Strength of Spider Webs

When my five-year-old old son woke up that morning, he insisted I call him Peter Parker.  It was the time in his young life when he was mesmerized by the adventures of Spiderman so I assumed his request was made because he was fantasizing about being a superhero.   During breakfast, I forgot about his morph and accidentally called him Cameron. He refused to respond or make eye contact. When I asked Peter Parker to take his empty oatmeal bowl to the sink, he smiled, stood and proceeded to the kitchen.

When he arrived at school, he announced to his kindergarten teacher and class that he wanted to be called Peter Parker.  The kids giggled and honored his request. Mrs. Larsen agreed, but told him he needed to morph back into himself that afternoon before the kindergarten concert.

Parents filled the bleachers in the gym that had become the makeshift auditorium. The music teacher had arranged a variety of noise-makers on the gym floor and was preparing to showcase the songs the small voices had been practicing all year. The kindergartners stood single-file in the hallway waiting to make their grand entrance.

I could see my son at the front of the line. He appeared to be distracted as the music teacher gave the signal to enter.  As the kids began their march into the gym, my son dropped to his hands and knees and began to slink across the floor in Spiderman-like fashion, accentuating each arm movement with his fingers spread as if they were webbed.  From the bleachers I could hear the snickers from the kindergartners behind him.  When he got to the spot on the line where he was supposed to stand, he turned on all fours, raised his forearm, put his fingers into position and began to shoot imaginary webs in the direction of the bleachers.  Some of the parents began to whisper and glance my way to watch my reaction. As his parent, I was half mortified, half entertained by the unfolding drama. I was mortified only because I wanted my son to be the kind of child who respects the wishes of his teacher; and entertained because it was hilarious.

He sang the songs he remembered, sat quietly when some of the students stepped out front to use the noise-makers; but mostly looked around and kept watch for potential bad guys. When the concert ended, the students were free to go with their parents. Cameron walked over and I sensed he was still in Peter Parker mode.  We gathered up his back pack and headed for home.

For the next few days, he answered only to the name of Peter, but in the evening, I insisted I would only read a nighttime story to Cameron.  We eventually returned to our normal and the episode faded without mention.

Years later I asked my son if he remembered the Spiderman concert and he finally shared his thoughts.  The kindergarten concert was the first time he would have performed in front of a large group and he said he had been terrified. To manage his fear leading up to the show, he morphed into the brave Peter Parker.  When he saw the large crowd of parents, his fears heightened and he needed the superhero to conquer it. He shot a magic web every time he felt like he wanted to cry.

He has since learned that stage fright is normal and that there is nothing to fear.  In fact, he’s extremely comfortable talking to crowds and has a way of cracking himself up.

Thinking about it now, I believe his plan was brilliant. The size of the fear relegated the size of the tool.  If he were slightly scared, he needed only to morph.  If the fear hit him in the face unexpectedly, it called for superhero powers. Each time the fear reared its head, he summoned a magical web.

Recently, I was asked to speak to a crowd.  As I prepared for my introduction, I thought of my son’s courageous superhero and started to smile. I didn’t morph into Peter Parker, or drop to the floor like Spiderman, but I was able to muster the appropriate amount of courage it took to conquer my fear.

I think the key is to find the fear-fighting tool that feels right to you. Maybe it’s a superhero, or perhaps it’s a ritual, rock or lucky charm.  All I know is that fear is like those parents in the bleachers.  They can paralyze us with fear, or teach us to create miraculous webs.

 

Forgiveness Found in Unusual Places

Walking into the dental office that morning was more difficult than running a marathon.  My palms were wet with sweat, my legs felt heavy as lead, and my breathing was quick and strained.  As I reached for the door, I braced myself for the smell of anesthesia and the sound of drills grinding teeth. The thought sent a wave of nausea over me.  The next steps were blurred as I entered the waiting room and approached the registration desk.  I was greeted by warm, smiling faces who immediately escorted me to the chair of impending doom. They knew I was “one of those patients.”

I was slightly dazed as the assistant secured the dental bib around my neck and asked if I wanted headphones. We agreed the noise would help drown out the sound of the drill.

As the chair reclined, my body tightened as if life-sustaining oxygen was being squeezed out of my lungs by a boa constrictor. Regardless of the nitrous oxide being pumped through my body through a small masked funnel across my face, my anxiety level was at an all-time high.  Inhaling deeply, I attempted to relax my mind and my muscles to endure a routine dental procedure.

Without warning, my sobbing began.  When the assistant left me to gather my thoughts, I scolded myself and questioned why I was reacting like a child.  As the nitrous drunkenness took hold, memories flooded my brain.  I was under the lights of an ER strapped to a table.

I was six years old and my mom and dad had scheduled a night out, leaving us with a high school-aged neighbor girl.  My parents had given us specific instructions to stay in the house and obey the sitter, but the weather was warm and I was aching to be outside. I lied to the sitter and convinced her to let me go for a bike ride.

My bike was sweet. It sported a yellow banana seat, chopper-style handlebars and glittered string confetti hanging from the handles. My dad added reflective lights to the spokes and mounted a fancy orange flag on the end of a white stick to the back of my seat.  When I peddled fast, the flag would whip in the wind and make a whistling sound.  I pretended to be Evil Knievel soaring across Grand Canyon when I jumped curbs. I felt daring and free.

The alley behind our house had a storm water run-off drain that was covered by a metal grate with bars about two inches apart.  I had cycled past it a dozen times before, but that day I decided to ride over the top of it going top speed.

Unfortunately, the tires on my bike were smaller than the distance between the bars on the grate and when my front tire hit the grate, it slide between the bars and locked up.  The intertia continued to propel me forward and threw me onto the concrete.  With my hands on the bars, I landed directly on my face. Then I blacked out.

When I regained consciousness, I was in a frightening room with bright lights, muffled voices, white coats, and the realization that I couldn’t move my arms.  They had been strapped down to a table so the doctors and nurses could do their work.  My mom stood nearby watching them stitch me up. Beyond the physical wounds, my heart hurt the worst. I told myself I was a terrible, horrible, awful kid for having ruined my parent’s night out. I thought the accident was God’s way of punishing me for lying to the sitter.

I didn’t realize it then, but that moment shifted my entire existence. I had appointments with doctors and weekly appointments with the dentist. Not only was each visit a reminder of my offense, but the accident also changed the shape of my mouth and jaw.  My smile was never the same.  I once resembled my sisters, but was never again confused as a twin or triplet when we went out.  I felt like an outsider in my own family.

In the dental chair that day, I realized why I was subconsciously – and consciously — terrified by the dental chair. It wasn’t the smells or the sounds, while still unpleasant, it was the reminder of the negative messages I told myself as a six year old.

After my appointment, I stopped at a state park and gave those messages back to the universe.  Odd as it sounds, I forgave the little girl for being human and adventurous and thanked her for being courageous in a frightening place.  The little girl with the broken mouth and face was finally at peace. I put her to rest inside my heart.

Driving home that day, I questioned how many other negative messages I had inadvertently carried into adulthood and decided to recycle them, too. I chose to re-shape my belief system and dwell from a place of power.

When we operate from a place of awareness and pay attention to the messages of our soul, it gives us an opportunity to dwell in possibility and live in a Powerful Perspective.

To learn more about the Powerful Perspectives coaching process, or schedule an introductory coaching appointment, kindly email: SamanthaBluhm@icloud.com

Crayon Stained Stories

My favorite slacks were a well-worn pair of khaki capri’s purchased on sale at the Gap. They were casual and comfortable and often became my default weekend-wear.

One weekend when my son and I enjoyed breakfast at a greasy spoon, the black crayon he used to play tic, tac, toe ended up in his pocket, and eventually found its way into my dryer.  In the heat, it melted into chunks of black gunk.  The lovely black glue adhered itself to every piece of clothing in that load, including my favorite khaki capri’s.

When I discovered my khakis covered with melted black crayon, I had a melt down of my own.  I threw an adult-sized temper tantrum and yelled at Cameron for being irresponsible and spoiled. I stomped around the house, carried on about the tragedy and ranted about how impossible it would be to replace them.

Cameron apologized for the crayon, but I was too upset to notice his grief and regret until his sobbing jolted me back to reality. I saw the reflection of my rage in his eyes and realized how my words were impacting his world.  I felt awful. I scooped him up, hugged him, and apologized for being mean spirited.  I asked him to forgive me for my temper.  I was still upset, but promised to find another way to express my anger. We agreed to look for a solution together.

We scrubbed, soaked, bleached and purchased every creative concoction that promised to remove challenging stains, but nothing worked. Every failed attempt sunk Cameron’s hopes and sparked guilt for my human, but horrible reaction.  When we exhausted our resources, we acknowledged defeat.  My favorite pants had become black-wax khakis and were destined for the dump.

With the heart and wisdom of a child, Cameron timidly told me he liked my khakis better covered with black gunk. He thought they made them look interesting and unique. He’s a sweetheart optimist, but I recognized it was his attempt to make everything ok and realized the distinctive flair of our hand-made pants provided a unique opportunity for me to be a better mom.

Later that week I volunteered at Cameron’s school and showed up in his classroom wearing black-wax pants. When I walked in, Cameron noticed my pants and instantly smiled his precious smile. Later I overheard him whisper to his buddies that my outfit was unique and hand-made. He said they made me look pretty. I secretly celebrated our crayon-stained story had a better ending than its beginning.

A regrettable reaction gave me the opportunity to create a new and powerful perspective with my son.  I don’t wear them anymore, but I’ve kept the crayon-stained pants to remind me that some things are more important than pants and story endings can be re-written.

The Fish Will Tell You How to Fish Them

I signed up for the fly-fishing-for-women course through the local B&B because I needed to escape my everyday existence and learn something new. I had been drawn to the running trails near the Kinnickinnic, but had never stepped foot in the water.  Often times I found myself near the river, hypnotized by the sound of rushing water, and mesmerized by the beauty and rhythm of a fly fisherman’s technique.  I watched with fascination as the line was ripped from the water when the fisherman had one on.  Without fail, the fisherman displayed compassion for the fish and respect for the stream.  I lost myself in the scene and I allowed my worries to be carried away by the current.  The river was a magical place and I wanted to learn more about its depth.

I arrived at the class in a bright pink, short-sleeved top and khaki shorts, with a borrowed rod and reel.  I had a great little pack of flies that had been a birthday gift from a friend cinched around my waist.  I had spied this look on a pro while walking near the Rush River one day and boldly and ignorantly thought fly-fishing was about the flies and the gear. I learned later that day there was more to the sport than what met the eye.

The instructor was a fly fishing expert who worked for Cabellas and had fished streams all over the world.  She was dressed in waders and a fancy fly-fishing vest with lots of fishing gadgets hanging from the pockets and zippers.  She had a net hanging from her waist and under her vest she wore a pale green shirt with the sleeves rolled up to a three quarter length on her arm.  She wore a baseball cap that sported several interesting flies hooked to the bill.  She had a soft voice and an even temperament and her love and passion for the great outdoors was contagious.  I liked her instantly.

After a brief lesson on threading line and tying flies, she took us to nearby baseball fields and demonstrated the principles of the cast.  We practiced the snap of the line until she was satisfied none of us would hook another’s eyeball.

As we made our way to the bank of the river, she showed us how to carry our rods without breaking or snagging the tip.  As we sat and geared up, she explained the temperature and flow of the water, the speed of the current, and how and where the fish would sit.  She talked about the wisdom of the fish and how they can detect imbalances in their environment.  She told me my shirt was “too loud” to be natural and the fish would feel threatened by the color.  She handed me one of her soft blue fishing shirts that blended well with the sky.  Strangely, I felt more at peace, too.  She was almost poetic when she spoke of the natural balance and perfect ecological harmony that made the sport possible.

One by one she guided our slippery steps over rocks and set us up in the stream.  She told us exactly where to cast to catch a fish. Even with athletic genes, I found it to be a significant challenge to get the line to go exactly where I wanted it to go. It took finesse and patience, both of which I lacked at that particular moment in time.   I cast and dragged the line; cast and dragged the line.  Each time the snap of my line got louder and more forced and more times than not, would snag a tree branch or rock.  No trout hit my line and I was convinced it was due to the wrong kind of fly.

Sensing my frustration, the instructor waded her way over to my spot.  She secured her footing, grabbed my line, then reached down and picked up a fist-sized rock.  She flipped it over and pointed to the tiny creatures clutching the rock.

“See those little bugs?” she asked me.  They constantly change, but those are the bugs that are hatching naturally at this exact moment in this stream. That’s the size and kind of fly you want to use,” she said with a slow, soft voice.

“You see, Samantha, the fish will tell you how to fish them. You just need to slow down enough to look around and listen.”

I walked away from that day with a respect for the sport and a new appreciation for the stream and the perfection of nature. I didn’t catch a fish, but the lesson has never left me.  The fish will tell you how to fish them.

My son is not a fish, but I find this lesson to be true in parenting, as well.  He’s like a little wise trout that can detect harsh imbalances in his environment.  That may sound strange, but I believe it’s my job as his mother to create harmony in our environment, and protect him from harsh threats, whatever that looks like for him. Sometimes it’s a bully; other times it’s a school project or extracurricular deadline; but sometimes it’s the simple pressures of our fast-paced American life.

Like one-of-a-kind trout, children are unique and precious and require a place where they feel safe and can be their natural selves.  They may not use words or bugs under rocks, but if you slow down, look around, and listen, I guarantee, they’ll communicate what they need.

The fish will tell you how to fish them. And so it is with the children. They will tell you how to parent them.

 

Watch for my new e-book available September 1, 2011, titled, How I’m not Winning Mother of the Year: 8 Powerful Perspectives for Parents.  To reserve your copy, kindly contact me at Samantha@powerfulperspectives.net

 

 

 

 

Lessons of an Ordinary Life

I tend to think of my childhood as something I survived. It’s not to say my parents didn’t do their best, but unlike my siblings, I wasn’t born with obvious natural gifts, and I struggled to understand where I fit in.

My oldest sister, Tiffany, was highly intelligent and walked well before her first birthday. She took to reading early and consumed books whole.  She had a great memory and her energy seemed to flow best through the pages of books.  This gift served her well in school where she earned straight A’s with what seemed like little effort.

My sister Mardy was the family comedienne.  She was dramatic, quick-witted and a master at repeating jokes. She was a social butterfly and once won a look-alike contest for her physical resemblance to Reba McIntyre.  She could also captivate a room, Chelsea Handler-style. She was also born with outstanding rhythm and style and rivaled Prince with creative dance moves and attire. I still think she has a future in Hollywood.

Leslie was my parent’s undisputed favorite.  She was easy going and pleasant and didn’t inherit the drama-queen gene.  She had more athletic talent and intelligence than her three older sisters combined. She was confident and comfortable in her skin and could have conversations with teachers and coaches as easily as her classmates. If my sisters or I muttered or thought about using words like stupid or gay, my mom would wash our mouths out with soap.  If we talked back to our dad, we could expect the wrath of the Incredible Hulk. Leslie could throw a fit of profanity at my parents and they would embrace it as family entertainment. My sister’s and I still call her the golden child.

The youngest of this tribe was the only boy, my brother Timothy.  He was born with soft, focused, intense energy and was nicknamed TR.  We thought of him as a real-life doll and took turns dressing him up in little clothes.  Our mother announced that having a boy meant the end of the babies in our family, and I think we secretly appreciated TR for ending the streak. When he entered kindergarten, he politely, but firmly, changed his name from TR to Tim. He excelled in sports and had inherited the linear mind of my father, giving him an edge in math and engineering.  When he was thirteen, he scored so high on the ACT that he was invited to attend a military academy near Chicago.  The rules and curfews that applied to his older siblings didn’t apply to him and his full name has yet to be used in our house. In fact, we tease him and call him “baby boy” because he still has our mother wrapped around his little finger.

I was the second born and arrived six weeks early. I was a pigeon-legged preemie and needed leg braces and special shoes to learn to walk. My parents thought I had special needs because I didn’t speak until I was three. When I finally talked, I muttered the phrase, “more Jell-O please.”  I may have been a late bloomer, but at least I was polite and continue to enjoy talking. When I was six, I was in a terrible bike accident that changed the shape of my face and jaw, giving me a different appearance than my similar-looking siblings.  School didn’t come easy and I was told I would never be the student my sister was.  It was said to alleviate the pressure of living up to my sister’s academic accomplishments, but my mind translated it to mean I would never be as smart.  I played sports, but wasn’t the superstar my siblings were, and I was more comfortable standing on my head than on my feet.  I couldn’t tell a good joke to save my soul and a nun at my high school told me I should have a back-up skill because she couldn’t see my future writing career.

I rebelled through most of my late teens and early twenties, meandered through my mid-to-late twenties, and attempted to conform in my early-to-mid-thirties, all the while searching for my gifts and a place to fit in and feel normal.

It wasn’t until my life hit a dead-end that I decided to take the time to reflect on the values and messages shaping my life.

I went searching for the truth and realized that being different was my natural gift.  I didn’t know it then, but my quest for normal is what makes me normal.  The older I get, the more I understand that the quest is what life is all about.  I’ve also learned that fitting in is over-rated and comparing your life to others is futile.

I’ve learned spontaneity and unpredictability keep life interesting and I’ve learned a child-like perspective is creative and healthy.

I’ve learned the gifts of my childhood were rich and have learned judgment of self and others destroys the here and now.  I’ve learned life is a series of ordinary moments and to remove the word “should” and honor “what is.”

I’ve learned that Powerful Perspectives turn the ordinary into the extraordinary and begin with awareness and move upward toward acceptance and love.

Flight of the Bumblebee

When my son was 8-years-old, we turned off the television and spent the hour before bedtime journaling and reading together.  We each had a journal and our own box of colored pencils. 

In our journals we could doodle or draw, practice letters; write stories, or paste quotes or pictures. The journal was our place for processing our ideas or thoughts and the only rule we had was that there were no mistakes.

No matter what we wrote or drew in our journal was simply perfect. It would not be judged or labeled, only appreciated and accepted. There were days when I would scribble a picture of a funnel cloud to capture the energy of my day. Other days, I wrote about the meaning of life, drafted a poem, or drew a palm tree or flower. Whatever we put in our journal, we agreed it was “simply perfect.”

One night, my son spent a great deal of time on a picture of a garden filled with colorful flowers, bright sunshine and puffy clouds floating in the blue sky. It was meticulous and beautiful and he was proud of his work.

When he went to put the finishing touches on the page, his black pencil slipped and he made a squiggly slash mark across half the page.

Tears welled up in Cameron’s eyes because he thought the picture was ruined. He had worked so hard on the picture it nearly broke my heart. Then I pointed out to him that it was a “no mistakes” journal and reminded him that everything that happened was simply perfect.  I asked him to look at how the black squiggly line might make his picture better.

As he sat and cried and resisted this experiment, I bit my lip to hold myself back from speaking or suggesting ways to “fix” the picture.

I continued to journal, my lip nearly bloody as I forced myself to allow Cameron to solve his own dilemma. What happened next is a moment that has shaped our relationship and led him to powerful perspectives.  He released the judgment of his work, experienced a new view, and enjoyed a moment of personal empowerment.

He grabbed a black and yellow pencil and added a tiny yellow and black body bumblee with wings to the end of the scribble.

His face was now filled with pride and his body language proud and upright as he shared how the black slash across the page became the flight of the bumblebee.  My son thought the addition made the original more creative; his mistake made his picture better.  The greatest gift of that evening was watching my son work through his own emotion without the overlay of my thinking.  Had I fixed it for him, it would have reinforced that the picture was not good if it was not “perfect.” 

My son and I use the flight of the bumblebee philosophy in other areas of our lives to remind ourselves that there are no mistakes, only opportunities to make our pictures better.

Powerful Perspectives are those qualities that begin with awareness and move toward acceptance and love.

Ten Throws

When I was eight years old, my parents signed me up for city league softball.  We practiced twice a week and played Tuesday night games.  My dad was the assistant coach and it turned out I had inherited his athletic genes.  I had a strong right arm, great hand-eye coordination and quickly took to the bat.

The faster the pitch, the further the ball would sail. My base running, however, was painfully slow.   Many of my “home run” hits turned into singles or doubles because of my lack-of-speed.  My mother tried to focus on the strength of my bat, but I would overhear her talking to other parents about my slow motion run.

My teammates compared me to a cartoon character attempting to run through Acme glue. During one game, I was on second base when cleanup Lori hit a home run and literally walked the bases to touch home plate inches behind me. Deep down, I was embarrassed by my slow speed and compensated with my defensive performance on the field.

I was competitive and hated to lose. I wanted to be where the action was. In this league, it was infield. I played third because I was one of the few who could make the throw to first. I eventually moved to short to cover more ground. I did this by diving, not by running.

When I was ten, my dad moved me to a more competitive league. We would scrimmage local teams during the week, and traveled to tournaments in St. Louis, Chicago, Memphis and Des Moines to play teams from all over the country.

My dad was one of the coaches and generally headed up practices. We always arrived early to set out gear, run bases and get my arm warmed up.  When my teammates arrived, he drilled us on the fundamentals and pushed us to run until we nearly puked.  He was like an Army sergeant and goofing around was banned from the field. This was serious business and he would scream and hit line drives at our heads to keep us on our toes.

For fear I wouldn’t have enough energy to excel, my dad wouldn’t allow me to swim or bike the days I had a game.  Softball became my life.  My summers were no longer about having fun and hanging out with my friends. I missed slumber parties and swimming parties because I was busy traveling with my team. I didn’t take gymnastics during the summer because my time was spent at the ball diamonds.

At tournaments, my father would argue with the umpires on pitches and yell at us from his third base post to “look alive.”  If we were on-deck and didn’t have a practice bat in-hand before the batter in front got to the plate, we would run bases after the game as punishment.

I could see parent’s reactions and after a while, could sense my teammates aggravation with my father’s intensity. I wasn’t invited to ride with other kids to tournaments and we didn’t go out for pizza with the team. No longer was the game about the team camaraderie or the spirit of the sport, it was about winning and advancing to the regional and national tournaments.

Each year, my dad took me to get a new glove and spent weeks breaking it in.  My dad would massage oil into it to soften it up and he made me sleep with it wrapped up tight under my mattress to get it to fit like a glove. My dad’s intensity increased with every season and I was becoming bitter by the imbalance in my life. I resented the stupid, strict schedule and was ashamed of my dad’s temper. I began to lose focus and care less and less about playing. I wasn’t giving my best and it showed up on offense.

We were facing faster pitchers and I was striking out more than I was hitting. I was playing outfield and hating every minute of every game.

Sensing this, my father did what every good father would do – drill me with more softball practice.  One evening in the ally behind our house, my dad made me play catch. The drill was to throw ten consecutive throws into his glove, without making him move an inch to catch it.  If I got nine perfect throws and number ten was too high or low, we began again at one.  My shoulder was on fire from exhaustion and my head and heart were on fire from spite.  I could taste the bile coming up from my stomach and my veins popped with hatred. The more he made me throw, the more pissed off I became.  When the streetlights turned on, I realized the only way out was to get ten in a row, without error.

In my mind, I pictured each ball aimed perfectly for his head, fantasizing he would miss and be knocked unconscious. Even with my arm throbbing, the speed of my throws increased as I attempted to sting his hand.  Unfortunately, that never happened and I eventually threw ten perfect throws. Instead of feeling a sense of satisfaction, I felt defeated and powerless.  In bed that evening, I prayed for lightening to strike our house and kill my dad.

The next summer, I refused to play softball.  I wouldn’t play catch with my dad and spent my time swimming and biking with friends.  In the evening, though, I was forced to go to the ball diamonds and watch my younger sister’s team play.  As much as I enjoyed my freedom, I realized I missed the sport.

I went back to the city league and played for my friend’s father’s team. I shined on the field and at the end of the season, won MVP, but still wasn’t invited to the team pizza party. I later found out it was because the coach didn’t want more sideline advice from my father. Regardless of my potential and desire to play, I chose never to play competitive softball again.

Years later painful memories emerged as I watched my son play baseball for a maniacal parent who volunteered to coach.  I watched with anger as he stripped the fun from the game by drilling the boys with practice and discipline. I verbalized my discontent and nearly pulled Cameron from the team. Instead, I made it an opportunity to demonstrate to my son what it means to commit to a team and respect authority, even when it wasn’t pleasant.  As the season progressed, I had several conversations with the coach about his technique and strategy and learned what fired him up. As it turned out, he sincerely thought he was doing the right thing, regardless of the obvious misdirection.  My son had a terrific season and eventually earned the team’s sportsmanship award for his kind-hearted ways, but that’s another story.

I realized my reaction to the coach’s intensity was triggered by the unexpressed anger and frustration of my youth. I began to examine the experiences of my youth from a detached emotional state and with some help, re-shaped my stories and moved from discontent to acceptance for the coach’s involvement in my life, albeit unbalanced.

Most importantly, I forgave my father and found I appreciated his intensity and perfectionism; attributes he has clearly passed to his children. I realized I am no different than my dad, and for this I am learning to be grateful.  The same intensity that drove him to coach, was the same intensity that drove me to quit.

We’ve both mellowed some and approach life with sensitivity, but I’ve come to appreciate our passionate ways. We are never halfway about anything and that has served us well.  Some will never understand or relate to it, but others connect to the stories in a deep and meaningful way.  Love or hate it, we are driven to push beyond where we’ve been, whatever that looks like for us. My dad did the best he knew; and I’ve done the best I know, and through those experiences, my life has taken shape. By accepting, forgiving and loving him, I accept, forgive and love me.

Forgiveness, Acceptance and Love are Powerful Perspectives — qualities that begin with awareness and move toward love.

Seeking Balance Upside Down

When I was young, I spent as much of my time upside down as I did right side up.   My family would often find me standing on my head, legs propped against the kitchen refrigerator, or leaning against the closet door in my bedroom.  I even read the childhood tale about Tikki Tikki Tembo while standing on my head. And I didn’t walk down the sidewalk like a typical kid, I would cartwheel or somersault. True to my gene pool, I had a ton of energy coursing through my body.  I don’t know why my mother chose to enroll me in gymnastics instead of therapy, but perhaps learning to flip flop and somersault with grace served the same purpose.

Years later I told this story to an Occupational Therapist friend who works with kids. She told me she teaches kids with nervous energy to press the crown of their head firmly with the palms of their hands until they felt calmer. She says it helps kids become aware of their bodies and find the balance they seek.  In technical terms, it apparently tricks the nervous system by suppressing the energy.  I didn’t know it then, but flipping upside down was my body’s natural way of seeking balance.

Seeking balance is the universal way. The giant blue characters in the movie Avatar best demonstrate this when they were preparing for battle against their greedy enemies.  The main character and former marine now Na’vi, Jake Sully, is found by the protagonist and native Neytiri sitting at the base of “the great tree spirit” seeking wisdom and praying for miracles of strength to defend against the attack.  Neytiri informs Jake that Great Spirit does not take sides, she simply seeks balance.

In today’s earth terms, balance is represented by contrasts. We know light because of darkness, we understand faith because of fear and we understand calm because of chaos.

As I sift through facebook and blogs, posts are riddled with fear and frustration by the on-going political debate between private and public sector benefits and opinions about what is just and fair. Posts from private sector folks remind us they pay a higher portion of benefits and pensions than their counterparts in the public sector. Educators respond by sharing how they feel about the lack of fairness in Governor Walker’s all-or-nothing proposal. There are myriad imbalances that could be pointed out on each side of the soil, but the contrasts reminded me of the universal principle of balance and the wisdom of Neytiri.

The universe does not take sides, it simply seeks balance.  Where that balance rests is not clear to me, but perhaps it would help to take a deep breath and apply pressure to the crowns of our heads.

Balance and awareness are the foundational principles of the Powerful Perspectives System of Change. To learn more, become a fan on facebook, or attend a sampler session on Saturday, February 26 at the River Falls High School.  Sessions will explore the Powerful Perspectives and how they help you learn to Love the Skin You’re In.  Sessions are 50 minutes and begin at 9 a.m., 10 a.m. and 11 a.m.  Register at RFlearns.org

Trucker Talk

I wanted to pay my last respects to a man whose life inspired me to think differently.  My uncle Bob was a positive man and played a special and important role in my mom’s life.  I had no good excuse to miss another family funeral, so I made the six-hour trek to say good-bye to a family member and friend.  It felt like the right thing to do.

When I arrived at my parent’s home, I noticed my dad’s irritability. I hadn’t seen this side of him since he had “found God” a year or so ago.  He was learning to be at peace with himself and his life, but I found him to be agitated and obsessively concerned about the welfare of my mom.  While my sister and brother and I chatted in their kitchen, my mom took their Yorkshire Terriers outside to “take care of business.”  It was a frigid evening and when my father realized she was outside with the dogs, he created a dramatic scene about her falling on the ice, hitting her head, and freezing to death in the bitter cold.  I don’t remember if in his story the little dogs froze, too, but in the time it took him to swell the story, dress for the outdoors, and head out to investigate, my mother, lucky for us, re-entered the house and calmed his fears.

My dad has always been a dramatic man.  Never in my life can I recall him being late.  If he says he’ll be there at six, you can bet he’ll be there at 5:45. As a child, if we went to the theater, my popcorn bucket was empty long before the previews began.  If the game started at five, I generally had time to catch a nap on the bleachers while the stadium maintenance folks turned on the lights and heated up the building.

My father takes great pride in this attribute and I’ve come to appreciate that his word means something in his world. I have been conditioned to be ready long before it is critically necessary to be so, particularly when my father is involved in the plan.

When my dad told me we needed to leave by 8:45, I made a mental note to be ready by 8:15.  I thought it over-kill to leave that early for a destination 20 minutes away, but remembered my father’s flair for extreme punctuality. As my morning coffee kicked in, I noted the time on the clock: 8:30. It promised to be a long morning filled with final goodbyes, Catholic mass, a burial procession, and a luncheon, so I thought it best to “take care of business” before morning turned to afternoon.

At 8:32, my father yelled that it was time to go.  I was still “going” and yelled this fact back.  At 8:36, my mother, now irate, screamed that dad was in the car and we had to leave right now. I was washing my hands and moving as quickly as I could.  When I got in the car at 8:40, I announced with irritation that I was in the bathroom and it was not yet 8:45.  This point didn’t matter because he proceeded to tell me that I should learn to command this function.

For the second time in twenty-four hours, my father had morphed into dramatic mode and elaborated on his ability to poop on demand. Apparently he had acquired this skill when he was driving truck when us kids were young.  Exasperated, I demanded an explanation about the relevancy of this skill as it related to me.  Using his coveted trucker terms, I yelled to him that learning to “drop a load” was not genetic and I could hardly believe he thought it appropriate, let alone sane, to be having the conversation on the way to a family funeral.  The argument escalated and by the time we arrived at the funeral home at 9:03, I had been exiled from the vehicle. I was told I would have to find another way to the mass. Happily, I told him. I’d rather walk and freeze in the bitter cold like the drama of his previous story, than ride with a person whose sensibilities were in question.

When my sister arrived, she could see there was tension and despair.  I told her about the fight and the crazy man we were fortunate to call father.  I’m not proud that I refueled the feud or that I labeled another human harshly, but I never expected to be flipped the bird by my dad at a family funeral. Seeing that, I excused myself to a private place where I proceeded to sob.  I realized that no matter how old or young, our parents have the ability to impact our hearts in unique ways and places reserved especially for them. This is both blessing and curse.

On my long drive back home, I thought about the preciousness of my son and how fragile life has become.  I think that frailty has become evident to my father, particularly with the tremendous losses he and my mom have recently faced.  I think about the patterns and thoughts we hold sacred and look at how they impact our lives.

My father and I have reconciled and made amends, but the magnitude of that fight and what it means to the interactions of my everyday life have not left me.  I continue to struggle with the messages I’ve been telling myself for years, but as I work through the clutter, I am compelled to believe my dad and I are more alike than different.

The masks we wear are perhaps not to frighten others, but to hide our own fears.

The White Bat

As I sat in my home office writing a story that wanted to be told, the winged creature darted down from the ceiling and disrupted my flow of thoughts.  Each time he swooped, I swatted him out of my way.  After several irritating interruptions, I turned and found myself face-to-face with a bat suspended in mid-air as if it were a Halloween prop dangling from a string.

He had tiny bat hands on the end of his outstretched bat wings and his sad brown eyes seemed oversized for his fuzzy white body.  Perplexed, I asked what he wanted from me.

Apparently I speak bat because I understood him when he said he wanted a hug. I agreed under the condition that he would leave me to finish my work after the embrace.  He snuggled into the crook and wrapped his wings around my neck; his little bat fingers tickled the tiny hairs at the base of my head and sent shivers down my spine.  When the hug was over, he disappeared.

When I woke the next morning, I could still feel the tingles on the back of my neck.  Uncertain whether it was a dream or if the creature was still lurking, I went on an extensive search.  I determined it must have been a dream.

Curious what it meant, I conducted an Internet search.  On dreamdictionary.com, I learned that “to dream of a white bat signifies the death of a family member,” but I dismissed this interpretation and decided I needed less caffeine before bedtime.

Early the next morning I received a call from my mother who told me my grandfather had passed away the night before, the day following my dream.  Until that moment I wouldn’t describe my relationship with my mom as being close, but I felt connected to her as she recounted the past few years with her father and the meaning of the bat that appeared in my dream.

My grandfather was a military man who was loud, direct and not particularly kind. He had no filter between his brain and his mouth and stated whatever was on his mind, regardless of the audience or the timing. He was inappropriate and typically threw out insults instead of compliments. He didn’t tolerate complaining or victim behavior and preferred choke holds over hugs. His favorite Christmas gifts were the kind that gurgled and those that didn’t remained wrapped under the tree.

I will never forget the Christmas Eve when I was twelve and suffered from a horrible cold. I was congested, miserable and complained about being achy. Instead of a grandfatherly cup of hot chocolate, he mixed me a rancid concoction and ordered me to plug my nose and drink. I nearly gagged and puked, but knew better than to heave the priceless whiskey mixture my grandfather offered as a cold remedy.

Never had I heard the man utter the words, “I love you,” even to his children or grandchildren. As innocent youth, we told him we loved him and he would dismiss it with the words, “you’re a knuckle-head” or an abrupt “thank you.”

The last time I saw my grandfather was a few weeks before he died.  My mother took the Yorkshire Terriers she has confused as her children to visit and the nurses told her the dogs were the highlight of his day. My grandfather was no longer strong enough to hold the dogs on his lap, so my mom brought him a stuffed toy dog he named Bozo. My grandpa loved it and was comforted by it while he slept.

I couldn’t imagine this tough military man sleeping with a stuffed dog. It was the same ritual my son had practiced for the better part of his early years. The common thread between my grandfather and my son put me in an exaggerated and sensitive emotional state and it struck me that the grandfather of my youth was no longer.

At the nursing home, I watched my mother spoon feed my grandfather strawberry ice cream and gently wipe drool with a napkin.  His words were not understood, but we knew from his groan that he loved the special treat.  When he was chilled, she wrapped him in a blanket and tucked him in with Bozo.

I took my turn holding his hand and behind his sad, over-sized eyes I could see he was struggling to understand who I was and why I was thanking him for being my grandpa.  I imagine my tears and outpouring of love caused him confusion; but as I kissed his cheek and told him I loved him, I was comforted by an abrupt, but audible, “thank you.”

I believe the white bat in my dream was my grandfather who came to say goodbye.  Perhaps it was even his way of saying I love you from the afterlife.  Either way, I have come to appreciate and admire my mom’s compassion for a man incapable of showing gratitude or stating his love.  I’ve come to understand that love comes in many forms and is much more than words. Love is a special energy that could be seen in my grandfather’s eyes when my mother fed him special ice cream, and felt through the kisses and tears of confusion. Love is shared when we comfort another soul with a stuffed puppy, or when the words “thank you” replace the words, “I love you, too.” Unconditional love means not judging how love shows up.

Love is not forgotten, but perhaps the ability to speak it is lost somewhere in the complexity of surviving a life filled with war, depression, and the daunting day-to-day responsibility of raising children alone.

I cannot imagine what it must feel like for my mother to have never heard the words “I love you” from her father, but I think she has come to some semblance of peace knowing that love need not be spoken to be real.  Sometimes it’s complicated and full of complex stories, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

Love Just Is.