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.

Parenting the Precious

Maggie was born with cerebral palsy and would never walk, talk, feed or dress herself. Her parents were told she’d be lucky to live past the age of two.

Maggie grew and was nurtured by an incredibly strong, courageous and beautiful mother and grandmother who never complained about the circumstances of Maggie’s life. They loved her and treated her as they would any child. They shared stories of her victories and progress and they bragged like any proud parent or grandparent would. The condition of Maggie’s body was secondary to the condition of her soul.  They saw Maggie for the love she brought to their lives.

She communicated with her family in a way they understood and brought a sense of celebration to every single day.  When she turned three she was transported by a wheel chair to make it easier for her mom to move her around. As fate would have it, Maggie defied the odds and continued to thrive.

At age five, Maggie started kindergarten. She was the same age as my son. They went to the same school and attended many of the same school functions. I got to know Maggie’s mom on a friendly basis.  While I watched Cameron play with his friends or race from game-to-game at the school carnival, Maggie’s mom wiped drool from her face and fed her from a spoon. Maggie would give her mom a sideways smile.

In the time I spent dropping off my son at the playground and waving goodbye, Maggie’s mom would face weather conditions and curbside snow to haul the wheel chair out of her van.  As I zipped past, Maggie would be strapped into the chair and her mom would be carrying her backpack and supplies into the school to meet the special assistant.

Maggie’s mom always waved and smiled.  I rushed to my next thing, giving silent thanks for my son’s perfect health.

In the third grade, Maggie’s body began shutting down and she was admitted to the hospital. Her schoolmates rallied around her and sent personalized cards.  They created a poster the length of the hallway and each student and faculty member signed a get-well greeting.  They collected hugs for Maggie in the form of monetary donations and they hoped she would return to school quickly.  From home, my son and I would check Maggie’s caring bridge website and send good vibes for healing and peace.  We looked forward to the day she would return to school. Maggie’s Spirit was stronger than her body and later that spring, she passed away.

On the last day of school, I saw Maggie’s mom in the hallway and my eyes filled with tears of compassion.  I hugged her and told her I was sorry for her loss.  Her response was gracious and bold. “I didn’t expect her to live past the age of two,” she said. “I was blessed by every moment, every day.  I had the privilege of spending an extra 7 years with my angel.”

I thought about our children’s paths and how different our experiences had been. Maggie’s mom and I had been pregnant at the same time and given birth a few weeks apart. While I was busy rushing off and giving thanks for perfect health, Maggie’s mom was giving thanks for the blessing of another day.  While I watched with sympathy as she wiped Maggie’s drool from her face, Maggie’s mom was happy for one more moment with her child.

I began to question why I was comparing my relationship with Cameron to her relationship with Maggie and determined that in my sympathy, I was judging; in my gratitude for perfect health, I was judging; and in my compassion for her loss, I was judging.

She was happy simply living in the moment and being with her child.

I wondered if I were truly the lucky one for having a son with perfect health, or was she the lucky one for having a child whose presence was a constant reminder of precious time and small joys? Was I genuinely “compassionate” for her loss, or was I thinking her burden had been lifted?

I don’t have the answers, but I suspect we were both lucky, and both right.  I’ve come to believe that any time we compare, we judge.  Because when we compare, something must be right, and therefore something must be wrong.  I’ve come to realize that the universe doesn’t make mistakes and nothing is ever wrong, just different. Anytime we think something “should be” we judge and dishonor “what is.”

Inside of awareness are gratitude and forgiveness and the Powerful Perspectives that teach us self-love.

What I learned about Business from a Fish

I once worked for a government agency as an intern running errands, delivering mail and typing letters and reports.

I was given projects by many and faced each assignment with energy and a “can-do” attitude. This approach ended up getting me into trouble because I was told it intimated some of the introverted old-timers who didn’t appreciate my spunk.  My supervisor told me to “stop being so happy” and work more slowly.

Stunned, I told one of the women I had befriended about my situation and she promised to show me the ropes.  She kept an interesting fish she had named Gerald in a fish bowl on her desk. She asked me to be in charge of feeding Gerald and keeping his little tank clean.

After classes, I headed to work and straight to my coworkers office to check on Gerald. I dropped fish treats into the bowl and would sometimes stick my pinky finger in to see if I could trick him into thinking it was a treat.  He would eat the treats and then suck on my finger. It became our ritual.

After several weeks, Gerald began to recognize me and would swim quickly back and forth in his tank when I entered my coworker’s cubicle.  Once when my coworker was out of the office, I taught Gerald to play hide and go seek.

I crouched down on my hands and knees and sneaked into my co-worker’s office to reach Gerald’s tank before he noticed.  I popped up in front of his bowl and surprised him. When he saw me, his swim pace quickened. I gave him treats and then stuck my pinky finger in the tank as a kind of human-to-fish acknowledgment of his keen observations.

Leaving her cubicle, I would peak around the corner to see if he was still swimming fast. He wasn’t. Sometimes he’d catch me looking back and as a sort of fish-to-human acknowledgment, make a quick lap to let me know he got it.

I entertained myself for hours by keeping company with the fish and cracked myself up at the absurdity of working slowly to cater to others insecurities.

Several weeks later, one particular commander who had been uncomfortable with my earlier energy asked me to assist with a “special” project perfect for somebody with spunk.

He had been saving newspapers that mentioned certain military projects and he wanted me to copy articles onto standard sized paper.  He was adamant each article contained the headline, reporter’s name, and name and date of the newspaper. He wanted each story to fit on one page so it was easier for him to read.

I attacked this project as if it were critical to national security. I stood at the copy machine for hours and manipulated the newspapers to fit the panel.  I experimented with the “shrink-to-reduce-size” options and fiddled with the paper input and hoped-like-heck the orientation would come out correct. It took me weeks and hundreds of dead trees to get everything perfect, but I became the master of media manipulation, all in name of becoming student-aid extraordinaire.  I had a vision of turning this commander into one of my biggest fans.

When I completed the project, I gave it to the Commander’s secretary with a handwritten note thanking him for the opportunity to make his life easier. I went back to my regular assignments and back to taking great care of Gerald.

The Commander never acknowledged the project and didn’t become my biggest fan, but he later gave me another “great” opportunity that surprisingly shifted the course of my career.  Gerald, on the other hand, let me know daily that my actions made a difference in his world.

I left that job with an important reminder to acknowledge and appreciate people who approach their jobs with spunk. Through my experience with that agency, I learned that people’s issues with spunk have nothing to do with spunk, or with me.  Their issues are about them. I learned that the words “thank you” are the two most powerful words in business and I learned that every contribution, regardless of how large or small, is a gift to the organization.

Later I learned that appreciation and acceptance are Powerful Perspectives – those qualities that begin with awareness and move upward toward love.

 

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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.

Learning Self Love

A time comes in your life when you finally get it. When in the midst of all your fears you stop in your tracks and somewhere the voice inside your head cries out — ENOUGH! Enough fighting and struggling to hold on and like a child quieting after a tantrum, your sobs begin to subside, you blink back your tears and through a mantle of wet lashes you begin to look at the world through new eyes.

This is your awakening. You realize that it’s time to stop hoping and waiting for something to change, or for happiness, safety and security to come galloping over the next horizon. You come to terms with the fact that he is not Prince Charming, and you are not Cinderella and that in the real world there aren’t always fairy tale endings (or beginnings for that matter), and that any guarantee of “happily ever after” must begin with you.  In that process a sense of serenity is born out of acceptance. You awaken to the fact that you are not perfect, and that not everyone will always love, appreciate or approve of who or what you are and that’s OK. And you learn the importance of loving and championing yourself, and in the process a sense of newfound confidence is born of self-approval.

You stop blaming other people for the things they did or didn’t do to or for you and you learn the only thing you can really count on is the unexpected.

You learn not everyone will be there for you, and that it’s not always about you. So, you learn to stand on your own and take care of yourself, and in the process a sense of safety and security is born of self-reliance.

You stop judging and pointing fingers, and you begin to accept people as they are, and overlook their shortcomings and human frailties and in the process, a sense of peace and contentment is born of forgiveness.

You realize that much of the way you view yourself, and the world around you, is a result of all the messages and opinions that have been ingrained into your psyche. And you begin to sift through all the crap you’ve been fed about how you should behave, how you should look, how much you shouldn’t weigh, what you should wear, where you should shop, what you should drive, how and where you should live, what you should do for a living, how you should raise your children or what you owe your parents.

You learn to open up to new worlds and different points of views and you begin redefining who you are and what you stand for. You learn the difference between want and need, and you begin to discard the doctrines and values you’ve outgrown, and in the process you learn to go with your instincts. You learn to distinguish between guilt and responsibility, and the importance of setting boundaries and learning to say NO. You learn that the only cross to bear is the one you choose to carry, and that martyrs get burned at the stake.

Then you learn about love – romantic and familial and you learn how to love, how much to give in love, when to stop giving, and when to walk away. You learn when you have made them a priority and they have made you an option and you learn not to project your needs or feelings onto a relationship. You learn that you will not be more beautiful, intelligent, more lovable, or important because of the man or woman on your arm or the child that bears your name.

You learn to look at relationships as they are and not as you would have them be. You stop trying to control people, situations, and outcomes. You learn that just as people grow and change, so it is with love and you learn that you don’t have the right to demand love on your terms. And, you learn that alone does not mean lonely.

And you look in the mirror and come to terms with the fact that you will never be perfect and you stop trying to compete with the image inside your head. You stop working so hard to push feelings aside, smooth things over, and ignore your needs. You learn it is your right to want the things that you want and sometimes it is appropriate and necessary to make demands. You come to the realization that you deserve to be treated with love, kindness, sensitivity and respect, and that you will not settle for less. And you allow only the hands of a lover who cherishes you, to glorify you with his or her touch, and in the process you internalize the meaning of self-respect.

And you learn that your body is your temple. You begin eating a balanced diet, drinking more water, and taking more time to exercise. You learn that fatigue diminishes the spirit and can create doubt and fear, so you take more time to rest. And just as food fuels the body, laughter fuels the soul, so you take more time to laugh and to play and surround yourself with people who believe in you.

You learn that anything worth achieving is worth working for, and that wishing for something to happen is different than working toward making it happen.  More importantly, you learn that in order to achieve success, you need direction, discipline, and perseverance. You also learn that not one can do it all alone and it’s OK to ask for help.

You learn that the only thing you must really fear is fear itself. You learn to step through your fears because you know you can survive and to give into fear is to give away the right to live life on your terms.

You learn that life isn’t always fair, you don’t always get what you think you deserve, and sometimes bad things happen to unsuspecting, good people. You learn that God is not always punishing you or failing to answer your prayers. It’s just life happening. And you learn to deal with evil in its most primal state – the ego. You learn that negative feelings such as anger, regret, and resentment must be understood and redirected, or they will suffocate the life out of you and poison the universe that surrounds you.

You learn to admit when you are wrong and build bridges instead of walls. You learn to be grateful and take comfort in the simple things we take for granted. Slowly you begin to take responsibility for yourself, and you make yourself a promise to never betray yourself or settle for less than your heart’s desire.

And you hang a wind chime so you can listen to the wind and you make it a point to keep smiling, to keep trusting, and to stay open to every wonderful possibility. And you learn that self-love is a Powerful Perspective.

Finally, with courage in your heart and with God by your side, you take a stand, take a deep breath, and begin to design the life you want to live.

To learn more about the Powerful Perspectives System of Change, attend one of the following programs hosted by The River Falls School District Community Education:

~Super Saturday, February 26, 2011, 9 – noon at the River Falls High School (sessions begin at 9 am, 10 am, or 11 am).

~Become the Most Powerful You, Thursdays Feb 24 and March 3 from 5 pm – 6:30 pm.

To register, click on “RFSD Community Education” under “WORKSHOPS” on the sidebar of this story.

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*this poem was adoped and edited from the poem titled, “Awakening.” The original author is unknown, but greatly appreciated.