Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Giving Thanks

It's Thanksgiving. A time to celebrate with our family and friends and to pause in our busy lives to give "thanks" for our many blessings we have received this year. As I compose my blog today, I am sitting in the family waiting room at St. Francis hospital. My father is having open heart surgery to repair his mitral valve, among other things. My mother is surrounded by her children, a few grandchildren and sons-in law. We are passing the time playing cards, surfing the 'net, browsing through magazines or carrying on silly conversations. Of course, I am writing and plan to grade some papers as well. We are looking at a total of seven, long excrutiating hours until we know how Dad is faring. As the holiday season begins, my musings circle around my parents. My upbringing is a testament to the person I am today: compassionate, silly, family oriented, opinionated, determined, hard-working and loyal. My character is a product of my parents and of my two older brothers and my older sister. My parents married with barely any income to start their lives together. After their brief elopement in a courthouse, my father whisked my mother away to begin her military life. My memories are scant and few but my home was filled with love, discipline and laughter. No family is perfect; there were arguments among children, bad days for mom or dad, but never was the home filled with abuse, neglect or other horrible ailments that we hear in the news today. Holiday meals were plentiful. Sometimes we traveled home to Georgia, but mostly we stayed in our home. If the weather was nice, we'd play outside with such games as "catch the flag," "kick ball" and "the green box." (the last one was a game we created on the air force base) It's amazing what sweet memories we hold and what others can't remember. There were certain events, no matter how miniscule or trivial, that left a lasting impact in my life. One year, I was very sick at Christmas time. Santa Claus had brought me a gift - Rub-A-Dub Dolllie. Usually, we would all go to the Christmas tree to open presents but since I was ill, my sister brought me my dollie while my mom soaked me in the tub to cool my fevered body. I held my doll in the bathtub and thought how nice it was that they had thought of me first. There was a night we experienced severe weather (we lived in Oklahoma at the time). It was so severe that numerous funnels were reported, high winds and our neighbor's house had been struck by lightening. My parents had placed us in the bathtub with pillows on top of us. My feelings of fright were muffled a bit under the coverings, but the fear shook me quite to the bone. It wouldn't be until years later that the significance of parental love would be recognized. We didn't have basements in Oklahoma. The red clay was too tough to dig through to build such protective rooms or it was extremely expensive. The fact that my parents stood in the hallway in order to ensure the safety of their children was a testament of their love for the kids. I have that same devotion toward my children today. My parents' priority list is family. They have always put us first in their lives. Every sacrifice was made in order for us to have a bright future. My father worked two jobs at one time in order to make ends meet. He didn'tcomplain and either did my mother. She kept the household in perfect order, had meals prepared, clothes laundered and made sure we made it to our extra curricular activities. Both my parents were figurative cheerleaders throughout our entire childhood. My family is not without flaws. We still have sibling rivalries at times. Feelings can get hurt, poor communication occurs and stubborness can prevail for incredible amounts of time. However, I am so thankful to be a part of this crazy relationship. My father is a compassionate, intelligent man. He is logical, quiet and reflective. He allows us to make our decisions but is open to give advice when asked. His spirit is gentle and his love is never ending. My mother is fiesty, opinionated and fiercely protective of her children and grandchildren. She will boldly speak her mind if someone is treated poorly. She has a big heart, but doesn't wear it on her sleeve. She exhibits her love for others through her actions. It's just her way. My thankfulness is derived from the fact that I have had a good life. My Christian upbringing has led me to a successful marriage, two beautiful daughters and a fulfilling career as a teacher. I could not have accomplished any of this without two of the most important people in the world: Herschel and Judy Middlebrooks. Happy Thanksgiving, Mom and Dad. I love you very much. Saying "thanks" cannot ever pay you for all that you have done for me, but I hope that my life has made you proud. To everyone else: may the holidays bless you all.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

My White Whale and Why I'll Never Catch It

This blog will most likely cause some conflict in my life, but before you begin emailing me and protesting, take a deep breath and truly FEEL what I am posting.  Ask yourself, "Is this also me?" 

Everyone is so busy with their lives today.  There seems to be never enough time to spend with a friend or if so, it's brief and fleeting such as meeting once a month for a dinner or sending a few texts or emails to catch up from time to time.

My family members are supportive, loving and good listeners, but of course, they are family.  That's what's expected of each other.  One of my sisters in law is priceless, but she doesn't live close to me.  If she did, I would not be composing these words on my blog today.  I know for a fact that I could call her and say, "Hey, let's go shopping" and she would happily accompany me.

My experiences with friends haven't been necessarily horrible, just a bit disappointing.  My decisions have probably caused just as much breakage from a potentional relationship.  At every life changing event, however, the discovery that there is truly no "BFF" around to vent, or have comfort from or share laughs, or sit with me during a time of tragedy is a bit unsettling. 

I've been told I have a bubbly personality and I "make friends easily."  I beg to differ.  I can work a crowd, make people feel comfortable and laugh, but the moment the time ends, there is no one walking beside me.  I wonder if I'm doing something to drive a person screaming in horror, but my husband even states he doesn't know.  It's a bit lonely at times, but I pick myself up and go off and entertain again and again and again.  I wonder if I am the example the profound Aristotle once stated, "A friend to all is a friend to none."

Friendships are priceless.  Even though we grow older, have our own families and careers, it's important to nourish them.  It can be compared to a marriage:  it's takes hard work and committment, respect, and compassion.

In high school, I did have a "BFF" but graduation came, and we parted our ways.  I grew in another direction and she had some life changing moments that took her away as well.  I have fond memories because she basically was my mother hen.  She watched over me, took me places, made me laugh, listened and supported me through everything. Was she perfect?  Heck no, but the fact she tried to do everything perfectly created a special bond between us.  I hope she realized that I treasured our friendship and she will always have a special place in my heart. 

There was another time I began bonding with someone from my writer's group but she moved to another state when her husband was transferred.  I'm sure that if she would have stayed, this blog, too, would not have been written.

The fact is, I don't want to be "one" of numerous friends to someone.  I want to have a tight bond with another human being, besides my husband.  I need time away from the male perspective.  My spouse is my everything, but he doesn't understand all of the female side and never will.  It's just a fact of nature.  I desire knowing that if I call or text a friend that I don't feel like I am intruding on her life or becoming a nuisance.  I don't want to be placed on the shelf to sit there and "wait" when needed.    It would be nice to know that if someone asks my friend, "Who is your best friend?  Who is the only person you would call in need? Who is the only person you would consider family?  If you want to try new things or run an idea by someone who would it be?" 

The answer I'm hoping to hear is:  "Tina."

I'm sure I've hurt feelings with this post, but it's not my intention.  I have several dear friends and I cherish all of them. (you know who you are!)   I could call them right now and vent about life, just shoot the breeze or catch up and I love them dearly.  We could make plans to go out, eat dinner, see a movie or go shopping, but it's more about spending a brief moment away with another person.  There needs to be that bond, that love, that fierce devotion.

Maybe I am being unrealistic.  These type of friendships may only exist in the movies or on television.  If so, then I can dream, right?

I know that there is no one out there right now that considers me that one and only "BFF" and I will have to live with that, I suppose.  It makes me sad from time to time.  I get a bit melancholy but then I pick myself back up, smile and move forward.

I'm not going through a "mid-life" crisis, as my husband has been teasing me lately.  My feelings have been this way since 1988.  How's that for a time spanse?

Like I said at the beginning, I'm sure I caused some angst among my close friends but that was not my goal.  Obviously, my best friend is my husband, but that's a totally different type of relationship, so don't go there.  It's just the way it is.  Now that I feel better writing out my perspective, I'll go back to my normal routine and please the masses.  That's what I do.

I leave you with this quote that explains how I feel from Leo Buscaglia:  "A single rose can be my garden...a single friend, my world."

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Curse of Social Media - Bullying and Idiotic Remarks

            Everyone who knows me, can emphatically state that technology is a passion.  New gadgets, gizmos, the latest craze - when it's announced, I will be reading about it or trying it out. 
            When social media pages were developed, the concept of sharing information online did not appeal to me.  We have so many problems in our society with stalkers, pedophiles, murderers and other deviants that the idea to post personal information was taboo, in my perspective.
            My daughter urged me to try MySpace because she wanted a page as well.  I agreed, as long as I had her username and password to check on her account periodically.  (I'm sure that's another argument in the future, but she's not your daughter  <grin>)
            Through several trials, we both gleaned that MySpace was a bit annoying with all the ads and the actual page format and we ceased using it.  Then, along came Facebook.  Now, this was one I truly enjoyed.  The presentation on the computer screen was clean, friendly and not so many of those annoying ads.
            Facebook became a device for contacting long, lost friends, distant relations and making connections with others that shared the same perspective on life values.
            Sounds wonderful, correct?
            Unfortunately, it's now become a place where people can vent their anger by cursing out their neighbor, hurling insults at an employer, slandering exes and intimidating the meek and mild.
            When did people lose their brains? 
            No one enjoys being humiliated in public.  Do people not understand that just because you're typing it, doesn't mean you aren't still embarrassing someone?
            I don't want to read about how you hate someone or who was "mugging" you at a game.  Facebook is not a sounding board to air your dirty laundry. 
            In order to be an adult, you deal with conflict personally and privately.  You don't state someone's name on the web and hurl expletives at this person.  Mostly everyone who reads your comment has no clue what just happened.  It makes YOU look ignorant and leaves a bad taste in the mouths of your readers.
            Some will argue, "But I'm just venting steam!"  Fine, but you don't need to state someone's name, the place, time or incident.  The fact is, you are committing something called "cyber bullying" or "defamation of character."  In the heat of emotion, you are not thinking clearly.  Its advisable to step back and regain control of your feelings before you begin announcing it to the world.  You may also regret your comments the next day and damage a bond with someone, not to mention staining your own reputation as well.
            You can be mad at your friend or boyfriend or girlfriend or co-worker, but face the reality that we are all human and make mistakes. We upset people but we must learn from it.  If the error is so erroneous that you can never forgive this person, then MOVE ON!  Don't keep it alive by posting it all over the internet for the entire universe.  You are allowing this person to control you, because you can't let it go.  You are giving permission to others to make comments and the wound will never heal.
            Ive seen people post, I dont need your comments, but…”  Hello?  Facebook is all about stating opinions.  If you do not want others to reply, DONT POST IT.  You dont have the right to become angry.  It was your doing when you opened that door.
            We all get upset.  We have our moments and feel we have been wronged horribly.  Usually, the other person is feeling the same way but from a different perspective.  If you truly must purge your soul, find a close friend that can listen, comfort and allow you to express yourself.  Don't post your hate filled rants, because in the long run, it will back fire and may haunt you in the future.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Solitude: It's Not A Bad Thing

As a teacher, I have heard numerous comments, phrases and stories throughout the year which usually makes me smile or breaks my heart.  Conversations range from fights, boy/girlfriend trouble to plans over the weekend.  The perfect remedy is within their grasp, but they tend to look at my in horror when I suggest a solution:  solitude.

My job is to instruct my students how to read and write better, in the world of the literature.  However, I try to throw in topics that relate to their lives presently or in the future.  Frequently, my ears will absorb the dreaded topic of solitude.  Teenagers hate it.  They would rather be in school versus having to stay home and be alone. 

When I ask, "What's so terrible about being by yourself?"

The response?  "Nothing to do! I get bored!"

My cliche reply tends to be "Read a book."

Sounds mundane, but my students haven't truly grasped the significance of this directive.  Adults have trouble with this, too.

Solitude is crucial in our lives.  As adults, we have stressful days but believe it or not, teenagers do as well.  Studying, working, extra curricular activities, maintaining grades, homework, and some have to help pay bills for their parents or even due to living on their own.

Why is solitude imporant?  In order to be a better human being, we need to have selfish alone time.  In that moment, a person can rest physically and mentally.  It rejuvenates the spirit, reorganizes your thinking process and facilities the individual into a new week.

There is a difference between resting and laziness, so be careful.  If all you do is lie around, let the trash pile up, and ignore your household duties, then you are not experiencing the true essence of solitude.

For example:  it's Sunday.  My family is still asleep and I am in the basement writing this blog.  It's very quiet.  No music, no television - nothing.  The stillness of the house, the cat at my feet and the perfect temperature of my home is a tranquil beginning of my day.  People are not demanding of my time, asking tons of questions or telling me story after story pertaining to their anctics of the day.

It's pure bliss.

Granted, I still need to do some laundry, grade and pay some bills, but the fact I can do this without interruption is the blessing of solitude.

That's just one type but here are some of my favorites:

1.  Soaking in the tub.  This is my favorite way to dash away from my hectic lifestyle.  My mom teases me from time to time because she doesn't understand this, but in the end, I am very relaxed and more open to communication.  I make every effort to do this at least once a week.  Hot, hot water, tons of bubbles, a good book, my favorite scented candle and a low background musical piece (instrumental only), creates the perfect atmosphere for what my husband says, "Tina's Serenity Time."

2.  Hammock:  we finally purchased one this year.  Early in the morning or late at night, this is a treat!  My daughters have been caught snoozing in it.  My oldest daughter was reclining one evening without her iPod (which is miralce) and her telephone (I almost fainted) but she didn't have a book either.  Her arms were behind her head and she allowed a gentle breeze to rock her back and forth.  I asked her, "What are you dong?"  She replied, "Just chillin'" was her reply.  See?  Solitude.  I left her alone where she basked in the night air for quite some time.

3.  No friends:  this is something I tell my daughters they need to do from time to time.  Enjoy an evening of no friends.  They choose to hang in their rooms and watch a movie or go outside and ride a bike or scooter up and down the street.  I try to stress no texting, but that's easier said than done!  I remember one time, my youngest asked someone to spend the night.  The entire week had been full of school, night activities and running around.  My gentle reply "Let's have a quiet night.  I think you need it."  She didn't argue, but the look on her face told me she was not happy.  She fell asleep rather early and slept well into the next morning.  When she woke up, she told me, "I'm glad I didn't have anyone over.  I was tired."  Tired, yes, but she only realized it because she slowed down and found the positive side of solitude.

I've been instilling the idea of "alone time," "serentity now" (Seinfeld phrase), and "solitude" into my daughters' psyches for quite some time now.  They are slowly seeing the benefits of this form of meditation.

To my students, it's an on-going battle.  They believe that in order to "have fun" you have to be constantly on the move, interacting with friends and party.  The need to "be still" and enjoy the quieter times in life is not in their vocabulary. 

I know, I know.  It's a "teen thing" and one day, they will understand the importance of it, but I can't give up now.  They will someday realize how important it is and to cherish those moments of reflection and rejuvenation.  They will make the connection that these quiet moments will make them better individuals, they will appreciate life more and become better human beings.

If you are reading this blog, I hope you, too, find a time for that needed solitude.  I would love to hear your ideas!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Where Were You On September 11, 2001?

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy in New York City.  The hijacking of four airplanes with the innocent passengers ranging from newborns to the elderly, would take their last trip as they plunged into buildings or the quiet landscape of small community.

We all know the stories, the acts of heroism, the nameless faces of those who screamed in terror as they witnessed the unfathomable essence of pure evil.

Right before the news broke of the first airplane crashing into the World Trade Center, I had just stepped out of the career lab of South High School in Wichita, Kansas.  My freshmen were working with counselors and creating a career folder.  Basically, "What do I want to be when I grow up" type of lesson.  Passing by one of the administrator's offices, I noticed that one of our security guards and a couple of staff members were huddled around the television like a campfire scene.  Pausing mid-step, I inquired, "What are you doing?"  They all glanced up and one stated, "An airplane has hit one of the World Trade Centers."  I shook my head sadly, not at that moment, realizing the impact of his statement.  "Oh how horrible, " I replied.  The idea of an accident was the only conclusion my mind could concoct. 

Proceeding into the opposite office, I cleaned out my mailbox, spoke with a few of the office staff about student issues and retraced my steps toward my freshmen class.  When I heard, "What the hell is going on!"  I stepped back into the previous office.  The huddled group of colleagues quickly dispersed and the security guard shook his head as he walked past.  "We're at war."

What?  What!  "Wait a minute!  What's happening?"  I asked, as I grabbed his shirt sleeve. 

"Another airplane has hit the other World Trade Center.  I just watched it live on television."  He walked away in search of our head principal.

I could feel my stomach began to churn and the implications of his statement.  A sudden sense of fright enveloped me and the first thing I thought of were my two girls, ages 1 and 5 at the time, and then my military husband.  I ran to the television, saw a few pictures of the burning buildings and returned to the counselor's office. 

I've been told my face is full of expression and that day, more so than ever. The counselor could read what was written on my face.  She knew something horrible had occurred but no clue just how much so.   As my students, my precious, young, innocent students continued to work, I whispered to the counselor what was happening.  I informed her that I needed to contact my husband.

I went into an office, dialed his number, and when he answered "unsecured line" my heart raced even faster.  "Michael?  What is happening?" 

"Not sure yet.  Don't expect me home for awhile," and within seconds, he hung up.

What just seemed like seconds, the news broke that the Pentagon had been hit. 

It was war.

I cannot remember which paraprofessional it was, but she saw me shaking and she must have sensed my turmoil.  I felt cool hands grasp mine and she pulled me into a office with the school's registrar.  She began praying and I bowed my head and listened as she asked for God to heal us in this time of need, to send a calm over our spirits and protect our brothers and sisters of our nation.

I wiped my tears, hugged her and went back into the counselor's career center and resumed my duties as a teacher.

I've always thought I was a strong, independent woman.  However, for three solid weeks, I would go through the motions of chores, cooking, taking care of household duties but I can actually say that I was in a state of depression.  I cried myself to sleep every night, worried for my husband and fearing for my children.  Watching the clips of the airplanes slamming into the building, bodies falling and the collapse of the towers continued to invade my soul.  The television was becoming a nightmare and I made the decision to turn it off for some time.  It was a saving balm.

My brother in law was sent to Iraq and served two tours.  We are so thankful that he returned home safely to his wife and three children. He is now officially retired from the Marine Corps and was welcomed home by the American Legion.

 My military husband wrote his name on the volunteer list, if he was needed.  I was terrified by that prospect but it's who he is:  a proud American who loves his country.  He was never called to fight over in the Middle East, but he is still with the military and close to retiring.

The fact that ten years have passed seems unreal.  I can still vividly recall the feelings of terror, the patriotism and the pictures plastered throughout my memory.   My spirit was deflated for quite some time, but as I listen to survivors speak of courage, hope and moving forward, I feel that I must do the same. 

I may have not been physically there when it happened.  I did not lose a family member, but as an American, I lost brothers and sisters and I bled with our country.  We may have some problems in our nation with our politicians, the economy and other issues, but I would never consider living anywhere else. 

Just as singer Lee Greenwood stated:  "I'm proud to be an American, where at least I know I'm free.  And I won't forget the men who died, who gave that right to me, so I proudly stand up, next to you and defend you still today.  'Cause there ain't no doubt I love this land...GOD BLESS THE USA."

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Mid-Life Crisis?

My husband has stated, quite frequently, that I am experiencing a "mid-life crisis."  I shake my head in frustration when he says this because my definition of this phrase differs quite significantly. 

Most people will define it as "trying to gain back a youth lost" or "changing to reckless behavior."  This applies to many people I know, but me?  I don't think so.  Why does he tease me over and over?  My explanation follows and after you read this post, please feel free to comment.  Is my husband correct or am I?

It all begin in January of this year.  Tired of the constant side pains during my monthly curse, the horrible image of myself in the mirror and driving around in my "mommy van," my next course of action was just that:  take action and quit whining!

In March, my OB-GYN and I decided enough was enough and it was time to have a TAH (total abdominal hysterectomy).  The word frightened me at first:  surgery, hot flashes, irritability...wait.  I was already experiencing these things and more, especially the irritability.  Letting go of my fears, a sigh escaped my body and the truth hit me in the face:  you're getting older and it's time to accept what I was experiencing or alter my life.  I scheduled the next visits for the Lupron shots and then my surgery. 

When I left the office with Toots (my husband, for future reference), feelings of fright yet relief swirled throughout my brain.  Something inside me burst open and the change began...pardon the pun.

1.  Improve my health.  In March, I weighed 215 pounds and I hated it.  I loathed shopping for clothes, seeing old friends (who I felt probably stated as I walked away, "Gosh, she's gotten fat!) and just plain dealing with that bloated feeling.  I began walking.  It was a slow process, but eventually my walks totaled three to four miles per day.  My surgery occurred in June and for six weeks, exercising was off limits.  Yeah, right.  Into the third week of recovery, the itch to weave movement into my routine emerged.  I was walking my three miles within four weeks of recovery, against the wishes of Toots.  Now, I am working on the "Couch to 5K" program.  It's been difficult.  My bucket list includes running a 5k once in my life.  I don't know if I will get there, but I am trying.  I had to start over because in August I had surgery on my left leg to collapse a varicose vein and it's been a bit painful.  As of the writing of this post, I am down 22 pounds and going strong.

2.  Connect with a friend.  Family is my priority and always will be.  They come first and that will never change.  However, sometimes you need to step outside the door and have "friend time."  Her name is Lee and we have known each other over twenty years.  We are both teachers, have busy lives, but she is good for my spirit.  Calming, compassionate and a great listener, it's wonderful to be able to turn to someone to vent.  (My sister in law, Patty, is my "bestie" but she lives further away and we don't get to see each other very often, except for family gatherings.  She is my rock in my life and I couldn't imagine being on this earth without her.  Thank goodness for the telephone!)  Anyhow, Lee began exercising with me. Apparently, she had been feeling the same way and started her program five months earlier and when I saw her, I thought, "WOW!  She looks awesome!"  I told her about my bucket list and while I was recovering from surgery, she began the running program.  She is doing very well and I'm proud of her. 

2.  Get a new car.  Sounds materialistic but I had been driving the "mommy machine" minivan for seven years.  Don't start fuming:  vans are awesome.  The gas mileage, the room, the economy of the entire vehicle is a necessity for busy parents with hectic lives and a horrible economy.  So, why the new car?  I read somewhere that "you only live once" and the thought of enjoying my twilight years didn't include waiting until I was eighty years old to finally have a car I loved.  I mean LOVED.  So, with the support of Toots, the car hunt began.  Right before my surgery, my new car sat in my garage.  Well....that's another long story but after a bit of conflict and lemon car experience, my new-new car is NOW in my garage.  It's a dark red Buick Enclave and to say "Heaven" can't describe it.  It's a crossover vehicle.  It's a merge between an SUV and a mini van - it can seat seven people but most of all, it matches my personality.  I feel re-energized. 

3.  Get back to writing.  I've been focused so much on my family, my job and other responsibilities that I have put my passion on the back burner:  writing.  I belong to a local romance writer's club (have been for fifteen years), but my attendance has been spotty for about a year.  My daughters are involved in numerous activities in school and extra curricular.  Their dreams and hopes come first, but it's important that I do not lose mine as well.  I need to teach my girls that when they have families in the future, that they can still live out their personal desires without neglecting their duties as a wife and mother.  So, as I tell my students: "in order to improve your writing, you need to write!  It's like exercise or playing a sport. You need to stay active or you grow stagnate."  Thus, my blog.  My goal is to update it once a week.  Wish me luck.

These are my "mid-life" crises that, according to my husband, has changed my attitude.  Personally, I believe it to be an improvement, and I don't see it as a crisis.  We all go through changes in our lives and they should be for the better, right?  If we stay the same, then nothing is learned.

A mid-life crisis to me is running away from responsibility, leaving your family behind and basically, losing your brain and getting plain stupid.  I would never do these things.  My life is wonderful, but these minor alterations, in my eyes, only seek to strengthen my marriage and my relationship with my daughters. 

What do you think?