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Posts Tagged ‘choices’

“I’ve long since retired, and my son’s moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind.”
He said, “I’d love to, dad, if I could find the time
You see, my new job’s a hassle, and the kid’s got the flu
But it’s sure nice talking to you, dad
It’s been sure nice talking to you.”
And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me
He’d grown up just like me
My boy was just like me” ~ Henry Chapin, “Cat’s in the Cradle”. 1974

Ouch.

I love this song for the very fact that it’s sad. I’m a sucker for sad songs. It oozes regret, a topic that is responsible for selling millions of albums, books, and plays, something that we can all identify with. Who hasn’t felt regret at one time or another over any variety of things: a breakup, a harsh word, a missed opportunity? But one often hears celebrities (usually the loud and brash ones) announcing to the world that they have no regrets, or that everyone should live their lives with no regrets. Easier said than done, I say.

I’m just going to come out with it: I think people who say they have no regrets are either lying or deluding themselves. Let’s think about it for a minute. I’d be willing to bet money on the fact that every person reading this has, at one time or another, said something to hurt someone else, either purposely or accidently. If you have a soul, that’s something that would register as a regret. I have many of those. Words spoken in anger or frustration, little (and not so little) white lies that pop out without thinking, a passive aggressive move. I’ve caused hurt in my life. It’s not something I’m proud of, but something I need to be honest about in order to be a better person. The never-ending quest.

Now, I do believe that there are choices that we may regret temporarily, but in the long run, those choices led us to a happier place in our lives. For example, I sometimes think that I regret not finishing college all at once when I was in my late teens/early twenties. I didn’t have anyone to pay for me, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and I went to cosmetology school while working three jobs instead. As a result, I didn’t end up finishing college until I was 33 years old, which really kind of sucked professionally. On the other side of that coin though, graduating cosmetology school and going to work at Greenfield Village meant that I met my husband, we had our three amazing boys, I turned period hair into a business, and I met lifelong friends and business contacts. (If anyone wants a book on period hairstyles, please let me know!) Looking back now, I wouldn’t trade one for the other. That part of my life, while not the norm for college-bound students, worked out the way it was supposed to.

Old lovers are another thing that one can regret at the time, but later one realizes that it was all for the best. I don’t think that there will ever be a shortage of songs about that. “Unanswered Prayers” by Garth Brooks or “Bless the Broken Road” by Rascal Flatts are great examples. Looking back as an adult, I sometimes have serious questions about what my younger self was thinking about some of those old boyfriends. I may have needed a slap upside the head. Of course, those can also be attributed to a learning experience. If I say it enough, I might convince myself that one or two of those really set me on the right path. (Disclaimer: I will never tell which ones they were.)

Then, there are those regrets that will probably sting forever. The time I didn’t spend with grandparents before they passed. The friends I let slip away because I didn’t communicate. Not calling the police on the step-monster. Not answering the phone when my friend, Moe, called to tell me that KISS was at the radio station and I needed to get my butt down there. Well, you get the idea. There are things that we can’t fix. We can’t go back in time and change it up, but what we can do is learn from the mistakes. We can spend time with those we love, think before we speak to our children, call that friend back. Wake up and answer the damn phone.

There are the hard decisions that I don’t regret: leaving teaching, staying home with my babies when they were little, starting therapy, deciding to write on the side. The writing thing opens me up to rejection, which is a scary, scary thing, but I have a therapist to help me with that.

In a nutshell, maybe there is something to the sentiment that one should live life with no regrets. Maybe, instead of boldly stating that we have no regrets at all, we should live with the aim of not being able to regret anything. Will we be successful? Not in a million years, but maybe we’ll think a little more, care a little more, love our neighbor a little more. What will matter on our deathbed: the date we got our college degrees or did our kids know that we loved them? That we had a big house or that we made a difference in a life?

Things to think about. What do you regret?

 

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Oldest Child leaves for college tomorrow. It’s sort of surreal at this point. We’ve been preparing for this well over a year now: college campus visits, approximately 10,000 pounds of college mail, discussions, decisions, scholarship applications, letters of recommendation, buying room supplies, money discussions, rule discussions (no burning couches!), the list goes on. The boy himself is just about ready. He’s been packing up his room all week long and will vacate today to allow Middle Child to move in so that tomorrow, we’ll only have to load the second car in the morning, the first car being loaded up tonight. It just doesn’t quite seem real, yet.

When a child is born, most parents, us included, immediately decide that the tiny little newborn will be going to college one day in the distant future. It won’t even be a discussion, since in this world, a college degree will soon be required to work at McDonald’s. (Not really. I made that up. But, it does seem like it.) And not even just a bachelor’s degree, for more and more jobs these days, it seems like a master’s degree is “preferred” and since I’ll be paying off my student loans until I retire (at 83), scholarships are not only a good idea, they’re necessary. Oldest Child has acquired a few of those, enough to make his debt load significantly lighter than mine with some really cool research opportunities to boot. Did I mention he gets to go to London for five weeks next summer for school? My favorite city in the whole entire world? Where there is amazing architecture and history and the TUBE… but I digress… The point is that college is expensive and I am so proud of him for taking the initiative so that he could follow his dream without sinking into deep debt.

I really haven’t processed this yet. I don’t know if I will tomorrow when I bring up the second car load or when I get home and it’s all over with or the first time I forget that he’s not home anymore. He has left to go on trips and to Band Camp every year, but this is new territory. I know he’ll be home, but really, it’s just to visit. This marks the beginning of his true independence, the chance for him to put everything he’s learned about life to the test: how to behave, how to make choices, how to get along with new people when he has to. In truth, I wouldn’t care if he got a degree in underwater basket weaving as long as he stays a good person and can support himself. Have you ever watched those What Would You Do? episodes where John Quinones watches to see if anyone will say something when a drink is spiked or a girl is harassed? It’s kind of like that. I hope he’s the kind of man who steps in and does the right thing, even when no one is watching, through college and beyond. I hope he doesn’t make stupid choices. I hope he misses me.

This is an amazing opportunity for him. I didn’t get to go away to college. My college career happened in spurts over several years until I finally got my bachelor’s degree and I feel like I missed out on the whole college experience. It was so difficult to do it that way, but I really didn’t have a lot of choices and although I have the satisfaction of finally accomplishing it, I didn’t want my kids to go through the same thing. So far, we’re 33% successful.

The cars are mostly loaded now. Oldest Child is out with friends, saying goodbye. We already had our family pizza dinner with a trip out for ice cream together. He’s not going very far, I can be there in less than two hours, but it will feel a million miles away. His brothers profess relief that he’s going, but I suspect that’s just bravado talking. They will have their own rooms for the first time since Youngest Child was two and Middle Child was, well, he’s never had his own room, so that part is genuine happiness. Still, Oldest Child has always been there, throughout their whole lives, so this will be new territory for them, too. They’ll only have each other to fight with. Hours-long games of Monopoly will be few and far between because it’s not as much fun with only two.

It’s hard to say goodbye, but it’s not a sad goodbye. I’m eager to see him fly, to make his own way in the big world. I will rejoice in his triumphs, cringe at his mistakes, (We all make them, especially when we’re young.), comfort during his heartbreaks. I’ll try not to ask too many questions, try to refrain from giving my opinion unless I’m asked, but let him know that I’m always there for him and his friends. It’s good practice for the rest of his life, with the safety net of Marty Man and me to support him. Even as he leaves the nest, however, I still remember that sweet baby from long ago. They grow up, you know, and it really is a beautiful thing.

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Another new year is only a few days away and the thought of the dreaded New Year’s resolutions has begun to been bandied about on morning talk shows. That got to me to wondering about resolutions. How many people make them, as a rule? How many people keep them? Of course, there are the common ones that so many aspire to, losing weight being the biggest (No pun intended. Well, maybe.), then quitting smoking, paying off credit cards, the list could go on for miles.

I haven’t ever really made any hard or fast resolutions, at least not that would start January 1. I’ve made changes in my life at times: drink lots of water, exercise every morning, learn to dance, go to therapy. Some of them were fun, some were not. Water, as boring as it is, has made me feel a lot better. I even crave it in the morning now. I used to drink only coffee and 3-5 cans of Diet Pepsi a day, until I started reading all of the research on the chemicals in diet soda and the effect they have on the body. Since I began drinking more water, I feel less sluggish, I have more energy, and those debilitating muscle spasms I used to get hardly ever rear their ugly heads anymore. I still have an occasional diet soda, I can’t stand to drink my calories, because it tastes good but only once or twice a week. Water was a good, albeit not very exciting, choice.

So was dancing. A good choice and exciting! I wasn’t allowed to take dance when I was little so I’m doing it for myself now. I can be an absolute dunce when it comes to learning steps for the first time, but once they finally sink through my thick skull, they stay in there pretty well. I love how patient my teacher is and how supportive everyone else in the class is. Plus, it’s a total blast. I’ll keep it up.

I hate exercising every morning, really, really, hate it. I don’t work out like crazy, but while the shower warms up, I can do squats, crunches, and stretch a bit. Then it’s done and I don’t have to think so much about it. On nice days, when it’s light outside after supper, I like to powerwalk up to the corner store to get a newspaper and a Mega Millions ticket. The round trip is a little less than two miles and takes me about 20 minutes, all cardio. Again, I would much rather dance instead, but tapping all of that time on our hardwood floors really isn’t fair to Marty’s poor ears. Still, I’m healthier than I have been in a long time, so, again, a good choice.

Therapy was a good choice, too. It still is. Thanks to insurance, that’s an open-ended outlet for me for as long as I feel I need it. I think the stigma should be shed and more people should take advantage of it, honestly. It’s good for the soul. Not so fun, maybe, but worthwhile.

I don’t know exactly what I want to change this year. I have some ideas, but some of them are left to fate. I would like to take my career in a new direction, and I will try, but there are a lot of variables in that equation. I would like to be more toned and fit before I leave for Italy in June, but that is all up to me. I would like to clear my basement of all of its junk. I would like to replace our very old water pipes and to get rid of the ugly, temperamental, PINK, ugly, toilet in the upstairs bathroom. I would like to make a dent in my student debt. I would like to be more brave in my decisions. I would like to fix the broken, leaky, gutter.

None of these things are effective on January 1, but they’re all in the foreseeable future. I’ll have to see where the year takes me. In the meantime, what resolutions have you made? Maybe not for New Year’s Day, but in the future. What things do you want to change, accomplish, quit? Post in the comments below and spread around some inspiration. Until then, have a blessed, prosperous, and safe new year.

“For auld lang syne, my dears, for auld lang syne.”

We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet for auld lang syne

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A friend of mine is going through a rough time right now. A friend of hers chose to end her own life a few months back, leaving behind a husband and young children. Just recently, the husband decided that he, too, couldn’t take it any more and also took his own life. The children are left with no parents, the family and friends are devastated, and it’s so difficult to see the point. They were young, so young. They were parents, with babies to think of. At first, the thought that ran through my head was how selfish it was to do that to your kids, to leave them confused and grieving for not only one, but both parents. Studies show that children of a parent, or parents, who commit suicide not only have a significantly higher chance of doing it to themselves at some point, but increased chances of emotional and mental problems, including depression. I didn’t know the couple, but it made me sad and angry all at the same time. It stayed with me, though, and after a while, I started to see things a little differently.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t agree that they had the right to do that. I still think there was so much else that could they could have done to combat the urge to end it all. There’s therapy of all sorts, medication, even just talking to friends or relatives, which would hopefully encourage a visit to said therapy. There seems to be no logical reason why two people would decide the events in their lives were so overwhelming that they couldn’t function. But the little nagging voice in the back of my mind urged me to not be so self-righteous and to remember that dark thoughts have crept into my own mind as well.

I have depression. A lot of people do. I’ve been properly diagnosed, it’s not debilitating, and I’m in treatment for it, going on three years now. The side effects of medication proved to be too much for me, so I’ve been in talk therapy instead. It helps, it really does. Being able to be completely honest with no fear of judgement is a great relief and it’s accompanied by strategies to combat those dark thoughts. My therapist specializes in treating people with my kind of past and doesn’t make feel that I’m crazy. It’s a good thing.

Let me be clear: Having depression does NOT mean that someone is suicidal. But having depression does make one more susceptible to having suicidal thoughts. Let me try to explain what it feels like when depression is in full swing.

I call it a “hole”. That’s the best way I can describe it. When I have an episode, it’s like I’ve fallen into a black hole. Sometimes there’s a trigger, like a flashback memory or a really upsetting day. It could be bad news, it could be that I didn’t get a job interview, that there was a misunderstanding at home, or just overwhelming feelings of failure. Whatever the case, it results in an onslaught of negative feelings. I fell hopeless, like nothing will ever be okay again. Horrid thoughts run through my head, like I’m worthless, that I’m never going to achieve anything, that I’m ruining my kids, my marriage. Awful, debilitating things that have no base. These kinds of thoughts are common for people with depression. They’re not “poor me, feel sorry for me” thoughts, either. When I get like this, I retreat into myself, really trying to hide it from others. I can function at work if I stay busy, but that usually results in stronger feelings when work is over. When I come out of a hole, I can’t believe that I allowed myself to sink in, which is silly, because it’s something that can’t be controlled, only managed. Eventually, it started to really affect my life and I knew it was time to get help. Since then, I’ve learned to pay better attention to when they’re coming on and different exercises to keep them short or away all together.

Before I started talk therapy, these “holes” could last an entire day or more. Like I said, I still functioned and went to work, but I felt like a zombie; dead inside. Since starting therapy, these holes occur very infrequently and when they do happen, they’re usually gone within an hour or two. In these “holes”, though, it feels like nothing will ever be right again. Even minor crises, like an argument with Marty or with one of the boys, can throw my whole world off, at least for a little while. For people with severe depression, those awful holes can last for days, weeks, or months. Some experience such utter hopelessness that they begin to see themselves as better off dead. I’ve never been in that spot where I’ve seriously considered the unthinkable, but it has gotten pretty scary.

Most people won’t think of suicide. Most people have bad days and can brush it off. With depression, which often mixes with anxiety, seemingly small things can balloon to huge proportions.The difficult part of that, though, and I mean really difficult, is recognizing that one needs help, and then to ask for it. It sucks to admit that you’re weak, that you can’t get over it on your own, that you couldn’t “pray it away’. That last one cracks me up. I’ve seen so many Christians who claim that you can pray depression away, and that if you can’t, it means that you don’t have enough faith. What complete and utter crap. It’s like saying that if you break your arm, God will heal it instantly if you have enough faith. I’m not denying that miracles happen, they do. Cancer suddenly disappears, a junkie no longer craves drugs, a person diagnosed as brain-dead wakes up with normal brain function, all of these things have happened, but not regularly, which fits the definition of “miracle”. Millions of devout people pray for loved ones with all sorts of illnesses every day. Some get better, some don’t. A mental illness is the same as a physical one; it needs help and attention. If you belong to a church that shuns mental health services, it can make asking for help that much more difficult and in the meantime, can create further damage.

We see both ordinary people and successful people, like Ernest Hemingway or, more recently, Robin Williams, take their own lives and we wonder how seemingly happy people, people that “have it all”, could seek out such a permanent end. I don’t think there’s an easy answer, or any answer at all. What I do know is that we need to treat mental issues differently. Rather than making it a taboo subject, shaming those with depression or anxiety, or condemning them for wanting to die, we need to be compassionate and caring. We need to stop threatening them with Hell or other horrors because thoughts of harming themselves creep in uninvited. We need to help them through whatever hard times they’re going through, get them to seek professional help, and just be there for them, without judgement.

Two small children will go to bed tonight without their parents. What can we do to prevent it happening to another child?

If someone you know is suffering from severe depression, or is thinking of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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I am now the proud (and scared) mama of a new driver. Yikes. I guess I shouldn’t be so shocked. I mean, I’m well aware of the boy’s age, having given birth to him and all. Sixteen and learner’s permit go hand and hand. And everyone tells you when they’re newborns, no, when you announce that you’re pregnant, how fast the years go by and in between 2 AM feedings, potty training and lost teeth, you don’t believe them, not for a minute, because you are TIRED. You love kissing those tiny hands, chasing the monsters away and soothing the boo-boos that usually look much worse than they actually are. You nurse them through fevers, upset tummies, and failed friendships only to look up one day and there’s a young man standing there, not that chubby-cheeked cherub you’ve been accustomed to. And he wants the keys.

The past year of steady college mail should have been a warning, as should have been the visit to UM, buying clothes in the men’s department instead of the boys’ department, and a sense of humour that gets a bit more sophisticated every day. My head knew all of this, it really did. My head was practical, helping him talk through which colleges that he wants to go to (soon) and being various scholarship options. My heart, however, seemed to have ignored all of that, reasoning that college was more than a year away and that problem would be dealt with when the time came. Therefore, my heart was floored when driving school was completed, with the highest score in the class, and it was time for him to drive. With me. And no set of brakes on my side of the car.

All of a sudden, the prospect of him leaving is very, very real and while my heart, and my head for that matter, are so very proud of him and want him to make all of his dreams come true, there’s also the realization that world can be a not-so-nice place. There are people he will meet who will abuse his trust, people who talk on cell phones while driving and could crash into him, times when he will make the wrong decisions that come with tough consequences, and the tug-of-war between the values that we’ve raised him with and the temptations of the world away from home. We won’t be there, physically, to tell him what to do or to protect him; he’ll have to decide for himself.

While I would hope that he always makes the right choice and follows the example that we’ve tried to set, realistically, I know that it won’t always be so. It wasn’t with me, Marty, or any of my siblings and cousins. Grown children are going to make mistakes. They’re going to do things that, if they were still living at home, they would never do. That bothers me, as I’m sure it bothered my mother and all of the mothers since the beginning of time. What I worry about the most, however, is that he’ll make a decision that could change his life in a bad way, or, God forbid, end his life. Some teenagers do. My father was one of them and he died at the very young age of 20. The specifics aren’t clear, but there were drugs involved and the choices he made that night led to him crashing his car into a tree, leaving his family without a son, a grandson, a brother, my mother without a fiancée, and me without a dad. The bad choices that he could possibly make have much higher stakes than they used to.

Now, the boy has a pretty good head on his shoulders. He usually makes very good choices and has a good group of friends, so the chances are that he’s going to be just fine and will be able to fret over his own child one day. This is just all really, REALLY hitting me now and I’m struggling to not be a clingy mom and to let him find his way, all the while balancing the parental control. I’m probably not done posting on this topic, as we go through the next few years. In the meantime, new parents, I know that you won’t understand this, but I feel it is my sacred duty to tell you to cherish those babies, snuggle them to pieces now, because you’ll blink and they will be towering over you with big shoes. And they’ll be asking for the keys.

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