Every quarter, we have a blood drive at our office. I always sign up to donate, having received blood before and knowing that I will likely need it again in the future, given my frequent visits to the hospital for my GI problems. Seems like a sound investment. As I was filling out the questionnaire today, I checked the box that asked if I have recently traveled outside of the United States or Canada. As the rent-a-tech du jour, Blood Collector Chuck was going over my answers, he asked where I had traveled. I absently said “Mexico” as I scrolled through my emails on my phone. Mayhem ensued.
“MEXICO?!?” shrieked Blood Collector Chuck.
“Well, are you FEELING okay?”
“Do you know that you can get MALARIA in Mexico?”
“Um…yes, but I—“
(whispering) “—you can get MALARIA.”
This last “malaria” was said reeeeeeally close to my face. I could almost feel each syllable on my skin.
“Look, Chuck—I wasn’t like in Mexico. I was at a resort with my husband, and we didn’t drink the water, or machete our way through the uncharted jungle, or hang out in any murky pools of mosquito-infested swamp water or anything.”
He looked at me with one eyebrow raised, and then dramatically slashed a huge “X” on my questionnaire, writing “REJECTED” at the top of it. As if that didn’t communicate the point clearly enough, he sat up straight in his judgment chair and said “You have been REJECTED today, but don’t give up.” Having delivered this swift blow of blood-rejecting justice, he put one hand on my shoulder, gave me a little squeeze, and whispered “Don’t give up.”
Give up? On what? On WHAT, Chuck?
Alas, before I could implore him to give me the answer, he had moved on to the next donor, eager to find out what horrible disease they were plotting to bring down on the blood-receiving community.
The receptionist handed me a brightly colored “We Don’t Want Your Disgusting Blood, You Creep” letter and a pity gift card as I shuffled off in my cloud of rejection. My co-workers smugly looked on from their donation tables, no doubt wondering which one of the questions had rendered my blood unworthy. I wanted to shout “I just went on vacation, people. I didn’t #11 (engage in unseemly activity with a male prostitute). Settle down!” Instead, I defiantly grabbed one of their stupid stale cookies and a juice box and made my way back to my office with all of my blood intact.
As odd as this particular donation experience was, I was forced to think about Blood Collector Chuck’s sage advice. “Don’t give up.” I tend to beat myself up when things get rough. I continually press “rewind” on conversations and experiences and chastise myself when something doesn’t go exactly as planned. There are days when I feel rejected as a parent, employee and human being in general, and I tend to focus on what I could have done to avoid that sting of rejection. There are far more days, however, when I feel blessed and encouraged by my children, employer and the general population. Why do we choose to focus on the days that bring us down, and gloss over the days that build us up?
I recently took a social media challenge called “100 Days of Happiness” in which you were required to post a picture of one thing that made you happy, every day for 100 days. I discovered that my challenge wasn’t in finding something that made me happy. The challenge was picking only one thing. If you would have asked me prior to starting that challenge if I was happy, I probably would have given you a “yes, but…” answer. “Yes, but I wish I didn’t have a GI disorder.” “Yes, but I wish I had more hours in the day.” “Yes, but my job is really demanding.” You get the idea. As I focused on the good in my life, I realized exactly how much good there is on which to focus. What a blessing. Why do I let the days when I experience a little rejection overshadow the days that are filled with so much that is good? I clearly need to knock that off, for Chuck’s sake.
Hoping your day is free of rejection, but if it’s not, I hope you at least get a juice box.
This one’s for you, Chuck.
My five-year-old daughter has a loose tooth. While she is one of the most fearless little girls I have ever met, this tooth is really causing her some woe. I have tried to explain that it’s barely hanging on in there—connected only by a few tiny strands of tissue. It doesn’t have any big, scary roots, and she would be much better off if she just pulled it. Instead, she worries, and she does that disgusting thing that all kids with a loose tooth do—she moves it around with her tongue and adjusts it back into place when it slips around. Disgusting, yes? It’s an exercise in futility to delay the inevitable moment when the tooth slips out into a bite of food, and with great relief, your child admits that it would have been better to just pull it in the first place, before they reached the “dangling stage.” Oh, but my dear little daughter can’t see it that way right now.
“I’m afraid it will hurt if I pull it, Mommy.”
“But, it hurts now when you chew and brush your teeth, right?”
“…and it’s making a blister on your tongue from rubbing it, right?”
“Yes, but…it might hurt if I pull it.”
“It might, but for less than a second. Isn’t that better than it poking you, and causing a big, painful blister?”
“But, Mommy—it might hurt if I pull it.”
There is no reasoning with her that the brief twinge of mild discomfort when she pulls it is worth the pain she will prevent by not letting her jagged little tooth exist in uncomfortable limbo.
It seems silly when you think about it in the context of teeth, but I do the same thing with conflict. I go to great lengths to avoid it, no matter what pain it might be causing me. Rather than biting the bullet and experiencing the fleeting discomfort of addressing what is bothering me, I let it dangle around in my head and my heart, poking me with its sharp edges.
My husband and I are two of the most non-confrontational beings alive. While we’ve never raised our voices to each other and we have had very few arguments, every issue that requires a semi-serious conversation feels like an epic event to me. My husband, however, in addition to being non-confrontational, is also very pragmatic, so it’s not an emotional tsunami for him when these conversations arise. For me, it’s like I have a thousand little jagged teeth to pull at once.
My distaste for “conflict” is certainly not a result of my husband’s response to it. He treats me with love and kindness when I finally muster up the grit to ask him if we can talk. By the end of the conversation, I feel like a child—holding my harmless little tooth in my hand and wondering why I made such a big deal about getting it out. His sweet spirit and compassionate responses make me a little braver each time I need to discuss an uncomfortable subject.
If you ask my ex-husband what personality flaws I possess, I know that a lack of verbal communication tops the list. I have never been comfortable with expressing my feelings verbally, so I would resort to a carefully worded email or note, edited dozens of times. That was exasperating for him, because he is a “take the bull by the horns” (or “tie the tooth to the doorknob” in this case) communicator. When your communication styles are mismatched, it only serves to amplify the frustration of one person and the anxiety of the other. Both parties then need to work even harder to meet the other’s needs.
If you are on the other side of the spectrum, and you are a more…aggressive communicator, there are still a few things that can benefit both of us:
- Think before you speak (but not for days like I tend to do!).
- Pray, asking God to show you any hardness in your heart or irrational thoughts or expectations.
- Be honest with your loved one that communication is a challenge for you (whether you are a “puller” or a “dangler”), and ask for patience upfront.
- Don’t get so caught up in yourself and your carefully-planned words (or impassioned rant, as the case may be) that you forget to really hear what the other person is saying in reply.
I have so much work to do in the area of communicating with boldness. Unlike my daughter, however, who will continue to protect her loose tooth like a precious, stabby pearl, I am going to resolve to “just pull it” next time, and become the communicator my family needs me to be.
One of my friends used to lament to me that “everyone aspires to be a business traveler–until they get their wish.” I have to say that I agree with that statement for the most part. Something struck me two trips ago, however, that I have to share with my fellow parents and wives (working, stay-at-home or somewhere in between): There is great blessing in being alone. Sounds crazy, but hear me out. I am not talking about being lonely. I am talking about having time alone. And by “alone”, I mean without your family. You can be surrounded by thousands of people, in the middle of Times Square, and still be this particular type of “alone.” I can almost hear your maternal gasps of horror from here. Relax. You can be Supermom and admit that you need time to yourself, away from your spouse and your little Dewdrops from Heaven.
When I travel for work, my second goal, aside from providing value to my employer, is to see/do/find/taste/experience something new. I have visited Prairie Dog Town and the Buddy Holly museum in Lubbock, Texas; I have rigorously taste-tested gelato all over Little Italy in NYC; I’ve walked the Freedom Trail in Boston; explored cemeteries in New Orleans– you get the idea. If there is a “World’s Biggest” or “Guinness Record Holding” something in a city I am scheduled to visit for work, I’m there, iPhone in hand, photo-documenting every bit of it. If you have to leave your family, manage the childcare jigsaw puzzle, and suffer through the delight that is traveling by plane in 2014, why not make the most of it?
About a month ago, I had to travel to LA. As usual, I spent a few minutes on Trip Advisor, researching the area in which I would be staying, and discovered that Redondo Beach was a) where they filmed the TV show “Baywatch” and b) that there had been an unusual number of great white shark sightings lately. Sold! Alas, I didn’t see any sharks, but as I was catching up on emails from the beach, I looked around at the vacationing families and laughing children, and was hit with a surge of love for my own family, which was immediately followed by the realization of how desperately I need my sporadic alone times.
In the summers, we have all five of our kiddos every other week (and two every week). I am so grateful for the extra time as a family of seven, and I wouldn’t trade one day of the crazy, ear-splitting loudness. However, I have to sheepishly admit that sometimes it just feels like too much while I am living in it. We’ve all had our moments of martyrdom, where being the mom, the maid, the chauffer, the bank, the personal attendant, the provider, the referee, the counselor and the disciplinarian feels like it is going to crush you. I had plenty of those moments this summer. More than I would even like to admit. However, sitting on that beach in LA, I realized just how much I desperately love and need each member of our crazy family. Distance and separation have a way of bringing clarity to your heart and mind in a way that counseling and Prozac never could! If you are in the middle of one of the “crazy moments”, where it’s all just too much, I would encourage you to find some creative ways to give yourself the gift of a little smidge of distance. It’s medicinal, and it works.
If you don’t have the sort of vocation that calls for periodic jaunts to the 4 corners of Earth, here are a few ideas:
1) Don’t undervalue the healing power of a few moments with a friend. Doesn’t have to be out of town– make time to have coffee or dinner with that one person to whom you can be completely honest about how crazy you feel at the moment, get it out, and then enjoy the perspective that only distance can provide.
2) Take time for something that is just for you. A fitness or art class, or a cup of coffee and people watching–whatever it is, schedule it into your calendar like an appointment and set the expectation with your family that this thing is just as important as a medical checkup or work obligation. You’ve heard that “if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”, right? Truth. Everyone will benefit from your rabid insistence that they honor your “alone” time. Do not feel guilty about this (and do as I say, not as I do while you’re at it…).
3) If you do travel for your job, I encourage you to step outside of the hassle of it all the next time you go somewhere, and breathe in the sights and experiences around you. Take note of the good and the bad. Enjoy the strangeness of navigating a new place by yourself and on your schedule. Let yourself miss your family, and enjoy the opportunity to miss them.
It’s such a strange dichotomy to let yourself bask in the chance to be independent of your mom-ness and wife-ness for a moment, but for your heart to long for your family. That is the blessing of being alone. I am grateful for the distance that allows me to refocus on what is most important in my life, and return to it with a renewed spirit and mind and with gratitude for being trusted with the exact life I have been given. I hope you can use your “alone” for the same purpose.
I am taking a little digression away from the original intent of this blog. My heart is so heavy tonight, and the only thing I can do, aside from praying, is to write about it. As I write this, I’m high above the earth, at 30,000 feet, comfy in my first class seat, on my way home from a business trip to New York City. It’s so calm up here. So unusually quiet and still. Ordinarily, I fall asleep, almost against my will, as soon as I buckle myself in. I barely realize when we’ve taken off and landed. After years of business travel, I think my subconscious has developed a special brand of narcolepsy to make the arduous process of flying just a little bit less unpleasant. Tonight, I can’t sleep.
Most of you are likely aware of the cruel murder yesterday of a US journalist, James Foley, by the terrorist organization ISIS. An unspeakable, unimaginable, horrifically brutal murder.
Everywhere I turned while I was in New York, there was a newsstand projecting the image of this innocent young man, clad in orange, his hands bound, with an air of steely determination in his strong jaw, but a look of abject, raw and heartbreaking fear in his eyes. Next to him, brandishing a knife in some of the pictures (a knife that I can’t stop myself from thinking would not deliver a swift beheading, but rather a slow, agonizing death), stands a coward. A coward who can’t show his face. Instead he dresses like some sort of Arab Power Ranger, only his eyes showing. Even in the grainiest of photographs, the hate in his eyes—the sheer animalistic malice is evident. What shocks me most about these photos is the stark contrast; good versus evil—side by side, but with the outcome already known. Evil wins.
How is that possible? How, in my comfortable, middle-class, Superman, Desert Storm, American reality can that be possible? Don’t get me wrong. I know that there is evil in the world. There is a great deal of evil in America. There is likely a fair amount of evil on this plane. I am not adept at wrapping my head around the sad trajectory of the human race as a whole, but yesterday’s brutal event has forced the reality of it upon me. Time to wake up. I have five children, whom I love with every fiber of my being. Four of them are boys. As I sat in JFK and watched clips of the interview of James Foley’s parents, it wasn’t hard to imagine if what happened yesterday happened to one of my boys (or my daughter, for that matter—if any of them is likely to go across the globe in the name of adventure, journalism and bettering the human race, it’s her). How I would feel. What I would say. Could I even find words? The grief in the Foleys’ voices was evident. I felt like an intruder listening to parts of it–in a place I shouldn’t be. Lurking somewhere that is private to parents who have lost children. A place that I pray to God with all my heart that I never have to go.
Grief wasn’t all I heard though. I heard love. So much love for their “little boy” as his mother referred to him, and as I will always refer to my sons, no matter what their age. I also heard pride for what he believed in and how he lived. What stood out to me the most though, was resilience. They stood there, in all of their grief, and they defied the idea that evil is going to win in the end. In the aftermath of the most horrific thing that could happen to them as parents, they chose to defy the power of evil in this world and focus on the beautiful life of their son.
I have been tragically behind on my Bible reading the last couple of weeks, so I brought my Bible with me on this trip, vowing to make up for my absence and to get back on track. As I was reading tonight, missing my family, and trying to unsee the images from every television and newsstand, my heart was crying out for some sort of encouragement. Something to hold onto in these days when everything feels so uncertain and so cruel. My head is spinning with all that is happening in Israel, in Iraq, in Syria, in Ferguson, in Africa…it’s too much to take in, but I can’t stop myself from obsessing over it.
So what do you do when you can’t look away? When you can’t stop taking in the horror of it all, but you feel helpless to make any difference. When you worry every day about the safety of your children and your friends and family, fearing that terror could again strike close to home, as it did on 9/11. When your heart is breaking for people you don’t even know and will never meet. What can you do? You pray, but more importantly, you pray with faith, believing that God already knows the outcome of every tragedy and injustice, and that evil does not win.
One of the passages that I was scheduled to turn to today is Psalm 55. It’s as if God chose this day, when I was feeling so overwhelmed, as distant as I am from the atrocities happening across the world, to speak the exact words I needed to hear. “My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death assail me. Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me (Psalm 55:4-5).” But that’s not where it ends! The writer says: “But I call out to God, and the Lord saves me. Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice…cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; He will never let the righteous fall. But you, O God, will bring down the wicked into the pit of corruption; bloodthirsty and deceitful men will not live out half their days. But as for me, I trust in you (Psalm 55:16-23).”
Evil does not win.
I encourage you to cling to that promise. I will, every time fear creeps back into my heart.
Dear Father, I pray tonight for the family of James Foley and for all those who loved him. I pray for Steven Sotloff. Put your hand of protection on him and deliver him from harm, if it’s your will. I pray for our administration, that they will make courageous decisions to fight the evil that is arrogant enough to believe that it will prevail. I am choosing to believe your promises, Lord that you will bring down the wicked and protect your children. Thank you for hearing our prayers and forgiving our fear and doubt. Amen.
Since this is our first meeting, I would like to start our cyber relationship by offering you an uncomfortably tight virtual hug. You need one, right? If you stumbled across my page, you might be a member in the big, bumbling, wonderful club that is Blended Families. If you are like me, you may not have been aware that at no additional cost, membership also includes a lifetime position in the Man-Eating, Gold-Digging, Home-Wrecking Evil Stepmothers Club. You don’t even have to apply! It’s automatic! Your husband’s ex-wife will provide ample, constant, and some might say even excessive recommendations to the voting board (your new stepchildren) and your membership will be assured. Ladies, it’s your job to get kicked out of that club. For some of you, it will be easy. For others, not so much. For a select few of you, your adoring stepchildren will sing your praises as you braid their hair and craft haikus about how perfect your newly blended family is. If you’re in the last category, please get out. Okay, okay…you can stay. Your time will come. Puberty. Breakups. You’re not immune, my comfortable friends.
Now that we’re clear on the basics of membership, you might be wondering how to answer the question “Why would anyone want to do that to themselves?” Sign up for a lifetime of stressful weekends, awkward family functions, holiday visitation jigsaw puzzles, etc? WHY? Because it’s worth it. It’s that simple, and that’s what you have to remember. Because you love the person that you married (or are going to marry), and for that reason, you had better love what comes with that person with every ounce of love and understanding that you can muster, or you will find yourself right back where you started, and the kids will suffer more than they already have in the aftermath of their biological parents’ breakup. No pressure.
Blended families need the kind of support you can’t find in the average self-help book. I don’t mean to imply that I have all the answers that the books lack. I don’t. Most days, I don’t even know what the question is, let alone how to answer it. What I do have, is a very supportive husband, who happens to be my best friend; 5 wonderful, silly, sweet, kind-hearted kids (step and biological); an extended family who rallies behind us and treats all of our kids the same; and most importantly a strong faith in God. Somehow He never gets tired of my pitiful pleas for wisdom and my constant apologies for screwing it all up.
This is not a blog to bash exes, rant about step kids or trash your spouse. That being said, my primary language is sarcasm, and honestly, if I don’t joke about it, it’s probably not important to me. My family–all of it, in all its forms–is of the utmost importance to me. So prepare for the sarcasm, friends. It’s my medicine and I hope that in some small way that it helps heal you too.