Living Authentically

Is it possible for someone like me, to “live authentically” right now, today? I have been asking myself this question recently, reading the novel The Red Book by  Deborah Copaken Kogan.  This novel takes place over a 20th graduation anniversary weekend of Harvard graduates.  A quick read with a somewhat predictable storyline, I felt the characters were diverse, relatable, and interesting.  My favorite part of the book was the actual Red Book entries, where the graduate tell of the last 5 years on a page.  Insights and false realities to introduce the characters.  We all have the lives we show the public and the dreams which have been put on hold, forgotten as we march through the day-to-day.

We spend the years of our youth and early adulthood being molded by society, our parents’ demands and expectations, our teachers, our peers, where we fit in the family hierarchy, the location where we grow up, our interests, the media, our religion, the family beyond our house, and the unexpected events—sometime crises- that are thrust at us.

It can be years until we peel off the layers of expectations set upon us. When we are open enough to learn about ourselves, admit our dreams, possibly think about what WE really want—free of the plans others have laid out for us—we can be busy in that gerbil-on-a-wheel life of kids, mortgages, spouse/partner, aging parents, a stash of lovely friends, our health issues, bills, and the other minutia that comprise a life.

Our abilities and work experiences have perhaps led us down an unexpected and now-monotonous path. But in this economy and where we are in our family lifecycle, we cannot afford to change drastically.

I’m not sure there is a way off that path right now, so I will grasp the moments of joy, of exploring my dreams, while I can.  I will continue to morph my business into something that brings greater satisfaction.  Hopefully I can increase the “moments of authenticity” until they feel a more-integrated part of my life, not simply escapism.

As for my kids, I have been talking to them about me understanding the pressures around them, but they should think about the paths they want to take.  Make their study, work, activity choices based on what THEY want to do to succeed, not what they think that we, their friends, their educators, the media, their peers (not always the same as their friends), and guilt think they should do. Not an easy feat.

And if you have a chance, pick up The Red Book. It might make you think about how to make your life yours, not someone else’s expectation. C

Freeze Frame

They squirm to get out of reach. “Not again,” they occasionally roll their eyes , the shutter open-close click-click-click.

“That’s a horrible background.  Move over here,” I direct them, to sighs as they shuffle across the yard.

Yes, they might sometimes complain when the camera comes out AGAIN, but they loved it today when I was updating the slideshow in the digital picture frame.

My kids have changed so much in a few years.  Even in this short timeframe, they laughed at haircuts and clothing; they reminisced about wonderful vacations, celebrations with families and friends, and fun days in the neighborhood. We were amazed at how the same friends kept popping up in photos over the last few years.

Was this really 4 years ago?

So many memories.  They fade in our minds, but the photos are there to spark a smile.  And the kids still enjoy to look at photo albums of their parents when they were young.  We can share our memories with them in a disk, though I admit that people can keep too many BAD pictures to clutter their files, their walls, their albums.  And Grandmom will be happy, since we can still tag the people in the photos, without even turning over the faded, dated photographs.

Little angels. That's me, on the right in our homemade costumes.

So pull out your camera today.  Snap some pictures of those who you surround yourself with.  You won’t regret it.   C

Realize your Dreams

I recently watched a Simpsons episode where Lisa Simpson found some high school photos and yearbooks of Marge (her mom)  and became embarrassed of what her mother had become, how far she had strayed from her dreams.  Lisa then thought she should forget her hobbies, her strengths to work hard and NOT end up like Marge.

While I realize it is our jobs as parents to be an embarrassment to our pre-teen and teenage children,   I have been thinking lately about when we are supposed to give up on our dreams, the ones we had in college-after college-developed as young adults.  Do some morph into other hopes, others remain latent, under the surface?

We all have dreams–to develop some special gift, to improve the world larger than our home, to work harder-faster-stronger, to travel someplace exotic or unknown, to learn a language, to get on stage, to teach someone to read, to graduate college.  Community colleges are full of credit and non-credit classes to broaden our worlds, if we have the time, the drive, the money.

As adults we work hard in our jobs, organize our families, help our children define their hopes and learn to succeed in the world, volunteer at the church-the shelter-the food pantry-wherever, help our aging parents, help our friends’ whose families are ill and parents are also aging, deal with our own health issues, fluctuating job security.

Yes, our dreams might get pushed aside as we navigate through the everyday of life, but we should remember  our most important ones, or realize new goals as we grown into ourselves.  We must carve time for even our small dreams to succeed, or we will run through life without focus, trying to simply get through the day.

I am envious of my friend Brenda, who took her long time writing talents and pain within to write a soon-to-be published book.  I barely make time for this blog, though the writing frees my spirit when a post is done.  Can I do more?  Can I write a book someday? Do I even want to?

Can I expand my long-loved photography hobby into more of a business?  I see multitudes with their DSLR’s with long lenses, and then realize that the expensive camera does NOT automatically translate into a decent picture.  Not by a longshot.

For many years I was the “green girl”, but I have not expanded my efforts outside my household in some time, other than offering donations to organizations.  Is it too late to work with others, to help them become more green in our extremely wasteful world?

What about you?  Can you learn to paint?  find somewhere to work with children? fix your car engine? teach beyond coaching your child?  play the guitar? learn yoga? run a marathon? do a mission trip?

How long will we wait to explore our inner desires?  Until our children are grown? until we retire?  What does that teach our families?  Only that we are unimportant, martyrs, and we become smaller, our world shrinking, less interesting to those outside of our tiny circles. We must move beyond the fear of failure to try to succeed in something new.  Comfort begets complacency.

Maybe it should be my early resolution, to kindle the fire of one dream and fan its flames.  What will you do?  and what are your dreams?  Let me know! C

Family Vacation #1

Now that the kids are 10, 12, 15, it’s so easy to remember the vacations when I had to pack everything including their suitcases, car seats, diapers, bottles, toys, and then have to listen to the unhappy screams that emanated from the back seat or–worse yet–the plane seats with kicking and tantrums, unable to move.

Now they can pack their own luggage with Ipods and laptops and legos and books and snacks. We let them help decide where we should spend the day, how we should spend our money (on clothes at the nearest university), where we should eat.  They have their new annoyances of car game hitting while watching cars–don’t get that at all, grunts, bouncing basketballs at all the wrong times, a little too much pop candy music, but they can at least keep themselves busy in the car or in the air for awhile. And they don’t kick the seats anymore.

But, it’s great to get off our tight schedule of sports and work and school, to catch up and laugh and play games and watch movies and talk, even if after several days we are ready for some time withOUT the kids, that time will come before we know it.  And the silence will be deafening. C

The Drop-Off

For the fourth straight year, my friend Laura and I have driven our two eldest girls to camp very early on a Sunday morning, and the younger two now going for their second year.  Overnight camp at the YMCA, or where ever you choose to go, is such a rite of passage.  I wish that all kids had this opportunity.  They get to explore outside their town, their families, their boundaries and meet people from other cities, states, countries as their bunkmates, roommates, counselors, and friends.

So much of camp seems the same as when I went–horse back riding, boating, swimming, crafts, archery,  group songs, family style meals, woods, group bathrooms, chores, fun, fun.   The worst part for us is waiting for check-in, arriving early so the girls can secure a good bunk near each other,  the crowds pushing forward–every group wanting the same, the newbies wide-eyed.  It’s a bit crazy.

I remember when Lisa and I went to camp.  It was August of 1977, and we took an 8 hour (!!) bus drive to southern IL.  Yes, we had one freak in our room who told us she had heart medicine that we would all DIE if we took, pretended to talk in her sleep, and swore Lisa would go straight-to-hell for going up to communion as a non-Catholic, because as a 13-year old she was too embarrassed to stay in her seat, alone.

She joyfully broke the news to me that Elvis had died when she heard in a letter from home, knowing I was a huge Elvis fan. I was convinced she was lying, but wrote my mom just in case to save me all the headlines and newspapers—which I still have today in my yellowed Elvis scrapbook.

I remember our relay race–everyone in the cabin participated–with Lisa riding the horse (boy, was I jealous!) and I sprained my ankle tripping over a raised root in the path.  Then everyone else was jealous of me because I got to see the cute, friendly doctor as he wrapped my ankle, and he let me hold newborn kittens each visit.

I wonder what my girls will remember from their yearly camp visits, other than the great songs we learn from them (“there were 3 little muffins in the bakery shop…”), the friends they can keep in touch with online, and the 1000 types of friendship  bracelets they can make.  I hope they will remember their routine of driving with their moms, the bakery we stop at for lunch, waiting in lines,racing to cabins, and many quiet and loud moments that I am sadly not a part of.

Me, I will remember the 6-7 hours Laura and I get to listen to the girls’ giggle and talk and that we get to catch up, uninterrupted on the way home.  and maybe route 65 closed, while we are SO thankful to have the iphone GPS.

Camp.  Everyone should go! C

“I will never….”

Ah, the self righteousness of the inexperienced and the innocents.  From the mouths of blatherers both well-intended and inspired and in the unspoken words but obvious body gestures come the thoughts of those who have yet-to-experience certain phases of life.  Parenthood, I’m thinking about specifically, right now.

We all know them, and we have been them ourselves, whether we admit it or shake our heads no.  My friends and I sometimes joke now about never saying “I will never…” since it might come to pass that “I will… ” in fact do what I pinky swore not to do.

There are the things people say before having children like “I will never take drugs during childbirth-give my baby formula-lose my temper with my child-use disposable diapers-let my child run my life-stop staying out until 3 am (well, that one might be true…)-put my child in daycare-be a stay at home mom-work outside the home”.

When you hold that tiny infant, hope to protect it from all the evils and bad influences that surround him or her, you don’t remember all those “I will nevers” as you manage to get through each day, perhaps adding another child or puppy or lizard to this mix.  Watching friends and strangers in the world, thoughts then become “I will never buy my boy a toy gun (but then realize that boys turn ANYTHING into a weapon)-let my child get really hurt in the playground-use the TV as a baby-sitter-let my child have a sleepover until he/she is 10-feed my kid chicken nuggets and other beige food several times a week-let my child wear designer clothes-walk to the bus themselves.”

The list gets longer as the children get older.  “I will never let my son play tackle football-spend a fortune in time and money on travel sports-be as involved in their school as my mom was-let them be too busy-nag them-when they are teenagers, let them go to the mall/amusement park/Chicago/movies with no adults-ride a car with a 16 year old driver-ride their bikes on sidewalkless busy roads-yell at my child-worry enough to check their text messages.”

How many of your “I nevers” have you done?  In hindsight, I will try to abstain from the “I nevers” since life is so unpredictable. The list I would have for when my eldest turns 16 would be sickeningly long.  I do know that I will never knowingly let my kids host a party that involves alcohol while they are underage, and after seeing my neighbor’s daughter go out recently I will never let my daughters go out in THAT dress. 

And I hope I will never have a blue grey curly perm when I am in my 70’s.  But no promises. C