Tuesday, December 6, 2016

For the sake of replication.

On a recent road trip I was catching up on podcasts, I was listening to Episode #566 of the Art of Charm Podcast; I highly recommend checking out any and all episodes. During this installment Phillip McKernan discussed the importance of identifying the Five Happiest Days of your life, an exercise to explore your passions, by identifying the clues your life is leaving you. My interests were peaked and I became inspired to complete the exercise on my own.

He had a few tips to make sure you pick the best of the best: don't select days that you may feel obligated to pick (ie: wedding days or the birth of a child); don't get stuck on finding five, if you're able to come up with three you will still be able to learn something; and the day doesn't have to be great from start to finish - maybe there was just a moment, a touch or a kiss. McKernan then suggests to arrange the days in order of their greatness.

Upon beginning, I immediately selected two of my top five days but quickly became stingy with the remaining three spots. I have spent the last couple of days trying to whittle down my top seven days to five; I am sharing them here, in the hopes that writing them will help me identify the bread crumbs along my trail and where they could lead me.

One:
June 12, 1984 - The day my parents were married. It was a gorgeously warm summer day in South Louisiana when my parents were married on a bridge in the middle of a swampy State Park; you could feel the hope for the future in the air and positivity seemed to exuded from each guest. I was finally going to have a real family and would have a father who wanted to be my Daddy. My Great Grandmother, Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, and family friends all gathered under the shade of the trees to celebrate their union and surround them in our love.
Two:
Castaway Cay Day - In 2014 The Smith family went on a Disney Cruise with the family of one of my best friends from college. It was one of those rare days in life that was beautiful from sun up to sun down. I never really understood when I heard the phrase, "Living On Island Time," until this day. We relaxed by the water, played in the sun, and floated in the waves. No thoughts given to our daily lives, we were all living in the moment and it was amazing. This was the first time Cheetah had the chance to spend an entire day at a beach; the moment his feet hit the sand, he was home. He was smiling bigger, playing harder, and laughing louder than I had ever seen - he just came to life. When the day was drawing to a close and our party numbers began to dwindle, as everyone began heading back to the ship, Cheetah and I decided we would stay until the very last moment. We spent the last hour, together, in silence; sitting by the water, listening to the tide roll.
Three:
Junior/Senior Rivalry - This is an event that is part of the tradition of Mississippi University for Women, for over one hundred years now. It was the night that I was chosen by a sisterhood of dynamic, strong, and inspirational women to become a pledge of the BlackList Social Club; the top (most well-rounded) thirteen Juniors were selected as pledges. We pledges were brought together for the first time, that night. I was elated to be among the chosen, I knew that these stellar young women would become the sisters I was destined to call mine.
Four:
O'ma and O'pa's 50th wedding celebration - This was such a joy-filled day, there was a huge turn out of friends and people whose lives were touched by my grandparents; the outpouring of emotion was outrageous. Their relationship had such simple beginnings but over the years, the lives they built were big and involved more than just their families; they gave so much of themselves to others. The grandchildren performed a special skit that told their love story and celebrated all the change their marriage brought to the world. The entire extended family spent the weekend together, regaling vividly animated stories of our history.

Five:
October 29,2016 - A whirlwind trip to Memphis proved to be more than expected, I was coming to town to witness a dear friend marry the love of her life; the night was splendid.  The commitment and love the couple expressed for each other was beautifully enhanced by the promises and pledges given to them by their family and friends. As the reception commenced and old college friends assembled, it was as if no time had passed. Bathed in the light of The Levitt Shell, we laughed and danced the night away. I had felt disconnected from myself but that evening I realized that while I have more responsibilities than I did in 1996, I was still Jane and she is great.
Honorable mention:
Mardi Gras week 2013 - Tarzan and I took Cheetah to Disney World for the first time, it was just perfect. Sharing my favorite place with Cheetah and recounting memories of our Honeymoon with Tarzan fully cemented my connection to this magical place. Watching Cheetah's face light up time and time again allowed me to see the fantasy of the parks, through the eyes of a small child, which was something I hadn't had the chance to experience for myself.

This was a very revealing exercise, I was pleasantly surprised in the number of wonderful days it helped me commemorate. I have since spent time shuffling through photographs, deepening my connection with the gleeful days in my past. However, I am still working on the common denominators and clues that these Top Five/Six Happiest Days of my life have given me; but they are all rooted in great affection, filled with family and friends who compose my inner-most circle.















#2016TheYearOfTheJump


This year has been one of the best for growth and change, in my nearly 39 years

Monday, November 28, 2016

To stand where they stood and see what they saw.

In 1976, Randal (my biological father) was stationed in Mannheim, Germany for three years, being newlyweds, my Mama joined him overseas. Once the three years were up, Mama and I returned to Louisiana and have not been back since. Over the years Mama and I discussed returning to Germany, to see where I was born, but life sped by us. So you can imagine how thrilled I am to say that the Smith family will begin an expedition through a large chunk of Europe, in May 2017!
Me, Mama, and Randal
It's more than a family vacation, this is a pilgrimage to my birthplace, nearly 39 years in the making! It will be an important point in our family's history: a shining spot in Cheetah's memory of the summer he spent in Europe, with his parents (before he realized how dumb they are); and for us, a fantastic journey with our little boy (while he still enjoys our company).
Tarzan, Me, and Cheetah
We plan to visit Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy and Austria. We will explore Germany in two parts of our trip:  During the first stopover we will locate the historic site of the former Armed Forces Hospital (where I was born) and explore the city where we lived - Viernheim (the two places where we lived and the neighborhood we called home); and the second stopover will be to traverse some of the countryside and take part in the 403rd castle illumination in Heidelberg - our good friends will be accompanying us on this leg of the tour.
1st apartment (top 2 windows), American Armed Forces Hospital, and 2nd apartment.
I am excited to have the opportunity to show Cheetah part of the world and explore some of the most historic sites in Europe. As our itinerary continues to take shape, I am surprised by my mixture of emotions.
The basic route for our trip.
Being someone who believes in the healing powers of self exploration, I've longed to return to where my odyssey began in hopes to complete my origin story. I have spent years thinking that something in me will just "click" when I lay eyes upon the places that my Mama and Randal called home. To me, Germany is more than a country or home to a military base that beckoned two young newlyweds from Louisiana; it is a place that changed him, her, and my entire life.
Mama (and me!) in our Viernheim apartment
Germany was the site of a pivotal moment in the lives of 3 people; it is the place where promises were broken and hopes of better a tomorrow were created. I need to see where my Mama was sad, scared, and lonely. I need to see the scene where Randal decided it was too hard, where he was cruel, and where he gave up. But more than that, I need to see where my Mama was brave, strong, resilient, and happy. I need to find forgiveness, for the scars he left her with.
Me, Mama (Sheron), and Daddy (Freddy)
However, this IS just a place, a mere speck of dust in the grand scheme of her and my life but without these 3 years of our past, the truly fantastic life we have could have never been. Maybe seeing these places and finally returning to the beginning of it all will prove to be anticlimactic, that's why I know this is not a trip I should do alone. Someone needs to be there as a reminder that it isn't just the moments or places in my history that define me; and I know Tarzan and Cheetah can be that reminder for me. Going on this sojourn with them lessens the pressure of finding closure and creates an opportunity for them to see Germany through my eyes, understand how important this place is, and help me create new memories there.



Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Tightening the purse strings.

This has been a big year for me and the Smith family, I'll expound on that in a later post, but one of the biggest occasions has been booking the Smith's 2017 trip to Europe. I was born in Heidelberg, Germany (my parents were stationed there at the time), in 1978, and I have never had the chance to return to my birthplace but that is going to change. We head abroad at the end of May, for a "quick" trip and I am beyond thrilled.
As you can imagine, the trip has been a very frequent topic of discourse in our household. For months now we've been discussing itineraries, flight schedules, passports, & rental cars. I have selected all the cities and sites (Disneyland Paris & the Neuschwanstein Castle made the list, of course) that are mandatory stops on my thirty-eight year old, Trip of a Lifetime; Tarzan is just happy to come along, he makes planning a trip such a breeze. Cheetah has added Rome, Italy, as his must see city on our European trek, and continuously adds new venues to our expedition through Europe.

Due to the hefty price tag that comes along with a trip overseas, we've been tightening the purse strings at the Treehouse. We've instituted meatless meals, elemenated eating out, greatly reduced our outside entertainment budget, and have begun keeping each other in check on our frivolous spending.



I began asking myself, "Do I need/want this? Would I rather _____ while in Germany or France?" - each time I consider purchasing new clothes or shoes. I have also been prompting Tarzan when he is contemplating a purchase and Cheetah when he is requesting a new toy or game, with the same round of questions and have found this practice to be the most helpful; until recently. I believe that I may need to create a different method to remind the family, The Boy especially, as to why we're currently sacrificing our wants for a future time and location:



One day as I reviewed the weekly grocery run with The Boy, we were both adding our lunch & dinner items when I mentioned needing to add tampons to the list. Without skipping a beat, Cheetah demanded, "Do you really need tampons, or can you wait to get tampons in France?"


It took several minutes for me to reign in the snorting and tear shedding laughter but I was able to smile lovingly at him and counter, "Yes my dear, I am sure that I need the tampons now. I may even need tampons while in France, too."


It can be tough on a frugal mom, check out this link for a little comedy relief.





Thursday, November 10, 2016

They left a legacy.

Yesterday she would have been 95; to say she was the best grandmother I could have asked for would be an injustice. She was half my heart, the snort in my laugh and the light in my eyes. Her blood runs through my veins and continues to pump life through my scarred and lonesome heart. Sure the pain is somewhat dulled but my eyes still well up, easily spilling over with the mere thought of my life without her.






The loss of her sometimes seems to overshadow the loss of O'pa but I think that's just because we helped each other through loosing him. I stayed with her for over a week after he died because I wasn't sure I would be able to breathe again, if I left their house. We spent days without talking, going through the motions. I would fix her meals and we would both pretend to eat; at night I would lie beside her and we would cry until our bodies ran out of steam. On the night before I left she admitted to staying up late the weeks he was sick, and spending hours sitting in his chair just to feel close to him and smell him; her honesty was so comforting that I admitted to sneaking into his room when my shift was over and it was someone else's turn with him, because I was afraid I would regret not being with him for every second he had remaining. That night was the first night I hadn't cried my self to sleep since the beginning of August (he died on August 18th). I still didn't want to leave the safety of their home but at least I wasn't leaving scared, she had given me hope because I still had her.






You see, my relationship with my O'ma and O'pa was anything but typical. I was blessed with a wonderful set of parents who have always done above and beyond what parents (and people) should do for me, but O'ma and O'pa were like Parents+. I spent my Summer, Winter and Spring breaks happily by their sides. In large part, I have them to thank for being able to see all 48 Continetial United States; our times in the camper, seeing America will never be forgotten. We stayed up late playing games, teasing each other, and mapping out the next day's route. We spent countless hours discussing life, love, and trials. I was given unriveled access to their stories, lives and histories; nothing was off the table, I could ask them anything. There were times when I could tell that it was a tough topic, there were many pregnant pauses and answers that began with, "It was a different time..." They told me the truth.




There were times in their past where they disappointed themselves; but as they recounted these moments, they made sure to inform me that Parents and Grandparents are people and that they make mistakes. This was probably the best information they ever game me; sure it lowered the pedestal I had placed them on, but it was vital. I was able to go back to this lesson as time marched on. I used it as a point of reference with my parents and once I became a parent; it puts things in perspective and lowers anxiety levels when considering some of the tough choices that parents have to make.






These two were good people. They showed me how to be a person, how to live my life, and how to die with dignity. The world was a better place because of them and I am a better person for having known them. This legacy that they left me, must be handled with care and put into place. I will leave this earth much better than how I found it.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Patience is the answer.

Tarzan and I often get the question, "Why did you choose to have only 1 child?" While I strongly believe it is no one's business, I can say that after a very short week home, I have been reminded of the main reason: Patience.

Currently, Cheetah is lamenting my entire existence because I am insisting that his percussion practice be deliberate & focused, the moments of insanity are increasing vastly. It's like his heartbeat is some how linked with the amount of muttering & eye rolling he can produce. Heaven forbid I have a correction to make on his homework or an idea on how he can better edit his shorty story - his face reddens and his sighs become laborious. Those are the moments that I try to count to a hundred and remind myself of the food quality & accommodations of prison - must stay strong!

He tends to react better reason. So breathing deeply, I try to explain that my duty is to instruct him on how to be a contributing member of society; I have to instruct him on how the real word works, how to make & keep friends, how to get & keep a job, and how to stay on the right side of the law. Of course this conversation is met with more sighs & frustration from The Boy and as I begin counting  from 1 to 100, I can feel my imagination slipping down a rabbit hole...go with me here:

We happen upon a coliseum filled with crazed, screaming fans as Cheetah is marched into the center by a scantly clad Adam Levine. A hush falls, as I stand to greet the Challenger. I list the Challengers crimes: not fulfilling promises, blatant disrespect of authority, addiction to gaming devices, & a complete unwillingness to complete menial tasks - the crowd hits their feet and begin jeering at the Challenger. As the Challenger turns to select his weapon of choice, I usher in Dwayne Johnson who is carrying a house cat who is suited for battle. As he lovingly scratches the cat's chin and smiles in my direction....




"Mom, I'm sorry I get so ugly with you. I know you're right and that I am letting my desire for television and video games rule my life and my actions...(he continues to talk as he leans in for a hug)."

I mutter some version of forgiveness as I try desperately to return to my studly daydream...darn kids.



Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Gather Your Gatekeepers

I feel better than I have in months, my smile is radiating from deep within me, this past weekend was cathartic. Many of my college friends & I gathered in Memphis to celebrate the nuptials of a very dear friend. We danced and laughed the nights away, we strolled down memory lane regaling all who would listen with stories far too colorful for the light of day. Monday, as I journeyed home with sounds of Brandi Carlile, Prince, Janis Joplin & Johnny Cash wafting through the air, it all came together. I was home.



In these smiling-tear stained faces were the women I grew up with, over time we had let life steal us away from each other. We had become disconnected and unfamiliar with what we love about ourselves, because we couldn't see it reflected back to us, the way we can we are with them. Our memories are part of us and without their reminders, it is difficult to remain whole. We must tether ourselves to one another and make our time together a priority. Our hearts and souls crave it, we long for each other because in each other, we can find the pieces of ourselves.


There are those in our lives who hold sacred our trust, friendship, and memories; they are the gatekeepers of our existence. We need each other. Life is not meant to be lived alone, it is meant to be savored together. Gather up your loved ones, near and far...don't wait too long.




Wednesday, July 1, 2015

578,424 lives to change.



Throughout our visit to The Big Easy Cheetah noticed the people on the streets who were sleeping, crying, or asking for help (food, money, jobs, or shelter).  He asked, “Why does it seem that so many of these people live on the street?”  Thoughtfully, I answered, “Because many of them do live on the streets.”  I let that sentence sink in as we walked in silence, for a few blocks. 
“How does that happen?  How do you not have a place to live?” he asked.
  

I began, “There are a lot of situations that can lead to homelessness, son; it is something that effects all races, genders, and economic statuses.  That means it is something that can happen to anyone.”  I am no expert on the topic but I tried my best to cover all the situations I could imagine. I tried to cover financial loss & unemployment, drug & alcohol addiction, and mental & physical disabilities. 

I reminded him of our conversations on debt and how easy it can be for a person to get behind financially, I also explained how unemployment and lack of skills can leave a person without a way to make a living.  Then I tried to describe addiction and disabilities and how alienating they can be, how they build up walls in your life that make it difficult for you to continue fruitful relationships with the ones you love.  I attempted to clarify why some drugs are illegal, what they can do to you, why people take them and how deadly and addicting they can be.  We googled pictures of some of the drugs he had heard of and I took the opportunity to educate him on some of the synthetics that are sweeping the nation and ways to say “no” to people.  He seemed to grasp how feelings of despair and depression can lead people to a life of solitude; how inviting being on your own can be when you feel unworthy or if you're frightened you may be hurt or hurt someone else.  Then I covered medical care and how the inability to afford proper medical care can leave people in mental and physical states where they cannot be taken care of properly or cannot afford to take care of themselves, properly. 
 
By this time I was zapped, but I could see our hotel and knew we would be in a dark cool hotel room in under five minutes.  That's when I was thrown a curve-ball.  We crossed the last street there sat a disabled man wearing a hat similar to my father’s, it read “Vietnam Veteran.”  I could barely breathe.  The Boy squeezed my hand so tight.  He reached into his pocket and gave the man his dollar.  He then said, “Thank you for your service.”  Silently we walked through the hotel and boarded the elevator, still holding hands.  Once we reached our room he asked me how I thought that man ended up on the streets.  I then tried to explain war and how it can leave a solider broken, to a nine year old.

Thankfully Tarzan called and asked if we would be willing to pick him up.  Cheetah and I jumped in the car and headed out of the city.  As I piloted the car through the rain his eyes fell upon the underpass where a large number of (what he/we assumed to be) homeless people; his voice shook as he uttered, "Mom there are just too many of them.  We have to help."  He was right.  (Please check out The National Alliance to End Homelessness in America, they have viable solutions for all areas.)



We picked up Tarzan and he rounded up the final questions Cheetah had for the day and filled in anygaps in the explanations we had discussed earlier in the day.  Our tired minds and heavy hearts needed some lifting, so we headed out for frozen yogurt before bed.  I was so glad he opted to take a shower and call it a night, after binging on frozen goodies.  I turned off all the lights and sat on the floor by the bathroom listening as my sweet son drifted off to dreamland swimming in the sounds of my Bread station on Pandora.  He might not have been aware of it but I saw pieces of his innocence dying that day and it was so unsettling to see the harshness of the world through his eyes.