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Archive for September, 2012

There’s a little known Broadway musical from 1968 called Golden Rainbow. It wasn’t very successful as it closed after less than a year, but when Sammy Davis Jr recorded a version of the song “Gotta Be Me” it hit the top ten popular charts and became one of his signature tunes.  My good friend Laura and I often sing this when we get together – all too infrequently – since she lives in England and I am in Texas.   We have known each other for over thirty years and always pick up the conversation right where we left off last time, when we meet.  The song usually pops up in conversation when we are talking out a situation in our lives which is complex, and reminds us that we can seek all the advice we need, but ultimately the choice or the decision we have to make is always our own.

I was reminded of the song just the other day while browsing at Target.  My eye caught one of those motivational canvases propped up between the simplify-your-life shelving units and the capture-your-life photograph frames.  I almost bought it – but had a frugal moment and didn’t whip out the wallet after all.  The message however was very clear and stuck with me – Be You.  Find Your Voice. Make a Difference.

This is something I have been pondering quite bit since my life was turned upside down twelve months ago.   What IS my voice?  I realised after my husband died that I had spent most of our years together focusing on my job, our marriage, and our daughter – not always in that order.  And that I constantly put myself last or missed my own needs off the list altogether.   As women, it is all too easy to give in to that innate nurturing instinct which admittedly, some of us have more than others, and forget who we actually are as a person.   I was a wife, I am a mother, I am a daughter, I am a friend – but I am also ME.

The same topic came up at the life class I joined this week with a group of wonderful women at our church.   The subject of discussion was living life from the inside out and believing that God has a plan,  instead of listening to societal pressures or other people’s designs for us.  We took one of those character assessment tests – you know the type, look across this list and pick the words that best describe you in each row.   The titles of the columns looked like they were taken from a medieval humours book or one of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales  – sanguine, choleric, melancholy, phlegmatic.  Once we had checked off our strengths and weaknesses, and added up the totals for each column – we compared notes and listened to our facilitator read the personality types – characterised as animals.   I was mostly Lion (strength: goal-oriented; weakness: bossy), with a lot of Otter (basically a garrulous people person who can also be very disorganized  -Tigger in Winnie the Pooh comes to mind), but I also listed some strengths and weaknesses which didn’t fit into either type.   The challenge, for all of us, is of course to manage your strengths and weaknesses so your life is more balanced.  Whether you believe in God or not, do not change you who are, because that makes you, you.

In my twenties and thirties, I certainly wasn’t one to sit on my laurels and wait for life to happen, I always tried to take the bull by the horns and grab new opportunities.   Some opportunities worked out better than others.   At 19, I decided to spend the summer in Toronto with a boyfriend instead of staying in London and attending Live Aid with my college friends – ultimately the relationship didn’t work out and I missed a chance to see Freddie Mercury sing live.   I don’t have many regrets but that’s certainly one of them.   In my twenties I moved to Atlanta for a three-month sales job which evolved into a twenty-year career as an educational travel consultant – definitely no regrets there!  I saw the world, made lifelong friends, and enjoyed every minute.

Everything changed in my late thirties when I met my husband and got serious about sharing my life with someone else.  During our nine years together, Miss Independent slowly lost her identity.  Being loved is a wonderful thing, and of course we were given the wonderful gift of our daughter as well – but now as a single mom, it’s time to start living from the inside out again.   The lessons I am trying to teach my daughter as she navigates kindergarten life in her new school – be kind to yourself, don’t compare your achievements to those of others, celebrate what makes you special, think big and follow your dreams – could and should be applied as easily to myself.  Bethany Hamilton didn’t let the loss of an arm to a shark attack stop her from pursuing her dream of being a professional surfer – and she became an inspiration to so many young people because of her faith and never-give-up attitude.  Paralympian Oscar Pistorius competed in the Olympics and did better than most of us could have done with two normal feet.

So I’m chucking out the Mom Gone Bad clothes in my closet and pulling on my Big Girl Pants.  It’s time to get serious about finding my inner voice – my signature tune – and being Me again.  There will undoubtedly be some bumps along the road, and I’ll sometimes have to make decisions based on my Mom instincts and not my Single wants.  As Mick and the band said, you can’t always get what you want – but sometimes you get what you need – and I’m okay with that.

I’m not sure where I’m going on this new adventure, but I’ll meet you there.

Have a great weekend.

Whether I’m right or whether I’m wrong
Whether I find a place in this world or never belong
I gotta be me, I’ve gotta be me

What else can I be but what I am
I want to live, not merely survive
And I won’t give up this dream
Of life that keeps me alive
I gotta be me, I gotta be me

The dream that I see makes me what I am
That far-away prize, a world of success
Is waiting for me if I heed the call
I won’t settle down, won’t settle for less
As long as there’s a chance that I can have it all

I’ll go it alone, that’s how it must be
I can’t be right for somebody else
If I’m not right for me
I gotta be free, I’ve gotta be free
Daring to try, to do it or die
I’ve gotta be me

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New Beginnings

The beginning of a school year always finds me in reflective mode.  More so than on the official New Year of January 1st.  More so this year than usual.

On Monday, my daughter started kindergarten at her new elementary school.  It was a transition we’d both been dreading in many ways.  For the past four years we were cocooned in familiarity and love at our church pre-school;  everybody knew us, the routine was a breeze, and N was always happy to go to her classroom and see her friends.   Our summer was more perfect than I could have imagined, bookended by two road trips; beginning with a wonderful family beach holiday in Florida, ending with a visit to north Texas; the middle weeks packed with camps for her and creative online classes for me, full of friendships and self discovery, love, fun, and laughter.  Neither of us wanted it to end.

Everything changed on Monday.  It was still dark when my alarm went off, and as I stumbled around the kitchen half asleep, pouring coffee into my favourite mug, I could feel my stomach churning with nerves at the day ahead for both of us.  We made a quick stop at Whataburger for hash browns (“Mom, you don’t know what you’re missing”) en route to school, the promise of a breakfast treat encouraging my daughter out of bed on time.  The excitement of her new uniform was wearing off already, and she held my hand with an iron grip as we walked through the school gates to her classroom.  The tears began to flow freely once we found her seat and her nametag on the table.  “Mommy, don’t leave me, I’m scared,” she cried softly on my shoulder.   “I miss my friends, I don’t know anybody in here.”   Not for the first time in the past few months did I wish my husband were with us, although knowing him, he probably would have used up all the Kleenex already and I’d be comforting both of them.

One last big hug and I walked out of the classroom and down the hall, rummaging for a clean tissue in my purse.  Other parents were doing the same with shiny tear-filled eyes as we headed to the cafeteria for back-to-school coffee with the PTO.  I saw two moms I knew from pre-school and welcomed the hugs they offered.   About an hour later, I sneaked back toward the kindergarten classes and peeked surreptitiously around the corner through the glass door of my daughter’s room.  She was sitting on the mat with her new classmates, completely absorbed in the lesson and her teacher.  Reassured, I walked away, knowing that afternoon carpool would come soon enough.

Fall has always been my favourite time of year – especially when I was still at school myself back in England.  A new classroom, new homeroom teacher, carefully writing my name in all the new exercise books, sharpening pencils, the squeak of new shoes on the hallway floors as we walked to assembly and back – all of the sights, sounds and smells never failed to fill me with excitement.  Walking our family dog later on Monday morning, I noticed the live oak acorns had started to drop on the paths in the park.  The temperatures are still in the high eighties here, but fall is  already in the air.   As I write this blog today, it’s a new month – the first of September.  In seven days, it will be exactly one year since my husband passed away.  Disbelief in the beginning gave way to devastation, then anger, sadness, the ache of losing your soulmate; tears shed alone, with friends, with family.  In the spring we spent nine Thursday nights at Bo’s Place, a grief counseling non-profit center.  My daughter drew pictures and wrote a letter to her Daddy.  My group of wives and mothers cried together, did a lot of talking, and worked through our own losses.  We called ourselves the Divas of Strength.   In the final month, we released balloons, made a quilt, and participated in a candle ceremony with the naming of our lost loves.   Each of us grieved together and in our own ways as anniversaries came and went.

Learning the new routine of just the two of us (three if you count the dog, four the fish) has taken many months.   As my daughter learned to swim this summer without the security of her Elmo floatie around her waist, I am learning to navigate my new life without my husband by my side.  N tells me she often dreams of him, but I do not.  I feel his presence in other ways and I know he is watching over us.  In the early days, our daughter cried often that she missed him, and would mention in casual conversation with anyone that her Daddy died.  She told me yesterday, quite matter of fact, that she saw her Daddy at school this week.  Twice.  She asked me if he was living in a different house.  I told her no, he is in heaven, and he probably made a special trip because he knew she was nervous at her new school.  “Then he must be my angel, Mommy,” she said.  “I’m so happy that he came back to see me. I hope he comes again.”

A friend had suggested I get a copy of The Kissing Hand, so on my morning errands that first day of school, I picked up a copy.   When I gave it to my daughter after carpool, she told me they had read it at school earlier and gave me a picture of her own kissing hand.  Serendipity is always a good thing.  We’ve read it every night at bedtime since, and each morning when I drop her off, we kiss each others’ palms too.  Just knowing we can hold our kisses close when we’re not together helps.

I think that’s been the hardest thing about my husband’s death – not having his physical presence around me every day.   At some point before the anniversary next weekend, I will go through his closet and sort out his clothes and shoes for consignment and donation.   I will finally take off my wedding ring.  I might even change my Facebook status.  It feels like the right moment to let go of the past, embrace the present, and stop worrying about the future.

Earlier this morning I saw a flock of white ibis perching on the wires above the bayou behind our neighbourhood.  According to animal lore, this signifies opportunities, expansion and exploration, new endeavours coming your way.  Timing is everything.

I couldn’t agree more.

“One day at a time- this is enough. Do not look back and grieve over the past, for it is gone; and do not be troubled about the future, for it has not yet come. Live in the present, and make it so beautiful that it will be worth remembering.” – Ida Scott Taylor

“Most people are prisoners, thinking only about the future or living in the past.  They are not in the present, and the present is where everything begins.” – Carlos Santana

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