“Honest” is Not the New “Mean”

tiki

Recently, I had the delightful experience of FaceTiming a good friend who is serving in the Peace Corps in Ukraine. A small group of friends assembled in my kitchen to make the video call across several seas and continents. The 90 minutes we spent talking with her flew by. All of us had a lot more to say, so we will continue the conversation when we do it again next month. But before we made that call, my friend who brought her MacBook was setting up when I noticed something big and orange stuck in her front teeth. I said “Hold on! You’ve got to get that thing out of your teeth before we call her…”

“Well, thank you for telling me,” she said gratefully as she picked it out.

“Yes, of course, I would want someone to tell me!”

And, yes, that’s absolutely the truth. If you’re ever with me and I have food stuck in my teeth, something hanging out of my nose, toilet paper trailing from my shoe, or half my skirt tucked into my tights, please tell me. Or let’s just say I’m behaving like a total asshole — call me on that, too. All these things have happened to me, and they will undoubtedly happen again. We owe one another the courtesy of honesty in simple embarrassing moments and beyond…

I get quite a lot of brutal honesty these days from Part 1 of The Precious Pair who is 15 now. Usually by way of her unsolicited opinions:

“Your hair doesn’t look right.”
“You’re not going to wear that, are you?”
“Those tiki torches in our front yard look trashy. I took them down.”

When she says things like this to me or to her younger sister, our reaction is typically one of resentment. “Why do you have to be so mean?” we will often plead to her.

And she defends herself every time…”But I’m just being honest.”

Why is it that being honest and direct and decisive and confident is often mischaracterized as being downright mean? This is especially true for girls and women. After all, we’re taught early on about sugar and spice and everything sappy. And in my youth and early adulthood even, I was much better at sugar-coating my comments. Now, a couple decades later, I’ve abandoned the art of spin doctoring my opinions, and in recent months, this is no more true than at work. I’ve been thinking lately why I’ve experienced this transition from overly polite to drastically direct. I’ve come up with several logical reasons for the shift.

About 5 years ago, I had a great boss who encouraged the employees under his direction to have what he called “prickly conversations” – in fact, he wanted us to conduct them with one another without hesitation whenever necessary.

I have a great boss now who is ultra-decisive. I love that about him. I want to be more like that. I am becoming more like that.

My company has a female CEO who believes in all the same. She never beats around the bush, and she doesn’t want her people to do it either.

I’ve worked with the same male peer for 15 years. We bicker. We raise our voices. We put one another in place now and then. We are more than prickly; we are downright harsh to each other at times. Guess what? The result is a trusting working relationship.

In the Summer of 2018, I completed a 6-month Leadership Training program. A good amount of the content addressed what they called “courageous conversations.” Again, more professional training that pushed me out of my comfort zone and into this newer phase of my life where I value receiving and delivering honest feedback more than ever before.

Amid these influences, I’ve grown into the style I am today: direct,  decisive, and confident. All the things that my teenager is trying to achieve with her unsolicited opinions. And here I am, calling her “mean.” What am I thinking, trying to stomp that out of her at a nice young age when it took me two decades to learn these things and become them?

Probably if I had learned to be this way much earlier, I could have avoided some of the interpersonal conflicts and turmoil that did consume my life in the recent past. I certainly could have and should have done a better job of communicating my opinions and pain-points (no pun intended) while also establishing healthy boundaries. Shame on me.

But I can do things differently now and for the rest of my life. Not just at work. But out here in the world where things matter the deepest.  I can move forward with an approach that is respectful and empathetic while, at the same time, real and pure and true to who I am and who you are to me. No more faking. No more fear. No more numbing myself to my own feelings so I can merely get by or trudge along on an unpredictable path. I owe this to myself. Most important, I owe this to all of you – my family, my friends, my coworkers, plus even acquaintances and strangers whom I encounter. Me “snowing” you into thinking things are fine and dandy when they are not — that will do you no favors. That will not open your eyes to a new perspective. That will not allow you the choice to change or not to change.

And, as I already said above, you can deal the same back to me.

So, My Dear Teenager, do not lose your gift for honesty. Simply learn to manage it. Control the timing of it and work on your delivery. Keep in mind that what you believe in your veins is not what everyone believes. Your style is not the end-all, be-all. Your opinion isn’t either. Always be respectful of differences. But your perspective and your perceptions are your privileges. You must decide continuously when and how and where it makes good sense to state them aloud. The best time to share your gift for truth is when you’re asked for it. Yet you must also use it to protect and defend yourself at times.

I’ve finally discovered the joy and freedom that honesty brings. And I’m not looking back. I’m not going that way. I’m taking a new path, still unpredictable, yet it’s brighter. Because, yep, it’s lined with tacky tiki torches. And the pathfinder is a braver version of me, one I’m still getting to know, yet I trust her sense of direction fully. I trust her to take me daily, with my loved ones hooked in my arms, to a place called Peace. God willing. This is my honest vision.

Lovingly,
The Real Meesh

 

 

 

 

An Open Letter to the Parents of the Pumpkin Smashers

pumpkins

To Whom It May Concern:

I have a framed poster on my bedroom wall. It says “Think in Magic.” At this time of year, that’s easy to do. The fall season is one of pure magic – everything from the colors to the smells to the crispness in the air that tickles our bones, but doesn’t quite sink in to them the way the cold of winter does. And then after a blissful month full of falling leaves, apple-y treats, and pumpkin spice EVERYTHING, Halloween comes to wrap a big orange bow around all the autumnal magic. What is not to love about this time of year?

Well, sadly I can answer this: Your Children, The Pumpkin Smashers.

You might know if this letter applies to you. Or you might not. I’m not sure which scenario is worse. If you know your child is a pumpkin smasher, I certainly hope you are doing something about that. If you are completely unaware your child is a pumpkin smasher, then you probably have more problems on your hands than you can even imagine. But regardless of whether you know it or not, a group of your teen children, the now infamous Pumpkin Smashers here in our town, did cause my 10 year-old sorrow and tears when I told her they destroyed her four pumpkins a few weeks ago, including the nice big orange one with the perfect stem that she chose from Kroger, brought home, and decorated with a giant googley eye before she displayed it proudly on our front porch. That was just one night before your teens came along and committed their destructive and mean-spirited behavior on that same porch, my personal property.

Some of you have said, “But it’s just a few pumpkins.” That’s exactly why you are raising pumpkin smashers. Let’s think of it as a gateway crime. What’s next? Windshields? Bedroom windows? Will you be as accepting of their behavior even then?

It’s highly likely you’re also the parents of the young people who break the rules of the road while driving and then proceed to flip me off when I tap my horn at them. As I have explained to The Precious Pair, I use my car horn – an official resource provided to me – to alert others when they are doing something they should not, like swinging a U-turn in the middle of the city street I take to drop the younger one off at grade school. The middle finger of one’s hand is not an official resource for the same. In fact, it’s just flipping crass (no pun intended.)

It’s highly likely you are NOT the parents of the young people who work at Chick-fil-A, because let’s hand it to them, they are the Anti-Pumpkin Smashers. Always wearing a smile, bagging up nuggets enthusiastically, and saying it’s their pleasure to serve me, even if I’m a bit grumpy after getting flipped off by a teen driver on my way to Chick-fil-A. Thank you to these dedicated fast foodies who give teens a good name.

I do feel qualified to make this commentary because I am the parent of a teenager myself. While she has mastered a fair amount of sass in recent years, I can confidently state she is not the pumpkin-smashing type. Nor are her friends. They’ve been raised to know vandalism is a big fat no-no. Somehow you missed conveying this key lesson to your children. And what a shame for you. Chances are, since they do not respect the property of others, they do not respect yours either.

It all comes down to this for me: Mean people suck. But, unfortunately, the world has them and always will. Thanks to the parents who are raising them to be that way. All we can do to combat your child-rearing ways is to keep bringing up much nicer humans. Because kindness prevails. I believe in the magic of it. Perhaps you should, too.

Stop the smashing,
Meesh

 

The Octogenarian

0D4D394B-62E0-4898-841E-E6551CB47204.jpegWriting a blog for someone works nicely as a substitute for a birthday card. Have you noticed the price of greeting cards? My jaw drops when I flip one over to find it marked near or even more than five dollars. I can buy myself a pumpkin spice latte with that same amount.  But coffee and my habits and treating myself to things, these are not the points of this installment. My dear old dad is the point. You see, he is The Octogenarian of whom I speak. Robert, usually “Bob.”

He is celebrating his 81st birthday on Monday. So, he has now had a full year of experience in his 80s. Last year when he turned this milestone age, he explained to my oldest daughter (his oldest of three granddaughters) and me (his middle child) that, as a child himself, he never expected to live beyond his 60s. In 1948, when he was ten years old – the current age of my youngest daughter and his middle granddaughter – life expectancy for a man was only 64.6. Today, it’s much closer to 80.

Back in 1996, when my dad was a youthful 58 years old, he had quite the scare with a heart attack. This was deeply concerning to all of us because his own father, also Robert {“Harold”),  had passed away from a heart attack far too young, before any of Bob’s three children had been born.  Fortunately, my dad’s own heart condition did not require major surgery or bypasses, but could be treated with stents that worked quite well for decades. That is, until late this summer, when a new cardiologist discovered one valve 100% blocked again and another near that. And, thank heaven, they could go in and place new stents before a cardiac event took place.

But there were complications during his recovery, caused by his meds, and he was in and out of the hospital and medical care for two weeks. Stressful.

Fast forward one month, and I’m on a plane to Omaha, my birthplace, my hometown until I was 10, and the city  where my dad and stepmom have lived together for nearly 50 years. There I will see both of them (“Du and Mu”); my brother from Arizona, also Robert (“Rob”), my sister from Arlington, Laura (“Lu”); her husband, Scott (“Scoot”); and my 2 1/2 year-old niece, Julianne (“Jay”), who is the youngest of the three granddaughters.

You may notice I did not mention The Precious Pair on this trip, and this is tough. They are back home. We will miss them. Timing and logistics did not allow me to bring them. Yet they will be with us in spirit while they have a ball celebrating Homecoming Weekend with their friends back in Indiana.

But before I left, I did ask for some input about Papa Du’s Birthday Blog from my girls.

The youngest did not hesitate to suggest a memory from the archives of his 80th Birthday Weekend that all of us attended last September. There were many fun activities we did as a family, but one did stand out: a trip to a medieval-themed indoor putt putt center…

My dad raised us as putt-putters so this outing was a good choice for his birthday. I grew up putt-putting, not only in Omaha, but on some of the most beautiful courses in Colorado, where we took many summer road trips. Yes, mini-golf is a family tradition.

My stepmom “Grandma Mu” had spoken highly of this particular course in the days before we visited it. She told my girls it had a zip line and other unique and interactive elements, all enhanced with castles, knights, and dragons as decor. We were hyped upon arrival and as we began the course.

Sure enough, we encountered the zip line and my girls tried it. Impressively, so did Mu, age 70 at the time. So when we reached Hole #12 with the ballpit feature in between the tee and the hole, she was feeling especially confident and volunteered to fall into the ballpit after she took her first putt.

I’m grateful to this day that my teenager chose to video-record this moment on her iPhone, for posterity. Sadly, the video is not posted here for your entertainment, so I can explain the scene.

Mu fell in slow motion into the pit, with a sort of belly-flop landing onto the soft plastic balls. Immediately, she realized getting out was going to be far more challenging than going in. She doggy-paddled her way from the middle of the pit to the far side, while losing her sandel in the process. At that point, I remember asking if she was okay because she looked a bit panicked. My dad responded for her from the sidelines, “Well, of course she’s not okay.”

My brother extended a helpful hand while my girls and I stood by giggling. (I know that sounds insensitive, all considered, but you had to be there.) My oldest kept recording. The family behind us had gathered in the peanut gallery to watch. They acted concerned.

At one point, Poor Mu muttered “I’ll never get out of here!” but, low and behold, she did after what seemed like five minutes or so. By that time, we elected to skip finishing our play on this hole, and I decided it best not to experience the ballpit myself. Mu took one for the team of adults in our group by being the only one to take the fall into the balls.

This was the most unforgettable aspect of my father’s 80th birthday last year, provided by his adoring and loyal wife of nearly 43 years. It was a memory all of us treasure and none of us shall ever forget.

To continue this tribute to my dad, I’ll continue reminiscing, but I’ll go back even a bit further to speak to a few of my favorite things about him:

Celebrations.
I’m lucky to have endless holiday and birthday memories from my childhood days in Omaha. For many reasons, my visions of December 31st have stood out to me over the years. We never went out for NYE. It was always a fun night in, consisting of a home cooked dinner, board games, cutting up newspaper confetti, watching Dick Clark’s show featuring the ball drop in Times Square, throwing the newspaper confetti, picking up the newspaper confetti and throwing it again and again, and, after the stroke of midnight, my dad belting out a passionate solo of “Happy New Year” a lesser-known track from the popular 70s/80s group ABBA. It is still one of my favorite songs, and ABBA is my favorite band along with The Beatles, by whom my namesake ballad of “Michelle My Belle” was created in 1965.

I’ve attempted to duplicate the family magic of those vintage New Year’s Eves with my own kids in recent years. They, too, are big fans of celebrations of many types.

Passionate Interests.
Bob is a Renaissance Man, with multiple hobbies and collections. You should see his basement – it’s a museum of sorts, housing his stamps, Omaha post cards, and library filled with thousands of books, mostly mystery novels, and many first editions and signed copies. I have a stamp collection of my own that he brought to me this summer to keep. My favorites feature Disney characters and baby animals. I learned many lessons from my early stamp collecting with my dad. The people of Omaha have also learned many lessons from him, based on his deep knowledge of the city’s history. He even co-authored a set of books about it, and that brings me to the next topic…

Word Nerdiness.
Writers can name the writers who inspire them. One of mine is my dad. He has always encouraged me in this area with his own prolific habits of writing essays, skits and plays, limerick poetry, and famous Christmas letters. He has written for this blog once already with plans for his second guest appearance in motion. Not only do we both write, we like to talk about writing: word choice, rhythm, origins of idioms… These are the topics we like to cover and debate. Word nerdiness at its finest. It’s a love we both share, and I’m grateful for having this in common with him.   

Quirky Humor.
When I was in the second grade, my dad visited my classroom on Career Day to talk about his job as a corporate tax accountant at Mutual of Omaha. But instead of explaining his job, he came prepared to charm and entertain my fellow second graders. True to his signature style, he was funny and silly and passed out postcards featuring wild animals from the weekly “Wild Kingdom” animal show his company sponsored on TV. I remember this visit so vividly, and I recall how proud I felt when my friends said to me after his presentation “Your dad is so funny!” His sense of humor has always been a great source of pride and inspiration to me. After all, I ended up being pretty funny myself. The nut doesn’t fall far from the tree. My siblings could give me a run for my money about who is the funniest among us, but I’ll just go ahead and state publicly that it’s definitely me.

John Mayer has a moving song called “Daughters” which is ironic because as a celebrity he’s considered a bit of a man-whore. Never married with no children to speak of. But it’s an incredible ballad, all the same:

“Fathers be good to your daughters. Daughters will love like you do.”

And this is the most important thing. I can thank my dad for: his influence in my ability to form strong bonds with people throughout my life. His huge capacity to love others has served as a beautiful example for all of us in the family. He has always developed and maintained healthy relationships with family members, countless friends, and his team at work, who adored him, too. He is a favorite person to many. He is indeed at the top of my list of All-Time Favorite Persons. And he is – hands down –  my favorite octogenarian. Then again, I don’t know many of them! …ha, ha! 

Happy #81 and Many More, Papa Du, with love,
Mitch
(aka Meesh to most of you)

5 Things That Keep Me Up at Night

fall moonSleep and Middle-Aged Me have an interesting and confusing intimate relationship.

It’s important to know I’m not including naps in the following analysis. Naps and Me are on solid ground. Nothing will ever get in the way of our special bond. To prove the depth of my passion and agility for napping, I have a paper plate award that declares “Nap Queen” handmade by one of my oldest daughter’s best friends whose mother happens to be one of my best friends. What is a paper plate award, you ask? Talk to a teen or tween or look it up on Pinterest. It’s a thing. And I’m proud to have a precious few of them…

Napping aside, it’s even more important to know about my background with overnight sleep. For as long as I can remember, I have adored it. It came easily to me for most of my life. In fact, I slept so soundly in my childhood and young adulthood that it was difficult for others to wake me up or for me to wake myself up. This is the primary reason I was the only nerd in detention doing my homework during high school. One too many morning tardies and my first period teacher threw the book at me. Except it was a pink slip, and it declared I was due at Afternoon Detention, along with all the thugs who were there for many reasons worse than being 5 minutes late to AP Biology.

So, at what point did my ease for sleep change? I will exclude the many years of interrupted sleep with babies, toddlers, and young children in my 30’s. Even then when I was up multiple times per night, I never had a problem drifting right back to sleep. No, my habits did not truly shift until 13 months ago when my life truly shifted.

Without going into great detail, that’s when – at age 45 – I began a chapter of enormous life metamorphosis. Separation, Divorce, Shifting Children Back and Forth, Packing Up the House We Lived in for 11 Years, Moving to the New House, Figuring Out Financial Things, Settling into the New House, Starting Freshman Year for the Older Half of The Precious Pair…and here we are in September on the brink of Fall 2019 – and it’s my favorite season. I don’t remember much about Fall 2018, so I’m really looking forward to it this year. Maybe with the crisper air and the calming sounds/smells/sensations that come with October, I will experience better sleep…

But currently and typically, my overnight pattern looks like this: I snooze soundly for the first 3 to 4 hours each night. The waking and staying up usually happens between the hours of 1 am and 5 am, but in varying blocks from 5 minutes at a time on the low end to a max of 3 hours at a time. Most nights, I simply lie in bed, shifting around, thinking. On some nights, I fall prey to grabbing my phone. Always a bad idea and never conducive to falling back to sleep. On other nights, I get up and do something. I might write a blog. Or clean a room. Anything that feels productive.

Recently, I’ve started thinking about why this keeps happening. After all, I am on the other side of all those transitions I mentioned. So, why can’t I sleep normally again? Here are five reasons I have identified:

Yes, (Some) Fear & Worrying.
This is where the pattern started, for sure, 13 months ago — with great concerns for my livelihood. And for my children. And, yes, even for my ex. For the latter half of last year and the first quarter of this year, I lived in a state of fear and worry, day and night. I’ve come a long way since then. At times, new and different concerns come creeping in, but they do not consume me anymore. Yet they can still rob me of some sleep. I highly recommend a worrying stone by your bedside. I recently received one as a gift, and I’ve since gifted the same to my daughters.

Too Many Ideas.
I am a creative type. Thus this blog. I also work by day in a role within Marketing/Communications/Advertising. I am a powder keg of ideation most days, all. damn. day. I curse here because this is somewhat of a curse for me. It’s tough to calm my brain. It runs constantly like a garden spigot you can’t seem to switch off. (Yes, the running water is not only an analogy, but a real-life challenge right now. I need to call somebody about this.)

Too Much Caffeine.
A dear friend of mine recently staged a semi-intervention with me about my coffee intake as part of a detox plan she’s recommending. I explained to her I cannot possibly give up caffeine altogether. But I have agreed to go from a Venti to a Grande daily, cutting out a whopping 4 ounces of coffee; usually Starbucks. (Have you heard about the largest Starbucks in the world opening in Chicago in November? It’s as if the Mother Ship is calling me there! I MUST go.)

Maybe My Needs Have Truly Changed.
My nightly norm seems to fall in the range of 5 to 6 hours of sleep. If I get any more than that, I feel completely exhausted, all day long. This leads me to believe that my need for sleep has decreased in its duration. Less is more, they say. Maybe this now applies to sleep for me.

Yes, (Plenty of) Overwhelming Joy!
I read a quote recently that said maybe we can’t always sleep at night because our current reality exceeds even our best dreams. And this is the reason I like to think about the most. Making it through all the dramatic changes of this past year has led me to a new place and new people and new emotions. I’ve also experienced renewed relationships and communications with beloved friends and family members. So there are nights when my mind is racing with happy thoughts, and it can be tough to quiet those, too.

But I am on a mission for better sleep by changing some habits, such as having an earlier bedtime, taking small doses of melatonin, limiting my phone time at night, and reading more from actual books with hard covers and paper pages. Print is not dead! Especially to us writers. Most of us want to hold a real book in our hands. Don’t you? (I ask this while you are reading a blog on an electronic device!)

One thing is for sure…even though it’s unpredictable, I still love my sleep. I crave it. I enjoy it. In fact, I treasure it. And I appreciate it more now than ever before. One of my favorite quotes is an Irish proverb: “A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures for anything.” If something is bothering one of the Precious Pair, I simply prescribe her a night of sleep. All problems seem smaller in the morning light.

And the laughter part? Well, no matter how tired I get, I laugh a lot every day, and I love to make others laugh. Nothing feels better. Except maybe a good nap.

Don’t let the bedbugs bite,
Meesh

This is 15

15Sweet 16 gets all the glory. But what about 15? It’s the younger sister to 16, hanging around in its shadow — unless that is, you are Latino and having a quinceanera. Which we are not.
But we are having a 15th birthday in our family, and it’s tomorrow. And rather than buy a birthday card off the shelf, I’m dedicating this birthday blog to the older half of The Precious Pair, the one who is celebrating.

So, what is 15? Here are a few of my current observations:

FRESHMAN YEAR
It began not even a month ago with intense nerves. And now, we are already in a groove. Geometry sucks. And it’s a really big deal when upperclassmen are nice to you. These are the challenges that come with the first year of high school. Especially when you are attending a school with 3,000 students. And your mom went to a school with 500 and finds it hard to relate to some of your life at this point. But she is here for you, and so are lots of other people. As you will see in the rest of this blog.

CAR GROOMING
This is a very important task when you are 15, especially in the morning on the way to that huge high school mentioned above. You are super lucky. You do not have to take the bus in the morning. This is a good thing, because you have several things to do in the car: your hair in one of 75 different styles (the braids are the cutest!), your light make up – even though your mom will tell you to add more color to your palette. But you will stick to your guns about that. Because she is her style and you are yours. And your styles are very different, yet complementary.

THRIFTING IS LIFE
As part of that unique bohemian style you are rocking, you have a unique gift for thrifting. You walk through those doors and come out with huge bags of treasures, and it’s mind boggling. Your mom was way too snobby at your age to shop at Goodwill. So she is fascinated – and grateful – that you can find 90% of your wardrobe there.

YOUR FRIENDS
Much like your mom, your bonds and loyalty to your friends are fierce. You have a friend group like none other. Mostly the same ones since second grade. You adore them, and the feeling is mutual back to you. They are smart, sweet, fun, funny, and beautiful, both inside and out. You will be friends for life. No doubt about it.

YOUR CANINES
As you say yourself, some people don’t even have one dog, and you have three. CiCi the Pug and Sunny the Corgi at your mom’s house, and Daisy the Dane at your dad’s house. Your deep connection and affection for animals are admirable traits. You just might have been a doggy yourself in a former life.

MINIMALISM 
You throw far too much shit away, and this causes conflict with your mom. But you have the prettiest room in your house because you designed it yourself. Your bedroom is also the guestroom, and it is generous and accommodating of you to share it in this way. You do not attach emotions to things. You attach them to people. And isn’t that the way life should be?

PROCRASTINATION
Uh-oh. Did you really think this blog was going to be all sunshine and roses? You procrastinate with the best of them. You have many all -nighters to pull in your future when it comes to both high school and college obligations. Please do not become too dependent on whatever they call Cliff’s Notes these days. Leave time to read the actual book. Do not fall too far into the trap of procrastination that your mom has  patterned for you over many years.

SECOND GENERATION STARBUCKS LOVER
Yes, you were raised to become this. It was inevitable. You like your Pink Drinks and your teas. In fact, you say you will always be a tea drinker versus coffee. And you definitely have the calmer vibe that tea drinkers possess. By the way, keep up this gentle side of you. Because it benefits everyone around you.

EARTH LOVER
You are vegetarian. This is important to you. So is the planet. Your mom has learned more about the rain forest fires from you than anyone else. You love the blessing of nature, everywhere you go. You notice sunsets and leaves and the clouds in the sky. You never take these things for granted. Thank you for this.

FUTURE YOU
In addition to your predictions regarding the importance tea will have in your life, you have also decided you will not drink alcohol nor will you swear, ever. Keep those visions. You do you. And if you change your mind about these things, no judgment here.

MANY TALENTS
You are artsy. Music. Language and writing. Arts and crafts. Food. These are the many ways you express yourself. And it’s lovely to witness. Never deny the creativity inside you. Releasing it is essential to your well-being. You are an old soul who has wisdom to share and stories to tell and feelings to make into art, in many formats. Your talents run deep, although you often say you are not the best at anything. You will find your best. As soon as you release the pressure upon yourself to find it.

CAREER GOALS
Even at 15, you think you know what you want to be when you grow up. This has changed many times in your childhood, but you seem to be quite settled on becoming a teacher. Probably social studies. Probably middle school. You have the patience and the passion and the love of kids that this profession will require of you. And you do not care that you will not make a lot of money in this line of work. Because after all, as noted , you are a thrifty minimalist who will never require a large paycheck. Good for you.

FAMILY
They are paramount to you. Your parents, your younger sister, your grandparents, your aunts, uncles, and cousins. Even extended family beyond these relationships. You love them wholly, and they love you back even more. You are remarkable to them. Keep paying them the attention they deserve. Call them. Send them text messages. Write them letters in the mail. Honor them. Because, as you know, they are life’s most precious gifts.

KINDNESS WINS 
This is the theme of your 15th birthday. Actually, it is the theme of your life. There is nothing in this list that makes your loved ones prouder. You will never lose this part of yourself, because it is pure and ingrained.

FAITH
This is number 15 on the list. I end here because this is most important and makes you who you are. Your relationship with God is unique and deep. Your spirituality is shown through your sixth sense. You understand things and animals and people better than most. You just know things. You can sense someone’s story. This is why you give great advice to your friends and even your middle-aged mom. Sometimes it is not fair that people constantly look to you for your counsel; however, it is the greatest compliment to you. In fact, when you say you are not the best at any one thing, that is not accurate. This is what you do best. Being present. Being faithful. Going beyond the surface and discovering the layers of life that others will never notice. This is your gift from God. Your parents wish they could claim credit for it, but they simply cannot. It is beyond DNA.

And so this is my birthday card to you, ESP. I could not end this tribute without acknowledging the challenges you and I are facing during this chapter of life. You are a teenager. I am not. I used to be, a while back. And those times and that experience was much different than what you are living right now. I was a lot like you when I was 15. Now that I am 40 something, I am a much different version of myself. For these reasons, we are very different yet the same in our fiber. This is why we clash. This is why we often disagree. This is why we raise our voices to one another at times. You are opinionated, strong, and soulful. You are passionate. These are the things I see in you that I see in myself. And so, we will keep clashing for now. And that is perfectly okay. This is what is intended for you and me, once in a while, right now. This is our type of love. It is true and honest and raw at times. But I would never want you to change nor would I want to change for you. Even when we are disagreeing, I love being with you. I always love being your mom.

If this is 15, I will prepare myself for 16. But please let it be slow in coming. Time is greedy and selfish. Time never understands. We will not let Time rob us though. Right, Elle Belle? We will make the most of what we have left of these teen years and high school and all the wonders (and even the struggles) that come with it.

Happy #15 with All My Love,
Meesh
(also known as “Mommy”)

The Curse of the Blue Bins

blue parachute

“It’s time to make the doughnuts…”

If you’re a child of the ‘70s, you should remember this commercial. Please Google it so you can either experience it again or watch it for the first time. The premise is there’s a guy who has to drag himself out of bed, in the wee small hours of the dark morning, to go make those delicious Dunkin’ Donuts. He is miserable at that hour of the day and moving quite slowly through the motions to make the donuts (or is it doughnuts – I’m never sure!)

I feel like the donut/doughnut guy right now. Except I am lamenting “It’s time to unpack the Blue Bins.” This task has become my biggest life challenge at the moment. Allow me to explain…

Back when I moved in early June, I hired a highly recommended local moving company to assist with the monstrous task. We were moving only 3 miles due north, the equivalent of a 10 minute drive, to our new smaller, older, far more charming “Old Town” home. The company (which I will not name here to protect the innocent) offered packing services, as well. I desperately wanted to hire them to bubble wrap every single plate I owned, but I simply couldn’t justify the expense or the lazy factor associated with me not packing up my own belongings.

So I didn’t hire them for packing. I hired my friends instead. But I didn’t pay them anything. So technically, I didn’t hire them. Actually, I guilted them into packing for me. I quite simply did not give them a choice in the matter. I became desperate to pack the things. They showed up. They packed the things. And they packed a lot of the things into the now infamous Blue Bins.

The rental of the plastic storage bins was yet another convenient service offered by my movers. (As my 10-year old has noted, it’s not entirely accurate to call them blue. They are clear with blue lids.) When it was evident I would not have enough cardboard boxes for my belongings, I decided it would be economical and environmentally-friendly of me to rent 50 of these handy bins. I recall it cost me around $200, or $4 per bin – about half the cost of purchasing the same. Smart, right?

 

I moved on June 5th. Originally, there was a 2-week agreement attached to the bins, meaning I needed to unpack and return them in that time frame. It is now August 15th. I missed the 2-week deadline. But I view life through a lens of adaptability and most everything is negotiable in my world. One of my mantras at work on various deals is “the price is never the price.” I usually approach deadlines and rules with this same style of flexibility. This tendency provides for a great sense of “go with the flow” for me, yet can cause a sense of frustration for those around me, I realize quite well. In this case, I’m talking about Jordan, Bobby, and Shawn at my moving company. They now have me on speed dial, and currently – tag, I’m it! I owe them a call back.

“Miss Payne, we need to hear from you about the bins, please.”
“Miss Payne, we really do need the bins back.”
“Miss Payne, we have the bins rented to someone else.”

 

At this point, I must mention that several weeks ago, I did work out special circumstances about me keeping the bins “for as long as you need them, Miss Payne.” This arrangement came after the estimate for my move versus the actual cost got missed by $1,200. You can imagine my shock and awe when, after a 13-hour moving day, my bill came to $2,050 versus the $850 I was planning for. Thus, I told them I was going to keep the bins for a nice long while, and they agreed to that accommodation.

Now, let’s do some counting.

I started with 50 of the Blue Bins.
I unpacked 30 of them fairly quickly, and those got picked up.
I unpacked another 11 just the other day, and those got picked up.
They tell me I still have 17 in my possession.
Uh, that’s more than 50, but in any case, I’m in the home stretch and I need to return the remaining Blue Bins ASAP; it is now URGENT.

 

But I’m not even certain of the location of all 17 bins. I can confirm that seven are in my mudroom – one of the two rooms inside my house that has become a catch-all and a pit of total disorganization. The remaining ten MIA bins must be in my garage, where about 80% of what I own has landed.

Oh yes, let me tell you about my garage. It is a nice, large 2+ car-sized, detached garage, and opening the door to it gives me instantaneous anxiety. This is why I leave the door tightly shut. Occasionally, The Precious Pair and I will go hunting for something out there, and amazingly, we’ve been able to find what we’ve needed so far. But generally it’s best just to stay the hell out of there. Needless to say, my car does not fit in the garage. Luckily, I have a great little parking pad in front of my house.

Why is it such torture for me to get through the two remaining cluttered interior rooms, my garage, and especially those 17 Blue Bins? Most likely because it signifies the end of my year-plus transition, and the beginning of a new, calmer time for me. And, in this case, why would I avoid and prolong that kind of closure?

About five years ago, a former boss and mentor assured me wisely that I didn’t need to thrive on the chaotic tendencies of my personality and my lifestyle. He would say things like: Calm the storm inside. Cover it up. Own a new you. So, I took his feedback, and over time, I designed a better professional brand for myself. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still fidgety and swirling on the inside, but I’ve learned to tone down my public anxiety.

Yet over this past year, in my personal life specifically, I have learned to thrive on Chaos. As an example, I have conditioned myself to function on about five hours of sleep every night plus loads of caffeine and adrenaline. (current timestamp 4:08 am)

So what will happen when I reach the bottom of those bins? What will happen when the rooms are all set and straightened and organized? What will happen when my garage has brand-new 2-by-4 wooden shelving with all the colorful plastic bins I own versus rent stacked neatly in rows? Will I discover the Consistency and Reliability and Predictability I’ve been craving for my life for so long? Along with those things, will I find the sweet ending to my Chaos?

The answer is, I have no idea. And, so, I am cursed by the Blue Bins.

The entire past 13 months for me have represented one major life decision after another. This move signifies the ending of that chapter and the beginning of the next. And remember those Choose Your Adventure books? The kind where, based on the decisions you made, the story ended in different ways. There is one possible scenario in my story that currently annoys me a bit. It’s the one where I finish all my unpacking, and I simply fall apart.

 

A friend recently observed how busy and active I stay. That person also suggested I might be doing that as a survival mechanism, and maybe if I were to sit still for any amount of time, the weight of all the change I’ve endured would set in, and I might begin to feel things I haven’t yet felt. This could very well be true. At the same time, not gonna’ happen. Nope. No spiral. Not for this girl.

I am ready to draft this next chapter. I am ready to embrace true Peace. I am ready for Calm to take my hand at the breakfast table. I am ready to spend endless hours on my porch with the people who matter most to me. I am ready to become a new and different version of me. One who does not have Turmoil to hide inside anymore. One who can truly discard Chaos for good.

Throughout my unpacking process, it’s important to note there is one thing I have done consistently and obediently by the urging of my smart and wonderful friends. I have created many piles and boxes of things to purge. Those same friends are begging me to load all of it up and take it to straight Goodwill in one full swoop. But I have a different plan. In line with my new love affair for the wraparound porch I never stop talking about, I am planning a Porch Sale to happen this fall.

We hosted countless garage sales at our former house. We would spend the night before organizing and tagging and pricing things. Then the next day, we would be lucky to make $50 selling our discarded wares. But it was always fun to set up shop in the garage and run our business for a day. And it taught the girls a lot of things like counting money, placing value upon items, and the discipline of letting go of things, too.

So when I was walking in my new neighborhood the other day and I spotted the sign advertising a Porch Sale, I knew instantly we needed to have one of those. And it will be huge. I have a ton of stuff from those bins to sell.

To add a fun twist to the plan, The Precious Pair has already decided they want to donate a generous portion of our profits to local charities. I am highly in favor, and in fact, I would like some of the funds to go to a local organization that helped me over the phone for several hours one stressful night and in the following days about a year ago. So they will receive some of our proceeds as well as the local animal shelter and likely one or two other places the girls and their friends will select.

Cleaning up the Clutter from my life in this fashion will bring me Closure. Once I sell those extra belongings and haul the rest away to Goodwill, I will consider myself officially settled. Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, soulfully, gratefully settled.

Please watch for details about our Fall Porch Sale. We would love to see you there! No need to purchase any of my junk; just come to visit and swing for a bit.

17 Blue Bins & Counting…
Meesh

I’ve Got Change in My Pockets

C35B97FC-8F2A-4EC2-BDEA-54C5D1154220.jpegThis is not a story about money. In fact, quite the opposite. But allow me to begin with a money-related moment.

A week or so ago, the younger half of The Precious Pair suggested we begin a “Swear Jar” on the kitchen counter. It would require a payment from me for every 4-letter word I use. The suggested fees are 25 cents per standard violation or one dollar per severe violation. I agreed this might be a good idea. (Notice I said “might” which is why we still do not have the system in place.)

When I mentioned the idea to the teen half of The Precious Pair, she replied wryly “Great, we will probably make enough to go to Disney World next year.”

Her implication is probably accurate. I’m not sure that paying coins or cash will deter me from swearing. It’s a habit I have, and I probably enjoy it too much to stop right now.

Did you know cursing is a sign of integrity and honesty as well as effective communication and free-flowing expression? No wonder it feels so damn good!

While I do try to watch and limit this habit around my girls, I tend to feel quite free with my language among friends. And, yes, FRIENDSHIP, that’s what I’m really here to talk about. Specifically, I want to pay kudos to my “friend-family” or “framily” which is a term I just learned the other night, while I was out with – you guessed it! – some friends.

Back in February when this blog began, I wrote about different types of love in honor of Valentine’s Day and I defined each type. Here’s exactly what I said about “friend love” …

“Reliable and strong and endlessly fun. Life is sweetened by the friends in our lives. They know us best, yet still want to hang around with us. By the time we’re middle-aged, we’ve known many of them for decades. If we’re lucky, we’ve met and made newer ones in our adult lives more recently. That old Girl Scout tune tells us that friends represent silver and gold. If the song were true, imagine your friends as valuable metal coins, clanking around in your pockets, a treasure trove of support always within your reach. My heart feels the reassuring pull of full pockets, every day.” –  

If you’re reading this as one of my friends, you likely fall into one of the following loving categories, listed in chronological order of my life:

VINTAGE FAVORITES. My connections from birth through high school. This category covers my friendships from the 70’s through the early 90’s.

COLLEGE FAVORITES. My bonds from some of the best years ever – most of them from my sorority life – and a few people I met after graduation as a young adult.

WORK/LIFERS. My work friends, but we share lots of Real Life together, too.

HOMETOWN HEROES. My friends where I live. Mom Friends, Dad Friends, Neighbors, and more from the community  I adore.

THE NEWBIES. New friends I’m meeting and making. A year ago, I had no time, capacity, and desire to make more friends. But this is now. And they are here, and they are enhancing my life, too.

Thanks to these groups that have helped me get through the past year of my life, and recently they are why I’ve had the fun-filled summer that I wished for. The kind of summer I’ve never had before as an adult. How was it different? It was pure and worry-free, mostly, and full of good food, cocktails, porch parties, and memory-making. It was wildly entertaining and hysterically funny, in multiple ways.

I got to take two unforgettable trips with friends – one with 4 of My College Favorites to Nashville, TN and one to Traverse City, MI with 4 of My Hometown Heroes. The first trip at the end of May to the Honky Tonk Capital of the World included some epic dining, a yoga experience, and some rooftop wine time. The second excursion at the end of June to Pure Michigan included visits to wineries that rivaled Napa, lots of shopping ’till we were dropping, 70’s music blaring in the car, and – yes – CHERRIES. Everything cherry-flavored. Popcorn. Cream Cheese. Hard Cider. Those were a few of my favorites. And ever since that weekend in June, my buddies and I have been craving cherry stuff. (Mental Note: Must get a cherry-dipped cone at DQ soon!)

These trips served as tremendous therapy for me because I got to spend extended quality time with some of the best humans I know on this planet, and those humans spoiled me – with their time and attention, with their humor, with gifts – every way possible. They spoiled me, and I let them do it. Because I knew that’s what they insisted on doing. And I knew I needed it.

Yes, my “framily” has been vital to me over this past year. The time and effort I’ve poured into friend-making and keeping and repairing in recent months has paid me back tenfold. My soul is so much richer these days thanks to my attention to these relationships. Who doesn’t want a richer soul? Oh, you do? Then focus on friendships. Whether that means making new ones, strengthening existing ones, and/or patching up broken ones.

As I mentioned, a year ago at age 45, I had gotten to a place where I thought I didn’t want or need more friends because I couldn’t properly maintain the friendships I already had. I had lost touch with many of them, and there was even one best friend with whom I had lost all communication. Life had built a wall between my home and my outer world – it was a wall that made me wilt. I can be a delicate flower, at times. Even my physcial health declined in many ways – my weight, my skin, and my joints suffered.

I have always said this about friends: They don’t magically appear in your life. They require a level of commitment and some amount of time and effort. And because I have resurrected my commitment, time, and efforts toward my friendships, I can attest that I’m right about this. Friends thrive on mutual love.

Earlier this summer, The Precious Pair and I had a lively conversation with my stepmom about The Fruit of the Spirit. If you’re not familiar, it’s a term that refers to the 9 attributes of a person who is living in accordance with the Holy Spirit as defined in Galatians 5: “love, joy,  peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Ironically as I write this, I realize a few of these qualities contradict my enjoyment of swearing! But guilt aside, the fruits represent how to become and remain the best kind of friend to others. I find myself as the beneficiary of such friends all the time, proven by these recent true-to-life examples:

They pack your belongings for your move, even in a frenzy the night before the truck arrives.

They unpack your belongings after you move. The moving company called and needs those bins you rented back, one of these days.

They assemble IKEA furniture for you, because let’s face it, you have no spacial reasoning abilities or handyman skills to speak of.

They volunteer to be your designated driver all summer long, since “you deserve a fun night out!” They might even go dancing with you against their will, just because you really want to go do that.

They say encouraging things all the time, and you know they mean what they say with their entire brain, heart, and gut.

They laugh at your ridiculous comments and behavior over and over again. And this makes you feel good about yourself. You love to make people laugh.

They forgive even your occasional obnoxious behavior when you’re having a little too much fun, like that time you threw the snacks at your friends while riding on the bike bar. Maybe, just maybe, you threw a bottle of bubbles on them, too. (Oopsie.)

They agree to take endless selfies with you, well, because that’s what you do now for the sake of wooing those Newbie friends.

They go on a shopping spree to Home Goods and surprise you with a slew of adorable things for your new dream home. ‘

They worry about your $0 checking account balance even though your bills are paid, and you’ve got a big deposit hitting tomorrow. They might slip you some cash “just in case” or buy your drinks without you asking.

They will listen deeply to what you say and remember it and repeat it back to you later. You are not used to anyone listening to you that intensely, ever in your whole life.

They will always take the time to congratulate you and thank you and hug you, even if they aren’t really a hugger themselves, but they know you are.

They surprise you with the perfect text, inspiring quote, crazy meme, or sentimental song because they are thinking about you and wanting you to know that.

And there are countless more favors your friends have done for you during this past year and especially during this incredible summer, and you are grateful. Forever grateful.

In the list, “you” is me. And “they” are you – both my new silver version and my old gold style of friends. I’m not sure what I’ve done in my life to be blessed with this kind of wealth. All I can do is promise to pay forward what you all have done for me, because there’s no freaking way I can ever pay you back.

…See what I did? I saved a buck. 😉

With Love, Hugs & Heavy Pockets,
Meesh