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What is Being Grown Up?

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What exactly does it mean to be grown up?  How do we know when we are? Is it based on age or achieved by merely reaching physical maturity?  There are legal definitions for being an adult, but is that the same as being a grown up? Do others endow us with the status of grown up or do we make that determination for ourselves? Is growing old the same as growing up?  Does being grown up mean having all the answers or always knowing what to do? Does asking these questions mean I’m not grown up, because I’m finding that the older I get the more questions I have, and the fewer answers. 

When I was a child, a grown up was anyone over five feet tall.  Or anyone who told me what to do, except for my older sister, of course.  Grown ups were people who knew everything, were always right, and always did the right thing.  During childhood, being a grown up was something that was used either to entice, “Just be patient. You’ll get to do that when you grow up,” or deter behavior, “Don’t be so anxious to grow up.  You’ll have to do that soon enough.” Being grown up was a position to be desired or dreaded depending on the circumstances.  

Lately, the prospect of ever being all grown up seems suspect.  I’ve begun to entertain the possibility that there is no such thing as grown up.  At least, not in the way I was groomed to think about grown ups. Maybe it’s an unattainable state.  Or if attainable, not sustainable. Perhaps it’s not a constant state of being at all, but a continuous process of becoming.  Contemplating this matter prompted the memory of an incident that occurred years ago, in what now seems like another lifetime. 

In those days, I was actively involved in the practice of marriage and family therapy.  While serving on the board of the state association, I organized and launched a statewide program offering free marriage check ups annually for several years on Valentine’s Day.  In addition to seeing clients privately, I conducted parent education classes at a nonprofit agency. A local parenting magazine asked me to write a monthly column and the bookstore invited me to host a monthly book club for reviewing and discussing newly published parenting books.  The newspaper often called for quotes regarding the impact of current events on families. I was regularly a guest on local radio and television programs offering advice on how to manage the challenges parents and families were facing. Sharing my expertise and passion for supporting and strengthening family relationships was exciting and rewarding.   

One day, out of the blue, I received a phone call inviting me to appear on a syndicated talk show on one of the national television networks.  They wanted me to meet with a troubled family, basically conducting a therapy session, in front of a live studio audience. In addition to arranging for my travel and paying all my expenses, they would reimburse me for my time.  Upon recovering from the initial shock and regaining the use of my voice and legs, I asked if I could have some time to consider the offer. They obliged, requesting a decision within 24 hours. 

Needless to say, I was both flabbergasted and flattered.  The chance to add my voice to the national conversation about families was incredibly tempting.  Imagine what this kind of exposure could do for my career, not to mention the extra money. And who in their right mind wouldn’t jump at the chance to be on a well-known, popular TV show?

Before making a decision, I figured it might be a good idea to actually watch the show.  While I was familiar with it, I was not a regular viewer. With a young child at home, I was not a regular viewer of anything that wasn’t on public television or aired before nine o’clock at night.  

Anxiously, I waited for the next episode.  Full of optimistic anticipation, my husband and I tuned in to watch.  Slowly our enthusiasm waned, dissolving into dismay. The host appeared more determined to create hype than provide help.  What I observed flew in the face of everything I believed about treating families with respect in the privacy of a therapeutic relationship.  (This was during the early years of what has become known as tabloid television.) Nevertheless, in an effort to avoid making a rash decision, I decided to consult friends and colleagues.  

“Wow, that’s so exciting,” and “Congratulations!  That’s so cool!” were common reactions. Others said, “What a fantastic opportunity. You’d be crazy to pass this up,” and “If you don’t do it, somebody else will,” none of which made deciding any easier.  

Late into the night, my husband and I debated the pros and cons of doing the show.  What would I be missing out on if I didn’t do it? What would I be giving up if I did?  Would I be endorsing the use of people’s personal problems for entertainment? Would that be compromising my integrity?  Could I reconcile participating in this type of television with my personal and professional beliefs regarding the practice of family therapy?  

Exhausted, but still grappling with the dilemma, my husband finally said, “Look.  Ultimately it’s your decision. You know I’ll support you no matter what you do. I may not agree, but I’ll support you.  But consider this. I know our son is too young to watch this show now. But if he were old enough, is it a show you would allow him to watch?  And if you were on it, is it something you would want him to see? Would you be proud for him to see you doing this?”  

Early the next morning, after a sleepless night, one of my dearest friends returned my call.  I told her about the show and our discussion the night before. In her calm, non-anxious manner she said, “Your son is gonna love you no matter what you do.”

“Yes, but what’s he going to think of me?” I asked.

“And what are you going to think of yourself?” she added.  “When you can answer those two questions, you’ll know what to do.”

So, in case you haven’t guessed, I’ve never been on network television.  Have I ever wondered what it might have been like if I had? Sure. Have I ever regretted the decision not to?  No. What I might have gained could never compare with what I might have lost.  

Every day is filled with decisions.  For each decision there are at least two options, to do it or not to do it.  But most decisions present a whole range of choices, making them far more complicated since each choice carries with it consequences.  Accepting responsibility, being accountable for the consequences, whatever they may be…intended or not…desirable or not…is the challenge.  The freedom to choose, but not freedom from the consequences of those choices. That may very well be the privilege and the price of growing up.

Recollecting this experience reminded me that however good or noble the intentions, my choices can have undesirable consequences.  Although this situation was satisfyingly resolved, that is not invariably the case. I have certainly made choices, said and done things I regret.  Viewing those instances critically, honestly, however painful, can turn poor choices into teachable moments…mistakes into invaluable life lessons.  Fortunately, there is never a wrong time to do the right thing.       

While operating under the assumption that no one decision…no single act defines me, I also know that everything I do is a reflection of me.  It is by my choices that I reveal who I truly am. And I am happiest…most content with myself, when what I do aligns with what I profess to believe.  

On the occasion when that alignment occurs, there is a serenity…a sense of assurance that emanates from my very core and spreads throughout my entire being.  I catch a glimpse of the best version of myself. And it’s when I see it, when I find myself in the midst of it, that I know it’s possible. Knowing it’s possible to attain inspires me to continue seeking to dwell there…in the best version of myself.  The existence of that realm gives me hope, even though permanent residence has, so far, eluded me.  

Maybe that’s what it means to be grown up…possessing the awareness that each day offers the prospect of deciding whether or not to embrace and inhabit the best version of myself.  In that case, my inclination, that grown up may not be a static condition reached by following a linear progression, is reasonable. Rather, it may be a dynamic, ongoing process, more spiral in nature, characterized by both new and recurring situations that require making decisions.  At any point in time, I may be closer to or further away from my best self, depending on the choices I make.    

Accepting sole responsibility for the extent to which I succeed in this quest is the very definition of awesome…both fantastic and frightening.  Whether absolute success is achievable remains to be seen. Aiming for continuous improvement seems more realistic. And so, kindled with the desire to know, to grow, to seek wisdom through experience, I keep moving forward.  When faced with challenging decisions, these questions serve as guides, “Is this choice grown up worthy? Does it reflect the best version of myself? If this were the last thing I ever did…if these were the last words I ever said…is this how I would want to be remembered?”         

 

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Be the Change

Back in February, I shared a post describing how upsetting it was to see so much trash along the road.  Thought I’d update you on what’s transpired since. After a few days of fussing, fuming, and ain’t it awfulling, Jerry and I started carrying a bag in which to collect the trash.  The pictures above are from the first week of our efforts to clean up along the five-mile loop we walk. Since we started performing this task, we have received some interesting reactions.  One morning, you high-school aged young man came up behind us on a skateboard. As he turned down a side street he called out, “Thank you for picking up trash,” as he held up his own bag. Several people have stopped to thank us for being good citizens.  A woman told us we were creating good karma. Another woman complained that it just made her sick to see all the trash. We replied that was why we brought along a bag. A few days later when we passed she called, “Now you’ve got me doing it.” “Good for you,” we replied.  The other morning we saw a couple of kids waiting for the bus. We stopped and picked up some discarded food containers in the street in front of their house. As we passed, we heard the little boy telling his sister, “Those people are picking up the stuff you dropped yesterday.  That’s not their job. You were supposed to throw that away. They don’t have to do that you know. You should have done it.” Gandhi told us, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” He didn’t say, only change what is your job to change. We’ve decided that if it needs to be done and we can do it, it’s our job.  The two of us can’t possibly clean up the world, but we can clean up the part we walk through every day. Imagine the possibilities if everyone who reads this post chooses to do the same. Grab a bag and join us!                   

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Bee Kind

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To say that things are dry here is an understatement. Last Friday, I noticed that the honey bees were flying around one of the hummingbird feeders. I had not seen them show any interest in them before. I realized they were not only flying around it, they were actually crawling up into the openings and drowning in the sugar water. Knowing that it is critical that we protect our bee population, I took action. I made some more nectar, poured it in a pie tin, and placed it alongside the hummingbird feeder. Within 15 minutes, the bees discovered this new source of moisture. That evening, when they had all returned to their hive, I took down the feeder. This was the view from my window yesterday morning. Needless to say, we could not even go out on the front porch. Soooo…I put another pie tin of ”nectar” out in the back yard on a stump to lure our pollinator friends further from the house. Today, they are enjoying the new location and I can, once again, safely do my front porch sittin’. This was a stark reminder that all living things need water. The bees use it to keep the honey at a constant temperature by taking it back to the hive, spraying it on the honeycomb and fanning it with their wings. Nature is amazing! So satisfying to help out!

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Not Just a Mom

IMG_0017Mother’s Day is a time-honored tradition with a long and varied history.  The observance of a special day recognizing mothers can be traced back to the ancient Greeks and Romans.  Surprisingly, the early proponents of an American Mother’s Day, in the mid-1800s, were not interested in being showered with gifts.  Mother’s Day was actually intended as a call to action for mothers to unite in promoting optimal child care and preventing the loss of sons and daughters to the carnage of war.  

The author of the proclamation, Julia Ward Howe, and her cohorts envisioned an international dedication to peace so that families, worldwide, could raise their children to their fullest in safety.  Their motivation was not to bring attention to themselves, but to assert the primacy of the parental responsibility for nurturing and rearing the next generation. The commercialization of the holiday by candy, card, and flower companies, anxious to capitalize on a popularized version of the original idea, arose in the early 1900s.

With Mother’s Day rapidly approaching, I hoped to say something profound to commemorate this occasion.  I have started and deleted this post so many times, I’ve nearly worn a hole in the screen. Conflicting feelings keep creeping in…feelings of frustration, discouragement, even disappointment.  The number of women I still hear respond to the question, “What do you do?” with, “Oh well, I don’t work. I’m just a mom,” is disheartening. Equally discouraging is the number of women employed outside the home who, when asked the same question, avoid mentioning that they are mothers…as if doing so is admitting a flaw or weakness in their character.

What has happened?  What have we done? We have diminished the value of responsibilities historically assigned to women, most notably, child rearing.  We’ve been so focused on achieving equality that ‘we’ve thrown the baby out with the bath water.’
Somewhere along the way we got equality confused with sameness.  We bought into the belief that the way to be equal, to be valued in our patriarchal society, is to start doing whatever it is that men happen to be doing.  We accepted the misguided notion that our worth is determined by whether or not we get a paycheck and how big it is.

In our struggle to liberate ourselves from the stifling assumption that anatomy is destiny, we have very nearly liberated ourselves from the most important job we will ever do as humans – rearing children, the next generation of human beings, the ones from whom we are borrowing this planet.  The ones who will one day be taking care of us.

The irony is that at the same time women are trying to dissociate themselves from the mommy label, men are discovering that their role as fathers offers the greatest potential for providing a sense of meaning and significance.  They are beginning to realize that the way to make a profound and definitive impact on the future is by the job they do as parents!

The uniquely complex, comprehensive, dynamic nature of the parent-child relationship is unparalleled.  It is the foundation for every other relationship a child establishes. Everything our children come to believe about themselves, about the world, about how to relate to others, originates in the parent-child relationship.      

Before proceeding, let me clarify my position. I am not suggesting that a woman has to have a child to be complete, fulfilled, or make a meaningful contribution to the future. In fact, never in history has it been more acceptable or more feasible to choose not to have children. Neither am I suggesting that rearing children is the only job women are capable of doing or should be allowed to do.  Nor am I proposing that the responsibility for rearing children should be limited to women.

I am asserting that the job of rearing children has been devalued, that we women have contributed to this predicament, and that it is high time we did something about it.  I am suggesting that those of us who have chosen to become mothers have an obligation to ourselves, our partners, and our children to make sure that the magnitude of the responsibility of parenting is not minimized.  Here’s what I intend to do.

Acknowledge every mother as a working woman.  Our foremothers made incredible sacrifices to insure that we would have the right to pursue our dreams, whatever those might be.  We are not doing anyone, especially our children, any favors by dividing ourselves into camps – the working versus the non-working.  I continue to hear that mothers, whether working at home or working outside the home, feel guilty for the choice they have made. I can’t help but suspect that all that guilt gets in the way of constructive parenting.  The more comfortable we feel with the choices we’ve made, the less threatened we feel by the choices of others. The greater confidence we possess, the more effectively we will carry out the responsibilities of our multiple roles.

Seek excellence, not perfection.  There is no such thing as perfect.  We all make mistakes. We say and do things we regret.  Obsessing over mistakes is rarely productive. We can acknowledge our mistakes, offer a sincere apology, state our intentions for correcting the situation, avoid repeating the mistake, identify and adopt more effective methods, and move on.  After all, isn’t that what we expect our children to do? The worst mistake is one from which nothing is learned. An encouraging voice is much more motivating than a critical one, including the one with which we speak to ourselves.

Relinquish reliance on a maternal instinct.  If there were a maternal instinct, I would not be writing this essay.  Just because we are females does not mean we automatically know everything there is to know about rearing children.  We are no less of a mother because we find ourselves in situations we don’t know how to handle. Parenting is learned.  We can only do what we know. The more we know, the more we can do. Thank goodness there are abundant resources from which to learn more about how to do it. Seeking advice, information, and recommendations to assist us with this awesome responsibility demonstrates wisdom, not weakness.

Never allow gender to be a limitation.  Just as gender should not limit the choices of our daughters, it should not limit the choices of our sons.  Our children will be more complete human beings if they are allowed to experience and learn to manage the full range of human emotions.  Our children will be more effective human beings if they have ample opportunities to learn and master a broad array of skills. We may not all need to know how to do calculus, but we do all need to know how to nurture and care for another human being, whether or not we are going to be parents.

Never allow gender to be an excuse.  The next time I hear, “Boys will be boys,” or “That’s just the way girls are,” I am going to scream!  Gender is not, has never been, and will never be an acceptable excuse for being irresponsible, disrespectful, lazy, cruel, violent, or any other undesirable behavior that has been attributed to it.  Unacceptable behavior has nothing to do with gender. It has everything to do with not having been taught how to behave appropriately.

Emphasize similarities rather than differences.  We’ve adopted the habit of separating ourselves into factions based on some singular characteristic – working mother, stay-at-home mother, inner-city mother, urban mother, rural mother, African-American mother, Hispanic mother, Christian mother, Muslim mother, Jewish mother, children-with-special-needs mother, conservative mother, liberal mother.  The list is endless, but the word they all have in common is mother. When we focus on the prefix rather than the suffix, the few differences blind us to the countless similarities. Consequently, we are doing ourselves and our children a tremendous disservice. That which we have in common should bind us together and unite us in our shared objective.  
We are all engaged in the monumental task of preparing the next generation of human beings.  In addition to assisting them in making the most of the best of themselves, it is imperative to remember that when we improve conditions for other children, we improve them for our own.  Someday your child may be my child’s teacher or student, plumber or electrician, emergency room doctor, co-worker, friend, or spouse and vice versa. Someday our children will be making decisions about our future, just as we are making decisions about theirs now.  Nothing we do guarantees that we will leave a mark on the future like the job we do as parents.

As we celebrate Mother’s Day, let’s reflect on what this role means to us, to our children, our family, the future. The next time someone asks, “What do you do?”, proudly proclaim, “I’m in futures. I’m a MOM!”

To learn more about the history of Mother’s Day visit: http://www.history.com/topics/holidays/mothers-day

To read the original Mother’s Day Proclamation (1870) written by Julia Ward Howe visit: https://www.facebook.com/notes/international-day-of-peace/original-mothers-day-proclamation-1870-stood-for-peace/395781423533

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First Change Me

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Whether it’s rearranging the furniture, turning a yogurt container into a plant pot, eating healthier, moving more, improving relationships, or protecting the environment, the first step is changing how I think about it. Before I can initiate change, I have to be willing to look at what I want changed differently. Before I can hope to change anything, I have to be willing to change myself. While I may be able to influence others, the only person I have the power to change is ME. Being conscious of the world around me, having confidence that I can make a difference, and summoning the courage to take action keep me growing.

 #ArtOfParenting#ArtOfGardening #AParentForLife #FamilyForever #FlowersForever#AlwaysGrowing
#GrowWithMe #ChangeForTheBetter #BeMindful #FirstChangeYourMind#ConsciousConfidentCourageous #MakeADifference#MakeTheMostOfTheBestOfYourself #ChangeMeFirst

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Bluebells of Happiness

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You’ve heard of the ‘Bluebird of Happiness,’ well these are my Bluebells of Happiness. They are Virginia Bluebells, Mertensia virginica. This patch came from my Mother’s garden. She got them from her mother’s garden in Clay County, Teges, Kentucky. They were originally planted there by Mom’s great-grandparents who migrated from Virginia. They are some of the first perennials to emerge and bloom in spring. When I see them, I smile at the reminder of generations of gardeners behind me and the promise of warmer weather ahead. 😊

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Contemplating Faith

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Faith is a fascinating phenomenon.  It’s not really a thought, but it’s not a feeling either. Yet faith encompasses both our thoughts and feelings, affecting them as well as our behavior, endowing it with a transcendent quality.  As such, faith serves as a filter through which everything we experience passes and subsequently influences how we respond.

Whether it is faith in ourselves, faith in others, faith in nature, or spiritual faith, our ability to generate faith is determined by a multitude of factors.  The nature of the earliest relationships forged with us during childhood is paramount. Relationships characterized by sincerity, unselfishness, devotion, safety, optimism, trust, and love provide the conditions in which faith flourishes.  Faithfulness begets faith.

Fitness of faith, its suitability for serving its purpose in our lives, covers a broad range. Faith may be so insubstantial as to provide little or no protection from our own whims or those of others leaving us vulnerable, especially in times of uncertainty.  Faith is easy to claim when things are going well, but “a faith of convenience is a hollow faith.”  On the other hand, faith may become so unyielding that it causes us to lose sight of everything and everyone else, blinding us to the needs of others.  Faith gives us courage to question our beliefs; to evaluate whether or not they are consistent with our humanity. Typical of extremes, neither empty nor rigid faith yield desirable consequences.  

There are those who relegate faith to the realm of the innocent, naive, ignorant, and unsophisticated.  But faith doesn’t expect everything to always turn out the way we want. It provides the strength to keep going no matter how things turn out.  Faith moves us forward even when we can’t see exactly where we’re going. It makes things possible, not easy. Faith doesn’t deny, ignore, or resign to what is unpleasant, harmful, or corrupt.  It rejects the temptation to be satisfied with being less than we are capable of being. Faith doesn’t sit around waiting for things to get better. It inspires us to get up and make things better for ourselves and others.          

Faith doesn’t blind us to reality.  It opens our eyes to possibilities! Be of good faith!