F-Tards

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ftard

I shut down the blog for a few months.  I needed to detach myself from those things which were causing me stress.  By detaching myself from the stress, my intention was to come home in the evening and be present in my life instead of, even for a short time, refocusing on the stress.  Did this help the situation?  Looking back over the past few months, I think it did.  The stress still exists, but over the past months I have spent time cherishing and cultivating the good things in my life.

Not a lot has changed, yet everything has changed.  T and I have entered into a new kind of relationship.  While things are far from perfect, there is a foundation of deep respect, friendship, and trust.  We have made new friends in our neighborhood.  We’re enjoying our weekends exploring new places, working on our new home together, or visiting one of the boys.  Our home, which we now own, is beginning to feel like a home.  We have painted the rooms, and we’re currently in the middle of a kitchen remodeling project.  The girls have both happily adjusted to the move.  They’re busy with school, friends, and work.

It all sounds pretty great, but there is also sadness.  Our move has cost us a lot.  Or rather, this move has revealed a lot of things that have brought pain and sadness.  Had we stayed back “home,” we would have been spared the knowledge that breaking the mold would carry a heavy cost.

Generations of our family have lived out their entire lives in the same small town.  While we may only be a few short hours away, we might as well have moved to the moon.  Family and friends have not been pleased with our decision to leave.  No one visits us.  EVER.  On Columbus Day weekend, T and I planned on going back to visit family, but everyone was busy.  The following weekend, we headed back again to pick up a tile saw we had lent to someone.  Everyone was busy again.  We haven’t seen them in months.  When have seen them, we have been the ones to visit.  Having the people we care about avoid us when we make the effort to stay in their lives doesn’t feel good at all.

T and I have discussed the situation, and we’re still not quite sure what to do, if anything.  Do we go back for holidays and make nice?  Do we begin traditions of our own in our new home?

The move and the major adjustments, both big and small in every area of our lives, have left me feeling fragile.  It doesn’t take much to hurt me, or scare me, or make me wonder if we have made the right decision for our lives.  I see things on a daily basis that are ugly and mean.  Even as I see the ugliness, I often feel engaged in a positive way.  I’m trying to make a difference, but I miss the gentleness and beauty of a simpler place.  I miss the beautiful fields that greeted me each day.  I miss the familiarity of a place that held every single memory of my life and the lives of those who have passed before me.

Instead of the open, golden fields that were once a tranquil part of my morning drive, I now deal with traffic and aggression.  Horns honking, people shaking their middle fingers at other drivers, and trash tumbling along the roadside are what greet me now.  Last week, I was on the expressway driving about 75 mph with a guy riding right on my bumper.  I was blocked in between semis, and traffic was thick.  Still the guy behind me road my ass.  When he finally passed me, he turned around completely and gave me a look full of hatred.  He had to be going about 85 mph as he passed by me.  I haven’t yet been able to get that look of total aggression and hatred out of my mind.  Why?  What is wrong with people?

I had an early meeting on Monday morning.  I was looking at the clock as I drove.  There was road construction and tons of traffic.  I was worried about running late, when I realized that I had said the F-word three times, and it wasn’t much past 7:00 a.m.  I took a deep breath and imagined beautiful fields.  I don’t want to become an F-tard like the guy who sped past me the week before.

Today wasn’t much better.  I was yelled at over the phone before I even left home.  I received nasty emails, and texts that were unkind.  The F-tards were in full swing.   I walked out of the office at the end of the day wondering if there was a “Kick Me” sign on my back.  Life is most certainly challenging.  Not all of my days are as bad as today.  Just when I’m ready to throw up my hands, something good will happen to remind me why I am here, why I accepted this challenge.  I’m thankful for those small moments of good.

Tonight I sat in the kitchen with the girls at the table which once belonged to my great, great grandparents.  T was working on putting up new tiles under the cabinets.  The girls and I were chatting about the day.  Lola had stayed home sick from school, but she was feeling better and talking happily about school, teachers, and classmates.  T’s phone rang twice while we talked.  Luke called to let us know that his car needs new brakes.  As a recently college graduate and a new teacher, he’s able to pay for his own car repair.  Hallelujah!  Andrew called just because he calls each and every day.  I smiled at the voices, the laughter, the activity, and the love.

It’s true that our lives have become more challenging, but something else has happened, too.  We have pulled together as a family.  We are no longer living together yet somehow separately.  We’re in a new place, and for a time, our family is all that each of us has had.  The change of address has changed us all.  Lola, who was once quiet and shy, has come into her own.  Tonight when was talking about the “phony girls” who wear make-up and like boys too much, she told me that she is a fierce realist.  I laughed, but I knew what she meant.  She is comfortable with who she is inside.

I don’t know what the next step for us will be.  Will we stay here?  Will we move on?  I have no clue.  I have never felt so transient in my life.  The roots I have put down here are shallow.  That’s OK.  For all that has been lost, something of greater value has been gained.

 

 

Harassment

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I’ve been out of the office and away from home for the past couple of days.  This has been a productive, busy, and exhausting trip.  I have been at our state capital lobbying for local concerns with a small group of people from our community.  Yesterday we had a series of short meetings with as many senators and representative as we could possibly meet in one day.  This busy day was followed by dinner at the executive mansion.  All in all, it was a productive day.

At an early hour, I left the group while they were still enjoying cocktails in the hotel lounge.  I was tired, and I just wanted to relax for a while and go to bed early for a change.  I was feeling satisfied from such an incredible day.  I’m a government junkie, and I love having the opportunity to speak directly to those who are in a position to make decisions and change policy.  I thought about the many changes in my life as I walked back to my room.  This past decade has been an incredible journey, and I was feeling immensely thankful for the opportunities to have a career that satisfies me even as it often exhausts and challenges me.

I went up to my room and washed off the traces of the day from my tired face, took out my contacts, and put on my ugly black glasses.  I had planned on firing up my laptop when I realized that I had left it out in my car.  I slipped on my shoes and headed out to the parking lot.  Just as I was leaving my room, a man came running down the hall.  “The Hawks are on.  I have to hurry.”  He was carrying a bag of chips that he must have run out to get at the vending machine down the hall.  Then he said, “What are you doing out here alone?”  I said that I was running out to get something from my car.  “Stop by my room on your way back.  Room 610.”

I was shocked!  Do women actually do such things?  Do men really say such things?  My face burned as I took the elevator down and walked to my car.  Just moments ago, I had been feeling strong and successful about a fantastic day, and now I was feeling something I couldn’t quite define.  I thought about it.  What was I feeling?   Offended?  Violated?  And sadly….I was also feeling kind of validated or a little thrilled.   I guess the old broad must not look so bad after all, and the fact that I even thought this pissed me off at myself.

Of course, I had no intention of stopping at room 610.  I was a bit apprehensive about walking back down the hall to my room, and this upset me, too.  Why are women so easily, and readily, victimized?  I felt like a victim!  I was afraid to pass down the hall.  I didn’t want another confrontation.  As I passed by his room, I saw something on the door of room 610.  It was a piece of paper sticking out of the door jam.  It said, “Lady in Black, PLEASE STOP AND KNOCK ON MY DOOR!  Matt.”  I just laughed and walked on down the hall.

I no longer felt victimized.  I was suddenly able to see him for what he was:  A pathetic man watching a hockey game, but hoping to get laid.  Sorry, buddy, but I’ve been around the block a time or two, and I am no man’s evening diversion.

Little Boxes

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By Thursday night, I am wiped out.  This week has been especially exhausting.  That’s partly my own fault.  I had early morning meetings scheduled each day this week.  It didn’t help that I didn’t do any ironing last weekend.  Each night this week, well after midnight, I’ve had a mad scramble trying to figure out what to wear to work the next day.  Staying up too late, dealing with challenges at work, then coming home and jumping right into painting the kitchen has tapped out any reserves I had built up.

Tonight I’m checked out.  I’m tired and achy.  I have a weird rash on my chest, and my knuckles, knees, and elbows are swollen.  My body is rebelling from lack of sleep and too much stress.  The old illness flares up to remind me to take care of myself.  I’m listening to my body tonight.  I’m kicking back with a cocktail while T is painting in the kitchen.  Later, I’m going to take a “Toxin Purge” bath of baking soda and Epsom salts just as my grandma would recommend if she were here with me.  When I start to get low, when my energy level has bottomed out, I always resort to the old ways.  I pull out the comfort of the past and wrap the memories of long gone generations around me for comfort.  I cover up in the Ugly Blanket, and I remember the great-grandma who made it while she chewed on homegrown tobacco. I listen to bluegrass music on my modern surround sound system, and I remember sitting on a hay rack while my great uncles played banjo and guitar under the Kentucky stars.

Last night Lola told me just before bedtime that today was “Culture Day” in her class.  The kids who chose to participate were supposed to bring something that represents their culture.  It took me a moment to understand the concept.  To me, culture meant opera, literature, or a play.  Then I remembered.  We don’t live in a small farming community anymore.  Lola doesn’t go to school with children who all have a similar background.  Her friends are a unique mixture of cultures representing different countries, beliefs, and religions.  Lola asked me who we are.  What is our culture?  I had to think about it for a moment, and I jokingly said, “We are hillbillies.”  She looked at me and said, “C’mon, Mom.  I’m serious.”

I took Lola into the den, and I took down some pictures from the bookshelf.  There was one of her great, great, great, great grandparents, their children, and their children’s children all posed in front of a large farmhouse in Kentucky.  There was another of her great, great grandparents standing in their field of tobacco.  There were others of family in Illinois, generations of farmers.  I explained to Lola that her ancestors had been early settlers, people who had made their way across the country from the east coast to the Midwest farming, settling, and spreading out along the way with each new generation.  They were not wealthy.  They were honest, hardworking people with a deep love of music that was passed down through each generation.  They sat on their porches at night looking out across their land, and they played music with their families.  Hillbillies in the classic sense of the word.

When I was a little girl, I often spent summers with my grandmas on their farms.  My widowed great-grandmas lived with their daughters, which meant generations of women spent time under the same roof, talking, laughing, and singing.  I thought one of my grandmas had written the song, “Old Dan Tucker.”  I was surprised to hear a recording of that song years after her death.  I had always thought that was a song Grandma had written just for me, and I had asked her to sing it hundreds of times.  It was a strange experience to explain our family’s past to Lola.  This past, my past, is part of her history that she will never experience. Our life is so far removed now from those sweet, simple days.

Tonight after work,  pulled into our tidy subdivision behind a line of cars containing other people who live in this sterile, regulated neighborhood of ours.  We were all coming home from a day of work.  We all work hard in order to live in this safe and lovely place, yet we spend most of our time either away from home or exhausted when we return.  As the cars drove down my street, a bizarre and improbable orchestration of events occurred.  One, two, three garage doors opened.  One, two, three SUV’s pulled into three driveways side by side.  It felt like being part of a dream…

Tonight I am thankful for music, an Ugly Blanket, and the Epsom salts bath that awaits me.  I’m thankful for the wonderful memories that past generations have given me to pass down to my daughter.  When the world seems crazy and illogical, when the stress mounts and exhaustion sets in, I am grateful to have the heart of a hillbilly and that bluegrass music can summon soothing memories of the one’s I loved so dearly.

Sweet Miracle of Kindness

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I received the following email today:
Dear Pam,
Just want you to know that I am honored to be your second Mom.  I never had a daughter, but if I did, I would hope she would be just like you.  You are a kind, honest, considerate, intelligent and loving woman.  I am so proud of you, and I respect you for how you have adapted to a new city, job, and home this past year.  Not an easy task !
Pam,  you are very special to me.
Love,
S…
The email was from my board president.  This woman has become so special to me over the past year, not because she is my board president, but because she has been so supportive of me as a human being.  From the first moment she and I spoke on the phone over a year ago, our connection was strong.
I still remember the first time she and I spoke on the phone.  It was a Saturday not long after I had accepted the new job.  I was in my old home packing boxes, getting ready to move, and sniffling back tears.  When she called, I was folding baby blankets, my babies, now grown and gone.  That day she said knew that she had to call me, because she couldn’t stop thinking about what I must be going through.  I was touched and amazed that she saw me first as a woman, a wife, a mother, and a human being, not just an employee.  She wasn’t calling to discuss my new position, her strategy, or her vision for the organization.  She called me that day, because she actually cared.
She was home sick with the flu on the day I interviewed for the position.  We’ve had a few laughs about that one.  She is the female president, and I am the female executive director among an exclusively male board of directors.  We can’t imagine how that happened, but I’ve come to believe that she and I were meant to be part of this together.  This being….this organization as well as our personal lives.  While she won’t always be the president, there is no doubt in my mind that she will continue to be an important part of my life.
God works in mysterious ways.  While I am not a religious person in any conventional way, I believe strongly in a higher power or spirituality.  At a time in my life when I was feeling so alone, embarking on a new life after so many losses (my parents, an important relationship, my children growing up) this dear woman entered my life to provide a sense of love and stability.  I am eternally grateful for her presence in my life.
This morning, she and I spoke on the phone.  She said, “Pam, you and I so often think and feel exactly the same things.  Why do you think that is?”  I told her what I knew, but had never said to her before.  I told her that she has been a blessing in my life.  I told her that it meant so much to me to have her, this woman, the kind of woman I always wished my own mother had been.  She was loving and supportive to me in a way that I always wished my mom had been.
I told her that I cherished my own children so much.  I have forgiven my mom years ago.  She did the best she was capable of doing as a parent, but my relationship with my own daughters is so precious to me that it often makes me feel sad that my mother missed out on the wonder such an experience.  I feel sad, too, that I have never experienced what my daughters have with me.  Truly, my daughters and I are the best of friends.  We speak our own unique language of half-sentences and shared looks across the room.
I don’t have siblings.  I wasn’t close to my own mother.  With both of my parents gone, I feel like my history, my support, my family if gone.  Having S… in my life is the closest I have ever felt to being loved or cared for by a mother-figure, and at a time when I needed it the most.  I thanked her for giving me that experience.
And so I have found my second mother.  While I don’t love my own mother any less, I am grateful that this wonderful woman has entered my life at a time when I so needed the support of a mother.

Caved

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My biggest shortcoming is giving people third chances.  Not second chances.  I believe everyone deserves a second chance.  People make mistakes.  ALL of us, me included.   I never forget the good people in my life who have cared enough to give me a second chance.  My problem is not holding people accountable for the third, fourth, or fifth times they mess up, etc. Continue Reading »

So This is What It’s Like to Be a Grown-Up

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I drove to work this morning trying to summon a positive mood.  I actively thought about things that make me happy and things that I’m proud of about my life.  Thankfully, there were a lot of things on that list.  The music playing was good, and I turned up the volume.  The sun was shining.  There was no reason to feel unhappy or stressed out…at least for those thirty minutes in the car while I drove to the office.  My mind was on my son, Luke, but I decided not to think about it for a while.  There was no reason to dwell on that situation at the moment.  I’m learning to let things rest, and that is a big accomplishment for me.  I’m learning to compartmentalize the different parts of my day.  I’m drawing on the positive times to carry me through the times that aren’t so positive. Continue Reading »

Hey, Mom

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Frustrated doesn’t even begin to describe what I’m feeling right now.

It was a great long weekend with all four kids home.  While it was exhausting, I so much enjoyed having my kids close for a few days.  More than the interaction I had with them, I enjoyed watching them talk to each other.

Boom!  One phone call later, and that feeling of satisfaction over a job well-done in raising such wonderful adult children, is gone. Continue Reading »