Great Expectations

I’ve heard the saying, “Expectations are the root of all evil”. This resonates deeply for me.  When I have an idea of how people should behave, react, engage, and then they disappoint me I find myself feeling frustrated, even angry. And guess what? People almost never behave the way you expect them to, and if they do, you might find yourself feeling shocked, or at least, pleasantly surprised. When expectations are not met this typically leads to resentment. So, why not just stop doing this? For me, it’s the hope that it could be different. But it’s the letting go that I can’t seem to grasp.  I can’t get out of my own way on this one.

This idea of expectations is haunting me as I prepare for a trip home to see my Mom this week. There are no greater expectations than the ones we hold our parents too and my Mom lets me down time and time again. The sad thing is that I’m conditioned to be let down and I still manage to sucker myself into believing that it might be different this time. It’s never different, and these days it’s even worse than different, it’s impossible. Don’t get me wrong here; I’m not putting this on my Mom. She has her own baggage to deal with and her own story to tell and it’s a story of suffering and sacrifice and triumph. So this isn’t about my Mom being a bad Mom, because she’s not. The anxiety is about me wanting things to be a certain way and the selfish view that it would be nice if that way positively impacted me.

Growing up my Mom was the sun, the moon, and the stars. My world revolved around her, she was the light and the warmth and she helped me to see how big the world was and encouraged me to make my place in it. 37041_10201089525379533_313737862_n - CopyMy Dad was this ridiculously cool and interesting guy that seemed to be good at everything he ever did (expect marriage and not leaving). So when I was nine and he moved out, my Mom was left to be the daily parent and when he died in 1997 she was left to be the only parent. My Mom was the strongest person I knew. She was beautiful, intelligent, warm and ambitious. She had overcome some major adversity as a child and survived to “do better” with us. I thought she was invincible. As a child, I thought I would live with my Mom forever. 1554611_10202926476462162_1898871335_n - CopyI considered her one of my best friends and she was for sure “my person”. When something went well in my life she was the first person I would call and when something went really really bad she was my lifeline. She was the person that would never judge me or turn me away. She was always there. I felt so grateful to have her since I knew what losing a parent felt like and I was well aware that my friends didn’t have the same relationship that I was so incredibly fortunate to have.

When you put someone on a really high pedestal, the fall is devastating. In 2004 when I had Madison my whole world changed. Everything shifted in me and for the first time in my life, I loved something, someone, more than I loved myself. 5153_1191343262989_809151_nMy Mom was there to help me during the first two weeks and when my friend Angela came to take her to the airport I wept. I begged her not to leave me and she fell apart not knowing how to walk away. She did go back to Colorado and I realized I was more capable than I thought but that was one of the last moments that I remember being 100% vulnerable with my Mom.

Once I got the hang of parenting, which basically meant I could keep Madison alive, I started to get cocky. I was going to prove to the world that I was in control and could handle this massive responsibility. This is when the judgment started and I could see all of my Mom’s parental flaws. Now that I understood parenting, my expectations were higher and when I looked back I had a lot of questions for my Mom. All of these questions were accusatory and unproductive but now I understood what it felt like to be a Mom, I felt like it was my responsibility to impart my new found wisdom. The reality is that the pressure of raising a child was so heavy I was looking to avoid judgment in any way possible and holding my Mom to an impossible standard seemed just as good a way as any to soothe my insecurities.

With so many miles between Colorado and Maryland, I could temper my behavior and bite my tongue when we were visiting until I couldn’t and then I’d usually show up like a giant asshole. Mentally I found myself discrediting my Mom to protect myself and slowly I felt us drifting apart. She was now, only “my person” for the good things, and I reserved my failures, for well, pretty much no one. This was the slow road to loneliness and my inability to ask for help was more evident than ever.

Fast forward to 2015, I now have three children, ages 12, 10 and 7 and they are all thriving; which means they are alive, doing well in school, and have some interests and some friends. Not the highest bar;-) My Mom and I are more disconnected than ever and I’m having a very hard year. So many things in my life seemed to be out of sorts. Greg, my husband, continues his battle Multiple Sclerosis and was struggling with his mobility. My brother was in need of help and living with us that summer to work on his recovery. My best friend was a new Mom and in need of a lifeline and I had my first real scare with potential breast cancer (which I did not have). I was in over my head and wanted more than anything to have “my person” but my Mom was fighting her own battle. This was the summer she was diagnosed with Dementia. When my Step Dad told me it took my breath away. I Googled, I cried and I felt completely helpless. The good news was that my Mom did not have Alzheimer’s, the most common form of Dementia, but it was Dementia and that was enough to bring me to my knees.symptom-overlap-middle-stages The first thing I thought was how is this capable, confident, independent and completely in control woman going to handle losing her mind (literally). Then, probably too soon, I thought about myself.  This solidified that my Mom would never be the person I wanted her to be. Truth is, there really was no chance of this in the first place, based on my expectations, but I still had the hope that it could be different. I was devastated, for her and for me.

You would think with this news I’d be more kind and understanding and start to support my Mom in a different way. I’m embarrassed to say it didn’t happen that way. I acted like a child that wasn’t getting their way. We’ve had some of the worst fights ever in the last couple of years because I’m struggling to rise above my own needs and expectations. There was this part of me that just wanted to hug her and cry and tell her it was going to be alright. But I was angry and I was grieving and the person I was losing was standing right in front of me, how are you supposed to do that? I wanted her to tell me that everything was going to be alright and she couldn’t. So I made sad attempts to resolve old issues and I started to villainize my Mom to justify my anger. It felt awful and I felt ashamed. It was not getting better, I was not getting better. I stopped reaching out to her and buried myself in my own life in Maryland, which was not hard to do.

Then one snowy day this last winter I pulled out these DVDs of some old home movies. The kids and I sat down to watch but they quickly got bored of seeing their baby selves lay on a play mat for 25 minutes or play with a sweet potato in their highchair for what seemed like an eternity and they left the room.  I, however, was mesmerized and I watched and watched and watched for hours. I was so grateful for those videos and the beautiful memories they held. They were from 2004-2010, prior to my Facebook addiction, and having a camera on my phone, which is hard to remember. Suddenly, I find myself watching a scene of my Mom playing with the kids. I think it was in the summer of Madison’s 3rd birthday so Liam wasn’t even a year old. She was singing and laughing and playing and engaging and they were LOVING her. 33702_1710771328366_2121417_nTHERE SHE WAS, my Mom, that was her, the Mom I forgot about that was so fun and easy and warm. I immediately began to weep and couldn’t stop crying. It hit me like ton of bricks. I had forgotten her. The Dementia had been so slow that I didn’t even realize the impact it had on her, and me, until this very moment. My Mom was right there, but at the same time it was clear, the Mom in that video was gone. It was devastating but at that moment I completely altered the way I was seeing the situation. No, my Mom would never live up to my expectations; she never could have, even without Dementia. She was different now and I could choose to see that person differently. This meant I also needed to be different; I needed to change and come to terms with this new reality. It all made sense.

So the story continues. I’m heading to Colorado this week to spend four days with my Mom. It will be just my Mom and me FOR FOUR DAYS. My Step Dad had a conference in Vegas and was concerned about leaving her for so many days alone. My Mom doesn’t need full-time care but she has a lot of anxiety and her short-term memory is almost all but gone. I’m nervous because my Mom deserves to have someone that shows compassion and support during this difficult time. She was my sun, my moon, and my stars; the least I can do is provide a safe place where she feels love.  I want to be better and do better. The funny thing is that I don’t think she expects anything from me, not now.

What’s really scary is that I’m sure my children all currently have unrealistic expectations of me and I will inevitably let them down. I think this is just how it works with parents and children. We think our parents are supposed to have it all figured out, be better than the typical human. I hope that I can be vulnerable enough with my kids for them to see me as the broken imperfect person that I am. I know there’s a chance that they will hold me to great expectations, as I did with my parents, and I’m afraid they will also be greatly disappointed. All I can do is my best and maybe just maybe they’ll give me a hug one day and just let go.




I’ve unknowingly walked through my life believing that there are “helpers” and those that “need the help”. Early on I didn’t consciously assign judgment to either of these roles but simply saw people as one, or the other. From an early age I thought I was meant to be a “helper” and over time I saw this as a strength. Eventually, I started to associate asking for help with weakness. For me, it was really hard to ask, and then crushing if I didn’t get the help I needed or wanted. Asking felt like it sucked the life out of me so not asking was the safer bet. So began a pattern and a belief that I would be happy, even honored, to help as many people as I could but would steer clear of asking for any help if at all possible. One of the first major misguided lessons of my life.

tammy &michelle CO_0019When I was a little girl my Mom told me that she could hear me in my room crying by myself. I don’t remember doing this but I do remember her telling me later, with what felt like pride, that I preferred to be alone when I was in pain.  I did feel proud of this and it was more comfortable so I held back sharing my pain with most people early on. My Mom and Dad were open with their emotions and I never remember feeling shame around crying, or anger, or any emotion for that matter.  But clearly, I felt embarrassed in some way. Even to this day, I try to hide my tears in a movie theater during a sad scene, but doesn’t everyone do that? So early on, probably 3rd grade when I received my first diary, I started to journal my feelings. It was a way for me to get my “crazy” out and not involve anyone else. Just me and my journal, it felt safe.

In 5th grade, I was put in a small group of kids who had divorced parents. After two sessions with this group of kids, the teacher pulled me aside and asked me to help the other kids. She told me that I was handling things so well and it would be wonderful if I could help support them through this difficult time. This was for sure a moment of pride. I could be useful and that somehow meant that I was ok.  Over time I started to equate “ok-ness” with “enough-ness”. If you didn’t need help you were better off than if you did. It was that simple.

After high school, I went to community college and managed to hold down two, sometimes three jobs so that I could have an apartment of my own. MichellesI remember feeling like I was really in control. But I was broke and barely getting by. I got myself in some financial trouble because of that damn credit card application that’s in your bag when you buy school books and had to ask my parents for help. My Dad had me sign a contract stating that I’d agree to pay the money back by a certain date. I assume he did this so I was clear it was an official loan, or my Stepmom made him do it because she didn’t trust I would pay it back. Either way, I thought it was weird and it felt terrible. My Mom didn’t make me sign anything but worked out a payment plan with interest included.  I guess I should have felt grateful to get the loan and at an interest rate that was much more competitive than the local bank, but I was mortified. I repaid both of my parents as soon as possible, I suppose their tactics worked. But I never ever asked for their financial help again. I didn’t know much but I did know that asking for this help felt awful.

IMG_9178When I was 23 my Dad died of a sudden heart attack at the young age of 51. I quietly begged for help to relieve the pain but wasn’t sure how to ask those around me for what I needed. I have never felt more alone and more in need of help than at that moment. I’m sure people tried to help and I imagine I was getting some help that I didn’t even realize but I felt helpless and worked very hard to get to solid ground where I could find relief from the pain. The answer, I ran from my first marriage and threw myself into my career which resulted in a move to Baltimore where no one knew my past and how much help I truly needed.

My most vivid memory of clearly asking for help was in September 2013 when my daughter, Madison, was hit by a wave and swept out to sea. Once I realized that she was in the water and couldn’t touch or make her way back I ran to the edge of the break and screamed, “HELP!, HELP, PLEASE HELP HER!”. I can’t even begin to describe the terror I felt at that moment. But no one came, no one could help. WFV 2013 096So I went in and the ocean beat the living shit out of me but I managed to pull her back to shore. At that moment I realized that it was the adrenaline and a sheer will to reach her that helped me and I was grateful for whatever force was with us that day. But again I was left feeling like the “helper” and for months I had terrible flashbacks. I would sit paralyzed in my car and struggle to get out and go inside the house or work. I remember sitting in my car and calling Angela, one of my besties, and telling her I couldn’t stop crying. She listened and then she suggested I go see my therapist immediately. It was exactly the help I needed and I felt relieved to have someone else making a decision for me.

My brother Mark has been one of my greatest teachers on the subject of “help” in recent years. When he called me three years ago and asked for my help it would change my perspective on help forever. My brother is in recovery but at this time alcoholism was crushing him and he was now in need of a home and support to get back on his feet. 10428416_10206177270649985_560921163018834319_nSo he left Texas and moved to Maryland to live with me and my family. But I was not prepared for the next year and what difficult decisions and actions it would take to truly provide the right help to my brother. I learned there is a fine line between enabling and helping. Someone said this to me and it somehow made sense, “if you are enabling he will be happy  but if you’re truly helping he will be frustrated, maybe even angry.” That was hard to consume but sure enough, that was about right. My brother had been one of my greatest helpers and now he needed me to do the helping but I didn’t know how. This was an awful feeling. Somehow I thought I could be even more than “the helper” but also “the fixer”. How arrogant of me and what a lesson of humility this was. We don’t fix people and they don’t fix us, it’ doesn’t work that way. I was facing something new, I didn’t know how to be “the helper”, I needed help and so did he.

There are countless moments that we each face that we are either the “helpers” or the ones “in need of the help”. That’s logical to me and makes complete sense. So why does it feel so impossible to ask for the help that we need? We all want to help because it feels good to support the needs of others. We also feel tremendous relief when we get the help. But historically I have associated help with weakness.  Just recently it became overwhelmingly clear that asking for help is actually one of the truest forms of strength that we can exhibit. It was me all these years confusing this and now I’m working on retraining myself to learn to reach out and just ask for the help that I need.

Building this new skill is difficult since secretly I’ve praised myself for being the “helper” all these years. I’ve managed to juggle various situations and the complexities of my life by helping others and taking on all of the “asks”. But over time it’s like my boat, of helping, has taken on so much water that I’m starting to sink. Without learning how to be the “asker” I’ve suffered and at times I feel like I’m drowning. Since I believe that suffering is optional I’m determined to look at this differently and learn.

I just finished Anne Lamott’s book Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers and I’m realizing that when I’m asking for help no matter how small or enormous it feels it truly is just a prayer. I’ve never really known how to pray but in learning how to ask for help I believe I’m also experiencing something even greater than just the skill of asking. At that moment I’m learning to surrender and let something so much greater than myself take over. We can be “the helped” and “the helper” but letting go of the belief that we get to control how all this actually works is one of my first steps towards peace.


Rainy Saturday Mornings

It’s raining today. I love when it’s raining on a Saturday and we have no plans. It doesn’t happen very often and when I checked the weather last night I started fantasizing about my day. I get strangely excited about the possibilities of being stuck in my house all day. Mornings are by far my favorite part of the day on the weekends.

When the kids were smaller I had to get myself settled into the idea of how I’d have to entertain them on a rainy day. How much coloring, crafting, dance party having, and putting together an endless number of puzzles could I handle in one day? What movie would we watch to break up their need for focused adult attention? I always considered how long the movie was because this determined how much time I’d have to check Facebook or put together the photo books I love or call my Mom or make lunch, or maybe even eat lunch.

396503_4553848323514_1225192966_nGreg is a “projects” guy and always keeps himself busy with building something or fixing something. He’s been this way since I’ve known him and in our early years, it meant he would sneak out of bed in the morning and go do whatever project he was focused on. Sometimes it would be small things like yard work which usually required fixing some piece of equipment that was broken. But sometimes he was building a brick wall in our house and I could hear the noise, even though he was trying to be quiet so I could sleep. When the kids were little this typically meant he was outside or on an errand by the time they were starting to wake up. So I was on kid duty, almost always. It worked because I wanted to hang out with the kids, especially on a lazy morning. Feet_2010_5They would crawl in my bed and we would snuggle and laugh and maybe turn on a show so I could drift in and out for just a little bit longer. Now when Greg heads off to the garage to work on his newest thing it means I get a quiet morning to slowly wake up with no one around to make requests. In the early years of our relationship, this always left me feeling lonely. Now I crave this time and I’m grateful when I have the bed all to myself in the morning. No one to judge me, or need me, or even want me. Just me, in my own thoughts, with time to breath.

Now that the kids are older they love to wake up on their own time and just hang out in their rooms. Madison is usually the last to wake up so once I realize I haven’t heard her I head up to her room and give her a nudge. She typically won’t join us for a couple more hours so we see her around 2:00 in afternoon. The boys are usually playing video games or watching TV, maybe with a neighborhood friend that’s not allowed to show up before 10am on the weekends. They are all very capable in the kitchen but it still surprises me when I wake up to the smell of bacon and eggs because Liam felt like having a hearty breakfast. And then there are the times I wake up to the smoke alarm because well, Liam felt like having a hearty breakfast;-)

My routine involves getting up and opening my shades so I can see the trees. Then I make my bed and lay back down with a blanket over me while I check out what’s happening in the world on all my social sites or I write in my journal. I make my bed so that when I hear Greg come back in the house I can quickly jump up and not have him think I’m still just laying in bed. I don’t think he cares but it feels like I narrowly escape judgment. It also means I have accomplished one thing in my day already. Make your bed, change your life.  Not sure it’s working but it feels like a good start. Then off to the kitchen to make hot tea and then I typically head to my office to organize life. Sometimes when the house is still quiet I snuggle on the couch and watch Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday. Had a chance to watch this morning and basically cried through the entire interview with Anne Lamott. She was talking about her new book on prayer, Help, Thanks, Wow, and like many of Oprah’s guests it hit me in a soft spot, the spiritual journey. More on this another time.

What a gift it is to have time to myself but I often look around and wonder, where did everyone go? Sometimes I don’t recognize my life. It changes so fast and I feel like I’m out of sorts and can’t keep up. The summer is always a time to slow down and take a breath. And a rainy Saturday morning is like that on steroids for me. Seriously more quiet time than I know what to do with. I know some of you may be in the throes of it with infants, toddlers, or even aging parents that require intense attention. So this all probably sounds heavenly, and to be honest it kind of is, but it’s fleeting and I have to remind myself to just enjoy the moment.

Now off to rally the troops, I think it’s time for some board games. I hope they want to play with me. heart-8544467

This Is Me…

We are rarely asked, “who are you?” The typical questions we get are “how are you?” or “what do you do?” But if asked, “Who are you?” What would you say? The challenge with that question, for me, is that we are complex. How we see ourselves or how we show up to others depends on many factors. What environment we’re in, what’s happening in life, what role you’re playing at that moment, and even what kind of day we’re having. I’m fascinated that some people around me seem to think I have it all together. Queue the title of this blog! Our lives are complicated and if you think what people put into the world, especially on social media, is the real deal, it’s not, it’s most likely just the “highlight reel” or only part of the story. We’re all playing multiple roles every day so it’s seemingly impossible to really know someone in their entirety, even when we live with them for decades. In some of those roles we’re crushing it and in others, we’re failing miserably.  I want to explore those roles to better understand how we connect and how we can lean on others to make progress. My main characters are complex so to kick things off I’ll start with some words that come to mind to introduce you.

The Mom:

Three ~Loving~ Joyful~ Irritable~ Listener~ Goofy~ Problem supporter~ Explosions~ Laughter~ Not good enough~ Dancing~ Adventure~ Sacrifice~ Care Taker~ Compassion~ Purpose ~Priority

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This is “My Heart”

The Wife:

17 years~ Safe~ Loved~ Self-preservation~ Vulnerable~ Scared~ Sickness~ Attraction~ Provider~ Care taker~ Pressure~ Laughter~ Frustrating~ Trust~ Happy~ Neglect~ Dependable~ Inspiration~ Strength

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This is “My Partner”

The Child:

Perfection~ Rebel~ Outspoken~ Adaptive~ Temperamental~ Expectations~ Struggle~ Broken~ Judgmental~ Resentful~ Care taker~ Loved~ Selfish

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This is “The Foundation”

The Sister:

Friend~ Competition~ Support~ Distance~ Pretending~ Alcoholism~ Difficult~ Sad~ Care Taker~ Helpless~ Pride~ Admiration~ History

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This is “Life Support”

The Professional:

Confident~ Imperfect~ Supportive~ Independent~ Worthy~ Learner~ Purpose~ Growth~ Competent~ Grateful~ Frustrating~ Control~ Provider

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This is “The Girl Boss”

The Friend:

Loyal~ Inconsistent~ Vulnerable~ Giving~ Lucky~ Center~ Easy~ Silly~ Open~ Caring~ History~ Depth~ Laughter~ Supportive~ Tears~ Not enough time

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This is “My Tribe”

The Girl:

Introverted~ Tired~ Curious~ Passive~ Introspective~ Emotional~ Silence~ Grief~ Pause~ Journal~ Meditation~ Reflection~ Warm~ Hurting~ Compassion~ Spiritual~ Pain ~Enough

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This is “Me”

So that’s how I would start to answer “who are you?”…at least the starring cast. I’m sure I’ll continue to discover different versions of myself as I grow and learn. Sharing it on the surface feels easy but as I plan to dive deeper it feels unsettling. I’m excited to know more about how others juggle all the roles we play and expectations we feel.  I would love for you to come along for the ride with me on this journey….but I’m not exactly sure where we may end up.

The Journey Begins

Thanks for joining me!

We don’t have to do all of it alone. We were never meant to. ~ Brene Brown

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Much of my professional and personal life is spent coaching people. I often encourage people to take risks and lean into things that make them uncomfortable. I struggle to take my own advice, but I’m working hard to listen to myself and others. I want to grow and this is one way I see that growth accelerating. I have talked about writing a blog for a decade. I always tell people I want to write. I have been writing in journals for most of my life privately and never shared it. So this feels terrifying. Once I start to share I may, or you might, figure out I’m not that great of a writer and then that dream could come to an end. Or I may write something that people aren’t prepared to hear, or I’m not prepared to say. But we have one life and I want to explore it and I’d like to do something meaningful with what I discover.

I don’t have it all figured out and I don’t pretend to. I continue to struggle with how I find peace and purpose in my life. I would love to know what others are doing on their journey to live “their best life” as my 14 year old daughter would say. I’m ready to lean into something scary and I can only hope I will end up on the other side, if nothing else, more aware and open to new experiences and maybe one day I actually will be able to honestly say, “I got this!”