Be Vulnerable: Is Friendship Worth It?

Life’s not easy. No one ever said it would be. It’s something we should know as adults, but we never learn.

Friendships aren’t always easy, either. Yes, there are times friendships are easy, but there are times they are difficult…hanging by a thread. Because I have a teenage daughter, I spend a lot of time discussing friendships, forgiveness, trust, and communication. But frankly, I’m still learning myself, so I don’t always give sound advice. We all make mistakes in friendships, even as adults, and we all have friends who make mistakes, even as adults.

We’ve all had times in relationships that we realized we needed to “fish or cut bait,” haven’t we? Aren’t there times you step back when a situation arises and think, “Maybe I don’t need to continue this friendship.” When I’ve felt that way, I try to take a deep breath and think logically…evaluate the situation without emotion.

But that’s easier said than done, because friendships are emotional connections. Just like marriage, friendship requires trust.. And just like marriages, friendships can fall apart. Unfortunately, just like marriages, going into them, we don’t know which ones will last and which ones won’t. A friend posted this on Instagram earlier this week:

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How true are those words of C.S. Lewis? We can’t be hurt emotionally by people to whom we don’t have an emotional connection. If you accidentally cut someone off in traffic, making them angry, do you worry about it for days to come? Likely not. But if you accidentally offend a longtime friend, do you worry about it for days to come? Probably. At least, you should, if you care about the person.

Likewise, if someone who is not your friend tells you a lie, do you care? Unless it’s going to affect something, probably not. If your friend tells you a lie, do you care? Yes. You do. And it’s all because you’ve made yourself vulnerable to that person by letting him/her into your life…trusting them. And that’s when you have to decide what to do. Do you confront them about it? Do you chalk it up to a mistake and let it go? Do you silently harbor ill feelings? Do you walk away from the friendship? It’s difficult. Because you’ve made yourself vulnerable, that hurt cuts a little deeper.

But, as C.S. Lewis says, if you want to keep your heart “intact,” you have to lock it up, don’t risk it by loving anyone. To have love of any kind is to have occasional pain, but the real friendships last…after forgiveness is sought. At the same time, we have to give those very friends the benefit of the doubt until we have reason to believe otherwise. Maybe your friend didn’t hurt you intentionally. Injury without malice, in friendships, should be forgiven. Injury with malice, in friendships, should be forgiven, as well…to free yourself from the burden of anger. I’ve written about forgiveness before. You can read it here.

I cannot imagine my own life without friendships. Sure, there have been friendships that have fallen by the wayside. It’s the way life is. Some of them fall away accidentally…you don’t know the last time you talked, and you didn’t realize at the time it would be the last time you would talk. Sometimes, there’s an argument or disagreement that ends a friendship. Other friendships, we choose to end, for one reason or another. Maybe you feel you’ve been taken for granted. Maybe the other person feels manipulated. Maybe you disagree all the time, and it has become tiresome. It happens, and when it has happened to me, I’ve chosen to believe I’ve learned from each instance.

But here’s one thing: if your heart gets broken, get up, and try again. Making yourself vulnerable is difficult and scary, but if you don’t, you won’t know what it’s like to have real friends. And remember, everyone isn’t going to like you. It’s a fact. And once you are OK with that, life gets a lot easier.

Is friendship worth the risk of heartache? You bet. For every disappointment, heartache, and sorrowful moment involved in friendship, there will be countless more good times.

To love is to be vulnerable. Be vulnerable.

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Photo by Dennis Magati on Pexels.com

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She’s Home

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My 14-yr-old daughter is home from her two-week adventure in Iceland. She doesn’t even seem tired after hiking, backpacking, rafting, sleeping outside, and all the other stuff she did.

I admire her and all the kids who did this challenging trip. I couldn’t do it. Well, I suppose I could, but I wouldn’t want to…tent sleeping = deal breaker. She said Iceland is a beautiful country, and she had a great time, but she did miss talking with us.

I totally get that. First, I missed her more than I knew I could miss someone. My husband and I said it to each other several times a day, “I miss our girl.” We could hardly wait for her to return, especially as I stood at the airport waiting for her plane to land. It seemed like forever. I was excited at that point, but time moved slowly, like waiting for Santa. Another reason I understand is that I visited Mexico with school friends and a teacher when I was fourteen, and we all experienced some homesickness. The difference? I could call home. Back in the 1980s, calling the US from Mexico was expensive, but my parents were OK with it. I didn’t call every day, but I did call a couple times…especially when I was homesick.

So, yesterday, I stood outside customs/immigration with my big sign, “Welcome Back!” I listed the girls’ names at the bottom. Waiting. The lady next to me was waiting for her grandson to come in from Iceland too, so we distracted each other.

After clearing customs/immigration yesterday, my daughter and her friends looked happy and relaxed. We did not cry (whew!), but she jumped into my arms. We did a group hug with her friends whose moms weren’t there. I was elated to see all of them! I asked them if they’d like to get something to eat before we got on the flight back to Charlotte. They opted for chicken nuggets, fries, and a Frosty from the airport Wendy’s.

On the plane, she asked me if I had missed her, and that’s when I cried. l told her she has no idea how much I missed her…and she doesn’t know, because until she has her own child who goes off on a two week trip with no communication, she will not be able to understand what it feels like to send your precious child 2,500 miles away. Think about that…I wouldn’t put my dog on a plane with someone to go 2,500 miles away. I wouldn’t send any prized possession on a plane with someone to go that far away.  Yet, we had to let her do this trip. And there will be more trips. There will be more experiences.

After we got home yesterday, a friend came over, and as we were talking, I told her how desperately I missed my daughter while she was gone and how it gave me a new appreciation for my parents’ experience. They must have missed me like crazy when I was gone too. At least when she goes off to college, she’ll be able to pick up the phone and call. As for this trip…I’m thrilled she had the experience. I know she learned a lot about Iceland but even more about herself and her ability to persevere. But honestly, I don’t want to be anywhere that I can’t call home for two weeks. In fact, I don’t think I even want to be at a posh resort in a beautiful setting with fun things to do and fabulous food if I can’t call home whenever I want! We are a talking family.

We want her to be independent, and that’s why we let her go. We’re already planning next summer. Will she do another one of these trips? I don’t know. If she wants to do another one, of course she can.

We are thrilled to have her home. She’s my favorite child.

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Alabama Theatre and Faye Dunaway

My daddy had a great sense of humor. He also loved wordplay. He was a great storyteller. He had vivid memories of his childhood, and we loved hearing his stories.

When I was a teenager, something came up in a family conversation about Faye Dunaway, the Academy Award-winning actress. Daddy said, “Faye Dunaway went to my school.” I must have looked at him like he had fourteen eyes, because he reiterated that she had gone to his elementary school in Florida.

Because he was a jokester, I thought, “Oh, I get it. He went to school with someone named Faye Dunaway, but not the real Faye Dunaway.” For YEARS, I thought it was a joke. I don’t remember talking about it a lot…just that once or maybe twice.

Years later, when I was in my late 20s, I was reading People Magazine one evening after work, and there was an article about Faye Dunaway. I started reading it, and there, in the second paragraph, it said she went to school in Bascom, Florida. That’s where Daddy went to elementary school! I picked up the phone and called him.

I said to him, “I’m reading an article about Faye Dunaway, and she really did go to school in Bascom!” He responded, “I’ve been saying that for years.” “Well, I know, Daddy, but I always thought you were kidding, saying someone NAMED Faye Dunaway went to your school.” We shared a good laugh at the confusion.

By the same token, I had some confusion with something Mother said for years too.

Mother grew up in the Birmingham, Alabama, area. When I was a little girl, she told me she used to go to the Alabama Theatre in downtown Birmingham for the Mickey Mouse Club on Saturdays. She made a big deal in telling me about the giant organ that would rise up out of the floor of the theatre.

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Interior of Alabama Theatre. Photo from Alabamatheatre.com. The theatre was home to the country’s largest Saturday morning Mickey Mouse Club at one time. It was also the first air-conditioned public building in Birmingham.

I didn’t tell Mother at the time, but when she said that about the organ rising from the floor, I thought she must have been mistaken. I honestly thought her memory must have been playing tricks on her, because who ever heard of an organ rising up out of the floor?

It just didn’t make sense to me, but I didn’t argue with her. I just thought her little girl brain had been tricked into thinking the organ came out of the floor…some sort of optical illusion or something.

Then, in my late 20s, I read Fannie Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe. Well, since Fannie Flagg is from Alabama, I’m guessing she must have visited the Alabama Theatre, because in the book, she mentions the organ. She mentions how the organ rises up from the floor!

So Mother’s memory wasn’t playing tricks on her, after all! I promptly called her to tell her what I’d read. She said, “I’ve been telling you about that organ for years!” I confessed, “Well, I know, Mother, but I thought your memory was playing tricks on you!” We had a good laugh over it.

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Photo of Big Bertha, The Mighty Wurlitzer, from Alabamatheatre.com

To see more about the Alabama Theatre and the organ they call Big Bertha, The Mighty Wurlitzer, click here. The theatre has an interesting history, and the organ was one of only 25 of its type ever built.

It makes me wonder what I’ve told my daughter that she questions. Maybe she keeps it to herself that she thinks I’m talking out of my mind when I talk about a childhood memory.

Let’s take, for example, the time I caught a really big catfish in the neighborhood lake. When I was a little girl, we would go cane-pole fishing down at the lake at the bottom of the hill in our neighborhood. Sometimes we would catch catfish and take them home for Mother to clean them and fry them up, and sometimes, we had no luck at all. One time, I caught the record catfish…a record for us, anyway. It might have been five pounds. As soon as I caught it, we took it home. My brother and I had catfish for dinner that night.

Maybe my daughter thinks I was confused about how big that fish was.

Maybe she thinks I’m crazy when I tell her otters lived in that neighborhood pond. They did. I saw them from the school bus window one morning. Everybody had been talking about them for weeks, and finally, I saw them surface.

Maybe my daughter thinks I saw a dog swimming through the pond and thought it was an otter.

I didn’t go to school with anybody famous. None of my friends have become famous (yet), so I don’t have any stories to tell my child about “I knew him when.” I don’t remember anything like The Mighty Wurlitzer from my childhood, so all I have is the pond with the catfish and the otter.

I haven’t even been to see The Mighty Wurlitzer rise up out of the floor at the Alabama Theater. But in December, I plan to make a trip to Birmingham. Every year, the Alabama Theater shows classic holiday movies on the big screen. I’ll go, and when I see The Mighty Wurlitzer come up out of the floor, I’ll think of my mother and laugh about how I thought she was confused…just like I think of my daddy every time I think of that famous photo of Faye Dunaway (click here to see the iconic photo taken the morning after she won the Academy Award) at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

Chicken Necks Make Great Crab Bait (and other Life Lessons From My Mother)

 

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My mother and I, probably February 1974. (I look thrilled to take a picture with her, but she looks like she could use a martini.) One of my favorite pics.

It’s almost Mother’s Day weekend, and this is my first Mother’s Day without my Mother. She passed away in December.

I’ve lost a parent before. My daddy died in 2006. I know how difficult all these “firsts” are. They’re tough, but I also know it’s a good time to reflect on my life and what my parents taught me. In this case, since it’s Mother’s Day, I will reflect on what she taught me. Of course, there is no way to cover it all, but I will do what I can.

My mother wanted nothing more than she wanted to be a mother. She loved being a mother, and she loved mothering…neighbors, neighbors’ kids, classmates, friends…she took care of lots of us. She was an exceptional caretaker…it was what she did.

My earliest memories are from my early years in Brewton, Alabama. I remember wanting to go to school. I must have been almost or barely three. My mother called her preferred preschool, but there was no class for three-yr-olds. The owner/teacher relented after Mother called her several times, but she would only take me if I were potty-trained. I was, so I started preschool.

Other parents got wind of it and called her too. And it worked out well for the teacher, because she then had double the number of students…four-yr-olds for part of the day, and three-yr-olds for part of the day. Nobody loved that teacher or her preschool more than I did.

My mother was my advocate.  She taught me to advocate for my child.

A couple years later, she decided she wanted a Volkswagen microbus for us to take on road trips. After searching for the perfect one, my parents bought a beige and white one. Mother couldn’t drive a stick-shift, but she learned quickly as soon as we got the bus. I remember stalling at traffic lights in downtown Brewton as she learned to work the clutch, but she did it. She was determined. At 34, she learned a new skill…driving a stick. Daddy would always laugh that we chose to take the un-air-conditioned bus on road trips. “We have two perfectly good air-conditioned cars sitting in the driveway, yet we opt to travel in this!”

Mother taught us to try new things, and she taught us to be resilient.

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When I was seven, halfway through second grade, my family moved to Spanish Fort, Alabama, a community on the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay. Some mothers would be nervous about a new place and new school, and the kids would feel that, but my mother approached the move as if it were an adventure. The transition was a smooth one at my new school and neighborhood.

Living near the water was a new adventure for all of us, and Mother took full advantage of that. Unafraid of a new challenge, she talked with locals and learned how she could take us out to the Fairhope Municipal Pier to catch crabs from Mobile Bay. She learned chicken necks are good crab bait, and she learned how to tie them into the nets and how to hang the nets from the pier. Back then, it was OK to hang the nets. She learned how to get the crabs out of the nets and cooked them up when we got home. She even made her own recipe for crab cakes.

She taught us to be adventurous.

For more information on Fairhope, click here.

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We spent almost every afternoon and many evenings at the pier. One day we were catching lots of crabs, so we stayed into the night, checking those nets regularly. At some point, I was stooped down, pulling up one of the nets to check it for crabs, and I looked up. I saw some men coming down the pier dressed all in white. I’d never seen anything like it.

I walked over to my mother and asked, “What are those clowns doing here?” It was actually members of the a white supremacist group. She said to me, “Just keep doing what you’re doing. They won’t mess with you. I need to go over here and sit with Miss Essie, so they think she’s with us.” She then got up and walked over to a bench to sit with a sweet, elderly African-American lady we had met months before, and with whom we often visited on the pier. Soon thereafter, we left the pier for the night, and Miss Essie left with us. Once we knew Miss Essie was OK, we got in the car, and it was then Mother explained everything to us.

Mother taught us compassion and that it’s important to help other people. She also taught us we are all created equal.

It’s important for me to tell you that most people I know who grew up in Alabama have NEVER seen the aforementioned white supremacist group. That sighting on the Fairhope Pier that night (I think it was 1976) was extremely rare, especially in quaint, upscale towns like Fairhope, which is why it is memorable. I don’t want readers to think it is/was a regular occurrence. In fact, I can’t name even one of my friends who has encountered the group anywhere. 

No matter where we lived, Mother volunteered. Sometimes she volunteered at the school, and often, she volunteered with the Red Cross. She was a Registered Nurse, and while I’m not sure what she did with the Red Cross, I know she went into underserved neighborhoods. She used to come home talking about what nice people she had met along the way.

She also seemed to always meet people who had elderly family members who needed care. In one place we lived, an elderly couple lived across the street, and Mother would check on them every day, helping them with tasks on a regular basis. After we moved, an elderly gentleman around the corner needed assistance a few times a week. Mother helped him. We received several late night calls over the years…people needing her assistance, and she was always willing to help. Not many people knew she did this, because she didn’t toot her own horn. She believed it diminished the deed if you went around boasting about it.

Mother taught us to help those who are less fortunate.

When I was a teenager, I learned a lot more from my mother. Just yesterday I was dress shopping with my 14-yr-old daughter, and I thought of my mother when I heard myself say to my daughter after she gave “thumbs down” to another dress I held up, “You don’t really know what it looks like till you try it on.” That was straight from my mother. That, and “Always put on lipstick before you leave home.”

While she taught me not to be superficial, she also taught me to try look “presentable.”

As we went through high school and college, my brother and I learned that our mother had a great sense of humor. That’s not to say we didn’t get in trouble, but she didn’t make a big deal out of things that weren’t a big deal. She also tried to approach situations with humor, and the good Lord knows, she loved to laugh. Even in the last year of her life, she loved when our now-adult friends from college came over to visit at her house. I think it reminded her of when we were younger. We would all sit around and laugh, and that was when she was her happiest.

She taught us not to take life too seriously, and she taught us about perspective.

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Mother and my daughter at dinner one night.

Mother was a tough chick, and we are who we are because of her and Daddy. I like to think I’m passing some of their wisdom and humor to my daughter.

When mother passed in December, we wrote her obituary with all the normal information about family, but we also included a list of things she had taught us. Because she did not want to have a funeral service, we thought it was important for people to know who she was. Here’s the list:

LESSONS FROM MY MOTHER:

Nobody goes hungry on Mama’s watch. It doesn’t cost anything to be kind. It’s OK to laugh at yourself. Save for a rainy day, and when it does rain, splash in the puddles. Take care of your brother/sister, your children, and other people’s children. Enjoy coffee with friends at Waffle House on a regular basis. Call your mama often. Raise your children to be independent, and encourage them to spread their wings. Spend time with your children and their friends (especially at Coaches Corner). Ladies never leave home without lipstick. It’s never too late to learn to drive a stick shift. If you break an arm, you can make your own sling till you get to the ER. Always say “I love you” at the end of a phone call or visit. What other people think is not important, because God knows what you are doing. Laughter cures a lot of ills. Doing something nice for someone else will make you happy. Never pay full price if you don’t have to. Children/teens sometimes think small things are big deals; remember they are big deals to them. Pizza will cure the Sunday night blues. Don’t schedule events during football season. Learn new skills your whole life. Be grateful. Turn it all over to God. You can’t tell what clothes look like till you try them on. Chicken necks are perfect bait for crab nets. Defend people who can’t defend themselves. It’s more important to get into Heaven than it is to get into Harvard. If you want to have good friends, you have to be a good friend. Life is not a dress rehearsal; make it good. All people are created equal.
We loved our mother, and we will make a toast to her on Mother’s Day. God Bless Mama.

Turning 50

Next weekend, I’m going to a friend’s birthday party. She’s turning 50, quite a milestone birthday. I asked her recently if she is as excited about her 50th birthday as I was about mine, and she said she’s not sure how she feels about it.IMG_4555

I turned 50 last year. If you didn’t have to tolerate me then, I will tell you I was pretty obnoxious. I was almost as excited about turning 50 as I was about turning 21…almost. I’ve never been as excited about one of my own birthdays as I was about turning 21. Turning 50 was a close second, though.

When my friend, Nikki, said she wasn’t sure how she felt about fifty, I thought, “She’s got this.” She’s a young fifty. She lives life to the fullest and has a positive outlook on life. All those things point to being happy about a milestone birthday.

Maybe I’m weird, but I look at fifty as a positive.

Of course, I look for reasons to celebrate. Fifty was the perfect excuse for celebrating myself! Fifty deserves Champagne at lunch and anytime I want it! Trust me, almost anyone who has had lunch with me in the past year will tell you I love Champagne with lunch.

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Bellinis in some adorable stemless flutes my friends, Jenn and Neill, gave me.

When I turned fifty in May of last year, I took full advantage of the fact that I was having a big, important, milestone birthday. My husband had turned fifty the year before, and he wanted no fanfare. I honored that. He didn’t really even want it mentioned. He did, however, go to the beach with some friends one weekend near his birthday. Judging by the late night phone call I received, he had a good time.

I didn’t want “fanfare” in the way of my husband throwing a party. Some sweet friends did come together and surprise me with a small dinner party, and some other friends took me out to lunch and to see Smokey and the Bandit (its 40th anniversary) on the big screen. Both events were great fun, as we had fun at the dinner celebrating my birthday, and we lusted after a young Burt Reynolds in the movie theatre after lunch. I wore a “50 Looks Good On Me” sash and black feather boa at dinner and a Smokey and the Bandit homemade t-shirt at the movie. ***Note: black feather boas shed, and if you have any sweat on your chest, the loose feathers will stick, making it appear as though you have a hairy chest.***

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Proof that shedding feather boas can make you appear to have a hairy chest

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My sweet friends humoring me by wearing Smokey and the Bandit t-shirts at the movie

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Drinking Dr. Peppers my friend smuggled into Smokey and the Bandit

My husband gave me a gift I planned: a trip to Los Angeles with my daughter and one of her friends (taking the daughter and a friend gave me lots of time to do whatever I wanted)…staying at my favorite hotel, where we had a lovely suite with a beautiful, gigantic patio that I enjoyed every…single…day. I love outdoor spaces; the hotel gifted me with a glorious outdoor space unlike any other.

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On my glorious patio at the hotel, recreating Faye Dunaway’s pose the day after she won the Academy Award. She posed by the pool, but she was a young, tall, skinny Hollywood star. I posed on the private patio, because I’m not.

While we were there, I visited with a friend who had just turned 40, and we traded “war stories” over dinner while watching celebrities dine. I also had the chance to meet two hot gentlemen, Tony Romo and Chace Crawford, and pretend I was just meeting them so I could take a picture of my daughter and her friend with them.

I embraced turning fifty. I see it as the age of respect. I have knowledge I didn’t have at 20, 30, or 40. I have experiences I wouldn’t trade. As a result of those various experiences, I have wisdom. If you’re thirty and want to tell me about “real life,” be prepared to get, “Bless your heart. I’m 50. Let me tell you about real life.”

There’s also something relaxing about being fifty. When you’re twenty, you worry about what other people think. When you’re thirty, that becomes less of a worry. You understand that when you go to a party, other people don’t really care what you’re wearing…they’re more concerned with what they are wearing. In fact, I like to think that at 30, that all went out the window with me. Some people refer to 40 as their “kiss my a** age” (I heard someone say that on David Letterman’s show years ago), meaning they stopped letting other people influence them and stopped caring so much about what other people think, but I think mine was 30. Some people who knew me in my 20s might argue that it was earlier.

If my mother were here today, she would tell you I was the “classic strong-willed child.” I didn’t cause problems, but I was stubborn. I was known for it in my family. Daddy always talked about it and wondered aloud where I got that lovely trait. He would often say, “If she doesn’t want to do something, or if she doesn’t agree with something, she is not going to give in.” Generally speaking, I didn’t care what other people did, but I wasn’t going to do something I didn’t want to do, and I wasn’t going to be talked into changing my mind about something.

As life has gone on, I’ve become less rigid, more relaxed, and most of the time, I don’t sweat the small stuff. I like to think I quit sweating the small stuff when I was in college. My parents used to say, “She might have been ‘switched’ at college” (a reference to Switched at Birth), meaning a different person came back than the one they dropped off four years before. Whatever happened, I had gained wisdom in those four years, and I’ve gained even more since…I don’t care who is right and who is wrong…unless, of course, it negatively affects me, my child, or my family. Then…well, you already know about Mama Bear.

For me, with age has come peace. I have peace in knowing God is in charge. I truly have peace in knowing there are some things over which I have no control. I have peace in knowing that I, generally speaking, try to do the right thing. I will admit that I’m perfectly capable of being petty, but I try to do the right thing most of the time. I have peace in knowing I have a nice family and good friends. I have peace in knowing I’m trying to raise my daughter to take care of herself and others. I have peace in knowing a small act of kindness can mean a lot to someone. I have peace in knowing my brother and I will talk almost everyday, whether we have something to say or not. I have peace in knowing he is happy. I have peace.

So, to my friend, Nikki, and all my other friends who will be turning fifty in the next year or two, this is my gift to you: Embrace the 5-0! Tell everyone you see you are enjoying your 50th birthday! Enjoy it! And don’t just celebrate it for one day; celebrate the whole dang year! Find the peace you deserve at 50!

My 51st birthday is approaching one month from today, and I have called this past year The Year of Me, this year that I am 50.

Unfortunately, I lost my mother during this year, but she laughed and laughed last May at how I embraced turning 50. She had a great sense of humor, and she was happy I was celebrating life. She was glad I took some extra vacations (my favorite thing to do), and she was glad I was spending time with friends and family during the year. She encouraged me to enjoy every single day. As my parents used to tell me, “Life is not a dress rehearsal. Make it good the first time around.” I’m certainly trying.

Friends, enjoy every day. Be glad you’re turning fifty. It’s a milestone. Eat cake! Cake is for winners! (Nikki knows what that means.) It should be a celebration.

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Now, let’s pop the Champagne!

Cheers!

Kelly

Mama Bear

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DISCLAIMER: I am not a mental health professional, but I am a mother. This post is written after being given the word “bear” as a prompt…I ran with it.

Everybody knows you don’t mess with a mama bear in the animal kingdom. Generally speaking, you don’t mess with a Mama Bear in the human world, either.

Mama Bears can be mamas, or they might be teachers fighting for their students, coaches fighting for their players, or any adult fighting for a child.

Let me start by saying I am a person who gives everyone the benefit of the doubt. I expect good things from people. I think most people are good. I think most people try. I want good things for other people. I also want good things for my child and other people’s children. Most of the time, I think everyone around me is doing everything they can for everybody.

And then there are the times I feel like I’ve been gut-punched.

If you’re a mama, you’ve experienced it…that feeling you get when you feel the need to protect your child, or even your teen, from something. You feel the need to intercede. It’s an instinct that becomes part of who you are when you become a mother.

It might be you feel the need to keep them from going to a party. Maybe you feel the need to talk to a teacher. Maybe parents need to come together sometimes. MOST of the time, I try to encourage my child to work things out on her own. But Mama Bear is always in there…sometimes she’s hibernating, but she’s there.

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It’s an instinct that’s difficult to ignore. I know, because sometimes, I become Mama Bear.

Generally speaking, I don’t act on the Mama Bear instinct (and sometimes it’s painful to hold it in), unless I see what I perceive to be a real problem. Lots of times, I’ve had to vent to friends. Sometimes I ask for feedback about my instinct, but usually, I just want to vent.

My friends know the difference. They know when I want feedback and when I want to vent. And some of them know when I need feedback, whether I want it or not.

I’m not a big complainer, and I’m a reasonable person. Usually, if I run across a situation that I think needs to be mentioned, I sit on it for a while. I try to shelve it for a few days…a cooling off period, if you will. Often, I realize the “situation” was no big deal.

I have one child, a 14-yr-old daughter. What I have learned in her 14 years of life is something my mother always told me: Something might be a big deal to her, even if it doesn’t seem like a big deal to you. 

Remember when your child was a toddler? There were things that bothered him/her that seemed completely trivial to an adult. For my child, one of those things was collared shirts. She hated them. When I put a collared shirt on her and realized how it bothered her, I couldn’t get it off her fast enough…because it became painful listening to her! Whew! What was a big deal to her initially seemed small to me, but after much ado, it became very clear to me that it was a big deal all around!

All these teenage “big deals” should be taken into consideration too.

And sometimes, I have to help her put things into perspective. Easier said than done, but I try. If she continues to act like it’s a big deal, then I try really hard to see things from her point of view.

One thing I do know is that middle school girls are not like everybody else. I remember being 14, and I remember an emotional rollercoaster…daily. I also remember that I didn’t feel like I had the power to take problems to higher-ups, i.e. adults. So I kept my mouth shut.

My own daughter tends to do the same thing, like lots of girls her age. She gets upset about something, but she doesn’t say anything to anyone…except me. I try to teach her that she needs to learn to handle these “situations” on her own, but sometimes, it’s just impossible. Maybe she’s afraid she won’t be heard. Maybe she’s afraid of repercussions.

Let me clarify that I have never complained about a teacher. In fact, I am usually the first one writing a complimentary letter for just about anyone…teachers, flight attendants, customer service personnel, waitstaff, salespeople, hotel employees. Truly, I know people work hard for a living, and I like to help people. My friends actually LAUGH at how much time I spend writing complimentary letters, but I appreciate a job well done. I can’t remember the last time I flew somewhere and didn’t write a complimentary letter for at least one airline employee. Same with hotel employees. I find something good in them. That’s my long way of saying I’m a positive person.

Here is something else I know: sometimes we have to intercede on our children’s behalf, because truly, they feel like they are being disrespectful if they question authority. It’s an interesting thing we teach our children in this country: We start with “respect your elders,” and then we change our tune to “handle it yourself.” That’s a pretty confusing message to lots of preteens and teens…including mine.

We even teach girls not to call each other out! How many times do we talk about how polite they have to be, and how many times have we said, “Be nice.” Ugh. Yes, please be polite and nice, but don’t be a doormat.

They have this fear that they will appear too sensitive. They have a fear of getting in trouble for being “mean” when they defend themselves. My child has actually said to me, when someone has been rude, that it would be “mean” if she defended herself. WHAT?!? But sometimes, people will be rude as long as you let it go on. I’ve spent countless hours trying to teach my daughter to stand up for herself and others.

Growing up is hard. It’s hard for the child/teen, and it’s hard for the parents. It’s hard to see our teens lose confidence because of something an adult does. It’s hard to see our teens feeling sad.

Most kids learn to handle it, including mine. Most of the time when this Mama Bear flares up,  no one ever knows it.

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Usually, my flare-ups are about adults who act without considering the psyche of a 14-yr-old girl. Do people actually have that much difficulty remembering what it felt like to be that age? At 14, they are still part little girl and just taking one baby step into adulthood. They don’t know if they are little girls or big girls. They need guidance, and they need conversation, and they need someone to hear them.

Will a middle school girl speak up if she feels slighted? Maybe. Is it possible she will shut down if she feels slighted? Maybe.

And sometimes they internalize it…thus, the emotional rollercoaster.

Unfortunately, they often are afraid to speak up. That’s when Mama Bear has to step in. This Mama Bear always feels great pain about this. Generally speaking, I give people the benefit of the doubt, but problems arise when someone dealing with teens doesn’t take into consideration that they are still kids at heart. If someone doesn’t understand teens, they shouldn’t be in a position to deal with teens.

Their reality is different than the reality of adults. They can’t drive. They are trapped at school all day. They have to follow more rules. They’re distracted by social stuff. They’re distracted by almost anything. They’ve been told to be “nice” their whole lives, and dang it, most of them are.

I don’t profess to be a mental health professional, but I am a Mama Bear. I choose to be a Mama Bear who TRIES really hard to keep it to herself.

I give a mean “stink-eye,” though.

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Cheers to all the Mama Bears of the world!

Kelly

Bluebird of Happiness

And when he sings to you, Though you’re deep in blue, You will see a ray of light creep through. And so remember this, life is no abyss. Somewhere there’s a bluebird of happiness. Life is sweet, tender, and complete when you find the bluebird of happiness. –Bluebird of Happiness, lyrics by Edward Heyman and Harry Parr Davies, 1934

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When I was cleaning out my mother’s house in January (she died December 30), I came across three little glass bluebirds…one was a little bigger than the other two…like a mother and two babies.

I realized those bluebirds had been on a side table in her living room for a long time, but I’d never asked her about them. You know how you see something a million times but never bother to find out about it?

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For the first time ever, I picked them up. I turned them over and there was a sticker on the larger one that said “Bluebird of Happiness” and the telephone number of an art studio. I knew they didn’t have any monetary value, but now that I couldn’t ask Mother, I was wondering what kind of sentimental value they had for her. Where did she get them? I felt sure someone had given them to her, so I put them in a little Ziploc bag and brought them home to Charlotte with me.

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I placed them on top of a mirrored  box in my bathroom, so I’ve seen them every day for about a month, but earlier this week, I decided to investigate and find out who gave Mother the bluebirds.

The first text I sent was to an old family friend who lives in Florida. She and Mother became friends in 1961, when they were both working at Sunland Center in Marianna, Florida. Mother was a nurse, and this friend, Cynthia, worked in Activities, I believe. For whatever reason, they became great friends. In fact, Cynthia says Mother inspired her and encouraged her to become a nurse too. She did, and she continued her education to become a nurse anesthetist…and she gives Mother much of the credit.

Promptly, I received a text back from Cynthia telling me she had given mother the little bluebirds. She said she didn’t need them back but that she would like to have a memento to keep near Mother’s picture in her room. I texted back, “Let me mail them to you.” So they should be delivered to her right away. Now, every time she looks at the Bluebirds of Happiness, she will think of Mother.

When I was growing up, Cynthia was like a “cool aunt.” She was a little younger than my parents, and she always liked to have fun. My parents liked to have fun too, but Cynthia liked to have fun while driving a cute, little Triumph convertible. Parents didn’t drive Triumph convertibles. But Cynthia had one, and when she visited, I got to ride in it…with the top down!

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In fact, Cynthia was so trusted by my parents that she was our designated guardian if something had happened to them while we were minors. They knew she would love us as her own, and we would love her too. We have great family, but they all have children of their own. Cynthia didn’t have children.

Of course, now I want my own Bluebirds of Happiness, so I looked at the bottom of them again and got the telephone number for that art studio. As it turns out, it’s a studio called Terra Studios in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and according to their website, they are the “home of the Bluebirds of Happiness.” They also have the Pink Birds of Hope, Wise Owls, and Grace & Gratitude Angels…Mother would have loved those too.

Apparently, these sweet creations are quite popular, and the proceeds from the sale of the birds goes toward “using art to create a better world.” After looking at the website, I’d love to visit Terra Studios, where they have a coffee shop, glass demonstrations, American arts and crafts, and they are a popular Northwest Arkansas tourist attraction. Now, I’ll need to plan a trip.

So, Ive ordered some Bluebirds of Happiness…a mama and two babies for myself…and then I ordered more. According to the Terra Studios website, “the lovely, plump, sweet singing Bluebird has inspired more songs and poems than any other bird.” Terra Studios offers different sizes and variations of the Bluebirds of Happiness, the Pink Birds of Hope (offering hope to cancer survivors), Wise Owls, and Grace & Gratitude Angels…and the prices are right. I think they make lovely gifts. In fact, I think the bluebirds would make lovely hostess gifts. With Easter just around the corner, you might consider adding the bluebirds, pink bird, or angels to an Easter basket. The Wise Owls would make great little additions to graduation gifts or favors for a graduation tea. You can purchase them all here.

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Interestingly, on the same day I picked up the Bluebirds of Happiness at Mother’s, I was going through some papers and found a certificate naming my maternal grandfather a member of the North American Bluebird Society. Who knew? I had no idea there was such a society, and I certainly wouldn’t have thought my grandfather would be a member. I know he and my mother loved birds, but it never occurred to me he loved them enough to send in money. Having come through the Depression with some liquidity, he wasn’t free with his money. I love knowing he found bluebirds to be a worthy cause. I was so intrigued by his membership that I checked out their website and found it fascinating. If you’re interested in the North American Bluebird Society, you can see their websitehere.

So I guess bluebirds are a thing in my family. If you see me wearing a lot of blue in the next few months, you’ll know why. And if I see you and think you’re feeling “blue,” I may just give YOU a little Bluebird of Happiness to cheer you up.

As soon as my new Bluebirds of Happiness arrive, I will place them on the mirrored  box in my bathroom, so I can see them every single day and think of Mother and Cynthia. I’ll save the extras for  friends who need “a ray of light,” as mentioned in the song, Bluebird of Happiness.

Life is sweet, tender, and complete when you find the bluebird of happiness.

Kelly

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