Monday, May 28, 2012

Home Is Where The Heart Is

Home Sweet Home
I thought going home to Capitan, New Mexico this past Memorial Day weekend would be difficult because of my father's recent death. An anxious, depressed feeling kept building all week long as the date for our visit grew closer, and I even entertained the idea of postponing it to later in the summer.  I just didn't know if I would be overwhelmed by feelings of loss while being there and I didn't know if I were ready to face the reality that my former life, my existence as someone's child, was gone forever. Fortunately, however, I couldn't disappoint my children who love going for long weekends and summer vacations to my childhood home.  That's the wonderful thing about children, you will do for them what you won't do for yourself, and most of the time it ends up being a good thing.

In this case, going to Capitan proved to be a very good thing.  Instead of missing my parents desperately and being sad that they are no longer here with me in person, being home brought back the happiest memories I shared with them growing up.  I didn't feel sad, I felt blessed when I walked through the door.  I felt like the luckiest woman in the world because I had such amazing parents and a truly happy, innocent, loving childhood.  Being home, with the spirit of my parents present in every inch of the house, made me realize that no matter how old I become, where I go, or what I do, I will always take them with me.

By returning home again and again, I will not only share my memories of my parents and my youth with my children, but also create new memories of their childhood with them.  I am grateful that they too, have a place where they can go that is special and connects them to their family history.  I can remember traveling Capitan as a very young child to visit my grandfather and stay at his home, and I know that they will have similar memories of going to their grandparents' house even though the grandparents are no longer there.  Those memories will be place-specific in some instances, as my own are, but they will provide the framework for their own sense of what home means.

In my opinion, home truly is where the heart is, and my heart is with my family--both those that remain and those who have gone ahead. My children will always have a home to go to because I vow to create the same feeling of security, love, positivity, optimism and resilience that my parents instilled in me.  I promise with all that I am to give them as happy and satisfying a childhood as I had.  Those things make a home regardless of where a person ends up because home, or rather a sense of belonging and connection, travels with them.

I enjoyed an amazing weekend.  My sister and I watched old home movies and looked through photo albums with the kids. We told them stories about their grandparents and answered questions about this, that, and the other that interested them.  The sharing made me happy, but more so,  it made me grateful that all the stories we shared were good ones.  Being there this weekend made me realize how truly and profoundly blessed I am and gave me absolutely no room to be sad, depressed or anxious.  They say you can never really ever go home again, but I don't believe that. The truth of the matter is, if you are one of the lucky ones, you never really ever leave it.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Mixed Bag of Goodies: Sharing and Thoughtfulness

Abby, Joshua, and Jack: Team Hallbeck

My two older children enjoyed a school carnival yesterday, celebrating the end of the school year.  They entered the house laden with a variety of kitschy toys, pickles, popcorn, and smiles from ear to ear.  My youngest son, old enough to realize he had been left out of the fun, didn't have two seconds to be jealous of their good fortune because they immediately opened their bags of treats and shared their bounty with him.  In that moment, when Jack told Joshua he could choose what he wanted from the pile of goodies and Abby specifically handed him the things she had rounded up for him, I realized my children have learned early on two of the best lessons for leading a happy life: thinking of others and sharing.

In my opinion, the happiest and most well-adjusted people have a healthy mix of being thoughtful of oneself and of other people.  People exist in this world who strike the perfect balance of taking care of themselves and their needs while at the same time being generous with others.  They know both the joy of self-satisfaction and self-sacrifice on behalf of another person, and that knowledge goes a very long way in making them loving, warm, confident, secure, generous, thoughtful people.

It's important to have that balance of self and others.  My children demonstrated this well yesterday too.  Joshua wanted a few more things that Abby and Jack had acquired, but they both firmly stood their ground and said, "Sorry, Josh.  These are our special things."  It pleased me to see that they didn't cave under the intense pressure of four-year-old tears, because I firmly believe that while sharing constitutes one of the best behaviors in humanity, it remains equally important to maintain a strong sense of self and an understanding that one should take care of his or her wants and needs as well.

Throughout my life, I have observed people who fall pretty much all over the thoughtfulness spectrum.  I've encountered one or two people who could reliably be labeled sociopaths.  They have absolutely no thought of people other than themselves.  They are completely devoid of any consideration for others and only do things that collaterally benefit someone else, never engaging in intentionally beneficial actions. They are manipulative, scary people who lack some fundamental chip of humanity.  I've also met people on the opposite end of the bell curve who have no thoughts of themselves and go through life behaving like martyrs-all self-sacrifice and no sense of self whatsoever.  They chain their sense of self-worth to doing everything for someone else and nothing for themselves. They lack individual, discrete identity and never truly know themselves.

 These two extremes book-end limitless variations of other-centered and self-centered behaviors.  The majority of people in the world manage pretty well in creating a mix of behaviors, but only a rare few get it really right.  One can just look at these people and sense that they have an understanding, a secret knowledge that lights them from the inside-out.  These balanced individuals shine, and whether people consciously acknowledge that brilliant quality for what it actually is, they definitely see it, feel it, and experience it.

My children aren't perfect.  Perfection does not exist in this world.  Nonetheless, I think they are well on their way to developing a healthy attitude towards sharing, generosity, self-fulfillment, and overall thoughtfulness.  I am so very proud of them for so many reasons, but it remains this quality of caring for others, being empathetic and compassionate, and loving well that pleases me most.  Each time I catch them in an act of kindness, I praise them for being sweet and thoughtful.  I want them to continue to foster this habit of generosity because I know that it will benefit them in their interpersonal relationships and allow them greater chances for personal satisfaction and overall happiness.   In sum, all I really want for them is to be happy and fulfilled and I am going to always try my best to foster those skills, attitudes, and behaviors that will allow them to achieve that.  In striking that balance of self-sacrifice/self-fulfillment for myself, I help them do the same, and I remain grateful to my children every single day for reminding me to be as balanced as possible.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Nonets: Dust, Green Things, Black Dog, Square Peg--Round Hole


I wipe off the dust  you left behind.
With lazy swipes, my cloth spreads dead
ashes in the silent room.
Motes float on sunbeams. As
wishes, they scatter,
dying slowly
in descent
like my

Green Things

Curious enthusiasm will
define my attitude with age.
I will not  grow up or old.
Like green things, I just grow.
Blossoming, fragrant
with beautiful
humor, strength.
I am

Black Dog

Be quiet! Black dog always barking.
Shallow learning curve, I hate you.
Unchecked youth, you sicken me.
Too much wagging, wiggling
Unrestrained, it
spills wildly
and stains

Square Peg--Round Hole

So tenacious, this constant barrage.
Words like knives, meant to cut and carve
happily fail.  You cannot 
change my truth. We are
square peg--round hole
This friendship--

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother's Day is Everyday

Everyday is Mother's Day.

Today I woke up to the smell of frying bacon and brewing coffee, my children giggling and whispering loudly to be quiet so Momma could sleep, and my husband telling them to stay away from my door.  When I opened my eyes, I noticed that I felt completely refreshed and I realized that I had slept nine hours straight.  Wow.  A Mother's Day present doesn't get much better than that....quality sleep and a goodly amount of hours.  I stretched leisurely and got up, taking my time before I left the room, savoring the few unhurried moments I'd been granted.

When I stepped outside the door, I was bombarded by my three babies, hugging me and wishing me a happy Mother's Day.  They virtually dragged me down the hall into the kitchen, where they had painstakingly put up a sign for me, all hand-drawn and decorated.  Breakfast was on the table and two presents were next to my plate (wonderful books I had been wanting to read).  My family means the world to me, and the greatest gift of all is being allowed to be a mother to my three fantastic children and a wife to my lovely husband.

I am a truly lucky and blessed woman.  I am grateful to be a mother every single day and do what I love doing best, helping to raise three beautiful, intelligent, happy, well-adjusted little people.  Every day is Mother's Day for me because I know they love me and I love them and our home is built on respect, trust, fun, discipline and most importantly joy.  I hope every woman who has raised or is raising children, either her own or someone else's, has a blessed, happy, and meaningful Mother's Day too.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Silver Linings and Best Friends

Yes'm, old friends is always best, 'less you can catch a new one that's fit to make an old one out of.--Sarah Orne Jewett

Every cloud has a silver lining.  This statement may be be cliche, but the truthfulness of it cannot be denied.  At least for me, this saying has proven itself many times in my life, the latest being the reunion of my best friend and myself in the wake of my father's passing.

I met my best friend at Capitan's Smokey Bear Stampede dance back in 1987.  A friend introduced me and my sister, fourteen and fifteen years old at the time,  to two sisters who were also fourteen and fifteen.  The four of us could not have been more adolescently awkward and shy and I think that may have been part of the drawing factor between us.  As we talked, we found that we had many things in common and an instant attraction of like-minded souls very quickly cemented into the longest lasting friendship I've ever had.  We spent the remainder of that summer taking hikes, going on picnics, hanging out at each other's homes, playing volleyball, swimming in the creek and just kicking around our tiny town.   The four of us were good friends, but it was me and T. that seemed to develop the closest bond.  

We were friends through high school, college, boyfriends, marriages, divorces, babies....together we were there for everything with one another.  The good, the bad, the ugly....we saw it all with each other.  We were what I believed to be forever friends and then one day we just weren't.  At least it seemed like that.

In retrospect, I realize that external circumstances as well as issues going on within our own lives caused a fracturing of our relationship long before the complete break occurred.  We also had developed an interesting dynamic of co-dependence which began to grow more toxic as increasing pressures of daily living weighed more heavily on us.  The relationship just couldn't withstand the strain, and ultimately a massive fight ensued and we didn't speak for eight long years.

At the time the friendship ended, I wept as if someone had died.  I grieved for a long time and I think she must have too.  Much like a death, as the years pass, the pain lessens and a person is able to look back upon the memories with more joy than sorrow.  You gain perspective on your behavior and the friend's behavior and can put things into the proper context allowing you to analyze objectively what aspects were wrong with the relationship and what components were really, really good.  

I thought a lot about T. over the past eight years.  I never stopped caring about what happened in her life and I always wished her well.  And as much as I hated to admit it, I missed her.  She had the amazing ability to make a joke out of everything and make you laugh right in the middle of crying.  She was and is incredibly funny and I always missed the humor she provided.  I liked to think that she missed me too.  I never really knew though because we never talked to each other in the last eight years.  At least not until my father died a month ago.

When she heard that my dad had passed away, she went to a mutual friend's house and cried her eyes out.  That friend, God bless her, told her to come to my sister's house and give her condolences and surprisingly, she did.  She loved both of my parents.  T. spent a tremendous amount of time at my house when we were younger, and my parents treated her like a daughter.  She especially loved my dad because their senses of humor spoke to one another.   My sister and I were shocked when she showed up, but we welcomed her with open arms and it seemed through the course of that week, as family and friends came in to pay their respects and attend my father's service, T. melted right back into our lives as if she had never left.  She came over every night, helped with the reception after the service, visited with family, and fell right back into place.  It all felt so natural, so right.

It's amazing.  We have picked up right where we left off, except both of us are in much better places in terms of maturity and emotional states.  It feels great to have my best friend back, someone who knows me better than almost anyone else in the entire world.  Like the quote at the top of the post says, old friends are best, especially the forever kind.  And I am glad that in the wake of something so painful such as my father's death, that the silver lining turned out to be one equally as wonderful.  It just feels right and fair that it should be that way, and I am grateful.  I am pretty sure T. is too.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

...And and other Poems


...and when I breathe
is its not oxygen that flows through my body--
giving life to a life less-lived.
You and your Name
unceasingly pulse in my veins.

My thoughts, once mine alone
have grown
disobedient and unruly by the influence
of your stealthy magic.

Bewitched by words and quiet moments,
you steal pieces of me day by day.
I notice.
But my fear is gentled by the knowledge
you are a delicate thief.

When I open my stolen eyes,
I see truth
on the faces of passing people
on wind-kissed grass and leaves
on the beams of sun and moon
whispering solely for me,
"Yes, yes, is love."

...and in all the small, beautiful ways
of a tender, surreptitious theft
my heart is the last to be taken
to disappear fully into you.

Mercury Slick

God rubbed the sky raw,
leaving vermilion scars
to weep crimson drops into the sea.
He burnt the edges of time to umber
and the ink of eons purpled then pinked
and golden stars to forgot to wink
and slept silently on the horizon.
We walked upon silvered glass
dipping our toes into mercury slick.
As kinetic bundles of energy
man-made, woman born
we seemed an affront to nature.

Swimming Lessons

Teach me how to swim
to take flight beneath the waves.
Like a bird, I'll fly.

Exhale His Kiss

Touched again tonight.
My aching ended briefly by his hands.
Such a hot, diminutive reprieve from myself,
begins it's retreat, and contentment
runs slowly through and out.
My body is a sieve,
unable to retain any warmth.
My needs are greedy and untamed,
and I, not charmed by even the silverest
of tongues, am left bereft.
This moment of hope,
silenced by egregious, unreachable desires
dies slowly as I
exhale his kiss.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Chip on Your Shoulder? Have a Cookie Instead

Some chips are better than others.

I like my chips in candy form, the kind that come in cookies or ice cream, definitely not on shoulders.  I've come across several people lately who seem to be manifesting a seriously negative attitude thinking either that the world is out to get them or that the world owes them something.  They are defensive at the drop of a hat, suspicious of everyone's intent or action, cynical and self-pitying. These people obviously don't realize the world doesn't care particularly that much one way or the other about them.  The universe tends to be ambivalent.

Individuals, I am sure, care deeply about these people.  On an interpersonal level, humans hold affection, interest, and sympathy for one another. They connect and invest time, emotion, and energy into one another, but the world in general does not.  It's a very neutral kind of place.  The universe isn't out to ruin your existence nor is it going to give you whatever you want just because you think you deserve it.

I know one man in particular who has allowed the chip on his shoulder to basically ruin his entire life.  For the sixteen years I have known him,  he has struggled with every aspect of living and he seems to be the most thoroughly unhappy person I have ever met.  He has little or no self-esteem and attempts to cover his self-loathing by being blustery and arrogant.  Regardless of the topic of conversation, he knows more, has done more, and has all the answers.  In addition, he suspects that everyone who interacts with him has ulterior motives to take advantage of him so he becomes defensive with even the most innocent comments.  Most people can only tolerate his company in short doses.   He's one of those people I classify as "toxic."  Spending more than fifteen minutes with him makes a person feel badly, like food poisoning.

 I used to feel sorry for him.  I pitied his circumstances and spent countless hours giving him advice in fixing his numerous problems.  His responses fell into two categories, "I tried that and it didn't work," or "That's impossible to do because of A, B, or C." It didn't take long for me to realize that I couldn't help him.  No one could. Once a person chooses to be a victim and embraces that mindset, nothing I can say or do will improve that attitude.  Fixing problems like that only have internal solutions, not external ones.  An innate desire to change one's mindset and view of the cosmos must be present in order for a person to begin living a mentally, emotionally and physically healthy life.

A person with a chip on his or her shoulder has problems changing because they put out so much negativity that they receive it back from others and from the world around them.  It becomes a vicious circle which for some people proves to be inescapable.  These people need support from others, but it takes an incredibly strong and patient person to remain supportive when the people they want to help have crafted their entire lives around being suspicious, cynical, and arrogant.  These Negative Nellies have developed skills to drive away people and to reinforce their skewed ideas about how the world works.

In thinking about this topic, I alternate between wanting to be supportive and wanting to avoid this type of person at all cost.  I think most people behave in a similar fashion.  That's why when someone does truly effect a permanent change in attitude and outlook it inspires so many other people.  To conquer one's own personal demons comprises one of the most difficult things we humans can ever do.  And when someone genuinely accomplishes that, we all look to him or her as being somehow stronger, braver, or more special than most people.  I sincerely hope that the people I know like this can conquer what ails them and remove the chips on their shoulders.  They too, should only want chips in cookies and ice cream.  It's a much sweeter way to go through life.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

For Me? You Shouldn't Have!

One of the hardest things that I have had to learn as I've grown older has been the ability to accept things with grace.  I've never been comfortable receiving gifts, attention, compliments, or random generosity on the part of others.  I feel perpetually clumsy at being given things from people.  It seems as if I always say the wrong things. I either insult the giver by protesting the gift as if I am not worthy of it, or I give too many effusive thank yous making the giver feel awkward. I've always admired someone who strikes just the right note of graciousness in accepting a gift, just the right protest and the perfect thank you.  It is a skill I have yet to master.

The funny thing about this is that I have always been exceptionally lucky in being given things by people in my life.  I have absolutely no luck in cards, but I've been incredibly lucky in work and love.  I've done well in school and as a teacher, and I have received accolades for jobs well done, for high performance, and for skill.  Even when justified by the hard work I put into achievement, I never comfortably enjoyed being the center of attention during moments of recognition.  Keen embarrassment at being singled out as well as an abiding suspicion that somehow I would be discovered as a fraud always tempered any pleasure I gained in receiving awards or acknowledgement.

In addition to work, I've been lucky in my life to have both family and friends that have been incredibly generous with me in terms of being given things.  I've received presents on both a large and small scale, money, time, support, and advice.  People in my life seem to want to please me or feel as if I am in need of gifts for one reason or another.  So with all this practice at receiving, one would think I would be able to do it with grace and aplomb instead of feeling like a complete clodhopper.

I don't think I am alone in this inability to accept things graciously.  I think it afflicts most people and I most often see this awkwardness with the receipt of compliments.  Compliments constitute the most frequent type of gift, a host of words praising a someone for personal attributes or abilities.  Many people just don't handle well taking a compliment.  Some feel genuinely unworthy of the kind words and they reflect that lack of self-worth by deflecting praise.  Others feel that if they don't behave humbly in the face of compliments, people will view them as arrogant and self-serving.  Still others suspect true compliments for flattery and disbelieve them because of constant cynicism or suspicion.  In any case, most people will protest a compliment at first and then grudgingly or as in my case, too effusively say thank you.

I've been working at saying just the right words in just the right tone and with just the right frequency when I accept a gift.  Much like anything else in life that we aren't born with, saying thank you well is a skill to be learned, or rather re-learned.  Have you ever watched a child get something they've really wanted or that has really pleased them?  They do it with a genuine, sincere, full-body thank you that brings enormous pleasure to the giver.  I think that is one reason why most parents (myself included) have a tendency to go overboard at Christmas and birthdays.  It is just so much fun to be able to make someone else that happy and to have them let you know truly how pleased they are without any self-aware awkwardness. Somewhere along the way, kids become self-conscious and aware that it is somehow socially acceptable to protest a gift so as not be seen as greedy, selfish, or arrogant.  And then, they become as bad at thank yous as the rest of us.

I have to remind myself to be more child-like in the receiving of presents or compliments or recognition.  I need to just give a genuine, sincere, full-body thank you and enjoy thoroughly what I have been given.  Learning to receive well is as much a gift to the giver as being given something tangible and we should all remember that.  Sincerity and appreciation always make for the very best thank yous.