perspective

You Can’t Make Me

Parenting and life lessons. My youngest is a senior in high school. With two twenty-somethings, I have had some practice letting go of the reins with my kids. I might be a little more chill about their decisions these days, but that hasn’t come without a lot of years of frustration.

I remember when one of my kids was talking to someone on social media that they shouldn’t be. Waking up at all hours, endlessly glued to the screen. This was many years ago, when it wasn’t quite so usual for everyone to be attached to their screens all the time. After trying so many things, taking away the phone, taking away other privileges, and talking until I was out of talk, I still caught that child up at 3 am, on an old “lost” device, talking to this person they shouldn’t be. Again.

I remember my rage and frustration so clearly, in the middle of that night, and the wide eyes of my kid, completely unmoved by my temper. The look said “you can’t make me.”

There may be few things as frustrating to a parent than the realization that no, you really can’t make them do anything. Not without mental / physical injury or breaking the law. Oh, I wanted to wring that child’s neck that day, but I didn’t. And I remember that “you can’t make me” moment so well.

I remember the time I gave it to my own parents, too. I was running around with a much older crowd, lying about where I was. They went to the place where I said I was one night, I wasn’t there, and then confronted me when I arrived home. I got the lecture, and the “promise you won’t do that again” ultimatum. But I looked straight at my father and told him I couldn’t promise him that. And I am sure, in that moment, when I was supposed to promise, whether or not I meant it, he must have wanted to wring my sassy teenage neck as well. (Sorry, Mom and Dad! Wish you were here so I could apologize to your faces.)

In my adult life, this lesson has smacked me in the face many times. No matter what, you really can’t make people do anything. When you’re left out of a social gathering. When people make decisions that you disagree with or take you further from each other. So many little daily things that happen that may seem puzzling or even hurtful. Here’s what I’ve come to realize:

You can’t make people spend time with you. You can’t even make them want to. People are fickle and messy and unpredictable. You can’t make people thoughtful or considerate. They are or they aren’t, and this changes from one day to the next. Most people aren’t sitting around thinking about how they can make me feel left out or unwanted. Most people are too self-centered to even have that thought. (Or maybe they do, but I’ve realized it’s not productive for me to obsess over other people’s hurtful actions.)

If you have someone who cares about you and thinks of you, cherish that in the moment it happens. Thoughtful moments are rare and to be treasured. If someone thinks of you repeatedly, that is truly special. Enjoy it. Relish it.

In the end it is all just data. I just know what I’ve learned from what I observe.

Everything and everyone is optional. Most people and things will eventually move on. When you change your circumstances, it’s inevitable that things and people change. That probably sounds callous. Maybe it’s the stoic reading I’ve done that makes it a little less personal.

Change doesn’t make the people you’ve moved on from less important. Life takes us all kinds of places and there are only so many hours in a day, a month, a year, a lifetime. It just makes every present moment more special. Time and attention are finite resources for each of us. If we can’t make anyone do anything, how are we spending those precious fleeting moments?

change, family

Beth and Liz

My full name, Elizabeth, can morph into many nicknames.

I began as Beth. That was my family name, my toddler name. My first name.

My parents loved to tell the story of going to first grade curriculum night. We had moved and changed schools. It was a few weeks into the school year and my parents went to meet the teacher. She asked my parents who their child was. My parents said “Beth.” My teacher said she didn’t have a Beth in her class. They put two and two together and figured out I was now Elizabeth.

Looking back, I wonder why I didn’t correct her. Was I not confident in that time of great change? Or was I ready to be someone new? Who knows what went through my 6 year old mind. But from then on, through elementary school up to 7th grade, I was Elizabeth.

Elizabeth followed me as I moved to Catholic school. But somewhere along the line, I started going by Liz to my friends. Again, I can’t be sure what my 13-year-old self was thinking. I’m pretty sure I thought Liz was cooler than Elizabeth. Honestly, who knows? But I knew the transformation was official when they started putting “Liz” on my report cards. I remember being surprised, but I went with it. Liz followed me through high school, college, and up into my twenties. Liz was a drum major and kind of emo in high school. Liz wore tights and steel-toed patent leather boots on non-uniform days. In college, Liz started drinking and smoking. Liz was a moody philosophy major. My Dad said Liz walked around with a little black could over her head.

After college, Liz was later a kindergarten teacher by day, a waitress / bartender by night. Liz walked 60 miles over three days to raise money for cancer research. Liz lost 100 pounds. Liz supported her parents through her Dad’s cancer fight. Liz met the man who would become her husband and the toddlers who would become her kids.

At age 29, I walked down the aisle and along with adding a new last name, I decided I would now go by Beth again. I just didn’t feel like a Liz anymore. Silly to some, I am sure, but my parents had never stopped calling me Beth, so maybe that’s why it felt like settling in to who I really am / was / would be.

In the nearly 20 years since I became Beth again, I’ve still continued to evolve. Beth is the mother of 3 now-adultish kids. Beth earned her PhD. Beth has gained 140 pounds, had a kid and lost 150. Beth quit smoking and drinking. Beth completed a half marathon and a triathlon. Beth has written books and owns a farm.

After a life with so many stages, there are people who call me by all different names. I have Elizabeth as my facebook profile since that seems to capture everything.

My father-in-law still calls me Liz most of the time. At a recent family celebration, he was passing the bottle of red wine around the table. When he got to me, he said “Liz, would you like some wine?” and for some reason I just thought, Liz would have, but Beth doesn’t do that anymore. Later that week, the conversation came up at work about going home to have a drink after a long day. The same thought occurred to me. Liz would have cracked open a drink right away. Beth is going to write or go for a walk or do something to make her feel accomplished. I just told my colleagues that I don’t drink but I’ll think of a good way to unwind. They stared with no response, then moved on from that topic.

Some will say that Liz was more fun than Beth. Maybe they are right. I guess it depends on what you think fun really means. Liz was definitely a whole lot more interested in pleasing others. Making other people comfortable. Liz also sought ways to escape herself, her thoughts, her confusion. Over time, Beth has become settled in swimming against the tide and approving of herself. Beth carries along her Dad’s encouragement to be smart, to stand out, to celebrate herself, and even to rail against gender stereotypes about what girls can do and be good at.

Beth feels settled in her skin more often that not, and that is something to celebrate no matter what you call her.

dare to be different, fitness and nutrition

Sense of Direction

It’s true, I’m getting older.

As I age, I notice that certain things are starting to deteriorate. Today’s example: my sense of direction.

When I was young, I would read Atlanta’s Creative Loafing newspaper every Thursday or Friday. I’d check out the list of festivals, events, art openings, even new music releases, and make my weekend plans. I’d pull out my mom’s Atlanta road atlas and set on my coordinate spree to map my weekend adventures. From these jaunts week after week, year after year, I got to know my way around Atlanta inside and out.

These days, I can hardly find my way around my little suburb without waze or google maps. If I’m somewhere without service, I get nervous and often guess the wrong direction. Such a change. It may not just be due to aging. Maybe more a combination of getting older and over reliance on technology. Still not a change I like, no matter the cause.

I spent the past week in a confusing condo building. Actually there were two buildings connected by bridges and corridors. There was also a parking garage. None of the connecting floors had the same number. Walk through a hallway from one building’s first floor and suddenly, without stairs or elevators, you’re on another building’s third. The garage was a totally different mess. I felt lost and disoriented much of the week.

After a couple of morning condo workouts, I went to the gym one evening to make sure I could find it from our room. The next morning I spent a half hour with dumbbells in the gym. After I was done, I decided to test myself and make my way back to the condo from the gym using stairs instead of the path I already knew.

I walked into the stairwell. When I opened the door, I was surprised to find an old man, slightly hunched over, standing at the bottom of the stairs. He was short with groomed gray hair. He wore a cotton t-shirt, athletic pants and tennis shoes. He was there to exercise. He smiled at me.

Good morning, I said.

Are you still moving every day? he said,

Yes sir, I replied. I want to be sure I can move for as long as I can, so I try to do it first thing every day.

Good for you, he replied. I do the exact same thing. Keep it up. It’s so important.

And with that, one floor up, I walked out of the stairwell. He kept walking up the stairs. Up. Up. Up. Moving. Ascending.

It was like the (living) ghost of Christmas Future. Letting me know that taking time to move, for me, is what will keep me moving long term. I can feel confident when I get up and make my physical and mental health a priority each day. What others think of it is none of my business. My approval is what is required.

Did I find my way back to the condo? Happily, yes. And taking that different path gave me unexpected landmarks and signs. I’m heading in the right direction. It was a roadmap to the future I am heading toward, nimble and purposeful.

challenges

Profound Moments

Sometimes change is good. Sometimes change represents turbulence. Sometimes change is just what we need.

Turbulent times is reflective of my past 48 hours. I won’t recap all the proud moments, but rather share a glimpse as part of being honest with life. Change is in the air whether I like it or not.

Death. The loss of a family pet. Over 12 years of life on earth is a solid age for our pet. She experienced life. She moved with us. She made memories and put smiles on the faces of many. She outlived health challenges and life expectancy on her end as well as offered support to others during health scares.

She was a replacement dog of sorts. One that greatly resembled a dog that passed too soon when the kiddos were young. She quickly became more than a fill in dog. She was a family member. From the long drive to pick her up to laying her to rest. We will cherish the memories. We were so lucky to have a dog like Lucky.

Goodbyes. Family came to visit. The first visit in what seems like years due to the pandemic and other environmental conditions. So much of the family dynamics had changed.

People age. People re-marry. Kids become adults. The visits of yesterday no longer resemble the visits of today. Nonetheless time together is refreshing. Goodbyes are never easy. Sometimes even emotional. Goodbye today leads to hellos again soon.

Change. Time for change. I’m opting to change my scenery in a portion of life. A shift of sorts but a kickstart in another way. With this decision amidst my turbulence I confirmed a change is good. Not one specific reason rather the time is good. There may never be a perfect time for change but if change feels good one needs to own it. Changes spurs growth. I’m always ready to grow. Stepping outside your comfort zone normally yields the biggest results.

Technology. Ugh the phone died. A lifeline gone. A necessity in today’s world. The changing of a phone however is the one change in life I loathe. Transferring contacts. Making sure all email accounts are synced. Do I remember all the passwords that need to be re-entered? So many details. So much time wasted reassembling my technology life that all seems to fit in the tiny phone. The tiny little phone. My life is condensed to this tiny little phone. Sigh.

When I actually think of how much information is in this little device I just shake my head in disbelief. Despite the disbelief there is so much value tucked away inside the little box of sorts. I am very thankful for the photo reel that takes up residency on my phone. Or in the cloud, accessed by my phone. All 19,000 pictures. It always allows me to revisit memories from hours ago to years ago. A simple scroll that is crucial at times. Technology wins despite temporary inconveniences.

Struggle. Facing adversity head on. Discussing difficult issues openly vs. sweeping them under the carpet. Sometimes this is good for the soul. Other times it’s a struggle for reasons x,y,z. Either way I faced my challenge head on. I waited patiently to discuss issues when emotions were not high. Options were weighed. Life moves on.
Turbulent times may weigh us down from time to time. Turbulent times offer opportunities to grow and learn. Through life struggles, lessons always appear. For today I’m happy to have turbulent times. This equates to living in my eyes. This post is dedicated to lady Lucky and all the bones and treats she enjoyed in her years on earth.

celebrations, family

Last Time for Everything

Country music isn’t necessarily my favorite, but I listen to it pretty often since my youngest daughter is a fan. I have a handful of artists I admire. Miranda, Maren, Dolly, and then there’s Brad. Brad Paisley. He may not have the most soaring lyrical voice, but his lyrics are witty, smart, and insightful.

Just a few weeks ago, my youngest daughter, the country girl, started her farewell tour, her victory lap, her senior year of high school. Tomorrow we will leave on a 10-day road trip bookended by two lacrosse tournaments, sandwiched around reunions with family, roller coasters, beautiful scenery and other adventures. Time with friends, time with each other, time doing new things, time doing what she loves.

It’s her last hurrah of youth. Last summer playing travel lacrosse. It won’t be long until senior year begins with all its fanfare and festivities. College choices will be made. Dreams will turn to plans.

And so begins a season of lasts. Here’s where Brad comes in with Last Time for Everything. It’s a song that plays over and over in my head. Last time hitting the road to the northeast. Last time taking the field. Last Spring Break. Last, last, last…

Some I will see coming. Some will catch me off guard. Some I will be prepared for. Many I won’t even notice until they are gone and done.

Sure, she will always be my baby. Just like the older two, she will always come home and open the refrigerator and look for her favorites. Bring her laundry and her dog. Get some advice on how to fix her car or choose insurance or ask questions about saving money. Maybe she’ll even curl up and take a nap while someone is cooking in the kitchen like I did at my parents’ house. Even after I was long gone, it was a safe place to just relax and be taken care of for a bit.

So I will enjoy each moment with her as she prepares to take a step out on her own. I will try not to overthink it and get ahead of myself, but instead just be in the moment, relishing this last trip around her childhood sun, all her hard work, ups and downs, accomplishments, and celebrations.

May I treasure this sweet season of lasts while it lasts.