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Disappointment elections Expectations Fitting in Grief and Loss mom blog politics Uncategorized worry

An Experience of Grief-Elections

All over the world we still are talking about this election. It took me until today to feel like I could write something down. I wondered about why it has taken me so many days to write as I have a lot buzzing in my head and then, I realized, this is because I am still going through stages of grief. Several stages a day even.

In my work, my clients and I frequently talk about grief. We discuss that grief can be not just the loss of a person but, the loss of an experience, an opportunity, a thing or an idea. images-3The example I use is by looking at your dead car battery.

Say you wake up in the morning and get ready for school or work, go out to your car to get to work and the car battery is dead. The first thing you do is to try to start it again. You are in denial that it won’t start. ‘Of course, it is going to start”, you think to yourself. It hasn’t passed your mind that anything is wrong. You think, the car is starting and you’re going to do whatever it was what you were expecting to do. It would function. You shake your head, ‘huh?’ you think. You try to start it over and over. You don’t really believe that it won’t start.

Then you move into bargaining. You plead with the car to start, you beg and you coax. You may say that you will take the car to get high-octane gas, go to church next Sunday, anything to get the car to start. You may even fiddle with the air, music or other levers in the car to see if that will change the outcome and help it spring to life.

But the battery doesn’t start and then you move into anger. You are hitting the dashboard and yelling at the inert engine to start. You are pissed. You use choice words either under your breath or loud enough for the neighbors to hear and yet, the battery is still dead.

Sadness comes next. You moan, collapsing in your worries about how the day has gone to pot and if you don’t get to work or school on time everything else is also is going to fall apart.

Then, acceptance. You pull out your phone to get AAA, a Uber or race off to catch a Trimet bus to get going. You get it and understand the battery is not going to come to life and fire up the engine.

This week millions of people of all diversities and majorities have been progressing through these stages. I kept refreshing my screen to the 538 website which I had been using as my barometer to help balance my stomach clenches over the last couple weeks. Tuesday morning, I thought that a 70.2% certainly of a Hillary win was pretty good. Then when the numbers fell and the states were too close to call I was definitely in denial. I couldn’t compute in my head that this could actually be happening.images-2 As I cuddled with my boys on Tuesday night, as per our ritual, I cozied up to my seven-year old’s sleepy form while hoping against hope that the next time I refreshed my screen it would show better numbers. It did not. As I lay in the dark talking to myself in my head, I really thought that it was just a bad moment, denying that anything could really go wrong.

That night, I stayed up holding my phone, listening to NPR and watching CNN until I heard that Clinton had called Trump. As I kept switching sources, I felt I was truly watching a horrible crash that I couldn’t tear my eyes away from. I willed the outcome to be different. I went through bargaining, anger and a lot of sadness. I woke up my husband to tell him the news and we held each other, we talked and I cried for the better part of two hours. images-1We scrambled our approach to tell our boys the outcome in the morning. The night had started out with us having a civics lesson on coloring in a map of America was the states were called out for the electoral college numbers. Those red states are still stained on our dry erase place mat as a reminder of a bad night.

I went back to hanging out in bargaining for a while on Wednesday since all the votes had not yet been tallied and was trying to convince myself that maybe, just maybe the electoral map could change. I have a problem with chronic optimism when faced with bad odds. Later I sunk back down into sadness with smatterings of anger and, I suppose, acceptance. I know what has happened is true but, I really can’t stomach processing it all.

The rest of the week I was the witness of several client’s experiences of grief in the process. Emotionally washed up at night, I took to baking, listening to musicals and treating the radio like a hot potato. imagesI would turn it on for a bit and then suddenly flick it off.

So, here we are five days later and we are all still processing. I think if Hillary had won there would be another 50 million or so going through their own experience of grief. We are a nation in conflict and grief. It will take more than a support group to help us get through this. I want to be hopeful but, my well is a bit dry. Today was #WorldKindnessDay and I checked in with a couple of friends who had big events in their lives and that felt good.

Over the weekend, we watched Les Miserables and Fiddler on the Roof. I explained to my children the grief of those stories and it helped me to see them confused by such horrid behavior, racism and anti-Semite rhetoric in the story lines. They, who have grown up with the only president they have known being a man of color, were shocked to learn that pogroms existed for decades and not too long ago. I felt I took a little of their innocence in explaining these stories, however, I also loved that they instinctly knew that it was not okay to act like this as a human today. This gives me hope.

In my grief, and this week they have seen me process a lot of it, my boys have supported my new acceptance in ways they don’t know yet. Yes, this has happened but, the story does not end here. We have work to do to continue to teach, learn and practice empathy. They don’t know it but, my boys are already guiding me in this process.

Expectations family travel Fitting in Hong Kong round the world travel travel travel blog Uncategorized

The Travel Plan Reveal – Trying to Make Something Enormous Simpler. What are the Expectations?

So, one of the reasons I wanted to start a blog was to document our family’s plan for world travel. Travel is such an important part of my life (my middle third especially) and I want to share it with our kids and create new memories in new places today. My fear has been that writing about something that has not yet happened is a bit out-of-order, cart before the horse, so to speak. images-11My fear would wash up inside and worry about being named as a non-doer, someone with all talk and no action and a tiny fear of superstition. If I write about it will it not happen.

Where do all these worries come from? My inner critics pushing their particular voice forward, reminiscing about previous times in my life when I struggled and when I failed and taking those moments and shoving them forward in my mind as if to show me.

“See, you can’t do this. You’re a fool to say these things out loud. Someone will reveal that you have failed in the past. Don’t involve others in your dreams until they are real and countable.”

So, my own expectations are tangled with worry, fear, excitement, hope, joy, trepidation and uneasiness. My point of this blog is to explore the challenge of having really high expectations dashed by reality unfolding. However, this is not a blog about images-13holding back our dreams, choosing the slow and safe lane, redirecting our wants toward the loudest naysayers opinion.

I have already made a lot of choices in my life that were non-conventional at the time. Traveling, studying and living overseas for a collective five years of my life didn’t match the norm of my contemporaries. At no point in those travels did I regret being where I was.
Yes, I struggled at times, feeling extraordinarily lonely and
left with only myself for company.

Which sometimes my own company was not great awash with some self-defeating judgements or thoughts. However, I didn’t try to come back ‘home’. I tried to figure out what was happening and how to make it a little bit better. Often hoping to make it much, much better.

Ironically, those moments are the ones I learned the most from. I think particularly about my time living and working in Hong Kong in 1993-1994. images-17Yes, what seems like a lifetime ago. I arrived in this big, neon city with my Dad as he had me connected to a business partner of his to do some work. We flew business class. I think it might have been the first time I had spent 11 hours sitting next to my Dad.

While flying into Hong Kong, I remember the how close the plane was to the buildings in the city as we circled to land at the airport. To me, the buildings looked like hundreds of matchboxes tipped up on their ends balancing precariously next to each other, almost feeling like I was looking at Dominos on a table top. My worry was that one might fall over.  Looking back, I may have been reflecting what I felt inside myself.

I had willingly left my safe haven back in the States to move to a new place. This wasn’t a new move for me. images-16At this point in my life, I had left my home country for foreign places several times but, landing in Western Europe each time. There, I could find a way for my caucasian self to blend in with my English and weak Dutch. I could be on a train and most would be none the wiser until I ordered a coffee, even then I could tilt and soften my accent to draw away from my American self identifiers.

In Hong Kong, I wasn’t going to blend in. I was, what my co-workers later told me was ,a ‘gweilo’. A ghost face. I could try to mix in but, my skin, eye color, the general way I held my body and my illiteracy in the various Chinese languages showed me for who I was, a stranger in a strange place.
Yet, I so wanted to blend in. When I travel, I am one to carefully hold the map inward, cautious to avoid too much attention. I want to be in step with and nearly anonymous in the community I am exploring. One to one, I don’t mind meeting new people and, actually, quite love images-15it but, I don’t want to be painted with the brush or spotlight of FOREIGNER where ever I go.

I was acutely aware of the ‘ugly American’ that would travel about the world, bumbling into people, cultures, languages, cuisine without an awareness of or care about the ripple effect of their wake. I may have kept to the shadows to my own detriment at times. As in Hong Kong, I found it not only very hard to blend in but, also to make friends. I didn’t connect to the ex-pat community. Back then there was no internet, Facebook, email list to join so I could safely explore my options in the comfort of my own computer before walking in a room and hoping to make a friend. I also didn’t want to make friends only with foreigners in this strange place with me. It would have probably helped a lot but, I was stubborn. I wanted to find my own way. And it turned out to be a very lonely path.

That Hong Kong travel experience was one of my darkest but, it taught me a lot. I can get through things. Most everything is in motion and we don’t get to stand in one place for very long. I look at my own kids and see that. Are they really seven and nine? What happened? The hard times move on and the good times move on. What we have control over is maneuvering ourselves towards better, healthier, happier times. This doesn’t always work as we don’t control anything but, ourselves. images-18However, perhaps we can point ourselves in the direction we want to go. Like a boat on a stream…there are plenty of obstacles but, we can navigate.

My husband and I are preparing to navigate ourselves into the greater world outside of our comfort zone in Portland, Oregon with our kids in tow. We want more experiences, unpredictable and hopefully, joyful. Yes, we will experience heartache, frustration, headaches and differing opinions but, we will be living and learning. We plan on leaving on a year-long journey in August 2017. What comes here is further exploring, planning and navigation of our life and dreams. Please stay tuned.

Expectations Grief and Loss marriage Parenting Uncategorized worry

Parenting, Marriage and Hopes and Dreams

As my husband and I approach our 14th wedding anniversary, I pause and look around me at the changes that have transpired and where we are today. I am struck at the difference of our family of four from the two of us, with our hopeful and shiny faces of yore. I was 33 when I got married and thus, look at my life in thirds.

The first third, infancy, childhood and young adult time. The next was the era of the single girl to woman phase with earning degrees, traveling and a host of poor decision making and the lessons that followed. Then to the last third, learning to create a life with another person with intentions of making the ‘right choices’ together, growing in our careers, succeeding in making a family and moving forward with parenting highs and lows.

I am struck, with a bit of fear, when I look forward to the next 15 year block. What choices will we or I make that have a ripple effect on the future. I am 47 now and in 15 years, I ‘ll be 62. The age my mom was when she died. A tiny piece of me worries that this may be my last series of chapters so, I better make them good ones. Every day I struggle with choices  that effect me; what I eat, what I drink and what I say. Questions of, Did I exercise? How much sleep did I get? How am I handling stressful situations so, they don’t bite me in the backside later?

With clients we talk about the HALTS; Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired and Stressed/Sad. These are things that we can control, in some measure, in our life. We often feel overwhelmed by events happening around us and we try, frequently, with all our might to control things we can’t: other people’s thoughts, feelings, actions, desires, words. In HALTS we can look at a situation and see what areas that we may be able to make some changes or at least, gain some leverage.

When I look at the next 15 years, I feel I do have a better understanding of what I can and cannot control. I also need to remember that when I am in a mood, I don’t always remember this helpful information but, perhaps I am more likely to access it having had some years practice. Read: we are all imperfect! So, coming back to that block of time. How do I want it turn out? Am I okay with the choices I making, big and small? I make mistakes but, do I feel okay about that as well?

I was struck by a review of a new book by Maria Semple called Today Will Be Different. This character, a mom, wife and professional tries to find ‘A Basic Amount of Dignity’. I love that sentiment. 9780316403436_custom-6f05dbe55c3c89ca57eaf0d25423b88bc014eade-s300-c85That the small choices we make everyday can have small but, longer effects. We often look around us in exasperation and think, “How did we get here?” and think of the roads or choices not taken. We think big change only comes from big changes.

Well, I’d like to think that small changes can have a ripple effect as well. If I have a green drink this morning, my body will feel a little bit better and I will feel that I’ve gotten a start on one of the many ‘shoulds’ that come up for me (eating enough fruits and vegetables every day). But, more I feel, at that moment, that I have made a small difference. I can be a tiny bit happy and satisfied that I made a healthy choice. Also, challenging the first of the HALTS – Hunger.

So, here is to change, the anniversary and next 15 year block (one of many, I hope). Also, here’s to green smoothies.

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The pitfalls of ‘shoulds, oughts and musts’. 

I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of English friends who are winging it here from the UK as I type. I keep checking the flight arrival screen on my phone to see any new information. It has been 12 years since seeing these friends, which feels like a mini-life time. We have two kids now and they are married and have struggled with some health issues. 

As I scurry around the house to make it all ‘presentable’, which is loosely defined that way by me. I wonder aloud what I ‘should’ do to make it better, what I ‘ought’ to do to meet their expectations. What I ‘must’ do in order to make their visit ‘the best ever’. I realize I am falling for the trap of unachievable expectations – again! images-5

When meeting with clients, the ‘shoulds’ come up fairly quickly as people are describing their worries, challenges, dreams, hesitations and struggles. I may quip, “Be careful, don’t should on yourself”. It is so much easier to say this than practice it. The is the ‘we-are- all-flawed’ reality of all therapists, really.

I heard it so clearly when others speak it but, don’t always catch it when it falls from my lips. Partly because, the majority of time we are internally vexed with our worries and we don’t say them out loud.

There is a lot to be learned from writing down our own thoughts. In our digital world, many may scoff at the idea of hand writing down our worries but, there is something very tangible and defining when we are able to write them down and then they have boundaries around them.

Those ‘shoulds’ show themselves more clearly as high expectations that are often someone else’s values that we are carrying around with us as a compass for our choices. I find that when I do this, I guess incorrectly, meaning people really don’t need me to do things their way or I get resentful that I have assumedthat is what they want and have pushed my wishes aside.

In those cases, I find, that the empowerment I feel in rewording my statements from ‘shoulds’ to ‘would-likes’ certainly match my values better. I am more able to set boundaries around what is reasonable and achievable from the too-high dream scenarios.

So, as I dash off the airport, house still a dusty house, it is still our home. images-6I am feeling more calm that my friendship means more in the time we spend together than in their assessment of my housecleaning skills. I am slowly able to redefine my expectations and feel ready to enjoy our friends.

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Here it is…my first public wrangle with expectations.

“What are your expectations?” I try to ask myself this question whenever I am encountering something new or different. I don’t always remember though. My 40 something years have shown me that we often set our sites higher than what is reasonable achievable and we think, maybe, just maybe we will reach them this time.

This is not a blog telling people not to dream, hope, wish or desire. Rather it is a blog about  doing those things and assessing and finding out what we can control, what we can’t and, therefore, finding peace in the outcomes. Am I getting ahead of myself? Maybe a little bit…but, I can be an optimistic person. The irony of this blog is that I had a lot of expectations about how I could set up this site. How I would name it, load it, design it, write it and get it launched. I found myself clenching my stomach at times and finding myself in the kitchen for comfort (not a good habit). Just another cup of coffee, snack or fizzy water to help sort out my mind.

I have a version of this and my mind gallops to the place where I get to tag in favorite blogs, articles, images-1videos and music with the snap of my fingers and share this with you and soothe my mind. I will get there. I realized that my expectations of being a start-up blogger were higher than my skill level. This is not shocking information in reality but, my own hopes hijacked my to-do list. I’ve had to revise my expectations  several times all weekend while piecing this together.

The way I roll this concept around in my mind and when I share with my clients is here in three categories. What are the minimum expectations? What are reasonable and achievable expectations? What are the dream scenarios (also called gravy, lottery, bonus).

The three questions bring up the head tilt thought of, “Huh, what did I want and what control did I have in making it happen?” Or, in reality, “What the #*&%$ happened!”. It moves us away from blaming and to problem solving.

Most of us are big dreamers and shoot for the stars. Nothing wrong with wanting the best but, what hurts is when we expect others to do, think, want, desire, plan, achieve as we do and in our way. Then we hit the ground hard and we are stunned that things didn’t turn out the way we so thought they would. It moves us away from blaming and to problem solving and dream revising.

But, I digress…My reasonable expectations are to publish some thoughts about expectations and my journey in identifying those in my life, parenting, travel, friendships, work and marriage. I’ve got some threads I want to pull and see where they unravel. Thank you for reading and please join me on this journey.

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