On the occasion of a big change.

Some friendships are planted so deep in your heart that they actually sprout up and provide a canopy of protection from the harsh elements of the world around you. The kind that have downreaching roots that spread wide until they become a part of your foundation, holding you firmly to the earth while burgeoning sturdy branches lift you high to be warmed in the sunlight and refreshed in the breeze. I’ve been blessed to know that kind of friendship for 15 years. Enough time that the roots are mature, the branches tall and secure and the flowers are fragrant and plentiful.

The memories ignite whenever I get a whiff of jasmine and vanilla or fresh baking bread, those Tuesday mornings as a new mom at my friend’s house under the guise of a play date for the kids, sharing coffee and stories and hopes and laughs were truly,  albeit cliche, some of the best times in my life.  Those times were among the best because the gifts she offered me were more than home baked treats and spa-worthy hand soap, but rather she fed me encouragement that kept me going through the hard weeks and sent me home with the lingering scent of hospitality on my hands that made me feel valued and loved.

Soon the volume of kids doubled and the play dates got more practical with “field trips” to the grocery store and exercising the kids at the park. We shared stories from our weeks and celebrated the milestones of our kids. We talked freely about our work, parenting, politics, religion, food, and even God with no pretense or restriction. Time with my friend was comfortable and inspiring. Though younger, she’s always been years beyond me in wisdom and faith. Her authentic and unassuming gift of opening her home and heart makes it easy to admire her seeming aptitude for absolutely everything required for “doing life” well and not get caught up in envy.  I realized early on that with the small exception of my superior taste in entertainment and vacation destinations 😉, there was not a place I could offer her more than she offered me. It was, and remains, a privilege to just spend time with her and soak up some of the extra  inspiration she exudes.

The memories are many and my sentimentality runs high.  I could expound on each passing year, each season bringing subtle change, unique beauty and like a well planted tree, new growth. I could write a thousand words about how much my entire family loves hers entirely.  I could fill a book with chapters about our kids’ antics together.  I could muster up a hundred amusing antecdotes that we shared as couples that involve everything from ghost writing to Christopher Walken and if I had all of the corks from the wines we’ve shared over the years I could build a stylish tiny house! It’s been good.

My friend is moving away and I’m selfishly sad. Yet, I know she’s leaving me better than she found me. I knew this day would come but chose not to dwell on it because it felt a little like the death of something. It felt as if the beautiful tree I’d come to rest under throughout a season of my life was being uprooted and all I’d be left with was a hole that would always remain a badly patched dip in the yard, constantly reminding me of something beautiful gone. But I know that’s not true. I know that the tree will continue to flourish and that the roots are deep and the branches strong enough to sustain our friendship across distance and time.

The season of change is here and I celebrate this new chapter in my friend’s life. We were blessed to have shared some wonderful moments and the tears that well up when I think on those sweet days gone by and imagine what this new season on the horizon will look like are not from sadness, but rather pure joy that runs out of my eyes because I am so full with thankfulness for having experienced that kind of deeply rooted love in a friendship.

 

Comfort Food

There is a reason they call it “comfort food”. There is nostalgia and sentiment behind the catch phrase and although I have my thoughts of satiating my sad and lonely times in a bowl of ice cream or a crock of bubbly mac and cheese with a crusty top, or maybe a fresh bowl of guacamole with salty warm chips, tonight I had the privilege of experiencing the expression in its perfect form.

I’ve been really tired lately – tired, down, overwhelmed, under motivated and just generally blah, add to that the onset of a miserable sore throat and earache and those little symptoms send me jumping from coping to defeated, wallowing in my self-pity. Everyone has been there so I know there is nothing special about my experience aside from the fact that it is mine and in this moment it feels awful. Even though I can reason through the fact that this too shall pass; my heart just doesn’t buy into the logic talk right now. My instincts tell me to retreat and lick my wounds for a while and I think my immune system has been beating me up a bit in an effort to get me to step back too.

When my friend showed up at my door with a box perfectly laden with hot chili, corn bread  some soothing ginger tea and the most beautifully colored hydrangeas, I could physically feel my defeated heart swell. That sweet, undeserved, practical gesture of feeding my family when I had nothing in me to pour out coupled with the care and kindness that went into the preparation humbled and lifted me simultaneously.

After the boys and I prayed, gave thanks for our friend and our lovely meal, we ate in relative silence (given my throat was on fire and the boys were ravenous). It seemed as if each bite was not only delicious but restorative. Each spoonful I lifted up not only smelled and tasted like a prize-winning recipe, assuaged my throat and warmed my body, but also left the sweet aftertaste with all of us of feeling loved.

As I soothed myself with more spoonfuls and lingered in the words of encouragement FullSizeRender-2written on an enclosed card and admired the perfect flower gift, I thought about some of the literary symbolism behind the flashy hydrangea. The word itself comes from roots meaning “water-vessel”. As a gift in Victorian times the flowers would represent anything sincerely heartfelt but particularly gratitude for understanding. Medicinally, the juice of the leaves has been used to treat colds, coughs and bronchitis, while the root is used often as an immune booster. All of these thoughts have such appropriate meaning to me in this moment.

Soon my husband will come home after a late day and he too will be tired and spent, and I will get to enjoy that lifting up feeling again vicariously through him as he sits down to a rare home cooked meal of one of his favorite comfort foods. He will admire the flowers and give thanks for our friend and we will both go to bed maybe feeling tired and maybe feeling sick, but also feeling full, comforted and loved.

Beyond Measure

This morning I dropped my kid off at the local high school to take a PSAT exam even though he is only in 8th grade. Earlier this month I was presented with MAP testing and ranking of my 11 year-old’s academic growth progress. Yesterday, I received test results back from a certification exam that summed up my 20 years of professional experience into 6 categories and labeled me as high, comparable or slightly lower than my peers in aptitude in each area. This afternoon, I have to complete my own and my team’s performance evaluations where I must provide comments and ratings that speak to a narrow band of objectives and competencies that are to forever reflect a half year of  work. Over the past month I have been subject to several aptitude and personality assessments and next week will have the experience of sitting with an expert who will in turn explain to me where I do and don’t “measure up”.

I’m tired.

I’m tired of being ranked, assessed, judged, labeled and compared. I’m tired of my kids being pigeon holed at young ages as to what their capabilities are or aren’t based on a handful of assessments and some strangers’ opinions, who are listened to simply because they hold the title of teacher. I’m tired of thinking that at my age or my husband’s age that the world has determined we are as good as we will ever get and that if we wanted more out of our life we could have, should have, would have done more to be better, stronger, smarter, thinner, successful-er, everything-er…than we did.

I’m tired of comparing myself to the fantastic wives and moms around me with organized homes and brilliant, talented children who always seem to have their hair combed. I’m tired of other women looking at me with confusion when I make statements like “No, we don’t eat dinner as a family 3 nights a week”, or “No, my kids can’t participate in XYZ because I am not home until after 6” and more than those ‘I feel sorry for you looks’, I am tired of the statement that usually follows anything that I decide I cannot commit to from one who thinks I need something which is: “Well, if you made it a priority you would be able to do it”; because that phrase in and of itself in my mind is the biggest “judger” among all phrases. I’m tired of not measuring up.

So, on this Saturday morning, I sit here at a messy dining room table that has some cans of enchilada sauce and fire roasted tomatoes sitting on it that never got put away from Wednesday night’s shopping trip, some flowers that are still pretty but drying up a little from Valentine’s day, some apples that we bought but never ate that are on their last days, a pile of mail from who knows what day this week, a half drunk cup of coffee, a stack of piano books, a jacket flung on the back of a chair, a band-aid wrapper that John left on his way out the door for his 14 hour workday, a bag of cough drops as Joe grabbed some this morning for his cough, a red box that needs to be turned in today, a bottle of teen vitamins and a half-drunk cup of juice.

I sit here among this all and I have decided to judge through a different lens today. This table tells quite a story, much more than can be measured by some calculated assessment. This table says that we provide food for our family, that we love each other and show it with gifts like flowers, that we take care of each other with band-aids and cough drops, that we take care of ourselves by taking vitamins and wearing jackets when it is cold, that we have fun as a family by watching movies and playing music together, that we keep our commitments and have a strong work ethic and as a result we sometimes run out of the house without putting stuff away to get where we have committed to be on time. This table is a far better measure of what is important, and right and good in our home and in our lives than any of these other tests in which we put such value.

I will tackle the table today, and the kitchen and some laundry and may or may not get to the store for groceries but one thing is certain is that at some point today the boys and I will just be together and we may watch a movie, play some video games or even go crazy and hit a favorite place for dinner and in that time it will be made clear to them that they are loved unconditionally and beyond measure and that my friends is the only label that ever really matters.

 

 

 

 

 

Where did the sisterhood go?

When I had my babies I was welcomed earnestly, without ritual or pretense into the mysterious sisterhood of motherhood. It was really remarkable how having children opened doors for new relationships with other women, particularly, other mothers. It was very interesting to me how women I had only known casually for years suddenly were inviting me to their homes for Pampered Chef parties and playdates and although nothing had changed with who I was, I was now deemed worthy, or maybe just needy, of being in the company of others in my same stage of life. Before I had kids, I had friends, but it was the babies that brought the bonds.

I have lovely memories of mornings spent with fellow moms on couches with coffee and afternoons on playgrounds in the sun. Conversations filled with stories of messes and mess-ups, recipes and cleaning secrets and checking calendars for swapping date-night babysitting duties. One thing was certain in these times, all of us moms had each other’s backs. We were forged together like sisters. We were there for each other and each other’s own. We were there for moral support, for physical support, for spiritual support. We were there to wipe up tears and spilt milk. We were there to change any baby’s diapers and feed each other’s toddlers. We were there to band-aid any neighborhood kid’s knees and shout warnings across the yard to prevent hurt feelings and boo-boos . We were there to rescue anyone’s child in our realm from imminent danger.  It was a good, defined stage in life where it seemed the moms were on the same page.

And then the kids grew and went to their own schools, the moms got busy and the playgrounds are now filled with strangers and no one besides me has had coffee on my couch in years.

Today, I sit wondering where is my sisterhood of motherhood? Where are the moms of the tweens and teens flocking to my door and calling me to inquire as to how we are dealing with changing voices and emerging independence? Where are the recipes for growing boys and the cleaning tips for smelly shoes, and where, oh where are the play dates and the coffee? Where are the parents of the kids my kids want to spend time with and why are they no longer interested in me? When did the sisterhood become obsolete?

The trigger of my wonderings this evening was the spoken invitation my son received from an 8th grade girl to her birthday party at her home. There was no invitation in the mail, no voice mail from a parent, no Evite or even Facebook event to alert me to the validity or scope of the event. There was no time, no address, no phone number, I didn’t even have a parent name, just a conversation with my son; “May I go to a birthday party?”.

Clearly the sisterhood is not the same at this fuzzy stage in my life and my kids’ lives. I seem to be the only parent who wants, expects and to a degree requires, to still hear from the parents: “Yes, I did say it was okay for Joey to come over and why don’t you stop in for a minute too so we can get to know each other.” Or, “Hi, this is so-and-so, Mikey’s mom, I understand the boys are good friends and want to hang-out on the weekend, why don’t we get them together and you and I can chat for a few too?”. Is it really true that the sisterhood is only for the moms of the under 10 crowd and after that it is  each for himself?

My son knows the drill and he probably rolled his eyes as he gave my contact information to his friend who probably rolled her eyes as she gave it to her mother who then rolled her eyes and sent me an email that was about as short and curt as one could imagine; “This is my name. This is our address. There will be two adults. This is the day. Here is a phone number.” There was no hello or polite introduction, no thank you, no I hope your son can make it, no I would love for you to stop in so we could meet. Just the facts with an undercurrent of “what kind of crazy woman are you that expects this?” in the tone. I even had to respond to get a time. It was cold, and lonely and made me sad.

I have met the girl and know others that know her; I know the neighborhood, my child has a phone, another friend of his whose mom I have met is going and I am a stone’s throw away, so I will likely let my child spend a couple of hours at a co-ed party in the middle of the day at a house up the road, but I am deeply saddened to come to the realization that the days of the sisterhood of motherhood are over and no more assumptions can be made that anyone has my back in this lonely parenting stage of life.

Indescribable

I have always loved singing.

Music as a whole moves me to the core but the  physical act of singing has, for as long as I can remember, brought me great personal  satisfaction and joy. Evidence of my early fixation with making semi-tuneful noise with my own voice is preserved on a cassette tape that my grandfather made when I was 2 singing in the bathtub. That recording is precious to me, not only for the pleasure of peeking into the mind of my own toddler-hood, but also because I can listen to the sweet voice of the gentle man I called Grampa.

For my 6th birthday, that same grandfather presented me with my very own cassette player. I was pleased as anything with the Snoopy vs. the Red Baron and Little Mermaid tapes that were gifted with it, but my eye was on the pack of blank tapes and  immediately I began recording myself doing what I thought at the time was….singing. It sounded awful…but it felt fantastic.

When I turned 10 my grandfather bought me my first 3 record albums to go with a new turn table that I received for Christmas. One of those records was the infamous original “Hooked on Classics”. Cheesy as it may be, as a result from hours of listening to that record I can play name that tune against the best of them… at least when it comes to the classic top 40. Not to mention it made for amazing pre-walkman motivational room cleaning music. Nothing gets you moving like a solid disco beat. Second in my starter trio of listening bliss was a rather obscure orchestral suite by Ferde Gofre entitled “The Grand Canyon Suite”. This sound-pictoral 5-movement work painted the story of a day at the Grand Canyon complete with a glorious sunrise, an afternoon thunderstorm and the clapping of donkey-hooves down the trail. Coming from a long line of natives of the Grand Canyon State, it was compulsory  that I embrace it, and I did whole-heartedly. Finally, the album I loved the most was a recording of Georges Bizet’s Carmen and at 10 years old I can remember turning up the volume and making my best effort to sing-along with Habanera, feigning a flair for French and making up my own translation as it suited me in the moment. Not your standard silly song with Larry for sure, this lusty, robust, over-the-top fun to sing mezzo-soprano dream-role aria got me hooked. I believe it was that same year that my grandmother bought me an Encyclopedia of Opera, listing every known opera, its synopsis, history and statistics. I would pore over that book for hours and even dog-eared the pages of ones I “wanted to do” one day.

I had many more years of dreaming and singing and although life and my propensity for responsibility got in the way and those “one days” never really came to fruition, I have in my time on this earth been privileged to have been a part of some fantastic music making and have experienced the euphoria that comes from resonating descants, standing ovations and that intensely powerful energy that envelopes your entire body when you sense that you have connected and communicated on the most personal level with other human beings. Music and more specifically singing, has allowed me to feel everything from pathos to elation and has permitted me rare opportunities to fathom, even if for brief moments, profound concepts and truths that just the speaking or reading of words does not elicit.

I love singing because it is what I feel like I was made to do. Today my singing is fairly confined to kitchens, cars and stolen moments in an empty house when I can shamelessly let my guard down and land a high note with gusto on my aging vibrato and weakened core in the presence of only myself and my maker… and in those moments, I feel that even if my clarity of tone is not what it once was, or the agility I once had is waning, it still feels like I am speaking a language that God gave me to speak to Him and for Him, and in that it still brings remarkable, unthinkable, indescribable joy.

Yes, I have always loved singing….and I always will.

 

 

 

 

That Part

You know that sinking feeling when you are excited about playing a board game, like Mousetrap, and as you are finishing the setup you realize that the cage that slinks down the pole and traps the mice is lost? Or, when you can’t seem to find that very last piece (you know the focal piece that defines the picture) right in the middle of the 1000 piece puzzle you have been working on for two weeks? Or, when you are creeping down a congested highway in the middle lane and your check engine light comes on? I mean, what’s the point in playing the game, or working on the puzzle, or driving the car if you don’t have all the pieces and working parts, right?

…That is what John is to me. He’s my mouse cage in the board-game, he’s the piece my puzzle is built around and he most definitely is the engine that gets me from here to there. He’s “that part” that makes the game worth playing, the picture beautiful and the journey an adventure.

When I thought about celebrating John’s birthday this year, I couldn’t help but think about all of the literal and metaphoric parts he has played in this wonderful life so far and it makes me smile and swell with pride. This man who chose to share his life with me has been honored to have played for dignitaries and blessed to have accompanied pre-schoolers, both of which he has accomplished with equal enthusiasm. He has been privileged to have performed in historic venues around the globe and equally so to have entertained in back-yards and living rooms. He has poured his soul into concertos and his heart into worship songs. He can translate Bach from stems and staves into the living sounds of joy and peace and still encourage a novice violinist through finger exercises graciously. He can support a hundred member choir with ten fingers and a fierce intuition, and can turn poetry into song. He has learned from the best and taught by example. He has listened to life and lived through listening. He heard his calling and he answered through music. He has played, and continues to play, his part well.

Musical parts, game parts, machine parts…all are important to complete the experience or accomplish the task at hand, and some parts just can’t do what they are meant to do without another. And so, as I honor my husband on his milestone birthday this year, I say to him in the wise words of Hugo Cabret:

Everything has a purpose, clocks tell you the time, trains take you to places. I’d imagine the whole world was one big machine. Machines never come with any extra parts, you know. They always come with the exact amount they need. So I figured if the entire world was one big machine… I couldn’t be an extra part. I had to be here for some reason. And that means you have to be here for some reason, too.

John has most certainly played a part, some small, some big but all meaningful. The game is not over, the puzzle is not finished, the car is still driving smoothly on the road…and there are still so many parts (and pieces) that need to be played!

Mom Metrics

“Metrics” is a hot topic in the workplace these days. Developing quantitative and qualitative means to measure anything and everything: productivity, effectiveness, quality, efficiency, engagement…the list is exhaustive. In theory, these predefined performance metrics are great tools to demonstrate progress and to justify one’s organizational value through hard, objective, reportable figures and leave subjectivity at the door.

Coaching managers in fairly and consistently measuring job performance, identifying high potentials, expanding individual contributor value and developing plans to overcome “skill gaps” is at the core of my work and I completely enjoy it. Not because I relish holding folks to a hard set of  cold performance metrics and “ranking” talent – quite the contrary – it’s the relationships and self-discovery that evolve from this often very uncomfortable process of communicating expectations, reporting results and ultimately looking a fellow human being in the eye and telling them how you have determined that they “measure up”. This is sensitive stuff and I for one cannot do this every day and not take stock of my own obvious shortcomings, not to mention the ones I am too blind in my self-deception to even see. Sure, there are natural strengths and weaknesses that everyone brings to the table, but when a manager really starts analyzing his/her team’s performance there are a lot of “opportunities for improvement” that are quickly recognized as being directly correlated to the manager’s own skill and/or communication deficits. That’s a hard lesson to take in sometimes.

It’s even harder sometimes for mom.

It struck me today as I was working up my blood pressure, fuming over an incomplete task that I have been harping on the boys to tackle for what seems like years, that it was ultimately my failure to adequately articulate my expectations to them, my lack of effort in actually showing them what I wanted, and my selfish impatience in not allowing for any learning curve that was at the root of this seemingly never-ending battle. It is not my sons’ inability to follow my direction, it is my ineffectiveness at communicating meaningful directions for them that yields no results.

When I step back and survey most of the issues in my home that can be attributed to a lack of productivity, efficiency, quality and the like, I have to own up to the fact that the problem ultimately lies at my own tired feet. I have to face the reality that whereas each of my boys brings his own unique strength to this family, I am ultimately responsible for helping them realize and build on those strengths and recognize and shore up their weaknesses. I have to accept the consequences that my lack of fair and consistent leadership has led to varying levels of disengagement…and then I am, with a grateful heart, reminded that mom-metrics are much different from those in the workplace.

Mom-metrics are soft and flexible. There is no predetermined expected rating or competency grid for any given mom to fit into. There are no formulas to create meaningful quantitative measures. There are no performance reviews or career development conversations (although plenty of self-evaluation!). There is only an expectation of love and acceptance and everything else exceeds expectations.

I will certainly take away my eureka moment today and try to find a better way to support my boys by communicating in a manner and language they can relate to; but I am comforted by the fact that no matter how poorly we might rate each other with hard-core facts and figures should we be put to the task, at the end of the day, they are my “Distinguished” boys and I am their “Exceeds Expectations” mother…and we will muddle through this life on one never-ending Performance Improvement Plan with an infinite budget for Learning and Development.