The changing definition of ME time

Typically, Sunday is MY day. It’s the one day I try not to leave my house except to go for my long run, and it’s the day that I do some housework but try to read a lot and play games with my boy or bake or do whatever the hell I want to do. It’s the day I try to care of myself so I’m prepared for the upcoming work week.

None of that happened this week (or last week). We had a few drama-filled days and hospital visits due to my mother’s health and by Friday night I just wanted to sleep for a very, very long time. But since yesterday was my 18th wedding anniversary and we had been planning to go to the coast and I really, really  needed a day away from here, I went. My brother was kind enough to do a “Mom visit” and convince her to sign an advance health care directive (success!), so I was able to have fun with my family and not worry about anything else.

And I think because of our little daytrip, this morning I was able to get my butt out of bed at a reasonable time and plan for the day. The first thing I needed to do? Look up all of my mother’s medications to find out what they’re for. I was shocked to discover she’s been taking three different blood pressure medications. Does she need to? Is she really supposed to? It’s something I’ll ask her doctor next week, but since she just got out of the hospital for what they *think* is strange effects on the body due to hypertension, then maybe she is supposed to? I have no friggin’ clue.

The next thing was making a trip to the drugstore to buy my mom a proper pill dispenser. Any idea how many of these things are out there? I didn’t either. So I bought several until we figure out what works best. Then it was off to Mom’s house.

You know, she was having a really good day. She’s weaker than she should be, but her mind was good. While we talked, I swept and mopped her kitchen and bathroom floors then made her some lunch. We didn’t talk about a lot, just chatted about her cat and a little about the news. Before I left, we made a list of things I would pick up that she needed and will deliver later this week.

I went to several stores to get the things Mom needed and groceries for my own home, then as I was leaving town, I stopped to get an iced coffee. Yet as I sat at the drive-through, I asked for an iced cappuccino instead (something I used to treat myself with when I was running nearly 20 miles a week) and when the lady asked if I would like whipped cream on it, I nearly swooned. Once I got my drink, I parked in a lot and sipped the delicious concoction and closed my eyes. I took one moment for myself. Just me. I thought about nothing, only how cold the drink was and how rich the cream tasted. And on the way home, this song played on the radio. I turned it up as loud as it would go, and sang my heart out.

“If you close your eyes, does it almost feel like nothing changed at all?”

Sometimes. Sometimes it really does.

 

 

What I Learned about Life at Library Camp

This last week, I was fortunate enough to attend the New England Library Leadership Symposium (NELLS) for the 2nd time, but as a mentor this go round. In library land, we call NELLS, Library Camp. We meet at a gorgeous retreat center for five days and we have discussions about leadership and libraries while networking with our colleagues from 4 or 5 other states. There’s good food, great company and a smidge of a party atmosphere in the evening. (Had my first gin and tonic here!)

My experience this time around is very different than two years ago. It’s a little odd attending as a mentor just after being a “regular” participant. I’m still not sure my knowledge and experiences were sufficient enough for me to be a mentor, but I’m a damn good listener and superbly empathetic, so I think that was a good enough starting point. The experience was different because I didn’t concentrate on my own “thing” this time, but just tried to be there for others. Yet within the discussions and lectures, I found myself struggling with the same issue I have for the past few years–the home life/work life balance.

I got a very interesting viewpoint from someone I deeply respect and admire, but a view I didn’t want to hear or even consider. Making my library the first priority in my life is not something I want to do. Ever. I don’t want to be a librarian 24/7. True, I often post things on Facebook about libraries or suggest reading materials for my friends, but I am also a mom, a wife, a friend, a daughter, a sister, a writer, a reader and a runner. I will always endeavor to be a better librarian. But in order to become even better, if my only choice is to give up more of the other parts of my life, I refuse to do that.

I started thinking about this issue and my continual frustration with it, and I tried to sort it out as I walked through the stone labyrinths that are at the retreat center where NELLS takes place. I kept following the path around and around and every once in a while I’d stop and look around me and would start to feel very anxious. “How in hell am I going to get out of this damn thing? Will I really find the end or have I seriously messed this up?” Then I’d take a deep breath, stop second-guessing myself and just focus on the path in front of me that I knew in my heart and my head was really the right one.

 I recently took a seminar on “managing my emotions.” It’s something I need to work on not only in my professional life but my personal life. We talked about a large variety of things at the workshop but it basically came down to this: You have a choice on how you react to situations. You might not feel like you do, but with practice, you have the tools to step back from any situation even for just one second to breathe and think. At that point you’re not reacting, but acting on the situation.

My anger has controlled me for most of my life. As a child, I didn’t know what to do with all the anger I had at my parents and at my situation, so I ate something every time a little flame of anger ignited inside of me until the fire was suffocated from all of that food and finally fat. As an adult I managed my anger by just letting it all out, yelling when I needed to and feeling free and light as I did so. Yet I now realize this just passed on all that aggression to others so I wouldn’t have to deal with it anymore. I’m now working on repairing those relationships.

The key thing I’ve learned over the past few weeks, is that ultimately, we all have a choice in what we do in and with our lives. There are always limitations, of course, whether it be financial, mental, social or emotional.  But within those boundaries you still have a choice to make your situation better. That might mean throwing yourself into your work and climbing that ladder up through management and beyond, or it might mean stepping off that ladder completely and going in a new direction. Or it may just mean you choose to be happy in the path you chose long ago and it’s ok not to go up or left or right. Others may try to persuade you into  doing something they think you should do or that it would be most rewarding for you to do so, but you’re the only one who really knows.

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Stone labyrinth at the Rolling Ridge Retreat Center. Photo borrowed from the Center’s FB page.

Trust me when I say that choosing what is right for ourselves can be the most difficult thing to do. We may never, in fact, choose that path. We may always pick the right thing for someone else or for our family or for our job. But someday, I hope you can make at least one decision that is exactly right for YOU.  Whether it’s the taking the job everyone wanted you to or going on the trip that everyone tells you not to take. If you know it’s the thing that would make you happy and just feels right for you, then do it. Don’t look around and start second-guessing yourself. Just focus, feel it, and follow that path.

 

Parenting Your Parent

My mother is strong-willed and fiercely independent. In other words, she is stubborn and won’t do a damn thing people tell her to do.

Mom has faced many health challenges in the last 20 years: Ramsey Hunt syndrome paralyzed part of her face permanently, fibromyalgia and arthritis bring her pain nearly 24/7, and osteoporosis has weakened her bones so much that she has broken both hips and an ankle in the past five years. Yet through all of this, she has typically found some semblance of a bright side or tokens of happiness that keep her going. Don’t get me wrong, she complains plenty, but she tries to find other things to discuss–my son, our cats, the weather, who showed up in the obituaries, etc.

But things are starting to change. My siblings and I believe that the early stage of dementia has begun and although we’ve all been in some state of denial, we know that all of our lives will be affected. So many things need to happen for Mom’s safety and her state of mind, yet Mom is the one who still has the power to say “No, I won’t do it,” or “Yes, ok, let’s do this.” Can you guess which answer she’s chosen?

We had a mini health crisis at her home recently, resulting in the calling of an ambulance. They checked her out and although she *really* needed to go to the hospital, she refused to go. My son and I stayed at her house for a while afterwards. I cleaned up the house a bit, made her bed, made dinner, and just chatted. Like nothing had ever happened. Living in a state of denial is something that my family and I are really good at. I was raised in that state, escaped for a bit, but can easily move back into it. I want the bubble I live in to remain clear and comfy and undisturbed. I hate drama and messes and uncertainty. But when your mom isn’t feeling well and she won’t get help and she could die because of that lack of help? It keeps me in this permanent sense of uncertainty and fear and helplessness. And I fucking hate it.

About three years ago is when I officially became my mother’s parent. Apparently Mom had several mini strokes and ended up driving to my home in the middle of a snowstorm while wearing summer clothing. She thought she worked at a local convenience store and told me about the people she worked with and so on. It was scary and I didn’t do the right thing. I at least convinced her to stay at my home, but I never called an ambulance. The next morning when she was my mother again, she refused to go to the ER, but did ask me to lead her home. Now, you must realize that where I live is where my mother was born (literally) and grew up, and the house she lives in now she has lived in for 30 years. But her brain was still feeling fuzzy enough that she wasn’t sure she knew her way back home. And that’s when I knew things had permanently changed between us. I cried a lot during that time, mourning the loss of someone I could always rely on.

Mom will always be my mother. I am so grateful for the fact that I still have her (and my dad) in my life. I realize how fortunate I am. And my respect for Mom will never waver. I am, in fact, very much like her. I’ve tried to be independent, I’m stubborn, too, and I can swear as well as she can. (Mom is a former prison worker so she can curse a blue streak!) But so many of the little things I would ask her for, I need to do myself now. And if I can’t, I need to ask someone else. Like make raisin-filled gluten-free cookies. I still can’t do this, but need to figure out how. I can ask Mom, and she’ll help as much as she can, but typically the answer will be, “Let’s do that later.” This is Mom-speak for “I have to figure it out first, so you don’t realize I don’t know how to any longer.” I know she hides things from me because she doesn’t want me to know how weak or tired or sick she is. Not because I’ll worry (although I will), but because she’s afraid her independence will be taken from her. (Kind of like a kid hiding the broken vase under the couch so she can still go out Saturday night.) And I get it. I honestly do. I said as much to her, but also told her that I don’t want to find her dead in her home, when she could have been saved by getting help before things got too bad. She said she understands, but I think her fear of losing her independence is greater than her fear of death.

So now I call her nearly every day, check on her at home, take her to doctors’ appointments when needed and bug her about calling for her test results. My siblings do a lot of these things, too, but since I work less than 15 minutes away from Mom’s house, it’s often easier for me to do this stuff. But now that I’m about to go away for a week, I feel that bit of “parenting worry” I get when I leave my kid for any extended bit of time. Yet the worry I feel is not for him, but for my mom. I’ve even contacted my sibs to remind them I’m going away and to call Mom more and find out what her doctor said and maybe vacuum for her if you get the chance. (Thankfully they know what a control freak I am so they don’t seem offended.) I know I’m doing the exact thing with Mom as I do with my boy. I make sure they have what they need and “Are you sure?” and “Do you know how to do that?” But with Mom, it feels much more critical. Like if I screw up, she’ll die.

This is a responsibility I do not take lightly, but if I was completely honest, it’s also a responsibility I do not want to have. I don’t know what I’m doing and I’m trying to figure out what’s best, but I also feel stretched to the max. I have a hard time parenting an 8-year-old boy, so trying to parent a 68-year-old woman seems like an impossibility.

Poopy Parenting & Crappy Choices

This week I have not done a very good job at being a parent. In fact, I’ve sucked.

I made some pretty stupid decisions, like taking home a lobster from a library program my child attended…where the kids named the lobster Steve…and then my husband and I cooked the lobster.  My son yelled, “You can’t eat my friend!” After trying to explain that in our home, lobster is our food not our pet, he refused to talk to us. He didn’t talk again until we were eating the lobster…and then he just cried silently for several minutes. (As a side note, the boy actually likes eating lobster, but apparently not after it has a name or after he got to watch it poop on a table in the library. True story.)

A few nights later, my boy was reading Calvin and Hobbes at bedtime when he called out to me, “Mom, do YOU put all the presents under the Christmas tree?”

*sigh*

I started to give him only the partial truth, but when he called me on it, I fessed up. He responded with a gasp then, “NO! Wait! I’m too young!” You can imagine the rest of the conversation. It was filled with lots of crying, honest talk, and ended with my attempt to tuck him in which he adamantly refused.

Last night I let the boy buy a slushee. A small one. I didn’t think it looked like a small, but he was sure it was. So I gave him the benefit of the doubt and later found out it was  large. He slurped that drink down as quick as he could, then proceeded to talk like the guy on those drug commercials telling you all the side effects of that medicine your doctor wants you to take. And did I  mention that I let him drink this AT NIGHT! *forehead smack*

I yelled at him last night, too, when he was “tic-ing.” The tic is a new one, like a nervous smile, and always seems to happen at the worst possible moment. I felt like a total schmuck afterwards.

The week was also filled with babysitting woes and juggling schedules that will probably continue for the rest of the summer, which just makes me want to wish away the summer. And I *hate* that feeling.

It was such a friggin’ long winter and I have waited and longed for these lovely two and half months to arrive. Now that summer here, I’m really trying to enjoy it. The weather hasn’t been too hot or humid, a bit of a rainy stretch, but nothing horrendous. I’ve loved it and have dragged my child outside to “enjoy” the weather with me as often as I can.  Although when you work full-time, that “often as I can” really means “hardly ever.”

You know, I get to work at a job and career that I love. In fact, I’m about to attend a week-long leadership training seminar as a mentor, something I’ve wanted to do for a while, and yet I feel like a damn hypocrite. If my financial situation changed and I was able to stay at home more with my son? I’m quite certain I’d give my notice, sign-off of all of the committees I’m on, and run home to my boy as fast as I could go.

The kid is 8 years old. He can be a royal pain in the ass (and has been consistently for the past month) and yet I still want to be with him. (I know, right? Bizarro.) I’ve been trying to take advantage of those hours when I’m not at work and we can read together, play basketball, hike with friends or by ourselves, play card games, or just talk about anything and everything, even about why boys and men seem to fart so much. (Seriously, why is that?)

I’m running out of time I can be with my son when we *both* want to be with each other.

I keep coming back to this dilemma over and over and over with no good solution. Do I just suck it up, do the best that I can, and repeatedly apologize to the kid for not spending as much time with him as we want? How do I make us all happy? Or is that even possible? I know that if I’m not happy, I will be an even worse mother AND wife, and then *everyone* (and I mean everyone who has the slightest contact with me) will be miserable.

How do YOU do it?

I keep saying to myself that we’re ok. After all, I didn’t do everything wrong this week. I fed my kid healthy snacks as we went on a hike with friends. I played basketball with him many times and never let him win. (He kicked my butt at least every other game.)  I tried to explain why apologizing when you’ve done something wrong is the right thing to do, even if it’s difficult. And we started reading the new Jedi Academy book together and have discussed how cool it would be to go to school there. I suppose we’re as happy as we can be right now.

But is it enough?

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My Staycation

This has been one of the best weeks I have ever lived.

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Hiking up South Bubble in Acadia National Park.

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Hiking the Ship Harbor Trail in Acadia National Park.

It wasn’t filled with theme parks or pools or even friends. There was no glamour or glitz or even much money spent. Instead it was filled with large chunks of quality time with my son, mingled with short visits with my family and bits of running and reading and cleaning, combined with one overnight stay in Bar Harbor that included two hikes, two library visits, and two ice cream shop stops (where we indulged in two scoops at each place).

In my opinion, this week has been heavenly. I’m sure my son does not have the same thoughts or memories of this week. He probably remembers that we went to the drive-in theater and got to stay up really late. (“I got to stay up until the NEXT DAY!” he proclaimed to anyone who would listen.) I have no doubt that he’ll remember that I played Halo with him–twice–and I was so frustrated that he ended up calling me “Swear Bear” due to the string of expletives cascading from my mouth when I couldn’t figure out how to walk and shoot at the same time.

My son may remember the hiking we did, but it definitely wasn’t his favorite thing. Yet when we reached the top of South Bubble then climbed down some rocks to “push” Bubble Rock, he was so proud of himself and I was so proud of us. There was no whining (except when we first got out of the car and he realized we were really going to do this hiking thing).  He never fell once going up and we went at his speed. I had a bag full of food and water and we could take our time. We moved to the side of the trail when others came and we just did our thing. Yet once we got into a rhythm, it took us no time at all. We talked about Star Wars all the way up. We played a long game of “Versus” in which we try to pair Star Wars characters against each other and argue about who would win the battle and why. For a few minutes, I convinced him to play “Wildlife Versus” where we paired animals against each other, but that turned into “Wildlife Vs Star Wars” and let me tell you, it wasn’t pretty for those poor animals.

My boy trying to push Bubble Rock off the mountain.

My boy trying to push Bubble Rock off the mountain.

But once we got to the top, we sat down on a ledge to eat our lunch, and my boy got a lot more serious. He said that he felt overweight and maybe we could do more of these types of things so he wouldn’t feel that way anymore. I looked into his beautiful brown eyes and broke into a thousand little pieces. I quickly glued myself back together, gave my boy a squeeze, and told him we could do as many hikes as he likes and probably more than he wants to.

The rest of the hike was mostly pleasant, except for the boy falling twice and skinning his knee a bit, but all in all, it was truly extraordinary. I know that hiking with him won’t always be this good, especially if we add other people into the mix. But I intend to try, and maybe he’ll grow to have a love of hiking or the outdoors. Right now I know that getting hurt is frustrating him and why he hates taking walks or runs. He nearly always gets hurt (much like I did at his age) and we talked about how awkward it can be while you’re growing and sometimes you trip when nothing is there and your bones are growing and expanding and it’s all a good thing. It really is.

And this is what I have to remember. This is all a good thing. Somehow, some way, I have to incorporate what I did and how I felt this past week into my daily life, into my daily working life. I often say how much I love what I do and how fortunate I am to be a librarian. But as the days have gotten closer to going back to work, all I have felt is anxiety and sadness and loss. I broke down and cried yesterday, hoping to just “cry it out” and get it out of my system. I understand all of what I’m feeling. I do. I’m feeling anxious because I know I have a lot of work to catch up on this week and I’ll have more of a set schedule that I have to stick to. The sadness and loss is because I won’t be home with my son and his stress level will also increase because of having to go here and there and not just be with me. And you know, I realize how great we really have it. We do. I may not have summers off, but I get to do something I like and my kid gets to be nearby and spend a few hours at a library each day. A library he considers home. He’s safe. He’s ok.

There have been several tragedies in the area just this week, including the death of a 9-year-old boy in my town and the death of a 22-year-old man who was the son of one of my colleagues.  The families of these two have had a horrendous week. I, on the other hand, was given the gift of a beautiful week with my son. I did not squander it. I enjoyed it and grasped onto as many great moments as I could.

So now I need to stop whining and crying and pick myself up. I need to get my ass in gear and appreciate the job that I have and the work that I do. I need to show my son that life is not only worth living, but can be pretty damn awesome. Even when we have responsibilities to take care of, life can be fulfilling and fun.

Now I’m off to do laundry so I won’t have to go to work in my pajamas…and I might go buy a lottery ticket…just one.

I will not give up the dream!

 

 

Friendship is Magic?

Since I was a child, I have had a lot of friends. I’ve always been the “good listener,” the friend who will support you in any and all of your decisions, the one who understands you and is insightful and who is compassionate and giving and blah, blah, blah.

Well, I’m done with all of that. I can no longer be everyone’s friend. I am just too tired and too annoyed to keep up this façade.

I have friends of many religions and faiths, including Christians, Jews, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Pagans, Atheists, Agnostics and those that just call themselves spiritual. I have friends that are Democrats, Republicans, Green Party, Independent, and those that no longer care. I have friends that are black, white, brown and multi-colored. I have friends that are gay, straight, bisexual, and asexual. I intend to continue to be friends with all of you…but I no longer guarantee it.

A few days ago, the U.S. Supreme Court made same-sex marriage legal in our country. It is something I had hoped for but honestly didn’t think I would see. I am proud that my son gets to grow up in a country that recognizes people like his uncles (my brother and his partner) have the same legal right to marry as his parents did. It never made sense to him (or me or many others) as to why they couldn’t marry to begin with. And the fact that what we believed should have been true, now is, our lives feel a little better. Like our equilibrium has been restored.

But obviously not everyone feels the same way. Some of my friends on Faceimages5CUW7MLLbook had other things to say, and after looking at the people they were, I realized that I didn’t need to be “friends” with them. It wasn’t the fact that they had different beliefs, although that is why I first thought to examine our so-called friendship. It was because we weren’t ever really friends. They were all high school classmates of mine, but they were people that I didn’t really know anymore. And did I ever know them then?

 

During my senior year of high school, my friend Matt and I were named “Best All Around.” Matt was (and is) a good guy. He’s funny, attractive, athletic, intelligent and sweet. I think I was all of those things, except take out the attractive and athletic and insert “big girl.” But I was everyone’s friend…or at least I was friendly with everyone. I didn’t hate anyone nor had bad feelings about my classmates. I could stop at just about any table in the lunchroom and there’d be at least one person I could and would talk to. I don’t think it was because I was especially kind or friendly, I think it’s because I wanted everyone to like me. To be disliked or perhaps unwanted, was my biggest fear.

But you know what? Being disliked is no longer my biggest fear. Becoming a “big girl” again might be up there on my list of scary things, but one thing I do know is that I can’t be everyone’s friend. I can’t like everybody. Not everyone deserves to be liked by me. And the energy it takes to be true friends with someone with very different opinions than your own? It’s a HUGE amount of energy, people. I know this because I married someone like that.

When my husband and I first started dating, we were both completely open to others’ opinions. We were young and wanted to listen and learn from each other and it didn’t matter that we were polar opposites. We have different political and religious viewpoints…and favorite foods and hobbies and how we place the toilet paper on the roll. He’s conservative, I’m liberal. I’m an Agnostic, he’s not. He likes Miracle Whip, I like mayonnaise. He likes beef, I like chicken. I like to run, he’d rather crawl. We differ so much that sometimes….sometimes it really is too hard. We argue over issues outside of our control (abortion, Rush Limbaugh, President Obama) and occasionally we get so upset that we can no longer hear what the other person is saying. (Kind of like Congress?) Eventually tempers recede or we’ll say something so preposterous that we both start laughing and we’re ok again. But all of that is exhausting. Now don’t get me wrong. I love my husband and am happy I married him. He’s a good guy with a big heart. I just wish he wouldn’t cancel out my vote every election day. :)

So…all of that energy it takes to maintain the relationship with my spouse? I have none to spare when it comes to my friends. None. If it’s not easy, then it won’t happen. Even when some of my best friendships start feeling a little difficult because of one issue or another? I tend to back off and wait for the other person to come to me. I can no longer be that person who initiates the gathering or is the mediator for your discussions. I can’t always be that person who listens to you and offers advice. I’m done. I will no longer apologize for what I believe in or what I think. I have been above and beyond tolerant with so many people for so long.

Now it’s your turn.

 

 

 

 

Jackie Robinson, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and Me

42.

That’s the age I became at 11:51pm yesterday and so far I think it’s a good age to be. I’m in a decent place in my life. I’m able to run 4 times a week again and am in pretty good shape, although with more “fluffiness” then I’d like. I’m attempting to let that go, and today, after seeing photos of me with that damn muffin top, I still think I’m pretty cute. Skinned knees and all.

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My son is doing well, and although we have a bit of a rough road ahead, we’re off to a decent start of the summer with weekly basketball competitions and many planned swimming pool visits. Hopefully my husband will be part of these physical activities, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Being a librarian is still a good thing for me to be. I sometimes think I want to do something else so I can be with my boy more, but I don’t think I can. I’m not brave enough to jump ship without a safety net, like some of my courageous friends. As much as I’d love to write for a living or go back to school to be an accountant (no joke), I’m in a place in my career AND in my life, where I’m just not willing to rock the boat. Does that mean I’ll never be great like the 42-wearing Jackie Robinson? Probably. But do I care?

Well….not really. Being “average” is not a bad thing. Don’t get me wrong, I still strive to be better in my work, my parenting, my running and in some of my relationships. But to be great? It just sounds like too much work, like something would have to be sacrificed and I’m just not willing to do that right now. Maybe ever.

I remember being in a meeting once with other librarians, and I said that I wasn’t willing to work past closing time. Several of my colleagues laughed at me and said, “Must be nice!” I was seriously annoyed at the time, but after a while I realized that those people were willing to sacrifice more than I was. I get home less than 90 minutes before my child goes to bed, so if I want to talk to and see my kid before he moves out, I better get my ass home as soon as the library closes. Period.

You know, I really don’t believe that a person can have it all–the career, the family, the social life. Something will suffer or maybe even everything.  And even if you don’t strive to have it all, nothing will ever be perfect or even “just the way you want it.”

I think in life there are good days and bad days. Maybe a perfect moment or two or a hundred. And if you’re lucky, you’ll realize that perfect moment as it’s happening and you’ll appreciate it and remember it and hold onto it.

Who knows, maybe Douglas Adams was right. Maybe 42 IS the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything, or rather the year in turning 42 you will find that answer.

Or was it 54?

Only time will tell, I guess. Until then, enjoy those moments of perfection, my friends. And may they be too many to count. <3