced a rule prohibiting any other minors in the car while I was driving alone. So when I wanted the right to go out with my friends, we negotiated a written agreement on the subject, setting up milestones that would earn me the right to have friends in my car. She was a stickler, too, checking progress and providing guidance along the way. But when I achieved all prerequisites, she was just as particular in praising my achievements and giving me the privilege I had earned. That trust and accountability played a huge part in my growth and understanding of responsibility and personal integrity and are part of my management style to this day.

I miss my mom. I’d have loved for her to see the kickass house I now own and enjoy her pride in my professional accomplishments. I’d like for her to see that my maturation into, and acceptance of, my gender identity has been an enormous blessing, a freeing of my spirit that I worried as a teen and young adult would never happen. I’d like to know what she would think about so many things in my life and this world today.

But even though I can never be sure of the exact words she would use in those conversations, I am unshakably confident in three messages she’d make sure I received: “I love you”; “I’m proud of you”; and “You can do anything you put your mind to”. Those were the three most common sentences that she said to me in my youth. I took them for granted a lot as I grew up. But I never doubted their truth, then or now. (“Shut the door”; “In or out, but don’t stand in the doorway”; and “Not so loud” all vie for next most common sentences of my youth, for those who wonder. 😉)

Looking back, there are a lot of things about my upbringing that my inner child might wish to improve – our family’s financial position, the frequency and severity of punishment, my dad’s work schedule, among others. But my current adult self knows that, although it was far from perfect, my upbringing was full of blessings for my current life. My parents’ love for and commitment to the welfare of me and my siblings produced a family life that nurtured and educated and comforted and encouraged us to do and be good, to strive for excellence, to help others and give of ourselves.

If I am so fortunate that my family and friends who survive me look back at their time shared with me and see half the good and positive memories that I experience looking back on my time with my mother, I’d count that as a mark of a successful life.

Letting Go

I’ve been slowly working on my old house. I moved into my new one in December and have been doing a slow-rolling move. I’m extremely privileged to have gotten a very favorable financing package that makes this possible. And the slow, deliberate and intentional process of moving only what we want into our new home has been very satisfying. But there are moments when choosing between keep or donate or toss is very difficult.

I took a couple of extra days off bracketing this holiday weekend to do more of the culling and sorting over there. I’m feeling very accomplished at having completed that chore for all my personal places and belongings there. But today, especially, as I emptied the last corner of my old closet, the nostalgia hit very hard and made the chore even more difficult than the dust and tedium.

Filling up the donation bags with the very last of my “girl” clothes was surprisingly wrenching. Though I haven’t worn any of them in a decade, haven’t even purchased an article of clothing designed for “women” in at least that long, it still felt surprisingly odd…risky, even…to let go of that last vestige of my heteronormative presentation. A tiny voice of doubt sounded in my mind as I stuffed that last blouse into the bag: “What if you need to look like a girl for once, how will you do that with no clothes?” It’s just fear talking, I know. But it was there and powerful for a moment. But as soon as I tied off that last bag, I felt the fear release and knew I’d be fine.

Letting go of things is remarkably difficult sometimes, for me at least. The emotional attachment to physical things that makes getting rid of them is so frustrating and absurd. Sometimes it’s comical, like the twinge of guilt when donating a thing that was a gift from a relative and the tiny spark of fear that they’ll ask me where it is the next time they come to my house. Never mind that they’re almost certainly never going to visit or think to ask about some trinket from years ago last Christmas. 🙄

Sometimes it’s a little bit sad, maybe a little bit…lonely isn’t the right word, but close. Today, one of the hardest things to put in the donation bag was a jacket my mom used to wear all the time. I had kept it the first year after she passed as a means of keeping her close. Eventually, the lingering scent of her perfume and my need to touch its soft sleeve to reconnect with her memory faded. Then I kept it out of loyalty and habit, but I no longer needed it’s security to keep her memory near and it got pushed back into the corner of my closet to emerge for the first time today. As I held it, I knew it no longer served a meaningful purpose as a reminder of her. Her memory is in me now and I don’t need her jacket for that. Letting go of that physical thing was hard, but not nearly as hard as I expected. Twenty years after her passing, I’m finally able to hang onto her in my heart without need of her things to ground me. Hopefully someone else will put it to use.

Now that I’ve gone through all my possessions, donating a huge portion of what I’d accumulated over the 17 years living in that house, I have an appreciation for the relief and peace that comes from letting go of what no longer serves me. There’s an obvious parallel lesson for the emotional, psychological self improvement work I’ve been doing for so long. But without getting too far into the woo and feels, it’s enough to feel good about applying that lesson to just the physical possessions.

Letting go of surplus things is a huge relief. I like to believe that I’ve been selective about it, donating only things that are clean, in good repair and having residual value and utility. That feels good and right. So does trashing the things that are broken or soiled and have no value. Again, some obvious applications to the spirit and emotional being, but it’s enough to focus on the benefits of letting go of the tangible rubbish.

Letting go of what I don’t need is good for my brain, heart, and spirit. I highly recommend it to anyone. I hope you find your own way to that conclusion.

Achievement Unlocked

I have spent a full week in my new house. Spoiler alert: It’s awesome!

Here are a few good things that have happened this week that make me happy and feel accomplished:

⁃ I have mentioned my new dressing room a couple of times. It’s so nice having a separate room for all my clothes and to get ready in. Separating the sleep and relaxation space from the storage and dressing space has made my private space feel enormous and very grown-up. This week I have refined the initial layout, arranging folded and hanging clothes and boots in an efficient pattern that makes dressing enjoyable. Today I assembled a laundry cart with three hanging hampers – so cool! I’ve added hanging organizers for my bow ties, too! Geeking out over this space has consumed a lot of time and has been so fun!

⁃ It’s been really nice parking in my garage at this house. It’s a little detail, but not having to scrape frost or get rained on going to or from the truck has made my morning and evening so much less stressful.

⁃ Although we’re still looking for the correct bolts for hanging the living room tv in the bracket that came with the house, I am feeling smug about setting up the cable today. The supposed installation early this week was actually just a surly technician coming in to drop off new cable boxes and be rude to my sister in law. So I took it upon myself to figure it out. It wasn’t really hard, just a little tricky to reprogram the remote to operate the tv and the cable box. Still, I did it and feel accomplished. 😎

⁃ I also completed my first load of laundry in this new house’s main-floor laundry. The new appliances are user friendly and don’t make a lot of noise. And I LOVE not having to haul heavy clothes baskets up and down stairs!

⁃ And even if it is just the newness factor, I am particularly proud of myself for making my bed every single day so far in this house. I really like how nice the room looks with it made up. And since there’s only a reading chair and side table in addition to the bed in that room, it somehow seems necessary to keep it neat.

⁃ Finally, while I was enjoying football on my newly set-up tv, I finished wrapping Christmas gifts today. It was fun taking care of that chore while enjoying the clean, open, comfortable new living room.

My friends, I hope the coming week, and the holiday it brings, finds you warm and fed and healthy and blessed with many good things to make you feel happy and accomplished.

More Great Than Awful

So much of life is a mixed bag of great and awful. If we’re lucky, they balance, break-even. If we’re really lucky, the great outweighs the awful, at least at a micro, day-to-day level. I am fortunate that there is a lot more great than awful in my life and the magnitude of awful has been fairly muted of late.

I try consciously to remind myself of that and to celebrate the great, however small they appear, so as to temper the impact of the awful. I’m not always successful. Sometimes the collective weight of the tiny awfuls adds up and weighs down my spirit. But counting the great, saying them out loud even, can sometimes lighten the load.

For instance, I’m suffering the first head cold of the season and had to stay home from the office yesterday because I was running a fever and didn’t want to spread anything to my coworkers. It’s a particularly inconvenient time for this awful, mucous-y disruption to my work flow. But there are some great things happening too.

  • I’m in the process of buying a new house. It’s a gorgeous, move in-ready upgrade to the house I’ve had for 16 years. I got a great deal – used my negotiating skills and have a great realtor. We’re in the last stages before closing and I’m really excited about the prospect of this new phase of life.
  • There’s a new project at work that has me feeling re-engaged and excited to use my lawyer muscles. Doing deeply substantive lawyering, rather than business management, makes me happy.
  • I’m enjoying the cooler fall weather and looking forward to the freeze that will relieve the burning and itching in my eyes.
  • My SIL brought me my favorite soup for dinner last night to make my cold feel better.
  • Soon the holiday movie season will start and there will be good things to watch again.

So, all in all, a fairly good tilt toward the great and away from the awful. For that I’m grateful.

Vague Booking

So I’m a tad late to post. Most of the reasons for that are awesome, although I also have been fighting a bout of writer’s block. I’m not ready to go into all the details, but suffice to say I have been busy with other things and that’s a great reason to be a teensy lax here. Without context or explanation, here are some things from the last couple weeks that have me smiling:

  • IRL socializing is not as terrifying as I feared
  • Spending time with friends, old and new, fills my spirit in the best way
  • Paying it forward, in ways large and small, to help a friend or a friend’s friend gives me hope
  • Being seen, especially when you think you are invisible in one or more dimensions, is both scary and uplifting
  • Getting a push out of your comfort zone can land you in an exciting place
  • Chatting via text and video is a fun way to make connections and feel less isolated
  • Compliments that feel genuine are an exciting new experience
  • Smart, kind, quirky, fun and lovely new people are the best!

I’m smiling and looking forward to a lot of new experiences in the next few days and weeks. This is a great feeling. I hope you have something to smile about and look forward to, also. 😎

Working on Making it Permanent

So, I’m back to the real world from vacation. It was a blissful reprieve and a truly wonderful experience.

This vacation was lengthy and expensive. It took over a year of planning and saving, some hefty cajoling of one of my brothers, and an unprecedented amount of preparation and working ahead at my job in order to be absent for two consecutive weeks without doing any work. But, oh my, was it worth it!

Foremost among the riches of this vacation is the quality time spent with my siblings. I believe this trip is the longest that my brothers, their wives and I have spent together in over a decade. It was a relaxed, congenial time full of comfortable conversations and silences, fun activities, and restful breaks. And it was free of tension and drama and negativity. It was the best of all worlds and I’m grateful we had that time together.

Also a big part of the benefits of the experience are the memories and mementos of our epic adventure. I so, so enjoyed every part of the cruise. Exciting new experiences, great food, majestic scenery, and so much fun! The excursions were great.

We went to a gold mine in Juneau, where I braved my fear of small places and being under ground and ventured all the way to the first bend of the main shaft – several hundred feet into the mountain! That’s a huge thing for me. I did turn back when the shaft took a turn and I lost sight of the daylight. I couldn’t brave it out beyond that point. But I got to wear a real miner’s helmet, see some awesome 100+ year old equipment, hear a cool story about miners’ lives in the 1800’s, and view some great historical structures. I even got to pan for gold! I think I ended up with about $0.80 worth of flakes and a million bucks worth of fun!

Then there was the glass blowing excursion in Skagway. That was huge fun! The Jewel Gardens park is gorgeous and has what the guide called “Jurassic-sized” everything growing there. The little tearoom on site serves food using vegetables fresh from their fields. And the working glass hot shop is a beautiful addition to that lovely place. My family lucked out and were the only ones booked on our particular excursion there that day. Three of us got a private glass blowing session with a wonderful, talented and friendly blower named Alex. He helped each of us make a customized globe ornament as a souvenir of our experience. I just received mine in the mail yesterday and am so excited it turned out so beautiful!

Perhaps my favorite part of the trip, though, was a day when we didn’t get off the ship. Our day’s transit through Glacier Bay was amazing! The sight and beauty of that place was awe inspiring. I’m so thankful that I got to experience that glorious place!

There were many more little things that made the trip so wonderful. Little moments of joy (the fleeting glimpse of a baby humpback whale breaching off the stern and showing its fluke as it dove) and quiet moments of togetherness (sitting on the Lido Deck breezeway teaching my brothers to wire-wrap gemstones for incorporating into jewelry) made my experience all the richer.

In fact, I got so much more than the beautiful memories and lovely mementos from this vacation. In the process of letting myself enjoy my time away, I seem to have remembered how to sleep. I think I have slept longer and more restfully in the last three weeks than I have in over a year. And I haven’t missed out on anything because of it – the sleep has come when it’s supposed to and I haven’t had to choose between a rest and anything else (like an activity or a chat with a friend) since my vacation began. I’m so glad!

And, also, plus – my relaxed, no-f*’s-given attitude has persisted into my post-vacation approach to life and my workplace. The light-touch, advise-and-release method of crisis management that I described in my last post is holding up to repetition. I have, so far, been successful in keeping myself from taking on the burdens rightfully belonging to others, without shirking my own duties. This more balanced, rationalized, right-sized sense of responsibility is so much more sustainable and easier to bear.

Oh, I know what you’re gonna say! “It’s only Tuesday of your first full week back, so maybe go easy on the glowing new-me reports?”

Agreed. Time will tell if this post-vacation glow lasts. It won’t last forever, I know. But with concentrated intention, maybe I can make it last until the next vacation. Even if that one isn’t the epic, bucket-list-level experience of this Alaska Cruise Adventure vacation, perhaps the more mundane variety of break from the work-a-day world will combine with the residual afterglow of this extraordinary experience and become more permanently etched into my psyche. Who knows?

What I do know now is that I feel better after this vacation and I’m working on making that a permanent state of affairs.

Back in the Saddle

Ok, this is gonna be a quick one. I’ll try to do a more substantive, curated trip report on my epic Alaska Cruise Adventure soon. Right now, here’s what I need y’all to know:

  • I not only survived, I positively OWNED vacation with ZERO work content. I looked at no emails and I firmly body-checked the two sneak attacks by text message to my personal cell – punting them directly to my boss! (How’s that for mixed sports metaphors!?)
  • My bucket-list-level vacation was everything and more than I’d hoped it would be. Travel was easy (apart from the mandatory public groping by TSA), weather was nice, scenery was majestic, excursions were fun and memorable, and family time was fun and refreshing. (A very few of the many, many pics I took, below.)
  • I returned to my office today to find well over 350 emails accumulated, despite my thorough preparation of all my clients and stakeholders for my absence. The very first one was a hair-on-fire call for help fixing someone’s mess. I stiff-armed that right back at them with a minimum of guidance and a goodly amount of “suck it up, buttercup”-type tough love. I really like this feeling of freedom I get from not wearing other people’s problems for them – could get addicting!
  • To avoid the risk of tempting the universe to chastise me by being too smug and glow-y in my post-PTO euphoria, I will admit that I have yet another stye on my left eyelid. It is sore and irritated. It started last night when I mentally began preparing for reentry to the real world. I do not find this coincidental; rather, I firmly believe the two are causally linked. Perhaps I should test my theory by going back on vacation. 😉

I hope you have all enjoyed your summer since my last post. And, hopefully, the rest will be filled with (not too hot) sun and fun. ☀️😎

Anticipation of Relaxation

I’m officially on vacation! Yesterday was travel day, in which I flew to Seattle to meet up with the fam ahead of our epic cruise adventure. My brother kindly fetched me from the airport and we drove to his home a couple hours away.

It was the smoothest, easiest, least stressful travel experience I’ve ever had. Because my other brother had taken my checked bag with him and his wife in their motor home for their drive out here, I only had my backpack to worry about on the plane. Got a Lyft to the airport and my bro’s comfy pickup on the other end, I had no transportation responsibility. I just rode, flew, rode again, and arrived at my brother’s home. Easy.

Now we have a rest day. Tomorrow is sailing day, but we have no obligations today. This is definitely a good thing. I know I’ll appreciate the rest when we start the festivities tomorrow, which will be at once fun, exciting and stressful. Yet I always have trouble with this part, the waiting.

There’s something to be said for the pleasure of anticipation. Often, pleasure is increased with a little bit of delay. But for those of us, like me, who are chronically impatient, this caesura is kinda nerve-wracking. Not because I’m not enjoying being with my siblings and not because I don’t like just hanging out. I’m just not very successful at stilling my mind and find myself thinking ahead to the next day, the next action, the next agenda item.

I guess I’m not very good at vacation.

But I’m sooooo happy to be here and I am sooooo stoked for the cruise. I’m anticipating that, being a self-contained experience, with plenty of time to do nothing but simply relax together will make me better at it. 😎

Here’s to learning to be a slug! 🐌

All the Good Stuff

So it’s Tuesday again and I’m posting another really quick update. I’m riding a wave of happy positivity right now, friends! Here’s some reasons why:

  • It may be Tuesday, but it’s my Friday – last day of work before a looooooong stretch of leisure time!
  • That leisure time will include a bucket-list-level Alaska cruise and some deep quality time with my siblings. It all starts on Thursday!!!!
  • I heard yesterday morning that one of my lesfic stories has been selected for publication next year in an anthology put out by Bold Strokes Books!!!! OMG, y’all!
  • My first ever casting in my silver smithing class was a huge success. I’ve de-sprued and ground and rough polished. Cloth wheel polish and patina when I get back from vacation.
  • I remembered to post today!

Have a great week, friends! I’ll see about posting while I’m on the road…er…sea! 😎

It Begins

So now it’s real. I have the ol’ R2D2 suitcase out on my bed. I’ve gathered clean laundry and my suits. I’m selecting bow ties. I’m remembering the Dramamine. I even have my flip flops in case there’s a poolside situation.

I’m packing. That makes it real. I’m going on a cruise!!!!!!!! Excitement awaits.

I’m hopeful that there will be connectivity along the way. But if not, I’ll post a few extra times when I get back to make up for the missing posting goals.

Enjoy your July!

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