It Stays With You

Texas has been getting pummeled with repeated rounds of severe storms. And Texans aren’t surprised. Because they’ve come to expect these epic storms. It’s familiar territory.

And once you’ve been a Texan (raises hand), you’ve always been a Texan. With a Texan’s memories and expectations.

These are some pictures of flooding in San Antonio, where I spent my formative years.

From a young age, I was schooled to avoid creeks and low lying areas during any kind of decent rainfall. In driver’s education, we spent the better part of a class learning about the signs of a flooded roadway and the repercussions of ignoring those signs. This was harder than you may imagine, as the literal measuring sticks at flood-prone intersections usually ended up underwater themselves. Even before I started driving, I learned alternate routes through the city that avoided the roads that had a tendency to submerge. That included a stretch of I-10 through downtown.

As a child, I watched with horror the footage of a school bus swept off the road by raging floodwaters, teenagers desperately grasping onto trees awaiting helicopter rescue. When I went tubing down the Guadalupe River every summer, I would stare up, way up, at the high water marks on the trees and rocks. I was stranded by water several times, unable to leave the house or unable to return.

As you can imagine, this stayed with me.

Even though Atlanta’s soil is actually permeable (unlike the slooow-draining limestone under a dusting of dirt that supports San Antonio), I still react defensively when the rain starts pounding. I mentally catalog potentially flooded roadways (a rarity here) and think about the closest high ground.

When my ex (also from San Antonio) and I purchased our first home in Atlanta, we viewed it with Texas eyes and insisted upon full coverage flood insurance even though we were not officially in a flood plain. We didn’t care. We saw that small, tame creek and didn’t trust it. Because we had both witnessed the incredible transformation of trickles into torrents in mere moments. In our ten years there, we never did use that insurance (although the flood map was redrawn a few years before we left and the house was deemed to be in the flood plain. Validation:) )

Of course, we didn’t buy the insurance with the expectation of using it. We bought it just in case. Protection against an unlikely but previously experienced outcome.

I didn’t have cheating, lying husband insurance.

Perhaps I should have. But that was an unexpected storm, one that I had never experienced and never saw coming.

One that I have now experienced.

And it stays with me.

 

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Leap Year

I spent the first part of my spring break visiting family in San Antonio. It’s always strange revisiting the city and home of my childhood, only this time as an adult. It’s interesting to note the changes, both in the environment and in how I perceive the surroundings.

We went straight from the airport to a lovely gluten-free restaurant and bakery, where I had my first Belgian waffles in over 8 years. Other patrons commented on and related to the ecstasy I was experiencing with my meal; once something has been taken away, it will never again be taken for granted.

photo 1-1The next stop was the zoo, where my mom and I got to experience a first for both of us – a front row seat to some lion hanky panky. You know that rumbling roar that you heard on Saturday afternoon? Well, I saw its origin. Yikes. Let’s just say, I’m glad I’m not a lioness.

I’ll spare you the pictures of the carnal shenanigans (what? you know you would have clicked too), and share some of the other big cats we saw instead. The facility has replaced parts of the enclosures with glass, which makes for an amazingly up-close and intimate experience.

photo 4photo 3-1It’s funny, even though we are largely visual creatures, smells have a way of activating memory like no image ever can. When I encountered the overripe candle scent of the mold-o-rama animal machine, I was instantly 6 again, tugging on my dad’s hand while stating the reasons I needed a five inch wax gorilla in order to survive. I prevailed. The gorilla, however, did not. It turns out soft plastic toys are not particularly suited to the climate of South Texas.

photo 1-2The zoo’s new (to me, at least) Africa exhibit allows a great view of an okapi, which I described as, “A giraffe and a zebra walk into a bar…” These quiet creatures were undiscovered until the late 19th century and early reports were met with skepticism. Sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction.

photo 5The zoo memories were all safe ones; although my ex and I went together several times, it was more a place from early childhood. The next day’s outing was the potentially dangerous one.

My ex worked at Sea World for almost two years in our late teens/early twenties. He would come home from his jack-of-all trades position in the scenic department with his polyester uniform stiff with dried sweat and imbued with a tenacious odor of fish to regal me with stories of mischievous animals and demanding bosses. During those years, I often went to the park with him, using the free pass to gain access to Great White, a short but oh-so-sweet hanging roller coaster. I had not been to the park since he quit that position, almost 18 years ago.

photo 2-2

It turns out that 18 years is a long time. The park has changed and morphed so much, that not only did it hold few memories (except for Great White, whose every twist and turn I could still recall), but I even found myself getting lost on the winding paths. And with all of the renovations over the years, every set that his hands had touched had long since been relegated to the garbage. Seemed appropriate.

My mom and I are on our way to becoming professional patio hoppers.

photo 5-1

We toured the patios of the Texas Hill country and ended up stopping at Luckenbach, a “city” that when I was teenager was described as “having a population of two, but one died.” The city has become famous through Willie Nelson, as its post office has now turned into a gift shop surrounded by a bar, outdoor music venue and dance hall that is frequented by country and folk musicians. Although it has grown, the vibe has remained the same. It felt like coming home again.

photo 4-1You can take the girl out of Texas, but you can’t take the Texas out of the girl…

photo-4While I was gone, spring continued to proceed in Atlanta (if there was a pause button, I would have pushed it). My husband sent me some pictures of the party our azaleas were throwing. I was worried about my new plantings, still tender and unsure with shallow roots and delicate leaves. Much like us, they need some nurturing during times of change and stress.

And when they receive the care they need, they respond with growth.

flowersAs I examined the emergent growth, I was reminded of the common saying in the gardening world:

The first year, they sleep. The second year, they creep. And the third year, they leap.

And I thought back to my own growth process after divorce. The slow, almost undetectable changes of the first year. The gradual improvements of the second. And the radical changes in year three as the behind the scenes work paid off.

Provide nurture in your sleep year. Surround yourself with support. Feed your hope and your soul. Be gentle and kind to your displaced heart.

Be patient in your creep year. Remove any weeds that invade your life. Continue to seek out supplemental support, yet also learn to trust that you can survive periods of harshness.

Celebrate your leap year. Don’t hesitate to show your true colors and live out loud. Know that your early work has built a strong foundation that will withstand even the most savage storms.

No One Said it Was Easy

I read a post this morning that reminded me of a particular experience in my life.

For just over a year in my mid teens, I volunteered on the oncology floor of a children’s hospital.

Upon arrival each Sunday, my job was to open the playroom to the kids on the floor that were able to make the walk down the hall. Usually three or four of them would make it, pulling IV stands behind them and adjusting the masks strapped across their pudgy faces, swollen from steroids. All of the toys in the room were made of hard plastic to withstand the constant washing in bleach solutions in order to prevent the spread of infection. I had to watch carefully to make sure that after any toy was handled, it was carefully sanitized and dried before being returned to the bins or into another child’s waiting hands. You realize how much toddlers change their mind when each decision requires a two-stage sanitization process!

After the playroom was closed for the afternoon, I would pack up a cart with toys, games and puzzles and make my way down the hall to visit with the kids who were too ill to make the trek to the playroom. I would sit beside them on the beds and assist with puzzles or challenge them to a Nintendo game on their TV. With the kids undergoing bone marrow transplants, our visits had to occur through glass panes, the toys left outside for the nurses to carry in.

Although some faces were familiar from week to week, the oncology floor was a revolving door. Some kids were only there periodically for treatment. Others traveled to San Antonio for special care and then went back to their home hospitals. On the good days, the kids would be released with the hope of remission.

And, of course, many never made it out at all.

Those kids, with their scarf-wrapped heads, bloated or emaciated bodies and blistered lips, were powerful. Their bodies may have been broken and frail, but their spirits were stronger than any I’ve ever seen. I would watch them walk down the hall with only the slightest sharp intake of breath to indicate their pain before breaking out in a huge grin at the sign of the playroom.

Many of these kids had never known life without cancer. All they knew was days of pain, some more and some less. They grew skilled at navigating the endless cycle of hope and bad news.

And through it all, they accepted.

The first one shocked me.

“Miss Lisa. I’m not gonna see you next week.”

“Oh, why’s that?”

“I’m gonna get to fly with the angels!” exclaimed the three-year-old girl, her face lighting up and her hands clasped beneath her chin.

I was taken aback. My initial reaction was to deny. Or to become sad. Or to distract her with something else.

But then I looked at her. And decided that I would let her tell me what to do.

“Flying with the angels sounds lovely. What do you think it will be like?”

We chatted for a few more minutes, the girl telling me all about her angels, until her mom came back towards the room. The girl leaned in and whispered, “I can’t talk about the angels when my mom is here. It makes her sad.”

I gave her a hug and left the room. I wasn’t surprised to see her picture on the memory wall the following week.

She was the first, but by no means the last.

“I need to give you an extra-big goodbye today cause this one’s for real.”

“Do you want me to tell the angels ‘hi’ for you?”

“Take care of the other kids for me.”

They were always right.

Each one came from a child between the ages of 2 and about 8. After that, and they reacted more like adults.

I watched those adults too. Often when I entered a room, the parents used that time to take a little break. I would see their posture fall as soon as they passed the threshold of the room’s door as though the strings on their puppet had been suddenly cut. They would sob, letting it out after holding it in for their kid. They would talk with each other and with the doctors, desperately looking for a way to make their kid okay.

But the kid usually was okay. Not physically, but in spirit. They knew when to fight and when it was time to let go. Much like my first experience, many of them would volunteer that they felt they needed to protect their parents and siblings.

“Tell my mommy I’m going to be okay.”

“I’ll have the angels. My mommy won’t have them.”

“Will you give my brother my teddy bear when I’m gone?”

What the kids sensed but had no words for was that they had acceptance. They were not fighting against what could be. What should be. All they knew was what was.

What the kids sensed but had no words for was that their parents were trying to find acceptance. To try to understand why their baby was being taken away so soon. They were fighting against the unfairness of it all. They were mourning the loss of their child and of the person he or she would become.

It was tragic to witness the adults.

So I focused on the kids.

And, in so many ways, their lives were terrible. All too brief and filled with so much hurt.

But they didn’t dwell on that. Didn’t waste energy on saying that it was unfair. They didn’t hold back their giggles or their grins.

Instead, they shared their spirit with each and every person they met. They became the angels here on earth.

During periods of loss and struggle in my own life, I have thought back to those little angels and tried to remember their lessons of peace and acceptance.

To all the families who have lost children due to cancer, my heart goes out to you. I saw your pain but I cannot imagine its depths. I hope you have received the gift of an angel from your child, watching over you to make sure that you’re okay too.

Emotionally Introverted

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Me on a bike! Let’s just pretend that it’s not because the coast has a dearth of hills:)

Life is beginning to return to normal after my trip to San Antonio. My introverted nature is enjoying the solitude interspersed with connections that I get to savor during the summer. My trip to San Antonio was awesome but it also strains my somewhat reserved nature to always have people around.

Brock stayed behind in Atlanta for this trip. I’m not sure what it was, but I really missed him during my absence. The feeling was mutual. We’re both used to him being gone (generally for only a night or two) for business, but somehow it’s harder when I’m the one out of the house.

My mom and I on our sky swing:) The only thing missing was a dumbwaiter to bring us beverages!
My mom and I on our sky swing:) The only thing missing was a dumbwaiter to bring us beverages!

While I was gone and during my travels home, he expressed how much he missed me and was looking forward to having the pack back together. When he finally picked me up at the train station, I received a passionate hello from Tiger and a distracted peck from Brock.

My feelings were hurt, but luckily, we’ve been here before so I knew his pattern.

After I returned to a lukewarm greeting a couple years ago, I panicked. I read his seemingly uninterested welcome as a sign that he was not happy to see me. I thought he was pulling away because of some terrible reason.

I brought it up. We talked about it.

As he was struggling to help me understand his perspective, he used the term “emotionally introverted” to describe himself. He went on to explain that the feelings he had when we were reunited were overwhelming, flooding him. He had to retreat until he could become comfortable and then he would be ready to connect.

I got it. I know the way I can feel when I walk into a crowded room or I am surrounded by people for days at a time. I know those breaks I need from the stimulation so that I can reset and relax.

He wasn’t withdrawing because of an absence of emotion. He was pulling back because he felt too much emotion.

As an introvert, my behavior can be read as rude or antisocial when I am just overwhelmed and flooded.

As an emotional introvert, his behavior can be read as unloving or distancing when he is really just overwhelmed and flooded.

Even knowing this, it still stings a bit. It’s hard to to take it personally. I’m working on it.

In this instance, I didn’t say anything. I kept myself busy and gave him time. Within a few hours, I had the greeting I wanted – full kisses and a long, prone embrace. It was worth the wait.

It’s so easy to make assumptions about the reasons for someone’s actions. We see there behaviors through our own lenses. It’s worth taking the time to try to see through their eyes. You just may be surprised at what you see.

So now the two introverts – one socially and one emotionally – have both been reset and are happy to be back together as a family. At least until my next trip:)

My boys:)
My boys:)

 

Saying “Yes”

Several weeks ago I let myself get down about my upcoming summer. I was in the midst of the end of school year crazies and a planned camping trip had to be canceled (along with several other weekends worth of activities) due to the constant rain that drenched Atlanta this past spring. I felt like I had nothing to look forward to this summer and all I could envision was hours spent working in front of the computer (which was pretty much how I spent last summer while finishing the book!). I allowed myself to be grouchy about the whole situation and found myself grumbling about the adventures that others had planned. Not exactly an attractive mood nor one that is likely to improve my outlook.

All I can say is that it is amazing what a different a few weeks and some awesome people can make. Well, that and some actual sunshine!

It started with my mom coming to my rescue after my whiny post. I had already booked a trip to San Antonio to see her in June but she knew that I needed more of a “vacation” feel than just visiting my hometown. She and our close family friend, Kay, worked to book a trip to the gulf coast while I’m in Texas. Not only is this precious beach time (Atlanta is pretty landlocked!) but it’s also a rare opportunity for the three of us to be together. For most of my latter childhood, it was just my mom and I. Well, two people, especially when one is a hormonal teenager, alone can get to be a bit much. Kay was frequently added to our family. She is like a sister to my mom and a cool aunt to me. She brought in needed energy and helped to mediate between my mom and me when it was needed. The last time we were together was two years ago when I last visited Texas. We went on a tour of various Hill Country Wineries. We sampled jalapeno wine, nicknamed a miniature donkey outside a wine tasting room a “burrito” and laughed more than is socially acceptable. All I can say is that Texas better watch out for this go round:)

Sardinian Miniature Donkey, Kew Gardens.
Sardinian Miniature Donkey, Kew Gardens. (Photo credit: Jim Linwood)

Just having that coast trip on the horizon to look forward to was enough to break my funk. Sometimes it’s amazing how much of an impact a small adjustment can make. Just knowing how three days of my summer were to be spent made me see the entire expanse in a different light.  I hope I can remember that lesson next time.

In the span of a few weeks, this has gone from a summer that I dreaded would be monotonous to one that is full of reconnection with my past and new adventures. And all I’ve had to do is say, “yes” to the opportunities that resented themselves. I’m reconnecting with old friends and teammates in Atlanta as we take advantage of the opportunity to leisurely lunch without cafeterias full of kids. I’m meeting up with my old boss and friend in San Antonio whose family adopted me for many holidays and birthday celebrations (he and his wife are two of my love mentors).  I’m going to see Austin and Lake Travis (where I spent some time in college) from a new angle as I zipline over the lake (thanks to Kay!). And Brock and I will be returning to St. Marys (where we first talked marriage last summer:) ) to stay with our friends (and other love mentors) there.

Yippee!!!

On a more emotional front, I’m going to visit the youngest dog from my former life, who was adopted by a friend’s parents and now lives on a farm in Alabama. I’m excited about this, but also nervous, as I have not seen her (or any of the dogs, for that matter) since that life ended four years ago. I think tears will be guaranteed.

Glottis
Glottis

On the new front, I spent yesterday tubing with a new group of friends. I will be going skydiving for the first time with another group of friends once I return from Texas (assuming I live through the ziplining!). I have my first girl’s weekend of my life in Tybee Island at the end of the month with an impressive group of women, only one of whom I really know.

I’ve gone from feeling grumpy to feeling grateful (and delightfully nervous about the sky high adventures!). I feel so incredibly lucky to be surrounded by such amazing people.

I feel like I’ve reversed my 20s and 30s in many ways. While touring a new friend’s college campus yesterday, it really struck me how I never did my 20s. I went to school, yet only lived the campus life for one year and even then, I was the one who would make all of the 8:00 am classes on time and would get annoyed when spontaneous parties broke out in the house. The rest of my college experience was spent working and going to school, often commuting quite a ways to reach the campus. Through all of that, I was with my ex. I never dated in my 20s. We bought a fixer-upper house at 22 and I was more concerned with the best toilet gasket to buy than finding the best blues and brews bar in town. I had friends but work and/or school was always my bigger priority. I stayed busy with occasional binges of fun, usually while on vacation.

Now, solidly in my 30s, my life has shifted. I now put more effort into finding, creating and maintaining relationships. I’ve learned that there is value in relationships and that time spent cultivating them is time well invested. I make sure fun is on the to-do list (and apparently get grumpy when it is absent!). At a time when many of peers are settling down and leaving the craziness of their 20s behind, I am welcoming some of that craziness into my own life and not just on vacation.

I don’t regret not living the life of the typical twenty something. I was happy with my choices. But there’s no rule that says that life has to take some predetermined path. That the 20s are about finding yourself and fun and the 30s are about settling down and getting serious. Besides, I’ve always found that I enjoy play more after the hard work has been done. I’m just getting better and sprinkling the play into the long sessions of work.

I feel silly now that I let myself get down. That I allowed myself to wallow in self pity. I may not have the finds that my student’s families do that allow elaborate vacations. I may not have the big family that rents a beach house for a month every year. But I have what I need and I have amazing people around me that remind me every day about what is important and make me aware of how rich my life is. My grumpiness has been replaced with gratitude and excitement (and a little healthy fear!).

It’s okay to have fun. It’s okay to set work aside for awhile. It’s okay to create things to look forward to. It’s okay to say “yes.”

And if you hear any screams coming from South Texas this week, don’t worry; It’s only me going down the zipline:)