Saturday, April 10, 2010

My Four-Decade Journey

Today is my last day of being 39. Tomorrow is the big milestone. The auspicious occasion that needs to be honored with black "Over the Hill" balloons and "Lordy, Lordy, Look Who's 40 signs". From this point forward, every April 11th, I will be "39 again" and spend countless hours in the mirror checking for age spots and crow's feet.
Nope. Not me. That's not how I see it. It's another day. An important one, but to me, all birthdays are important, whether it's the 13th, 28th or 40th. It's another year of a journey we are taking and it's a great day to appreciate life.
I've been around now for 4 decades. It is a long time. I'm happy to say that those decades have contained a lot of living, loving and laughter. Here are a few of my reflections on those decades:

1970-1979, the childhood years
I had a good childhood. I was lucky to be brought up in a loving home, by parents who stayed together, taught me traditional family values and the importance of God and family in life. I knew early on that I was adopted. It never bothered me. Never made me feel different or incomplete. It was just a fact of my existence. Looking back now, especially after becoming a mother myself, I have a renewed respect for my birth mother. She had great strength and courage to make such a huge sacrifice, just so I could have a better life. I will always be grateful to her for that.
My childhood is filled with memories of Catholic grade school, friends, playing baseball, riding bikes and family time. A good start.

1980-1989, the transformation decade
What else can you call it really? The decade starts at the age of 10, when I'm still playing with Barbie dolls, carries me through high school and ends with me as a young adult, driving, dating and going to college. I'm not sure there is any quicker transition in life, except for maybe birth to age 1.
I really can't complain about my life at this stage either. Sure there were awkward moments, broken hearts, days of anger and confusion. There were certainly worries of trying to fit in and be one of the crowd. Mostly, it was just ordinary life. My tween and teen years were not angst-ridden or overly-tumultuous. Sure, I clashed with my parents. I hung out with people they didn't like and did things they didn't approve of, but I could because by the age of 16, I knew everything. My mother had a different opinion on that. Looking back, I agree with her, but I also see that things could have been much worse. I think it was the Catholic guilt that kept me from going too far.
I was a well-adjusted tween with lots of friends and even a year as captain of the Our Lady of Sorrows cheerleaders. The high school years were actually more focused on things outside of those walls. Working at McDonald's and hanging out with those friends became much more important than basketball games or dances. Sure, I went to some of those too, but school spirit just wasn't really my thing at the time. It was around this time that I began to party. Drinking and smoking became regular activities for me on the weekends. I think that graduating high school with a scholarship, starting college and coming out of this decade without an arrest record and still a virgin shows that it really could have been a lot worse!

1990-1999, welcome to life
The next 10 years marked the completion of college, the beginning and ending of a few serious relationships (and many casual ones in between), working, continued partying, falling in love, moving into my first apartment and getting married. Starting a relationship with Mike one fateful night in a bowling alley, changed the direction of my life forever. It was bumpy at the beginning, but the love between us was transformational. My mom said he brought out the best in me and brought back a side of me not seen in quite a while. A loving, caring and giving side, rather than the self-absorbed side everyone had seen for some time. We were married and life was wonderful. We had each other, great families, good jobs and most of all, we had fun together. We spent time going places, seeing and doing things and most of all, enjoying each other's company. At the end of the decade, we started construction on a house. It was a decade of happiness, joy and hope for the future.

2000-2009 (and a little of 2010 too), welcome to the REAL world
On many nights, lying in bed with Mike, I would often ask him if he was worried that things were too perfect. Our lives were so good, I was just always afraid of what might happen, waiting for that other shoe to drop. This decade was filled with shoes of all shapes and sizes. Parents getting older and ill, infertility, job losses. This decade was a true test of our relationship, our stress levels and our coping skills. It was a time of sadness, fear, worry and anxiety. This isn't to say that the decade was a total loss. In reality, it was because of these obstacles that this was the most important decade so far. In the midst of these issues came growth, understanding and emotional maturity. This was a time of the best and worst things in life--literally birth and death. The loss of a parent is devastating. For it to happen to both Mike and myself within 2 months is crushing. We have each other and we have the brightest star in all of the darkness and that is our daughter, Marissa. Her little life brings so much joy to us and really makes us appreciate what we have. This was a decade of really learning from the journey, counting our blessings and believing in each other and a higher power.

So that's the last 39 year, 364 days. Tomorrow starts a new decade. A new chapter. I welcome it with open arms. Now I just have to decide if I need to change the name of this blog. It's a question for another day I think.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

365 Days of Lessons Learned

I've been shedding quite a few tears in the last day or two. Those bittersweet mommy tears. My beautiful baby girl will be 1 year old tomorrow. I don't even know how to describe what I'm feeling. Sad? No. Nostolgic and sentimental, absolutely. I've been looking at pictures and seeing all the ways she's changed and grown over the last year. I've come to the realization that I've done quite a bit of growing and changing too. My daughter has taught me so many things over the course of this year. Here are some of those lessons:

-Go with the flow. No matter how well you plan, something will come up and change everything. The key is to remember that the majority of the time, it just doesn't matter.
-Simple is perfect. No need for complicated or expensive toys--an empty water bottle or a paper towel roll will do just fine.
-Comfortable, washable clothes are a must. Nothing makes you feel worse than something that is scratchy, too tight or gives you a rash. Plus, when you spit up, spill or get something dirty, it's no big deal.
-Children are life's light. Even in our darkest hours, looking at the face of a child can make the most painful heartbreak bearable.
-Poop is extremely important. Who knew how much this dirty little subject would dominate my adult conversations with my husband?
-Don't cry over spilled milk. Or pureed carrots on the wall, floor and baby. Or pasta and beans thrown around the kitchen.
-Nothing makes you feel more helpless than a sick child. Nothing makes you feel more like a hero when they climb into your arms for comfort.
-Change is difficult. Whether is learning to crawl, cutting teeth or trying solid foods, no change happens without mishaps and even a little pain. However, the change is so rewarding once it's achieved.
-Nothing in the entire world is more beautiful than seeing your child smile. No sunrise or shooting star can compare to the twinkle in a child's eye.
-Forget those "3 little words" that we always long to hear. Nothing melts the heart quicker than hearing your baby say "mama".
-Be the best version of you, if not for your own sake, for your child's sake. Everything you do now impacts more than just you.

I'm sure there are more lessons that I have forgotten to write here. I know there are so many more to learn. I knew that becoming a mother would mean that I would be a guide and a teacher. I never realized how often I would also be the student.
After 365 days of school, I can't wait to see how the next chapters unfold.
Marissa Anne, you are the love of my life, my heart and soul. I have never been more blessed than the day you came into my life. I love you now and forever.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Everything Old is New Again

Ahh, the magic of technology and social networking. Who knew that using the popular technology of today would take me back down memory lane to a time before cell phones, computers and iPods, but that is exactly what has happened. In the last few weeks, my childhood, teenage years and college life have come back to visit me and all I had to do was click "accept".
I have reconnected with people that I have known since I was 4 years old, but probably have not seen or spoken to in 20 years or possibly more. One of my connections, Joe, I've known forever. I'm not sure if he remembers or not, but we walked to kindergarten together, while our moms followed behind, excited about our day ahead at school. We would see our crossing guard, Mrs. Peach every day. Sometimes after school, I would go to Joe's house and we would watch cartoons. We sat next to each other in 1st grade in Miss Tiglemann's class. Now we are all grown up, with kids of our own. Joe is an "older parent" like me. His daughter is 3. Coincidentally, my husband and his brother went to school together. Small world. Facebook is making it even smaller.
Another recent connection is my friend Gregg. Gregg and his brother and sister lived across the street from us growing up. We spent many a summer day playing baseball or "pickle" in the alley. We traded baseball cards. I was a tomboy back then, mostly because I needed to fit in with the guys in the neighborhood. There weren't too many girls. We would sit on their covered porch and play games and when his mom wasn't within earshot, we tried to teach his 2 year old sister to say "shit". I talked to Gregg on the phone for an hour the other night. Turns out, we've been living within a few miles of each other for several years now. It's surprising we haven't run into each other before now. That's the magic of the internet. You can run into a lot of people on the information super highway that you've completely missed in the hustle and bustle of daily life.
I've also been in touch with 3 girlfriends for the last year or so as well. While I am connected with them on the internet, we made our reunions the old-fashioned way, by phone. All 4 of us will turn 40 this year. Jackie, is in a happy relationship with her boyfriend and enjoying her life. Carrie and her husband adopted a little girl from China over a year ago and are in process of another adoption and my friend Jenny and her husband are expecting a baby this September. They have a 12 year old son and had accepted that another child was not in the cards for them. Life is full of surprises. It sure is. I hadn't been in close contact with any of them over the years--maybe a card at Christmas or one phone call a year--but it's amazing how we still have so much in common. Carrie, Jenny and I are all "older moms". I know they say they are out there, but before now, really didn't know any.
They say you find happiness in unexpected places. By reconnecting with old friends, I've realized that even though many years have gone by, we still have the common interests, memories and values that brought us all together in the first place. That makes my day brighter and my soul happy. Thanks Facebook for making everything old, new again.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Letting Go--It's About Time

Anyone who knows me can testify that I have some control issues. Some might say I'm a bit anal about things. Heck, some might say I'm downright OCD. I'll admit it. I like to have my house and my life in order. At all times if possible.
That's why yesterday was so completely out of character for me. As I put Marissa in her high chair, it suddenly occured to me that while I don't want her to grow up too fast, I do need to let her do more experimenting and experiencing for herself. The experiment of choice today started with oatmeal. I made it thicker than normal, mixed in the fruit and put the bowl in front of my waiting daughter. Then I handed her the spoon. She looked confused, but then she started to explore. The next 20 minutes were filled with smiles, giggles and lots of fun. And Marissa had a good time too.
Suddenly, I felt the world changing. I made a few adjustments in the kitchen and then felt brave enough to open up the gate that had been confining Marissa to the living room only. Now she had run of the entire living room and kitchen--double the space. Again, she seemed puzzled, but started to enjoy it.
When we went to the store, she wore her new shoes and I let her drink a sippy cup while riding in the cart. Sheer madness I tell you!
I know to many people these changes may not sound like such a big deal, but to me they are life-changing, for my daughter and myself. She has more latitude to play, learn and grow. I have allowed myself to let go. It's about time some would say. I never knew that I could feel this free.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

What's Wrong with Accountability?

Our neighborhood has a message board. It comes in handy when we have things we want to share with the neighbors like coordinating the annual rummage sale, school fundraisers, handyman recommendations and illegal activities that may go on or affect the neighborhood.
I find myself so frustrated with my neighbors whenever something bad happens in the subdivision. This morning I read a post about a neighbor who, by their own admission, left the garage door open and car unlocked, and had a GPS unit and CDs stolen out of their car overnight. They continue on to say they have filed a police report and that the police encouraged them to continue to report crimes or suspicious behaviors in the area. Great. I truly appreciate the heads-up on these types of things. Especially since I am home all day, I can be on the lookout. Another neighbor chimed in that they called another neighbor and told them to close their door because it was open and there were 2 kids who were hanging out in the area, going back and forth around the garage for at least an hour.
This is where I get so angry! Really? You watched these kids essentially case the joint and/or work up the courage to steal for an hour and didn't think to call the cops? To add more fuel to my fire, another neighbor responds to this by essentially ignoring the part about the kids and saying we all need to lock up. Sure. Let's lock up. Shouldn't we all want to know what these kids look like so we can be on the lookout? Oh no, we don't. That's right.
See, I live in a subdivision of ostriches. Everyone wants to bury their heads in the sand and not really see that it might be their own kids or their kid's friends doing these things. They just want to go half-way to solve the problems when the fact is this--holding people accountable works.
Last summer, our neighbors were in an uproar about speeders in the subdivision. I was in agreement. I told everyone that much of the problem was the high school crowd right after school. I went on to describe the cars of the 5 daily offenders that paraded past my house every weekday at 2:45pm. I suggested that the solution should be to give these car descriptions to the police officer at the high school so he could talk with them. You know what my neighbors wanted to do? They wanted everyone to sign a "promise" to the subdivision that they wouldn't speed. What?!? And when someone broke that promise what happens, we take away their birthday?
I went ahead and reported those cars. Guess what. They don't come speeding through here anymore. Accountability works.
In the fall, 2 middle school kids decided to play ding-dong-ditch at my house and waited outside with a camera to catch my reaction. When I turned the tables on them, took their picture and posted it on our message board, my neighbors had a fit! They said that I had no right to do this and that what they did was harmless. Some even threatened to call the police! I agree that ring and run is not a Federal offense, but just because it's harmless, doesn't make it right. Now, of course they didn't call because first of all, there was nothing to report and second of all, because no one can hold anyone accountable! But guess what? I haven't seen those 2 kids anywhere near our house again!
When my husband alerted the neighborhood about the kid who kept leaving 200ft burnouts on the road, people got mad that he "embarrassed" the kid and his family by doing this. So what! First of all, they should be embarrassed. Second, there haven't been any more tire tracks.
There are people out there making tons of money, trying to teach parents how to get their children to behave. It's all based on boundaries and accountability. It's not rocket science. Every action has consequences. Plain and simple.
My neighbors can continue to be ostriches and pretend they don't see what's going on, but I won't. I will continue to stand up and call people out if they are doing wrong. They actually might turn out okay if someone holds them accountable.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Shut Up Rosie!

I've been scratching my head all morning, trying to figure out this out. This morning, Rosie O'Donnell was on GMA. Okay, that's my first mistake--watching her interview at all. It happened to be on. I was busy. Moving on. What she said made me stop in my tracks. She was asked to rate Obama's first year and she said that it was better because, and I quote "the last 8 years were horrible, by anyone's standards"
Horrible by anyone's standards. Horrible. Horrible. I'm really perplexed. I'll get the calendar. Oh, big surprise! She's referring to 2000-2008, the Bush era! It's the "Blame it on Bush" mantra so popular to the left, AGAIN!
Let me recount to you how "horrible" my life was during those eight years. Let's start with gainful employement. During those years I was employed by 3 different, successful, profitable companies. I was paid a good salary, given excellent benefits and vacation time too. I participated in 401(k) plans with company matching. My retirement funds increased. My investments grew. We had enough income between my husband and I to pay our bills, pay down our mortgage, save for a rainy day and buy items to contribute to an overall growing American economy. We built a house. We bought a car or two. We even had enough money left over to pay for doctor's expenses not covered in order to conceive our beautiful daughter. How horrible indeed.

Now, there were some hiccups in this smooth sailing. The tragic events of 9/11 forever changed our lives. The only horrible things that I can think of that came out of these 8 years were the innocent deaths of thousands of people at the hands of radical, religious terrorists and the fact that our society became too politically correct to hold people accountable for anything for fear of offending someone.

Ms. O'Donnell seems to forget that our Constitution and our freedom are what allow her to say such stupid things on a daily basis. My life was pretty damn good for those 8 years. It's post 2008 that I no longer have a job, my investments are down and we are not spending money anymore to fuel the economy. Unfortunately, we may be on the brink of the true "horrible" time in our country.