Rough Week?

My act of kindness this week was not killing anyone. The difference between me and people who actually do kill people is I never actually think about snuffing out a life. This week I just wanted to defend myself, in an angry tone, with a strongly worded text, and I didn’t. I listened and realized the attack wasn’t about me, it was about them, and in that moment of clarity, I calmed down.

A couple of difficult people passed through my life this week and made me question the future of humanity. I’m a theater teacher and I direct musicals for younger kids during the summer. Shockingly, there are stage parents who believe their child is the most talented kid in any room! This was my first time dealing with such vehement aggression on this topic. Not everyone was born to play Annie…if you are 14, 5’10”, or a male with your voice changing who can’t be heard 5 feet away, I probably will not cast you as the tiny orphan Annie. Especially if there is an 11-year-old with a Broadway belt available. Sigh. It’s over now and I am proud to say, in this particular instance, that I was patient. Not so much on the drive home, so by the time I got home it was time to retreat from reality.

One of my fave comfort movies is You’ve Got Mail. I rented it and retreated to the couch, applied a dog and a cat on feet and tummy and disappeared until this scene virtually jumped out at me. Pretty sure this captures both sides of most difficult encounters.

Are you Tom Hanks or Meg Ryan when confronted by someone who belittles your existence? Do you become tongue-tied or do you say the thing you most want to say only to be filled with remorse the second after you’ve said it? I am both and I’d love to hear from you how you handle challenging individuals. Seriously.

It seems there’s always someone, or something, trying to steal my joy. I’m a flawed human being. I’m reckless and clumsy so I’m almost always in pain which depresses me and makes being open and friendly just that much more challenging. But,I am determined to change the world one smile at a time, even if it kills me, which it almost has a couple of times.I can’t be the only person who struggles with trying to be a light in my corner of the world, all the while being a flawed human surrounded by other flawed humans.

I honestly do love to meet new people, to smile and sincerely ask store clerks how they’re doing, to find the humor in every situation, to look into a student’s eyes to see what’s really going on under the surface, but I feel it needs to be said, that sometimes, I fail.

Here’s how I manage to leave my house, my tormented brain and body, and attempt to be a bright spot to those around me:

♥   I choose to believe everyone is doing their best, including me, knowing it isn’t always the case. We all get tired and frustrated and want to lash out.

We all seem to have an element of fear lurking just under the surface now in our country, and well, the world, which makes us careful and suspicious and is exhausting.

♥   It is vitally important to stop to play every day. I learned this from father and it has sincerely saved my life more than once. 

♥   Ideas for playing:

A quick game on your phone.  Candy Crush and Tetris work for me. It turns out there is scientific proof games that include dropping columns help release anxiety and PTSD. Tetris and Trauma

A funny cat video: in fact, start your day with a funny cat video and everything else immediately becomes a lighter burden, maybe even burden-less. Sail Cat (no cats were harmed during this filming. WATCH THE EARS!) I laugh every single time I watch this.

Call and speak out loud to a friend you love.

Thank God for giving us a sense of what’s funny and the ability to laugh at our predicaments.

I believe laughter is a sacred sound to God. It let’s Him know we are enjoying being His creation.” Tim Hansell

DANCE BREAK! Ask Alexa to play your favorite song and bust a move. This is my favorite personal coping mechanism and it works like magic.

That’s it for now. Hope this helps diffuse even one icky interaction.

 

The Neighborhood Table

Kindness tip for the week:

He's the Man!

It’s okay to ask for help.

Allowing help gives a chance to shorten the distance between loneliness and a life shared.

A few Christmases ago I asked for a new kitchen table, the current “table” was about to disband into dust. The Husband, Keith, found a very cute table and chairs at Wal-Mart online. It was delivered with “some assembly required” about a week before Christmas to our neighbor Jeff’s house.

We have the family Christmas Eve dinner at our house. The four ‘fancy’ plates we got for our wedding come out to play for this night because there is never a worthy occasion to use them. Since we only have the four, it takes awhile to make the table look like it was arranged with a plan in mind. I spend about an hour, choosing the tablecloth and napkins, setting the table, arranging the seating and centerpiece until we can all fit, if we keep our elbows in, and I’m reasonably happy it looks magical. After baking and cooking all morning/month I thankfully disappear to finish wrapping presents behind closed doors while something cooks slowly in the oven. Egg Nog may, or may not, be invited in. Every year this is my schedule. Every. Single. Year.

This particular Christmas Eve, as soon as I closed our bedroom door to tackle speed wrapping, a silent mayhem began in the kitchen. The Youngest,Talia, having memorized exactly how the table was set, took everything off as quickly and quietly as she could, The Husband and The Oldest, Hannah, immediately sent four texts to neighbors who were on stand by to help assemble the table and chairs, run them to our house, silently set them up in our kitchen, dispose of the old table and chairs while The Youngest perfectly reset the new table to look exactly like the old one as fast as was safe.

I heard nothing.

The crew all excitedly waited in the kitchen for me to come out. Two hours later, I did. By that time, the neighbors had left and everyone else was annoyed with me. I didn’t notice the new table for way too long, even with all the beaming faces glaring at me. Since everything looked exactly like how I left it…no need to comment.

Finally, The Youngest sarcastically bellowed, “NOTICE ANYTHING DIFFERENT IN THE KITCHEN??” I looked quickly around from my perch in front of the sink, “Ohhhhh! New chairs!” This was met with a simultaneous group sigh. If I just hadn’t gone with a tablecloth that year, I would have seen the new table and we would hardly remember this even happened.

The whole Christmas Eve shenanigan uprising is priceless to me; the new table that wasn’t crumbling down, the group effort with their commitment to sneakery (should be a word), The Husband who had the thought and generosity to pull this off, the family that is sheltered at this table. Buying anything large at that point in time was a huge committment, even though we needed it, we still were anxious about the choice. It was a screamin’ deal though.  My husband propped up a poem he found in the middle of the table. I still can’t read it without tearing up. (You can read it below.) The words in this beautiful piece, gave our lives purpose and comfort that a table is a worthy investment.

This gift was way more than a new table from Wal-Mart. It was a step back to barn-raising’s and a step forward to neighbors taking care of their own in times of flooding and fires and shootings and innocent Christmas magic.

We can never get rid of this table.

Try to love your time with your family this week and with all of those who have landed near you. In my experience, time together as a family went faster than I could fathom. Well, on most days, some days time actually went slower than originally fathomed.

Do you have a story? Please share it! Everywhere! A positive story can change the course of any day.

The poem that was placed on my magical Christmas table:

Perhaps the World Ends Here

BY JOY HARJO

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

 

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

 

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

 

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.

 

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

 

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

 

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

 

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.

 

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.

 

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.

 

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

Where we learn to be human. And the fancy plate is the first one on the right. 🙂
“Perhaps the World Ends Here” from The Woman Who Fell From the Sky by Joy Harjo. Copyright © 1994 by Joy Harjo.

The Kindness War

“There’s something happening here
What it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

There’s battle lines being drawn
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong”

Stephen Stills 1967

Kindness is at war with evil.

The battle lines are being drawn by celebrities, politicians, comedians, some cats, my next door neighbor. It’s a battle to fight violence, judgement, hatred, intolerance, apathy, by way of being consciously kind.

It’s a victimless war.

It’s a hard time to believe in people right now–between child detention, the constant revelations of the #MeToo movement, the racial, economic and gender-based injustices we witness every day.

It could not be a better time for a movie about Mister Rogers. But, when has there ever been a time when it wasn’t a good idea to listen to a peaceful man? Our family went to see Won’t You Be My Neighbor this past weekend. It was a 10 PM showing on a Friday night after a long week. We were in recliners at the Harkins at the mall. I had a glass of champagne to sip during the movie. Our kids came with us, they’re 20 and 22, and we’d all been swimming in 110 heat for most of the day.  Although,It was the perfect storm to sleep from opening to ending credits, no one slept. It was even kinda riveting. It’s a very quiet, beautiful film about a very quiet, beautiful man who embodies unconditional love. He makes seeking kindness first seem easy. It isn’t always. But, Fred Rogers shows that kindness is a choice we can make daily, that feelings are important and valid, and that love, or its vacancy, is the dynamic force behind our actions.

And then there’s Lady Gaga!!! She’s so much more than we were led to believe at her beginning. She is actively speaking out to make a difference in the world she sees. Personally, I see humans in most places trying to change the world by spreading kindness.

Here’s a thing: To be consciously kind takes a little effort, but not nearly as much as hate requires.

Then! Here in Chandler, is my friend Helen. Un-frickin-believable Helen.

If she reads on facebook that I’m sick or injured, which, to put into perspective, I am injured/sick more often than not-that-way, she goes into high alert as to how she can ease my pain. For exp: a coffee mug of George Clooney’s self-portrait (a personal fave), An In-N-Out gift card, root beer, chocolate covered cherries when my father died because he loved those things, anything from Disneyland that involves magic or Tigger. These perfect gifts will just appear on my doorstep, and after Helen ding dong ditches at a speed only a 5 year-old should be able to achieve, I will open the door to see only the evidence of love and compassion sitting in a potted plant. I’m just one of hundreds of people she stalks for goodness.  My daughter, Hannah, calls her S.O.G. for Sister of God. We are humbled by her very nature. S.O.G. you rock.

Let’s be Helen today and do one thing for one person who doesn’t expect or maybe even deserve a little surprise. Even a flower from your yard on their front door is enough. Let me know if you actually do this please!

Your one act of kindness shared can reach the world. This little blog alone is reaching Russia. You have a chance to reach across this huge cultural divide just by saying “Hi.” Or “I put a flower on my neighbors door. They never noticed it…”

Aforementioned cat changing the world…

Neighbors For Good

I see a world where we continually define ourselves by the way in which we are divided.

Our family moved to Chandler, Arizona from Los Angeles 18 years ago. We found a nice house we could almost afford in a safe neighborhood. My husband and I had two small daughters at the time. I suggested leaving L.A. the day helicopters were hovering over our house bellowing repeatedly through a blow horn for everyone to lock all doors and windows and stay inside. An armed robber was thought to be hiding in one of our backyards after shooting the owner of our corner grocery store. I love LA, but life in Chandler has been way less “survival of the fittest.”

The first day of house shopping brought us into 20 identical, beige, stucco houses in 20 different neighborhoods between Scottsdale and Chandler.

Amazed at the lack of trees or anything green and the sheer amount of people that chose to landscape with beige rock, I decided we should stay in LA and  take our chances. But, we tried one more house, at the urging of our eager realtor, and there, gleaming like a diamond rising up through beige stucco were the most beautiful cherry wood cabinets. We would never be able to afford cherry wood in LA, so we moved. And stayed. And planted grass and trees and painted our house a rebellious taupe. We still live in the same house we bought 18 years ago in the Fox Crossing/Ocotillo neighborhood of Southern Chandler. We landed in such a good place.

Here is what I have grown to love/sometimes find annoying about living in our ‘hood:

OUR NEIGHBORS!

Across the street is Danielle’s family. Danielle calls me on occasion just to see if there is anything she can do for me. I teach her daughter how to play the piano. Danielle and her husband helped us move furniture we inherited from my sick mother into the house at an ungodly hour one Saturday morning. Their son has rescued our flight risk of Chewiethedog at least 3 times just because he saw her fun by his driveway. On his own initiative he hopped on his bike and ran her back home. He’s not that old. This family inspires me to reach out beyond my driveway. Every neighborhood needs a Danielle and fam.

Jeff and Katie are the neighborhood welcoming committee. Friendly, always ready to lend a hand or a tablespoon of chillies, and well, they’re so much fun. Jeff own’s a pool service, works early hours, comes home for lunch and is frequently home to play with his kids when they’re done with school. He loves his stunningly beautiful and wise wife, Katie. Katie, Jeff and Danielle are incredible examples of, well, the perfect neighbors. So, I’m trying to be that too….it’s a work in progress.

Here on our cul-de-sac we are divided by fences and garages, politics and income, interests and age. But, I’ve noticed that here on our little street we are better defined by our similarities. We are all humans, we are all a part of a family, we are all neighbors.

If you had told me when I was 10, 20, 30, that I would want to live in a suburb one day, I would’ve never spoken to you again. But now that I’m here I see that suburbs are essentially good, and therefore valuable. We take care of each other here. We are defined by the commonality of being alive.

Neighbors are anyone who you happen to be standing near. For today, I’m going to define myself as a neighbor first and try to let the rest of the crap go, i.e.: politics, interests, keeping up with the Joneses, age…barking dogs (not that our dog doesn’t bark too).

It’s nice here in Fox Crossing. I’m so grateful the cherrywood cabinets yelled at me.

Is your neighborhood this nice? Do you like your neighbors? Do you want to like your neighbors? I’d love to hear how your ‘hood is working out for the good of it’s inhabitants.

If your neighborhood is not this nice, I suggest that you through a party in your driveway and invite every single neighbor. We have a fire in our driveway for Halloween and place invitations on every house the week before. It’s been a game changer. If you try this, let me know how it goes!

This is Jeff’s business! Hayden Pool Service! He’s really good at this stuff! If you call him, tell him I sent you.

Thanks for stopping by for the read.

“Hi” never started a war.

My Name is Mom, Not God

This is the same story as told in: “It’s Been Five Days Since You Left, But We’re Still Here and You’re Not and It Is So Quiet.”  But, I sought help from Kevin McGeehan and this is how it evolved. I just wanted to put it out into the world beyond the one storytelling event I was brave enough to enter. Which was my event. I produced it. So, not really all that brave.

A different take on the same event:

There are six of us in this tiny space: proud grandparents, anxious parents, Hannah-the-Freshman, and Talia-the-supportive-little-sister who is singlehandedly organizing what appears to be a closet. Everyone is shoving “necessary” items wherever they could fit, except for me. Overwhelmed by debilitating fear I am useless in this chaotic room. I just stand in the middle of chaos clutching my favorite pair of Hannah’s shoes. All motherly devotion seems irrationally transferred onto these shoes. 

I’m jolted out of my inertia when Hannah’s new roommate, Christine, suddenly pitches into the room, drunk. Christine, all tanned boobs and short shorts squeals “HANNAH!!!” and lunges forward on her stiletto’s to give Hannah an insincere hug. Christine is the embodiment of every parental nightmare: a partying freshman roommate. The predator.

  Not knowing what to do, I do what I do best. Freeze. This is not my first time lost in motherhood.

When Hannah was a week old she got an audition for a commercial. At the time,  we were actor’s living in L.A. Hannah booked the job and at ten days old shot a national commercial.

  She was adorable during the casting: alert, quiet. Perfect. On the day of the shoot though, she wouldn’t stop screaming. I didn’t know what to do, I just stood there, frozen, listening to her cry and wincing at every dirty look from…everyone.

After what felt like a few years had passed, the director called to “remove the crier.” A surely assistant director handed her over like a bag of squid. I grabbed her, ran out into the hallway and clutching her to my chest begged her to forgive me. I didn’t rescue her. I’m the Mom and I blew it. When her gasping sobs stopped, I held her out to look at her scrunched up little face.

 I swear she smiled at me. I stopped breathing for a second. She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. “I promise I will never leave you.” I swore this would be my last mistake as Mom.

  18 years of mistakes later, the day has come to move out of her childhood home into her freshman dorm. On the sidewalk in front of our house, a sobbing Hannah could not let go of Andrew, the-stunned-soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend. About to attend universities in separate states, it didn’t look good for the long run.

  Hannah and Andrew dated during their senior year and, of course, he asked her to the prom. Hannah bought her dress with her own money, a sparkling, soft pink, strapless gown. It cost four times what I was willing to pay for a prom dress.

  I bought her shoes, and because Andrew is not tall, Hannah, in a shocking turn from her usual CFM’s was determined to wear flats. We found a pair of Steve Madden sandals with rhinestones imbedded in clear plastic straps and a beige plastic sole. They looked pretty cheap in the box. But when she put them on the clear plastic straps disappeared and the sparkles wrapped around her feet as if held on by magic. They were the most beautiful shoes I’ve ever seen.

I borrowed them once. I felt magical. For a moment, Hannah and I shared these pretty, pretty shoes. In a moment, I must relinquish the girl with the memory of a sweet dance in beautiful shoes with a handsome boy.

  Back in the dorm room the magic shoes seem cemented in my fist. The perfect place to leave them doesn’t exist. Christine might want to borrow them. Christine could ruin the shoes.  

  Of the two girls who are about to live in this dorm, I love one so very much, but I relate to one of them so much more.  I was Christine when I was 18. I know this enemy. It used to be me.

  Without looking at anyone other than Hannah, Christine slurs “Nice to meet you” to the room in general and is gone as fast as she came. Watching Christine leave I realize I have no control over this situation. I probably have never had control over any situation ever. Because I am only Mom. Not God.

18 years ago I had no idea she would be the one to leave.

  I step on the printer to climb over the mini-refrigerator and sit next to her on the long, single bed. I reluctantly hand her our pretty, pretty shoes. “Please. Stay. Strong.  Do not lend these to Christine. I would like to see them again.” Hannah just laughs, “Mom, the shoes and I can both stand up to Christine.”

Our time is almost up. “If you ever need anything Hannah, you can always come crying to me. I think I’m ready for you now.“

  Out in parking lot the proud grandparents drive away first. The sobbing, mascara stained sisters cling to each other as our existing world changes forever. There is nothing my husband and I can do to ease the pain of their separation. We can only stand aside and watch. What I want to say to my pair of beautiful girls is, “I promise I will learn to let you go.”

What I actually say as I hug Hannah goodbye, “Take your vitamins and be gentle when you break up with Andrew.”

  College, it’s the real world transition for the parents, not just the kids.

Shoes pictured are not actual size. Or the actual pair mentioned in post. Just really pretty and very similar to aforementioned sandals.

 

Follow up to The Fingerprint of Talia

She has been accepted as a part of the team at Teen Lifeline. Her joy is complete.

I trust she will be able to forge past her tender heart to make a difference in someone else’s. I trust her tender heart will grow stronger but not lose compassion. Or that she will take on the issues of those she wants to help. Really…with all my heart.

She called me while I and my tender heart (meaning my actual heart, not a code for my husband) were in Haiti and left an almost unintelligible giggling message via Voxer. Only saying “I have good news!!!! You’ll have to guess what it is.”

Then about 10 minutes later “It’s about Teen Lifeline.”

We guessed.

We were cautiously happy/relieved/sorry we weren’t there for this moment/glad she thought to call/worried/thrilled with the person she is.

Now on from here.

One Thing

 

One thing. Done right. And it wasn’t even on my to-do list. I hope this isn’t the only thing.

The moment when you realize that maybe, you said one thing right. And it came back. And helped.

A conversation between me and my 17-year-old daughter, Hannah:

Me:        I ‘m debilitatingly* over-whelmed. (*not a word, but just so perfect)

My 17-year-old daughter, Hannah:      Why?

Me:       Four regular jobs,  two acting jobs with insane amounts of memorization,  two summer camp performances to: direct, choreograph and show up for, recital that I have to dance in, piano/voice recital that I have to play the piano in and pray any of the kids show up and make a good showing. You. I should be there/here for you. Oh, and Dad and Talia probably need something that I’m not remembering. And occasionally, I think it’s only right that I do the dishes/laundry/sweep the floor/feed you and the dog and the cat, especially the dog and the cat because I really don’t know how they are still alive with only you and Talia looking after them.

My, now 17-year-old daughter, Hannah:      Do what you always tell me…just take one thing at a time.

Me:      I say that to you? That’s really good advice!

My, now 17-year-old daughter, Hannah:     Yes, it is.

Well, there you go.

I took the advice.

It worked.

One good thing I said came back to be the one good thing I needed to hear.

Money To Go

Stock pic,  not an accurate depiction….

It seems to me that if you have money, there aren’t any inconveniences or problems to overcome.

Plumbing emergency? Call now. Fix now. Do not wait and cause more damage trying to save on the cost. 

Drive one-day-old-brand-new-uninsured-car-you-never-in-a-million-years thought you could afford into the garage door while garage door is still opening? Buy new garage door next morning, fix car at the same time – do not fall apart, throw things, scream obscenities into the night and lay sleepless wondering how to pay for – anything ever again.

Sustain concussion while working coupled with stomach/intestinal virus? Go to the emergency room immediately, no waiting for a week trying to self-diagnose to see if it’s worth a trip to the emergency room on Memorial Day weekend. AND! Frank, the ultra-sound tech would not keep asking you if you we’re retired or if your 20 year marriage was your second marriage, because a face-lift would have already occurred at this humiliating life moment.

Throw back out trying to empty a kiddie pool? Just stop and hire someone else to do it.  Or better yet, have a built-in pool already. With a pool cleaner.

There is no need to nag/threaten/bribe teenage children to study for finals in the hope of one day getting a scholarship so that college is even a remote possibility. No. All you have to do is feed them and let them do as they will. You can pay for college. Even if it’s community college.
 

Husband leaving at 3 AM to drive to California with 80 high school seniors for the class trip leaving spewing/injured wife at home to deal with teenagers, car, garage door and plumbing? Well, that just wouldn’t happen to begin with…if enough money were to be had elsewhere.

Money solves everything.

Money is the root of all evil.

Money is elusive. Even if you work to earn it.

That’s it.

A quandary.

And this was just Memorial Day weekend at our home.

Money cannot buy the gratitude that said home, car, family, were not lost in a tornado. No, that just comes from being a human being –  even a human being living with the suburban blues.

We are grateful for our home – so we can run our car into it – and our children out of it.

(not really on the last one) (well, the last two)