May 28, 2015

Jumping In

Jump in, honey! I’m right here.

Jamie’s voice echoed above the splashes in the indoor public pool where 3 year-old Georgia was taking swimming lessons. Pigtails on either side of her head created alien like bulges through her orange swim cap. She stood at the pool’s edge, stooped over...thinking, weighing the options...and not jumping.

Can’t say I blame her. Ground is solid, secure; while water, no matter who’s standing in it waiting to catch you, isn’t.

But solid isn’t truly solid if you think about it. Earthquakes happen and whole buildings tumble. Floods sweep villages away; and tornadoes and avalanches even use what’s solid to ground themselves and wreak havoc.

Clinging to what’s solid can be a dangerous proposition - in nature and in your career.

I imagine my daughter, stooped, overthinking, weighing her options, missing out on the fun she could’ve had, had she just jumped into her daddy’s waiting arms. The scene was my mirror.

What I saw was myself clinging onto a solid, toes with a deathgrip curl on the edge even as water tickled at them...even as I knew a couple of things about living:

that tomorrow isn’t promised -- and neither is my good health.
that I’ve got more years of living behind me than I do ahead.
that the solid a job provides isn’t really solid. Human disasters - like natural ones - are always a threat.
that’s life’s just too bleeping short to only watch while hanging onto an illusion of security.

So I handed in my notice after fifteen years on the job.

I’ve been asked What’s next? What are you going to do?

For now, I think I’ll just jump in, enjoy a swim and worry about what’s next when the time comes.

May 10, 2015

You'll Come to A Place - Mother's Day Musings

It was the day before Mother’s Day and I found myself at the store to pick up a few forgotten items. I didn't bother trying to be presentable and ended up at the store wearing a baseball cap, sweats and sans make-up. Pretty.

Anyway, I hurried past the card aisle, anxious to get the stuff I needed and get out.

Glancing up the aisle clogged with people searching for last minute Hallmark well wishes, something strange happened.

Or didn't happen.

For the first time in nearly thirty years since my mom’s been gone, my internal GPS didn't point me to that aisle. The divining rod in my head didn't lead me to search for a card for my mom. There was no back-to-reality jerk. No surprisingly/unsurprisingly painful reminder realization that, no -- there’s no need to buy her a card because she’s not here anymore.

This is a good thing, I think, but I can’t tell you how I got to this place.

There still isn't a day that passes without me thinking of mom, wondering what advice she’d give me about my job, marriage or how she’d be over the moon about the grandchild and son-in-law she never had the pleasure of meeting.

Yet my feet continued on. Past the Hallmark calls to Honor that Special Mom. Past the endcaps' floral pop-ups. Past the impulse-buy Mother’s Day specially marked candy at the checkout lane.


I miss mom on this Mother’s Day and every day. I always will. But the ever present grief over her absence lessens a little each day, each year. Sure, I might get a little misty later on if I think on it, find the tears and allow them to come.

But yesterday and right now, I’m in this place of grief-twinged acceptance.

When your mom isn't here, I think you come to that place after awhile, even if it takes a lifetime to happen. You may not even know how you came to it, but you will.

Trust me. You will.

Mother's Day medals from the people who made me a mom.

May 2, 2015

Purpose: The Real Question and Answer

So what is your life’s purpose?

It was a question posed in a moderated discussion thrown out to a small group of three. Up until that point, we had been responding to questions in ways we thought would make us stand out as individuals.

Or at least I had been, truthfully.

The question clogged my thinking and stopped me in my tracks. As long as I could remember, I heard the perpetual question from my parents, well-meaning friends of my parents, teachers and guidance counselors: What do you want to be when you grow up?

Then when I became an adult (seriously, am I really an adult?), my own voice grated in my mind even when it appeared like I had it altogether: What don’t I want to do?

What I wanted to be as an adult had everything to do with career, money. What I didn’t want to do was a bar I’d set for making money in a said career.

Neither had anything to do with purpose.

But yet, there I was almost clocking in at the half-century mark with more years behind me than ahead, realizing I never had been asked, nor had I ever considered my life’s purpose.

Purpose is what people say about you when you’re gone.

What would people say about me, I thought. She was nice? That she paid her bills mostly on time? That she sent her kid to the best school she could? That she made sure a protein, a vegetable and a starch were in every dinner she prepared?

Really? That’s my purpose? Because that’s what I’ve aiming for in the past fifteen years.

Strange as it seems, all of that stirred in my thoughts in a split second. But then, in the next second, I knew. I knew my purpose, and I know I knew because the answer tumbled out naturally, almost as if I had forgotten my birthday for a blink of an eye and then remembered it.

I left the meeting twenty pounds lighter, refocused, redirected. The sky seemed bluer and the bursting little pods on the ends of springtime’s budding trees seemed sharper.

*  *  *  *

I’m a newbie co-producer of Milwaukee’s 2015 Listen to Your Mother Show, a nationwide production that gives people the chance to tell stories that reflect on motherhood through their eyes. The cast’s stories touched on motherhood’s sorrow, hilarity, confusion, longing, and some with raw honesty that made you shift uncomfortably.

They were there to tell their stories. It was their purpose for that day.

As a co-producer, I watched these people stride up to a mic, spotlight on them and them alone, gather their resolve and bravely tell their stories. I knew the audience not only received their words, but understood each person’s purpose because I could hear it in the silence, the laughter and the sniffles.

I thought about each person’s bravery and resolve in revealing themselves through their words -- all because their purpose was clear.

And I was inspired.
*  *  *  *

It’s relatively safe to choose what you want to do when you grow up. It’s just as safe to know what you don’t want to do once you’re doing whatever it is when you’re a grown-up.

Coming to understand your purpose on this earth and letting that purpose guide you is scary, almost like walking up to a microphone with nothing but you, the spotlight and your story reverberating into the darkness.

But the reverberations reach minds and touch hearts.

And I think that’s what your purpose does...once you know what it is.

Photo credit, Margaret Andrews of  Nanny Goats in Panties
from Sacramento's Listen to Your Mother Show 2014

April 13, 2015

Today Was 1987 All Over Again Except Better

The 1987 prom court was lined up in the hallway leading to the gym: gangly teenaged boys in rental tuxedos and girls whose heads and arms were adrift in seas of poofy frilly antebellum dresses. None of us knew who would be the first, second, third, fourth attendant or king or queen until it was announced on a stage in front of parents and other well-wishers.

One by one, names were called and people disappeared through the sunlit hallway into a pitch black gymnasium where they’d ascend the stage and fidget nervously in a spotlight as woots, hollers and cameras clicked away.

My nerves glitched up as each name was called.
I don’t get it. This is only for the pretty people. I'm not pretty. I’m awkward, overweight and nerdy.

Then another name.
This is totally bad news...

Then the last attendant's name was called, and it wasn't mine. I knew that meant the next name announced would be the person who was prom queen.

I whispered to the only person left in that lonely hallway - a teacher coordinator -- that “I think there's been a mistake." I was ready to burst into the gym and put a stop to this potential embarrassment but.

Next thing I knew, my name was called, I was ascending the stage steps, a tiara was being perched on my noggin and...there was no bucket of pig’s blood rigged to dump on my head just as I “took the throne” or anything remotely from the movie Carrie as I had expected.

May 25, 1987
Today I discovered I didn't leave that day in 1987 far behind.

Facebook alerted me that my friend had tagged me in a post. I clicked to find wonderful congratulatory words over my selection as one of BlogHer’s Voices of The Year.
What? Oh no. I think there’s been a mistake.

I reread my friend's post and thought about how to tactfully and thankfully correct her for obviously confusing me with someone else, once I verified it was indeed a mistake.

I went to BlogHer and found the Voices of The Year Announcement.
Welp. At least I can see the name of the person for whom my friend had mistaken me and we can all have a good laugh about it.

The familiar glitching came back as I read the roster for people being honored for Short Form Videos, Long Form, Eye Candy, Photos, and Impact: Nope. Nope and Nope. Not one name that could be confused with mine. Then finally, Blogs and...I saw my name. MY name. It was among all these other FAN-FREAKING-TASTIC writers who were also being honored.

With vision blurred by tears and shaking hands because the nervous glitches were back with a happy vengeance, I could barely post an error-free thank you to my dear Facebook friend.

It all took me right back to prom 1987, only this time, it's not a popularity contest to nudge an awkward teen’s self-esteem. It’s a grown-up validation that sometimes, the things I write are heard and that they resonate. Hopefully that also means I'm helping make my little corner of the world better in some small way.

And that beats a tiara any day of the week.

Thank you for the honor, BlogHer.

This is the post that's being recognized. A tiny part of me still can't believe it.