Saturday, October 8, 2016

Moving On: My House Taught Me What Home Feels Like

“We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.”
― Pascal Mercier

Last week, I held a brush in my hand.  Speckled with paint streaks and stripes and splotches nearly from head to toe, sore with bending and stretching far outside my comfort zone, I held the brush in my hand and painted.  For months now, I have painted.   In doing so, I have wiped away the memories of these rooms and made a blank canvas for a new family. 

There isn't much to occupy the mind while painting.  I found myself thinking about what an incredibly poor housekeeper I am, in general.  Oh, sure, I have plenty of bouts of whirlwind-like cleaning where I simply can't stand the clutter or the dirt anymore.  But, typically, I prefer to be tucked away with a book over scrubbing the baseboards.  The Fiancé had a good chuckle remarking about that earlier today after he spent yet another Saturday here scrubbing and caulking.   

As I painted, I thought about Things 1 and 2. That spot over there was from banging the table into the wall.  This window ledge was where a tiny Thing 1 perched while he leaned over the bassinet of Thing 2, holding up a star. "Look, baby, it's a STAR!"  The landing was where a two-year-old Thing 2 sat on his brother and pummeled him for an unremembered slight.  The floor over by that door was where I sat with a distraught Thing 1 and promised to stop talking about school work.  This doorway is where I always get a good morning hug from Thing 2.  These steps are where we take our Annual First Day of School Photo.  And on and on and on.

I thought about the hopes and dreams I held when I first walked through the door of this house.  And then I remembered how almost all of them shattered.  I tried to recall who I was when I came here, a 31-year-old mother of a toddler and pregnant almost to bursting with my second child.  I stood on chairs with my huge belly, unpacking boxes of dishes while I hurriedly tried to make the house a home before Thing 2 came on the scene.  She is a distant memory at best.  She became Someone Else in this house.  She became more self-assured, less afraid and more aware of what she wanted from her life.  She became Me.

Tears rolled down my face as I remembered.  This is the place where I learned what home feels like.  This is the place where my children have grown into young men.  These walls have held so much more than artwork and these rooms have experienced so much more than meals and general conversation.  This house has been a springboard for life.

And then, as I painted, I thought about The People Who Will Live Here Next.  With each stroke, I said a prayer for their new life here in this house.  I hoped for joy.  I prayed for love.  I wished for understanding.  I hoped for peace.  I want The New People to feel the love in this house.  We have poured a lot into it.

I know enough now to understand that "home" is not a place.  Home is where you go when you need to be heard.  Home is where you go when you need to feel loved.  Home is where you will always be accepted and never turned away.  Home is a family.  I have found mine.  And my family will live in a different house.  And, so, I'm letting this house go.  It's time for it to hear new laughter, to shelter new hopes and to foster new dreams.

I'm so excited.  Who knows what Great Adventures will await us?  But until then, I'm looking for someone to buy my house.

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Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Courage to Begin Again

“And suddenly you know: It's time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings.”
― Meister Eckhart

If you've read this blog at all, you must know how passionate I am about the reality that we get this ONE chance.  We get this ONE life. That's all we have. 

You better lose yourself in the music, the moment
You own it, you better never let it go
You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow
This opportunity comes once in a lifetime
                                   -Eminem, Lose Yourself

When I got married a long time ago, I was young.  I was 24, fresh out of college and completely unprepared for any kind of real life.  I hadn't even thought at all about what I wanted from myself and my own life, let alone any idea about what a marriage was supposed to look and feel like.  My idea of marriage came from the twisted dysfunction I had seen growing up merged with the romantic comedies that I consumed ravenously, starry-eyed and rapt over the perfectly-worded confessions of the male lead's heart.

I was broken when I married so long ago.  I didn't even know how broken I was until I tried to blend my life with someone else.  I don't think that poor guy knew what he was in for.  I was a Good Time Girl.  I liked my drinks.  I liked my fun.  And I liked to run away from anything and everything that looked like it might be hard.  I steeped myself in my own pain.  And when I got sad?  I got really sad.  And I got all wrapped up in my own crap.  Then I wasn't so much fun.

The truth is this:  I was young.  I was selfish.  And I had no idea what it meant to be a partner.

Fast forward a decade plus a few years and I found myself divorced.  Still sad.  Still broken.  And I decided to go on a journey to figure out what was wrong with me.  And I did the hard work to fix it.  It sucked.  It was painful.  I was whiny and almost impossible to deal with and I made some poor decisions along the way.   Fortunately, I have some very patient friends who spent many long hours listening to me whine and cry (hey, thanks again for all that!).  I figured out how to be happy.  

I found love.  Again.  But different.  I was different.  I AM different.  A lot less young.  And a lot less selfish.  And I have a pretty good idea of what it takes to be a partner.  And I now know what I need in a partner.  It all sounds like Very Real Adult Grown-Up Stuff.

The Boyfriend became The Fiancé during our trip to Italy! What?
We're not perfect, This Guy and I.  We are complete opposites in almost every sense of the word right down to our Myers Briggs personality types.  I am ENFP.  He is...not.  We have to really hash some things out from time to time.  The hashing can be hard...and it can be painful.  And it makes me want to run away sometimes (old patterns die hard...really hard). But, slowly, I become less afraid of the hashing because I know, in the end, our understanding makes us stronger.  We have decided to begin again. Together.  That's a pretty scary undertaking for two scarred-up people.

It takes a lot of strength, humor and bravery to start over by blending two families into one.   But he has strong hands.  And a good heart.  And I have a big smile.  And we both have the ability to laugh at ourselves (mostly at me), a lot of faith, a ton of love, and a much better understanding of how to make this thing called marriage work.  

We'll do the work.  And we'll begin again.  Two as one.  Deep breath.

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Parenting Success!

“It's not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It's our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.”
― L.R. Knost

Thing 2 mows the grass
This morning, I pushed the pedal of the garbage can to lift the lid so I could put yesterday's coffee grounds into the bin.  The lid gaped open and I saw a snarled mass of blue painter's tape among the other garbage.  I gasped out loud and then wandered into the dining room where, last night, fairies had come and removed the tape and re-attached switch plates and electrical outlet covering to the walls.

Tears started streaming down my face.

Yesterday, as with most weekends lately, I spent much of my day painting.  Painting, painting, painting.  As The Fiancé and I look to blend our families and our homes, we've opted to sell my house.  And, in order to sell, a little prep work must be done.  So, we've both been working at our individual homes to get everything in order.  He's been here a lot but he has so much to do at his own home that it's often best to split our time and just work on our own stuff.

The boys have helped some as well but, for the most part, it's me. Painting, painting, painting.  And I'm TIRED of painting.  And I'm just tired in general. 

Yesterday, Thing 2 asked me how he could help.  I told him that it would be a great help to get that painter's tape off the floor and put the switch plates back on the wall.  We then went over to a delicious dinner at The Fiancé's house and I figured he forgot all about it.

While I slept last night, he must have gone into the dining room and helped me out.

My kids are starting to really show their characters. 

Their actions and their words every day are showing me that these young men have bloomed into these thoughtful, rational, kind, funny and giving young men.  Now, as with all of us, they certainly have their flaws but I am so often amazed at who these people are. 

And I don't know how it happened but I know that we've made concerted efforts with high hopes that they would turn out just this way.
  • They were lovingly cuddled and read to as infants.  When they cried, I picked them up.  They had schedules.  I was respectful of them, telling them even before they understood, "I'm going to pick you up now," instead of swooping them into the air with no warning.
  • When they were young children, I was struggling myself.  But I apologized when my temper was short.  And I let them know that I was a little sad but that the sadness had nothing to do with them and that, in fact, their very existence made me happy.  I told them that my sadness would go away.  And it did.  I believe it's important to not involve your kids in your problems but to let them know that you do have them.  And it's very important to let them see you working through your problems.  Life isn't's very, very messy.  Letting kids think that life doesn't have challenges just isn't fair to them.
  • We have always talked to them as if they were adults.  Their questions were answered.  Obviously the subject matter was tailored to their developmental stages, but we always gave them reasons behind actions.  
  • In our house, we do what we say we're going to do.  Period.
  • We have allowed discussion.  One time, when Thing 2 was 10, he had asked me if he could attend a friend's event.  He was already committed to going to his grandparents' house, so I told him that he could not.  He was obviously disappointed but said OK. After a little while, he came to me and asked if he could talk to me about my decision.  He said then that this event was important to him and that it only happened once per year.  And, while he realized it would happen again next year, a year was a FULL TENTH OF HIS LIFE.  He reminded me that he was still very, very young.  He didn't whine and he didn't cry.  He just stated his case.  And I listened.  And I changed my answer.  But I did make him call his grandparents and let them know why he was backing out of his prior commitment to them. 
  • We have always encouraged them to TRY everything.  
  • Kindness matters in our house.  Words like "stupid" and "shut up" were never allowed here.  I even curtailed my own sailor's mouth.  For a while. :)
I don't know if anything we did helped them become who they are today but I do hope that most of what we did had a positive impact.  I am a pretty strong believer in nature over nurture, but I know that a nurturing environment has to at least act as a springboard.  I hope that we have shown them to treat others the way you expect to be treated. 

It is overwhelming to me that these boys are turning into young men that I admire.  I know that their hearts are right where I want them to be as a mom of boys.  They will respect their girlfriends and, eventually, their wives and children.  They will be honest and kind.  And they will take care of their mama.  The blue tape in the garbage this morning showed me that.

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Friday, May 20, 2016

In Praise of The "Other Kids"

“Misfits deal with the double-edged reality of having our differences act as the source of both our challenges as well as our successes.”
― Tiffany L. Jackson

My kid got booted out of the chorus concert last night.  Jettisoned. Discarded.  Heaved. Cast off.  Now, I was CAREFULLY watching my kid almost 100% of the time.  Studying him.  Wondering why he wasn't moving his lips more.  I mean, I've sung a LOT and I'm always smiling, enunciating and having a grand time.  However, since he claims that his teacher has "ruined music" for him, I suppose I can understand why he wasn't a little more engaged.

I didn't see any behavior last night that would warrant a boot.  Granted, he can come up with some sarcastic zingers out of the blue (I don't know WHERE HE GETS THAT FROM?) and I obviously couldn't HEAR everything.  But, he didn't seem to be doing anything other than looking like an uncomfortable teenager on the stage.  Since that teacher has his dad and me on speed dial, I could only assume that he had done something in class earlier to warrant this humiliating exit off the stage.  (Note:  No children were harmed in this incident.  She booted him quickly and quietly during a break between songs.  The Thing who left the stage expressed extreme pleasure at not having to endure the exquisite motor-skills on display as his classmates awkwardly maneuvered through "Somebody to Love.") 

The whole matter got me thinking about school and my kids.

They are not good at the whole school thing.  They just aren't.  They're SMART.  And they're funny and polite and (mostly) respectful.  They have kind hearts and they are quick to defend the underdog.  But, let's face it: they suck at school.

I, on the other hand, was GREAT at school.  Kids had to dodge my flailing arms as they shot up to answer question after question.  I LOVED A's.  And I loved praise.  And it came easy for me.  I was a STAR at school.

Until there wasn't school anymore.  Then, well...I sucked at LIFE.  There were no more tests or gold stars or "This is EXCELLENT WORK."  There were still deadlines.  But there were no 100% right answers anymore.  This left me stymied.  And I fumbled around for many years seeking the gold star and the teacher who would acknowledge my raised hand.

So is there a correlation between kids who suck at school and become great at life?  I PERSONALLY know more people than I can count on one hand who didn't shine at school but who became rock stars at life. That kid who got thrown out of class by the academically gifted teacher and forced to sit outside in his desk? He owns his own business.  Those smart kids who didn't care about the grades have become successful engineers, managers, and business owners who travel all over the world.

I resigned myself a long time ago to the fact that my kids won't get awards on awards day.  They won't be celebrated in the hallowed halls of early education.  They are one of the "other kids."  But this morning, I'm a little excited.  Because while they may not be living up to the traditional standard of excellence, I know they have a good foundation.  They're good PEOPLE even if they aren't great STUDENTS.  And if we can offer up the first 18-22 years of their life as a sacrifice, I think it's a good trade if they can take the years of disappointing mediocrity and turn them into a lifetime of success.

So, to the teacher who kicked my kid out in the middle of the concert last night:  thank you. Thank you for opening my eyes to the fact that this stage isn't the only stage.   My kid is a good kid.  And your choice last night was yours...I hope it made all the difference to you. 

Rock on, young men.  The world awaits.

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Sunday, March 20, 2016

We Are Family: Lost and Found Sisters

“If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.”
― George Bernard Shaw

I am a word person.  Always have been.   I've been in love with vocabulary for all of my conscious life.  And, for that reason, when I want to get to the heart of the matter, I always go first to the dictionary.  Merriam Webster dictionary defines family in this way:

As you can see, MOST people don't need to look this one up since its popularity is pretty darn low.  Only 1% of people who consult MW are looking for the word family.

"Family" is a deeply personal word and one that conjures up a lot of different images for people.   It can be a warm word that means love, laughter, Thanksgiving dinner, adventures and fun.  It can be a sad word conveying loss or shame.  Or, it can be painful and filled with scars, tears and silence.  It can even be hopeful, fat with the promises of marriage, babies and future domestic bliss.

For me, family is a complicated word.  My mother was never married to my biological father.  My stepfather told me when I was six that HE was not my father but didn't bother telling me who was and threatened my life if I told my mother I knew.  And I spent more than half of my life wondering about who the REST of my family was.  What was my father's name?  What did he look like?  Did he ever think about me?  Did he have a REAL family?

The truth is simple but often complicated when it comes to families.  In truth, my biological father held no legal or moral responsibility for me.  He walked away clean after signing away his parental rights at the request of my mother.  He was kind enough, along with his lovely wife, to meet me when I was 36 and came looking for him.  We have developed a nicely loose relationship over the last years and I am grateful that I now have answers that haunted me for so long.

But life is never neat and tidy.  I met B, one biological half-sister and connected immediately with her.  Nature vs. nurture was answered immediately for me when I met B.  We have so many similarities from the rhythm of our speech to the fact that we both named our youngest sons "Jackson." B had a full sister, L, who wasn't ready to meet me all those years ago.  Two other half-siblings were (and remain) lost to me.

My life, since meeting my father, has changed dramatically.  It was the impetus for change in me and in my choices.  It was almost as if I needed that missing piece to clink into place before I could get down to the business of living.  When you know where you come from, it seems to be easier to envision where you might go.

A few weeks ago,  I heard a ding announcing I had a new message.  I looked and the message was from Kelly L.  Kelly.  She told me that she was the biological daughter of JL and was looking for other siblings she might have.

Kelly L.  Kelly L.  Kelly L. 

My breath caught in my chest.  She HAD MY NAME.  I have always joked that Tilyard is the only legitimate name I've ever had.  I was Kelly S. on my birth certificate.  My mother started calling me Kelly N. after she married.  When I found out my biological father's name, I said I COULD be Kelly L.  And, finally, I took the name of my (now ex) husband, I legally became Kelly Tilyard.

But Kelly L.  Kelly L...

After I breathlessly read the message to The Boyfriend, I must have looked at him somewhat wild-eyed.  He gently said, "Well, are you going to answer?"

I did answer.  I told her that I was his biological daughter and that SHE was, indeed, my half-sister.  We connected quickly and I spoke to her the first time the next day and we pieced together the little we both knew.  I found out that she had met my biological grandmother also and had pictures of our biological father from when he was in her life as a young girl.  I won't share her story here because it isn't mine to tell, but I know that we were mutually thrilled to have found another long-lost half-sibling.

She wanted to meet.  After all, she was finding a sister whom she didn't know existed and...well, so was I.  And, after all, we share a name!  We arranged a meeting of a big group of our family,  our father, his wife and their two children...our two half-sisters.  I had already met B but was thrilled that L was ready to meet me, too.

We had a good day, the six of us plus Kelly's fiancé.  We found many, many commonalities among the four of us sisters as well as some marked differences, too.  (OK, I just don't like the VIOLENCE of football...)  But that's just the way it is with all sisters, isn't it?

We skipped all the years of petty jealousies, of fights over clothes and boys.  Of pecking order establishment.  But we also missed that bond...that "us against them" mentality.  We missed years of laughter and of tears.  We missed marriages, births, trials and triumphs.  Kelly and I both have brothers whom we are grateful for.  But neither of us has ever had a sister.

I don't know what causes a parent to walk away from a child.  I know that I have no animosity toward my biological father.  Life is complicated.  And it's messy.  I get that.  He did what he did.  And I am who I am because of...or perhaps in spite of...never knowing him growing up.  I know that I can love him for the now that we have.  And I have nothing to forgive...because he did nothing wrong by me. 

But sisters.  I have sisters.   And I have a promise for them...for B...and for L...and for K.  I will always love you.  My door is always open to you. I don't always say the right thing.  I am selfish and opinionated and often wrong...about everything.  I am not great about keeping in touch and birthday cards sometimes remain unmailed for years at a time. But, I will always be on the the other end of the phone or the road or the thought.  Sisters.  From now on.

We are family.  I've got all my sisters with me.  

Thank you, Kelly.  Thank you for being brave.  Thank you for finding me.

Author's Note:  This was a tough post to write.  It's taken me a week to sort out how I feel about meeting two new sisters last week and I feel like I have to be very careful because, again, these stories don't belong to me alone.  Like I said, it's complicated.  But I needed to write it out.  And to share it.  Because families, like life, are sometimes messy.  And it's good for all of us to understand that we are not alone in navigating the chaos.  I, personally, like to bring the chaos close to me.  When I see it up close, I can better understand it.

How do you handle your own complicated family?

If you like my blog, share it.  Or Like my FB page to get updates.  Or make a comment below.  If you don't like it, well...just try not to hurt my feelings.  I'm sensitive.