Tuesday, October 21, 2014

On friendship

I've never been particularly good at friendships - yet I've always desperately sought them out as if I was was missing something in my life.

I recognized this pattern early, as far back as middle school actually, when an argument broke up the best friendship I had ever had. We even shared a first name. For about a year, we did everything together. And then we split. I would lose my best friend from high school in a similar way soon after graduation (We would reconnect 18 years later - and now are best of friends again). And in college, a falling out my sophomore year left me again searching for connections.

Me, in my 40s. And not caring.
In each case, the "why" was different. Maybe it was over a boy. Or a betrayal. Or just mistrust. But my reaction was always swift and stubborn: They would be gone, and I would cling harder to other pieces of my life. And I would start the search for friends again.

In my 20s, I discovered work friendships, a kind of camaraderie that grows from a common, shared experience. Like hating your boss. Or grousing over a menial task. Work friends were plenty, always around to commiserate about anything. The circle changed from job to job - widening here, narrowing there. Some would grow into real friendships. Lasting friendships. But always, there were work friends.  

At home, they were harder to come by. I'm talking about those neighborhood friends. The ones that just pop over to borrow a cup of sugar, a romantic notion likely fueled in my mind by Hollywood but nevertheless something I always longed for. And perhaps because I felt I could never find it. In one neighborhood I lived in, I was too young. In another, I felt like everyone around me had plenty of friends and no need to add one more. So I kept trying. I'd host Pampered Chef parties, chat people up at the playground. Even try the whole sugar routine myself. What the hell. It could work. Maybe?

In my 30s, there were the "parents of your kids' friends" friends. You know, the mom that you meet through a playdate or by volunteering at your daughter's 1st grade school Halloween party. The other dance moms. Your fellow Girl Scout leader. I had some success here, and count a few of my good friends from among this list. But still, it was a challenge to make real connections.

But now, in my 40s, I think I made the best discovery of them all. And it happened at a PTA fundraiser at my son's elementary school. That had been the annual place where a lot of my circles collided - work friends, neighborhood friends and parents of my children's friends would all be there. So I would care and I would try. It was a breeding ground for new friendships. Except this year, older and wiser, I walked in, look around at all the faces and realized: 

I didn't care.  

All these years of searching and looking, adding and subtracting friends, and I didn't care. I had friends. Old friends. New friends. Work friends. And tons of family friends - a category I didn't even mention above but that is probably the most dear to me. 

And so it just occurred to me, finally. Finally. Finally. That I don't need to chase anything. I don't need to always be on the hunt. That it's happened already - whether by my working at it or just organically. It's happened. And my days are full - actually, overflowing - with work and family. 

And friends. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

And just like that

It was fall. 
So I painted plastic pumpkins and used door knobs as stems. 
Isn't that how everyone welcomes Fall, or is it just me?


Monday, September 22, 2014

Thump, Thump, Thump

"Do you think I'm having a heart attack?"

That's what I typed in a private screen message to a co-worker last week, after sitting at my desk while my heart seemed to be racing to escape my ever tightening chest. The pain hit after a week of having headaches and jaw pain so bad that I was nauseous. And I was searching the web - you know how accurate that can be - and plugging it all in and it occurred to me that maybe I was having a heart attack. 

Thankfully, when you work for a healthcare organization you have lots of support. So just a few short elevator rides later and I was sitting on a doctor's exam table, a blood pressure cuff pumping away on my arm, thermometer in my mouth and a nurse in my ear. 

"Do you take any medications?"

"When did these symptoms start?"

"You don't have to answer. Just nod."

My blood pressure was 170/80 and they calmly gave me a choice: I could have someone drive me to the hospital, or they could call an ambulance. Before that happened, the doctor listened to my  heart. And then we talked. About the stress I was under at work. About the demands at home. About the extra large Dunkin' Donuts' coffee I had just sucked down an hour ago. Then they checked my blood pressure again. It had come down. 

(So there's another interesting thing about working in healthcare. Not only do you have easy access to care and people willing to help you out, but you also learn a lot about how the body works. Or sometimes doesn't work. You see the best of the best, and the worst of the worst. And it all makes you very paranoid. Sometimes that's a good thing and truly makes you listen to your body in a way that you never did before. But it can be a bad thing, because you can self-diagnose everything from angina and aneurysms to tumors and transplants without really having any idea  what the hell your're talking about.)

A couple of days later I found myself back on a doctor's exam table, recounting my symptoms, having my blood pressure checked (it was high - again) and taking deep breaths as a stethoscope  was moved from place to place around my back and chest. This time, though, I was with my primary care doctor, a physician I had been regularly seeing for several years now. She knows me well, medically speaking. And after I word vomited all over her about what was going on in my life, she didn't take long to come to a diagnosis.

"Jennifer, you are depressed."

This wasn't the first time I had ever considered that possibility. However, hearing it from a physician's mouth makes things seem a little more plausible. I always just thought I got the sads. You know, from stressful life stuff like work and family and bills - and late notices. Just a little down from time to time. My doctor handed me a two-page questionnaire, and left me alone to answer the questions. 

Yep, that's me. Yep to that one, too. Check. Check. Oh, no. Not that one. But check to that. Yeppers. 

So there it was. I wasn't having a heart attack. Or in need of a transplant. Or thank God, not suffering an aneurysm. No need for any transplant, either. I was simply being depressed. And doing it very well, while highly caffeinated. It was like having a case of the sads but just having a really hard time lifting yourself out of it. 

I left the physician's office with a plan that includes seeing her regularly - and cutting out the caffeine. And a bunch of other stuff, of course. 

Oh, and I decided to lay off diagnosing myself on the web for a while, because that just seems like a smart thing to do.  


Friday, September 5, 2014

That's my girl, and she really can fly



My daughter started high school two weeks ago. And last night, we had our first argument.

In middle school, it wouldn't have taken that long. Every morning when I'd go in her room to wake her up, she'd open her eyes with a scowl on her face, sometimes telling me to stop talking or to leave her alone. She'd complain about having nothing to wear. Her homework wouldn't be done. Her teachers were awful, she'd say. I'd remind her five times to brush her teeth. And then still sometimes she would forget. 

But for the last two weeks, I had seen a different girl. A more mature girl. Setting her alarm and waking up on her own. Wearing cute outfits she picked out - and often bought - by herself. Spending time on her hair and brushing her teeth, without being asked. Doing her homework, also without prompting. Making her own lunch. 

Yes, we were off to a great start. 

Until...

"I hate my math teacher," she said.

That had been her way the last few years. If she didn't like a teacher, I knew what was to come. Fighting over homework, doing poorly in class. I didn't want this to be the way. It was high school, after all. And something had to change. This counts now.

"If you are having trouble with math we can help. We can get you a tutor," I offered, my voice stern but calm. I told her if there was a problem, that we wanted to know now, instead of finding out too late that she wasn't doing well. I told her that just getting by wasn't going to work anymore.

She became defensive. She got angry. It was the way he teaches. And she doesn't like math anyway. And then...

"It's because I'm stupid."

She used that "s" word over and over, talking about how others were in calculus while she was in geometry and that she'd never be the valedictorian or get straight As. That we needed to lower our expectations. And each time she spoke, my heart broke. She wasn't stupid, I told her. Over and over. She wasn't. Why would she think such a thing? But more importantly, how could I convince her she wasn't?

She's not. I know she's not. She's bright, creative and funny and has always been a little too grown for her own good. Her kindergarten teacher said it best when she labeled her a "free spirit" - a little blonde hair, blue eyed beauty who seemed to flutter like a butterfly from thing to thing, never stopping too long. 

To me, she is extraordinary, possessing the fearlessness I never had. 

Yet, in this one thing - this hugely important thing called school - she lacks confidence. And I can't let that be. I can't let that be what she thinks. As a family, we can't let that be. It's our job to find that mirror into her soul so that she can see what we see. 

Because we all see it. The girl that's the valedictorian. Or the straight A student. Or whatever she really wants to be. Anything at all. And she needs to see it.

___

The task of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, 
but to elicit it, for the greatness is already there - John Buchan


Thursday, August 21, 2014

What little boys are made of



Warning: this post contains lots of references to flatulence. Also known as passing gas. Or, more commonly, farting. After all, I'm talking about spending an entire day hanging out with my 6-year-old son. And when you talk about little boys, inevitably you talk about, well, a lot of hot air. Coming from your behind. Because little boys think that's funny. And admittedly, sometimes so do moms.

So it all began one day this week when I worked from home, my son literally by my side all day like an extra appendage. Despite having two couches and a comfy recliner in the family room, it seems no matter where I sat he snuggled right up next to me playing his video games, or watched a movie perched on my lap.

"You know," I'd say,"there's a big empty couch over there."

"Yeah, I know," he'd say. "But I like you."

Well, can't argue with that now, can I?

So there we sat, intertwined all day long while I worked on the computer and made a few phone calls, and he puttered on his electronics playing golf or destroying evil villains. He found a movie on TV at one point, and we laughed together at the silly parts. Later, he accompanied me to the dentist, the only time he wasn't physically at my side, but still intent on being as he says "up in my business" as much as possible. He sat quietly in a chair in the corner of the dentist's office, and out of the corner of my eye - with my mouth wide open and metal tools scraping my teeth - I could see him once in a while stand up to peer around the hygienist and get a better view of the excavation taking place.

Back at home, he helped me do a few loads of laundry. I tried to make a game of it, convincing him to pick up dirty clothes and throw them in the washing machine as if he was dunking a basketball. Laughter ensued. Inspired, he decided to make his own game, too.

"So every time we fart, we get a point," he said.

"That's the game?" I asked.

"Yes, that's the game. The first one to 20 wins."

Hmmmm. OK. I had never played this game before, but I was certain I could be a contender. So we went about our business - me working on the computer and he playing video games. Every once in a while out of the quiet, he'd say:

"Two.... No, I think that was three."

Sometimes it was obvious. Other times, not so much. And believe me, the latter was fine by me.

We went about the rest of our day. My husband came home. We had dinner. I did the dishes and checked the laundry. We all watched TV.

At bedtime, I went upstairs to lay down and there came Matt, laying next to me. I put on one of his favorite TV shows and we laid down in silence, both of us tired from a long day. No one said a word. Eventually, when his eyelids started to fall, I turned the TV off, shut off the light and closed my eyes. And then, I let something slip. Out of the dark, quiet room, I heard a tiny voice.

"You win."


Monday, August 18, 2014

Surprise!

We planned a little surprise room makeover for our daughter.
And it all started with some dusty $1 picture frames


and a thrift store lamp


and a few cans of gray paint and some elbow grease.




And after a weekend of work, we ended up with this...






And it all started with a thrift store lamp...


and some dusty $1 picture frames.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A little face in the window

Lately, I've felt kind of blah. I feel stuck at a job where I can't advance and can't make anymore money. I feel frustrated at home where I feel like I'm always trying to keep up with everything from the bills to the laundry. And I've been feeling bad about myself. Just blah, blah, blah. And when you feel that low, it's easy to find all sorts of reasons to pile on the misery. Like checking Facebook and seeing everyone on vacations you aren't on. Or getting to work and being surprised (in a bad way) about something you forgot to put on your calendar. Or opening the mail and seeing another late notice. They are all reasons to keep feeling crappy.

So that's what I did. I piled on, making myself feel as miserable as possible. And it was a Monday - the perfect day of the week for misery. I sat on the train on my ride home from work just sulking, all these real and perceived things weighing me down. My plan was to get home, do as little as possible to get the family fed, and then go to bed. Just lay in bed and wallow in what I couldn't change.

At home, I parked in the driveway and slumped out of the car. Above me, I heard a rapping at the window. I looked up and there was my son, knocking and waving. And smiling. It was a smile that was so wide and infectious that it made me smile back. And for that night, that was all it took. It didn't change anything that was wrong. It didn't fix the things I want to fix. It was just a smile, that lit up my night. And changed my mind about my plans that night.

Instead of going to bed, I played games with my son. We cuddled. And later that night, as he lay beside me in bed watching TV he said, "Mom, I wish my legs were longer."

"Why?" I asked. "So you could be taller?"

"No, so I could do this," he said as he extended out his legs, then tried to fold them back behind his head. 

I looked at him and we both laughed. Hysterical, silly laughter. And it's just what I needed. That little face in the window.