Source: Cheri Lucas

The Hug

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couple-embrace

Photo Courtesy of Cheri Lucas

I cling to him, feeling the slippery slope of time catching up to me as the ticks on my watch drum in my ears like a tribal rain dance circling round my brain. If only I could freeze time and force it to turn around and head back in the opposite direction, even if it is against oncoming traffic. I know this is a route he is all too familiar with as he has spent his life on a similar road, always heading in the wrong direction, dodging incoming obstacles. It wasn’t always like this for us. There was a time when we traveled a different road, one smoothly paved with stones of hopes and promises. The uphill challenges on that road seem like small bumps compared to the mountainous climb that is his life now. I hold on tight savoring the hug, not knowing when I will have the opportunity to experience it again. My only thought being that it is the kind of lasting hug I will revisit time and again in the future, when he is out of my reach once more. It is the kind of hug that also makes me revisit the day I officially lost him.

I found him in his room. The youngest of three, he was the only one left with a room at home. As I approached, trying to connect words of comfort I didn’t believe existed, I realized he was putting on a shield of armor I would find impossible to break through. As he tied his green apron strings and adjusted his name tag, the look in his eyes showed turmoil more akin to a battle weary soldier than a nineteen year old stock boy. As my sister and I carried on with our distant lives in other states, my brother had lived the daily nightmare of slowly losing the man we all thought invincible, our father. He said he wished he could just go to work like normal…like none of this was happening. My heart understood his wish more than he would ever know. Still, I couldn’t let him leave as panic swelled within me and the minute hand ticked on the black cat clock on the wall, left over from our younger years and more innocent times.

I did what I thought was right at the time. I somehow convinced my little brother to stay and face our nightmare with the rest of us, and within a couple of hours of being home our father looked around him and took in each and every face in that room including my brother’s. He asked our mother if all his loved ones were there and when she reassured him they were, he took a deep breath and finally went home. I hugged my brother, grateful he had stayed by our side.

I would like to say that was the end of our nightmare, but for my brother it was the beginning of something much worse. For the next eighteen years he has lived behind bars with visitation rights that are never long enough, and in a cell that doesn’t often see the light. He is trapped in darkness. Of his own making or mine?

You see, the day my brother stayed and witnessed our father’s death he died along with him. Gone was the nineteen year old stock boy who played basketball with his headphones on because to choose between the two things that gave him the most joy wasn’t possible. Gone was the son who took pride in handing over the earnings of a grocery store employee to help with the bills at home. Gone was the light in his eyes. When I look into his eyes now I still see the turmoil of that fateful day and no medication has ever been able to erase it. So…I find comfort in revisiting these hugs, for it is the only reminder of the person I once knew.

Weekly Writing Challenge

The Foundation Is Surely Cracked On This One!

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I just returned from a week in Bermuda. If you haven’t had the opportunity to visit the beautiful island, I highly recommend it. The locals are friendly, the island is pristine, and the beaches are beautiful. However, what really caught my eye were the homes. The range of architecture varies as do the colors, some display beautiful white coats while others sport pastels in every shade. I felt myself wanting to curl up in the blanket of color all over the island, and wishing I was house hunting in Bermuda so I could see if the inside of these homes was as attractive as their shells.

Shopping for a new home is an exhausting and draining experience filled with anxiety. It is also an exciting time filled with a sense of adventure, not to mention a chance to see so many different houses and how those homeowners have chosen to decorate, which happens to be my favorite part. It has been my experience during this process that each house I walk into has its own unique little something or other to offer. There have been times when I have walked in and immediately seen that special something, whether it was a light filled living room or high ceilings or a fabulous kitchen. Other times, it takes a little more to see past the surface. For example, the hardwood floors patiently waiting to shine underneath the shaggy green wall to wall carpet takes a little more visualization. I have always tried to approach our house hunting expeditions with a sense of adventure. You never know what shining jewel lies in wait, so I approach with an open mind and realize that not every house will be perfect and not every homeowner will have the same decorating tastes as I do, but it doesn’t mean it’s not a great house!

Why not approach people the same way? Not everyone has the same beliefs we do or the same sense of fashion. Not everyone makes the same choices in life or even the same choice for lunch. We don’t all fall into a predetermined set of rules to live by. That’s what makes us each unique. Why not look at those around us with an open mind and look past our differences in search of the shining jewel that may take us a little longer to see? It may very well surprise us in the end. People may not have the exact features we think we need at the time, but it doesn’t mean those same features aren’t something we were looking for unbeknownst to us. And, we may never completely understand those particular features but they are a part of someone we treasure and that makes them wonderful and vital and the very essence of that person. Instead of viewing others as different than us, the whole time saying we’re not judging while thinking “the foundation is surely cracked on this one,” instead let’s embrace those traits we’re not accustomed to seeing. And, just as with every house hunting experience I’ve ever had and we all know I’ve had a few, there’s nothing like the feeling you get when you realize you are finally home.

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If you’re interested in spreading A TON OF HOPE, here’s what you need to do:

  1. Write about something that makes you feel optimistic.
  2. Post MONDAYS. Start the week off with a positive outlook.
  3. Grab a badge by going to your dashboard and clicking the IMAGE widget. Adjust pic size 200h x 200w. The image URL: (http://keepingitrealmom.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/project-optimism.jpg)
  4. Link over here and invite blogger friends to join in.
  5. Encourage the person who linked up before you. Kindness is contagious!

Pearl Jam meets WrestleMania

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Photo Credit: deviantart.com

Photo Credit: deviantart.com

As a mom, there’s nothing sweeter than seeing your kids showing each other some love. Those moments when they are hugging each other and smothering each other in sweet smooches is priceless. However, on more than one occasion that loving moment can quickly turn into a full-blown scene the likes of which WrestleMania can only aspire to achieve. The eerie thing is how quickly it can take a downward spiral into the depths of screaming and torturing. I have witnessed my two children perform this incredible feat several times and each time sit in awe (after I have intervened and sent them to their separate corners) at how two human beings can so quickly fluctuate from love to what I know in my heart is not hate but paints quite the picture of all things hate. There is nothing worse than being in public when the love fest begins because I then find myself holding my breath waiting for the tables to turn, especially when some complete stranger takes an interest in the two little angels love for one another. I can’t even enjoy the compliments being expressed to me, the perfect mother of these cute cherubs (truly you would have to be perfect or deranged to be able to raise children who never fight), because I am holding my breath waiting for my kids to reveal their true selves and in turn my true self since they are a reflection of me after all. I find myself repeating that moment’s mantra “just breathe, just breathe, just breathe” and hearing Pearl Jam in my head.

How many times in our lives do we hold our breath waiting for the worst? How many moments do we miss out on because we’re too busy worrying about the other shoe dropping? How many genuine messages of love and admiration have we skipped over because surely there must be something more to it right? Surely, there must be some ulterior motive behind someone’s compliment or kind action? They must want something right? There’s no way they’re just being nice. It will surely morph into WrestleMania at some point, so why enjoy the moment? Why bask in the glory when something terrible must be right around the corner? We’ve seen the pattern, been there done that, we know how it ends.

BUT

What if something really great is around that bend? What if something nice is actually followed by something nice or maybe even nicer? What if this time is different? How will we ever know? And how can we enjoy the moment if we’re so worried about what’s to come? I say, show ‘em your best smile and remember to just breathe.

What song or mantra gets you through those moments when you need to remember to just breathe?

Weekly Photo Challenge – Beyond

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BEYOND

Photo Credit: littlemisswordy

Photo Credit: littlemisswordy

In the midst of winter with its harsh cold temps and snow shoveling duties, summer seems so far away doesn’t it? This is the part where I shouldn’t mention that I have no idea what that’s like since I’m currently living on a tropical island. I’ll leave that out, but will share this sweet story with you.

This past summer, my seven-year old spent ten days at the heels of his older sister and his three older cousins. No doubt this kid can hold his own, loves an audience, and is one of the most entertaining seven-year olds I have ever met. However, he was still the youngest and with that sentence naturally comes a tiny bit of impatience. Impatience to understand the topic of conversation, impatience to do the things they can do, and impatience to fast forward beyond this point in time and be as “grown up” as they appear to a seven-year old. It was sweet to see him in the midst of the older kids, trying to get their attention all while playing it cool. Being the youngest, he was the center of their attention most of the time anyway. However, there were those moments when I would catch him off to the side wistfully looking at them. This photo was taken at some point during those ten days, and in my eyes not only perfectly captured my cutie pie but also the story I just shared with you.

I’m heading off to Bermuda for a few days and not sure what internet access I’ll have while I’m there, but I set up the scheduler to publish a couple of posts while I’m gone. Here’s hoping it works! I’ll share photos when I return.

Here are a few more interpretations of Beyond shared by fellow bloggers:

alwaysbobswife.wordpress.com

theretiringsort.com

acrossthebored.com

gleaningthenuggets.com

3rdculturechildren.com

There’s Something Strange In The (WordPress) Neighborhood!

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littlemisswordy

Some strange happenings have been occurring all across the WordPress arena lately. It is all mysterious enough to not only get my attention, but if I was a Great Dane with a speech impediment let’s just say my van would be sporting a “Don’t Bother Knockin” sign and I’d be calling for back up.

Here are just a few Twilight Zone-ish events:

1. Someone didn’t find Ad-libb3d funny, and had the audacity (great word) to insult him. Who doesn’t find Ad-Libb3d funny? What are you from Mars?

2. My reader format was abducted by aliens and replaced with another life form that is nowhere near as friendly.

3. That same reader used to show a blogger’s sweet smiling face (or mug shot depending on the blog), but they have all been shrunk to pin heads!

*Side note: that’s why I started this post with a BIG ASS PHOTO of myself. I was thinking of inviting you guys to join me for BIG ASS PHOTO FRIDAYS in hopes of getting the WordPress gods attention, but that might be too “in your face” no?

4. Anka over at Keeping it Real found a silver lining in the WordPress reader. She did! She even posted about it. Now, no one has seen or heard from her since. You should go check on her.

5. And, Strawberry Shortcake I mean Becca over at 25toFly is flying so high she’s revealing all kinds of secrets over there. She’s not even under duress, and get this…she wants the rest of us to spill the beans too! Gasp! Go see for yourself!

If anyone has any information related to these incidents or witnessed other strange happenings, please come forward in the comments section. I’m sure it’s nothing. Probably just some meddling kids! Although, if Ad-libb3d’s commenter is really from Mars this case may be solved!

In the meantime, I’ll play along with Strawberry Shortcake, I mean Becca and share a little secret with you guys. Here goes nothing!

Everyone remembers their first concert right? The excitement of circling that date on your calendar, the feel of those tickets in your hand, and endless hours of conversation with your friends about how it was going to be an epic night! You chose your outfit carefully, not wanting to look like it was your first concert…didn’t want people to think you were trying too hard. You located the seats in the seat chart in advance, envisioning how close you might get to the stage. And you dreamed of being the lucky concert goer who gets chosen to go on stage or even better BACK STAGE!

Come on, we all had these fantasies about our first concert! I chose my outfit, held that ticket in my hand, FLOOR SEATS! I even waved a cigarette lighter around at just the right songs. It wasn’t epic, but it was definitely a night I’ll never forget. When my husband  and I shared first concert stories he laughed so hard he almost fell out of his chair. And here’s my moment of truth. My first concert was Neil Diamond. What? Did I mumble? Neil Diamond! Yep!

No wonder Mr. I attended Depeche Mode whose opening act was Nitzer Ebb laughed so hard he cried. I guess back then I was more Little Miss Nerdy than Little Miss Wordy!

What was your first concert?

My Word-ly Travels

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She loved to read and became so lost in her books it was as if she left her bedroom and stepped into the very places those stories took place. Ever since she was a little girl, she dreamed of faraway places. She envisioned herself traveling around the globe and even outer space. Her dreams were those of a child with no regard for schedules or finances, only visions of new worlds to be discovered, adventures around every corner, and meeting people so different from her they would forever touch her soul. The mountains she’d climb, the seas she’d cross, and the dirt roads she’d leave her footprint on would be experiences she would carry close to her heart and like an old weathered album pull out to relive those travels of years gone by.

Dreams are what life is made of, but sometimes life has other plans. I still have those dreams but haven’t traveled much outside the United States. The blue markers on the map show where I’ve lived. I’ve moved a few times, but all within the United States except for Puerto Rico where I currently live. It’s a United States Territory.

I’ve spent a lifetime dreaming of all the places I wish to experience, yet my words have reached farther than my wildest dreams. In the four short months I’ve been blogging, my words have reached every yellow marker on this map. I started blogging as a way to share my writing, my stories, my random thoughts. I envisioned a small group of folks, mostly family (thank you mom) and friends, reading my posts and maybe clicking the like button or leaving a comment.

Instead, my words have floated their way across oceans, climbed mountains, twisted and turned along winding dirt roads, zipped along busy highways, fluttered through open windows and made their way to living rooms, hotel rooms, kitchens, studies, offices, and bedrooms, backlit on person after person’s computer screen. Thousands of pairs of eyes have focused on my words, read them, felt them, and hopefully were touched by them in some way.

My words have accomplished the stuff of my dreams. I haven’t crossed oceans to faraway lands or climbed mountains, or left my footprint on narrow dirt roads. I don’t have a weathered album, real or in my mind, of travels to relive. Yet, I look at this map and smile a little. My words have reached so many so different from myself, and in so doing have ignited something in these readers that has compelled them to click that like button or leave a comment, each time touching my soul across the distance in the only way possible.

Thank you yellow markers for opening your homes to me! Thank you Google Maps for my weathered travel album. And thank you WordPress for a first class ticket around the globe!

Sky is the limit: where would you recommend I travel and why?

If you would like to participate in the challenge or read more about it, check it out here >>>>>> Map it Out

“This Gun Killed Someone”

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The instructions read: Connect the dots to see the picture, then draw something you might see in it. He drew a picture of a gun floating in white space, with the word “News” above it. When asked to explain his picture he said, “The news is on TV, and this is a picture of a gun.” As his homeschooling teacher and more importantly his mom, I asked him to elaborate. He went on, “The news is reporting that this gun killed someone.”

(Insert screeching sound of tape rewinding)

When the heart wrenching tragedy occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary, in Newtown, Connecticut I made a decision to shield my children from that news. I don’t watch the news often. I don’t enjoy it and seek my news updates via other channels. I didn’t feel the need to unnecessarily scare my children with the details of a man who took it upon himself, for reasons unknown and that will never be justified, to take the innocent lives of those children in the very place they felt safe and surrounded by people whose job it was to care for them. Since we started homeschooling this year outside the United States, our social interaction is limited. I have no idea where my seven year old son got this idea, nor if it is even related to the same horrific event. We spent the holidays in the states and they had plenty of time with other children and grownups so it is possible that he heard something then. That’s neither here nor there.

When I saw the picture of the gun my son drew, it didn’t faze me. When he made the statement, “this gun killed someone” my heart stopped. I don’t normally discuss politics, religion or other controversial and divisive topics, and I certainly don’t blog about them. Maybe it’s because I don’t feel the need to change others views or maybe it’s because I don’t feel the need to open myself up to others who might want to try and change my views. I don’t know.

What I do know is this. I don’t want my children to grow up believing that a gun is responsible for hurting or killing someone. I don’t want my children to believe that a piece of metal is responsible for taking lives. I want them to understand that a gun is a weapon that can only cause harm if someone takes that gun in their hands and makes the conscious choice to hurt someone with it.

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He added the person after our discussion on choices. Gotta love the extra long left arm.

Our lives are a series of choices. Coke or Diet Pepsi, tropical or winter vacation, the red dress or the black dress. Each choice we make sets off a series of other choices down a path whose direction can change in an instant when another choice is made. From childhood we are presented with choices on a daily basis. PB&J or ham and cheese sandwich? Apple juice or milk? Swing or slide? As we grow so do the choices we are presented with in our lives. We must choose to go to college or join the work force. We must choose with which friends we will spend our time, and which of those friends we will choose to share a lifetime. Some choices we know will be life altering the moment we make them such as whether or not to say “I do” or what career path to take. Others appear to be so inconsequential that we often make them without much thought at all, never foreseeing what kind of domino effect that tiny little choice might set off.

We all have at least one friend who prefers to leave things to chance, roll the dice, take a gamble. However, in doing so hasn’t that friend already made a choice? I have heard folks say, “I had no choice” and think to myself that there’s always a choice. If you think someone else has made a choice for you, then you have made the choice to give them that right. We are responsible for the choices we make, no one else. We are responsible for the smallest of choices that can be made in the blink of an eye…sugar or sweet n low? And, we are responsible for the gut wrenching, heart twisting, choices that cause sleepless nights.

I choose to teach my children to understand human beings choose to get their hands on a gun, choose to aim that gun at someone else, and choose to pull the trigger, ultimately choosing to end that life. I choose to emphasize the fact that the gun by itself doesn’t kill. A choice was made.

Regardless of my stance on gun control, as a parent it is my responsibility to help my children understand the importance of their choices and the effects and consequences those choices may have. Those parents who lost their sweet children that fateful December afternoon had no choice because someone took it upon himself to strip them of the opportunity to teach their children about religion, politics, guns, and their right to choose the path of good vs. evil. Those children will never get to make those choices because of someone else’s choice. I know the topic of guns will be controversial to some, but this post isn’t about gun control or the Second Amendment. It is simply about a mother choosing to teach her children about personal responsibility. At the end of the day, I choose to be confident in my choices and let the chips fall where they may. Let the domino effect begin. What do you choose?

Did you choose to discuss the incident at Sandy Hook with your children? If so, how did you handle the role guns and people played in it?

A Heart Full of Ketchup Packets

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Just a little thing, he couldn’t have been more than six or seven with dirty blonde hair and big eyes that took in every detail of his surroundings as though his very survival depended on it. Maybe where he came from it did…I don’t know. I didn’t know his other world and had never experienced it. I met him in this world, my world. I was in my twenties and living life like a twenty something year old, with little regard for my environment and nary a worry in the world. My world was full of fast cars, good times, and excess around every corner.

Photo credit: rachelleb.com

Photo credit: rachelleb.com

He entered my world on a Saturday afternoon, with his innocent face and those eyes that told a story of things I had only heard of in stories. I met his parents and older sister for the first time that day as well. We took them to a local restaurant for dinner that evening, and the adults around the table made conversation and future plans for this brave family. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. I noticed he cleaned his plate, savoring the cheeseburger as though it was a feast fit for a king. Between bites, those eyes took in his surroundings. I’m not sure he even heard the conversation. I, myself, was only picking up bits and pieces when I noticed him carefully placing ketchup packets in his pockets. One by one, he slid them to the edge of the table, glanced around and filled his pockets until they looked about to burst. I knew what those pockets felt like because at that moment a blurred vision of a true survivor came to life before me and my heart filled to capacity. I wondered how many ketchup packets would be enough? Did he know? Did he have a number in mind? How many would it take to make his heart as full as his pockets?

No one noticed the change in my emotions, nor the little boy’s actions that caused it. I remained silent, lost in my thoughts only glancing up to find him studying me. After dinner, I stayed behind and walked out with him. I told him he didn’t need to take the ketchup packets, but how do you explain to one so young that they will never go hungry again? How do you convince them that this new world he has just arrived in less than twenty fours ago, is one where ketchup will be presented to him in overabundance? How do you describe a feeling of contentment to someone who has watched everyone around him make do with so much less than my world is accustomed? There are no words, only experiences and actions that in time create the safety net he craved.

That little boy is a grown man now with a wife and two beautiful little girls. He is successful and lives a good life. I’m not sure he even remembers those ketchup packets…it’s been so long. I, however, have never forgotten. Every time I’m tempted to throw in some extra ketchup packets with my order I think of him and his full pockets. My heart fills with pride for the man he has become, and I hold on to those ketchup packets much the same way he did so many years ago. They are my life preservers too. When I think I need more, when I think what I have isn’t enough, I conjure up his ketchup filled pockets and the look of sheer peace that came over him when full pockets meant a full heart. And, I pray that my focus will always be on achieving a full heart…even when my pockets are empty.

Do you have a “ketchup packets” story in your life that serves as a reminder to you?

Has Magazine Prettiness Replaced Real Life?

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“Magazine prettiness has replaced real life.” I noted that in a book I once read. I can’t remember that book, but the line stuck with me. And isn’t that the truth? Everywhere we turn everyone is so intent on perfection. The message being broadcast is if it doesn’t look perfect, then it must not be worth it.  We focus on making our homes look like you stepped into the latest Pottery Barn catalog and ourselves look like we stepped off the fashion runway. Cosmetic surgery patients are becoming younger and younger and I’m referring to them pre-surgery not post. We are so focused on being picture perfect that we often lose sight of our true origins, who we truly were before we started building that facade.

Yet, our origins actually have a lot to do with this perfect picture we present. Many of us were raised the old-fashioned way under the “everything’s fine” mentality. When asked, “how are you?” one’s standard response should always be “fine” because no one really wants to hear otherwise. And it’s true, we ask and answer that question multiple times a day never expecting the exchange to go differently because we all know we shouldn’t air our dirty laundry.

Just take a scroll down anyone’s Facebook news feed to find innumerable status posts regaling “friends” with how their lives are sheer perfection, their children sweet angels, their spouse Prince Charming and their bosses a joy to work with every day. The latest Pinterest craze is an oversized bulletin board of the perfect woman, wearing the perfect outfit, preparing the perfect recipe, for her perfect children, to serve in their perfectly decorated home. It’s no wonder our Christmas card photos don’t show our true selves, instead often depicting a family straight out of Pleasantville. Instead of opening our homes to friends, we hide behind closed doors for fear of giving them a glimpse into our not so orderly living rooms and ultimately chaotic lives. Are we afraid they’ll read the crayon on the wall and realize we’re just human, trying to keep our head above water?

All this effort to present ourselves in our best light, show our best side, wear our Sunday best is interesting. Do we do it because it’s what’s expected of us? Like toddlers singing, “if you’re happy and you know it clap your hands” are we clapping simply because everyone expects us to? Or are we afraid to take a close look at our imperfections? Afraid to express who we really are for fear of being judged? Are we that afraid to embrace our flaws and accept our quirks? Or is it easier to go with the flow, go through the motions, pretend otherwise, and not take a chance at the unknown? In a world of imitations, special effects, and cosmetic surgery it is hard to see what’s real and what’s not. Even a fake smile can start to feel like the real deal after a while. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I guess that depends on whether you’re on the giving end or the receiving end. Or does it?