What Matters Most: Reflecting After Loss

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I’ve done a lot of reflecting lately. I know a lot of people in my community have. We lost a good man. A friend of mine lost a husband and three little boys lost a father. Many of the people who attended his funeral walked away saying the same thing: 1. We want his minister friend to give our eulogy and we want to go to his church. 2. Are we doing enough for our children?

Being a single parent is hard. It’s hard to be the mom and the dad. It’s hard to run and grow a business and make clients happy while being a mom, a friend, a daughter, a taxi driver, a scheduler, a tutor, a mentor, a cheerleader and all of the other hats one wears while being both parents.

This isn’t a plea for sympathy. I chose this life. I chose to leave, to become a single mom, and my only regret is that I didn’t have the courage or strength to do it sooner. But it doesn’t change the fact that it’s hard. And I have it easier than many because thankfully, I have the help and support of so many friends and family members.

However, the passing of several of my friends’ loved ones recently has given me pause. I learned young that nothing in life is promised, let alone that you will be here tomorrow. So, it made me ask again, “What is it that I want to accomplish? When someone gives my eulogy, what do I want to be known for? What is really important? Given that I only have so many hours in the day, what do I need to accomplish in each one?” My number one priority is my children. It’s an easy answer for parents.

I know that I don’t do enough to support my kids. Some days I fall into the standard task master role, you need to do x, y and z. But I do make an effort to praise my children so that today’s to-do list isn’t all they hear from me. I will never have the time or energy to give my boys everything they need or want in life. But my hope is that when my time comes, they will have the tools to succeed in life and be happy. My boys know resiliency. They know grace. They know love and forgiveness. They know manners. They know hard work. They know (though sometimes forget) that the latest toy isn’t going to fill their cup with happiness but that experiences with loved ones does.

Tonight, I asked my oldest if he wanted to eat again between his hockey pictures and his game. He was standing with several of the other players when I went over to ask. They were joking around and he finally figured out where he wanted me to get him food and what he wanted. I started walking away and he called out to me, “Thanks Mom!” I threw back a “You’re welcome” over my shoulder. Then, in front of his teammates, my almost 16-year-old boy said, “I love you!” It made my heart swell. I did my best to not act like a spazz and gush back. So, I threw back over my shoulder, “Love you too!” and gushed to one of the other moms instead.

Any mom of a teenager knows how precious that is. That my son has the courage to express his feelings and to be genuine in front of his friends and it not affect his “cool” factor or care what others think is huge.

I am by no means the perfect mom and they are not perfect children, but that moment made me feel like I was doing something right. Like most parents, I’m proud of my boys. Yes, there are days when they do things I’m not proud of and I do things I’m not proud of. There are days when I want to bonk their heads together Three Stooges-style and tell them to knock it off. But, I’m proud that they help out around the house (no, it isn’t always perfect and sometimes there are more than one or two reminders), but they do it. They helped decorate the house today while I had to wrap up some things for some clients.

My reflecting has reminded me again that I want each of my days to be guided by purpose. Each thing I do during the day needs to be a step toward my vision for my life and what is important to me.

A friend texted me over Thanksgiving to wish me and my boys a happy one. He said, “I am thankful for you today and hope you have a great holiday. Your strength humbles me and reminds me that family comes first. You really do an amazing job of leading your family. Thank you for your friendship.” It was truly the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me. “You do an amazing job of leading your family.” Wow, just wow. Those words couldn’t have been more powerful. There are days when I think I do a lousy job of leading and shaping my boys to grow to the men they should be, for them to have the character and strength they need to be good, make good decisions and be able to lead healthy, happy lives while leaving this world better than they found it. For my boys’ friends, I want those friends to have gained something from being their friend.

I’ve gained a lot of clarity in the past couple of years. Clarity of purpose, clarity of vision, clarity of what is important to me and what I want out of life. It makes it easy to cut out the things or say no to things that don’t add to that or propel us toward that clarity. It makes it easier to draw boundaries.

Maybe because of the death of a few and because we all seem to rush around these days, time seems to be a big topic of conversation lately. There are a lot of great quotes about time. “Time is not measured by clocks but by moments.” “Time has a wonderful way of showing us what really matters.” “The greatest gift you can give someone is your time.”

The last one is one that I live by. I value my time as well as others who give their precious time to me or my boys. One of my favorite times is Christmas and this quote by Thomas S. Monson sums up my feelings toward the holiday quite well, “Christmas is the spirit of giving without a thought of getting. It is happiness because we see joy in people. It is forgetting self and finding time for others. It is discarding the meaningless and stressing the true values.”

Merry Christmas and cheers to what truly matters most!

Filling My Child’s Emotional Cup

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After my divorce, I heard about the book, “Five Love Languages.” I was intrigued by the thought that you could speak to someone and possibly fill up their cup if you knew what love language they spoke. I was also curious to know what mine would be. But as I was reading the book, I saw that not only can it apply to your romantic relationships, but also to your friendships and your kids too.

Realizing that my thought was probably not an original one, I looked to see if author Gary Chapman had written any books about children and found “The 5 Love Languages of Teenagers.” I stopped reading “The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts” and picked up a book that would actually make a difference in my life.

The divorce, the aftermath of the divorce and my children’s father’s impending criminal trial have taken a toll on my boys. Although we do a lot to focus on healing, resilience and that our thoughts have more control on our mood than external forces, I wanted to see if there was something I could do to help them get through it.

When you hear the five love languages (words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time and physical touch) you can kinda guess which ones mean the most to your loved ones. I think most people give love the way they want to receive it.

However, reading the book increased my understanding of each, the subsections of each and how to go about filling their love tanks and giving them the emotional support they need in the way they need it. The book also provides ideas on how to go about fulfilling those needs.

Honestly, a lot of the tips are things you pick up intuitively about your children, but it focused my attention on what means the most to them. So, if your child tends to readily do things for you, their primary love language may be acts of service.

It’s also helped me identify what my primary love language is as well. When you identify what it is and how you can speak their language, it helps strengthen those connections and bonds with your children.

Quality time is one of my boy’s languages and part of that is quality conversation. He has always loved to have long, deep conversations at bedtime. For a long time, I thought he just wanted to delay going to sleep. I enjoyed them so much that we would usually talk for 30 minutes before I’d cut it off and make him go to sleep.

Thankfully, those bedtime conversations have extended to talking in the car and just randomly throughout the day. I’ve learned that he prefers to have them when it’s just the two of us so I ensure he and I get that one-on-one time together. But it also includes sharing funny videos, singing loudly and off-key together and doing a number of other silly things.

One of the most important things I did while reading the book was to talk to my boys about the different love languages. I wanted them to guess which is their primary love language. (They LOVE these kind of conversations and getting in touch with their emotions and feelings btw. Doesn’t every teenage boy? They humor me. They’re sweet.) But, it helped confirm my guesses.

Chapman’s website also offers a free test you can take to determine yours and your children’s. I scored high on a few of them which is not uncommon. What was the most interesting is that my boys primary love languages ended up being my top two as well. I probably would’ve said that physical touch was one of my top, because there are times when a hug just makes everything better, but it ended up as fourth on my list.

My other son’s love language is the one I grew up with, how I was raised and how I’ve raised him. Acts of service isn’t just about doing things for others. For me, it’s also about teaching them independence so they can be successful. It’s about family and helping out the family to take care of all of the things we need to take care of so that we are all fulfilled and our responsibilities are met.

In the end, it has been a focused learning experience on how I can best communicate with my boys and provide them the support they need in the most effective way.

Order book if you’re interested.

Reconnecting with Kids When Your Battery is Flashing LOW Like T-Pain

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Since school started, I’ve been racing from thing to thing with my kids. I have work, they have school, we have homework, getting organized for the year, dinner, practice, caring for pets, and a sprained ankle (already?!?). Life is back to one big hamster wheel with almost daily trips to the store and stolen conversations and stop-light texts with friends. Happy hour is a distant (although fond) memory for this full-time single mom.

To wind down, we started watching “Scrubs.” I loved the show when it came out and right now I have to confess I’m using it as a passive teaching tool for my kids, a way to wind down and fill my little-to-nonexistent romantic life with that lingering crush I have on Dr. J.D.

I’m not a ‘sit on my behind’ kind of person, so the concept of binging on Netflix has never appealed to me. But I have to say binging on three to four 20-minute episodes has been pretty fulfilling. It gives me a chance to hear my kids’ perspective on the show and the problems the characters face. It’s still quality time without me having to dig deep into my energy reserves to have a deep conversation with them.

I had forgotten how much I liked it, how funny it is and how many personal/social topics they tackle which allows for more quality conversation than “Walking Dead” or “Arrow” (don’t judge). Yes, I’m a girl and yes I like the superhero movies/shows.

I’m also not one to decompress with a glass of wine so this has been an exciting discovery. It actually recharges my batteries too – BONUS!

So here’s to eight more seasons of J.D., Turk, Carla and Elliot with lots of laughter and insight from my teenage boys on life, social skills, friendship and romantic relationships. Look out girls, my youngest has this stuff down!

We Are Family

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Today is Father’s Day and I spent the entire day reconnecting with my dad. We live in different cities and only see each other a few times a year (more now that I’m single).

He’s not a big communicator. He doesn’t like to talk on the phone and my texts have to end with a question that requires a yes or no answer. So, it’s only in those face-to-face moments that we really get to reconnect. It serves as a reminder of how much I love him, miss him and need to spend more time with him.

I had a million things on my to-do list to get done this weekend. Instead, I slowed down and focused on my dad. We lunched and laughed. We went to my son’s hockey thing. Then we drove down to Zilker Botanical Gardens and literally stopped to smell the flowers, to watch a hummingbird and to take a picture of a turtle and a piece of wood because the texture of it caught his eye.

For as long as I can remember, my dad has loved taking pictures. One of my earliest memories is running through grass as tall as I was, trying to catch butterflies while he took pictures of it.

After dinner and a shared pizookie, we came back home and talked of past relationships, crushing heartbreaks and how beautiful the world really is. We laughed and cried (okay, I cried and he remained at that 30,000 foot level of ‘that’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes’). My dad’s all-in, never ending love for my mother (who died 34 years ago btw) is why I still believe in true, giddy, can’t-get-you-out-of-my-head love. It’s inspiring, it’s touching and it’s heartbreaking.

Yet he stops to smell the flowers and enjoy the beauty in small things. He looks for the good in people. He’s patient and kind. He’s quiet. I used to spend hours with him in his darkroom while he developed pictures. Using very few words, he showed me how to develop pictures (not that he can’t tell a long (oy-vey) story when he’s passionate about something). He’s pretty methodical and takes things slow. He’s in his own head a lot. He thinks, then speaks.

He also knows how to be silly and sing out loud in public. He loves music and we’ve always listened to the radio and sang together. It doesn’t matter if you’re in or out of tune, just that you love the music and can feel it. He bought me my first album and many after that.

Someone recently asked me what I’m looking for in my next partner. I would have to say I’m looking for someone with more of the same qualities as my dad. My ex was nothing like my dad and that’s a life-lesson for me. My dad will also tell me I don’t need a “next partner” which is one of the many things I love about him.

My family doesn’t do drama. We don’t have family feuds. We live and let live. We’re independent. We love God. We forgive. We turn the other cheek. We love. We laugh. We play silly games. We laugh some more. We sing. We dance. We’re a fairly quiet bunch (unless there’s a football game on, or we need to bust into song). We cook together. We eat together. We’re inclusive. If you don’t have a place to go for Thanksgiving, we’ll make room for you at our table. We’re curious. Most of us ask a lot of questions.

Before my dad left, he got on the ground and looked under my car to finish his diagnosis of all of the things I need to fix. He wished he was 20 years younger so he could fix it himself.

I wish he was 20 years younger too, but not so he can fix my car. My family lives a very long time, but it’s never really long enough and I’ll always want my dad to remind me of who I am when I need reminding and for when it’s time to slow down and smell the flowers.

Happy Father’s Day dad, I’m proud to be your daughter.

So, this is 40…

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It’s not the happily ever after I imagined as a teenager, but I’m happier at 40 than I was at 30 or even 20.

This past year has been the most difficult year of my life and the most liberating. My family taught me that good things (important things) are worth fighting for, working for. And I finally realized that I’m important, that my needs mean something, that my emotional well being matters. Some people call this selfish, some call it self care, I call it self preservation. I had all but lost the woman I was, my boundaries were gone. My freedom and independence are now highly prized and regarded because I fought so hard to regain them. I have control of my life, my decisions, my finances. And I will never surrender those again.

It’s not that we don’t have scars, but don’t they make you tougher? My boys may be a little more protective of their mother than before, but if they’ve learned to protect rather than tear down, that is something of which I’m extremely proud. That I’ve earned their respect as a woman makes me proud because that was part of my mission too. My boys have learned that you have to work for what you have, and that people will treat you the way you allow them to. They are quicker to pitch in and help, to love and to forgive. Our bond is stronger and they have matured beyond their years.

Standing on this side of the storm, the sun is shining, the rainbows are out. There is still the occasional thunderstorm, but I know, and more importantly, my boys know, that we can weather it together. And that we will not just weather it, we will soak up the rain and grow from it.

So I welcome this decade with open arms, a huge smile on my face and lightness and laughter in my heart. Here’s to 40!