What Advent Means to Me

'You left just as you were becoming interesting!'

‘You left just as you were becoming interesting!’ –Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

 

Advent is the season in which people celebrate the birth of Jesus. But when I see the manger scenes, I can’t help feeling melancholy. Because while everyone counts down the days until the Christ child arrives, I’m saddened at the thought of my child going away, just after Christmas.

Of course, William is not a child. He’s wiser and more well-grounded than men twice his age. He can just as easily converse about philosophy as he can about Star Wars. Sometimes the topics become intermingled.

He has been counting down the days until the next chapter of his life begins. A chapter that doesn’t include Mom knocking on his door in the morning or coaxing him to Crossfit.

But his new chapter will lead him from our home in Germany to Guatemala and finally to Canada. It will be full of adventure and happiness. And that’s what I want most for him–to follow his own path.

He’s ready.

And despite the sadness, I am too.

I still can’t believe that nearly 18 years ago, the nurses at the hospital handed ME (a whimsical 23 year-old who’d never changed a diaper in her life) this little red-headed baby.

It was terrifying.

He was dependent on me.

Totally.

Completely.

100 percent.

It is a frightening sort of power you hold in your hands, bleary-eyed while everyone else sleeps, and your world shrinks to two. There is no one else who matters at 3am. Just the warm little person, who’s not happy apart from you.

Then they grow.

As a parent, your job is to slowly train them to be less dependent on you. Give them more responsibility. Give them freedom (when it’s earned). Build trust. Mutual respect.

Be surprised by their individuality.

Take credit for things you had no part in–but you’re still insanely proud of.

Raise them to be one of your very best friends.

That raspy little voice that woke you so many times in the middle of the night is clear in your memory, but you sometimes have trouble connecting it to the young man laughing beside you at the dinner table.

But there is a time for a new chapter.

William and I have each been working hard to write new narratives for our lives; and neither of us knows what twists and turns are in store.

We’ve been through so much together. So many burpees and push-ups and toes to bar. So many emotionally exhausting times. So many moments where he helped me pick up, sort and organize the pieces of my life.

Somehow, in the midst of this year’s turmoil, I became dependent upon him. And so he began the gentle process of giving ME my independence. He steadied me, until I found my balance.

There’s a line from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where Professor Henry Jones tells his son: “You left just as you were becoming interesting!”

William has always been an interesting guy, but as a young adult, the conversations are richer. And it’s hard on a mom.

It’s hard because he’s become my friend–even though that was the goal all along.

To set him free.

To watch him live his life to the fullest.

To re-shape my own, with his picture on the wall and an empty hook where he hung his hat for a while.

13 days remaining to Toughen Up, Buttercup. 


Handicapped

“I’m handicapped?”

“Well…yeah mom, technically.”

“Oh,” she said, sitting back in her wheelchair, “I guess I don’t see myself that way.”

For all the ways my mom drives me crazy, her vision of herself is something I admire.

As I’m running this momentary gauntlet, with all its painful, unexpected surprises, I sometimes lose sight of the person I want to be, as well as the person I AM at the moment.

And while it’s okay to feel beaten down from time to time, it’s important to get back up. We see people all the time resigning to life and settling for less than they’d hoped.

There are no excuses good enough to keep a determined person from achieving goals.

If Crossfit is part of your life, then you’ll go to the (insanely) early class, because it’s the only time of ‘day’ you can go. If you want to run a marathon, then the weather has absolutely nothing to do with your running schedule. If you want to spend time with your kids, then you will MAKE the time for them, even if you have to literally write their names on your calendar.

What is your goal?

Is it to be strong? To weigh less? To gain muscle? To be happy? To be smarter? To have a job you’re passionate about? To love more?

No matter what the goal, no being or entity can achieve these things for you.

It’s okay to fall when life trips you: the important thing is to pick yourself up, bandage your knees and get your feet back on the trail.

Keep the vision of yourself in the forefront of your mind.

And keep moving.

 


Take the Yoke

KB Snatch

I’ve been in a malaise of stress and mental exhaustion since I last wrote. And let me tell you, comfort eating does not cure a damn thing. Chocolate bars won’t help you sleep; potato chips won’t play taxi driver for your kids; and raw cookie dough won’t fix the timing belt on your retro car.

However, five extra pounds in the winter does not have to turn into ten or twenty–it can stop here. And despite the recent proliferation of lebkuchen in Germany and my lack of regimented marathon training, my weight can dial back to normal based on the choices that I make.

Laziness, negativity, cookie-dough-eating: these are choices.

So what if you don’t feel motivated (to exercise, to write, to eat healthy)? Who the hell cares? Do what you know is right–no matter how ‘motivated’ you feel.

And as long as you are breathing and thinking somewhat clearly, then it’s not too late.

Every time I run a marathon, the first five miles are spent vowing to NEVER run another one again.

This has happened eight times.

Motivation is great, but it’s irrelevant. It’s better to just get the job done.

I’m not a pilot, so I apologize if my metaphor is inaccurate; but one thing I DO know is that if you’re in a nosedive, then you should pull up.

So you’ve been smoking for thirty years.

Pull up.

You’ve been eating crap for forty years.

Pull up.

Your only exercise is getting up to use the bathroom during commercial breaks.

Pull up.

It’s not too late.

And even if it turns out it IS too late, you don’t want the blackbox to reveal you were pushing forward on the yoke the entire time, telling the copilot, ‘I just can’t help it.’

Visualize what you want your life to look like–not just five years from now, but in the moment. And be utterly content with where you are in the dangerous process of dream-making.

If you look out and see nothing but the ground rushing towards you, then it’s time to take a deep breath, grab the yoke, and pull it back.

That’s what I’m choosing. 

 

 

 


Lessons from My 13 Year-Old Self: Contentment

Wonder Woman2

5 January 1987

Dear Diary,

It’s about ten o’clock. I had school today. Yuck! Thankfully, it went by quickly and I didn’t have much homework. I’ll probably flunk Home Economics. We have a test soon. Yuck! I can’t wait until this weekend. Will it NEVER come?! I can’t wait. School is so weird. It’s like it’s not real. I want to lose 10 lbs. I weigh about 130. I’m watching ‘Footloose.’ I can’t wait until this summer. I have to go to bed now.

–K.L.

I had forgotten about the journal I had gotten for Christmas when I was thirteen, until my mom brought it to me, along with some of my vintage clothes, a politically incorrect version of the game “Life,” and my 1979 Wonder Woman comic book.

Reading aloud the narratives of our family vacations with my “thrifty” (read: cheap) step-dad; my  mom and I laughed until we cried.  I was quite a drama queen–feeling my life would be over because of a move or doing badly on a test or some general heartbreak.

But aside from the dramatic use of middle-school Spanish to close each entry (Hasta Luego! Buenas Noches!) the sad theme of the diary is the lack of contentment within myself. In fact, this has been a sad theme for much of my life–I just never realized it until recently.

It feels like I’ve always struggled with this: looking for weight loss, or to win the lottery, or some relationship to make me feel whole. For much of my life, I felt like I was waiting for life to begin. And while I don’t believe that time is ever wasted (it may be misused, but it’s always character building); there were few moments when I felt like I was doing what I was SUPPOSED to be doing. Usually, I was busy trying to please other people–to say what they needed to hear in order to keep everyone happy. I never wanted to fail anyone.

But the fact is that we should never be the cornerstone of any person’s life, except our own. We each have a unique personality. We have talents, hopes and dreams. And when we use our talents, and are true to our character, then we can accomplish our dreams.

Home economics was never my forte (and still is NOT). But I’m finding that by aligning my personality–that person I REALLY am inside–with my goals, I am much more content. I have dreams that are within my grasp. But I’m the only one who can do the work to make them come true.

Regardless of the wishes of my 13 year-old self, winning 10 million dollars or getting a date would not have made me feel complete. No single thing outside of myself could possibly make me happy.

I have to start with the quiet confidence that my happiness, my desires and dreams matter in the scheme of things. 

It’s only when I am truly content with the present, and have made peace with the past, that I can move boldly into the future–no matter what.

Life has begun. And it feels good. 


Take Off Your Sunday Shoes

My son works on Sunday.

There. I admit it. I am a permissive mom.

Why is he working on Sunday? For the money, of course. So he won’t lose his job, of course.

But also…

because you forgot the butter.

or the carrots

or the tortilla chips

or whatever it was you didn’t plan for on Saturday.

One of the things that most annoyed me when I moved to Germany was that stores were closed on Sundays, but now I see the benefits of it.

I’m not opposed to shops being open on Sunday (though I do think it enslaves people, but that’s another topic). I’m opposed to the offended look, the startled response, the attitude and yes, even the comments some churchgoers make when they see people working on Sunday.

Before you walk into a store wearing your church shoes, pause for a moment at the door and remember that no matter the workers’ motives, (religious ambivalence, financial need, etc) the real reason these people are working on Sunday is because you shop on Sunday.

If you hold the belief that Sunday is a day of rest, and you are offended when people do actually work on Sunday, then stop contributing to a system that forces people to work on that day.

“Forces.” Did I just write that word?

Yes.

Some of you might say: “Plenty of people WANT to work on Sunday.” or  “They have different religious beliefs.”  Or “They are happy to have the money.”

My answer: it doesn’t matter.

Your shopping habits mean that stores will be open. Whether people want to work that day or not is irrelevant. Because I’m willing to bet that regardless of religious beliefs or economic factors, MOST people would prefer have Sunday off, especially if they have families they barely see.

My son earns the most money on Sundays, not because of the generosity of churchgoers (sadly), but because of the sheer numbers of them who go shopping after church.

My point is this: before you allow your religious disapproval to travel from your brain to your eyebrows, and, heaven help us, to your mouth, think about your own part in this system and how your actions affect others.

I never did. Until now.


Self Branding

“Your Character. Your personality. It’s your graphic, your sign, your value, and the ONLY thing you can truly possess.”

A friend of mine wrote that.

push up

It was timely, because not only did I recently teach a chapter on ‘branding’ in my business English course, but I’ve been thinking about how to ‘brand’ myself in a new business endeavor.

What are the qualities and values I want potential clients to associate with my name? How do I even go about branding myself? But aside from business…what values am I forging in my own life?

It’s easy to dust of the thesaurus and look for adjectives. But it’s far more difficult to BE some of those things. I suppose it depends on the words you choose for your life’s brand. Most of the things I want require hard work.

I want to speak German fluently, but the words aren’t going to magically appear in my head. I want to do pull ups, but I can’t expect to wake up with the ability. But these are things we can wrap our hands around.

Intangibles are much tougher.

To be reliable: it means to be there for people.

Integrity: it means to actually LIVE what you say you believe.

To make friendships: means to risk rejection.

To love: means to risk the most tender part of yourself.

A good work ethic: (*this is earth-shattering, I know) but it means WORKING HARD.

Living your dreams: it means you will face failure on a daily basis.

But just like with pull-ups, forging your life’s brand requires effort, dedication and practice. You will not be struck by lightening in a freak laboratory accident nor will a radioactive spider-bite suddenly make your life complete.

The fire will rage. The hammer will fall. But actions determine whether the metal becomes a sword or vaporizes into noxious fumes.

We are born with certain personality traits, tendencies and characteristics. But much of our character is hammered by iron, in the heat of the forge; and we can’t see the results until things cool down.

And yet, we are not passive, shapeless creatures. Our actions shape our character. 

Inaction shapes it too.

You just have to decide what brand you want for your life. And once you figure it out, you have to work for it. Because if you don’t brand yourself, time or circumstance may do it for you.

And it may not be the brand you had hoped for.


A Person of Quality

Sitting on the floor

Words without action die and go to a purgatorial lexicon where they await redemption by a different author.

So, when I say I want to lose ten pounds, I need to actually stop eating M&Ms.  If I want to run a marathon, I have to get my shoes dirty. If I want to do pull ups, then it would help to wrap my hands around the bar and pull.

Sometimes certain words follow me around like stray toddlers until I pay attention to them.

Lately, ‘quality’ has been tugging at my pant-leg.

As defined by a free online dictionary with questionable pop-ups, it can mean:

  • Character with respect to fineness, or grade of excellence
  • High grade, superiority, excellence

When people talk about quality, they’re usually talking about diamonds or overpriced handbags. We’re reluctant to apply the word quality to people, because it gives the sense that some are better than others, which really isn’t true, so hold your hate mail until you see where this is going.

How can you be a person of quality?

Can you wear sweat pants with bleach stains; sit on the kitchen floor and take selfies with the dog; have a dog that shits on the rug; say the word sh**? Does a person of quality have a dent-less car and an expensive smile?

A real diamond is expensive, but that has nothing to do with the quality. If you have a fake diamond, there is no quality. It simply looks like something it’s not.

True quality means being real. And it does cost a lot: your time, your sweat, your brainpower, your heart, your emotions, your thoughts.

It doesn’t mean blurting out every poisonous idea that wafts through your head. But it does mean living by the words you write.

The people I most admire are the ones who have mastered the art of being themselves.

I want to be a person of quality. 

There.

I wrote it.

Now I just have to live it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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