Seasons Change

20170910_110158Door 44 Jewelry is officially dead. I’ve shut down my Etsy shop and I shuttered all of my social media accounts. I wanted to pick it back up again. I really did, but after five months away from my workbench, I have no desire to go back to it.

This has been a strange year for me–a particularly difficult year, in certain ways, and a remarkably peaceful year in others. And so that strange dichotomy that’s preceded all of the critical turning points in my life seems to be back again.

The season of change is upon me.

I’ve had some fascinating experiences with nature in the months since I put Door 44 Jewelry on pause. There was the heart-stopping, awe-inspiring moment in Monument Valley Park the week that I decided to shutter the business for a while. I didn’t manage to capture an image of that incredible sight because my phone was to my ear instead of in my pocket where I could have grabbed it quickly and snapped a shot.

I was out for an early morning walk that day when a friend called. She’d been having a difficult time, and she needed to vent. I always strive to be an open ear and a steady shoulder to lean on for my friends, so I listened quietly while she vented. Although I was struggling internally with my own challenges, I tried to push my own problems aside and focus on hers instead. And then along came the powerful wisdom of nature in the form of a Peregrine falcon.

This falcon landed not ten feet in front of me on the trail. It had a dead pigeon in its clutch, and I could see that it was struggling to get a solid grip on its prey, which was just slightly smaller than the falcon itself. Our eyes met for a moment while the falcon adjusted its grip. It cocked its head, and I could almost hear it whisper to me, “Who is tending to your needs while you’re tending to hers?” Then it whisked its awkward burden to the other side of the creek where it began eating its meal.

I couldn’t begin to tell you what my friend was saying in that moment. I was so stunned by that close encounter that I couldn’t hear a word. All I remember hearing was the soft rustle of feathers on gravel as the falcon adjusted its grip on the pigeon and lifted off to glide gracefully across the creek.

When I was finally able to return my focus to the voice in my ear, I found that she was still venting away–completely oblivious to the fact that I’d been momentarily transported to another dimension through a spiritual encounter with powerful raptor. I didn’t bother telling her about that experience because she wouldn’t have understood the significance of it. I just resumed my walk and let her continue to vent until she arrived at her office and had to put away her phone.

That encounter with the falcon rattled me, and the question it seemed to whisper in my ear nagged at me for a long time. Then, several weeks later (just after I started my new job), I had another unusual encounter with nature. This time it involved two mating Dragonflies that hitched a ride on my vehicle as I was returning to my office one day after lunch.

I was sitting at a stop light when two dragonflies, linked in tandem, landed on the trim of the driver’s side window of my Jeep. If you’ve ever observed dragonflies in nature, you’ve probably noticed that they’re rarely still. So I was stunned to see not one, but two, dragonflies clinging to the felt weather strip around my window. They were so close and so still in that moment that I could see every detail of their delicate wings.

The brown female and her iridescent blue mate seemed to be desperately in need of a respite from their tandem flight. The light turned green, and regrettably, I had to move. I tried to accelerate as gently as possible so as not to disturb them, but as traffic picked up speed, the male lost his grip on the window and the two tumbled off and away from my vehicle. Fortunately, they did so just as I was crossing a bridge over the same creek where I’d encountered the falcon.

Perhaps they knew I was heading that direction, and they merely hitched a ride with me to the water.

As with most of my unusual close encounters with nature, I was again struck with a bit of intuitive wisdom that came to me like a gentle whisper in my ear. This time, I was reminded of my husband and the bond that we share. It’s easy to lose sight of the things right in front of us. During the transition of shutting down my jewelry business and going back to working for someone else, I’d lost sight of him. Of us. I’d forgotten, briefly, that I was never in this alone.

Even though we’d decided together that I should go back to working a regular job with a regular paycheck so we could more quickly achieve certain financial goals that we’d set for ourselves, I’d let myself slide into an unpleasant place where I felt isolated and alone. I’d been struggling with depression and sense of failure and loss after shuttering Door 44, and my new job was… well… let’s just say it’s quite a large step backwards for me in terms of both salary and level of responsibility.

To say I’m underemployed is an understatement. Those two dragonflies reminded me, however, that the only thing that truly matters right now is my marriage. Everything else pales in comparison to the partnership I share with my husband, and my current job (insignificant as it may be) is helping us to achieve our mutual goals.

It was at that point, after my visit from two very wise teachers in the form of mating dragonflies, that I started turning away from external distractions and began to focus more of my time and attention on the two things that truly matter in my life: my husband and our daughter. I uninstalled the Facebook app from my phone and deactivated my account for several weeks. I stopped taking phone calls from friends who only wanted to replay and analyze the drama in their own lives, and I started focusing pretty much exclusively on my own family.

It was there, in the blissfully drama-free zone of our living room, that I finally found the peace and stillness I’d been looking for all along. And then I had the third and most recent strange encounter with nature. This time it was with a lone Damselfly while my husband and I were enjoying a day at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.

Mike’s Camera was there that day, and my husband was anxious to try out some new photography equipment. We were at the Amur Tiger’s exhibit while Matt was trying out a new camera lens. The tiger, one of Matt’s favorite animals, was particularly active that morning . We’d already had one wonderful experience with this amazing animal as he came unusually close to us and seemed to acknowledge us with a friendly rub against the fence and satisfied twitch of the tail–the exact same body language our housecat, Rose, uses to welcome us home whenever we’ve been away. But then I’d noticed that a lone Damselfly landed on the fencepost right in front of me while Matt snapped photos of the tiger and dozens of strangers milled around us (you can see Matt’s photos here).

Again, I was enchanted by the unexpected stillness of an insect that is almost perpetually in motion. The Damselfly rested peacefully on that post while I snapped photos of it with my phone. It sat there long enough that Matt noticed it, too, and we both photographed it with our respective cameras–he with his Cannon 550D and me with my LG V-10 phone camera. We joked about how everyone around us was straining to get a glimpse of the tiger, who was now playing hide-and-seek with the gathering crowd while we shared a magical moment with the lovely little Damselfly pictured above.

This summer proved to be a period of transition for me. I’ve come to realize over the past few months that it doesn’t matter what I do with my spare time. Whether I’m making and selling  jewelry or posting payments from insurance companies to patient accounts or overseeing the Accounts Receivable departments for three home health agencies in two different states, as I did at the last job I had before I got married… Those are all just pastimes. What’s really important to me now is whether or not I’m a good wife to my husband and a good mother to our daughter.

Somehow through that brief connection with a startlingly still Damselfly, I managed to find my way back to feeling centered and grounded again. As we transition into Fall, my favorite season, I feel more deeply connected to my family than ever. I’m no longer interested in hearing about the drama in the lives of others; and I no longer devote significant amounts of time to social media.

My focus is completely on my family now. And that’s precisely where it should be.

 

 

 

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Raising the Bar

I was never the sort of supervisor anyone wanted to work for when I worked in the corporate world. I had a reputation for being demanding and “all business”, as if that’s a negative quality in a manager. Given the choice, most people would prefer to work for someone who expects little and who is content to be perceived as “one of the gang.” I was never that boss, and I’m not that parent. Neither is my husband.

People will generally achieve whatever expectations you set for them, so you might as well set the bar high.

As both a supervisor and a parent, I have always subscribed to the philosophy that people will generally achieve whatever expectations you set for them. Whether you set the bar high or set it low, your staff or your kids will consistently be right on target; so you might as well set the bar high. There are always exceptions, of course. There will be the occasional overachiever who will consistently surpass your expectations. Likewise, there will be the odd underachiever who will rarely be on target. I have some ideas about how to deal with those exceptions, but that’s a topic for another post and another day.

I received a very interesting phone call from my daughter’s 6th grade math teacher this morning. Apparently my daughter’s name came up in the core education team’s weekly meeting, and the team agreed that my daughter should be bumped up to the advanced placement curriculum for all of her core courses. The chairman of the team just wanted to clear the move with us before they went ahead and placed her on the AP track.

When I replayed the voice message for my daughter, her eyes grew wide with amazement. She didn’t really know what to expect when I told her I’d received an interesting message from her math teacher, but a promotion to the AP track was clearly not on her radar.

The discussion that followed went something like this:

Me: Are you interested in moving up to all advanced courses?

Dear Daughter: Yes.

Me: You realize that this is going to mean more work, right? The classes are going to be more difficult, and you’re probably going to have more homework.

DD: That’s okay. I’m up for the challenge.

I’m up for the challenge.

Those words are sweet, sweet music to this mom’s ears, and here’s why: Two years ago, shortly after we got married, my husband and I discovered that our little girl was struggling in math. At the time, my husband didn’t have primary custody, so we only had her every other weekend. We know our daughter to be very bright, so we had no reason to suspect that she was struggling in school. As we began to test her understanding of math with simple problems involving money or distance, however, we realized that she didn’t have a solid understanding of basic math functions. And so began our quest to gain primary custody so we could have more control over her education.

We were incredibly lucky. Not all custody cases work out in the best interests of the child(ren), and so many dads face an uphill battle when it comes to convincing a court that they are the stronger custodial parent. If I had any doubts about the existence of God prior to our custody case, those doubts would have been obliterated by the time our case was settled because everything worked in our favor. From the timing and circumstances to the random assignment of a district judge, it all flowed seamlessly, as if guided through divine intervention.

And all the while, we were working overtime to get our daughter caught up academically. We had her tested through Sylvan Learning  in the middle of her 4th grade year. At that time, her math skills were somewhere in the 3rd grade range, while her language skills were a little above her current grade level.

She spent the summer between her 4th and 5th grade years learning her multiplication tables inside out and backwards. During her 5th grade year, she discovered the payoff for all that effort when her friends started referring to her as “the calculator”. We had her re-assessed at the end of her 5th grade year, and (not surprisingly) she tested well above grade level in both math and language skills. Today, she readily admits that she’s glad we forced her to memorize her multiplication tables, which brings me back to my original point that kids will hit whatever target you set for them.

What’s most rewarding for me after all the tears and frustration over the past two years of working to fill the gaps in our daughter’s education are the tremendous leaps she’s made in terms of her overall willingness to take risks and the ferocity with which she rises to a challenge. The growth in her academic performance, as remarkable as it is, pales in comparison to the growth we’ve seen in her self-confidence and her work ethic. School is fun for her again, and she’s back on track to achieving her full potential.

We don’t do our kids any favors by setting low to no expectations for them. Too many parents are disengaged and disinterested in their child’s education. As a society, we all complain about the quality of our education system, and we’re quick to blame teachers when our kids fail to be prepared for the next phase of their lives upon their high school graduation.

What my daughter has clearly demonstrated for me, however, is that it’s not the school’s fault that she was falling behind in the 4th grade. It was clearly our fault as parents. The Ex is the sort of parent who was never fully engaged in her daughter’s education while my husband and I took it for granted that our very bright child was breezing her way through elementary school. Once we took a more active role in her education (and once we set some very clear expectations) our daughter went from struggling to keep up in 4th grade to leading the pack in the 5th and 6th grades.

Whether you’re a supervisor or a parent, set your expectations high, and establish clear standards. It’s the greatest thing you’ll ever do for your organization or your children. They may grumble about it in the beginning, but there will undoubtedly come a time when they’ll be grateful that you cared enough to raise the bar.