The New Normal

FullSizeRenderThis winter in Boston has been a challenge.  No, let’s be honest, it’s been a shit storm.  Driving through the city, past ten foot snow mounds and down two lane street that are now one and wrestling your way into ice covered parking spaces, you learn one thing very quickly.  You need to turn into the skid.  It’s the first thing they teach you about winter driving.  As counter-intuitive as it seems, as scary as it sounds, as much as you want to throw on your breaks: You turn into the skid.

The analogy is obvious.  You can’t fight the inevitable.  When the world fights against you, it’s okay to turn into the wind and let it take you where it may.  These last few months have challenged me to put this philosophy into practice nearly every day.  Once we hit 8 feet of snow in thirty days, and my car disappeared into the snow piles, and it started to take me more than an hour to travel four miles to work, it forced me to start leaning into the curve.

So, it’ll take more than an hour to make it across town; pack a big cup of coffee and some snacks for the ride.  So, there’s no parking on the streets; bundle up and walk to the errands.  So, it’s too hard to get out to shop and eat and and socialize, take the opportunity to save some money for the inevitable battery that I’ll have to purchase for the buried car.

Now I know that it seems easy for me.  The storms have unquestionable hit some harder than others.  I know that there has been lots of lost wages, and poor revenue, and property damage.  But, for better or worse, that’s still the new normal.  I can’t see the utility in complaining about it, announcing your misery, playing the “who has it worse” game.  The best we can do is look at our new reality and figure it out.  Make a new plan.  Turn into the skid.

It’s not just the weather.  So many people who I love have had a hard winter.  Friends have had set-backs, and illnesses, and life altering surprises.  But, what can you do?  Except for to define your new normal. I still struggle with this everyday.

My life is miles away from where I saw it two years ago.  But, if I had spent even one moment fighting against the changes and railing against the inevitable.  I wouldn’t be where I am today.  The reason I continue to be successful, is not because of actual success, but because of my ability to continually redefine my expectations and my reality. It’s about choosing what you’d like your life to look like and then adjusting it accordingly.  It’s about committing to your priorities and making adjustments as life sees fit.  My priorities are family, happiness, and time.

And, it hasn’t been easy to stick to my guns this winter.  Not when it’s been so dark, and everything takes so long, and we’re all stuck in the house in tight spaces under the most unpleasant circumstances.  It’s been a challenge to make the most of it.  But, I continue to work towards the ideal.  To find some quiet time to read with the boys.  To get outside and embrace the epic snow.  To smile and laugh and find the joy in the smallest of triumphs.  To keep on defining the new normal and accepting the twists and turns as they come. FullSizeRender-1


How to Love a Cancer Survivor

561471_4120740171826_1729181518_nIn 2009 my husband was diagnosed with colon cancer.  Five years later, he’s cured, healthy, cancer-free.  And yet, he will always, forever, be a cancer survivor; and we will always forever be a survivor family.  The side effects will always be there, and that feeling of mortality will never go away.  Over the years we have learned to live with this new life with a fair amount of adjustment and a lot of patience on all accounts.  Every cancer is different, every survivor is different, but I think we can share a few things about loving a cancer survivor.

It’s Not Your Cancer:  I know that cancer effects your whole family, and we attack it as a team, but at the end of the day… this is not your disease.  There’s been countless times when I’ve watched Ed pop open another beer or order a burger and fries and I know that there’s no way that’s a good idea.  There are moments when I’ve wanted to chime in, make a suggestion, tell him to suck it up or take it easy.  And yet, I keep my mouth shut.

Because it’s not my cancer, they’re not my symptoms, it’s not my health.  I’m not the one that lost a foot of my colon.  I’m not the one that needs to monitor my food, and schedule my day, and deal with the discomfort.  It’s been a struggle for Ed to live a normal life with no health problems for 30+ years and then wake up from surgery with a host of chronic side effects and health problems.  I can have empathy, I can try to put myself in Ed’s shoes.  But, at the end of the day, I’ll never know how he feels.  My concern is appreciated, I think.  My advice, maybe not so much.  And sometimes, the survivor just wants things to be normal again.  To ignore the discomfort and the ramifications of making poor decisions.

That is, unquestionably, unequivocally, their decision to make.  You will never know what it feels like to live in their skin.  Your job as a partner is to be there for the journey to hang in there and love them unconditionally.

Things Will Never Be the Same:  The cancer is gone, all the scans are negative, it seems like a distant memory, and yet things will never be the same.  And, it’s not just the side effects, the ones that can be chronic and life-altering.  It’s the way things are just different then they were before. How a stomach bug can become a much bigger thing.  How the fear of reoccurrance is always there.  How you hold onto health differently then you did before.

So, You Might as Well Laugh About It:  For us, humor has been everything.  Empathy is huge, it’s important to try to picture yourself in their shoes.  But, it’s also important to have some levity; to realize the fact that things could be so much worse.  We try to laugh as much as possible, to lighten the mood, to make a joke about it.  The kids are in on the act.  They understand that dad was sick, and now he’s not, but his gas really stinks sometimes.  It just is what it is, we might as well laugh about it, it’s vastly better than the alternative.

And, Celebrate Life:  The fact is, Ed’s still with us.  We’re lucky and grateful and so blessed that he caught his cancer early and has amazing preventative care.  We’re lucky that the kids will be screened early and we’ll pay close attention to their health.  And, we hope that others can get the same quality care.

That’s why we started The Get Your Rear in Gear 5K three years ago.  We decided that we wanted to celebrate life, raise awareness, collect money for the cause.  My brother brought the Get Your Rear in Gear 5K to Boston to celebrate Ed’s health and every year more and more people join us to celebrate their loved ones.

And this year, we’ll celebrate again, on November 8th in South Boston, with our friends and family and hundreds of other people.  Please join us if you can or please donate to the cause (The Bum Rushers).  Please join us in celebrating Ed’s rear for another year!!!

Parenting’s a Crappy Gig

10334360_10202709480073133_776496951207363595_nLet me be the one to say it, because you know you’ve all been thinking it.  Parenting is a really shitty gig.

You go to a job interview, and they say, “You’ll be on call 24 hours a day, you’ll be expected to work overtime on the weekends, you’ll have full responsibility for every task and there’s rarely anyone to delegate to.  Your boss can be unreasonable, selfish, beligerant.  You’ll serve as director, secretary, bookkeeper, custodian, chauffeur, chef, and CEO.  And, by the way, this is a volunteer position, you won’t be paid a cent.”

And, I know….  You would never change it for the world, and you love those lil’ buggers, and it’s the worst job you’ll ever love.  And, that’s all bullshit.  You know this job blows chunks.

I love my kids.  Totally.  Unequivocally.  Madly.  And, I’m at the stage of their development when I really LIKE them too.  I have fun with them, we laugh a lot, and I legitimately enjoy their company.  It’s really not them, it’s the responsibility.

The soul crushing, overwhelming, absolute responsibility.  The worrying, and the second guessing, and the messiness of it.

As I sat on the toilet for a half an hour yesterday, holding my nine year old’s bloody nose, covered with rapidly drying red dots, as my six year old cleaned off the walls, I had a while to think about this (Yes Dad, I took him to the doctor.  He’s fine)  It’s an impossible task, with very little room for error.  And, there’s a million ways to mess it up.

You have to keep them clean, and fed, and well rested.  The have to be smart, and work hard, and be nice kids.  They can’t cuss, or fart, or pick their nose in public. They need to get to school on time, and like healthy foods, and play well with others. You need to deal with the strange rash on their head, and where their glasses are, and whether they are “happy.”  And, you have to look good doing it.

For the love of God, why didn’t anyone warn us!!  Quite simply, because if we truly understood, would we have agreed to bring these monsters into the world.  Or maybe I was warned and I chose to ignore them.  Hubris.  Pure hubris.

I’m sure of this.  Everyone,  every single last one of you, agrees with me.  Whether you choose to admit it or not.  Whether you smile through the muck, or cry through it, struggle every day, or knock it outta’ the park; it’s a shitty gig.

So, give the dad in the super market an understanding grin. Help that mom trying to drag the double stroller into the restaurant. Have patience with the parents struggling to feed their two toddlers in the crowded restaurant.  We’ve all been there, and we’ll all be there again.  Love your favorite parent today.

Patience: Lessons from the Zen Baby

IMG_1935We’re all fast folk.  We walk fast, always have somewhere to go, we keep to our tight schedule.  But not my youngest.  He moves at his own speed.  He loves quietness, silent reflection, lazy days.  And, he drives us crazy.  No matter where we go, we’re always ten steps ahead of him, saying, “Come on J. Come on J.  Come on J”  Sometimes we call him “little legs”.  Sometimes we lose our patience.

But, J doesn’t care.  He just goes at his own speed.  Observes his surroundings.  Reserves his energy.  Sets his pace.

Last week we went to the zoo.  We go to the zoo often, sometimes just stopping to see the flamingos and then move on.  The kids have been going to the zoo since they were infants, and they know it like the back of their hand.  Know what they need to see.  Know the quickest way to get places.  We can do the whole zoo in less than an hour.  Time us!

But not this time.  We had nowhere else to go, no one else to see, no appointments, no schedule.  So, we made the promise to go at J’s speed.  First, we climbed the gorilla statue, then went to the playground, stopped at the bathroom, got an ice cream, climbed the tower, looked for the giraffes.  “Hey, J, are we ever going to see the animals today?”  Sure.  First the red panda, stopped to feed the ducks, saw the cows, noticed how ugly the camels are.  Practiced our jumping, sat in the old jeep, got some water.  “Hey, J, we ever going to see the lion, the tigers, the gorillas”  Sure.  But first, let walk this way.

By the time we got to the Tropical Forest, where the animals are active and funny and always moving, J needed to sit.  “But, J, the lemurs are right there, and the tamarins, and the gorillas, and the hippo is right around the corner”  No mom, let’s sit in the little theater with the fish tank.  Okay, let’s sit and look at the little fish tank.  Let’s sit and relax and rest for a while.  Sigh.

But, then, behind the glass of the fish tank (the fish tank we’ve run by a thousand times, the fish tank that’s lame, the fish tank that’s boring) we see something moving.  We look carefully, we hold our breathe, we get really quiet, and we see the most amazing thing.  The pygmy hippo.  Kicking his legs and swimming by.  Diving down.  Rolling on his back.  Putting on a show.  All this time, and we never knew that the hippos played in that water.  Unbelievable.  J looks at us and says, “Hmmm.  Guess that’s why it’s called Hippo Theater.”


Shaking It Up

IMG_1558I am a creature of habit.  I love my routine.  I check my e-mail at 6:40 every morning, have my first cup of coffee while the boys eat breakfast,  leave the house at 8:05 every day, and drive the same way to drop the boys off.  And, I blog every thursday.

How boring.  How rote.  How expected.  Oh, but it makes me so happy.  To have everything lined up in a row.  To have the lunches made up just the right way.  To have all the clothes folded proper.  According to me….

And, that’s the rub, right?  It’s about control.  It’s about doing things the right way.  It’s about being in charge.  And, you must admit, life does run smoother when there’s a plan, and when there’s rules to follow.

But, life shakes things up a bit.  Life throws you curveballs.  Sometimes big changes, sometimes small.  But the world wants chaos, no matter how we try to order it.  And the more we order it, the more nature fights back.  The traffic jams, and the unexpected meetings, and the little illnesses that throw you on your ass.

What if you lean into the curve.  Embrace the chaos.  Let go of the reins for a while and enjoy the ride.  Just a bit.  You might get lost cleaning your yard for three hours on a saturday afternoon, and might just throw on some clothes and go out to drinks with some great friends, and hit balls on the baseball diamond with your favorite guys.

What’s the worse that could happen?  You might have a relaxing weekend, one without e-mails and messages.  You might get some unexpected things done, things that you’ve been dying to do for months.  Your children might learn that there’s no “right” way to do get stuff done, and no “right” time do the things you love.

And, amazingly, all the things that are waiting to get done will still get done.  And all the important things on your “to do” list will still be there when you get to them.  And all the people who “need” you will still be waiting on monday.

And, maybe, you might just learn something new.  The world doesn’t stop spinning just because your calendar gets put aside.  Spontaneity, is a learned behavior, and your children are watching.  Responsibilities that weigh you down are often not quite as heavy as they might seem.  A little bit of shaking it up is good for your soul.  And, it might give you the much needed restart you didn’t know you needed.


Last Night I Dreamt of Michigan

DSC_0219Last night I dreamt of Michigan.  I dreamt of clear water and blue skies.  Of bare skin and pink noses.  Of bonfires and circles of beach chairs on the dock.

Last night I dreamt of Michigan.  I dreamt of children laughing in the field and wet dogs shaking dry.  Of walks through the woods and “kid only” zones.  Of bourbon and beer and dinner at the picnic table.

Last night I dreamt of Michigan.  I dreamt of turtle doves and barn owls and turkeys in the front yard.  Of movies in the tent and sunsets off the bluff.  Of coffee on the dew covered porch and games in front of the fire.

DSC_0311Last night I dreamt of Michigan.  I dreamt of the smells, and the sig
hts, and the sounds of the lake and the barn and field.  Of trips down the river and rides to Dairy Queen.  Of blueberry picking and bike rides.

Last night of dreamt of family and friends and love.  Of peace and tranquility and laughter. Of hours and hours for play and games.  Of time to catch up and forget that it’s been a whole year.  Of sharing a connection that only we have, a language that is only for us, that no one else can understand.

DSC_0096Four months away.  I’m counting the days.

Making Lemonade

DSC_0129When something nasty happens to you, something inexplicable and horrible, people don’t quite know what to say. If only they just said that. Instead, in an effort to try to say the right thing, they bring out every self-help cliche that comes to mind. I can’t blame them, I’ve certainly pulled out little philosophical jewels from time to time. Some have been helpful, some… not so much. In the last two months, I’ve heard them all. What’s most frustrating to me, is how these cliches so often suggest inertia, karma, the need to throw your hands up into the air and see what happens. I’ve been working way too hard to let that slide. Here’s a few of my favorites.

When God Closes a Door He Opens a Window::” Ummmmm, not so much. Sometimes that window isn’t budging, it’s stuck tight from years and years of inattention. Sometimes, you need, to pull and push and get your toolbox to get that window open. It certainly doesn’t open itself, and no one’s going to open that window for you. You got to put some sweat into it, you got to force that window open.

You’ll Have Time to Work on Yourself Now: If that’s true, what have I been doing all this time? You never stop working on yourself, never stop growing. Whether you’re pursuing a career, or working on your yoga poses, you’re always working on yourself. True, I’ve learned a lot about myself in the last few months. I’ve learned that I’m as pragmatic as I thought I was, tougher than I knew, and braver than I imagined. I’ve been forced to confront the things that make me strong and those that make me vulnerable. But, I’m not really sure that there’s a specific recipe for working on yourself. You wake up in the morning, and figure out how to fill up your day. Sometimes you figure things out along the way, sometimes you don’t. But that’s every day, whether things are going your way or not. I’d hate to think that only people with infinite time are fully realized humans. Don’t use busy-ness as an excuse to not be your best you.

Think of All the Things You Can Do: It’s true. I’ve taught myself how to knit socks, I’ve painted a table, I’ve gardened, I’ve lifted weights, I’ve run a lot. I’ve gone to PTO meetings, and have had lunch with friends, and have drank lots and lots of coffee. But, let me tell you, that does not come easy. It takes a tremendous amount of effort to keep yourself busy. Inertia sets in easily. It would be simple to settle into a “three hours of Today Show habit,” And, if that happened, I’d be in pretty tough shape. I know myself, and I know that I’d be in trouble if I sat still. So, I move, and I make appointments, and I start projects, and I fill up my days, and I keep on reminding myself that I have an unique opportunity and I shouldn’t waste it. And, I just keep on moving forward.

Get Some Fresh Air: This is actually some great advice. Truly nothing makes you feel better than getting outside. Walking Xavier to school or running on the beach or writing a report on the patio was something I never had time for before and I’m cherishing the fresh air.

Early this spring, the boys and I drove by the Arboreteum as the trees were starting to bloom. We stopped and got out of the car, and explored. At the end of our adventure, as we were getting back in the car, Xav said to me, “Mom, we’ve driven by this place every day for the past three years. Why have we never stopped here?” Why indeed. We’ve returned many times this spring, and we always find something new, and we always leave with smiles on our faces.

Things Happen for a Reason: Fine. I’ll take that, but I give you, “Maybe that reason is because there are evil, horrible, selfish people in this world who would like to do bad by people.” I bristle at the thought that some larger power is working towards a final goal that only I’ll realize when the grand plan all comes to fruition. That there’s no fault or responsibility to be ascribed to people. That its just the workings of the world. That all the horrible things that have happened is just a small step in the grand scheme of things, which leads me to my final philosophical musing….

When the World Gives You Lemons, You Make Lemonade: Damn straight. My arm’s sore from all the lemons I’ve been squeezing. But you know what? I’m making the best of it. I’m turning that frown upside down, I’m walking on the sunny side of the street.

And, I’ll tell you what… It’s kinda’ working. I’m happy. I’m relaxed. I’m spending time with the people that are important to me. I’m doing the things I want to do. And, it’s fun. I’m going to the zoo tomorrow with my son’s kindergarten class. I’m making granola bars from scratch. I’m writing… for fun! Who gets to do that?!?!

But, let’s be clear, I’m working really hard to stay positive. I sometimes have a hard time getting to bed, sometimes I still want to cry, and I still miss my community every single day. But, I’m pushing hard to put all that in the past and move forward.

I’m happy and relaxed and fulfilled and at peace because I’m willing myself to be positive. Some days it’s all smoke and mirrors, but I’m faking it ’til I make it. And each day feels better, and things are coming my way, those windows are opening and I’m making lots and lots of lemonade. Come on over, sit on my patio, and I’ll share some with you.