Friday, December 30, 2011

Let them teach you

My journey has been long and is far from over. I had no clue what I was getting into the day I was born. I am thankful that out of all the families, I landed in mine. They have shaped and molded me into the dysfunctional adult I am. How boring my adventure would have been without them. Each family member has contributed to my life in some valuable way.

Family can enlighten you, guide you and ground you. They will instruct you, nurture you and improve you. Let them! Each generation is connected to the previous one. Every decision you make today can leave a lasting impact on those you may never know. Your family is the key that unlocks the past and opens the gate to the future.

If you are fortunate enough to have a family, even a dysfunctional one, cherish it! It will be the most valuable gift you can give yourself. Each member will teach you something unique. They may bring out your good qualities, they may enhance your bad, but you will learn from them. Our families have an uncanny ability to expose our weaknesses. This forces us out of denial and towards change. A few influential family members can teach you in a short period of time what some search for their whole lives. Savor the education!

There have been many times when I was not willing to learn, but life is persistent and will continue to teach even the thick-skulled. My family is responsible for teaching me the lessons, and now it’s my turn to try and master them. I have a long road ahead of me, but I’m in the best of company.

Thank-You for following me this last year. I have plenty more to write about but for now I am taking off the "blogging" hat. I appreciate all the support, especially from my family who so graciously allowed me to write about them.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

It will be okay

“Okay,” according to some etymologists, was an acronym for “oll korrect” (which is slang for “all correct”). Coming from a dysfunctional family has taught me many valuable lessons. But this lesson was one of my dad’s last parting gifts. He would always comfort me with the words, “It’s going to be okay.” I believed he had some ability to know that his statement would come true, but now that he’s gone, I realize exactly what he was trying to teach me.

My dad never pampered or coddled us. He never taught us to believe in fairy tales or miracles. Some people may view this as a disservice. I view it as a gift. My father had his shares of loss, pain and heartache. His experiences in life would never allow him to promise his children bliss. He never said, “It’s going to turn out perfect,” or “magnificent” or “brilliant.” Just “okay.”

So what does “okay” mean to me? “Okay” in no way involves perfection. My life has never been perfect and never will be. If you are alive, you’re guaranteed a few things: you will experience loss, feel grief, have regrets and suffer heartbreak. But you can also look forward to moments of happiness, joy, gratitude and contentment. In life, there are no revisions. If you are fortunate, the amazing moments will outweigh the mistakes, errors and blunders.

Coming from a mild climate in California has always allowed me to be a weather wimp. I dread one season in North Carolina: I hate the stiff Arctic breeze that starts in December and subsides in March. Every fall, I know what’s around the corner: the cold, the darkness, the slumber of winter. But somehow, when we survive this frigid and harsh season, spring is always that much more enjoyable. The sun warms your bones, life is revived, all is correct.

My dad seemed to understand that life can be cold and harsh, the wind unrelenting. He also seemed to know that if you could survive the frigid dark days, then the bright and sunny were sure to follow. So when I am at my lowest, I hear the words my dad uttered so many times: “It’s going to be okay.” These five words give me strength. They give me the courage to proceed, without high expectations but with a realistic view of the future. Life is far from flawless, but no matter what comes my way: It will be okay!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Feelings are real

It didn’t take me many episodes of Wonder Woman to believe in super-hero’s. My favorite part of the show was when Dr. Don’t Feel That Way would use his emotions-be-gone gun to numb some distraught, sad, angry, villain or victim. With the pull of the trigger all the negative feelings were vaporized. - Okay so Dr. Don’t Feel That Way never existed, but some days I wish he did.

Life would be much simpler if I could compartmentalize my feelings. I would have the -un- category: unworthy, unloved, unattractive, unforgiving, unsuccessful and unthankful. In close second would be the -dis- category: disappointed, disapproving, discontent, disheartened, and distressed. Each day I could stuff them away and around tax time I could give myself an emotional audit to see how good or bad my year was.

Instead my feelings create a life of their own. The easiest choice is to ignore them. If you see them on the street, don’t even glance their direction. If you pretend you never saw them, eventually they’ll disappear, right? Wrong! You may not see them anymore, but everyone else will. They’ll notice the constant irritation, the melancholy spirit, the negative attitude. The other option is to greet them and have a long needed conversation. This may turn into a confrontation: the logical brain and the irrational heart in a heated dispute. Eventually though, they may begin to understand each other.

Feelings are not easy to change, some might say impossible but I have hope that the more I face my negative emotions, the more I understand what they are trying to tell me, the sooner they’ll vaporize. Feelings are the least logical thing on the planet. They don’t involve your brain, they involve your heart. Most of my feelings are not based on reasoning, they’re not always accurate, they may even be delusional, but without a doubt, they are real.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Don’t drive under the influence of emotion

When you drive under the influence, your vision is blurred, your judgment is impaired, your reflexes are slowed. You may think your brain is in control, but it’s being swayed by the effects of alcohol. The same thing happens when we overreact. In my family tree, there are many branches of over-reactors. And I am no exception.

My overweening reactions waste valuable energy, cost me many tears and cause unneeded heartache.Overreacting is like tossing your brain out the sunroof and letting your heart take the wheel. The heart is a horrible driver. It blurs our vision, slows our reflexes, impairs our nervous system and hinders our judgment.

My sister, who is a nurse, usually has nerves of titanium. But when her heart is involved, all sound logic is tossed out the sunroof. When I was pregnant with my third child, she offered to give me a break by babysitting my two older children. They were at her house enjoying themselves, when my sister frantically called me. My oldest daughter had been hurt. I heard the words: “Ansleigh has been cut and I need your help!” So I grabbed the first aid kit, waddled to our minivan and sped across town. I found my sister and daughter in the bathroom, sobbing. A Band-Aid seemed to calm the situation, and we all laughed about it later. My sister’s love for her niece overpowered her logical nurse’s brain.

When someone we love is injured, treated poorly or facing adversity, our heart will take over and start driving. We can become intoxicated by sentiment. Overreacting will always complicate the situation, impairing our normally sound judgment. So the next time your heart starts reaching for the wheel, tell it: “Absolutely not!” Because no one should drive under the influence of emotion.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Cousins comfort

As a little girl, I had one elaborate nightly ritual. I would pile dozens of stuffed animals in bed with me. Each evening, my mom would come in to kiss me goodnight, and she’d say, “Aubrey, choose one and put the rest back.” I obeyed, at least while she was in the room. Soon after she left, I would grab my animals one by one and put them back in bed with me. I was sure any left behind would be cold and lonely. This simple routine brought me much comfort. In a world of unknowns, this somehow quieted my fears, allowing me to sleep easier.

As an adult, I have realized there are still people in my life who bring me the same peace of mind. These people share my DNA, they share my family, they have shared my life. They are my cousins. There is no explaining to do when Uncle Joe is ranting and raving in a drunk stupor or when Aunt Betty starts talking crazy from her meds. They have seen your best and they have been there through your worst. I am infinitely grateful for my cousins.

One in particular has lightened my burdens. She sat next to me at my dad’s funeral, she made me laugh, she let me cry. She is bright, kind and quirky. She’s a living reminder of my dad and the innocence of childhood. When I am with her it takes me back to simpler days. The familiar days of being safe and warm at my great-grandmother’s house. Laughing, playing, being the children we were meant to be.

When I have no idea what the future holds, when my life is full of chaos, I crave the familiar. I desire normalcy and I need comfort. My cousins give me all these things. Being with them gives me the same feeling I had when I snuggled in my bed surrounded by dozens of stuffed animals. They are familiar, safe and secure. They quiet my fears and take me back to childhood. I can rest easier knowing I have the comfort of my cousins.

Start a new chapter

My great-grandmother loved to read. Her house was full of books. Much like her I am an avid reader. As a little girl, I would disappear into a good mystery: the excitement that built as I turned each page. I would usually tell myself, “Just one more chapter.” This would be repeated dozens of times, until my eyes protested and let me know it was time to quit for the day.

Life is not as simple as reading a book, however. Change is good when it’s happening on a piece of paper, but it’s not so easy to accept in real life. Unfortunately, you can’t stay in your favorite chapter and keep reading it indefinitely.

A year and two months after my dad died, my family had to start a new chapter. My dad’s wife and son, as well as my aunt and long-lost cousin, all came to North Carolina for a visit, without my dad. As we picked them up from the airport, it felt like a layer of fog was hanging over us: heavy fog that wouldn’t let the rays of sun shine through. My mind kept telling me, “Dad should be here.” But he wasn’t.

This turning point was hard, but it was what I needed and the story did start to improve. We had a spectacular week together. We reminisced and we cried, but more than anything we laughed. I got to know my aunt, my dad’s wife and my favorite cousin better. My dad, who normally was the connector in our family wasn’t there to connect us, so we had to do it on our own.

While my aunt was with us, she said that the day my great-grandfather died they all worried about my great-grandmother surviving without him. They went into her room to check on her that night and found her snuggled in bed, reading a book. That was the last thing they expected a grief-stricken widow to be doing, but maybe she knew what I am just now understanding: sometimes you just have to turn the page and start a new chapter.

Friday, November 11, 2011

My parents have been abducted

Sometimes I wonder if my real parents have been abducted by aliens. The parents I grew up with could not possibly be the same people who are now my children’s grandparents. Some people reason that with time comes wisdom. Absolutely not true! I think my parents were wiser when I was a child. Now they think feeding children unlimited amounts of sugar, buying them anything they want, never telling them “no” and not offering an ounce of discipline is the best way to raise a child. Who are these people? The worst part is the denial! They will lead my children to believe that they were far and away the best parents in the world, which is why they are such awesome grandparents.

I saw my dad less than a handful of times during my first pregnancy. Most of my family was at the hospital the night my daughter was born. As expected so was my dad. What I never saw coming was his reaction to his first grand baby. He glowed. He beamed. He kept hugging my husband and telling him what an amazing job he had done. The next morning before breakfast was served, my dad was the first to arrive. He was mush! My daughter had abducted his heart, his soul and his reasoning ability.

So what is the best way to deal with grandparents that drive you crazy? Look on the bright side: First, a bad (which is really a good) grandparent is better than no grandparent. Second, there is a small chance they are paying you back for all the things you did to them as a child. And lastly, if you are fortunate, someday you will become a grandparent and before you know it, that new little baby will abduct your heart, your soul and your reasoning ability.