Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A Time To Mourn

I met my stepdad 40 years ago. I remember the day well. I was 5 years old and my mom was introducing me to him as her new boyfriend. I was angry because he wasn't my dad so I promptly slammed my bedroom door in his face.

Thus began our complicated relationship. Mom had a few boyfriends since she had divorced my dad but somehow in my innocent mind I knew this one was going to stick. Life with just my mom was about to change. Drastically.

My stepdad never really wanted kids although much later in life he wishes he had chosen differently because he felt bad I didn't have a sibling to play with but I don't think parenting was one of my stepdad's strong points. I don't say this to be rude. It just really wasn't his cup of tea. All of a sudden he had this crazy 5 year old running around. I can't really blame him for his hesitancy.  Nevertheless, he dove in and for years we attempted to forge a relationship.

There were years of good and there were years of bad. Unfortunately the bad outweighed the good at times which truly altered the course of my future as a teenager and young adult. 

To wade through the years of dysfunction feels pointless now. It was part of our journey and history can't rewrite itself. For some reason we had to go through those experiences in order to be stronger now. What I can do however is reflect on the things that were good and there are plenty of good memories.

My stepdad had a wicked sense of humor. We would watch Beverly Hills 90210 together. He would make me huge bowls of popcorn. He paid for years of private schooling, we would play 'band' together and sing Amy Grant Christmas carols into microphones. On his good days, he was my biggest cheerleader.

When my kids were younger he lived as if he had been reborn. The times he had missed out on being a father were now being experienced as a grandfather. My children absolutely doted on him. He was a fantastic papa and I felt a sense of redemption as he fully embraced his new role. I think those years when my kids were younger gave him a sense of purpose and joy as he actively participated in their lives.

The day my daughter was born my stepdad was at the hospital in the delivery room. As it became apparent I was getting close to the "pushing stage" he went to make his exit. However he didn't get very far before the bed I was delivering on, broke. The entire leg stirrup piece gave out as I began pushing so there I was with one leg flailing about with a baby coming out. Since the doctor and nurses were obviously otherwise engaged, there was no one to fix the bed so my stepdad had to crawl underneath and hold up the stirrup portion of the bed as I delivered my daughter.

Let's just say he had a bird's eye view of a birth that he would have preferred to miss but I will always remember that event with humor as he saw my daughter enter the world from a most 'unique' position.

But mental illness and alcoholism are cruel. It ravages both the mind and body. It has the potential to leave irreparable damage to both the one suffering from it and those that are closely connected with the person battling it. We saw the power it held over my stepdad and it grieved us to see such a now vibrant person fall into it's clutches.

Yesterday my stepdad died. Suddenly and most unexpectedly. On my daughter's 15th birthday. The irony is not lost on me and I'm grieved by it.

However my stepdad took advantage at a last chance of redemption before his death. He started over from a place of complete brokenness. Thanks to a wonderful, compassionate, supportive group of friends, he found joy again. He found a church community he embraced and felt loved by. He was in a healthy, happy relationship. This brings me joy. Although it was cut way too short, I'm glad he left this world in a place of peace.

Today I'm crafting how will I tell my children that he has passed away. I'm choosing my words carefully because I want them to remember the good times, the good memories and the times of laughter that we were able to share in between the difficulties. That even in his moments of despair, he loved them.

My last conversation with my stepdad was an argument and I will always regret that. We've had our share of them over the years so even though our journey together ended in anger and hurt, I know that we both still felt a sense of love and connection for one another, despite the years of grief.

It feels a bit freeing when I say that I'm choosing to focus on the things that were good because wallowing in any past hurt will accomplish nothing and honestly, I don't want to remember him in that way.

He's finally found true peace. Who am I to try and take that away? Rest easy, Jim. You are finally free....

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Second Chances

Over the weekend I was cruelly reminded of my age when I took my daughter to Forever 21. I was one of the oldest customers.

Talk about a reality check.

I almost bought myself a Def Leppard T Shirt in an attempt to reclaim my youth but sadly they only carried it in an X Small. Go figure.

My kids are delving into their teenage years, meaning they aren't needing me as much anymore in terms of the daily needs a small child requires. It is a unique season, a time in which they are discovering more independence which is allowing me the freedom to take a nap, finish a book, do errands or watch a show uninterrupted. And as mothers of small kids know, you can't put a price tag on that.

Instead, our conversations include deeper subjects instead of the latest Paw Patrol episode. They can make their own lunches, do laundry and are becoming functioning members of society. They are starting to vision cast about their futures such as careers, college or in my son's case, a post graduation backpacking trip through Europe (hold me).

But with it comes another season. A season of redefinition. After 14 years of (grateful) stay at home parenting with intermittent employment, who am I? I've lost all sense of my identity as a woman.

We find resistance when trying to reenter the work force. We discover our education from years past really has no relevance now due to a ever evolving market.

In interviews I've been asked, "What have you been doing during your lengthy time of unemployment?"

Aside from wanting to answer, "Raising humans', my work experience is outdated unless you consider running the bake sale at my son's school viable employment.

So I decided to do an experiment as a way to build a little work history and test the waters for something that might click, something that might ignite some inspiration or even a new passion. I decided to start over.

Over the past year I worked as a nanny, a barista and most recently employed at a Montessori school. I'm grateful because these jobs have revealed to me what I DON'T want to do. That alone has been enlightening. It also has allowed me the opportunity to reflect what I DO want to do based on my interests, strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes from present and previous jobs.

I'm entering Part 2 of parenting which is revealing it's own set of challenges and joys, intertwined with sadness over the fact my children are on their way to adulthood.

It feels weird as I start paying attention to myself again, wondering what's next. This time of uncertainty can be considered a second chance. A chance for a new career whether it comes from a new educational pursuit or perhaps from a passion that has been lying dormant.

Whatever it is, I think those of us who find ourselves in this stage of life deserve the opportunity to discover the importance of finding fulfillment.

And if your passion is running the bake sale long after your kids have finished school, more power to you. I have to keep reminding myself that every experience we journey through allows us the opportunity to learn more about ourselves.

Take time to figure out what drives you, what excites you, what inspires you, what challenges you and GO FOR IT. As a fellow sojourner I can say you won't regret it.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

My Month At Starbucks

After being an avid consumer for 12 years, I decided to find out what all the hype was about when it came to working for Starbucks. I figured it would be ideal. Sling espresso while my kids were in school and challenge my quickly growing introverted self into an engaging member of the community in which I lived.

I applied and was hired the very next day. Their desperation for staff was keenly felt as I witnessed the frantic partners with too long of a line and not enough baristas to cover the shifts.

I was excited. I longed for a fast paced environment because it made time pass quickly and wouldn't be a complete yawn fest. Plus, I loved coffee. What could be better?

Not only was I going to make espressos and frappucinos, I was going to make pour overs and learn the beauty behind the Flat White and the definition of a ristretto shot.

I was heck bent on demystifying the glamorous life of a Starbucks barista. I had wanted to work for them for years and had applied no less than a dozen times. I had read "How Starbucks Saved My Life" by Michael Gill and eagerly absorbed Howard Schultz's book, "Onward". Needless to say I could barely sleep the night before my first shift.

But what I encountered was anything but glamorous...

I dumped disgusting amounts of trash, cleaned the cafĂ© table bases and waste cans, scrubbed dried chili off the walls from someone who snuck their lunch in, mopped up the teen girl's dumped Venti Green Tea Frappucino, and learned that people mean business when it comes to 3 or 4 pumps in their mocha.

If you're going in with the thought of whiling away hours honing your latte art skills, think again.
You aren't a true barista unless you have scrubbed the floor drains with bleach and a toothbrush.

I think my moment of clarity that people are seriously messed up came when a customer asked me to weigh her cappuccino in order confirm her ratio of milk to foam was even. Another moment soon followed when a woman produced a rose petal and asked me to steep it in her Pike Place Roast brew.

And while there are plenty of opportunities to hone your craft, the fact remains that being a barista is not as glamorous as one might think. Because contrary to popular belief, the majority of your time is spent doing dishes, refilling cups and restocking the condiment bar.

But I learned so much in the short month and a half I was employed. I learned that for the past 12 years I have been spending an obscene amount of money on basically sugar and water.

I learned the garbage and waste that goes out in one 4 hour shift, is staggering. I learned that people get really snotty about their coffee and need to visit a third world country for a while.

I learned that I'm a gross consumer of Starbucks. I learned that even though I realize this, I will still be a faithful customer.

I learned that baristas deserve a heck of a lot more money. 

I discovered baristas hold a great amount of power since they are the direct link between you and caffeine.

I discovered we are considered drug dealers to many and the longer you make a customer wait for their hit, the more dreadful your morning will become.

I discovered that I personally contribute to the obesity problem in America when I make a Venti Caramel Frappucino with extra caramel.

I learned that hell hath no fury than a white girl in yoga pants discovering you ran out of pumpkin spice.

I've also discovered a lot about myself and it's been quite illuminating. I don't know about you but being trained by a girl 25 years my junior is a lesson in humility.

I've learned that these kids can run circles around me, leaving me in a cloud of latte foam.

I've learned that while there is the potential of weight gain from sampling product, the odds are pretty much in your favor to lose weight. Working for this company requires serious work and I basically crawled home.

I've discovered that I love making coffee and if you're nasty to me I will pull decaf shots instead of regular espresso because I'm vindictive like that.

And in case you're wondering, don't ever NOT tip your barista or worse, drop in your 3 pennies. The person that just made your drink does not earn a living wage so cut them some slack and cash up! I figure anyone that makes your morning bearable deserves quality compensation!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

My Favorite Feminist Is My 15 Year Old Daughter

I never envisioned myself having children. Everyone told me having children was a very selfish act. I always thought the opposite because I knew once the bun was out that oven you started living life for someone else. To me, that's the most selfless thing a person can do. It scared me because I was (and still am) a selfish person by nature.

But the biggest deal breaker? The physical part you have to endure in order to get the baby. I have a very low pain tolerance and so the thought of either pushing a child out of my nether regions or worse, having my child cut out of me, was unthinkable.

Yet at 31 years of age I discovered I was going to be a mother.  I studied everything I could on labor and delivery, caring for an infant and surviving toddlerhood, then wish I hadn't because no matter how hard you prepare, you are never prepared.

But on the first day of spring in March 2002, after three days of labor, my daughter was born. It was the most terrifying event of my life but I fell in love at 4:15pm with a tiny little creature who would one day call me, "Mama."

When people tell you the old cliché of how fast the years will go, believe them. It will seem unimaginable at that moment of sleeplessness and lack of showers, but the people that tell you this have walked the road, they know.

Now on the cusp of turning 15, my daughter is everything I never even knew I wanted to be. Fierce, strong, opinionated, educated, independent and aware, she possesses grace and assurance as she lives out her beliefs. She has a whole life ahead of her, new experiences and opportunities await her. She has a chance in this messy world we live in to make a difference. She is coming of age at a pivotal time in our world and while I'm fearful for her and what she may encounter, I'm also hopeful. People like her are essential in creating change for the future.

At times I find myself jealous of my daughter. I wish I had half her tenacity when I was 15. Instead it consisted of boys and failed grades. And so I pray for her strength to endure and to always stand up for just causes, despite any backlash she may receive. She has a deep, abiding faith life and bases her choices on the core principles she has known since early childhood. That alone has the power to sustain her in times of adversity.

One of her biggest attributes is the fact she puts up with me.  She endures my version of carpool karaoke and my Elaine from Seinfeld dance moves. She puts up with my attempts to clothes shop for her and my nagging about cleaning her room. She consoles me when a driver honks at me and I honk back. She graciously waves back when I yell, "I love you" as she gets out of the car for school.

While she is reading Metamorphosis by Frank Kafka and 1984 by George Orwell, I'm browsing Pinterest. She gets invited to protest rallies, I spend too much money at Home Goods. She attends LGBTQ groups as an ally to her gay and transgendered friends who lack support from their families while I sit at home, safe behind my computer screen. I don't mean this as a comparison but I do mean it as my wake up call.

We have open, frank discussions, everything ranging from sex to our current government. The mind of a teen is so deep and complex. I will never fully understand how my daughter processes information or how she interprets her innermost thoughts but I'm grateful for a glimpse into her psyche and the truth she speaks.

For almost 15 years I've been expecting my daughter to learn from my example, to listen to me and to follow my lead. Turns out it should be the other way around. I have so much to learn from her.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Multi Faith Family

My first experience with religion was as a young child. I prayed with my grandma and asked Jesus into my heart. As life progressed I would ask Jesus back into my heart about once a year in case He had made a hurried exit due to some unconfessed sin. I'm all about being over insured, so to speak.

Needless to say I was scared into believing thanks to a childhood of going to different churches as a result of a hard core, religious step dad that believed people were hell bound if they weren't baptized a certain way. He felt we were the enlightened ones and it was our duty to evangelize those who didn't know the truth.

Thankfully I realized Jesus doesn't work that way.

I was so grateful to leave that part of my life behind and frankly, I'm still burned out by church attendance. Even so, I still claim Christianity as my strength because I've seen enough in my life to know that grace exists and there is hope beyond my present.  My faith sustains me, even in periods of tragedy and uncertainty.

My children are also Christians and teach me on the daily the value of faith. I'm not always happy these days to claim Christianity as I've seen first hand just how cruel Christians can be. I see more faith in those that claim other faiths, simply by watching them in action and fighting fiercely for the rights and justice of others. They are living Jesus core teachings, to live justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God.

My husband is a Buddhist. While not a practicing, lotus flower floating, incense burning, orange robe wearing monk, he does respond to the Buddhist philosophy. Living life with intention and mindfulness, loving his neighbor and looking out for the oppressed. I know most Christians would argue, "Well, that's not enough."

My husband loves Jesus. He loves what Christ stands for, he loves the principles Christ taught. He loves His humility and selflessness. Its His followers that frighten him the most. Time and time again he has witnessed the abuse of the Christian faith, of those going against the very principles that Jesus stood for.

While I go about my daily nonsense, my husband is buying groceries for strangers, supplying first aid dressings and giving gloves to the homeless. He works in the less desirable area of downtown Portland and so his opportunities for service are abundant.

As a Christian, I am humbled. I thought I was supposed to be the one doing all the service because of my faith. But its my husband and countless others of various faiths living a life of service and intention. Meanwhile I'm sipping coffee and judging Christian legalism from afar.

Despite people's difference in beliefs, I think there is a common denominator that intertwines us.


Its the core of our existence. The decree set forth from the beginning to love your neighbor. If I only would embrace it like the many others who are forging a path of resistance against cruelty and injustice. Instead of simply talking about it, they are taking action. All this to say, for one that embraces Christianity, I have much to learn.

My husband respects my faith and I respect his. It works for us and I believe we are better for it because it opens new doors of communication and respect for one another. We have learned something profound. Our core beliefs aren't so different after all....

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Do What You Love

One of the questions that haunts me, especially as I grow older, is the age old cliche "What should I be doing with my life?"

At times I long for the days of my 20's when that answer seemed more attainable because life stretched out before me. Now that I'm 45, I should have my stuff together so it concerns me that I still ask this question in my 40's.

So many times I thought I had the answer but before long that familiar twitching of discontent would start rearing its head and I would be back at square one, mind racing at 1am from fear of missed opportunities.

When I've bemoaned my lackluster career I am reminded by loved ones that parenting took priority over working on career advancement. I was a grateful stay at home mother for quite a few years and for me, that was the right choice and I'll always value that decision my kid's father and I made. But now my kids are teens and this question is hovering over me once more.

Right now there are so many opportunities in which we as women can engage. The call has been set forth, a challenge given to plead the cause of the oppressed and down trodden. So asking myself this question on a personal level seems a bit trivial when there is so much work around us that needs to be done.
We merely have to walk out our front doors to see it. I'm scared though. I'm scared my contribution won't be enough to make a difference. I think that's why community is so important - imagine what can happen when we all join together. We've already seen the result of it. I'm encouraged by story after story of people engaging in protecting the rights of others. I consider it a revival of sorts. The world needs more of it. Perhaps through these days of uncertainty we will find even greater love amongst us.

In light of this, however, I know my personal life needs fueling otherwise what good am I to those around me? While I feel selfish at times for concentrating so heavily on 'my needs',  I also realize there is a balance and a healthy person in turn exudes health to others.

My husband told me "Do what you love." Sounds so simple, doesn't it?

Doing what I love can mean so many different things, like drinking coffee. Or eating brownies. Or watching my British crime dramas. Or reading the latest novel.

But something that I know that I truly love (in addition to the above mentioned) is writing. Writing stills my chaos. As I've said, my writing drives me crazy but NOT writing would make me even more crazy.

Even my kids have noticed. If they see I'm writing, they encourage me to keep it up because they see a healthier me. My husband supports it, more than I even realized. My dear real life and social media friends have reached out in my times of uncertainty. I'm so grateful but now I'm starting to understand that my story is MY story. Your story is YOUR story and I need to write because I want to.

This is what I'm learning. To write all of it. The good stuff, the ugly stuff, the embarrassing stuff. Write it, share it and write some more. Make people uncomfortable, make them think and in turn, teach myself.  Push harder to be honest and vulnerable. Understand there will always be the naysayers.  Listen for the words of wisdom from those that have walked similar paths. Surround myself with my tribe, my people and wash my hands of those who lack disregard for transparency.

I'm curious to observe what God can do when I give Him the chance.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

How The Election Has Affected My Kids

Tuesday night I told my daughter when she woke up on Wednesday morning, a woman would be President. I felt excited that she would be witness to this historical event in her lifetime and I envisioned what she would be able to share with future generations.

Wednesday morning she anxiously checked the news for the final results and turned away, stunned. "I can't believe it, how did this happen?" was all she could utter in that dreary early morning hour.

We watched history being made on Tuesday. As a collective we chose to keep media off in terms of the news commentary and simply watched the electoral votes coming in on the New York Times election coverage. As our greatest fear was starting to become a reality, we chose to remain optimistic. My kids would hover over the numbers and then run out of the room when the electoral votes grew higher.

However, in my heart I knew. I knew it was over. Secretly I was having my own personal panic attack yet was trying to encourage my kids at the same time.

I told my husband as we turned in for the night that I hoped I would never wake up because the fear in me was real and mind numbing. I knew that was a cowardly statement but it in the midst of my panic, felt it was easier.

Wednesday morning none of us could speak on the way to school. My son had no words, my daughter sat in disbelief and I was completely non functional. But we showed up. My kids went to school, my husband and I went to work. We found solace in fellow friends and co workers and I found I was glad to be amongst colleagues who were equally shocked. I reminded myself and my children that God is God and we are not. We carried on with as much normalcy as we could muster. I encouraged my kids to be open in their dialogue at school and to call out any messages of hate.

Yet their sadness was evident. They were discouraged. My proud Feminist daughter witnessed a backward step for women and the acceptance that discrimination was not only tolerated, but encouraged.

I tried. I really did. I tried to encourage my kids yet it was hard because inwardly I was struggling right along with them. But I know we have a greater hope than this world so I pray I adequately conveyed that message.

My son asked if we could move out of the country. He texted me that his teacher was crying and he didn't know what to do.

So you can imagine the irony when I picked up my daughter from school that afternoon.  Her first words to me upon opening the car door were, "I don't know if I want to continue attending this school."

Now before I write this let me preface with some facts about the town we live in. We live in a predominately white, upper class community. Kids go straight to Harvard upon graduation and the PSAT exams are offered to 8th graders. We live in a community that shirks away from diversity and prides itself on living within a safe bubble - a very rich bubble, mind you. A bubble that feels comfortably numb against the atrocities in our world. 
A bubble where any homeless people that happen upon our town are quietly escorted out by the police and local police calls consist of reporting chicken walking down the street (yes, it was ours).

Our family does not fall into that camp. We are blue collar. We are union supporters, We use a budget. My husband's daughters are Chilean. We don't have a house cleaner and we do our own yard work. We don't own a beach house or a time share in Hawaii.  We are known as the hippie house because we have a garden and chickens. Yet sadly, I've become jaded. Even though we fall under a different status, I've grown accustomed to the wealth and low crime rates in this town. I'm proud that we are able to send our kids to one of the best public school districts in the nation. I don't mind paying extra for groceries because we have some of the highest quality grocery stores at our disposal.

But now? Now I'm even more disgusted and outraged. Now I want out. Now I want to move.

My daughter showed me the front page of the school paper as it depicted in horrific, graphic detail threats that were made to students of  different ethnicities and color. The article shared Facebook posts which threatened Jews and African Americans in ways I can't repeat. The posts were left up on the senior class Facebook page for ONE MONTH before a student came forward and reported it. And while no one commented or 'liked' on the post, it didn't matter because no one stood up and denounced such egregious behavior so they're just as guilty. In addition a poster describing what should happen to Jewish students was discovered in the school cafeteria after a teacher discovered students taking photos of it and laughing over the content. And that's just the beginning, if you can believe it.

A timeline was included which detailed 16 years worth of discrimination and hatred towards minority students. Of course, we know there is more. Plenty more of unreported threats and persecutions.

I started crying in the car as my daughter read me the articles. To the editorial staff's credit, they were stating in no uncertain terms that these words and messages of hate needed to be addressed, the perpetrators called out. They meant well and it was written with the greatest of intention. Yet it was the same rhetoric despite their best efforts. Letters from the district superintendent and principal followed soon after, explaining that such behavior wouldn't be tolerated and that 'education' was necessary in order to bridge the gap and build acceptance and equality.

I'm sorry, but if you need to be educated on the basic principle of human decency and equality, you're dumber than I thought and your parents are as well.

My first instinct was to send my kids to different schools but their father had a better point of view. "Don't just talk about change, BE the change." and I have to agree. Several of the affected students have chosen to stay in the school in hopes of "BEING" the change. I am humbled by such bravery and tenacity in the midst of such hatred.

This school needs more that are willing to stand and be counted as the ambassadors of equality, compassion and love for one another, especially in light of these current events that have shaken any hope of forward progress. I hope and pray my children are some of those ambassadors and that it will be a movement unlike any seen at this high school.

And it doesn't stop at my kid's school. It needs to be a world wide movement. As for me and my family, if we don't join in this fight we are just as bad as the students that allowed the Facebook posts to remain, shrouded in silence, contributing to the demise of humanity.

That bubble I spoke of? It needs to be popped.