A senior letter

This has to be one of the hardest letters I have ever written. xoxo

I’m supposed to be writing you a senior letter, probably without getting emotional.  HAHA!  Yeah, right. We both know better than that.

Starting with the most mundane, I’ll remind you how proud I am of you.  Words cannot tell you how proud I am.  You’ve become every bit of the man I had hoped you would when I met you 18 years ago.  I prayed you would take the good characteristics of your dad and me and mix them together with your own spin to turn into an amazing man, and you have done that plus so much more.  You’re better than I could have dreamed, God truly blessed me more than I deserve.  You have a beautiful heart and soul, more than you really know – don’t let life ruin that.  You’re more than just smart, you’re sincerely intellectual.  You consider all things and analyze the good and bad before making a decision or judgment.  That’s really the key to life, kid, so you have a one-up on most people already.

I’ve watched you learn to crawl, walk, talk, and read.  I’ve watched you learn to ride a bike, play soccer, play guitar, and drive a car.  I’ve watched you walk into your first day of pre-school, kindergarten, middle school, and high school.  I’ve watched you drive off to your first job.  I’ve watched you go on your first date.  I’ve watched you drive off for your senior prom.  Soon, I’ll watch you walk up on stage and receive your diploma.  Soon, I’ll watch you drive off for your next adventure in the Navy.  You have been a joy and blessing to watch and I cannot wait to watch all the next stages in your life.

I admit that when you first told me about your aspirations to join our military, my heart broke.  It was a selfish act, and it took a long, long time for me to come to peace with that.  I didn’t want to think about you leaving me.  You and I have had each other for 18 years, you’re my firstborn and I just wasn’t ready to face the fact that you’ve become an amazing man who doesn’t enter into things lightly.  It’s because of this and your infallible reasoning that I got on board and knew in my heart you would do amazing things with this opportunity.

I read somewhere that I’m supposed to tell you what I want for you or expect out of you.  Like so many parts of our family and relationship, my wants and expectations aren’t really traditional.  Of course, I want you to get an education, find a good job, meet and marry a great girl, start a family, and all that jazz.  But, Austin, I want so much more for you.  I want you to leave this little town, join the Navy, and see the world.  I want you to live with no strings attached.  You have such a great opportunity to do things very few people get the chance to do.  Since you could read (at the ripe age of 2½) you’ve been fascinated with the world.  You’ve been interested in all things history and science.  Go see all those countries you have only ever read about.  Go see, feel, touch the history of the world and let that experience blow you away.  Life is so short, baby, and you have the rest of your life for settling down.  Hold off on that day to day grind just a bit longer and make adventure your next path.

What do I expect out of you?  Greatness.  However, before greatness, I expect you to live your life to the absolute fullest.  Drink a beer with your new brotherhood and make stupid decisions that won’t cost you too much in the end – you know like an arrest and big ass tattoos that you’ll regret later (and coming from me that’s saying a LOT).  Get your heart broken a few times because until you do, there’s no other way to know real love when it comes to you.

You’re one of my greatest accomplishments in life.  If I have done nothing else in this life, I have raised a great boy into a phenomenal man.  I know that you’ll take part of me, your dad, your brother, and sister & papa and nana with you along the way and we will help keep you grounded…just enough – not too much.

You’re going to be scared, you’re going to be nervous, and I’m sure there will be days you’ll just want to come home, but those days will be few and far between.  You will succeed.  You will be ok.  You will overcome.

Go start your life, baby – it’s only just beginning.  I’m so proud of you and all that you’ve become.  I love you with all that I am and all that I have, son.

Oh Alice, how I love thee

March 12

Bedtime stories

What was your favorite book as a child or adolescent? Did it influence the person you are now?

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll has long been one of my most favorite and influential books to date.  Though in truth there are so many that helped shape who I have become.  Each time I read Alice I take something new from the book.  It’s the only book that I can say has grown with me when reading it during childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.  In my opinion, it makes this particular story timeless.

The loss of childhood innocence, learning quickly that the world will think you too small or too tall, never really being the right fit for what is needed.  As an adolescent, this struck me to my core.  In fact, I held on to it for far too long.  During puberty and into early adulthood I had the horrible feeling of not being enough.  It took me a long time to grow out of that – to figure out that I’m good with me and I don’t need approval to be me.  Through this story, I, like Alice, learned that I am the right size, after all.  I learned not to let the opinions of others dictate who I was to become.

The Cheshire Cat, with his broad grin and fearless behavior, can be thought of in so many translations. As a child, I thought him to be the secret, imaginary friend that tried to get you in trouble by leading you down a path you didn’t know and then disappearing.  As an adolescent, I thought him to be cunning and too knowledgeable.  The best line, for me, was when she asked which way to go and after she answered she didn’t know where when he asked, he simply said it doesn’t matter she will end up somewhere.  How true is that?  We never really know which path to take, but no matter which one it is, it leads us somewhere.  There is hardly a right or wrong.

The Caterpillar is another example of changing each time I read this story.  A simple three-word question and with it says everything.  “Who are you?” She has such a difficult time answering him, you can only assume she doesn’t know who she is anymore.  She’s changed.  Don’t we all?  She insults the cantankerous caterpillar by explaining it is dreadful being only 3 inches tall after all the caterpillar is only 3 inches tall.  Alice who struggles with her own image judges harshly the caterpillar’s size though it’s the same as hers at the time.  We often run into cantankerous, confusing people, but it doesn’t do well to insult them.

This story mostly taught me about adversities in life.  How the world constantly changes and confuses.  It taught me to expect the unexpected and learn that sometimes there is no logical answer to it and that’s ok, we’ll get through that maze one way or the other.  In this way, the story taught me to be more open-minded, not to follow simply to follow and to go with my gut in all journeys through life.  Life is a mess of puzzles, problems, oddities, and no two people are the same or think the same; we have to learn to accept it and move on.

 

Other people’s opinion of you does not have to become your reality
Les Brown

 

Parenting, it ain’t for the light hearted

Going into parenting, I was a nervous wreck.  I got pregnant young, almost too young to be a parent.  I was an adult, but only just barely.  Looking at my 17-year-old son today, I cannot imagine him becoming a parent in a couple years, like his father and I did.  I was a wreck somewhat because of our ages, but mostly because I had no idea what the hell I was doing.  I was going to be responsible for another life.  How was that going to work?  I still could hardly separate colors successfully and not turn white underwear pink.

I was given this awesome book, ‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting’.  I read it cover to cover 3 times before I ever laid eyes on the kid growing in my stomach.  Then, when he came I read ‘What to Expect the First Year’.  Again, I read it cover to cover countless times.  I was ready.  I was prepared.  Turns out there was no way I could turn him pink during bath time (well, except that one time with the bath paint, but let’s not go there).  We were good.

I went blithely through colic and the toddler stage to preschool and then had a couple more kids along the way.  I was becoming a pro at this.  I was raising three kids and no one turned pink again.  We taught them ‘stranger danger’, how to escape during a fire, where to go if they got lost, code words for people claiming to be sent by us, and all the likes of parenting 101.  Parenting magazines were a Godsend during the younger years and we thrived as a family.  We read advice columns, we exchanged ideas between our friends, and we relied on the past experiences our parents had and combined them all for super parenting, like a superpower.

All those years, all those books and not one time did anyone mention what could really hurt your kid.  Adolescence and hormones.  I didn’t read anywhere about what to do if your child experimented with cutting.  I didn’t get any advice about what to do when your child withdrew and started listening to questionable music and wanting to dress in all black.  Nowhere in those books did I read what to do when your sweet children are replaced by kids full of eye rolls, blank stares, deadly stares, exaggerated sighs, unanswered questions, phones glued to hands, and mood swings that would make even the scariest roller coaster jealous.

Cellphone etiquette wasn’t listed in those books, either.  Sure, we made rules as we went, but this isn’t something that was an issue during our upbringing so we were just winging it.  There was no parenting book that told you exactly how to handle apps and social media and sexting.  There’s no ‘What to Expect’ about those things.  We try to be reasonable parents, trusting parents.  We take lessons friends have learned and parents have learned and we try to apply them as best we can.  There are all types of parents out there.  I know parents that are too lax, I know parents that over-parent, I know parents that try to be somewhere in between, and I know parents that seem to have all the answers and they just seem to do it right.  However, then I learned those parents, the ones who appear to have it all together and have parenting as their superpower are just as scared and are going through just as much as the rest of us.

Maybe there’s no ‘What to Expect’ book out there for adolescence because no one really knows what to expect.  No one has mastered it well enough to write it all down.  There’s no way someone can prepare for your child to admit they’ve been a “cutter”, there’s no way to prepare for your child to make a decision to share intimate images of themselves to someone on the internet, and there’s no way to have all the right words and all the right actions for things you never thought could or would happen.  I’ve learned that as a mom I just have to admit when I don’t know what the hell to do and then I have to rally with other moms who are experiencing the same thing.

In my advice and edition of ‘What to Expect’ during adolescence, I will say this – expect everything and befriend the parents of your children’s friends.  They are your only hope to getting out of this alive….well, them and a nice big bottle glass of wine.

By the wayside

There are so many positive attributes that have come from technological advances over time.  Computers have paved the way for personal growth instead of just being a big box in an office from which to run reports.  Social media has proven to be a means for people to unite from all over the world who would not normally do so.  It’s been a bridge that has connected people who would have lost contact for years, maybe even lifetimes.  Smartphones have made it easier to keep in contact, keep busy, organize life, and become more productive when used properly.  All these lovely creations have brought so much more depth to people’s lives by bringing others easily within reach – technically.

However, like all positives, there’s a negative somewhere.  It’s like my mom used to say, there is no hate without love and vice versa.  It’s the classic yin-yang of technology.  Because we’ve become so reliable on technology a lot of other areas of our lives have either changed or diminished altogether.

Tradition, as we knew it just twenty years ago, has all but gone by the wayside.  Ask the younger generations how many Christmas cards they receive, and of those how many are from their generation.  How many birthday invitations come in the mail for children?  Who, other than the ones older than generation X, sends birthday cards?  These simple traditions have been replaced by evites, texts, Facebook messages, posts, and emails.  The only letters I have hand-written and mailed in the last few years have been to my grandmother who is in a convent.  When is the last time you printed a picture to put in a photo album?  Personally, it’s been a couple years for me as I am just as guilty.

Never mind these simple traditions, what about the big ones?  We’ve become a society so busy with our technologically organized lives that we forget to plan for the big events or we’re too busy to do so.  Family reunions happen less and less.  One part of my extended family hasn’t been together for a holiday in years, and I mean years.  My children don’t even know who some of these people are and I grew up with them at every birthday, every holiday, and every family event.  Today, I see their posts via Facebook and pictures via Instagram.

Technology has begun to rob us of what we once held dear.  We may not be so wise of it right now, but it’s there creeping in slowly like the mist of morning fog.  Don’t let your traditions fall by the wayside, grab them and hold them and then pass them to the next generation like that old creepy doll collection from your great-great somebody or other.  You never know, one day they may be worth something.

This week, we borrow from Nonamedufus and his self-titled blog, “Taught By My Example.”

“I love to spoil them.” and/or “tradition”

S30PBadge

From a child’s eye

Images courtesy of freeimages.co.uk
Images courtesy of freeimages.co.uk

I was 12 years old and my brother was graduating from Navy basic training in San Diego, CA.  I remember his going away party like it was yesterday.   This party, though, was one for the books.  We had a 3-floor split level home and one of my dad’s best friends brought a gas station sized American Flag to drape in front of our house. There were so many people, so many laughs, and so many tears.  I don’t really remember the day he left, but I remember the sadness that overtook the party at the end when everyone wished him well.

Fast forward 8 weeks and my parents let me know we were going to be flying to California to watch him graduate and spend a week touring.  California!  This was the summer of 1990, people!  Just after the movie, Pretty Woman was released.  You could imagine my excitement to see Rodeo Drive!  Of course, that was before I realized San Diego was not at all near Rodeo Drive.  (My dad, being the awesome man he is, later got us to Beverly Hills and the Hollywood sign for a day anyway)

After his graduation and after I melted over the fact that I used the same bathroom in the USO building from the scene in Top Gun where Maverick followed Charlie, my dad wanted to visit Mexico.  Wow!  Mexico? Another country?  This was quickly turning into the best vacation ever.

It wasn’t a long drive, I remember, and we ended up at what reminded me as the toll booths on our highways back in GA.  We go in and Dad gets us to Tijuana, Mexico.  Naturally, I had no way of knowing what to expect.

My dad wanted to go to the shops in the town to barter for items on which he knew he could get great deals.  We ended up going down a small open tunnel that smelled of urine, rotting food, and God only knows what else.  I was scared beyond any of my monsters under the bed imaginations I had up until now.  I remember women and men off to the side-eyeing us.  Luckily, my father stands 6’4″ so no one really talked to us.  Except this little girl who couldn’t have been more than 4 years old and there she stood with her coffee can looking at us with these huge sad, brown eyes.  My heart broke.  This was the first time I saw real pain and real sorrow.  She was hungry.  She was poor.  After much begging and pleading, I got my dad to give her some money.

The vacation ended up being very wonderful, but there are so many times in my life where I find myself looking back at that little girl in that tunnel, and for an instant, my problems seem so small.

lightandshade logo

Unmasked

I’ve gone through some life changes recently as I suppose we all do at some point or another.  I really wish we could go through some of them in our sleep, like a Windows update.  For some odd years (that’s the southern way of saying I don’t really know how many) I was battling a form of depression, or so I assume because at the time I refused to believe it or admit it.  It wasn’t until I read the handy check-list at the doctor’s office that I became aware I met all those ‘symptoms’.  Well, shit.

That was about the time I started my first blog.  It was anonymous and I created an extra email for it, it was where I was going to vent and find myself and get over this stupid bout of weepies that I didn’t truly believe I had.  It worked, for the most part, until I had yet another identity crisis and had to readjust myself again.  Between trying to find myself and what my meaning was and the dismay of no one ever reading my blog I cracked.  I deleted that blog and left the blogging world.

A few years later I felt a little more confident in myself, or so I thought.  I created yet another blog.  One that some of you readers (if they remember me at all) will remember it as It’s All A Bit Random.  Slowly, but surely, I went through the same thing as the one before it.  Another deleted blog and another feeling of utter failure and loneliness formed.  This recovery didn’t take quite as long as the last and I tried my hand at it again.  This blog is my 3rd and hopefully final blog.

I had some issues starting it again; I still wanted anonymity and wanted a place for me, just me to be me without any judgment, but something was missing.  I continued to write and continued to feel this void.  Everything in my life was starting to turn around and I felt better, but the blog and I were at odds.  The blog was becoming that smelly guy on the bus who’s eyeing you with his good eye and you just want to somehow leave the bus without passing his seat.  Something had to change, quickly.  I finally realized I had to sit down and peel away the layers of who I want to be in this community and what my writing means to me.  I came to the conclusion I didn’t want to hide anymore.  I didn’t want to be afraid of judgment and I didn’t want to care what people thought of me.  So what if I was broken and on the mend, so what if my bad times caused me to lash out, so what if my opinion of world issues is different than theirs, I’m who I am dammit and I’m ok with that!

The last layer I peeled off was my mask.  My twitter is linked to my blog so I changed the contact email to my personal email, my picture to my real self, my name to my real initials, and I clicked that little button to let twitter find my contacts.  It was pretty powerful and I was pretty damn scared.  I’m still not out promoting my blog to my family and friends, but I’ve added several of them to my twitter followers where it prominently links to my blog.  I have officially come out of hiding.  It’s liberating, it’s refreshing, and it still scares the hell out of me.

 

My submission for Studio 30+

Sibling Lessons

It was Mother’s Day weekend 2006 and, as usual, we were broke.  Three kids tend to need things that take whatever small amount of savings you were hoping to keep.  It’s the name of the job, really.

After much budget finagling, The Husband was able to score a cabin in the north GA Mountains at a place that was home to a beautiful waterfall.  I had never been to the mountains, never seen a waterfall up close and personal, and never stayed in a bona-fide cabin.  The cabin came with no television, no radio, no entertainment but the nature of the land and the family who accompanied the trip.  The Eldest, 8 years old at the time, was none too pleased to go a weekend without his trusty SpongeBob fix.  After a plethora of reassurance that he would love it by the time we left, he sucked the pouty lip back in and decided to give it a try (what other choice did he have, really?)

We took to the paved trails and read signs about the nature before us.  We read how the paved trails were made of recycled tires.  We read all about the trees of the area.  Finally, we reach the bridge to admire the remarkable waterfall.  The bridge was about half way up this little section of mountain and the view was quite nice.  Naturally, I wanted a picture with my three little bundles to cherish our time together for years to come.  The Eldest went bouncing down the bridge while, sturdy as it was, my feet were a little less enthusiastic to frolic.  He ran down and back a few times before remembering his siblings and took to help me coax them onto the bridge for the picture.  The Middle took her precious time testing each board like Indiana Jones would though her bridge had no missing or rotted boards.  She made it nearly half way before she would go no farther without a trusting hand.  The Little, however, would have no part of this little venture.  He was fine just where he stood, thank you very much.

No amount of bubblegum or candy promises made him budge.  He was pretty firm for a 3 year old.  Just when The Husband and I were about to give up on the picture and just take snapshots of what we could, The Middle lent her helping hand.  It took only a few words of encouragement and an outstretched little hand to persuade him and, just as she had done, he tested each board until he was just next to the falls.  Soon he let her hand drop and turned with pure joy as he made it to the middle of the bridge.  That day not only did The Little and The Middle find trust in each other that would never really die, even now 8 years later, but The Little found the courage he would embrace everyday moving forward.

lightandshade logo

“It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.”
~Edmund Hillary