Life as Teacher

I am writing this at 35,000 feet. It’s dark out the window portal, not that I could tell where I am anyway. One farm blends into another. I imagine I am somewhere between Indiana and Iowa, as I cross the country to visit my son in boarding school. Two days of travel for 36 hours of much needed face time. Being a mom and being crazy are often synonymous.

Of course, I had no way of predicting that Montana and I would grow so friendly sixteen years ago, when I chose to adopt my son. For all I knew, Montana was a super-sized state “out there” with spectacular evergreens, real winters and big game. And my new three-week-old baby son was “perfect.” His skin pink. His eyes alert. His Apgar high. His spirit alive.

Why would Montana and my beautiful baby boy ever meet?

But they sure did.

I thought I did the best I could. I loved him. Rocked him. Sang to him. Hugged him. Sent him to school. And to grandma’s. And to therapy. We read. Traveled. Played and danced. And we laughed. God, we laughed.

And it wasn’t enough. I wasn’t enough. I could not love the pain out of him. The pain that he was using to sabotage his fabulous self toward his soon-to-be ineffective and possibly ruined adult life.

I tried to be deaf and dumb to his very loud behavior. “Maybe, I can try this. Or this.” Or, “it’s not that bad, right?” Be he clearly was telling me that he needed more than I could give him. I needed to listen to his actions but I refused. Hope fooled me as I manufactured unreality in my head.

And then, on a fateful day in early October, the final ante was upped. The bottom dropped. Surrender, my surrender, was no longer an option. This abrupt turn of events was the beginning of our relationship – Montana and me. We are fast becoming unforeseen BFFs.

Sometimes, I forget that life is all the teacher we need. She has a way of getting our attention if we are wise enough to heed her loving and well-intended punches.

On this go around, life reminded me of my limitations – once again. That my abilities as a human being are capped and grandiosity looks terrible on me. That I am much better off working within my means, asking for help when I need it and letting go of all the rest.

I am grateful for her persistent teaching.

I just hope I remembered to pack my snow boots.

New You, Becoming a Better You

New Year, New You.

I hate that phrase. Because I hate that idea. Makes it sound like something is wrong with me. Like I need some kind of “new me.”

Screw that. I want to have – and appreciate – the old me. The one that climbed out of a difficult childhood and a more difficult marriage. The one that is raising two kids – one with special needs – solo. The one that bushwhacked a successful adult path unique to every female before me in my familial line.

I want to keep her around. She is going nowhere. And I hope that such is true for you too. For, I know that my story is commonplace. We all have struggled – even you.

Thus, as far as I’m concerned, no more “new me” for either of us. We’re going to keep the old one, thank you. In fact, as a new year dawns, I want you to stop and look around at the mighty view. You have climbed so far already and yet, often, can’t acknowledge the distance gained because you could only focus on the step right in front of you.

Camp out here for awhile so that you can relish in your strength. For you have mustered the hard work and perseverance necessary to get this far. You deserve a tall, golden trophy to go with your breathtaking view.

And yes, after stopping to congratulate awesome you, pack up your campsite and start that climb again. Not toward some “new you” but toward an even better you. For the journey is not over yet. There are more peaks to obtain, higher ground to seek, in becoming the best you possible.

But lest you forget, that best you will include all that has come before you. For, we don’t, can’t, ever erase. We can only keep transforming.

Yeah, let’s do that for 2017 … New Year, Becoming A Better You. I’m in for that.

Go For It

A common dynamic I often experience in working with patients is the resistance to emotionally outgrow one’s parents. A patient often feels guilt and shame in reaching new psychological heights and thus, abandoning his or her parents by leaving them behind in their own self-inflicted emotional limitations.

Sad, really. That unspoken loyalty to remain at the same place emotionally to one’s parents somehow equates to connection. That the only tie that binds is staying identical to one’s emotional gene pool. 

In my world, emotional evolution through the generations is a sign of health. It means that someone in the family line mustered the courage to do it differently and do it better. Bravo for them.

Furthermore, as a parent, it is our job to raise kids who outgrow us. Anything less is not only a missed opportunity but a parental failure.

Fly, fly away, my children. Leave me in your dust. Feel free to smoke me. Then, we both have done our jobs.

If It’s Not One Thing, It’s Another

“If it’s not one thing, it’s another.”

Sounds so cynical. But it’s true. Life is not meant to be problem-free. Somehow, we indoctrinated this idea that by solving all our problems, or even solving the one problem that we are focused on in this moment, then we will be happy. That is, until we focus on the many other problems we have. Or a new problem arises after solving the immediate problem, trading one problem for another.

Face it, life is a series of problems. There’s no way around it. Happiness is a feeling, not a state to be achieved once our problems are resolved. 

So, what are we to do about this endless carousel of problems, going ‘round and ‘round to a mind-numbing tune?

1. Change our expectation from surprise (Why me? Why again?) to acceptance. A problem-free life does not exist. If we can acknowledge this truth, then we have one less problem.

2. Choose your problems. Yes, there are some problems that are better to have than others. Some problems are temporary necessities toward a greater good (raising a child) while others are self-created stupidities (credit card debt).

3. Enjoy the ride. The juice of life does not await once our problems are solved – for we’ve already figured out that such is not gonna happen. But life’s satisfaction exists despite a back-drop of problems. In the cracks and crannies, in the moment to moment, problems can be the background while delight our stolen highlight.

Go back to our carousel. We’re spinning around, problems aren’t stopping. But despite their perpetuity, our horse goes up and down, providing amusement with an unexpected smile.

Joy is possible.

Besides, the colorful carousel is the only ride available. It’s what we do while solving problems that makes our life sweet.