Contributor Archive

Learning From Experience

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

Once again I find myself hovering over my 17-year-old son, trying to convince him to NOT wait until the last minute to finish an assignment he has been putting off. And, once again, he is telling me not to worry, that he will get it done, he has a plan. I know his plan: staying up all night the night before it’s due, reading until his eyes turn red. But I know something will come up to get in the way. He’ll fall asleep (probably), he’ll suddenly remember another assignment due at the same time that takes precedence (possibly), or something much more fun will present itself and he just won’t be able to resist it (definitely). This pattern repeats itself over and over again. No matter how many times I try to reason with him, he keeps going back to his old procrastinating self. I say the same things every time. ”If you wait until the last minute and you get sick, you won’t feel like doing it.” ”If you wait until the last minute, you’ll be stressed-out and won’t be able to do as good a job as I know you’re capable of.” ”If you wait until the last minute and something else comes up, you’ll have to miss out on the fun because you put off doing your work.” Except the fun part almost always happens.

I don’t know why he has to be this way. You’d think by now he would have caught on that it is so much easier to do the work in smaller batches than try to get it all done in one marathon session at the last minute. No matter how persuasive my argument is, he just won’t do what I want him to. He has so many talents: a graceful, athletic ability that is a joy to watch, a wonderful sense of humor, a willingness to pitch in and help when he sees someone in need, and an uncanny way of nearly always charming me out of a funk, whether he is the cause of it or not. Unfortunately, time-management is not one of his gifts, as frustrating for me as that may be.

As his parent, I try to guide him, help him learn from my experience (in my head I can hear my Mom saying ”good luck with that”), pass on all the time-management skills I have learned over the years. Take a big task and break it down into smaller, more manageable portions. Figure out how much time you need to spend on your project each day. Think the task through before you start so you don’t have to figure the whole thing out as you go. It all seems so simple when it is laid out in front of you.

Except you actually have to put it all into practice. It’s one thing to know what you should do and another to do it. The truth is, I had to learn these skills through experience and consequences, and I’m still far from perfect. Leading by example sometimes only goes so far, and while I do mostly follow my own great advice, it’s still tempting to tell, yell, and cajole him into better management skills, as ineffective as that tactic may be. When all is said and done, I realize that my son will have to learn the same way I did: by messing up and paying my dues. In the meantime, hope springs eternal that at least some of my good habits will rub off on him. I know my mom still holds out hope for me!

Friends Through Thick and Thin

Monday, June 27th, 2011

Not too long ago my husband and I had the opportunity to spend the weekend with our oldest and dearest friends, Nancy and Jeff. Oldest because we have known them for over 25 years (I have actually known Jeff for nearly 35 years, but that is another story altogether), and dearest because no matter what the situation or circumstance,we are always there for each other. Over the years we have attended each others’ weddings, cared for each other during sickness and surgeries, offered support and encouragement through illness and loss of loved ones, celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, new jobs, and new homes, and spent many, many glorious hours on weekend trips and adventures. There have been times of laughter and tears, times of fear, anguish and uncertainty, and the occasional brief moment of hurt feelings, but mostly,more than any other feelings or emotions, there have been years of joy and respect and an immeasurable amount of love.

We have shared many off-road adventures, bouncing and sliding along a steep, rocky, nearly impassable trail with no choice but to either go over the sheer side or to continue up the trail to the summit and on to easier paths. Nancy and I have gotten out and walked on more than one occasion, but our boys always get us home safely. On one trip several years ago,we were stopped at some crucial point in the trail (this seems to occur frequently on our adventures) and Scott and Jeff had to get out and examine the rocks to find the perfect line through, the one that would cause the least amount of damage yet still provide a white-knuckle experience, when I was struck by the fact that these two boys that I had known for so long and knew so well were no longer boys but had turned into grown men. When did that happen, and where was I when it had?

The answer finally came to me years later as the four of us were relaxing under the magnificent nighttime desert sky. It just happened. Gradually without any of us realizing it, we grew up.We’re adults. We actually have been for quite a few years now, with all the responsibilities and worry that can go along with the title. But in addition to those things, we also have the wisdom and experience to know that tough times don’t last,we are as strong as we need to be to get through any difficulty that comes our way, and if we falter,we will always, always have our friends to help us through the rocky parts. Thank heavens for enriching and nurturing friendships like these. They make such a difference in the way we handle life.

My Tumultuous Teens

Friday, February 18th, 2011

Living with teenagers can be a tricky and trying experience at times. They can be happy and carefree one minute, then, without warning, the storm clouds roll in, and they turn into surly, withdrawn creatures, barely making eye contact and communicating only with grunts and monosyllabic words. Then for no apparent  reason, the universe shifts once again, and they cheerfully ask, ‘What’s for dinner?’ It’s enough to make your head spin. There are moments when I long for what now seem like much simpler times: bubble baths and shampoo mohawks, seemingly endless bedtime stories, sticky fingers and faces, hugs, and little boy voices saying,  ‘I love you, Mommy.’ Now, instead of giggly bubble baths, there are never-ending showers that use up all the hot water. Instead of my putting the boys to sleep with a bedtime story (or two, or three), my boys wake me up late at night  to let me know they made it home safe and sound. The hugs have morphed into a kind of one-shoulder lean with no arms involved, over in an instant no matter how I try to hang on to them.

But of all the changes that have occurred through the years, the one that causes me to wonder what  I could have done differently as a parent is the response I get when I say, ‘I love you.’ Instead of a resounding ‘I love you too, Mommy!’ what I hear is ‘um hmm’ or ‘ok.’ I could let this strike me prostrate with grief, but instead I think back to my own teenage years and my surliness and mood swings with my own parents, and I realize it has nothing to do with me. It is all about my boys and the changes they are going through as they find their own way in the world. High school graduation, college, career choices, social pressures, and the occasional bad hair cut are all reasons to cause uncertainty and aggravation. Throw in some crazy woman clinging to their arms as they try to leave the house, and it’s no wonder all they can do is grunt. So, thank you Mom and Dad for your  patience, guidance, and unfailing love during my tumultuous teens, and for keeping your  snickers to a minimum as I bemoan my own trials as a parent of teenagers. I will continue to call out, ‘I love you, Buddy’ when my sons head out the door, and I’m doing a pretty good job.

The Art of Imperfection

Friday, November 12th, 2010

No matter how hard I try, the perfection I strive for seems to be just out of reach. As soon as the floors are mopped, a little tuft of dog hair inevitably appears in the corner. No matter how many hours of tender care I give my roses, the critters that forage in the yard at night leave nibbled petals and an occasional broken branch for me to find in the morning. Then, there are those personal life ‘experiences’ that burst the perfection bubble. Let me explain.

It was a picture perfect (nature can be perfect!), sunny afternoon, and my husband, our two sons, and I were at a high school graduation party for one of the nicest kids you could ever hope to meet. He and his beautiful mom (also one of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet) live in a gorgeous home on a hill with an absolutely stunning view. I felt pretty confident that I looked nearly perfect: my hair was up, my dress was cute, and everything about my outfit said ‘this woman has got it together.’ Little groups of people were scattered about, chatting and munching on the yummy food, enjoying the whole setting. As I was chatting and munching, a soft breeze came up and blew a couple of pieces of lettuce off of my plate. Being the conscientious guest that I am, I stepped back so that I could pick up the lettuce. Did I mention we were outside? So, I stepped back — and directly into the Jacuzzi. Way in, to the middle, completely submerged. When the need to breathe overpowered my feelings of utter humiliation, I surfaced and slowly opened my eyes to see a row of surprised faces and my oldest son sitting on the steps and holding his head in his hands in total mortification. As I retrieved the piece of pizza bobbing on the churning surface of the water, all I could do was laugh. My stunned husband helped me out of the water, the really nice kid brought me a big towel, and his even nicer mom asked what, if anything, she could do for me.

Well, there wasn’t anything she could do; it was up to me to own the moment. So, I wrapped the towel around my dripping dress, apologized to my embarrassed 18-year-old son, removed the clip from my hair and fluffed it a little so it could dry, accepted the new plate of food my darling husband brought me, and enjoyed the rest of the party. Did I still look nearly perfect? Not a chance. My hair was frizzy, my dress was a little wrinkled, although it was completely dry by the time we left, and my mascara had settled into dark smudges beneath my eyes.

So, as you are frantically cleaning, decorating, baking, and wrapping this holiday season, remember that the little mishaps in life make it interesting. Your friends and family are not coming to your home to check whether your cloth napkins are expertly pressed, or whether or not all the candles in the centerpiece are perfectly straight. They are coming to see you, to share your warmth and laughter, because they love you and want to be with you just as you want to share yourself with them. Relax and own the moment, imperfections and all. Who knows, you may just end up with a great story to share.

Saddle Up

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

From the time I can remember anything at all, my burning passion was to be a cowboy. Not a cowgirl, a cowboy. There were plenty of cowgirls in all the westerns I grew up watching, but they seemed to always be waiting for the cowboys to get back to the ranch. I wanted to be where the action was, ropin’ and ridin’ and living life out on the range. Unfortunately, growing up at the beach in southern California, I didn’t have many opportunities to test my wrangling skills. I set my dreams of spurs and campfires aside and got on with the business of living: finishing school, marrying the man of my dreams (although, not a cowboy), and raising two beautiful boys. Life is good, really good, and I honestly would not change anything about the way things have turned out.

As my 50th birthday looms ever closer and I ponder all the experiences that go along with living for half a century, I still think about being a cowboy. Granted, my focus has changed a little. I am no longer very interested in sleeping on the ground using my saddle for a pillow. Now the appeal of the cowboy life is really all about the horses and riding and being out in the open country, but the dream, the passion, is still there, as strong as ever. The only difference is that now I can do it, I can live my dream. I don’t have to compromise because of my age or my gender or my circumstances. Whatever I want to be, I can still be; we all can.

May we all live our dreams, whether it is one we have carried with us since childhood, or a newly discovered passion we are itching to explore. Is there a college degree in the future, or a musical career put aside because life happened? Whatever your dreams, big or small, practical or fanciful, go ahead, saddle up; I’ll look for you out on the trail.

Taking That First Step

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

I don’t know about you, but I am hooked on all the home decorating shows that are so popular now. Whether it is a do-it-yourself show, or a have-someone-do-it-for-you show, I’m there. Maybe part of the reason I am so into these shows is that my family and I have been living in a perpetual state of remodeling for the last several years. We bought our house 11 years ago, knowing that it would take ‘quite a while’ to get it into the state we wanted. The house was built in the early 1970’s, with the shag carpet and redwood siding to prove it. The kitchen didn’t have any cabinet doors and the floor was a cement slab, but the multi-levels and huge windows in every room captivated us. Even the lack of an oven didn’t dissuade us. You’d be surprised how well cookies turn out when baked in the barbeque. Well, after several years, we were finally ready to get started. The boys, of course, were convinced their bedrooms wouldn’t be finished until after they left for college, but I am happy to report they are now moved into their rooms and the oldest won’t graduate from high school until later this year. Ha!

One of the reasons we were so hesitant to start on this massive undertaking was that we were terrified of doing it ‘wrong.’ How would we know if we picked the right colors for the walls or the right flooring? There were so many details and so many choices for each thing that at times we were paralyzed with indecision. Finally, we just started. (I use the term ‘we’ rather loosely. I didn’t offer much in the way of physical labor; I was busy trying to regulate the temperature in the barbeque, but I did offer a lot in the way of support and ideas.)

Now, when I stand in my gorgeous, magazine-worthy kitchen (thank you, Scotty and Dad) and inhale the delicious aroma of dinner roasting in one oven while dessert bakes in the other, I think back on how uncertainty limited us for so many years, when all we had to do was take the first step. We finally stopped worrying about what anyone else would think of the choices we made. We weren’t doing all of this work for anyone other than ourselves and we needed to make it work for our family and no one else. I am trying to apply this lesson to other areas of my life as well. Some decisions are more critical than others, but when I remember that I am unique and that what is best for me and my family may not be best for someone else, it is easier to take the first step. Even if I have to pause and change my course a little, as long as I listen to my heart I know the end result will be beautiful.

Enjoy the Ride

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

My younger son is now of driving age, and I hesitantly let this inexperienced, newly permitted driver take the wheel on a recent weekend get-away. We left at rush hour, because why wouldn’t you want your 15-year-old kid to have his first freeway experience at the busiest time of the day with the sun setting directly behind him so he can’t really see if the brake lights ahead of him are on or not!

After nearly putting my foot through the floor a few times, I forced my shoulders back down to a normal position and settled in for the ride. I did my best to give directions with plenty of notice so there were no last-minute lane changes, and gently suggest slowing down ahead of time rather than waiting until there were only inches to spare between us and the next car. As the busy city freeway gave way to the less traveled rural roads, I was struck by how the changing landscape mirrored the changing stages of life with my children.

As a new parent, I often felt frazzled, with never enough time to get everything done and never feeling sure I was doing things ‘right.’ Then, without my realizing it, the ‘rush hour’ days eased into a little slower pace. The elementary school years were filled with wonderful discoveries and hours spent together. As we passed through the countryside with its softly rolling hills, we started to climb to higher elevations much like the challenges of middle school. Projects became more difficult, friends came and went, and like our ride, first there was a gentle slope, a dip into a small valley, another slope, and then the tumultuous teen years, full of steep inclines, sharply twisting roads, and the uncertainty of what might be waiting around the next corner.

Finally, we reached the summit and began to descend through the now rocky landscape, just as my boys have turned into young men with deep voices trying to find their own place in the world. Now, as I sit up late at night waiting for them to come home, or have a ‘discussion’ on why it is so important to do their very best in whatever they attempt, whether it seems completely irrelevant to them or not, I think about that trip. The rough, unforgiving landscape gave way to the vast, open desert, the infinite vistas filled with the same promise of adventure and discovery my boys have waiting for them in the future. And just as my baby boy did fine on that drive (we arrived with all our parts intact), I am reminded that my boys, too, will do fine no matter where life takes them. I can’t control it all; I can only offer my voice of experience when needed or wanted and sit back and enjoy the ride.

Less Cleaning, More Meaning

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

Once again, I am rushing around trying to spruce things up before guests come over. Don’t get me wrong, things are picked up and relatively organized, but why does it always seem that stuff just appears right before visitors are due to arrive? I know for a fact those dust bunnies I can see under the chair as I walk up the stairs were NOT there last night. Neither were the fingerprints on all the light switches, nor the smear across the front of the refrigerator. Where does it all come from? Maybe from the two teenage boys, the dog, the cat, and the perpetual remodeling projects in progress both inside and outside the house?

So, I take a deep breath, rip a drooping, yellow leaf off a plant as I pass by to answer the door, and have a sudden flashback of a weekend my family spent camping out in a friend’s backyard. There was nothing fancy about it; in fact, the yard was filled with 19 old cars, all in various states of disrepair, a few stacks of tires, some rusted yard implements, and several little buildings (shacks?) in need of a fresh coat of paint, among other things. There were three different enclosures filled with chickens, doves, parakeets, cockatiels, and finches. Not to mention three or four domestic turkeys, as well as two wild turkeys that hopped the fence one day, hoping to make new friends, and decided to stay. That yard was a little boy’s dream, bursting with endless possibilities of exploration and discovery. Resort-like, it was not.

The thing that sticks in my mind the most, though, is how much fun we had. Those turkeys were a riot. Every time someone laughed, those silly birds would gobble. Laugh, gobble, snicker, gobble, giggle, gobble, gobble. We spent time with precious old friends, cemented friendships with couples we don’t get to see too often, and started new relationships with folks we had never met before. That ramshackle yard, with the mismatched stools set around some old doors for tables, the tub from an old washing machine commandeered as a fire-pit, and the goofy gobbles of the turkeys, became a haven. It wasn’t the place (although it did provide a lot of atmosphere!), but the people that made the weekend so special—the laughter, love, and open hearts of good people just spending time together. I can’t wait to go back.

As you rush around this holiday season, trying to fit in all the activities and functions that are a natural part of this time of year, I hope you find yourself not worrying about the dust and fingerprints, the stray sock on the floor, or the wad of dog hair in the corner. I hope you laugh with the turkeys and delight in the people you are with. I plan to. And my friend waiting at the door? I just kick the cat toys out of the way and greet her with open arms and a smile that comes straight from my heart.