Laptops & Tablets & Smartphones, Oh My!

I spent nine years of my former life as a corporate drone working for a telecom company in Alaska. During that period, the company went on to become one of the first fully integrated telecom service providers in the country. Professionally, those were some of the best years of my career. Personally? Not so much.

I was wired to the hilt. Even back then when wireless technology was relatively new and still extremely limited in rural Alaska, I was virtually accessible to my employer around the clock. I worked from home. I worked from the office. I traveled to some of the most remote regions of the state, and I was always tethered to my job by technology.

To say my personal life suffered would be to imply that I actually had a personal life. I didn’t. I was married to my job, and not necessarily unhappily so. Not for the first seven or eight years, anyway; but as unbalanced marriages inevitably do, mine eventually crumbled. I was struck with the harsh realization on a redeye flight home to Alaska after visiting family in Colorado that, for someone so thoroughly connected through technology, I was woefully disconnected from the things that actually matter in life: friends, family, nature–the kinds of relationships that actually feed a spirit rather than isolate the spirit with the illusion of connectedness while slowly starving it to death.

That startling realization marked the beginning of the end of my marriage to my employer. I quit my job a few months later, and I spent most of the following year getting reacquainted with myself. I disconnected all but the most essential communication services, and I refocused all of my attention on things that actually mattered, like my hopes, dreams, and creative impulses. I also moved back to Colorado that year, and thank goodness I did because I’d have never met and married my husband had I not cut those cords.

Today marks the tenth anniversary of my return to Colorado. Ten years of being mostly unplugged from technology, and now I find myself being steadily reeled back into that tangled web. I suppose that’s a hazard of starting an online business–or any business, for that matter. This time, though, I’m determined to maintain a much healthier work/life balance because this time I do have a personal life. And a pretty wonderful one at that.

 

 

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Ask Not What My Child Can Do For You…

My daughter is a talented cellist. I knew from the moment she first held a bow that she’d found her instrument. She started playing two years ago, but to hear her play, you’d think she’s been studying music for much, much longer. She’s talented, yes. More importantly, she’s passionately committed to mastering her instrument. She practices for at least an hour every day after school, and she works with her private teacher every Saturday. I occasionally have to remind her to clean the cat’s litter box, but I never have to remind her to practice her cello.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’re probably aware that I am new to parenting. I’ve been a stepmom for about three years, and I’ve only been a full-time mom for a little over a year and a half. Although it’s been quite a challenge to get a handle on being a parent, one major advantage I think I have is that I’ve not been completely desensitized to the dysfunction of our public education system. Most parents I know are resigned to the fact that their children aren’t getting a solid education. Those who are fully engaged in parenting try to fill in the gaps where they can, but so many more parents just send their kids off to school and hope for the best.

My husband and I have taken a more proactive approach to our daughter’s education. We’ve gone so far as to relocate to another city just to get her into a particular school that we feel will give her the best opportunity to achieve her full potential. It’s a charter school with a classical approach to education and a rigorous curriculum. Unlike our current public school system where the bar is set so low that no child can possibly be left behind, the standards at our daughter’s new school are set so high that even the best and brightest will have to stretch to hit the mark.

I may be new to parenting, but I am certainly not new to teaching or learning. I’ve trained dogs and people for decades. I’m also a self-taught jewelry artisan and a life-long learner. It’s been my observation that, whether you set the bar high or set it low, any student (quadruped or biped) will almost always hit the mark. So, why not set the bar high?

That said, I’ll get back to my original point about my daughter’s musical ability. We had an unusual experience at her recent solo and ensemble competition, and it’s been bothering me for weeks. This was her second solo and ensemble competition, and (just as we expected) she did extremely well. She received a superior rating for her solo. Last year she also achieved a superior score for her first solo, and we were able to collect her blue medal on site after her score was posted.

Being in a different school district this year, we weren’t sure how or where she would get her medal as there were no vendors present at the competition. So, we stopped one of the district orchestra conductors in the hallway and asked him how our daughter could get her medal. He explained that the district buys the blue medals for those students who received superior scores, and that parents could purchase medals online from the vendor for lower scores. I mentioned that our daughter achieved a superior score, and then I watched the man transform, right before my eyes, from helpful educator to hard-core recruiter. He immediately started grilling my daughter with questions about where she planned to go to high school, and then he pitched his high school to us.

I could sense his frustration when I informed him that our daughter would be transferring to a charter school next year, and as that she would be completing her secondary education there (the charter school serves students from sixth through twelfth grade). I get it. Public school teachers hate seeing their best and brightest transfer out of the public education system into charter schools and private schools.

It must be incredibly disheartening for those teachers who love to teach to lose the few students in their classrooms who love to learn. But as a parent, my only concern is for my daughter’s best interests. She’s a straight-A student at her current school. She’s in advanced classes across the board, yet she’s not being challenged academically. Frankly, the bar at her current public middle school isn’t set high enough to stretch our daughter’s mind or her imagination. She readily admits that she’s not challenged, and this is where I think the public education system is truly failing our children. The commitment to leaving no child behind is admirable and well-intentioned, I’m sure, but it comes at the expense of smart kids like my daughter.

The talents and intellects of our best and brightest aren’t being challenged in public schools because of a bizarre national obsession with leveling the playing field. As parents with an obligation to prepare our daughter to face the real world, where the playing field is most certainly not level, we’ve opted to raise the bar considerably when it comes to her education. I’d much rather see her struggle to get Bs and Cs in calculus and Socratic seminars than watch her get straight As in her current school’s curriculum with little to no effort.

My daughter already has a strong work ethic. I see it every day in her commitment to cello practice. Her work ethic alone will take her far in life, but imagine how much further she can go with a strong work ethic and a great education. Our public education system is irretrievably broken, and I understand that that’s not the fault of the teachers alone. I’m weary, though, of seeing teachers greedily eyeing my daughter as if she’s some sort of solution to the deficiencies in their classrooms. The same education system that is failing to challenge my daughter desperately wants her to remain in that system–not so she can be educated, but so she can elevate test scores and win awards and scholarships that will reflect positively on the school.

Again, I get it. But my job as a parent is to make sure my daughter is adequately prepared for a future that, frankly, is looking pretty bleak given the current political state of this country. I’m not at all interested in boosting the ego of a high school orchestra conductor by allowing him to lay claim to her musical talent and prodigious ability. Nor am I interested in boosting the test scores of a public school by allowing my daughter to languish in an unstimulating environment for the next six years.

Education is not supposed to be about what our kids can do for the system. It’s about what the system can do for our kids. My daughter’s new school understands the difference, and it’s committed to doing precisely what public schools have failed to do: educate the best and brightest by providing a challenging environment and maintaining high academic standards.

 

 

Whiplash

Change is good, right? Change means growth. Progress. New directions, perhaps?

When I was young and single, I was also fairly driven and focused. I set goals, and I went after them. When one goal was achieved, I set another one and went after it with a single-minded ferocity unique to those who are responsible only for themselves. The operative word here, of course, is “I”.

It’s easy to be goal oriented and focused when you’re the center of your own universe. Add a husband and daughter to that equation, however, and all that drive has to soften. The focus expands to a broader perspective. The single-minded ferocity gets redirected from personal interests to family interests. And personal goals? Well, they get prioritized along with everyone else’s.

It’s been three months since my last post. When I wrote that post, I believed wholeheartedly that I’d have my real estate license by now, and I’d be working full time in sales. It was easily an attainable goal, until it wasn’t. By the end of November, it was clear that my husband needed to find a new job soon. On Christmas day, we got a huge wake-up call in the form of a major medical event on my side of the family. By the second week of January, the instability at my husband’s workplace came to a head, and we went from a single income to no income at all.

Dead end. Time to change directions.

Matt found a new job quickly. He started today, as a matter of fact, so he was unemployed for just one month. We did what we could to make the best of the situation. We tightened our budget and prepared ourselves for what could have been an extended period without a steady income. The fact that he was home during the day and able to shuttle our daughter back and forth to school between job interviews gave me an unexpected opportunity to spend a few precious days with my best friend, Jenn, before she moves to Reno, Nevada this month. As an added bonus, the eleven hours of solitude I had during the drive to and from Jenn’s current address in Kansas gave me a welcome opportunity to think, refocus, and reprioritize.

Real estate is my dream job, but unfortunately, it’s also a job for which you have to spend money to make money. The loss of Matt’s income made me realize that we’re not quite in a place where we can comfortably afford to finance the pursuit of my dream job. We have more important objectives to meet first.

So, the dream job is on hold for now. Losing our sole income, even if only briefly, made it clear that what we really need is multiple streams of income. The steadier, the better. Real estate hardly fits the bill as it provides sporadic income at best in the first year, yet the expenses are both immediate and steady.

Another change of direction.

I’ve resisted selling my jewelry for as long as I’ve been making it, but desperate times call for drastic measures: Door 44 Jewelry was launched on January 28th. I’ve also resisted going back to my old line of work, but there are times to do what you want to do, and there are times to do what you must.

Let’s see where this new road leads…

 

Going After the Dream Job

I don’t remember exactly when or how my love affair with houses began. Was it when I attended my first Parade of Homes with my mom when I was ten? Or was it when I bought my first house at twenty-three? Perhaps it started even earlier. After all, I grew up in a small town with some pretty spectacular old homes and architecturally significant buildings.

Whenever it started, it’s grown into a personal passion with very deep roots. Houses are infinitely fascinating to me because they say so much about the people who inhabit them. Materialistic people live in ostentatious homes. Humble people live in modest homes. Warmth and love are palpable in the homes of the kindest souls. A good interior designer can make any house look beautiful on the surface, but she can’t infuse a loveless home with warmth.

Being a life-long student of interpersonal relationships, I suppose it’s only natural that I’d be drawn to residential real estate. The truth of the matter is that I’ve wanted to be a real estate broker since I bought my first house nearly twenty-five years ago. Having been single for all but the last two of those years, however, I never felt secure enough financially to make the leap from a corporate job with a steady paycheck and benefits to being self-employed and wholly dependent on the feast-or-famine nature of a commission-based income.

Timing is everything, though, and the time is finally right for me to go after my dream job. Thanks to my incredibly supportive husband, Matt, I’ll soon be a licensed real estate broker.

I’ll be wholly focused on preparing for my licensing exams over the next few weeks, so you may not hear much from me between now and the end of the year. Once I do get my license, however, I look forward to sharing my experience with you.

Wish me luck!

Five Important Things I’ve Learned About Myself Since Getting Married

My husband Matt and I are celebrating our second wedding anniversary today. Our marriage has been a bit of a wild ride, thus far. Not in a bad way, but we’ve dealt with an awful lot of change in what seems to be (at least in theory) a pretty short span of time.

The following are a few surprising things I’ve learned about myself along the way:

I can cook!

I don’t mean that in the sarcastic sense that I can order takeout or heat up a processed box of chemicals that sort of resembles food. I mean I have a genuine knack for cooking delicious and healthy meals from scratch. Who knew?!

Cooking was never a priority for me while I was single. I regarded food largely as an inconvenient necessity that I had to address two or three times a day. Since getting married, though, I’ve discovered the joys of both cooking and eating. Dinners at the Reamys’ house are pretty spectacular.

I love being part of something greater than myself.

This one really wasn’t a huge revelation. I’ve always wanted to be part of something bigger. I’ve always been a company girl wherever I worked. I’ve always worked for the greatest good of whatever organization I was a part of at any point in my life. What’s always been missing, though, is the sense that my commitment was reciprocated.

It wasn’t until I married my husband that I fully understood what it means to be part of something bigger than myself. Before Matt, I knew what it was to be a cog in a machine, a means to an end, a decoration on an arm, and a crutch. With Matt, I’m finally part of something that really is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s pretty amazing. And a little daunting at times, which brings me to my next point.

I’m not as emotionally mature and rational as I like to think I am.

Not having good role models as a kid made for a pretty tumultuous start to my career. I was headstrong and inflexible; and being a naturally strong personality, I wasn’t always the easiest person to get along with. It took a few years and a lot of hard knocks for me to develop the emotional maturity necessary to work well in a professional environment, but I eventually learned how to keep my cool when dealing with difficult coworkers.

Dealing with my husband and stepdaughter are an entirely different ballgame, though. It’s easy to keep your cool with coworkers when you’re not emotionally vested in those relationships. Conflicts with people you love are infinitely more difficult to handle. Jobs will come and go, but the stakes are so much higher when the two most important relationships in your life depend on your ability to behave like an adult twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

I have a far greater capacity for love than I ever imagined.

I’ve been told all my life that I’m a selfish, self-absorbed, spoiled rotten brat. My own sis… um… a female relative who’s insisted she not be named on my “worldwide bully pulpit” called me a narcissist (among other poison barbs) recently. You hear those things often enough from people close to you, and you start to believe them. I’ve also been told that I’m not a team player by a few managers and supervisors in the past who didn’t like anyone challenging their authority.

Let me tell you something about those statements: they’re wake-up calls. That’s the universe telling you, in no uncertain terms, that it’s time to do some interpersonal housekeeping. We are social creatures by nature. Thus, it is our nature to love and to collaborate in ways that are mutually beneficial—not one sided. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

If someone accuses you of not being a team player, it’s because you’re on the wrong team. If someone close to you spews toxic venom without provocation, it’s because they’re so filled with self-hatred and rage that they’re incapable of love.

Walk away. Cut the cord, and give yourself permission to find the people you are meant to love—the ones who will love and appreciate you for who you are rather than who they need or want you to be. Find those people, and you will be amazed by your own capacity for love. You will undoubtedly discover, as I have, that to truly love and to be truly loved is an experience like no other. Finding it isn’t easy, but there’s no mistaking it once you do find your way back to the love that is your birthright.

I am incredibly blessed.

IMG_6633I always knew I’d ultimately marry the right man for me, but it took me a really long time to find him. Every time I walked away from someone I knew wasn’t The One, people would tell me that I’m too picky and that I’d never meet anyone who was perfect. They were wrong.

They were wrong in so many ways, I can’t begin to count them. Matt isn’t perfect. Neither am I, but we’re perfect for one another; and that makes all the difference. Thank God I trusted myself and chose to ignore the naysayers because it was my own intuition that lead me to my husband.

Great risk brings great reward, they say. It’s also true, then, that unwavering faith brings tremendous blessings.

Happy anniversary, Matt. I love you.

Mastering the Impetuous, Impulsive Id

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I grew up in an abusive home dominated by a violent alcoholic. Certain friends and family members have expressed concern (and in some cases, extreme displeasure), that I am “airing dirty laundry” here on my blog, and I get it. I understand their concern, and I respect their view. I share neither their concern nor their view, however. I believe that the only way to effectively address our darkest impulses and behaviors is to shine a light on them and examine them objectively.

I vividly recall a certain argument I once had with my (then) fiancé way back in 1995. I was just 25 years old at the time, and I’d very recently moved to Seward, Alaska to be with the man I planned to marry. The image of that argument is so clearly etched in my mind that I can literally close my eyes and watch the replay like a movie. Occasionally I’ll experience something in my present life that will bring that memory flooding back to the forefront of my mind.  I had one of those experiences yesterday, and that memory is now keeping me awake—compelling me to write about it at 3:48 AM.

We’d only been ‘home’ in Seward for three days after spending the three days prior driving from Fort Collins, CO to Alaska. The trip was extremely stressful, and I found myself continually on edge from the moment “Sam” (not his real name) arrived at Denver International Airport. We fought a lot on the drive to Alaska. We were completely out of synch with one another, and it seemed that the more we tried to get back in synch, the further out of phase we ended up. I finally resorted to sleep as a means of escape. The 3-day drive (which should really have taken more like 5-6 days) was mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausting. So much so that I was basically reduced to a petulant toddler ready to throw a raging tantrum at the slightest provocation.

My third day as a resident of Seward, AK was gloriously sunny and clear—a rarity in that tiny coastal town. I woke up that morning determined to get back on the same page with Sam, and we got off to a really good start. I made breakfast and promised to help him do some work in the yard as soon as I tidied up the kitchen. Meanwhile, he went out and washed my Bronco, which was still caked with mud and road grime from the long drive to Alaska. We were both clearly trying, and the bright sunny day seemed like a positive sign that things were going to be okay. Almost immediately after I joined Sam outside, however, the energy between us shifted back out of phase. We were stacking some wood together when my approach to the job prompted Sam to mildly criticize my technique. He wasn’t particularly tactful with his criticism, but he wasn’t malicious about it either. Yet, the fact that he had (what I assumed was) the audacity to criticize me at all ignited the hair-triggered temper I had back then, and I flew into a rage.

We both started shouting over one other, and then he suddenly lowered his voice and asked me, “Why are you so angry?” I was stunned silent because I didn’t have an answer to his question. I racked my brain to come up with a particular slight he’d made that was at the root of my rage, but I couldn’t pinpoint anything specific. So, with all the maturity and grace of a petulant toddler, I stormed off into the house and refused to speak to him for the rest of the day.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but that moment marked a major turning point in my life. It was in that moment that my quest to truly understand myself, my past, and the ways in which my upbringing influenced my behavior began. Until Sam stumped me with that very pointed question, I’d never seriously questioned my past or how it shaped me. Once the urgency to break away from my father’s tyranny had passed when I first moved 250 miles away from home, I naively assumed that I was free of my past. I later realized, of course, that I had a lot of work to do in order to shake the influence of my volatile father.

Things didn’t work out with Sam. We struggled to hold it together for about three months before we finally gave up and went our separate ways. When I reflect back on that experience, however, I’m incredibly grateful to him for asking me that crucially important question at a critical juncture in my life:

Why are you so angry?

Those words became sort of a mantra for me from that day forward. I began to monitor my moods and my behavior, and whenever I became aware that I might be overreacting to something trivial, I’d ask myself that question. Gradually I realize that the perceived slights that ignited my temper—someone cutting me off in traffic, a snarky remark from a coworker, bad service at a restaurant, etc.—were not worth the energy I gave them. Yet I still struggled to come up with an answer to that question. Why was I so angry, anyway?

To this day I can’t put my finger on it. The rage that I’d unconsciously internalized at some point in my life, and that I’d been blind to until Sam called it to my attention, couldn’t be tied to a specific person, place, or thing. The closest I ever came to identifying the root of my internal rage was acknowledging that I’d experienced more betrayals of trust than the average individual. I was betrayed by several family members in early childhood and later by friends, classmates and peers. My first boyfriend cruelly executed a malicious act of revenge against me that I think stunned even him once he realized how badly he’d wounded me. My discomfort with vulnerability can be clearly traced to that very specific event, but not my anger. So, where does the anger come from?

I don’t know. I spent years seeking a definitive answer to that question, but somewhere along the way I realized that it ultimately doesn’t matter. All that really does matter is that I’m willing and self-aware enough to ask myself that pointed question (which, to this day, I still hear in in Sam’s voice in my mind) in the heat of a moment so I can re-balance my perspective and behave accordingly.

Why are you so angry?

I’m able to recognize that the things that make me angry today aren’t big enough to allow my impetuous, impulsive id to throw a temper tantrum. And now that I’m a parent and a role model for a very perceptive preteen who grows more independent every day, I’m acutely aware that I may be influencing her through my own reactions to the perceived slights we all encounter daily on the road, at work, and in our daily interactions with random strangers.

The next time you find yourself seething with rage because someone cut in front of you in the checkout line or because they weren’t driving fast enough for you to make it through an intersection before the light turned yellow, ask yourself:

Why are you so angry?

I’ll bet you’ll learn that the answer to that question has nothing to do with the woman who cut in line or the driver who was more engaged in conversation with his passenger than he was with the act of driving at the moment you happened to be behind him. Like me, you may never be able to pinpoint a specific answer to that question, but in this instance, just asking the question is far more important than answering it.

Internalized anger is like a ticking time bomb waiting to explode at the slightest provocation. Take it from someone who survived the volatile temper of a raging alcoholic as a child and then spent a lifetime working to master her own impetuous, impulsive id as a result: get a grip on your internalized anger before it turns destructive.

Don’t allow it to hurt someone you love or to destroy your relationships. It’s just not worth it.

Three Steps to a Drama-Free Life

I’m ashamed to admit that there was a time in my life when I was addicted to drama. I’d stir it up in my relationships. I’d engage in it with gossipy coworkers and friends. I’d continually find ways to get myself spinning in drama just so I could complain about how drama seemed to dominate my life. 2005 marked a major turning point for me and my relationship with drama, however. That was the year I decided it was time to break the addiction before it completely destroyed my chances of living a happy and meaningful life.

Since then, I have been systematically eliminating all sources of drama from my life. De-dramatizing your life is easier than you might think, but it does require an unwavering commitment to your own peace of mind above all else. This is perhaps the biggest challenge because, as you work through the process, you’ll have to make the painful choice to break up with certain friends and family members who have probably been with you your entire life.

Step 1: Identify the Toxic People in Your Life

You may be surprised by how many toxic people you interact with on a daily basis, and it will undoubtedly be difficult to admit that those interactions are not serving you well. This is perhaps the hardest step of the process, but it’s absolutely necessary that you examine each and every relationship you have with friends, family, and coworkers to determine its level of toxicity.

This step also involves a considerable amount of introspection, so be prepared to discover the ways in which you either stir up the drama in your relationships or react when the toxic people in your life push your buttons. It’s not a pleasant process, I know, but it’s absolutely necessary if you hope to break free of this addiction.

Once you’ve identified the toxic relationships in your life, you’re ready to move on to the next step.

Step 2: Pick Your Poison

This step requires a tremendous amount of fortitude, but it’s absolutely crucial to your success. Once you’ve identified the toxic people in your life, it’s time to start sorting and prioritizing those relationships. You can do this any way you like, but I’m all about efficiency. As soon as I realized that I wanted–needed, actually–to break my addiction to drama, I sorted my relationships into two categories: salvageable and unsalvageable.

Harsh, you say? Absolutely, but this is serious business. Drama eats away at your soul. It distracts you from what’s really important, and it keeps you from achieving your full potential. It’s also the primary means through which cycles of abuse are perpetuated from one generation to the next. You owe it to yourself and especially to your children to break those cycles so you can be free to build healthier and happier home environments.

Step 3: Prune and Shape The Branches of Your Life

If you’re a gardener you no doubt understand the necessity of pruning and shaping if you want your garden to flourish. Your personal relationships create an environment not unlike a garden, so the analogy of pruning and shaping is a good one to apply here. It’s time to cut away the deadwood. For me, that means cutting my ties to those relationships in the unsalvageable category.

Pruning relationships with toxic acquaintances and those on the fringes of your inner circle is as easy as removing them from your contacts list or unfollowing them on Facebook. When it comes to your inner circle, however, you’ll have to make some very difficult choices. Some of those choices will be painful. Some may temporarily set you back professionally, but every toxic relationship you prune away will make space in the garden of your life for healthier and more fulfilling relationships to grow and flourish.

I’ve quit jobs where the management was unsupportive, ineffective, or oppressive. I’ve broken up with life-long friends as soon as I realized that our relationships were out of balance. In one case, it became plainly evident that an old high school “friend” never truly respected me or valued my friendship. In another case (and this one broke my heart) one of my oldest and dearest childhood friends mercilessly harassed and bullied a mutual acquaintance who came forward with allegations of sexual assault against one of our former teachers. I can’t tolerate bullies under any circumstances, but this situation was particularly intolerable because the bully knows the allegations are true, as do I.

Relatives, of course, can be particularly tricky to prune as these relationships are old growth. They’ve been a part of your life since birth, but the question you need to ask yourself is do they contribute to your wellbeing, or do they just bring stress and drama into your life?

My husband and I are approaching our two-year anniversary this fall, and these past two years have been perhaps the most enlightening years of my life. The remarkably healthy and fulfilling relationship I have with my husband and his family has forced me to critically examine the unhealthy and dysfunctional dynamics of my own family. And now that I am a parent, I’ve been forced to acknowledge that certain members of my family simply can not be trusted around my daughter.

In a perfect world, no relationship would be unsalvageable, but in the real world, you can only control one side of any relationship, and that’s your side. You can’t control the way that others behave, and if they’re determined to bully and abuse you, your only real choice is to cut the cord. This is essentially what I have been doing for the past two years. I’d already pruned most of the toxic friends and coworkers from my life when I started dating my husband in 2013, but it wasn’t until I became a parent that I found the strength to prune my familial relationships. There are two particularly angry and bitter bullies in my family with whom I had to cut off all contact for my own sake as well as for my daughter’s sake. One of those two is stubbornly resistant to letting go, but when her attempts to provoke me continue to be ignored, she’ll eventually move on to bullying more reactive members of our family.

Life it too short for drama. It’s one thing to heal or repair salvageable relationships, but there’s no honor in maintaining toxic relationships. There’s nothing to be gained by allowing yourself to be the target for someone’s bitterness or repressed rage. Your children don’t stand to gain anything from witnessing abusive family dynamics, or worse, by being targeted by abusive family members. Sometimes choosing to walk away is the healthiest choice you can make. And for all their howling and righteous indignation, even those you choose to walk away from recognize that truth.

Shape and prune the garden of your life, and watch it flourish.

 

Selective Compassion

I heard a great phrase today: selective compassion.

These words resonate with me for a couple of reasons. First of all, I have to admit that I’m guilty of selective compassion. I have a strong tendency to identify with those I feel are innocent victims of circumstance—children, the elderly, animals, etc. Compassion for the innocent comes easily and naturally to me. I am far less inclined to feel compassion for grown adults whose circumstances are purely the result of their personal choices, however. This is perhaps most evident in my lack of compassion for The Ex.

The second reason selective compassion resonated with me today is because my last two blog posts were met with highly irrational and verbally abusive responses from an angry reader. This reader left a long, rambling response to one of those blog posts. I moderate all initial comments from readers, and I chose not to approve this particular response for publication because I don’t feel it adds any value to the conversation. I did respond to the comment privately, however, and my reply was met with more bitterness and hatefulness. Among other things, this angry reader (who is not The Ex, in case you’re wondering) accused me of being a narcissist and a lousy parent.

Being the introspective sort, I’ve given a great deal of thought to these accusations. I’ve examined them from every angle in order to determine if there’s any truth to those remarks. Although I’m far from perfect, I am definitely not a narcissist. On the contrary, I was consistently cast in the role of Echo to many a Narcissus prior to meeting my husband, Matt. My attraction to men who couldn’t love me was actually the subject of many therapy sessions during my late 20s and early 30s. Even though I know I’m not a narcissist by any stretch of the definition, being accused as such stung nonetheless.

As for the quality of my parenting, I’ve questioned this myself in an earlier blog post. I am nowhere near perfect in that role, either. I have so much to learn, and I’ll be the first to admit that I struggle with parenting daily. It’s easy to believe that I am a “lousy parent” because I already doubt myself in that regard, but it’s much too early to make any firm conclusions about my parenting. I’ve only been a full-time parent for just over one year, after all. By all indications, however, my husband and I seem to be doing a pretty good job thus far.

Over the course of the past year, our daughter seems increasingly happier and more confident. She’s blossomed socially and makes friends more easily than ever. She went from testing a full grade below her current level in math to testing a grade and a half above her current level. She’s found an outlet for her passion for music in the cello, which is in turn helping her develop the ability to commit to goals and the work ethic to achieve them. It’s impossible to say at this point how successful my daughter will ultimately be or how much of her future success can ever be attributed to my influence. It is reasonable to conclude, however, that these are not the sort of results typically achieved with lousy parenting.

As I’ve processed these deeply personal and hateful attacks on my character, the most dominant emotion I’ve felt toward my accuser is anger. Today, though, I realized that selective compassion is what allowed that anger to take root in the first place. The moment I recognized myself as someone who doles out compassion discriminately, the anger dissipated. Likewise, the moment I recognized selective compassion in my accuser, her words lost any power to hurt me.

The next time someone tries to provoke you, ask yourself where compassion fits into the picture. Are you choosing to forgo compassion by engaging in their drama? Are they choosing to forgo compassion with their provocative words or actions? Chances are, the answer to both questions is a resounding yes. That is certainly true in my experience with the Angry Reader.

I don’t know how consistently or universally I can really expect to feel compassion for others, but expanding the depth and breadth of my compassion is something I plan to consciously work on now that I understand how quickly and easily compassion neutralizes drama.

You Can’t (Always) Pick Your Own Relatives

One of my all-time favorite movies is The Man From Snowy River, and one of my favorite lines from that movie comes toward the end of the film when young “Jessica” learns that she has an uncle she’s never met before. “Spur”, played by Kirk Douglas, chuckles and says, “One of life’s injustices: you can’t pick your own relatives.”

I’m not ordinarily one to remember movie dialogue, which often frustrates my husband when he drops a well-timed comedic line from a movie only to be met with a blank stare from me. Yet this one line has always stuck with me because, in a way, I’ve always felt like I somehow ended up in the wrong family. Like I never quite fit in with my own relatives.

I think most of us feel this way to some degree. Pretty much everyone I know has felt like a stranger in their own home at some point or another—usually during our teenage years when it seems that no one could possibly understand what we’re going through. For some of us, though, that feeling is more persistent. For me, it’s the main driver behind my fascination with human relationships.

Relationships are the ultimate puzzle for me. Why do some work beautifully while others are disastrous? How is it that two people, such as my husband and me, who are generally regarded as “difficult” manage to get along perfectly? What is it about certain personalities that rub others the wrong way? What is it about other personalities that draws people to them like moths to a flame?

I’ve been a student of human relationships for as far back as I can remember. I clearly recall discussing world history with my mom when I was about 8-years-old in terms of children on a playground jockeying for the uppermost position on the monkey bars until only one could shout from the top, “I am King of the Hill!” My mom thought my explanation was clever. My teacher? Not so much.

Well into my adult years—until I married my husband, really—my view of relationships didn’t change much from that early impression of kids fighting for control of the monkey bars.  I still saw relationships as primarily competitive and adversarial. More frustrating than fulfilling. Hence, hardly worth the effort to cultivate. Even with such a negative view of relationships, though, I’ve still managed to meet several people with whom I share collaborative, rewarding, and mutually beneficial relationships. I have some amazing friends, and I couldn’t possibly ask for a better partner than my husband.

After receiving a scathing response to my last blog post from my sister a female relative who shall never be mentioned again lest her identity be inadvertently revealed on my “worldwide bully pulpit”, I’ve been carefully examining why certain people relate to me so easily while others are unlikely to ever understand where I’m coming from. My conclusion? Fear.

Fear of what, is the million dollar question. Fear of vulnerability? The truth? Facing one’s demons? Fear of the unknown, perhaps? For a very, very long time, I was afraid of vulnerability. My trust was brutally betrayed by someone I loved deeply once. I was just sixteen years old at the time, and it took decades (not to mention seven years of talk therapy) for me to regain a healthy level of comfort with vulnerability, so I can at least relate to that particular fear. I’ve never been afraid of the truth, however. Lies are infinitely more destructive. As for my demons, I faced them during those seven years of talk therapy, too. They’ve since been reduced to harmless caricatures from my past. Every now and again I’ll cross paths with one of them, and I’m reminded of how ridiculous they are once exposed to light. It’s hard to believe now that any of them ever had the power to manipulate me. And the unknown? Well, I’ve always been more curious about that than afraid of it.

What is it, then, that people are afraid of when it comes to relationships? Seriously, what do we have to lose by being vulnerable with one another, or by being honest? What do we have to gain by keeping our demons securely locked in the deepest, darkest recesses in our minds? In a word, nothing. Yet, so many of the people we interact with on a daily basis would rather die a slow, painful death than reveal their innermost thoughts and feelings to their friends, family, or coworkers. It’s no wonder, then, that my writing elicits such a fearful response from certain people. I am, after all, an open book.

I was born into a place of fear. I have certain memories from my childhood of being so afraid of being physically beaten that I peed my pants. It didn’t happen frequently, but it happened well into my teens. Until I was sixteen, as a matter of fact. And then someone else—my first love—wounded me emotionally so deeply and profoundly that my father’s rage and the threat of physical pain paled in comparison from that point forward.

There’s still some truth to that statement that you can’t pick your own relatives. My father and I are unlikely to ever be friends, but he’ll always be my father. The same can be said for most of my birth family. The majority of them are still as mysterious and puzzling to me as they ever were. It’s unlikely that I’ll commit the time and energy necessary to get to truly know or understand them at this point in my life, but that doesn’t negate the fact that we’re related. Fortunately, I’ve managed to find my people along the circuitous path my life has taken—the ones who really do know and understand me.

There’s the family you’re born into, and then there’s the family you choose. If they’re one and the same (as with my husband’s family), count your blessings; but even if they’re not you’re still blessed. My chosen “relatives” are scattered from Alaska to Germany, presently, so I don’t get to see or speak to them frequently. Just knowing that they’re there and that they’ll be happy to hear from me when I do get a chance to call or write is comforting, though. And then there’s the family I chose when I married my amazing husband. They’re a fearless bunch, and I adore them all the more for their willingness to tackle the hard topics head on and hash them out around the kitchen table.

Something I’ve learned firsthand over the past several years is that the human capacity for love is ultimately defined by our willingness to confront the things that scare us. Those who are afraid to explore the depths of their own souls will never know true love because it can’t be found on the surface, or even near the surface, for that matter. You can’t fully recognize or appreciate light until you’re comfortable in the dark. And because love comes from deep within, the only way to tap into it is to dive into the deepest, darkest recesses of your mind, heart, and soul. Trust me, the truth that you’ll find there isn’t nearly as scary as you think it will be. The lies you’ve been told and the lies you’ve told yourself are infinitely worse because they keep you stuck in superficial relationships where true love doesn’t exist.

Don’t let fear keep you from knowing yourself and the ones you love. And if the ones you love can’t let go of their fear, perhaps it’s time for you to make different choices.

Change Management

The only constant any of us can really count on these days is change. We Reamys have been in a state of flux since last July when my husband’s ex-wife was suddenly struck with a serious medical condition. We had to scramble to move my stepdaughter into our home and enroll her in a new school in our local district. Virtually overnight I went from being a weekend warrior to a full-time mom.

Luckily, my stepdaughter is an easy kid to love. She’s wickedly smart and funny, just like her father. She has a sunny disposition, and as an only child, she’s mature for her age. And the icing on the cake? She’s every bit as horse crazy as I am. I truly hit the stepchild jackpot—I couldn’t ask for a better daughter. Still, it’s taken every bit of the past nine months for me to get a handle on this new parenting gig.

Being a wife is easy. Being a stepmom is perhaps the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced. When I look back on my life, though, it’s easy to see that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. I’ve been preparing for this role for most of my life.

None of us grow up in a perfect environment. If even a small percentage of us did, I suspect the world would be a very different place. The environment in which I was raised was volatile, to say the least. My father is a violent alcoholic with an explosive temper and a hair trigger. My mom did her best to take care of us, and against all odds, she managed surprisingly well. I am continually amazed by her determination and resilience, but even the strongest among us can’t endure sustained abuse for long without becoming permanently scarred.

My most significant advantage in life is the fact that I am the youngest member of my family. My two siblings are five and six years older than me. Our age difference gave me the opportunity to watch and learn in ways that I never fully appreciated until I became a parent. I learned to see how my family members interacted, for better or worse, and I carefully observed the choices my parents and siblings made. By witnessing the consequences of their actions, I was able to make better choices for myself. I was mostly spared the trouble of learning things the hard way, though I’ve had my share of hard knocks.

Basically, I learned to navigate the world by observing others for examples of what not to do. How not to behave. Which choices not to make. Which company not to keep. Negative examples were pretty much all I had to work with, but rather than emulating those examples, I sought out more positive alternatives. And that has made all the difference.

It’s been over two months since I’ve published a blog post. I’ve had so much to say during that hiatus, and I’ve drafted more than a few unpublished posts. You see, the biggest change we Reamys have experienced in these past few months is that my husband and I were awarded permanent custody of our daughter after what was possibly the shortest, if not the least contentious, custody battle in the history of Colorado. It took just 45 days from initial motion to signed court order, but it’s taking much longer than that to fully process my emotions. For my daughter’s sake, I’ve chosen to keep my thoughts about how all of this went down private. All she really needs to know is that she is dearly loved, safe, and secure. She’s a very perceptive child, though. I suspect she’s fully aware of so much more than that.

We’ve all been on an emotional rollercoaster for the past several weeks. I am at once elated that we won full custody of our daughter and heartbroken that we had to enter that battle in the first place. I’ve struggled to overcome my prejudices toward her mother only to learn new information that reaffirms them.

I’ve held my tongue while enduring unsolicited advice from people who know nothing of our situation. My sister tried to shame me for suggesting that my daughter is better off with my husband and me than with her mom. She’s never even met my daughter or my husband’s ex-wife. She’s only met my husband on two very brief occasions, for that matter, but that didn’t stop her from sticking her nose into our business.

My mother-in-law, bless her heart, wants everyone to simply get along and resolve things amicably. She still thinks of The Ex as family. I don’t. Frankly, I resent the suggestion that I should embrace and befriend someone who openly and blatantly disrespects my husband. Part of the reason we sought custody in the first place is because The Ex was manipulating our daughter’s feelings about everything from her school to my husband and me in very destructive and dangerous ways. I’ve worked hard to free myself from the emotional abusers and manipulators of my past, so I’m not about to invite another one into my life, give her free rein to challenge my husband’s authority in his own household and to chip away at our daughter’s self-esteem.

All of this has put my change management skills to the ultimate test. I’ve had to scrape up every ounce of tact and diplomacy I could muster to deal with the unsolicited and unhelpful opinions of others. Empathizing with my daughter is easy because I remember clearly what it’s like to be a child with no real control or autonomy. Standing by my husband and fully supporting the decision to fight for custody was easy because it was so clearly the right choice. Figuring out how to finance that fight was another significant test of my change management skills, but I effectively pulled that off, too. Who knew that all those years of being a corporate drone would ultimately pay off in such a strange and unexpected way? A lifetime of dysfunctional family dynamics and couple of decades of experience in the business world turned out to be the perfect training ground for becoming an empathetic wife and mother.

My daughter is too young to fully understand the significance of this year, but her ability to think critically grows daily. Someday she’ll look back on this year and realize that it’s the year she reclaimed her childhood. Perhaps more importantly, I think she’ll recognize that this was the year in which she finally started getting the sort of parental support and guidance necessary to achieve her full potential. She already has bigger dreams today than she had a year ago, and I look forward to watching her dreams continue to expand and evolve.

Change is good. It’s not always easy, but nothing grows without it. The past couple of months have been both mentally and emotionally exhausting for all three of us, but I am so very grateful for this experience because it’s opened the door to some fabulous opportunities for our little family.

Change is inevitable. Embrace it. And if someone you know is going through a significant life change, allow them to embrace it–even if you can’t. Navigating change is difficult enough without some well-meaning (or perhaps not-so-well-meaning) friend or relative trying to keep you bound to a person, place, or thing from which you are ready to break free.

Change is benevolent. I haven’t always believed that to be true, but the events of this past year have convinced me, once and for all, that things really do have a way of working out for the greatest good.