Monday, December 24, 2012

Early Afternoon on Christmas Eve

It has been an odd season for us for at least two reasons. The biggest, I think, is that we have no children around any more. Sam is 19 and Warren is 20 and we can't really even pretend that they are kids any more. So we have missed a lot of the magic and awe that the holiday season holds with little ones. Both young men asked for really sensible items that they need for Christmas, and that's pretty much what they are getting. Bob and I put up decorations, but fewer than in previous years. There haven't been any big family outings to shop together, no family nights clustered around the TV to watch one of the perennial holiday favorites....nothing like that. Attending the high school alumni concert was probably the high point of my celebration of the season so far.

The other factor affecting this particular observance of the season is that my mother turned 88 earlier this month and was hospitalized on that day. She is at home recovering now (after a brief relapse that put her back into the hospital for a few more days) and doesn't fully have her strength back. While the dampening this has on the holiday is partly obvious, the less obvious part is that my sister, Patty, is usually a veritable Christmas elf. She is one of those people who never outgrew absolutely loving Christmas. She usually has as much fun with the season as the average 6-year-old. But as my mom's primary care giver, she had a lot less energy to pour into the buildup to the celebration. That is a loss to us all.

On the plus side, there are some very nice things happening that are out of the ordinary, too. Warren's other family, who are Mormon, are joining us for Christmas Eve Mass tonight. My brother Don, who lives in Oregon and rarely gets to Ohio, is here for the holidays, so my mom will get to have all four of her children with her on Christmas day, which hasn't happened in decades. Warren will be accompanying us to the Beasley family Christmas, where I think he will feel right at home.

So I'm just enjoying a few minutes of reflection before we start into the rush. We've decided to have Warren and Sam open their gifts before any of us go to church tonight, which is uncharacteristically early for us, but it allows them to open them together, which sounds like more fun. After that it is two Masses for Bob and me. (We cantor one and sing with the choir at the other.) Tomorrow brings Christmas with my family, Saturday brings Christmas with Bob's. It's all good, just good in a slightly different way than we've ever experienced before. May the holidays bring Christmas cheer old and new to us all!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Prayers and politics and prose and posts

This is the only evening this week with no real plans, so I feel a little at loose ends. But among the random things filling my mind:
  • A close friend who is involved in prison ministry posts that the man she has been ministering to on death row has been denied all final appeals and will be executed tomorrow. She has poured so much into this case and I know her heart is breaking. I can't begin to say how much I admire the strength it takes to minister in these circumstances.
  • Warren just went out to pick up his friend Terrell, who is coming over so the two can write music. Warren and Terrell together always make me smile. 
  • I am totally looking forward to having a few days with Sam at Thanksgiving break!!!
  • The Church wisely asked our children's choir director, who has assisted the last two music directors, to step in as interim director of music until the uncertainty is resolved about our pastor. That is a great blessing – she will keep things stable and just finish prepping the stuff we've been working on for Christmas. Anyone new would have introduced more drama, no matter how well intentioned they may have been.  Singing in the choir is about the only activity I do just for the sheer joy of it, and I am grateful that it appears to have the potential to remain a source of joy through the holidays.
  • Long story behind the reasons, but I've been asked to help review Mass settings in preparation to add a new one to our repertoire. It's been kind of fun listening to recordings and passing along snarky comments about many of them. And hearing a few that are pleasant, too.
  • At our office today, three new employees started work. We have only about 80 people statewide, and probably not over 50 in the Columbus office. So three new ones at once is kind of momentous. But it makes sense if you know our fiscal year started October 1 – meaning, that's when a new year's budget became available. Add in the time to post a job, interview, and hire and it takes you to about.....November 12th.
  • It has been blissful to have an end to the political ads and phone calls. I have been saddened, though, that some of my Facebook friends who used to post about things I enjoyed and shared with them are still on their political rants. I am hoping they will soon find it in their hearts to return to writing about things they like rather than things they hate. (I don't care which political party they hate – I just find hate unattractive.)
  • One of my very favorite authors, Margaret Maron, has a new book coming out November 20. I am counting down the days!!! Inexplicably, I have not yet purchased J.K. Rowling's new book, though I am excited to read it.
  • After a brief respite of a few months, my prayer list is full to the brim again. I have four close friends dealing with cancer (one in stage four), and another three with loved ones fighting it. Two close family members have been through major surgeries in the past few weeks. Add in the unemployed and those with marriage issues, and it makes a full list. Thank goodness I also have a friend/co-worker who is pregnant, so I have one joyful thing to support in prayer!
  • One of my friends is using a “Ten Things Tuesday” theme to force herself to blog regularly. Another used a “31 Days of Change” and has used other themes before that. I think I need to choose something like that to serve as a writing prompt for me. I feel better when I write regularly, yet somehow that alone doesn't always make it happen. Perhaps today can be the first day of a new leaf....

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Thoughts from an airport

A few little technical issues related to travel delayed the posting of this a few days, but so be it. I still felt like posting it.

I am writing this during a layover in O'Hare Airport. I'm finding this trip kind of like a time warp.

Most of my readers know that when the recession started in 2008, it took my career down with it. I have been unemployed or underemployed since. Don't get me wrong, I actually enjoy my current work very much – it's just not at the same professional level I was at before. And most days, I don't think that much about it – I'm really grateful to have the job and as I said, I enjoy it.

But today is the first time I've been on a plane since 2008. From about 1995 to 2001, I had jobs where I flew frequently. I wasn't a true road warrior, heading to the airport each week, but I flew maybe once or twice a month, occasionally more. Then from 2001 to 2008 my work was local, but there was still usually at least one professional conference or continuing ed event each year. Besides, we had two solid incomes in the family, so we were likely to fly in our leisure time, too. Then in 2008, it all came to a screeching halt. Nothing in my professional life sends me on the road, and pennies are way too tight at home to just hop on a plane for fun. (Most of the time, anyway. This trip is recreation – I am tagging along on my husband's professional conference so we can celebrate our 25th anniversary.)

Now, I'm like a country kid who has never flown before! In four years, there have been changes to the security procedures. Even though so far we've been in airports I've flown through a million times, four years brings a lot of changes. So nothing looks all that familiar. And Bob still travels a few times a year for work, so suddenly I feel like the country bumpkin trying to keep up with the more seasoned traveler. Definitely not how it used to feel!

It's not a big deal, really. It just caught me a little by surprise. From the perspective of my whole adult life, it is hard to imagine that I've gone four full years without being on a plane.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Lessons My Mother Taught Me

My mom is 87 years old and in generally good health, though of course she is showing the effects of her age. I know that we have reached the point where every day with her is, essentially, a bonus. I have only recently come to realize how little I actually appreciated her over the years.

Mom and I aren't very much alike. When I was growing up, unlike a lot of little girls, I never wanted to be my mom. I wanted to be my dad. He was outgoing and charming and witty and people loved to have him around. He was a raconteur with a wicked wit. He went off to work or out for an evening of fun and came home with exciting stories to tell. Mom, well, she kept the home fires burning, made sure he and we kids had a nice place to come home to, and generally kept the peace. She managed whatever money Dad brought home and found a way to make it cover everything we needed. She cooked us wonderful meals and baked and sewed and cleaned and nurtured. To me, her life looked like one of boredom, subservience and drudgery. I wanted no part of it.

Of course, what I didn't realize then, didn't even realize as a young woman, was that my mom led the life she chose. She has always been a little shy and didn't want to be out mixing with large groups of people or being the center of attention. She loved my dad with a depth I can barely fathom: she literally grieved herself nearly to death in the first year after he died. She loved her four children deeply and had the wisdom to accept each of us us as just who we are. When my brother Don left home and went rambling around the country as a young man, she worried about him, but she didn't fault him. She understood, perhaps better than anyone, that this was just what he needed to do. When each of my siblings went through a rough patch with Dad as they transitioned into adulthood (a transition Dad never handled well) she willingly played peacemaker because loved them all and could understand both sides of the battle.

When I was a teenager and young adult, she was already alone, but she selflessly made it easy for me to go off and pursue my own dreams because she knew me well enought to know that was the road to happiness for me. Different though we are, I never doubted how very much she loved me and how proud she was of me. I never felt like she thought I should be anything other than who I am.

Now that I'm in my 50's, I am finally at a point in my life where I've chased external prizes long enough. Though I still do rewarding work and still love to be social, there is no higher priority in my life right now than finishing Sam's upbringing so he can successfully achieve his dreams and find his right path to adulthood; providing a safe and loving launching point for Warren; and spending some quality decades with my best friend and wonderful life partner, Bob. That means that I am FINALLY at the point where I notice what a wonderful role model Mom is and has always been. It might not have been a lesson I was ready to learn at the time, but in my formative years she taught me everything I would ever need to know about loving unconditionally, giving loved ones the freedom to grow and thrive, and making sure that the people we love know how much we love them. What a gift!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Fall plans? No thanks, it's summer.

It feels like I ought to have something profound to say, here in the aftermath of Sam's high school graduation. Funny thing is, I am not feeling very profound at all at the moment. I'm feeling pretty relaxed, which is a lovely thing, but not very profound.

In fact, I don't feel much like someone whose life is about to turn on its ear. Which of course, mine is. There is this unpredictable summer period, then everything gets new and different. Sam will be off to college and after 18 years of togetherness, I can't even imagine what it will be like to not see him on a daily basis. He's always been rather private, so it's not like we share daily, heart-to-heart chats, but there was always some sense of check-in, of knowing whether his day was good or bad, of hearing his laughter. I can't quite get my head around what it will be like not to have that every day.

Warren will still be with us, which is a blessing. The house would seem so empty with only Bob and me here! But Warren plans to start a full-time program at Columbus State in the fall, along with a part-time job. So I anticipate that he will be less of a presence here than he has been. Whether that is a good or bad thing I don't quite know yet. Feels like it could go either way. Or maybe it's both. I guess we have to experience it to find out.

But I need to remember that all of that is still about three months away. For now, I have the summer. Just over a month from now will be Red, White and Boom and the 4th of July. Later that month is the Morgan/Beasley/Russell family reunion. Plus plenty of cookouts and baseball games and hikes and al fresco dining and other summer activities waiting to pop up. So other than working with Sam to make sure he has everything he needs for his departure, I plan to try to live firmly in the present. If I can do that, I think this could be a very good summer! And the fall? I'll worry about that tomorrow.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Follow your passion

Everyone knows the mantra of the day: "Follow your passion." But how do I find that passion?

With Sam graduating from high school, I realize that I need to find a new focus for my time and energy. For the first 15 years or so of my adult life, I was very career oriented and I enjoyed it. Then I had a baby, and honestly, for the last 18 years getting him raised and helping him find his path to a life that would give him joy and satisfaction has been my primary focus. At first there was a transition period, but eventually I found that my passion for my career had waned, and my passion for turning out the best possible young man had overtaken it. When it got to the point where he needed a lot of extra focus, I was happy to give it.

Now, he has reached that point where I am confident that he is on the right path. I'm sure he will make many mistakes and have his share of missteps and adventures, but my work is largely done. He is ready to take over and find his own way.

In the short term, of course, God has given me a diversion. He sent me Warren at a time when he really needed a helping hand and I really needed someone or something into which I could pour my energy. But I realize that it isn't a long term thing. Well, I hope it is a long term relationship, but it isn't a long term project. Warren has already grown a lot and is becoming more independent of us even now. He still has a ways to go, but I know that in a few short years, he will be moving on to the next phase of his life, ready to face and manage what comes next. I hope we will always be close, but I know that soon, he will not need or want a ton of my energy poured into his life.

So I've come to realize, I need to find something that stirs my passion, something I can turn my focus to as my boys don't need it any more. But I don't know what that is.

Bob is more inherently good at finding such outside interests. He used to put countless hours into community theater, which gave him no end of joy and satisfaction. Then he turned to church activities and was extremely involved in the men's club. He provided them a lot of leadership and they gave him a wonderful, productive outlet. Now he has turned his focus to Boy Scouting, an organization for which he has great fondness that has a great need for movers and shakers such as Bob. He just naturally finds these healthy and productive outlets. I need to figure out how to find the same kind of thing for myself.

The problem is, it doesn't seem to come as naturally to me. Girl Scouts is where I work, but I don't see myself pouring my leisure time into it and finding that satisfying. I have been a Boy Scout volunteer for quite a few years and I admire the Boy Scouts, but don't feel a personal passion about them. My faith is important to me, but the Church has a propensity to drive me crazy, and I can't imagine myself turning my energy toward any Church organization that I am aware of now. I still have strong feminist leanings that date back to high school and college, but I don't see myself becoming active in feminist circles today – too political, which in my heart is synonymous with dirty. Thus other politics doesn't seem like a good option to me, either. I just don't know.

So on the one hand, I do think this is an important new insight. But on the other hand, I don't think it holds any short-term “aha” moments for me. I just need to accept it and set it to the side. It doesn't really change anything in how I live my life day to day, but it needs to be there, at the edge of my consciousness. And I suppose I just need to believe that all will be revealed to me when the time is right.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

This year's Lenten observance

Most years, I take the whole Catholic teaching about how to observe the season of Lent quite seriously. I commit to a Lenten discipline and work hard to stick with it. I spend an increased amount of time in meditation and prayer.

This year has been an odd one. I did not commit to a specific Lenten discipline. I have been probably less disciplined about my prayer life than usual. Bible study has been a sporadic thing full of fits and starts. I have pretty much followed Church teaching about avoiding meat on Fridays, but compared to most years, it has been a weak effort.

And yet, I don't feel as guilty as I would anticipate, either. Because in spite of those apparent failings, I don't feel like I have failed God or let Him down. I just feel like my life is in a different place than it has ever been before, and that my calling is different as a result.

This year, my only natural born son is a senior in high school. He has matured wonderfully, and he is preparing to go off to college. My job is about done in terms of helping him mature into a healthy young man and giving him the freedom he needs to try his wings and go find his place in the world. I am sure college will have its ups and downs, but I think he has what he needs to work his way through it and find the path that is right for him. At this point, my role is about helping him prepare to make a strong start into adult life.

This year is also the year that our not-born-to-us son entered our life. I write about him fairly often, but I think it is usually about him, not about me and what working with him means in my life. But I really do feel that God has brought me to this point – that at this moment in my life, it is my calling to help this wonderful young man move through the transitions he needs to make and get to the point where he, too, will be ready to spread his wings and fly off into adult life ready and able to thrive and flourish. Working with Warren is very rewarding, but it is often exhausting, too. He can be inspiring and exhilarating, and he can also be challenging and frustrating. There are days when I feel like we are getting nowhere, and then there are days when I get glimpses of just what a great man he will be when it all falls into place.

Even though I haven't prayed as much as usual, have read the Bible less than usual, and have felt too harried to follow a specific Lenten discipline, I do feel that I am in communion with God and doing what I should be doing. And even though Warren and his lovely, intelligent girlfriend both currently disbelieve in God and are sometimes eloquent in their disbelief, I feel closer to Him than ever.

For me, this is the Lent of helping young men search for jobs and comforting them when they don't materialize; of taking a young man out for driving practice and his driving test; of trying to to foster good habits that will serve for a lifetime and being there to provide support when life gets overwhelming. It is the Lent of supporting my boss, my church choir director, my close friends as they deal with job stress, conflicting demands and the illness of loved ones. It is the Lent of learning to be selfless in a non-theoretical way; of putting others ahead of myself in the press of day-to-day life; of picking up the pieces when my loved ones experience disappointment or despair. It is the Lent of learning that my needs often come last, and that is not a bad thing.

It is the worst of Lents, it is the best of Lents. And I wouldn't trade it for any other.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sam's Eagle Ceremony

What a great day! Today Sam was awarded his Eagle Scout rank, in a beautiful, fun-filled ceremony with about 100 people in attendance.

There are several things about today that I will always treasure. First and foremost, it was such a great day for Sam. When he was actually awarded the rank, his fellow Scouts rose to their feet in a standing ovation that was just a joy to behold. He gave a wonderful, heart-felt speech about what Scouting had meant to him, and I was so proud of him!! The whole day just highlighted what a great young man he has become. I am so fortunate to have him for a kid!

The 100 or so people who were there were a wonderful cross-section from his life, and from ours. His Cubmaster was there, with his family. And tons of his fellow Scouts and leaders from our troop, of course. Two of the leaders who went with him on his trip to National Jamboree were there, and two of the leaders who were with him at World Jamboree. His music teacher from the high school came, and our priest gave the invocation and benediction. Both grandmothers made it, along with an uncle and a couple aunts. But there were also a couple of my work friends there, and several of Bob's buds from his Boy Scout involvement. A few close friends from church made it, along with a couple we've been friends with for about 20 years. The presence of all those folks from different aspects of our lives really warmed my heart. It made me appreciate, once again, how richly blessed we are to have all those wonderful people in our lives.

Warren deserves a special tip of the hat, too. He quit smoking 10 days ago and is still really struggling with the physical symptoms of withdrawal. So I know that sitting through a ceremony like that did not come easily to him, nor did the full weekend of being asked to do extra chores at home or dealing with a bunch of our relatives he didn't know. But he rose to the occasion beautifully. He seemed genuinely supportive of Sam in his moment in the sun and was very cooperative with all that was asked of him. Under the circumstances, I know it took a pretty heroic level of effort to achieve that, and I am grateful both for his effort and that he is a part of our family.

The day is over now. I have leftover food to put away, and tomorrow we pick back up with life as we know it. So it's back to the demands of work and school, to over-scheduling and too little sleep, to trying to lose weight but not too awfully hard. Warren continues to fight nicotine withdrawal and we continue to try to have his back. In many ways, nothing is changed. But Sam has a reason to stand a little more proudly than he did yesterday, and we all have a reason to remember how blessed our lives are. So in a way, everything has changed – it's just a little bit better!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Bittersweet Memories

I spent an afternoon of quality time with Warren yesterday. It was all good, but something we talked about made me think about my high school friend Heidi Hardgrove. This was a bittersweet thing. Heidi died during the summer after my Freshman year of college, and it nearly broke my heart at the time. I would not describe Heidi as my very closest friend in high school, but I would certainly rank her in the top three or four. I have missed her mightily through the years.

I always remember my mother saying, while we were in high school, “I like Heidi. I really do. She's a sweet girl. It's just that I know if you break a rule or get into trouble, you are going to be with Heidi when you do it.” Which, in retrospect, makes it pretty clear why she was such a wonderful friend. She was a girl who knew how to live life with gusto.

And here's the thing: the stuff I would get into trouble for with Heidi wasn't really bad stuff. Shoot, my other closest friends were paragons of adult approval, great kids, really, but I probably tried more of the dangerous stuff of adolescence with them. No, Heidi and I were just more likely to roam beyond the boundaries of neighborhood and curfew.

I was a straight A student in high school, and most of the kids I really ran around with were kids I knew from all the advanced classes. Everyone was pretty much an A average, college prep type. With three exceptions: I had another close friend who played in a band, and while he was a straight A student, some of the musicians I knew through him weren't so much straight arrows; I was active in theater, and it seemed to draw a real cross-section of kids; and Heidi was bright enough, but definitely not on a college-prep track. That was before Title IX, so there weren't girls varsity sports, but she was athletic and played lots of intramural sports. She was taking typing and shorthand and skill-oriented classes like that, and for the school year she lived after high school, she was working an office job, not away at college. Which had the effect of allowing us to grow apart during that school year. I was away at school, so we didn't have much contact that year.

I marvel that we were as good a friends as we were, really. We didn't have a huge amount in common, but we always clicked. As I said, Heidi was athletic, and I am the biggest klutz on the planet. But Heidi always valiantly and loyally claimed that I wasn't uncoordinated. That's the mark of a friend. We also tended to serve as each others “wing men” to use the phrase my sons use. If one of us needed a cover story to get out of the house, the other would provide it. If one of us needed someone to go someplace to meet a boy or check one out or venture into uncertain terrain, we called the other. It was that kind of a friendship.

Heidi died 34 years ago this summer. I have been reconnecting with some old high school friends through Facebook, and that has been really nice. But it just makes her absence from the planet that much more real to me. You wouldn't think it could still evoke such heartache. But it really does. For all the wonderful people who have been in my life through the years, and all the wonderful friends from that time who I let slip away, the pain of the loss of Heidi so abruptly, so permanently, has always stayed with me.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Follow the passion

After much reflection, I've realized that blogging about my passion means blogging about my home life and how the pieces and parts of my life weave together. For me, those are the Big Topics.

It's been almost two full months since I posted here. It hasn't been because I haven't had time, or didn't have anything to say. I actually have three entries during that period that I drafted but opted not to post. No, the problem has been my continued identity crisis about what I want this blog to be. I've been paying attention to what the professionals say about blogging, and had come to feel that my personal accounts of life in our home are too narrow, just don't interest anyone. I wanted to say something bigger: Politics. Women's issues. Observations on midlife. Surely, I thought, those would have more universal appeal. I tried to come up with a structure, thinking maybe I could post on one topic every Tuesday, say, and a different one every Saturday, or something like that. I have a friend who uses that kind of a structure very effectively in her blog.

In the end, though, I realized that one can only effectively blog about one's passion. And my great passion is the three guys who live under my roof, and the activities of our lives. I spent a decade or two of my life being outwardly oriented, career driven. It was a good time in my life and I don't denigrate it. I still hold a professional position which is important to me, and I always want to keep the right balance to give my work life its due. But where does my passion really lie? Here at home. So I hereby give myself permission to ramble on about my guys and their accomplishments and travails and how wonderful I find my life. I will either find readers or I won't.

Since my last posting, things are moving in wonderful directions in Warren's life. He not only continues with his UDF job, but is registered to start his first class at Columbus State next month. On his own, with no prompting, he is taking actions to clean up some unfinished financial business from before he came here. And there is a special someone in his life. There are some complications in that area which I won't detail here, but in spite of them, I have to say that the relationship is having a very salutary effect on his temperament and world view. I'm under no illusions – Warren has a long journey ahead to get from where he is to where he wants to be, and there will certainly be roadblocks and detours and stumbles along the way. But I feel he is on the right path and has been moving pretty consistently in the right direction since about Christmas time. I am savoring these positive moments.

Sam is in the final week of rehearsals for TWHS's spring musical, The Secret Garden, and is feeling exhausted. I just keep trying to remind him that it is only one more week and it will all be behind him except the happy memories. But probably the nicest development in his life, in my opinion, is that there is some kind of interest going on between him and a girl from church with whom he has been friends for years. They both volunteered together at a sub-sandwich making workday a few weeks ago and spent the entire time talking. Since then, they've been texting back and forth and this weekend, they are going to a movie together. I'm not sure exactly where this ranks on the friend-versus-girlfriend continuum, but there seems to be some level of interest on both sides. Hannah is a delightful girl, and he had told me long ago that he would never ask her out because he didn't think he was in her league. It has become clear to me -- and I think to him -- that Hannah does not share that opinion, and it makes me very happy to see him get that affirmation, and to have the chance to get out and have some social fun.

Bob remains happily overcommitted to Boy Scouts, so as long as he is enjoying it, who am I to argue? I am enjoying winding down on my several volunteer commitments that were centered around Sam's activities. I think it will be fun to figure out where I want to spend that time when my time is more my own. My professional life is very busy right now, but I've been through the calendar cycle before and know that it will get easier by the end of May. Oh, and a new department head has been hired. Again. We met her yesterday and she will begin work with us on March 1. We are all feeling cautious after the last person came and went so quickly, but this one did make a really strong first impression.  So I would say I have moved from cautious to cautiously optimistic.

Generally speaking, life is clipping along with joy and verve. We are all in good health, the good days far outweigh the bad, and both young men seem to be moving in positive directions. I'm not sure I could ask for anything more. Life is sweet!