Monday, October 3, 2011

Stepping out of the box

Sharon wrote a great blog post today about stepping out of the box or experiencing life differently than you usually do. Today I did just that in several ways.

First, I like to iron. Yep, I know that seems so antiquated, but, I do. I also like to do dishes and laundry in general. With ironing it is more about the pressed lines of the clothes, but I also love the sound of the steam swirling. Well, today was a beautiful fall day in Minnesota. One of my tasks on my "to do" list was to iron. Here is how I did both:
Nothing like being outside on a warm fall day experiencing an ordinary task in a new way.

If you read my other blog you know that I am a Minnesota Lynx basketball fan. Hubby and I took 4 of our grandbabies to the game last night. It was a nail biter. I am not sure how other WNBA games are, but the MN Lynx games are entertaining and incredibly fan and kid friendly. I like to get there early so I can watch the team warm up. So, we were all sitting watching the women stretch and practice when a couple of Lynx officials come up the aisle to ask if any of the kids wanted to be a kid captain. Nani, 8, and Hann 4 both shook their heads “yes.” I had no idea what a kid captain was, but they are chosen at every game. They go out on the floor with the captains from both teams to meet the referees and gather other pregame information. While they are rubbing elbows with the players and referees their images are projected on the big screen jumbo-tron and of course this is all taking place in a sports venue with about 15, 000 people.
I was thrilled that Nani said “yes.” Hann is a risk taker, even at 4, but Nani, not so much. But there they both stood, smiling ear to ear, sporting new t-shirts and an autographed basketball. At the ripe age of 8, Nani, stepped out of her comfort zone and by doing so cultivated her own courage, a firmer belief in herself, and a growing self awareness of what can unfold when one steps out of our own little worlds and tries something different. It was a beautiful life moment and I am glad I was there.

I think when I look back at this year, I will see that I made tremendous progress in my own physical downsizing. I have had the gift of time with my sabbatical. The gift of time to take care of me physically and as you will see emotionally, too. I blog about my physical downsizing on my other blog. I won’t repeat what I write over there here, but suffice is to say that the gift of time has been remarkable for me in terms of focusing on who I am and where I am going.

Like many people, I need to downsize or de-clutter my living spaces. When my parents passed away, I inherited their personal belongings, including their old scrapbooks, photos, letters, and personal papers. Last week, I started to tackle some of the boxes hovering in our basement, including my parents' boxes. One of my mother’s boxes contained some old family photo albums and scrapbooks. Unfortunately, most of the old pictures contain people and places that are not even slightly familiar to me. But not this one: I new right away that that picture was my mom when she was a young child.
I am guessing she was about 3 or so. As I continued going through the pictures, I came across this picture of my mom in 2005 with my lovely daughter on her wedding day.
Between those two pictures there had been a life time. My mother’s lifetime. My mother. My very own mother. My emotions spilled over as I ruminated about the life that had been and was no longer. I looked at that picture of that little girl and saw such promise. A whole world just waiting to be explored and discovered. A smart little girl, too.

As I looked at the other picture of my daughter and my mother, I just kept thinking about how we never know what will become of our lives. I know my mother did not. My mother never realized her promise because she was challenged with both physical and mental health issues. I always say and believe in my heart that my mom did the best she could under the circumstances. There were times when her life spiraled relentlessly out of control. During one of those spirals, I stepped in, went to court and became her guardian. There is more, but I will not get into that here. As a result of this arrangement, my mother made Minnesota her home and the last 16 years of her life were stable and more normal than most of her other years. I don’t regret being her guardian. It was the right thing to do and I would do it again in a heart beat.

Looking at the pictures brought out some deep emotions and a clarity that are important to recognize. I never felt comfortable talking with my mom about her mental health issues, nor about being her guardian. I was simply afraid to talk with her about things that were so very personal. I am not sure now why I was so afraid, but I was. Looking back, I wished I had talked with a professional about this responsibility and my feelings. My mom also spent most of her adulthood as an obese woman. She suffered many physical challenges like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease because of her neglect of her health and of course the ever present obesity. I never talked with my mother about her obesity because I was afraid, too. Afraid that she would see herself in me, like I did in her. I became an obese woman in my forties. I was in denial about my own obesity so how could I even talk with my mom about hers.

Looking at those pictures and processing my feelings and my thoughts brought clarity, too. You see I realized while I looked at those pictures that facing our fears, although hard, is important and necessary for our own well being. You all know that adage: there is nothing to fear but fear itself. I lost out by not facing my fears head on. I missed the opportunity to learn from my mother what it was like being her; her own story of being physically and mentally challenged. Her own story. Maybe she never really felt challenged... I can no longer talk with my mother, but I can talk with other people about things that are difficult and painful. I can face my fears and have those courteous conversations with others. And I will.

For me stepping outside of the box is not only about doing and experiencing something differently, it is about facing something outside of your comfort zone. It is about facing your fears, acknowledging them, and moving forward. I am resolved to have those courageous conversations. It is about time. Better watch out!

Finally, and for my mother: thank-you, mom, for showing me other ways to become a better person. Thank-you, mom. I love you.