Drinking the Kool-Aid

Some memories stand out as critical turning points in one’s life. In my life I can remember a significant time period of discovery and learning and it was the impressionable late adolescence/early teen years when I, for good or bad, faced lessons in trust. This is an awkward stage in life for most, the values provided from home compete with the necessity to be cool in school and on the social scene. At the time I don’t think I had much thought about what I believed to be right for how to behave, I was caught in the drama of keeping up and nothing else mattered.

Keeping up in middle school meant talking about friends behind their backs, ironically to try to prevent others from talking about me behind my back. There was a lot of best friends who didn’t speak for weeks and would be reunited again by someone else’s falling out later. It was a constant need to confide ugliness in others and repeating shock and devastation when the confidant divulged the secrets. Like a dog chasing it’s tail and gets hurt when she finally reaches it. This cycle of manipulation was vicious and isolating at that age.

By eighth grade I was well conditioned as a mean girl. I had a core group of friends who had withstood rips and tears into our relationships, and one friend of the group I shared the closest bond with. Beth and I had met the previous year and quickly grew tight, by 8th grade we had given up passing cleverly folded notes between class and began passing a notebook. (If only our notebook was staring Ryan Gosling this story could be so much more attractive.) Our notebook contained our diary of events, doodles, gossip and trash talk. We wrote during class, in the halls and even at home to each other. I drew a lot of pictures; cartoons mocking peers in my class, funny characters and my own imitation of my teacher as her alma mater mascot a razorback. We made jokes about our teachers – how they looked, what they taught and how they spent their free time. We shared middle school news of who was “going out” and our own crushes. And we talked even more personally about things happening outside of school and with our own families.

One morning Beth and I were in a class together sitting at separate tables, I could see she was writing to me when the razorback approached her and asked for the notebook. Attempting to be a reasonable 13-year-old, I respectfully went to the teacher’s desk and communicated an apology for not staying focused, understanding the need to be punished and how important it is for the notebook to stay private. I turned to go back to my seat and by the time I sat and turned to face the teacher’s desk the notebook was open in front of her. My mind raced to consider all the hateful things which had erupted from my adolescent head to my sloppy pen. I was enraged at the teacher for disrespecting me and my friend. Even more, the razorback took our notebook to the other teachers to encourage them to read our messages. When my mom, school social worker and principal all were involved the razorback pleaded to keep the notebook until after lunch. She was obviously very entertained by what we had to say, maybe she wanted to make photocopies?

On to high school only a few months later, friendships continued to evolve and my difficulty with trust remained. Except after the incident with the notebook I also became weary of trusting authority figures. Instead of making the naive assumption school faculty were there to help all students, I became increasingly aware of hidden agendas, personal priorities and governing rules which directed what happened in the classrooms. I tried to be polite in school and still I wasn’t afraid to call bullshit when I felt it necessary or lie to avoid trouble later. In high school I withdrew from joining activities, didn’t socialize much and put just enough work in to graduate and get into college. I didn’t make the connection about who I was becoming and why until years later when a college class required me to make a timeline of major life events and that 8th grade day came to mind as significant.

The realization of how the teacher violated my trust in her authority carried on to all authority figures, my eyes were wide open to understand the deeper meaning and not take for granted what I was told. This served me well in many areas of my life, to speak up for what I felt was right despite the popular opinion. To question for the facts and find what is missing from the explanation. And to advocate for individuals who don’t have the skills to speak for themselves. Over the years I have learned to differentiate discussions worth being had and battles worth fighting for. When I worked for state mental health it only took me a little over two years to realize there were too many illogical battles for me to take on and I couldn’t numb my ethics enough to continue to be a part of the system.

The other day I heard a remark my uncle said to my mom regarding me “drinking the kool-aid.” I respect my uncle greatly, I know that he loves me and appreciates who I am and not just because I am his first niece. My uncle and I have a wonderful relationship despite having very diverse images of the world, politics and religion. And I suppose the mere fact I would question major national events and the government’s involvement puts me in the category of loosing my marbles in my uncle’s mind. It would be absolutely impossible to imagine, given our government’s perfect tracked record of honest behavior, national situations which have happened in my lifetime could be reported to the public wrong. Because in my lifetime, I have already learned when there are hidden agendas, personal priorities and higher controls which dictate what happens. This is often not in sync with what is right, what is fair or what is true. When you consider the perspective of what one stands to gain and lose from the truth; power, control and profit. These are not the motives for truth seekers who question facts contrasting public perceptions. Those individuals deal with ostrification from family, friends and the majority of society. Valid questions go unanswered and most people continue on with their days unaware of what lies are making impressions on our lives.

Two of my uncles, my mom's brothers

Two of my uncles, my mom’s brothers

So yes, if you must look at it this way. I have been drinking the kool-aid, and I like it. Funny thing is, back in the 70’s my uncle appeared to be the guy mixing the kool-aid. I imagined him being the kid who always questioned authority and challenged what he was told in a puff of jolly green smoke. Makes me wonder if he had a similar yet opposite defining moment in his life. Perhaps a major governing official came to my uncle’s rescue, provided him safety and security in a way he never knew before. Maybe my uncle was reassured in his faith for authority figures and he learned to listen, obey and not question the facts which don’t correlate with the story.

This blog is where I focus on living inspired, finding appreciation for the ordinary and being aware of people, places and events which have shaped who I am. There is purpose in every experience, good or bad. The lesson I learned back in eighth grade helped program me to be aware. I can’t change everything I see wrong with the world, right now I can be at peace with really seeing what’s happening.

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Quieting the Travel Bug

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I hate to set goals with deadlines for myself, I tend to miss deadlines, so by avoiding setting deadlines I can prevent the disappointment of not meeting them.  Still, I broke my rule and set a goal to achieve by … Continue reading

Thorns From My Husband

Last week I came up with an idea for a post I wanted to write about the irritating statements my husband makes.  It’s incredible how a short concoctions of words can send me into a whirlwind of irrational, over-emotional turmoil.

I cleaned up.

I have a surprise for you.

Are you feeling better yet?

These are just three examples of phrases I hear from him which begin a cycle of madness in my mind, how to react, what to say next, what does this mean, etc…  It sounds insane, right?  Those three statements appear to be so innocent, even thoughtful perhaps.  Well lemme just fill you in on the context with which these endearing words are uttered.

First, speaking of cleaning up is generally stated because it would be entirely impossible to know otherwise any cleaning had taken place.  I’m guessing the majority of women can relate to being the cleaner one of their couple set, with the exception of my friend Crystal.  Crystal and her husband, Buck, are equally anal about their cleaning.  I would give a sliver of an edge to Crystal since she recently had lasik eye surgery and swears she can see the cobwebs on her ceiling I could not find with binoculars.

Unless your relationship is like Crystal and Buck or by some freak chance your partner is a better housekeeper, you can relate.  For example, a few weeks ago my daughter and I went up north and left my husband with the house to himself for three days.  Upon returning home I noticed additional clutter and a distinct odor.  Maybe my facial expression gave away my disgust even though I had already anticipated needing to clean when I got home.  “I cleaned up.”  He said.

And this is where my mind begins stirring – What did he clean?  And if he cleaned how bad did the house get over the weekend?  Do I praise him to encourage this behavior or would this demonstrate complacency with a lack of effort?  “OK, thanks.”  I mutter heading to the broom closet.  Maybe I should just be thankful he didn’t wipe out the Tupperware collection like my dad did when my mom went out of town one weekend in an effort to be helpful.

When my husband tells me he has a surprise, naturally I want to feel excited.  He tends to spring this on me rather often because he enjoys watching me squirm about it.  Instead of excitement in the anticipation, I find myself being bothered with trying to imagine what it could be.  There have been times I imagined some rather fantastic surprises, special dates and lavish gifts to come home to find my favorite juice in the fridge “SURPRISE.”  Now rather than creating a spectacular surprise in my mind I try not to even remember he spoke the word so I cannot be disappointed.  He is rather thoughtful and talented with his ideas, I just wish they came without the preemptive news flash to warn it’s coming.

And finally the questions “Are you feeling better yet.”  This is not a sincere curiosity of if I am under the weather.  This question is directed at me when he thinks I am upset with him for no good reason.  It seems like a stab at my perspective in a disagreement, as if I had no reason to be bitter towards him.  As if the whole disagreement was related to my mood rather then something he contributed to.  “Are you feeling better yet,” can almost always lengthen the duration of my anger about a situation and on the rare occasion I wasn’t upset this statement can just as easily put me there.

So…  Like I said, I intended to post about these phrases and end it there.  Except earlier this week I caught up with an episode of Super Soul Sunday when Oprah interviewed the author Michael Singer.  He wrote The Untethered Soul about finding inner peace and strength.  The following clip is a segment out of the show directly related to the issues I have had with things my husband says.

I haven’t read the book, though, now I know I need to.  There are many thorns I have with people and being irritated by what is said.  Seeing this part of the interview I recognized I have been making the choice to be disturbed.  I understand for the rest of my life I could be having internal conflicts about what to say when he mentions cleaning, no matter how many times I say “Don’t surprise me,” there will likely be another surprise, and the question of feeling better yet will probably not be put to rest either.  So damn Super Soul Sunday – to point out my wasted energy on waiting for others to change around me.  It doesn’t matter who is right or wrong, joking or flat out disrespectful – it’s my own thorn.  Next time I get the sensation of being bothered, my hands sweat, my thoughts turn to irrational questioning, my shoulders tighten and I’m ready to react… I will practice making the choice not to be disturbed.  Growth is hard and no one else can do it for me.

Abode of Peace

Rabindranath Tagore was a name I had never heard of before visiting India.  Not that I know all of the Nobel Prize recipients, or have heard of all the top influential poets, and I definitely don’t recognize every major historical leader’s names.  After stepping foot in Kolkata, it’s impossible to ignore the name Tagore.  He was a philosophical and spiritual leader through his literature and later through his University and world traveling.  His influence in West Bengal is undeniable, though his lessons in music and poetry continue to ripple throughout the world.

His family’s home is now a museum in Kolkata which we got to tour early in our travels to India.  Several weeks into our excursion we took a train to Bolpur and Santiniketan.  Tagore and his family traveled this same path many times as Santiniketan was their family’s second home.  Tagore’s father actually gave the name to the town with the translation meaning abode of peace.

Visva Bharati – Banyan Tree

Rabindranath Tagore built a school, which grew into a university in Santiniketan with the principle of learning with nature – or utilizing outdoor classrooms.  He named his school Visva Bharati and aimed at joining India with the world in arts, languages, philosophy and literature at his campus of banyan trees.  Not far from his university was another Tagore treasure we got to witness.  It is a river gorge with picturesque trees and red sandy earth, a scene Tagore used to treasure to escape to write.

Visva Bharati – Sewing House

Tagore’s Prayer House on campus

Banyan Tree

Tagore’s River Spot

Rural Bolpur, West Bengal

Rural Bolpur, West Bengal

In Bolpur, our group of students met with women who participated in micro credit programs.  Our teacher translated their statements and our questions to discuss how the system works and how it has helped them.  The women appeared to be full of pride to talk about how they are given a small loan in order to create a business and better their family’s

situation.  The women work to repay their loans within a year – making small payments.  Their yearly loan amounts range depending on their experience with the program and what they intend to do with it.  Some women purchase goats and sell their milk, some women use the loan to purchase supplies for making crafts or sewing clothing.

Although micro credit is intended to empower women and allow them an opportunity to create an income for their families, many women reported how the money they received as a loan went directly to their husband.

We were welcomed into the villages in Bolpur, women excitedly greeted us and proudly displayed their business ventures.  The energy of happiness was all around despite how it was apparent that everyone had so little.  The huts didn’t have running water or electricity, they had very little space, privacy or personal belongings.  Yet, the smiles shared between the residents of Bolpur and their foreign visitors exuded joy and contentment.  

A documentary film crew creating musical masterpieces from intertwining musicians from around the world also ended up in Bolpur & Santiniketan.  “What About Me,” has been shared as a series on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday.  One of the film makers and world traveler, spoke highly of the people of this community.  In the below clip he talks about how he thinks when people are good, friendly and kind enough to reach attainment they are reincarnated and sent to Santiniketan.

Can’t help it, sleepy farts are funny.

A five AM wake up call occurred Saturday and Sunday morning this weekend on our trip to Des Moines for a wedding.  Our tiny tot, Parker, usually goes to sleep easily and sleeps in late in the comfort of her own crib.  When she sees us sleeping in the same room, as we did in the hotel, it’s game on for partying late into the night and a restless nights’ sleep.

Two mornings in a row her wake up call started with a slow whine, and while both of us likely heard it from the beginning neither of us stirred.  Rolling over, talking to her or even taking a deep breath might indicate readiness to get up with her…  Instead I prayed silently she would nod back off to sleep.  The intermittent whining begins to lengthen and get louder, soon Parker is rubbing her legs back and forth against the pack and play out of boredom.  She begins rolling around and finally sits up, I don’t open my eyes and hold my position as asleep.

Her whimpering language is not one of being scared, needing to be changed or sad.  She very clearly was crying “I’m awake and I see you there in bed and want to be there too.”

Hats off to parents who prefer co-sleeping, it’s painfully difficult for me to sleep in bed with my toddler.  Parker wiggles, squirms and most often ends up asleep sideways in bed between me and my husband.  So at 5AM evaluating the situation in a half sleeping state, I understand picking her up and letting her come into bed will only reinforce her waking up and getting into bed with us at every opportunity we are sleeping in the same room.  My husband and I alternate begging her to lay down and go back to sleep.  I wondered if she would wake up the rest of the 24th floor hotel patrons before she would give up and go back to sleep.

stretched out on the king-sized bed.

Knowing the stubborn streak of genes she inherited, “giving up” is not in this girl’s capabilities.  Reluctantly, I gave in and put her in bed Saturday morning, Sunday morning my husband was the first to give in.  Our silence encouraged her to remain silent from this point forward, although she tried her hardest to wake us up to play.  She climbed on top, put her nose to my nose, jumped between us and playfully fell into the pillows.  I quietly let her know she would have to lay down or go back to her own bed.  Her under two-year old mind understood her choices and she lay her head on my pillow, then on my arm, then on my stomach, then on her daddy – tossing and turning for over an hour until she finally fell back into much needed slumber.

The second morning was the same as the first, with one hilarious outtake which made it all worth bringing Parker to bed.  Somewhere between 5AM and 6:30AM my husband and I lay facing each other with Parker between us.  I watched her roll from my arms to position herself leaning against her daddy with her back side parallel with his stomach.  Almost immediately when she gets herself to this position she begins passing gas, the kind of toot which gets drawn out into a row of highly audible puffs.  And when she is done with this manuever she just as quickly rolled out of the position.  It was as if she had plotted this prank on her daddy, and the hilarity of the situation is it is exactly the kind of prank her daddy would think is funny.  Sleep deprived and slightly delirious the laughter erupted from me despite knowing I shouldn’t encourage my baby intentionally farting on people.  It made me chuckle the whole ride back to Kansas City Sunday afternoon and still now thinking about it I can’t help to giggle.

So tired from her early morning play, we had to wake up Parker to get to a late breakfast date.

Colorful Fun at The Color Run

The first week of July, Kansas City played host to The Color Run, the self proclaimed “Happiest Run on Earth.”  While I don’t usually equate running with happiness – everyone appeared to be enjoying this colorful 5K.

All participants came dressed with a white t-shirt which was drenched in a different color powder at each kilometer.  Over 30,000 runners of all ages, including tiny ones in strollers and wagons, joyfully made their way through the track around Arrowhead Stadium to one central ending point where the party really took place.  The finish line had a DJ pumping pop hits, engaging participants to dance and cheer for additional color packets for Color Throws.  During Color Throws the crowd launched color packets into the air for clouds of color and perfect photo opportunities.

Laughter and smiles were all around Kansas City following the funnest run on earth…  And to top it off proceeds were donated to The Ronald McDonald House.

Daddy & Daughter Demands

My daughter is becoming fiercely independent.  Don’t get me wrong this is exactly the kind of attribute we want to praise and encourage for her to develop and benefit from throughout her life.  Years from now she will have the strength to stand up for herself and others.  She will be able to advocate for what she needs and she will not take no for an answer…  years from now.

Right now, though, this independence is too much for her to handle.  My daughter wants to be on her stool washing dishes, standing on the toilet to brush her teeth, unlocking the front door after errands, turning on the stereo (and turning the volume waaaay up), reading her own books, cooking, and dressing herself.

I was so pleased when she learned how to pick out a pair of shoes, put them on herself, and cooperate with switching when I told her “wrong foot.”  Even when she is opinionated about choosing the pair which didn’t necessarily coordinate with her outfit, her learning this task made me happy.

Not all of the independent tasks she is trying are coming so easily though, and some of them seem to be incredibly frustrating to her nearly 2-year-old mind.  “No” seemed to be absent from her vocabulary up until the last few months and now it seems too many statements or questions are met with a sharp “NO.”  When she gets stuck in a task she cannot figure out there is tantrum and tears, yelling and refusal of help.  One night over the weekend she fought to put on her own pajamas, whining and squirming with them.  When she got her legs stuck in the arm holes the body flailing began, so mad these pajamas could do her so wrong.

I allow her to have as many opportunities to practice her skills as possible.  I stand outside in the heat for an extra five minutes for her to put the key correctly in the lock, I take the time to show her the correct method to get results, I step in to take over when she has lost control and I spend plenty of time cleaning up her messes.  Let’s face it learning can be dirty sometimes.  I wrestle with thoughts of psychology, child development and reinforcing behaviors, how much is too much and am I raising her right…  Quickly snapping back to reality as duty calls for a second bath for the day when she attempted changing her own diaper in her crib after the nap.

Is this the terrible two’s, has it already arrived four months before she even turns the dreaded age?  This stubborn toddler now demanding her way and don’t help, will be challenging my stress level for how long?  When will she grasp the limitations I put in place for her and stop trying to push it?  (dumb question I realized this after I wrote is since there will be evolving changes all the time.)  The hardest part about meeting her demands is when my husband so honestly pointed out “How will you be able to deal with BOTH of us?”  See he exudes much of the same childlike intolerance for when things don’t go his way, minus the body flailing.

There are far more smiles, hugs and expressions of cooperation then there are the no’s, the tears and the tantrums.  With both my hubby and my toddler I will keep practicing patience, choosing by battles and providing loving support when it’s accepted.

And when my husband voluntarily gets up with my daughter in the morning and serves her chicken, pepperoni and cherries for breakfast.  I’ll just say “Thank you for letting me sleep in” and wake up tomorrow.  Life is perfect right now, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

One Weekend Not Long Enough – Darjeeling.

Darjeeling was our first escape from the madness of Kolkata.  It was a much-needed break from the heat to be up in the Himalayan Mountains, to hear nature instead of honking and to be away from the congested population of the city.  We had only been in India for about a week and I already needed a vacation from my travels.  

This was to be our first of many train rides in India, we left on a Thursday evening for an overnight train.  A group of caucasian women stood out no matter where we went, however, the trains always seemed to bring out the most obvious and uncomfortable gawking.  For example, waiting for the train we entertained ourselves with a simple game of UNO, which drew a crowd of men hovering to watch.

On the train our group shared two sleeper cabins, these were not private cabins, rather to the isle.  The cabins contained two blue, school bus style bench seats facing each other.  Above each bench two additional bunks would fold from the wall and attach to each other with chains, creating a total of six beds.  We knew to be aware of theft on such public trains and for this reason used our backpacks as pillows and kept all valuables in a tight grip for any measly slumber we might have gotten.  Somehow my travel mates were always accommodating as I snagged the top bunks – climbing three beds high – on each sleeper train we rode.  In the morning there would always be one or two travel-mates who wouldn’t have slept at all and observed the creepers who came by to gawk at us, strolling back and forth through the open isle.

Following our first train adventure it was a three-hour drive up the mountains to get to Darjeeling.  Though it was overcast for much of the weekend the scenery was beautiful, already it was evident how much friendlier the people seemed by smiling and waving.  On some mountainsides you could see tea plants covering acreage and I wondered how dangerous it must be to work those fields.  

After an overnight train and 3 hour drive we arrived in Darjeeling.

After checking into our accommodations we explored the town, shopped and relaxed.  Most of us purchased scarves and wore them frequently the remainder of the trip, as well as saving some for souvenirs for family members.  Some bought jewelry, books, and tea to bring home, we visited an internet cafe and enjoyed macaroni and cheese for dinner with beer.  Some of the girls were thrilled to order mac and cheese and devour something similar we could find back at home, it was a let down since India doesn’t really have our American taste for cheese.

One early morning we woke up to journey to a location called Tiger Hill, it is a spiritual sight to witness the sun rise.  Only 11 km from Darjeeling, I read there are over 400 taxis used on busy days to drive tourists to the sight.  We had to park far from the viewing location and hike up the remainder to join the crowd of spectators.  From this high point in the Himalayas, Mount Everest is visible, although on our morning it was too cloudy yet still crowded with spectators.

When the sun was well risen, our group of light-skinned women once again became the attraction.  Tourists to Tiger Hill were requesting us to pose in their vacation pictures.  Of course with a language barrier there was no way for them to explain to us what the relevance was in having pictures with us.  I wondered whether they were hoping we would be of some celebrity status back home or if we were really that much of a novelty to be seeing in person.  Whatever it was, I declined posing in pictures.  My travel mates who accepted ended up getting lines of people waiting for the next shot.

Posing for Indian tourists’ pictures.

Our whole class on Tiger Hill

After the shopping, relaxing, admiring the animals and visiting Buddhist temples in Darjeeling it was difficult to leave.  I regained my ability to take a deep breath and then it seemed we were headed back to Kolkata again.

On our way back down the mountain to get to the train we were invited to visit a tea plantation for lunch and a tour.  We met the manager and his wife who lived on the property, they showed us their factory and around the crops.  I was lost in the process of how tea is made and instead focused my thoughts on the workers who take care of the field.  On our tour we stopped at one location in the crops where hundreds of women were picking leaves.  They strap a bag to their head which rests on their backs and fill the bag 20 to 26 times per day, six days per week.  The workers make very little in take home pay, though the company provides housing, health care and schooling for the children of the workers.  Consider how far your tea traveled next time you brew and who may have contributed to your cup?

 When I returned home from India I was asked many times whether I would want to take another trip back.  Without hesitation I’d answer “I’ll go back to Darjeeling.”

What Is There To Say?

Expressing concern for someone’s grief always leaves me wordless…  I am mindful not to deliver the usual cliché condolences as these phrases can instigate more suffering and be invalidating.

“I understand how you feel,” is often used even when it’s not comprehensibly possible to know what someone else is experiencing.

“There is purpose in everything,” ouch – while true – not important to hear about in the midst of grief.

“Things will get better,” not helpful in the present moment when loss is so fresh and suffering is so painful.

Being fearful of saying the wrong thing leads me to say “I’m sorry,” and then stare blankly in the absence of something profound or the necessary empathetic expression which actually may help.

The reason this is on my mind is because of an e-mail I received from a friend last week.  She and I met several years ago in school, we work in the same field several hours away from each other and keep up with each other’s lives sparingly through Facebook, phone conversations and the occasional lunch.  My friend was elated to report of her pregnancy this spring, shared pics of her pregnant belly via Facebook and asked me questions about labor and planning for a newborn.  To say there was no baby daddy drama would be like belittling the Clinton sex scandal.  Regardless of no stable relationship she was glowing with excitement about this growing miracle.  From a distance it appeared her life revolved around preparing, planning and providing for the little one, and her smile in the pictures could not have been any brighter.

Her e-mail indicated she had gone into pre-term labor last week and delivered her baby at only 22 weeks gestation.  The tiny 1lb 1oz girl was too premature to survive and passed with less than an hour in life on earth.  

The thought of what she is experiencing right now takes my own breath away and puts me in a state of grief considering with how devastating the experience would be.  I want to hug my friend, I want to be able provide the explanation she doesn’t have as to how this could have happened, I want to fast forward to the point in life where she can feel some happiness again.  I really want to know what I can say to bring her some comfort because I am without words right now.