Voice From the Grave

When you lose someone, I suspect, there is always a part of you that feels a bit empty but there are times in my life that the loss of my Dad, all those years ago, brings to surface a certain longing that sucks me down this black hole of emotion. It seems to happen mostly during the big life moments. My marriage, the birth of all three of my children, watching my brother struggle with alcoholism. In all of these moments, I have pleaded to have my Dad beside me for help, support, and comfort. And all of those moments have been answered with a lot of nothing. dad_toombstone_updatesThis does not mean I can’t find solace in his memory or even hear his voice being gentle and supportive with that southern twang he never quite lost. I can see his eyes welling up with tears out of joy, or pride, or pain. He was a man full of emotion which allowed this girl to feel normal and loved in all of mine. This last couple of years have been particularly hard in feeling his loss and I’m not quite sure why. It could be watching my own husband reach and pass the age of 51, which was the young age that we lost him. It could also be the struggle with losing my Mom, in a different way, as she battles dementia these last few years. The connection to my past seems to be more and more out of reach and I crave to ask my Dad questions and learn about him in a different way than you know your parents when you’re a child. I was 23 when I lost my Dad, still relatively self-absorbed and focused on myself. I wasn’t ready to really “know” my parents and my Dad and I were trying to repair a relationship that was damaged with divorce and remarriage and a move that put him thousands of miles from where I needed him to be. I was sad and angry but even in those years, all I really wanted was to know that I had his love and support. For as stubborn as I am he did his best to show me, relentlessly, that he loved me. I took it for granted at 15 when he wrote to me regularly. Telling me details of his life in Atlanta and his wish for me to be more a part of it all. He tried calling me all the time but this was before cell phones and we often didn’t connect due to my busy teenage schedule. He did his best under difficult circumstances but I held him in contempt and missed out on being present in the relationship.

I didn’t understand the true measure of his attempts to connect with me until I went to my Mom’s house this summer to stay with her while Frank, her husband, made a trip out of town. They had some water damage that forced all their belongings out of storage and revealed my past in two cardboard boxes. I hadn’t looked at the contents of these boxes for almost 30 years, so I was like a kid in a candy story riffling through all the archives of my high school years. There are mixed tapes, cards from ex-boyfriends, journals and the most precious find of them all, every letter my Dad wrote to me while I still lived with my Mom from 1988-1992. I started to read each one, taking it in like warm tea on a cold winter morning. Once I started I couldn’t stop. I was up most of the night reading each one, crying and laughing and remembering things that happened so long ago it felt like I was learning about them for the first time. I’ve always struggled with memory and this opened up a world that helped me understand just how much my Dad cared and how intentional he was about communication. One of the more interesting finds was a short story that my Dad wrote in 1993 titled “Carl”. 49721842_10218786521193368_7734946529105936384_nI remember him sending this to me in my first year of college and I knew it was about the famous “Carl” in his life. Carl was the son of his foster parents. He had died at the young age of 21 in the Korean War and I always understood, without much information, that my Dad admired him in a way that I couldn’t quite grasp based off of the limited 4-5 years that my Dad would know him as a young child. I also found the oldest book I’ve ever read wrapped in a plastic bag. It was a book I found in the old farmhouse where my Dad grew up. The house was located in the East Texas countryside between towns so small they no longer exist. The title of the book is “Digging for Gold” by Horatio Alger Jr., who died in 1899 so I assume this copy is from the mid-1800s and is falling apart at this point that I’m not sure I could read it now. But I remember reading it many years ago when I was about 12 and bored out of my mind in the quiet East Texas world. I wasn’t able to finish the book during the visit so Sister told me I could keep it. Sister was the woman that raised my Father, since the age of three. Everyone referred to her by this name based on her being the oldest sister of a large family. 49439872_10218786956884260_5904518006846783488_nI only knew her as my Grandmother and didn’t connect all the complicated dots until I was much older. She was gentle and kind and the type of Grandmother anyone would be lucky to have. I’ve been explaining why I called her this for forty years but the details of why Sister and Uncle Fred, as we called my Grandfather, were the keepers of my Dad’s childhood were never clear to me. I knew my paternal Grandmother was mentally ill and I knew my paternal Grandfather was a traveling hat salesman that enjoyed the company of women. So much that he married 6 or 7 of them. But that was about all that I really knew about why my Father was not raised by his birth parents. This photo was taken in 1958 when my Dad was 12 with the people that raised my Dad and his brother Hayden as their own. I will be eternally grateful for their gift of love and sacrifice that helped shape the man that would eventually raise me.

But it wasn’t until this weekend that I took the time to sit down and read the short story, titled “Carl”, that my Dad had written 25 years ago. It’s about the man that he considered a brother because of his kind nature and the connection to the people that my Dad would consider his parents due to his own being absent and unwilling to care for him. The story begins with a scene that’s right out of a movie. My Dad recalling what only a 3-year-old can recall of a night that would alter his life forever. A drive in the middle of the night to Dallas where he watched his “Daddy” hand over his newborn baby sister to strangers after holding her for many hours in one arm while driving with the other. His big brother, Hayden, in the front seat, until they stopped and his Grandpa Tommy entered the car forcing Hayden, at the age of 7, to move to the back with my Dad. They drove for another long distance all in the dark to finally reach a farmhouse where people my Dad had never seen would create a gentle distraction for a crying 3-year old by introducing him to a very gentle man named Carl.49512314_10218786956964262_5504168892412461056_n  The next morning he would wake with no sign of his Father in this new and strange place. It’s a wrenching childhood tale that many of us could never imagine. I think how fortunate in some way that my Dad was so young and unaware of all the details surrounding the need to be sent off to live with distant relatives. I do know based on the few things my Dad told me and the gift of this short story that this moment significantly shaped my Dad and also haunted him for his life. This picture makes me smile as I see my Dad and Hayden strike the same pose that Carl has. It tells the story of admiration and respect in the truest form. Carl was about 18 in this photo but looks much older than that based on a life of working a farm. He would soon head many thousands of miles away to fight for our country in Korea and come home once and then go back to Korea but still only come home once.

Reading my Father’s short story almost feels like I’m in the room with him listening to him tell me for himself. He was a man of words and loved to write. In his letters, I was always taken back by his ability to paint a picture and bring you into his world like you were right there. Reading “Carl”, was this on steroids. There is so much clarity about the details of what had happened with my Dad in those early years.  What I don’t hear in the story is the true impact of all these details so long ago. I still yearn to ask my Dad how things made him feel and how he overcame some of these challenges. But I know that ship has sailed so I relish in the moment with what I have. One of the deepest connections that my Dad and I had was our love of horses. I could listen to him tell me childhood horse stories from the farm for hours. When I was 10 my Dad bought me my first horse. A commitment he had made to me a year earlier. A year later we would purchase a second horse and spend hours with these animals caring for them and riding them on the Colorado plains. It was the most magical part of my childhood hands down. He always talked about a special horse, Lightfoot. 49464984_10218786956844259_1337364855044177920_nLightfoot was Carl’s horse that produced two colts but was quite small very old by the time my Dad came along. But because this horse was Carl’s horse, as a boy, it became the topic and thread for many stories. It was the first horse my Dad would sit on, as you see in this picture, when he was three and he would watch this horse die long after Carl did in the war. Lightfoot was the start of my Dad’s love for horses which would eventually be passed on to me. This part of the story was already known to me since we talked about horses all the time and his love for this one specifically. But somehow reading it in this story brought it back to life and helped me feel close to my Dad once again.

There were many things in the story I didn’t know. I didn’t know that my Dad worked at a lumber yard at 15 or the picture show when he was 16. I didn’t know how gentle Uncle Fred was or how protective Sister was. I didn’t know that Carl was killed by a grenade in a foxhole and I didn’t know he had made it home to visit between deployments, as we would call them today. I didn’t know that during the hardest economic years when the country was funding the war that Uncle Fred would work in a munitions plant to earn wages since the farm was not earning enough to survive. 49592479_10218786957644279_2564728738575024128_nI did know that my Dad was curious and stubborn and one of the best athletes to ever grace the East Texas countryside. He loved many sports but football the most and eventually he would become captain of the high school football team. That’s a big deal in Texas ya’ll;-) I also knew my Dad was college bound as a way to transform his life into something different. In the story, I learned so many things and I imagine I’ll read it another 100 times or so, hoping to pick up on some new information.

I cried a lot this weekend but the tears were of connection and love for my past and some grief for a past that I’ll never truly be able to learn about in full. As I was finishing the 61-page story that’s typed up as a manuscript, I realized that page 60 is missing. This second to the last page which appears to be the entire summary. I frantically texted my brother, knowing he would be the only other person I know with a copy. I asked if he had a copy of “Carl” with fear that it may have been lost over time with all of his moves. He said it was buried somewhere in his closet and he’d dig it out. A sense of calm came over me. Not only because I’m desperate to finish the story but mostly to know that I do still have my big brother who is another connection to a past I can barely remember and our Dad. I felt so incredibly grateful at this moment and a sense of peace washed over me. It’s like my Dad was saying, “don’t worry Shelly, I know I’m gone but you’ve got Mark and Mark’s got you.” I know that Mark and I would give just about anything to have Tommy Stewart back in our lives. He was a great man full of life and volatility and knowledge and argument and energy and kindness and competitive spirit and love. So much love that I know I will always carry that piece with me, forever. But to hear his voice in these 60, almost 61 pages was a gift that I will cherish forever. Thanks Dad.

Suffering Is Optional

There are many things out of my control. I can’t decide how I want others to feel or behave, I can’t stop bad things from happening and without a doubt there is zero chance of controlling the weather. The list goes on and on and on. Surrendering to this has been quite frustrating. 20764_1382872251094_2600318_nNot the weather part, the weather is one of those universal understandings that we all seem to get. Isn’t it funny that the weather is the most common topic with strangers in those moments when you only have seconds to share something? Maybe because we can all agree that a storm, the heat, the cold, will all come and go no matter how much we like or dislike the impact. So our ability to control this particular part of life is never going to be in question, only how we choose to react, that is for certain a choice. So, maybe when we think about this “suffering” concept, think about how you react to weather that’s not pleasing to you. This might be the easiest place to start addressing your own suffering.

As an eternal optimist, the idea of turning lemons into lemonade is easy for me. I’m a “turn that frown upside down” kind of gal, I honestly have no idea where it comes from but for the easy things in life, it serves me well. I also have a “control what you can” mindset. Now deciding what is in and out of my control, well there lies the dilemma and the journey I’ve been on my entire life. Determining what’s in my control and what’s not is like being on a tightrope. I’m constantly trying to strike a balance without falling from the sky. 252271_10201275204861404_1025892726_nGreg and I got married on June 1st, 2001 and we had the most beautiful outside wedding planned at sunset on the water. As we watched the weather forecast leading up to the big day it seemed inevitable that we would have to move the wedding inside to avoid the rain. It was a disappointment for sure but quickly reset my expectations and made the decision to be in the moment and let go of all the things that wouldn’t quite work out, like the beautiful outdoor surroundings and pictures in the garden. It helped that we were supported by people that we love and I was marrying the man of my dreams. By staying focused on the reason for the event and not the details allowed it to unfold perfectly. And the umbrella pictures are some of my favorites to this day.

Then there was that time that I flipped Madison and Liam over in a canoe on a Father’s Day outing. This lake was a “no swimming” lake due to major trees in the water that made it dangerous to swim. boat_kidsI had a walkie-talkie with me that Cooper insisted I use to keep in contact with him while he stayed on shore. When rowing I accidentally unclipped the walkie-talkie and it flew into the water. I only registered that it was a black device and thinking it was my phone I tried to save it, flipping us all into the lake along with my actual phone that was in my pocket. Madison and Liam were terrified and screaming in the middle of a lake while I was trying to get them back into the canoe.  I did my best to stay calm as they were crying and shaming me for my bad decision. Once I managed to get them back in the boat I figured out quickly I was not getting back in without flipping them again. So I did what anyone would do with two very upset children in the middle of a lake, I started to kick and then laugh and then kick some more. June 2014 206We were all fine but the phone was gone, Cooper was furious that I lost his walkie-talkie and the other two were soaking wet and very sad. So, then what? We got ice cream treats, a wrap for Madi that she happened to bring, and hiked into the woods. The phone was at the bottom of a lake and we had a great story to tell. It was that simple, move on and decide to make the best of it.

So… spoiler alert, it doesn’t always work out this way. There are moments that I’m so frustrated that things aren’t happening the way I expect that I fly into a rage. Typically, for me, these aren’t the big things in life, I seem to handle the hard stuff relatively well. The things that set me off are little, stupid things that I can only imagine are not the true reason for the explosion but the fuse that happens to light the fire. I’ve been known to throw things across the room out of pure frustration because I can’t get an inanimate object to respond appropriately or a person to understand me. Once I tripped over our dog gate, walking up the stairs, and I was so angry that I hurled it down the stairwell so hard that I put a hole in the drywall. It’s like I snap. 81949545All the “trying to manage” and “people to please” and “making it work” comes crashing down when one branch of the tree cracks and I feel as though I start falling down along with it. I’ve improved at controlling this on the outside but inside I often still feel like a time bomb ready to explode. The worst part about these moments is the inevitable embarrassment that comes with owning your crazy. It usually requires an apology to those you love most and sometimes even some drywall and paint repair. It’s an awful feeling. The truth is that I’m grateful when it’s the remote, or a plate, or whatever happens to be in my hand at that moment versus the words. Words that come in these volatile moments can strike the people that I love in the most vicious way. I’ll take a hole in the wall any day.

But what I’ve learned is that even in these most difficult emotional moments, we get to decide what happens next. Do we go cool off for a few minutes, do we immediately apologize, do we start the cleanup of glass and emotions or do we go sulk for hours or days trying to avoid the ramifications of our temper tantrum? This is what it comes down to, the choice to move through it or live in it. This is the difference between pain and suffering. Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.

suf·fer·ing
/ˈsəf(ə)riNG/
noun
  1. the state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship.
    “weapons that cause unnecessary suffering”

I have a dear friend that said this very simple phrase to me years ago, “suffering is optional”. He’s an intellectual guy, maybe he read it in a book somewhere but it had the most profound impact on me. It seemed so clear, I get to decide if I want to stay in this place, it’s that simple. That is all we have control of at the end of the day. How we choose to react and behave in any given situation no matter how big or small. It is completely and absolutely up to us.

Think about the weather example again. When Mother Nature throws you a curve ball and you’re snowed in or rained out, how do you respond? Do you make the most of it and find a way to enjoy the moment? Or do you allow it to consume your entire day and steal any possible joy you could have experienced? I like to view these moments as a sign. Maybe whatever was planned was not meant to happen or I’m getting put on notice. “You are not in control” or “You need to slow down today” or “Your welcome, enjoy the obstacle”. Whatever it is, what comes next is my decision to make. Now that’s a very empowering feeling, the power of choice.  So here’s an idea, next time the weather goes sideways on you, go grab an umbrella or a shovel or a sled because they may be the best way to take your next step and might even eliminate the suffering.

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Everything Is Hard

It’s Sunday night and I’m in the kitchen cooking the Blue Apron meal we ordered this week. We always serve our food buffet style so you grab a plate, fill it up, and then head to the table. My husband, Greg, is trying to fix his plate and he’s leaning up against the island where the food is hot and ready and he’s awkwardly holding a plate trying to scoop some sweet potatoes up with a serving spoon. I hear him quietly say, “everything is hard.” It feels like a punch in the gut and knocks the wind out of me. The only thing I know to say is, “I can only imagine.” Then I start to contemplate how we should be serving food to make it easier for him.

You see, this moment would be fleeting under normal circumstances and it may sound a little confusing. Why is it so hard? What’s the big deal? You’re scooping up some sweet potatoes. And you’d be right, it shouldn’t be hard, or a big deal, but it is, it very much is a big deal. Greg suffers from Progressive Multiple Sclerosis which is to say that since his diagnosis in 2007 he has continued to slowly decline from the disease and almost everything he wants to do physically is hard. I have some trouble sharing this part of our story because we are smack dab in the middle of it and sometimes when you’re in the middle of something it’s difficult to understand what lessons you might be learning in the struggle. 10401231_1118264276060_4826_nBut here’s the deal, MS is like having a 6th person in our family. It’s like having some needy, angry, unpredictable cousin hanging around every day and the longer they’ve been living with us the more numb we’ve become to their antics. But as Greg continues to decline it’s impossible to ignore and even my, “figure it out”, “never complain” husband is getting broken down week by week, day by day, from this horrible disease. We started walking as Team Webb in 2008 to raise money for the National MS Society, this picture was our first team. It was the only way I knew how to fight the disease, just raise as much money as possible, that would be my part. Greg walked with us for the first couple years but after being the last to finish in 2010 he called it quits and now hangs back cheering us on from the starting line.

When I met Greg in 1999 he was a bricklayer who had been recently promoted to project manager in the construction industry. He was a “man’s man” who enjoyed trying new things and being active, much more active than me. He played in an over 40 recreation men’s baseball league and enjoyed golf. 11667408_10207229579077038_797006020164330979_nI remember feeling frustrated as a new resident to Maryland that he always had somewhere to be and I was left to figure out how to occupy my time. Greg was and still is a physical guy. He likes to be outside, works with his hands, fixes things and creates things. He ALWAYS has a project, or three, and very rarely rests. One reason I admired Greg so much when I met him was his work ethic, he never seems to stop. That is one reason this specific disease is so terrible because it’s literally taking Greg’s ability to do the smallest things away from him.

When we found out that he had MS in 2007 Greg was only dealing with minor symptoms. He said he felt “off” or even like he had a buzz. He would lose his balance and his legs would randomly stop working. 18064_1354966513468_7054623_nTypically, this happened when he was really hot or tired or maybe drinking a little too much so it was hard to figure out.  This picture of Greg and Madi at her Girl Scout’s Father-Daughter dance was an indicator of his progression, he was already unable to dance so he got on his knees and made it work. He always does his best to make it work, even under the most disappointing circumstances.

Over the next 4 years, after the diagnosis, his symptoms would progress to severe fatigue and the need to practically drag his left leg as he walked. He couldn’t run anymore and he had hung up the bat, glove, and eventually the golf game. It also started to impact his work. His work demanded long hours dealing with a lot of detail as an Estimator. He now required more rest than his career would allow so in 2011 Greg went on long-term disability and never returned to a job. His full-time role would now be to manage our home and our three amazing kiddos that were at the time 7, 5 and 2. With Cooper so small and active we hired some part-time help to chase him around and made sure he was in a good pre-school. 416943_4770982631736_1336422046_nGreg managed well and I think he enjoyed being off the hook for a full-time career that he never much cared for. He took to house projects that included building all kinds of things, from birdhouses to a full-blown tree house in our backyard. Our friend and neighbor Dan would carry the supplies but Greg essentially erected this thing on his own, it was impressive, to say the least.

We look back at these pictures from 6 years ago and feel grateful that he could build something so cool for the kids. But now it’s become difficult to do just the most basic everyday things. He’s started to lose his fine motor skills and his entire left side is giving out on him more and more each day. The gift, for now, is that Greg is still driving. This continues to provide independence and empowerment to support our family’s needs by running errands and children from event to event. What he can’t do so well is get up out of a chair, button a shirt or write with a pen. To battle this, he’s bought gadgets to help, like fat pens that make it possible to write more easily, and special silverware for eating. He falls almost daily, sometimes multiple times a day and typically laughs it off while others watch in horror as he gets himself upright again. I’m surprised he hasn’t broken anything, it’s truly amazing.

There are multiple other issues that Greg faces, some more private and not for this blog but so many others that would feel endless to list. He finally broke down and bought a used wheelchair a couple of years ago and it was a blessing and a curse. Now we could go places together as a family but learning to live life with someone in a wheelchair is not an easy thing. If you’ve never tried to navigate the world in a wheelchair give it a whirl one day, it will change your perspective on the most basic life activities. 12977096_10209357866002881_947258259814057537_oI had to start planning for everything. Where we could vacation, where we could eat, what events we could attend that would be wheelchair accessible. At first, Greg wanted to manually operate his chair which meant I would need to push him a lot because there are a lot of hills in the world that you are unaware of if you’re walking. This was tiring and frustrating and caused a lot of bickering that Greg and I were not accustomed too. I was now his mobility “operator” and he did not agree with my operating decisions. So, to ease this frustration Greg got a new chair and a very cool motor that could attach when needed. And these days it’s always needed. Just last week Greg decided that he can no longer get around the house with a cane, and we have canes everywhere. So he has brought the old wheelchair into the house to use. This was another eye-opening moment that MS was continuing down the devastating and debilitating path.

We recently went to a party that was hard for Greg to get around. It was too small of a space to bring the chair but he couldn’t get his legs to navigate him around the house. This meant we needed to find a “spot” to settle in and hope that people would come to find us. This makes him feel very unsettled for many reasons I’m sure. He doesn’t want to be a burden and he wishes he could just go grab his own drink. But that’s not the way it works anymore for us. I decline several invitations these days because the venue will be too difficult to manage. 8705_10204080205184659_6978446661864205821_nI don’t want to put Greg in uncomfortable situations and it reduces the stress I carry trying to figure it all out. So we are homebodies more than anything these days and honestly, it’s not that far off from who we were before MS. But it’s different when you feel like you can’t versus making the decision not to.

Up until the last two years, Greg’s attitude was unbelievably positive. And generally, it still is much of the time. But when something just keeps coming for you so relentlessly it’s hard to maintain that sunny disposition. I have to stop and remind myself when things are a mess and I’m wishing we could be more organized around the house that for Greg to return something from where he got it in the first place is hard. Moving from the living room to the kitchen takes every bit of energy he might have at that moment and many times it’s not worth the effort to put something back from where he got it. I have to remind myself of a lot of things these days. Mostly that this will not pass, at least not in the near term and what Greg will face will inevitably get worse. We have to adjust as a family and make space for the changes and the needs and the sadness and the anger and the loss and that feels really hard.

There are times to take all of this in, the feeling that you can’t control what’s happening and take witness to the pain and suffering of those you love so deeply. But this has to be in moments and then it’s time to move on. For all the pain that MS causes Greg and our family, we have many things to be grateful for. This is where I choose to spend most of my time. I believe that you can find peace in gratitude. So I stay focused on what gifts we have and what is positive in our life, this allows me to feel at peace to some degree. We are surrounded by family and friends and our children are thriving so we know we have many blessings to count. But acknowledging that this is REALLY hard is ok too. Because for Greg everything is hard so I think I can find the strength to keep looking forward and make the most of the situation by doing my best to learn and grow from it. There are many lessons in our lives and I’m doing my best to take them all in, even if it’s hard. 12976788_10209357900843752_7641070281628970001_o

 

Just Smile

The power of a smile, it can create an unexpected connection, it can alter your day when you’re absorbed with your own distracting thoughts and it can surprise you with its sudden shine and gravitational pull.  I have always been a “smiley” person. I learned early in my life that a smile can change the course of a situation, it can put people at ease, and it can potentially get you what you want, or need, in many situations.

My Mom has always smiled a lot. Maybe that’s where I picked it up. I noticed she smiled in public when she was interacting with pretty much anyone. Typically, people treated my Mom with kindness and showed interest in her and what she had to say.557847_4741898744657_653824696_n - Copy It probably didn’t hurt that she was attractive but it was the smile that warmed people up to her and made her approachable and easy to talk to. I realized early that it was the easiest thing I could do to make a connection, so I followed in her footsteps, maybe a little too much. Sometimes I smile so much that people actually call me out on it. One morning I was riding up the elevator with the President of my company, also my friend, and he paused as we stepped out into the hall and asked, “do you always smile, are you always happy?” Without hesitation, I said, “most of the time, I guess I am.” When I walked away I couldn’t stop thinking about his observation. I have been leveraging “the smile” for so long it truly does come naturally. And I can pull a smile out of my ass, even on my worst day because when I smile, people smile back, and that typically turns my day around quickly. But always happy? That’s a different story and a bit more complicated.

Smiling as a kid was a way to put a person or a situation at ease and I’ve been focused on making people comfortable for most of my life. I grew up in an emotionally loving but volatile home. Both of my parents are/were “feelers”. They also had the ability to use logic and information, (specifically my Dad) but when push came to shove we were an emotionally driven family and emotions can rise and fall pretty quick as a result. I had to learn to navigate these situations and make choices. When you grow up around intelligent and emotional people it’s like a dance and I had to pay close attention to what music was playing that day. tammy &michelle CO_0017I found that with my parents a smile could get them back to a calm and loving place much faster so I used that along with my gift of words. Between the smile and the words, I could get away with practically anything. But as I grew into a teenager and young adult my tactics may have become manipulative and for certain, self-absorbed. I smiled a lot in later years because it was a distraction, a decoy, from what was really going on. Has anyone asked you while in full smile, “what’s wrong?” Nope, me either. So, this has been a sure fire way to keep those pesky investigative questions at bay and manage my inner battles alone, completely alone.

So, this leads to what’s behind the smile. And that very daunting question, “are you always happy?” Well, mostly I am happy but sometimes it’s difficult to keep up with the speed of life and my old tactics begin to fail me. I have always believed that being sad was something that I did alone, in my car, in my room, anywhere that was safe to cry and feel everything that may be going on inside.  Iphone Pictures 2017-May18 7884Being sad is not something I choose to carry around on the outside and definitely not in the presence of others. But there are days I’m really sad, and I assume that’s no different than anyone else walking around this world. When I’m feeling sad I guess I fake it until I believe what I’m faking. I consider this the art of reframing and I’m pretty masterful at it. I put energy out to others, typically starting with a smile, and they send their energy back to me. It’s quite magical how others can lift you up in those moments of “faking it”. Eventually, this leads to a better moment, interaction, and day.

Here’s the challenge with this strategy, I stopped telling the truth. I didn’t start lying, it’s not like that but I have not been truthful for a long time, almost longer than I can remember. If you pride yourself on showing up in a positive way and that eventually becomes your brand then the “undoing” is to begin to show yourself in the most vulnerable way. For me, this means unfolding and coming to terms with the imperfections of my life. It is the act of letting people in to help me navigate the unsettling challenges that we all ultimately face. This is a daunting and ever-present, challenge for me.

The people closest to me can see right through me, as they should. I need them to, and I’m grateful to have them in my life so that I can be challenged and pushed at the most difficult moments. Fortunately, I have a few of these people in my life but it’s Aubrey that’s been around the longest. My smile has never fooled Aub, who has been watching my tactics for a lifetime. Maybe it’s because she knows my history, or maybe it’s because she’s been reading me for almost 30 years and sees the young vulnerable Michelle all covered up in “experience”. 1044499_10210776713953193_5548242026145674262_nOr maybe it’s because she’s annoyingly intuitive and just an overall badass. Whatever it is, we all need these people in our lives, the ones that will call us out. The ones that see us through the smile and the nodding and the attempts to move past a topic. We were down at the beach several years ago, which is where she lives, and out on our customary “date night” to catch up. We were only sitting for 3 minutes with our husbands when she simply asked me, “how are you?” I guess I paused, I don’t really remember, but she immediately stood up, grabbed my arm and ushered me out. Just as we stepped out of the restaurant and stood in the parking lot, in the dark of night, I fell apart but was still saying, “I’m fine, I’m fine.” She wasn’t having it, she knew I wasn’t fine and she wasn’t willing to listen to the words. She was focused on what I was feeling and I was feeling raw, to say the least. The smile didn’t work and she broke me down. Thank God she did. I went back to therapy when I got home and started to dig a little deeper to figure out exactly what was going on. If it wasn’t for Aub that night I would have continued down the road of life potentially fooling everyone, including myself. I wasn’t being truthful and she could tell. It’s that simple. d55538

I needed Aubrey’s help at that moment and I need more help than I’m willing to accept pretty much every day. As I tried to explain in my past blog, Help, it’s difficult, and I’m trying to be intentional about getting the help I need. I have so many people in my life that have tried and keep trying to support and listen to the truth but most days it seems easier to keep all the difficult stuff to myself. It’s exhausting to open up and go down those complicated roads. So I’m trying to think of it in moments versus big proclamations. For me, this means saying something sooner, even about the little things. If I think Greg, or a friend or my Mom is implying something then I’m trying to ask more questions to disrupt the stories that I build up in my head. Or if something pisses me off I’m working on saying, “that kinda pisses me off.” We don’t have to take everything on by ourselves and I think if I start addressing the little moments maybe they won’t build up to be such big issues. I have a choice and I’m doing the best I can to open myself up to asking for what I need and to share how I’m really feeling in the right moments. Let’s be honest, sometimes, all you need to do is smile in passing and move on. It would be weird to unleash everything “real” to the unknowing or undeserving.

I don’t plan to stop smiling, it wouldn’t be me if I did but I am working on what’s behind the smile. Sometimes it’s a lot of things and many of those things are difficult and painful. I want to be truthful and I want to be more open to getting help and then sometimes…I just want to smile.

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The Wall

Women and men, we are more alike than we are different but our differences have impacted our lives both personally and professionally. When I began leading the diversity and inclusion efforts for my company I was very focused on gender. For starters, I’m a woman and like many women, I’ve been working in a male-dominated field for over 22 years. As a technical recruiter that was recruiting IT professionals, I was very familiar with being one of the only women “in the room”. As a leader in D&I many of my efforts focused on underrepresented populations in the workforce. Women made up almost half of our workforce but very few women were making it to executive levels in the company. As I started to explore why this was happening and how we start to correct it I started to learn more about the differences between women and men. The reality was, we are living in a modern society but we had not evolved based on old societal norms that are still dictating “our place”. Both women and men are suffering tremendously from these old ways of behaving but it’s taking us centuries to correct it.

Let me first call out that there are, clearly, some biological differences between women and men. The most obvious is that women can build a human, right inside of our bodies. Crazy stuff! Men, they cannot do this. This very obvious difference is the crux for many of the challenges that we face as we work towards equality for women in the workplace. http_prod.static9.net.au_mediaNetworkImages201806180934180616_coach_pregnancyBecause we spend 10 months carrying a child and have “tools” to provide for that child in the early stages of life, women are the default caregiver most of the time. There are only a few exceptions of abandonment or death or a very progressive man stepping in early on. Women are seen as the natural caregivers and men are expected to get back to work protecting and providing for their families.

There is also a difference in hormones for men and women. Men naturally have more testosterone than women, 7 to 8 times as much, and it’s this hormone that supports men in their ability to take risks and “protect” what is “theirs”. This hormone is also linked to having more confidence. There are a lot of studies on this, here’s just one article on How Testosterone In Men Can Help With Confidence. Men needed this confidence hundreds of years ago so they could make very quick decisions about life and death. niord_and_the_saber_tooth_by_aaronmiller-d86d9smAt any moment a saber tooth tiger could be threatening to eat their family and it was their job to fight this vicious predator off. What an amazing thing to provide men with this injection of invincibility to take on risk. It’s truly fascinating and I see it play out to this day, but we don’t need men to fight off vicious animals, at least not the likes of a saber tooth tiger. But they still hold the keys to confidence in many situations; whereas women were needed to “hold down the fort”. We were back in the hut nurturing our children and our communities. And we needed to have lots of children in order to work the land or hunt or protect. So we had a lot going on. We also would spend days making food and fetching water from water sources that could be miles away. It was a team effort and everyone had a part to play. MjgxMzcxNQBut over the years innovation and technology changed the game. We figured out how to build wells for water and then there’s that whole indoor plumbing thing. We also discovered electricity so we could make and heat food without a fire. Boy how times were changing. When I was a kid it was a big deal to have a microwave; just minutes for a full meal to go from packaged and frozen to hot and ready. Amazing stuff! But here in lies the problem. The world around us was changing so fast. We now had weapons that anyone could use like guns to protect ourselves and we eventually had conveniences that made working all day to support the community much more efficient. So why do we continue to normalize men protecting and providing and women supporting and nurturing for so long? Well, maybe because it worked and it’s really only been the last 100 or so years that technology has come so far so fast.  How could the evolutions of our bodies catch up? They haven’t so we have to talk about how to shift while we still have a lot of natural and societal norms playing against us.

In Dr. Brene Brown’s book, Daring Greatly she talks about how shame impacts men and women differently. The short summary of her research says that everyone has worthiness issues and worthiness is about shame. Men feel shame when they feel weak (can’t kill the saber-tooth tiger) and women feel shame when they aren’t doing everything perfectly (managing the community and nurturing everyone sufficiently). So who wants to feel shame? Not me and I imagine not you either so we desperately avoid shame at all costs. This means that men can never appear weak and women feel the need to “do it all” and to do it perfectly….yeah for us.

After decades of watching women and men in the workplace, I saw this playing out time and time again. Once I started to take note and talk openly about the different behaviors The Wall analogy struck me. It’s very personal to me as I’ve avoided many walls, run through a few and was pushed over some. I’ve been using this analogy for several years to describe how men and women approach challenge or risk and here’s how I describe it…

When we hire young men we ask them to run through walls. We point at the wall and say, “run through it”. And guess what, they typically do. Then we point at another wall and they do it again. They do this over and over again because they can’t imagine what would happen if they didn’t just plow through that wall. Picture1Now, let’s look at how women approach this wall. We point at the wall and say, “run through it”. And guess what, they typically don’t. You see, us women have a few questions. What’s on the other side of the wall? Is it worth running through? Will it hurt? What’s it made of? Is there another way to get over the wall? A window, a door? Can I use a tool? What do I have to leave behind if I run through it? Why am I running through this wall again? And if you’re in an industry like I am the men that are in leadership positions and making decisions about who gets the next opportunity can be like, “seriously, if you can’t just run through the wall I’m not sure I know how to help you. I can’t want this more for you than you want this for yourself!” Sound familiar? So it took me a while to connect the dots but it’s so clear to me now. Men don’t feel they have a choice. It starts when they are young and they hear things like, “be a man”, “grow a pair”. Or even better, “don’t be a pussy.” If you want to watch a fascinating documentary on the impact of societal expectations that we put on our boys check out The Mask We Live on Netflix, it explores masculinity in today’s world. I have two little boys and I’m determined to find some balance for them so they can be themselves and maybe ask a few more questions before running through certain walls without feeling shame.

As for women, much of my work has focused on empowering them and building confidence so they can feel more prepared to run through walls when they are presented to them. We’ve also focused on advocacy because I’m sure, like many other executive women, I did not always run through the wall. Other people pushed or carried me over the wall and they believed enough in me to help me get to the other side. 41oZH6px1JL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_There are countless books for women focused on helping them be more prepared for The Wall but some of the best clarity came to me through an organization called Linkage. Susan Brady, Senior VP at Linkage, has done a great deal of work helping women to overcome the hurdles that they typically face in the workplace. Check out this video on the 7 Leadership Hurdles Women Face in the Workplace. If you would like to learn more about the hurdles Susan has a book coming out in November called Mastering Your Inner Critic and the Other 7 Hurdles to Advancement. I was honored to contribute to Susan’s book with some of my own hurdles and there have been many. I believe this work will be impactful for women and help us become more aware of what, we ourselves, could be doing to get in our own way. Do not hear me wrong here. There are a lot of societal implications impacting women in the workplace but the fastest way to see improvement in your own life is to get clear on you first.

Women will need to stay intentional in their efforts to face The Walls. This will continue to be a challenge for many of us and there will be times we do not run through them and it will be the right thing for us at the time. There will also be times that Men will run through too many Walls and this will create long-lasting damage. Running through The Wall can be devastating to middle-aged men as we see heart disease, addiction and the highest suicide rate across the US for men. Women continue to struggle to rise in leadership at the highest levels with still more CEOs named John or David than women. We may all need to evaluate the impact of The Wall for both men and women. And I’m sure some of you reading this feel like you may be on the other side of this stereotype and that’s cool but it’s an entirely different discussion. What happens to men that won’t run through The Wall and what happens to women that run through without question? It’s not easy for either one of them. I have been criticized for running through The Wall. I was seen as too focused on my career and in it for myself. It was uncomfortable for my male counterparts to witness my ambition, it wasn’t very ladylike. Ugh! But the more clear I’ve become on my purpose the easier this has been to overcome.

So I say we focus on what we can control and that is to get more grounded in ourselves through focusing on our strengths, prioritize more effectively, begin to gain clarity on what we enjoy and what we want to do, and give ourselves a little room to learn and grow. Failing is a must for both men and women. When we fail we learn to get back up to realize that it’s not that big of a deal. download (2)I find that surrounding myself with trusted advisors has helped me make better decisions that work best for my life. I have the right support around me to take the risks and to get back up when it doesn’t work out the way I’d hoped, and it often doesn’t work out. These are both personal and professional relationship and I am grateful for them all. I am still struggling to make the right decisions about which Walls to run through so I’m in this with you. It’s one more part of my journey and I suspect that it always will be.

So I say make some choices about what Walls you want to run through (guys) and then when you decide, run through it without looking back (ladies)! For on the other side may just be our next great adventure and most certainly will be progress!

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Grief

Over the last few months, there’s been a lot of bad news impacting some of the people that I care about. People dealing with sick parents that are losing their battles and moving towards their final days. People losing close relatives and other’s that have been diagnosed with cancer at a very young age and struggle to think about a future for their young children that may not include them. Now that I’m in my “mid-life” I feel like it never stops and it’s all heartbreaking. As a bystander, I sit back and feel helpless. Most of us can relate to grief because we’ve all felt it in some small or major way in our lives. I am a true believer that pain is not relative, it just is, which means that we can’t compare our pain to others. We don’t get to decide that certain people have it better or worse, it just doesn’t work that way. Whatever we’re suffering with is our battle to fight and when we try to compare it, we diminish what we all desperately need, and that is to be seen, heard, and loved in times of loss. But this doesn’t mean people can “fix” how we manage grief. The hardest part about grief may be the loneliness we feel regardless of how we are being supported; managing grief is a lonely business.

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My first experience with grief was probably like many. I lost several pets and felt how disoriented our house would feel when one of our fur babies was no longer with us. Misty, pictured here, was the first dog I loved and lost. 422069_10201089525979548_239899276_nMy parents would typically handle this with a small amount of time to feel the loss and then shortly after they’d introduce a new sweet puppy or kitten into our family and our hearts would be full again. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized how difficult pet loss can actually be. As a child it was fleeting, but as I’ve become more attached to my pets it’s devastating when you lose one of these loyal members of your family.

The next loss was of grandparents and this was, in many ways, underwhelming for me. For one, I wasn’t very close to any of my grandparents so I didn’t have a relationship that would be missed or unresolved. And, typically, grandparents are an expected loss. When they live to be in their 80’s or 90’s it seems inevitable to lose them. My Dad’s parents were his foster parents and they were much older. “Uncle Fred” as we referred to his foster Dad was born in 1899 and “Sister” as we called his foster Mom was born in 1903. They were very kind people and all of my memories of them are positive but I wasn’t around them much and I was very young so the loss was associated more with how hard this was for my Dad. The people that took him in at the young age of three, when his own parents were unable and unwilling to raise him, were now gone and he had lost “his people”. This was hard to watch and I hurt for my Dad but had very little of my own pain. Then my Mom’s Dad died, this was very painful for her. I wanted to be there for her but had few of my own emotions tied up in my grandfather. Eventually, my grandmother would pass after years of fighting dementia. She was often unkind to my Mom due to feeling unworthy her entire life and even more so in the years that followed her dementia diagnosis. I don’t think I skipped a beat when she died. I actually felt relief that my Mom was free of the woman that treated her so badly at times. We never had a service for her which felt odd but I was more shocked at how indifferent I was to this. It felt wrong to feel this way or in this case, not feel the grief.

The most difficult moment of my life was when we lost my Dad to a sudden heart attack at the prime age of 51. Dad_toombstone_updatesIt felt surreal, like I would wake up and it would be a terrible dream. But I never woke up and I still find myself, to this day, weeping after 20 years of him being gone. Grief hit me like a mac truck and in some way, I never fully recovered. I was 23 years old and my life was already spiraling out of control before the loss. Grief now consumed me and I struggled to breath when I was alone with my thoughts. So I got busy and I got focused and I never stopped. Accomplishment and success became my coping mechanism and I was going to run like hell to escape the pain of losing my Dad. I suppose there are worse things I could have leveraged to cope but after 20 years I’m just starting to undo the need to be busy in order to avoid the pain.

More recently the loss of both of my in-laws in many ways matched the pain I felt when I lost my Dad. There are so many reasons it was different, I was not only devastated by my own feelings of loss but for Greg, his siblings and my children who were loved so deeply by these people. Mom mom & Pop pop Chapel_newI remember the same feelings of intense sorrow and begging to bring them back but I didn’t have any of the “baggage” or rich history that typically comes with a parent/child relationships. My feelings of loss were wrapped up in empathy for all those around me that were experiencing the loss of a parent for the first time. I delivered my Mother-in-law’s eulogy and felt honored that the family trusted me with this task and grateful that I had the opportunity to share everyone’s feelings about this amazing woman. I still cry to this day when I think of her and how deeply she loved my husband, my children and me.

Up until recently, I’ve always associated grief with death. The loss of someone you deeply care about, and this is for sure the epitome of loss, there’s no coming back from death. But for several years I’ve felt this deep sense of loss in my life. This loss is centered around the lack of control over what’s happening to Greg and my Mom, both suffering from incurable diseases. My Mom, who is the woman with all the answers and a true intellectual, is slowly losing her mind to dementia. And then there’s Greg, the man who never stops trying and has a talent for fixing and building things is slowly and painfully losing his ability to move. 12669677_10208684205961801_6551327148144256238_nI’ve spent many hours in therapy talking about these two people and my inability to manage these very heavy challenges. I am an incurable optimist so I have done my best to out smile, out work and deny that watching these two extremely strong people suffer loss every day has not had a profound impact on me. This is when I started to understand that I was dealing with “chronic grief”. This is not to say that I can’t move past the stages of grief but that I’m watching loss every day and the people that I’m losing are still standing right in front of me; still accessible, still present, still fighting and both still loving me fiercely! It’s not like either one of them is giving up. Quite the opposite, they both approach each day with a mental strength that is not only astounding but admirable. And it is their ability to move through the world still figuring it out, even with constant obstacles that I feel the need to suck it up and get over myself. Who am I to feel the pain of their loss? It’s a question I ask regularly and then I have to remember my own words. Pain is not relative.  It is our own. I believe this but the urge to just smile past it, work harder and bury myself in “busy” in order to avoid the pain seems so much easier than facing the “what’s next” and the “what ifs”.

Truthfully, we are all just taking each day as it comes. No one knows what tomorrow will bring. I know this first hand. One day you wake up to a normal extra-ordinary day and the next you wake up to a very sick pet or news from a doctor that your life has changed forever or a phone call letting you know that your very young and healthy Dad has suffered a catastrophic heart attack and died instantly. We just don’t know.

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So I choose to keep moving and to keep smiling and try to accept each day as it comes. I also choose to allow myself to feel the pain and the loss and to feel deeply sad at times. I am forever grateful for the number of family and friends that are always just a text or call away. Often the universe speaks to us and people reach out at the most necessary moments because we are all connected by this greater purpose to support one another. If there’s one thing I have figured out, it’s that we can’t do this alone. And alone I am not.

The “Real” Vacation

After spending a great week in Colorado with my Mom I returned home to change suitcases and pack for the family beach trip that we’ve had planned for months.  This would be the first trip to the Outer Banks that we’ve done with friends, versus the extended Webb family, and I was excited to be on an actual vacation opposed to the week in Colorado that was a mixed bag.

This was going to be 7 days of relaxing, playing, eating and socializing with friends at our favorite place, the beach. We went with two amazing families from our old neighborhood. The Litz’s have been some of our best friends for almost 15 years now and even though we moved away almost 5 years ago we manage to make time to connect and support each other still. The Morgan’s have been in our lives mainly because of Madison but we have grown to love and appreciate them as a family. Ella, their middle daughter, is Madison’s best friend. Ella’s Mom, Missy, has been their Girl Scout Troop leader since they were around 4 years old. Missy has been like another mother to Madison and I’ve enjoyed having another woman in her life that cares for her so deeply. We were excited about the week ahead!

It’s been 4 years since we got a house on the beach in the Outer Banks because it’s so pricey in the summer but I was determined to get us back there knowing it’s one of my kiddos favorite places on the planet and happens to be where my life long best friend lives. They were over the moon excited to leave on Saturday morning and I was doing my best to pack and prepare in the 20 hours I had after returning home from Colorado. As usual Greg did all the heavy lifting to get our “stuff” in, or on top of, our car while I was gone. He packed all the beach essentials and his seven fishing rods, which he seemed to think was not that many….hmmm. Anyway, the car was, for the most part, packed and I just had to get some of the basics, check the kid’s suitcases, and get my own stuff together. Greg made this really easy and we pulled out of our driveway only 40 minutes later than I’d hoped. Huge win for us!

In the beginning of a road trip the anticipation is typically contagious and the kids are super nice to each other as we make the 6-7 hour drive to NC.  We’re agreeing on movies and snacks and even bathroom breaks. Okay….time out. This is when I think I should reset my expectations because it’s all too good to be true. 39003893_10217586452192393_4286148890622689280_oThe excitement of what’s to come is so overwhelming that we care less about irritating each other or getting “our” way than normal. It’s a beautiful thing, but it also makes me sit back and think….this is probably about as good as it’s going to get all week. Don’t get me wrong, I’m caught up in it as much as they are and I’m imagining days on the beach in the sun and surf. Drinking yummy drinks and eating anything I want. We are all in this euphoric place and it feels great.

We’re the second family to arrive with the Litz crew close behind us. It immediately hits me that I hope everyone is happy with their room situation. I know how this goes, there are more ideal rooms than others and someone often gets the crappy end of that deal. In general the rooms all seem nice but it’s the anxiety, since I made the final decision on the house, that everyone might not be as content with their arrangements. If that was the case everyone kept it to themselves and made the best of it. Greg and I always take the top master that’s close to the kitchen so he doesn’t have to ride the elevator as much due to his MS. For those that don’t know my husband, Greg, was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2007 and has been fighting the battle ever since. He is winning in mindset but losing physically every day.

With Greg’s challenges I know that the kids and I need to do the heavy lifting to unpack and get things in the house. We are not there 15 minutes and Chris, Ella’s Dad, essentially unpacks our entire car. I’m floored. Greg hasn’t even come up to see the house and Chris has all of our belongings in the right rooms. What a relief to have so much help upon arriving. I’m thinking if this is an indicator of the week we are good to go. Dan and Marnie arrive soon after and decide to order subs for everyone, another to do off my list. Marnie and I head to the grocery to stock up for the week.  39397662_10217624411861361_6205498594712092672_oIt’s pretty much chaos but we are trying not to buy all the same stuff and be smart about it. We succeeded for the most part, outside of bananas, there were a lot of bananas….hahahaha! First night was a success and I was feeling surrounded by some amazing people that were willing to make decisions and help out, feeling thankful and excited.

When you vacation with people that you know relatively well but have never lived with it’s a bit of a dance on how to co-habitat with them. For instance, do they want to chat in the morning? Do they like to make the coffee a certain way or prefer it to be ready? Who needs to own the remote? It’s just silly stuff, but you try to figure it out real quick. And I think we did. This group was so easy to be with for a week and I was amazed almost every day that everyone was willing to help out and make things simple. I’m a late sleeper on vacation and I’d wake up and look out on the beach to check things out. The gang would have already set everything up including a cooler full of drinks. Things were going well and I felt like I could just relax.

So this is where it takes a slight turn. On Tuesday Greg was becoming increasing agitated that he could not move around on the beach the way he wanted. Even worse he couldn’t even get to the beach because the stairs that led to the beach didn’t have a rail on the pool side. So Greg would do his best to scoot up and down the stairs but it was frustrating to say the least. Then once he got on the beach he couldn’t manage walking on the sand. He also couldn’t get close enough in the surf to cast his rods into the water. He would spend hours setting himself up to try and fish just to fail or tangle a line or fall. I knew he was becoming more and more frustrated but Greg tends to manage himself well and make the most of it so I kept my distance and offered help when it made since. We hit a tipping point when he couldn’t get up the stairs on Tuesday. He let me know that I had rented the “worst possible house” for him because of the rail situation and I was very hurt and angry. I went to the beach and left him to manage himself. He considered finding a way home and leaving us to enjoy the beach without him; which felt like a terrible and selfish solution from my perspective. But if that’s what he wanted than I guess I couldn’t stop him. This is the “real” vacation. It’s all the things that happen when Facebook isn’t looking and it can be painful and hard and sends me into an emotional spiral. IMG_0370I post a lot of pictures and I continued to show the world the fun we were having, and there was a lot of fun. But then you go hide in your room and cry because nothing quite works out the way you hope it will. This picture, the one I captured of Greg struggling to get back on his feet from the surf is what we watch all day long. You catch the awesome moments too but these are the more frequent moments that make up the reality in our life. It’s painful and hard and thankfully we were surrounded by extremely caring people to help.

But in the end Greg didn’t leave. He stayed and on Wednesday the guy that can’t get on the beach or up the stairs is the one that built a temporary railing so that he could. This also helped Missy’s Mom who was struggling with the same issue. IMG_0045He bought PVC pipe and rope and erected a full blown railing (you can see it on the right side of this picture). Took him almost all day and Chris did his best to help but Greg was determined to solve this problem, and he did. How is this possible? I watch him overcome extraordinary circumstances every day and I’m still not sure how he does it. This is my husband. He is unstoppable. There are people that are fully capable physically that can’t hold a candle to Greg. Once he let go of the anger and moved into how he could fix it, he was an entirely new man again. So then we got drunk and had an amazing evening on the beach with our friends:-) He did need four of us to carry him off the beach, due to a slight buzz, but no one cared and willingly lifted him up and towards the house. After this evening of celebration things were not perfect. Greg continued to show signs of frustration as he struggled to enjoy his time at the beach. He did go to the pier one day to try and catch fish but still had no luck. At least he got to fish and wasn’t struggling to manage the sand.

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Now for me, I struggled throughout the week. Like most, I feel tired of having to make it all work and on vacation I was feeling especially selfish. I wanted to enjoy my time too. I don’t get but a few weeks of the year to just relax and enjoy the family without the interruption of work and other demands. But it just doesn’t work that way. Life keeps coming, there’s no pause button. If I thought I could get a full week of bliss I was delusional. I realized that I have to take the moments just as they are, moments.
39024223_10217601116518992_3856327878106939392_nMaybe that’s the amazing picture you capture of your kids laughing and playing and then you put down the camera and jump in the ocean with them. Because it’s all just moments and they aren’t set up to be strung together so beautifully, like a string of pearls, but probably broken up by real life because it’s hard and complicated. On the day Greg blamed me for the terrible decision on the house that I picked I was given the gift of connection and acceptance. I was sulking after his words and went to drift in the ocean and think. Missy could tell I was down and comforted me with kind words of affirmation that assured me that I was doing the best I could and that the situation was impossibly hard. I felt seen and heard and I’m grateful for that moment as well. She saw me and that was all I needed at the time.

The crazy thing with all this adult stuff going on behind the scenes is that I’m pretty sure my kids had no clue what was going on. You see, they are used to seeing their Dad struggle every day and they didn’t even bat an eye when he spent one of his vacation days building a railing to solve his issue. That’s just what their Dad does. They were preoccupied with friends and waves and kites and sunsets on the beach and thank God for that. I want my kids to enjoy those moments for as long as they can because one day they will come to understand that the “real” vacation can be messy and emotional and hard. But it’s seeing them laugh and play and enjoy themselves that makes it all worth it. 39685839_10217651274812918_4774158369172750336_oThere were a lot of rainbows while we were at the beach and every time I see one I’m in pure wonder and amazement. It helps me stop and appreciate something so magical that you can forget, even for just a moment, that “real” life is not always magical but it is what we decide to make it. So now if you blend this with what I share on Facebook you can see the “real” vacation for what it is, beautiful and hard all in the same moment.

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