Exceptional

I have been quieter than usual the last few days. A lot going on in my mind, and more challenge than usual to gather and capture all my thoughts and emotions to put them in order to write. This post, I’m not sure there is order in my chaos, a sure sign of a me trying to capture a lot of big concepts and events and synthesize them down into something that makes sense for all of you. Of late I have been dwelling in the land of sexual abuse, likely triggered and fed by the latest Hollywood scandal. I feel lighter now that I’ve sorted through and downloaded my thoughts. But I always feel obligated to put this type of disclaimer that this is not a typical light-and-fluffy sort of post. 

Are you exceptional at anything? Playing jacks? Skipping rope? World peace? The idea is dominating my thoughts the last couple of days, so much so it’s been hard to sit down and focus on writing out the why of it all much less a training recap.

I had an appointment with TM on Monday as we are winding down this year’s tune-up. Losing friend J extended the process, because while I look and act okay, the cracks are still pretty fragile just beneath the surface. But it wasn’t grief that has my mind in slow-mo idea crunching; it is the idea of exceptionalism.

Vast majority of my life thus far, I have chased and relentlessly pursued average. My childhood traumas made me feel extraordinarily separate and alone, so I craved to be just like everyone else. Safe. Sane. Unmolested.

Yet my whole life, I have had it pounded into me that I am not like anyone else. Those pushing that idea of my not being like everyone else has not had a good or positive connotation. If I blend with a crowd it is because I choose to comport myself into some facade of normal and keep my thoughts to myself. I rarely ever belong, even now as a middle age adult, and through the days and years of my life I have learned to accept it and build a good life and niche. I have no complaints; I only see pathways to enhancement and improvement. Acceptance of my lot does not mitigate my curiosity and interest in the world around me. I cannot change what happened to child me – I learned that a long time ago – but I also learned to survive and thrive in spite of it. How often does that happen? In my experience, not often enough. I have watched the self-destruction of too many other peers in my childhood sexual abuse experience history and efforts to heal and overcome to think my successful transition into middle aged adulthood is a typical occurrence and outcome.

But I am wildly uncomfortable with the thought of exceptionalism, even good, positive, complimentary exceptionalism. To hear TM say that to me – TM who has never lied to me in all these years – felt like a death sentence. Or a lifetime of future discomfort sentence.

My discomfort lies primarily with deeply rooted fear and anxiety. To be different, exceptional, makes me a target. I’m the outlier gazelle in the sights of the predators. Difference is I am a grown-up now. I have a voice. I understand right and wrong, and I am far from powerless. Every time I think of my childhood, I have to pep-talk myself off the ledge of old, crippling fear.

Some scars still ache.

The full context of how this came about: I asked TM if he had insight to why I am successful this time with my diet and exercise consistency when I have tried and failed in times prior. His response was that I am someone who is never going to be satisfied with the simple answers to the complicated problems. I am always seeking to know more and to understand why. It’s true I enjoy knowing how things work. I am a knowledge junkie, a collector of information. In our years of working together, it all comes down to understanding why. Why this happened to me. Why did he choose me. Why didn’t I do more to make it stop. Why, why, why. There are no answers that satisfy me or that could ever quell the raging anger I have learned to restrain and contain and keep in context. But the search continues and seems unlikely to end until my final breath.

I have had to learn to live with that as well.

For a long time I imagined my latent desire to understand the essential why of evil doings to be the central strength and failing in my whole life. It’s made me try harder to be a decent human being; my fear turning into a kind of evil spawn colors most significant decisions of my life to date.

But TM points out that my need to know and understand things was part of what kept me from giving in to the despair that brought others to their knees. Or worse. It is not enough to be smarter than the average bear; it takes a lot more courage (I hate that term) and determination to survive without crutches (drugs, alcohol, poor moral choices, poor life choices, etc.). My personality type also contributes to my success in this endeavor.

For a knowledge junky seeking to understand just about everything that comes into my orbit, I am rather blindly ignorant in my own self-awareness. Frequently I think it is a handicap that comes from the old injury, and self-protection is reasonable. Looking too closely at how I think, who I am as a person requires critical self-examination of all aspects of my life. I’m incapable of that, or I am on my own. Hence the therapy and annual tune-ups.

TM and I had previously discussed my Myers-Briggs and the consistent INTJ results. I have been dismissive of that, feeling the confidence and other favorable traits were so not applicable to insecure and mundane me. TM disagrees and used the example of compliments. He can tell me how much trimmer and fitter I look (as he did on Monday when I showed up in his office wearing gym capris and t-shirt). Because I do not think that about myself to the point that someone I admire and respect as enormously as TM would take notice, I dismiss his comment and opinion as him being nice. Except TM does not say anything he does not mean; in his line of work, he is very deliberate in word choice, tone, and delivery of every utterance. What he thinks may fail to impact me in the moment (because I disagree with his comment) despite my genuine admiration and respect, our conversations linger long after we part from our meetings. I do have my own strong feelings and opinions on many subjects even if they are not fully expressed. In this case and others like it, I offer gracious thanks for kind and flattering words – I have learned at least that much – and either change the subject or blabber incoherently about nothing. Point is, he can tell I am discounting his words, because they conflict with my own ideas. This is me reinforcing my confidence in my more correct point of view.

Put that way, I feel both happy at my confidence (in my own lack of confidence) and horrified that I might come across as so blatantly contrary. But people who like me still like me, so there’s some comfort that at least I’m not obnoxious about it.

The whole 20 minute discussion at the end of our meeting was like turning on my thought grinder the last couple of days. I have been busy and productive in other aspects of my life, but part of it has been fueled by my X-ray examination of this from every single angle and processing what it all means or could potentially mean. Part of me feared I have learned nothing in the many years of off-and-on therapy I have been through with TM (and others), but that knee-jerk was quickly dismissed as negative girl shenanigans trying to hijack.

Truth is I’m mostly glad we can still have a conversation that alarms and elates me. There is so much more still left to know about myself, and I have not become stagnant and boring and hanging around awaiting a slow mental and emotional decline. Developing any sort of self-awareness – I guess it’s not instant pudding either, where you add milk, stir, refrigerate 30 minutes, and voila! Dessert. Like most complexities in life it takes time and patience (hate that term, too) in order to develop any sort of understanding and mastery.

I do like the puzzles life presents to me to solve. Even those outside my sphere of experience or ability to solve, I like that they exist and someone else will work at them and create intriguing solutions.

I learn from my experiences and missteps. In all facets of my life.

This morning I was doing 1-legged Romanian deadlifts with a cable weight machine, and I cannot even describe how tediously difficult I still find them. But I am better with them now than I was 6 months ago, and hopefully 6 months from now I will be a step up from where I dwell right now. Going through them, trying, Trying, TRYING to not weeble-wobble sideways, I understand the mechanics better now. I know what “slow and controlled” means in relation to this movement, and now I really know how slow and controlled is supposed to look and to feel. Knowing does not mean body is capable of doing it. Understanding the way it is supposed to work does not mean mind ceases sending out doubt impulses that impair concentration, though. Despite all the other ways I may do this balancing act, the cable changes it just enough to make challenging in a different way.

When I had few other ways of doing 1-legged RDLs, it seemed so much harder. But now I have dumbbells, TRX, and landmine – possibly others that I have forgotten. All look and feel just a little different. With that kind of comparison and contrast, the cable version is not so bad. Or rather, my effort with them is not so bad. In fact, my effort with them is very good and my ability is improving. Because of my interest in how my body works. And my faith and trust that I will improve. So many times I doubt myself and my capability to learn.

This is what enormous progress from 2+ years of consistent effort and study looks like for me.

My trainer is fabulous and very good at his job. He’s also scary smart, which was the outstanding quality and key takeaway from our very first meeting. While still fully in the thrall of my own brand of gym crazy, I recognized and respected his intelligence and compassion. Yeah, it took a few months for me to gain traction on what that meant to and for me, but I got there.

I rarely feel especially smart. I feel curious; I feel interested. I feel capable of learning, yet not especially bright. Because of that, smart people are almost addictive. I love that they know things, are bright in ways I lack, and are able to share their knowledge and capture my interest in different things as I try to develop understanding and make it all make sense. The puzzles they solve so effortlessly and present are good mood food for me, because there is a particular brand of energy that tends to draw me in and get my thinking pumping. Unless they are assholes. If they’re assholes, no amount of scary smart is worth my time.

With my better health quest, I’ve made huge strides in reshaping my shape and improving the quality of my overall health. TM made me recognize and understand that it’s my making the better choices for help and guidance that have kept me focused and allowed me to develop the mindset to keep going long after my typical (up until now) expiration date with exercise and healthy eating. My personality demands certain qualities in my coaching, and if I try to deny that particular quirk I will end up unhappy with my poor results.

TM reminds me of this every time we meet. Not saying it in words, but by his example in working with me to guide my thinking and teach me new tools to manage my life during the other 166 or 167 hours per week I’m not sitting in his office. Every year we moving into the next chunk of undiscovered country of all-about-me.

Thing with therapy – something often complained about by others – the all-about-me discoveries may never end. Some years I feel very self-indulgent in our tune-up sessions. Others, I have real stressors or issues I want to address head-on and resolve for a better, less nut-ball crazy life. This year, I wondered if there were perhaps there are other qualities of my personality now demanding recognition and attention? Although deeply sad and grieving the death of friend J, I am not in crisis. I am not endangering myself, my marriage, any of my closest relationships, or my livelihood. If anything, I am shedding other deadwood and unhealthy relationships that impact my ability to pursue what is most important and/or modifying my impulses and capabilities that might impede personal growth.

Learning new skills, acquiring new tools to live a better, more interesting and fulfilling life – all good. But the struggle is real. And no matter how much or how frequently I may feel myself completely ridiculous in how difficult it seems, the struggle is still real and tough for me to process and reconcile past, present, imagined future. Sometimes.

It truly is the “sometimes” in this equation that grows smaller every year.

I cannot deny or change the broken pieces, emotional shrapnel, big ugly scars from terrible injuries sustained as a kid inside my heart and my head. Look at any of the scars on my body and I feel confident I could tell you when, where, and how I acquired them. The ones on the inside – I am mostly incapable of speaking about them in detail to anyone. So many years of silence and withdrawal have made those events harden like granite in their mind vault compartments. But therapy has provided me tools and workarounds that let me move about freely through my life in spite of the mental and emotional limp-inducing load I carry.

Healing could be a misunderstood term. It’s not that I stop caring about or feeling the pain from past hurts; I seriously doubt I or anyone else will ever forget major traumas. But perhaps healing is the choice to set it aside to the point that these grievous injuries no longer rule or have direct impact on our present or threaten our future.

Very recently, I read something that described therapy as a temporary measure that does not fix you, but provides tools to fix yourself. Not sure I agree with that either, because I will never be fixed or made whole. However, I know TM and other professionals through the years have taught me skills to cope and to let go as much as I could to be functional and productive, to have a good life. The piece was thoughtful and made me feel like I were having a whole body root canal without anesthesia. As unpleasant and painful as that sounds, it frequently happens when someone says something imminently sensible and intelligent. The context of which she was writing (cheating in a primary relationship) is completely unrelated to me and my issues; perhaps there is a solution and tools for someone to fix themselves in that context. But reality for me is that my dragon is unslayable, but that doesn’t mean it cannot be quarantined and its dark power harnessed for good or at least better purposes.

Maybe in this way, I’m exceptional. Framed in that context, my thought grinder winds down and quiets for awhile.

Expectations, feelings, The Holidays

My daughter and son-in-law are presently somewhere in Texas (it’s a big state) enroute to their new home and chapter in their life in Florida. She texts me, her brother and sister-in-law every evening when they are done driving for the day. While I am not especially worried about them on this grand adventure, it is nice to know they made it safely to their next waypoint and to follow their progress on the map.

K and G have acquired Christmas sweaters for G’s holiday party. K’s is actually quite cute, with LED lights that flash embedded in it. G’s first choice was stunningly awful, and I need photographic evidence that he actually wore such an terribly gaudy thing – it would be so out of character.

The holiday madness continues for me professionally right now. My private clients, I met one for a drink and consultation on Wednesday night, lunch with another on Thursday, and M and I are attending another large holiday party tonight. The goodies collected thus far have been extremely generous and the lovely baskets have been divided up between various people we know who will enjoy it. At work, I have found that the vendors I have used through the move have been extraordinarily lavish with their gifts. I have done some horse trading with my bosses and seniors, because that seems to be the sport they prefer to engage in and enjoy … as opposed to me just willingly, happily handing them the object of their desire. Consequently, I ended up with even more booze I will give away to others. G and K have several new bottles of wine to try, M’s cooking wine cabinet has a couple of new bottles, and my trainer gets a little boost to his liquor cabinet as well. Coffee seems big this year, and I have a couple of friends who love unusual coffee beans. Any foodstuff I typically leave at the office, but I did get a couple of lovely baskets out of the deal.

Work-work we are in the middle of a couple of big things right now, so I will be spending my rainy Saturday at the office helping out with the workload to keep things moving. After practice, of course. I have my own self-employment work to plow through as well, so it will be a busy weekend.

And now back from the gym, where I had a most satisfying and productive practice. Finally, after a year atop the nemesis list, the cable 1-legged Romanian deadlift is coming together and working without a lot of swearing involved in the effort.

I confess – not feeling especially festive. Not depressed, unhappy, or sad, just not feeling the holiday happy-happy-joy-joy, as if I am falling far short of the holiday feeling expectation. I mean, I have at least my normal level of happy-happy-joy-joy, and maybe a smidge more because there are good things going on around me with people I love, admire, respect, and really, really like. The expectation that comes with the holidays – I theorize it is the root of the problem for so many – the expectations of being happy and grateful that come with the holiday season. Find your family toxic 360+ days per year, yet there is something inside us that says it’s Christmas, and we should all get along. But we don’t. We just don’t. So why set ourselves up for the great disappointment that comes with it? I don’t know. Or have a job that does not pay adequately to overcome the financial challenges yet have this strong, strong desire to spend, spend, spend on gifts for the nearest and dearest that will make them happy, and us as well while the spending/gifting high lasts. Then the crushing reality of additional debt or reverse progress on savings goals and the anguish and disappointment that comes with that.

Those are just a couple examples of holiday blues scenarios I have coped with over the years. Happily for me, I have slowly weaned and trained myself out of such things, but I feel the sadness of others around me and so powerless to help or even comfort them. So I am am going to restrain myself and cease even trying. I wish I had more empathy or capacity for understanding, but if someone is sad and wants to be left alone with their sadness or somehow gives off a vibe of that, I will stop reaching out. The worst part for me? I do not feel worse about it; I have reached a point of acceptance that there is nothing I can do and listening is so inadequate in this situation. Hence my absolute sureness that I am a lousy candidate for coach of any stripe. Everything in me wants people to help themselves, and intellectually I completely understand that sometimes helping ourselves is nearly impossible. Perhaps if I had better training and tools in my toolbox I would feel differently. But as a friend, my ability to understand and cope is severely constrained.

C suffers from both depression and anxiety. K suffers from anxiety. Friend J is coping with recovery from a debilitating illness that has taken so much of his strength and endurance. Others in my life too numerous to call out individually here. I have concerns about each of them, and my deepest, darkest fear is that I will fail them when they need me most for my lack of training or ability to be there for them in a moment of genuine need. With all my close friendships, that there is always the possibility of some critical component I am missing that will let them down in the clutch.

Sometimes I fear being a nice enough, good enough, smart enough person is inadequate. I fear my own inadequacy on so many levels.

So I try very hard to build my strength in the ways I can right now. Whether it’s the zen of exercise or the curious mind that is reading anything and everything related my interests as well as just managing our lives in the times we are living in, I am conscious of trying to learn and to build some reserves and some strength. I wish to be more courageous and brave, not quaking on the inside while fighting the impulse to cower and run away on the outside.

The holidays are different for each of us, and I believe difficult for many. Maybe if I could completely disable my give-a-shit switch I would be better, but unfortunately it’s a dimmer switch and only goes dim to bright to blinding, never off. Le sigh. Me and my first world problems, I know.

I am working hard, because I do want to feel completely confident I am enough. The march forward is littered with stalled attempts and learning experience experiments, but it’s also cluttered with many small successes the push me ever forward. From just getting through the holidays to coping with the unexpected discomforts that inevitably crop up in life, this is a war I will win. Eventually.

Business stuff and managing expectations

It has been a very busy day for me. Tuesday is typically my work from home day, where I focus on my self-employment side of life and taking care of that aspect of business. But like most of my life and work, part-time law firm stuff seeps in here and there, just like on other days I am sometimes returning a phone call or text or email to one of my private clients or handling self-employment/private client matters on law firm days.

Whatever is going on this week, everyone seems to be having some sort of crisis. I just accepted another private client because while I am absolutely at capacity with work and hours, he is a close friend of an existing client and told me my top-shelf fees were fine. *sigh* Sometimes it’s really hard to say no.

But different industries have different business standards. I think, anyway. For me, being a solo little entrepreneur, I make myself as available and accessible to my clients as possible and within reason. That said, I have yet to have a client be abusive of my time. They might email me at 2 a.m. on a Saturday morning, but they are fine if I do not reply until sometime on Monday. If it is a genuine emergency – and let’s face it, genuine emergencies are really rare in accounting – they can call me anytime and I will do my best to get back to them ASAP. In the span of my career, the biggest emergency contacts I have had occurred with regard to unexpected deaths in the immediate family and the need to reschedule appointments or special handle document signatures, etc.

Anyway, I am pretty strict about time management. If I have an appointment, I am either a few minutes early or absolutely on-time. I come prepared, and I do everything I can to cover the points that need to be covered, and I try very hard not to waste time – mine or anyone else I interact with.

I am researching local gyms for corporate membership possibilities. Of course I start with my own, because I love and adore my trainer and like the atmosphere of my particular club. J is the one I have the most contact with there, and while I absolutely know he is the very best trainer in the place, I make the (incorrect, apparently) assumption that bringing his sales manager an existing client seeking information about corporate membership – that is a 10 member minimum – she will also be in some similar vein of professional.

So Saturday I emailed her requesting specific information about corporate memberships, after J had very kindly greased the wheels and let her know I would be contacting her. J had gotten me some very general information from someone higher up the food chain, so I wrote a nice email and requested specific terms and conditions. She asked me if I was going to be in the gym at any time this week, and since no managers get in before 9 a.m., I had to make a specific, unusual-for-me appointment time. First for Thursday afternoon, but we know now that wouldn’t work out, so I rescheduled on Monday and sandwiched her in between business appointments late this afternoon. I actually thought if we finished early enough, I’d be able to get a quick cardio session in before moving on to my next meeting.

But I get there, she has apparently forgotten that I had emailed her and scheduled the time to talk about corporate membership. My name rang no bells, only when I reminded her of my email request for corporate membership information, and that I had scheduled an appointment with her did the coin drop in her memory. I can understand that – busy days, lots of members and staff in and out and needing her time and attention. Then she says she will print out the information for me so as to not waste my time and hands me a sheet of paper describing the program, tells me to call or email her with any questions, answers a few of my immediately-come-to-mind questions, and does not even sit down at her desk to have this very brief conversation with me. Obviously I am interrupting her in something else. She spent less than 3 minutes chatting with me, and probably half that was printing out the piece of paper.

It is perplexing. I am somewhat embarrassed to point out the shortcomings to J (yet here I am, blogging about it), because he has to work with these people and probably has little to no sway over what sort of training they receive or how they do their jobs. I feel there is some big missing piece here that I just do not understand. If she is just printing out the information, must she waste my time and bring me into the gym for what I expect is an appointment only to hand me a piece of paper? Maybe she does not know how to attach it to an email and send it?

The problem may be with me. My expectations are too unrealistic for conducting business in other industries. I texted J after our non-meeting with these same sort of bewildered ponderings. I wonder if I have outdated expectations in how people conduct business? I am not in sales; I manage and obsess about other people’s money for a living. Most likely issue, though, is that J is so professional, so good at his job, and so customer focus oriented he has created unrealistic expectations within me for his coworkers. Again, he has set a high bar and ruined me for other fitness-related professionals.

I am hopeful she is better with non-members fresh off the street. Maybe the folks at the other gyms I have to speak with will be even worse and make my club’s sales manager look really, really awesome, like a superstar sales professional. Mostly I am really disappointed in staff performance at my home club. I want them to be better. I want them to aspire to be better. I got no such vibe, but again, maybe it’s because I am already a member and a steady training client; I personally do not represent a commission for her.

However, I am the mover and shaker on what to do about employee benefits, whether gym membership is something we offer our staff and which club chain we choose as our provider. She gave me the impression that she saw me as if I am a worker-bee cog in my organization and not really a decision maker in the process, therefore trying to make a positive impression is pointless. I do hate that. I could care less if I am the janitor cleaning the floors, she could have been a bit more … helpful. Maybe I am just baselessly irritated. Maybe after days and days of glitter-bombing here on the blog I need something new to talk and be bitchy about this time instead.

It’s just really hard to speak glowingly of your own club when you feel like they could not care less about you or anyone you might want to invite to join. J cannot do everything. He has clients to train, classes to lead, personal life to relax and enjoy.

And I am kind of sad to see that he has such … marginal … coworkers. I have heard about them, but this is truly my first firsthand experience of dealing with them.

On the brighter side – because I feel rather Debbie Downer in this post – it has been an amazingly productive day with work and other matters. The membership sales manager is a head-scratcher, for sure, but tomorrow is a new day and other than the front desk guy, J and/or some of his trainer peers, there are no managers in the club before 7 a.m. to harsh my practice buzz.

Yep, I’m reaching for that elusive silver lining tonight.

The kids are all right

We have a few things going on with close friends this week, so I feel a little distracted and frazzled trying to help navigate from a geographically challenged position. But things always have a way of working out for the best, but it reminds of interactions in the last few weeks with my kids, friends talking about their kids, young friends who are still kids. The world and families remain a complicated place.

Let’s begin with my kids, though.

C and A are doing very well, and from what C has told me in text and on the phone, their life together is good. I believe her. While I am her mom, she truly does not have a single reason to lie or to try and mislead me; I am always going to turn myself into a pretzel rather than judge her for the sake of passing judgment. If she needs help, I’m here. If she needs a sounding board, my phone and my text and my availability are pretty much at her disposal. If she needs a pet sitter, I’ll be calling a boarding kennel and paying the cost. (See? I’d likely be a horrible grandmother anyway.)

A’s family is a different story. They are quite confrontational and just lately here their narrative has been that A and C are “abandoning” the family, and it is simply unfair and untrue. C takes the brunt of the blame in such conversations with A’s brothers, and it frustrates A to no end that he is continually having to defend his wife against their attacks or to explain, again and again and again, that he and C are (1) both working full-time on different schedules, (2) C is picking up part-time shifts at vet hospitals for their house goodies fund (they recently purchased their first home), (3) trying to save their money for house goodies, pay off A’s student loans, and saving for C’s return to school next year, and (4) spending much of their limited free time putting in the sweat equity on their home. Family members offer to help, but then they want to debate the kids’ choices – everything from the color of the paint on the wall to how they arrange the furniture. It is complete and utter madness to me. The few times I have been over to help C with something, we talk about future plans for tile and flooring, and while her choices differ from my own, it is her house and will be lovely. My goodness, the idea of trying to get her to change her mind – from this lovely oyster bisque (really pale gray) to M’s preferred blinding white would never occur to me … until she and A were telling me about A’s aunt (an interior designer) trying to tell them all the mistakes they are making in the color palette, etc. At that point I was horrified. This is their first home; they could paint zebra stripes in garish fluorescents and it should not matter to anyone else.

And I truly feel for them, because A’s family is so freaking huge and there is a constant barrage of phone calls, texts, invitations, etc. from various branches. They all talk to each other about everything, are chin deep in each other’s business, and seem to be stricken stupid that C and A wish to not share all their personal information and business and let decisions about their lives be made by majority vote. C does not mean to bring it home and share it with her mother, but it happens. M and I try to maintain Swiss-like neutrality, but honestly we understand their desire for privacy and autonomy about their personal lives and business. I could also care less if A’s family blames me for the kids’ choices to seek non-family business resources, but my strong opinion is that if you love your family you do not do business with them, period. Had they chosen another route – hiring various uncles to broker their mortgage and be their realtor – I would not have objected strenuously or said anything more about it. My daughter asked, I expressed my opinion, and I trust her judgment to do what is right for them.

So last night when I got a phone call from my first sister in mother-in-law-hood, I should have known it was not going to be about a reception/bbq for the kids or that she was calling to discuss logistics and details. Nope, she was calling to complain that she “never” sees the kids and wondering if I had the same issue. Ummm … no, not really; we are all busy people and get together whenever we can make it work. The conversation was interesting, if not always agreeable. I love my kids, including the ones marrying into my family, and I respect their right to lead independent, autonomous lives including keeping their private lives private. Ours is a tiny family of 6, total, and maybe 20 if we count all the others on their dad’s side. My sister in MIL-hood does not understand my perspective, and now I’m not even sure she likes me much as a person, but that’s okay. I did not really like my own sibling all that much either. And what is important – our kids are in love and happily married. Truly, that is all that matters to me as far as the joining of our families.

Then on to G and K.

The wedding is in about 6 weeks, and all is mostly going well. But there is pressure from K’s family – from her aunt stealing my dress, to her mom not being able to find something she wants to wear that K actually likes, to her other aunt being batshit crazy. I think this may be normal behavior for brides and grooms planning a larger event. And then every dress I have purchased – there have been more than a dozen now – have been met with some level of chilly reserve from K. The one I like the most and feel is the most flattering on my person … I think she either dislikes it’s casualness or feel it is somehow wrong for me. While I encourage open and directness, K seems reluctant to tell me that she hates it or whatever has her hung up. Not to worry – I have another 6 on order in different styles and shapes. But still, it makes things awkward if she desires inclusion and is not able to share honestly. I am not going to take it terribly personally if she speaks her mind, and for the bit I might take personally I will get over it quickly. At the end of all this, the day is all about her and about G; if she think the dress is wrong and she’ll hate looking at wedding pictures forever, that’s fine, I can keep looking. Without honest input, though, I am floundering in the dark.

Not that what I wear should matter to either of them. However, if K has a strong enough reaction to be weird with me about it, I would really prefer to hear it than have her be weird about it.

M and I are also hosting a bbq the Saturday after the wedding for friends of ours and theirs who may not be able to attend because of the limited guest list. Several of our friends are volunteering to help with the food prep, cooking, and clean-up, so the kids’ and their guests do not have to worry about it, and I am happily, graciously accepting the assistance. However, K is getting wound up about it, worrying about food and food allergies, and all sorts of other things like where all the cars will park. On one side of us the house has been vacant for quite awhile year and the son who manages the place said it was fine for us/our guests to park in the driveway (3 cars wide). Our other neighbor will be out of town that week (I know because we are feeding his cats) and also said it was fine to park in his driveway for the party. Again, I am not sure if she is actually concerned about these things or feeling a bit powerless about an event in their honor. I left that issue with G, because it is his party as well, and if she wants to do something different, just speak up; I am so not going to be offended. G assures me it is just the wedding stuff going on, lots of decisions, lots of stuff and details to cope with deal with, etc. I am leaving the door open, though, just in case. Believe me, I would be fine with not having 60 people descending on my home for an afternoon. I also know several people are planning to uber or car pool so they can imbibe, so maybe the car situation will not be that awful.

So right after typing out those paragraphs, I get a call from K reminding me that I am meeting she and G at the venue for the final details meeting, and did I want to join them for dinner afterwards? You betcha! She also apologized for being distracted about the dresses and the bbq details (completely unnecessary yet still appreciated) and told me about the latest chapters in the batshit crazy wing of her family and her escalating anxiety about them crashing the wedding. She broke down in tears on the phone and just broke my heart! I promised – I SWORE – it would be okay, we would MAKE it be okay on the big day, and I texted M that we may have to bring some big burly men friends to patrol and keep watchful eyes out for the crazy wing in K’s family. In the bigger picture, the dress, the post-wedding celebrations matter do not matter at all. As a family we will do anything and everything we can to make this event go off without a single glitch or unwelcome crashers.

*sigh* I hate drama, and I really hate that it is visiting my son and soon-to-be daughter-in-law.

And finally, the “let me let go” issues of a couple of close friends. Different ladies and varying degrees of the same challenging: cutting the apron strings with their young adult children and trusting them to manage their own lives without unwelcome influence and input from their mothers. I feel for them, the moms, because it can be kind of difficult to transition in these hands-on mom roles to mom as a distant thought in the life process. While my advice is to simply step back and trust them and the lessons you instilled in raising them, it is hard. For me personally I can remember the defining moment with my son, when he exasperatedly suggested I let him enjoy some independence. Had he doused me with cold water I could not have been more shocked, but he was right. I needed to let go, even if he was still living under my roof. Not much changed in reality – he was still living at home at that time, coming and going as he wanted and needed, but common courtesy continued to dictate that he leave me a note or text about his approximate schedule or if he would not be home at all. M was on the truck a lot, he and I were working through The Troubles, and G and I became more like roommates until he moved out on his own.

But because I have never been a helicopter parent or overly controlling in the first place, my ability to step back and let my kids go off and learn to adult was easier. I know both C and G have made mistakes in everything from finances to poor choices in relationship partners, but if they never have opportunity to experience consequences how will they know what is a mistake that is going to be painful to repair (and therefore should not be repeated) and what is just life that mommy will clean up for them? It puts an unreasonable and unfair burden on children to have all their whims catered to and to never actually endure any repercussions from poor choices.

Saying that to some of my friends … well, one would think I was suggesting they tell a naked toddler that he/she is grown-up now and to go fend for him/herself, and then lock said naked toddler outside in a blizzard. Nope. We are talking about college-age children who are unable to breakaway. The LaBrea tar pits have nothing on these clinging mothers and it is causing a lot of strife and discord in otherwise close and happy families. We are friends, I know they are hearing me, but actually putting the reasonable advice into action is proving … paralyzing. Empty nesting is apparently terrifying to them. I told M that I am either the most uncaring mother to ever walk the earth or these ladies need to develop hobbies other than trying to micromanage their children’s lives. While I already know getting them interested in joining a gym, taking yoga, or even getting a pass and trying either/both with me is unlikely, but I am a born again true believer that exercise will help with both the anxiety and the accompanying depression. And obviously cannot stop talking about it here either.

Because according to friend J, I am a “bolt of f**king positive lightning constantly setting his f**king ass on fire.”

I am actually not, most of the time, setting his ass on fire. But hey, whatever works to get him off the fence and making decisions. If M offers to fly across the country to help you out, by now friend J should know the offer is genuine and we absolutely mean it. We are not over here wringing our hands hoping you decline a polite offer; we do not issue hollow offers of assistance. When M says he can fly out and help you out, I am sitting here with my finger on the mouse waiting for you to say something so I can book the flight and rental car options I have already researched and am ready to purchase.

Love my kids, my family, my tribe of friends. We all have our issues at any given moment, but it’s nice to have sounding boards, help and support when we need it most. Believe me, I have been on the receiving end of that match or lightning strike more times than I care to admit. And I would not change a thing about it.

Happy Wednesday! I was driving home from the gym this morning and thinking the sky is such a pretty blue today, and it does not feel like it will be too hot. Small things, small favors, because I will be in our new office space for a meeting and there is no a/c right now, so not too hot is a huge gift. It will still be hot in there, but not sweltering melting kind of hot. That alone makes me ridiculously happy, even if I was already in my regularly scheduled good mood.

Being a mentor

I have a situation at work and a situation in my personal life that both require aspects of my better, more sensible, more creative self. And I wonder if I am up to the tasks.

On the personal side of life, my young friend has terminated her engagement. Her reasons are valid and quite mature, but it is a sad situation. When you have no family to fall back upon and only yourself to depend upon, the allure of a stable significant other is alluring. That said, when you are only 23, it seems like letting go of a really great guy who loves you and wants to marry you is a really hard decision. Heck, at any age that would be a challenge. But she is only 23, only just now starting on a career path with paid time off and full benefits. Only now living alone for the first time ever, having endured situations from homelessness to multiple roommates to make ends meet. Only now having a car – a decent car – insurance, and the freedom to take road trips on days off without relying on the kindness and convenience of others.

Bottom line is she is only 23 and just now starting to have the life many take for granted. She is making friends her own age and wants to be free to live on her own terms awhile before getting serious and settling down. Thus far she has been so busy being grateful that this wonderful, decent, stand-up guy fell in love with her (and she with him) and wanted to marry her that she did not completely absorb and understand what marriage truly meant. That weight of responsibility for another is too much to bear at this point in her life, and I for one am grateful she recognizes her limitations before taking it further and having it be even more of a mess to try and clean up and repair. Better now than after the marriage.

So I am trying to be supportive and comforting and encouraging and positive, because in all honesty I respect and admire her courage. I truly love and adore this girl and simply want her to be happy and have the best life, but this is a rough patch with lots of tears and second guessing and unhappiness and guilt. There is also a sense of relief, which seems to cause even more guilt. I get it, all of it, and I can only reassure her these emotions are perfectly normal and do not mean she is some kind of destructive force and should steer clear of dating forever. Maybe several months to reflect and enjoy her independence, but swearing off dating forever is a little extreme. Give it some time for the rawness to heal and then see how she feels before making any sort of decisions about what might happen next with romantic entanglements.

I have nightmares of being a terrible, destructive friend in not suggesting they seek counseling or other professional assistance. My instincts say she should trust her own gut on such matters, and at 23, she is far wiser and more mature than many due to her early start on independent adulthood (booted from home at 15, being homeless, navigating shelters and social services, finding stable housing situations with multitudes of roommates, graduating high school, getting through 2 years of college, having a baby and putting him up for adoption – all while working and supporting herself). At the same time, she is only 23, and now that she has a good and stable job, a car, an apartment of her own, she should be able to relax a bit and pursue and enjoy the things most 23 year olds enjoy.

I am even more wigged out than usual and being repetitive in my statements. I am not sure who I am trying to reassure here – her to accept this is what I really think or me that what I really think is valid enough to be spoken out loud.

And go back to college, of course. Her dream of earning her degree is starting to reawaken, and I really, Really, REALLY want that for her. I myself was in my late 40s before graduating with a degree, although I had been doing accounting for years before finializing the formality of education. Both my kids have been working steadily the last couple of years toward finishing degrees. My daughter will be done in December, my son sometime later (undetermined right now because of his new job and its commitments). If my young friend dreams of earning a college degree, I am absolutely 100% behind her in this goal.

Still I waffle and waver. It’s kind of tough being an influence in someone’s life. I hesitate to the use the words “role model” because it does not suit me; I am way too squirrely to be comfortable with the idea of anyone emulating or desiring to be more like me. Heck, sometimes I feel as if I am a mother who encourages independence in her own children because I fear my own mistakes be foisted off onto them. But if I sit still and seriously examine my impulses in this and all regards, I trust their judgment. I have always hoped I was raising independent children with common sense and the ability to think for themselves, and to date we have been successful. I stopped telling my kids what to do long before they were 18, employing instead a form of family democracy that said I still had final veto power but would restrain myself from using it just because I disagreed with their choices.

That’s in the personal side of my life. No one expects me to be the perfect friend, mentor, or parent, including me, and certainly no one is observing, paying, or even really judging me and my performance at any of those things.

Professionally, it’s strangely difficult. I actually hate training people, because I have gone away from the experience feeling badly about me and my abilities in this area. There is a job description; there are performance standards; there are expectations for the trainee to learn. When they don’t get it, I feel like a failure, especially if I cannot figure out why they are not getting it, and I always assume it’s me and something I am doing, some failing of mine that is causing the issue. Even while I know for fact is it rarely so simple as me being a complete and utter disaster as a training partner or mentor, the faulty feeling for those who have failed to thrive under my tutelage weighs.

At work I have been assigned a troubled employee to mentor on her professional demeanor and interpersonal skills. As an attorney she is very bright and very sharp, but as a coworker she is a very prickley pear to work with and has ended up alienating her fellow associates, staff, and even the partner she is assigned to work for directly. Her sensitivity, insecurity, and driving competitive need to be right does not mesh well in our little laid-back work environment, so much so that I was asked to sit in on her performance review last week to forge a last-ditch effort to rehabilitate her to our work environment.

I had to really consider this when asked if I would be willing to work with and mentor her on communication and interpersonal skills. She has a lot of admirable qualities and I actually like her as a person yet frequently want to strangle her as an employee. There is an abrasiveness to her that needs to be toned down considerably. The bosses are good people, recognize talent when they see it, and value a smooth-running office environment where staff are happy to work hard toward clearly defined rewards. Being lawyers, everyone understands these are competitive, hard-driving, assertive people, but our firm is structured so that teamwork is rewarded and backstabbing promotional climbing is discouraged. I do not know that it is possible to completely obliterate it any work environment, but our little firm seems to hum along pretty well in its current structure and balance.

This was the gal who asked me yesterday about my diet and eating a cheeseburger. I was not at all offended by her inquiry, yet she is still smarting from her review last week and emailed me last night to apologize for her comments, said they were rather rude and out of line. Possible progress? I am on the fence about it. I brushed it off – people have said far, far worse to me in the last 6 months – but I appreciated that she is trying to examine her interactions.

It has me thinking about my own negative girl and interpersonal relationships with others. I am typically quite nice around most people, and at least cooley civil to those I dislike or find distasteful for whatever reason. But I have listened to myself and my own unconscious fearful words or ideas leaking out in my sentences and questions. It is okay that I do not have even most of the answers to life’s questions figured out, and I generally have no issue admitting that freely. It’s when I am afraid of not knowing or figuring it out and letting the fear overrun my head and ability to think that gets me into trouble and releases negative girl into the wild to wreak havoc. If nothing else, my exercises with self-esteem building works my mental muscles as much as the gym and the healthier eating choices are working on the rest of me.

Thinking about it this morning at the gym for a too brief workout this morning, I recognize that she is going to have to want to address these issues in order for me to be an effective mentor. I have zero desire to deal with a resentful adult who does not feel there should be a problem with her attitude and behaviors, and there is no organizational imperative that says I must work with her and reshape her into a better fit within the overall firm. The partners would really like to retain her, but she is replaceable if she continues on her present trajectory.

I suppose I am mulling it over here because I’m feeling uncertain of my own feelings on the subject. On the one hand I see she is sharp and good at what she does, but her attitude and inability to work cooperatively with her peers makes her a problem, one she did not truly see as that much of an issue before last week. Any sense of entitlement where one should not exist is a hot button for me, and I am having to tread carefully and acknowledge my own bias in the situation. We have our first meeting this afternoon to discuss her thoughts and ideas to improve her attitude and mend fences with the other associates, a bit of an uphill battle as it stands right now. I am going to have to be really real with her about my own willingness to go to bat and help heal those relationships, because I will have to see some genuine effort on her part before I step up and step in to assist her.

And I think I have the right balance in mind for this situation, but we shall see how it goes.

My own recent experience with training and dealing with those putting forth considerable effort to coach me to different behaviors looms large in my head. On some levels I recognize my own paralyzed reactions to suggestions and resistance to knowledge they tried to impart, but since I was the one seeking the assistance, I was at least somewhat in the right headspace to receive the knowledge and expertise they were/are trying to share. This woman, it is a bit fuzzy whether I am comparing apples to apples between our situations.

What I know is I do want her to be successful here, but maybe she is not ready to accept the conditions that come with that success? Because my reasonable working conditions could be cruel and unusual punishment to her. I suppose I shall have to see how our meeting progresses to know for sure.

*sigh* This is why I hate being a boss, really hate being a supervisor. People are simply so unpredictable in their reactions. If she does not assume some responsibility for herself and her reactions/behaviors with others in the firm and its impact on her present standing, I cannot see any clear way to helping her overcome the issue. I dread that most, trying to make an otherwise bright person understand that her opinions and ideas are not the only opinions and ideas that matter and should be considered.

Wish me luck; it certainly feels as if I need it today.

When helping hinders

I have been pondering this off and on for the last several years. When it comes to parenting, family ties, friendship – when does helping cross the line into enabling or even harming the one you seek to help? Or harming you?

As a mother and a recovering codependent, I have had my lumps in this arena. There was a point several years ago when my son remarked with exasperation that I needed to let him be independent. If he dumped a cooler of ice water over my head I could not have been more shocked in that moment. I thought I was a good mother. I thought I had done a decent job of bringing him up to be an independent being. The idea of my not allowing him to be independent was an absolute jolt to my system.

Had I been a smother mother? Or even worse, was I a smother mother? Were my good intentions holding him back somehow?

It was a hurtful comment, yet enlightening on so many levels. I was in the habit of smoothing things out for my son, my daughter, everyone I love. My son, being a young adult and still living under the family roof, was probably more sensitive to it than my daughter, who had transitioned to her first independent living/roommate situation. I still helped her out periodically – funding an eye exam and new glasses when hers broke, paying her cell phone bill, carrying her on my health insurance benefits while a full-time student – but with my son it was a different story. If  he mentioned wanting something I would automatically offer to pay for it or simply get him things I thought he would like. Frequently he did like the gifts, yet it was so unconscious on my part I suppose it seemed less a thoughtful gift than just something I did to keep him helpless and dependent. G has never, ever voiced it in those terms; that is completely a product of my overactive brain.

The changes in my behavior after that conversation were subtle. I listened to his comments and his desires, and quietly filed them away for upcoming gift ideas. He moved into his first roommate situation a few months later, and while I continued to carry him on my cell phone and car insurance plans, I did not offer financial help or present him with spontaneous “just because” gifts. If either kid used my credit card (I have them as authorized users on a one of my cards) I made it a point to ask them about it. I still paid it, but I would ask because it seemed appropriate behavior between adults, as we all were by that time. The charges were never excessive – rarely anything over $50 without advance permission – and nearly always they would repay me without my requesting it. Even now, when they both have credit cards of their own and independent lives, they remain authorized users on one of my credit cards for emergencies.

It was just a few years ago that they both finally dropped off my auto insurance, when we bought our home and realized it was time. Telling G and C it was time for them to acquire policies of their own was a source of enormous guilt for me, as if I were failing them somehow, and absolutely no big deal for either of them. When C decided to port her phone number over to a joint plan with her fiance, I felt a little grieved, as if we were cutting ties completely instead of just separating our cell phone plans. It’s silly and it’s huge, yet I did not say anything about how it felt to me … except to my other empty nester friends who either thought I was crazy or sympathized with my plight.

But I still buy them spontaneous “just because” gifts. Things I think they will like and enjoy, that might enhance their day-to-day lives. Or not. They are gracious in accepting them, and mostly I know they use those practical items. M and I are in a position to do this; it does no harm to our overall present or future financial plans. However, our circumstances have altered now, and I will be more careful about our spending. My mindset about giving is what has to change; my kids and family-by-choice have no expectations that will be crushed by our having to be more conscious of our gifting budget.

M and I have the ability to help the kids if they need it, but thankfully they are both thriving on their own. All my efforts to compile older and grayer years funds is with an eye toward M and I being self-sufficient and self-supporting, not to leave the kids’ an inheritance and a boost on their own older and grayer years. IF our financial stability was unstable, the last thing I would be doing is trying to make their lives easier. As they say in those preflight presentations, put your oxygen mask on first before trying to help the person next to you with theirs.

I do believe this is a tough place for a lot of parents – when to let go. From my own experiences, observations, and conversations with other moms and dads with grown kids trying to find their foothold in life, there is a fine line and tenuous balance with taking care of ourselves and still helping our kids. It’s hard to say no, I know. It’s hard to set them free to go forth to make their own mistakes, experience hurt and pain when we know better.

In her early 20s my daughter got into credit card debt. Not quite over her head, but deep enought that I felt it would be better to help her climb back out than tread water for years. A year later she had fallen back into old habits, and she had to experience the painful consequences of her shopping habits on her own. Although I was here to listen while she vented her irritation and aggravation with herself, I offered only advice and support that she would get through it. Thankfully the second go-round was much milder than the first, thereby taking a lot less time, energy, and resources to climb out of that hole. She learned from the experience, and these days she budgets, pays herself first/saves, and is a lot more careful with her spending. If things got really bad, we are here as a safety net. But “bad” would have to be something related to health, unemployment, or both for either G or C to ask for any sort of financial help.

Family dynamics, financial circumstances – each of us has a different situation and there is no one-size-fits-most solution. I understand that and try to remember to check my judgment when listening to friends discuss their unique issues. For each of us we have to figure out for ourselves where our threshhold lies with regard to how much help we can or will provide and an honest assessment of the effects of that assistance on those we love most. It’s not easy, and I frequently wish for clearer pathways and simpler answers.

Not quite a terrible person, but ….

With M’s father’s death in November a firestorm of family politics broke out. Having been estranged a few years by that point, we were mostly insulated from the direct assaults. However, SIL1 and her grown son waded in directly and have endured some drama and trauma. It is difficult to be sympathetic to their plight, because M and I both strongly suggested they step back and away and tread very carefully with their father/grandfather’s widow and her treacherous family. SIL1 knows what we went through at their hands, as she was present during that hearing in which they tried for a completely baseless restraining order against M and lost. Apparently she and her son thought the problem was isolated with us.

Having just gone through/still trying to complete the probate process with my mother’s estate, I am fairly well versed in the process. Having been married (twice) in a community property state, I know quite a bit about what happens to property and married couples in this state when there is no will (basically the surviving spouse gets it all). Even if there is a will and specific bequests, unless you have a copy of said will and can present it to the court to start the probate process, you’re basically out of luck in securing property bequeathed to you. Once married, what my father-in-law owned prior to his marriage is a moot point. Once married, how much money he brought into the union is irrelevant if those assets are commingled with the new bride. These are not rules that only lawyers know; these are things most married people know before, during, and after their marriages.

SIL1 and her son have never been married and are not well educated. They are operating on pure emotion. “These things were my father’s and my grandfather’s and we want them back!” they have wailed plaintively to the widow. When that did not work they screamed it loudly, to the point that the widow retained legal counsel to write a letter asking them to cease and desist direct contact and utilize the attorney for all future communications.

Now they are both calling M to see if he knows if there is a will. M, to his great and patient credit, has told both of them repeatedly that he has no idea, but if there is a will and any of them are named in it, they will be contacted by mail when it is filed with the court. He knows this because he’s been right here listening to me bitch, moan, and whine about what a PITA the whole probate process is, and my mom had a simple will and there is no drama involved with me, my grown kids or nephew. It’s just the whole process is ridiculous and ridiculously expensive. M has also advised SIL1 and nephew that it will cost a whole lot more money than either of them can spare to retain legal counsel to be told what we have told both of them for free.

Yet still they try. Yet still they call and wonder if we have any new ideas about how to “make” her come clean about the state of affairs and returning family heirlooms. What about life insurance, they ask? Again, if they had been named as beneficiaries they would have been contacted by the insurance company … assuming his widow had called and filed the appropriate paperwork. But again, in the unlikely case there is any sort of insurance, most likely the widow has been named as beneficiary.

It is extraordinarily frustrating trying to get through to them with the realities of the situation, and I feel for M because he is the one who has to deal with them and their increasingly desperate phone calls. I am sympathetic to their plight, because there are a lot of items M would love to have back that were in his family and belonged to his mother and his father. But reality bites, a legal marriage and possession of property trumps all at this point, and SIL1 and nephew continuing to call only prolongs M’s angry grief.

I want them to stop. If they cannot stop, I want them to stop calling and bringing the same thing up with M over and over and over again. Unfortunately I cannot tell M to stop taking their calls, because the voice mail messages are almost worse, only they could be deleted without listening. M is a caring and compassionate man, and at his core he has the soul of a rescuer, something he is careful to keep tightly leashed. Because SIL1 and nephew truly have very little to nothing, it’s impossible for him to completely turn his back. I respect it, I accept it, but I truly do not like it. And M knows it. I believe my distaste for the ongoing drama keeps him in check and gives him the strength to turn away from their pleas and not indulge his own anger. We know what those people are capable of trying to do when challenged; it is much healthier and safer to remain silent and keep our distance.

Added to this stress is the car drama. *sigh*

SIL1’s damaged vehicle remains in the parking spot where it was hit. She has not followed through with following up with her insurance company and filling a claim through them if the injuring party’s insurance is in no hurry to make the claim and repairs happen. M was misled and there has been no one out to examine the vehicle or claim filed by anyone, and SIL1 is apparently content to sit around wringing her hands. Two months have passed. M is not willing to take over her life in this matter, nor are we willing to wait much longer to assist her with our offer of a replacement vehicle. She balked pretty fiercely about paying anything for a vehicle we would provide to replace the (likely) totaled car if she received any kind of financial settlement, so M let the matter drop and we will be selling his former vehicle. I am biding my time, giving him until the end of the month to get the former car cleaned out and up before I take matters into my own hands. It is not so much M dragging his feet about SIL1 so much as M just dragging in general. Depression and grief have him in their clutches at the moment and I am trying hard to balance being sensitive to that with my usual brand of tough love, aka suck it up and deal. M tends to respond pretty well to that, as once the goal has been decided (and it has been in this case), it is either better to pitch in and help make it happen or get the heck out of dodge until it is complete.

*sigh*

I have no issue helping those who need it, but I have certain (fairly low) expectations that the party in need is somewhat sensible and willing to at least TRY to help themselves. This is why I think I am not quite a terrible person, but I have my moments of not being all that kindly and nice. Disparage and mock me if you must; I can take it.