Thursday, August 9, 2012

Dear Libby...

Last weekend, my daughter and I had some special bonding time.  I chose to bring her along on a trip to stay with a good friend of mine and her two daughters.   Four hours of driving each way provided a wonderful opportunity to chat about a lot of things…some random, some funny and thankfully some quite poignant. 

As we hit the road, Libby began asking questions about our destination and hosts.

“So…how did you meet them?”

We met online…through Facebook and blogging.

“Hmmm.  How long have you guys been friends???”

Uh…hmmm…let’s see…maybe, like five or six months??  I’m not sure.  I do know that I talk to these ladies literally every day…I know them well.   And I trust them wholeheartedly.

“And…THIS…is the first time you’re going to meet them? “

You betcha. 

Yes…strange as it may seem, this would be our very first time meeting face to face.  So how do I explain the sudden and genuine friendship strong enough to pull me four hours from home, with trust enough to bring one of my children?  I know my initial answer was vague and didn’t likely scratch the surface of her curiosity.  “Let’s just enjoy our trip…have a great time…and you’ll see what I mean when we get there.”

Despite my lack of sufficient response, her questions certainly got me thinking.  I once again began inventorying every female relationship I’ve had over the years…familial, professional, academic…all the same struggle for me.   As I’ve said before, I find difficulty trusting women.  Could be mommy issues…could be bad experiences as a kid.  Who knows, really.  Truth is, it doesn’t matter what molded me.  I’m responsible for myself and how I relate with others…men OR women…today and going forward.  And my responsibility extends to my daughter.  I’M the one molding HER.  In ten years do I want her to have this same struggle?  Hell no.  Ensuring that doesn’t occur begins with my relationship with HER.  And IN that relationship I need her to know it’s important to be clear on what is expected of her and what SHE should expect of others in the context of a friendship.  I don’t know that anyone ever taught me these things.  There IS no “How to…” in relating to other girls or women for that matter…or if there is I’ve not stumbled upon it.  For me…trial and error, baby. 

From the moment we arrived, the smiles were abound and the chit-chat and laughter endless.  (That is, until about 2:00am when we realized…HA…we’re old, we need sleep.)  We talked about everything…you name it: Kids, parents, siblings, spouses, and friends…the good, bad and the ugly on friendships of the past AND present.    What have we found welcoming in friendships?  What is off-putting?  What is enjoyable?  What is downright exhausting?   As I sat there in great conversation with these women, feeling the positivity seeping from their words, the genuine desire to know more of each other, the lack of judgment or competition…I began to mentally draft a list of all things necessary in a true friendship.  I began to recall times when I did not provide these things to other friends of mine…and vice versa.  It became clear why some friendships failed and others flourished.  And I realized….THIS…this is what my daughter needs to know. 
So I wrote her a letter:

Elizabeth Rose,

I love you more than life itself and want nothing more than for you to be happy and healthy…in life, in love, and career.   You and I will always have a special bond and I would like to think that very thing will help BOTH of us get through this life with light and love.  Beyond our relationship you will also have connections with friends, other girls, women, ladies who you are sure to find steadfast, reliable and a critical part of your life as you grow old.  My hope is that you find a few great women to be those rocks for you and you for them over the years. 

Making and keeping those dear companions is not always an easy thing.  I’ve not always been as supportive or selfless as I could be.  I’ve allowed my inability to trust get in the way.  I’ve lost myself in friendships, watching my own interests, goals, and successes dissipate over time.  But I’ve learned much.  As I’ve aged I’ve determined there are a few simple yet necessary aspects to friendship that I believe will guide you toward longevity, “genuity”, and continued trust.

Reach out to your friends…see how they’re doing.  If you know they’re struggling or worrying about something in particular, be that one person who is always the first to ask.  Don’t worry about bugging them…if they don’t have time or feel like chatting, they’ll tell you.  But it will make them feel good knowing that you care.  Likewise, be quick to congratulate and help celebrate successes.

When you talk with your friends…engage.   Shut out the outside world and really listen.  We all know what it’s like to be in the middle of a conversation with someone who feigns active listening when they’re merely awaiting their opportunity to speak.   And expect the same in return.  If you’re a good friend to others and listen when they need a shoulder, it’s reasonable to expect to be able to do the same when you are in need. 

Know this…the amount of time you’ve known a friend does not determine the quality of the friendship.   You will find that over several years time you may grow apart from friends you once found dear.  You will encounter tough times in life that will truly test the elasticity and tenacity of your friendships.  THIS is where you learn what your girlfriends are made of.  You may find friends that unexpectedly come into your life with whom you form an instant and unbreakable bond.   In the face of adversity it truly does not take long to determine who is a true friend and who is not.   When you find them, hold those girls near and nourish those relationships.

ALWAYS remember to check your competitive nature at the door.  I love that you enjoy a challenge and that you don’t hesitate to step up to the table.  But your game face is for basketball or academic competitions or a card game for that matter.  NOT when you’re relating to your girlfriends.   If a friend is sharing a struggle or a victory, don’t turn it into a match.  Just. Be. There.  Be happy when things are going well and empathize when things are not.   Vice versa, do not allow friends to make you feel bad for being smart, or doing well on a test.  Nor should you feel as though you’re not measuring up to THEIR performance in any given event.  It doesn’t matter whose clothes are trendier, who has the better cell phone, who has more friends on Facebook, who gets married first, who has children, who chooses to breastfeed verses bottle feed…just know the competition will NEVER end if you allow it within your friendship.  You are you, and that is all you should ever be.  And that…is wonderful. 

And finally, and most importantly, know when to say when.  You’ll find that over time, your convictions will draw you closer and further from other women.  Don’t change those beliefs for the sake of salvaging an old friendship or creating a new one for that matter.  Know who you are.  Know what you believe in.  If a friendship, cannot withstand the test of differing values don’t compromise yourself, but know when to respectfully walk away.  Know what you deserve.  If you’re not treated respectfully, be honest about it.  Likewise, when you know you’ve wronged a friend, apologize.  Genuinely.   Be supportive of your girlfriends but understand the difference between empathizing and enabling.  There are toxic relationships out there that are good for neither involved.  It’s important to make friends a priority but never compromise your safety or sanity.

This is not an exhaustive list by any means.  As I said, I’m still learning how to build a successful friendship…I’m a work in progress.   My hope is that this will at least provide the building blocks for you to create and maintain a lasting, healthy support system.  Boys will come and go…but your girlfriends will always be your rock.  Even in marriage, you will need your girls.  As an outlet, an escape, a laugh with someone who understands, a reality check from someone who gets you…someone who will always have your back.  And someday…if and when you have a daughter, you’ll be the best role model a girl could ask for.   In some ways you’ve been mine too. 

I love you, my Libby Lou…


***This one is for all of my true girlfriends…you know exactly who you are.  Some new, some not so new.  I would never have gotten where I am without you. There are days I’m positive I would land in the fetal position under my desk if not for your ability to make me laugh. I know for a fact I’ve not told you often enough, but I love you and am so very thankful.***


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Back to School - Part II

By now the glow of the kids’ first day back to school is slowly wearing off.  It was indeed a good day.  The kids came home exhausted yet happy.  SMILING.  Even Ben.  Binders and backpacks are sprawled across my dining room table, while they chatter about teachers and classmates and first-day homework.  They’re eagerly completing the get-to-know-you questionnaires and explaining to us what to look for in their folders each night.  (Funny how quickly this optimism fades.)  So begins the balance of a full day of school and evening football and basketball practice…a season I excitedly anticipate yet am always so thrilled to see end by the time October rolls around.   

Full steam ahead. 

I say that I’m ready for them to head back to school…and while that is true, it is somewhat tongue-in-cheek.  It’s bittersweet, really.  When they are home my house is an absolute wreck, as I adequately explained in Part I.  They’re loud.  They fight.  They eat SO damn much.  They hog the television.  They need even more physical outlet at night and in the evenings from being cooped up during the day. 

Having said that…

It’s not all bad.  You see, this whole dynamic…me working from home…is quite new.  For me…for all of us.  When Libby and Timmy were little, I was a stay at home momma…until they were about 3yrs and 18 months old.  It was time.  I realized soon that staying at home was not my strength.  In my heart I was certain I would be a better mother if I could get back out there in the workforce during the day and be able to focus and appreciate my time with them more in the evenings and on the weekends.  It’s what was best for all involved at the time.  I spent nearly seven years leaving my children with a sitter or at a preschool while I drove into downtown for work every day.  I enjoyed it…but I won’t lie.  It wasn’t all butterflies and rainbows. 

When you’re a working mom, oftentimes sick babies completely consume your paid time off.  If you don’t face corrective action or termination for unplanned absences, that is.  There were many years when not a single day was taken off for anything other than croup, pukes, ear infections and the like.  No complaints, as I was thankful just to get the time…not all mommies are that lucky and I realize that whole-heartedly.  Having children in sports or any after-school activities for that matter always makes commuting a challenge.  “If I work a shift starting at 7am, I could JUST get home in time to get Timmy to practice by 5pm.  Of course that means you (the Gentleman) will need to get all three kids to school by yourself every single morning.”  And you know what…there were several years where he did that very thing.  I couldn’t have made it through those years of commuting for work without the Gentleman. 

Two years ago I worked for a utility company that operated on a 24/7 basis in times of weather crises.  When the power goes out because of a storm, we open our call center in the middle of the night if necessary.  And sometimes…it was necessary.  To this day I still cringe when I hear a clap of thunder.  I endured an ice storm that required me to remain downtown overnight, with the threat of a second night.  I realize there are people who work in industries that require this kind of work on a regular basis…but what I quickly learned was that I missed my family.  I was missing out on doctor appointments and sports practices and games.  I was missing out on homework and knowing what they were eating for lunch every day.  And with all of that came the overload on the Gentleman.  For a long time he picked up the slack I was unable to carry at home.  Until…I just couldn’t do it anymore. 

A year ago I took a job with an entirely different company.  One that has the flexibility to allow me to put more focus on my family and encourages me to do so.  One that values autonomous work.  One that allows me to now work from my home.  Every day.  For a year I’ve been waking up, logging on to work, taking breaks long enough to get the kids to school and back.  Logging out in plenty of time to fix dinner and get the kiddos to their after-school activities without concern.   I am undoubtedly one lucky momma.  Opportunities like this don’t come around every day nor for everyone.  I realize that…and because of the last decade of commuting I am ridiculously grateful.  Even in…the summer.

While it’s challenging to conduct meetings via conference call while Ben barges through my office door just to cut the top off of his Pop-Ice…or Timmy screams through the door that Ben has once again stolen is favorite Beyblade…or Libby needs me RIGHT THIS SECOND because of a cramp…when it’s all said and done, I’m thankful to be here for these babies.   That’s what the “mute” button is for…right? 

I left you with the images of my wrecked home in Part I…because I knew you’d get it.  I knew many of you were feeling my pain on getting these kids back in a routine, away from the TV and out of the refrigerator.  But I gotta say…despite my gratitude for the first day of school, I couldn’t help but wonder:

Does Libby like her new teacher?

How many people did Timmy make laugh today? 

Dear God, did Ben make ANY friends?  Please at least one?  (okay crying now)

Did they get enough time to finish their lunch?

Will they remember they are walkers by the end of the day? 

I should email the teachers to see how they’re doing. 

Were they too hot at recess?

And then…I thought about all of the things that I loved about having them home this summer.  And I had to share these just as I shared my wrecked home.  THESE sweet babies of mine may have done some mild damage and created extra work…but look what I got to see on a regular basis:

We took lunch-break trips to the park.

I caught a little sun-room dancin' when he didn't know anyone was watching.

I actually witnessed some sibling cooperation, dare I say FRIENDSHIP, from time to time.

And then there were the Gameboy breaks in Mommy's office.

I was able to witness creations in progress.  Those LEGOs aren't ALL bad.

A little water play on a hot day. (Don't get your panties in a wad...this was pre-drought.)

Stealing sweet defenseless kisses during impromptu naps.

The best part about my summer with the kids?  Getting to use my time off for an ACTUAL vacation.  Priceless. 

Until next June...

Back to School - Part I

Today...they go back...and I thank the sweet Lord above for knowing where my sanity ends.  Don't get me wrong, I love my children, but this being the first summer I've worked at home while they are HERE.  EVERY.  DAY...has been a challenge to say the least.  (And this goes for the Gentleman too...his messy ass goes back NEXT week.  No worries...a party shall occur then as well.)

I realize completely that those of you who are home with your children everyday see this as nothing more than the routine you endure on a daily basis and have so for years.  It's been AWHILE since I've been there so bear with me.  Humor me.

There are no words to express the need for these children to get the hell out of my house.  And I mean that...with ALL the love in my heart.  I figured I would let the pictures speak for themselves:

I now have every kid-friendly TV show theme song committed to memory and could recite at the drop of a hat. Unfortunately.

I don't even know what to say about this. They have daily chores which always include cleaning their room. And yet...we have this. Every. God. Bless-ed. Night. 

I can't keep up with this. All day. Every day. I straighten the couches and fold blankets, whispering obsenities, and pleading with the children to keep their stink-infested shoes in the closet and toys UPSTAIRS (in the aforementioned pit of a bedroom).

Um...anyone seen any LEGOs around here? I can't seem to find any. And guys...this is just a quarter of the LEGOs. The rest are in boxes. LOTS and lots of boxes. Because we NEED that many teeny tiny plastic foot-killing building blocks. 

THIS. This right here. Is numero uno. I have gone through more dish soap and detergent than should be allowed for any one household in a summer. I didn't know you needed a plate to eat a piece of cheese. Did you? Nor did I realize there is some unwritten rule out there stating you must get a new cup for every drink refill. This is NOT Old Country Buffet, my friends! There will be no more claiming ignorance where loading the dishwasher is concerned. If I ever needed a kick in the ass to train this family right...I've gotten it now. 

Bye kiddos!!  Love you!!!  Have a great day at SCHOOL!!!!!