Saturday, December 31, 2011

11 Lessons Learned from 2011

Disclaimer - I totally stole this title from another blog I stumbled upon. But it's ok because I didn't look to see what their lessons were.

I have avoided blogging lately. Not exactly sure but glad that I started again because it got the creative juices flowing. Earlier this year when I turned 40, I did the 40 Moments of My Life series of blogs which was a lesson in reflection. I had people tell me they couldn't believe I could actually come up with 40 defining moments in my life but it was quite easy. Especially when you throw in being born and learning to swim. I thought alot about if I had to add another moment for 41 and of course, it would be the loss of my mother. That's a no brainer.

But I've learned other things along the way. Although my year was largely defined by the loss of my mother, it was not wholly my story. So when I was hitting the "Next Blog" button at the top of the screen and saw 11 Lessons Learned from 2011, I thought, "Perfect!! New blog!" So here goes:

11. Life is what happens while you are busy making plans. I might as well get this one over with. I had looked so forward to turning 40 because I truly felt like my 30's had been cursed. I was wrong. It doesn't matter how old you are. Life happens. Shit happens. Death happens. Not only did I lose my mother but a friend or two along the way.

10. If you keep eating, you will gain weight. This lesson isn't exclusive to 2011 but one I have relearned along the way. Still lesson worthy.

9. Stay true to who you are. This is a tough one because I feel I have truly come into my own over the past few years. And that doesn't particularly make me the most popular gal in town. But I love liking who I am.

8. Don't believe you have nothing left to learn. My sister told me the other day, "You are always right. That's you. You know everything. (insert sarcasm)" And my first thought was, "Doesn't everyone think they are right? Why else would you say anything. Why else would you have an opinion?" And while I am incredibly opinionated, I believe wholeheartedly that every experience is a learning experience. I know I don't have all the answers. But, I do have alot of them..... ;-)

7. Laugh everyday. Again, not a new lesson but one I worked at daily in 2011. Having had the experience of feeling any moment of fleeting happiness was a betrayal in the months after my brother's death, I got back on the laughter train pretty quickly after losing my mother. Somedays were harder than others, but I don't believe there was a single day, including those days when my mother was dying, that I didn't find something to laugh about.

6. Let go of the past. Still working this one frantically but I've made substantial progress in some areas of my life. Anger takes up more space than love.

5. Find something that makes you feel good about yourself, even if you have to work at it until you get there. I was given the opportunity to teach a developmental psychology class earlier this year; something I had always wanted to do. I had exactly 3 weeks to prepare, and during the course of the semester my mother was diagnosed and died of lung cancer. My students weren't particularly interested in what I had to say and totally did not get my wicked, awesome sense of humor. There were many moments I hated of that experience. But, every now and then, something would happen and I'd make someone laugh, spark a conversation, or get someone thinking and I'd think "YES! This is why I wanted to do this!"  I'm scheduled to teach 2 classes this upcoming semester and look forward to the challenge. Although, I'll still probably bitch about it.

4. Get a massage at least once a month. Take care of yourself, even if it's only something that simple. There is so much more I need to do, but having those 60 glorious minutes every four weeks is a start. Especially, when I book the "good date" massuese!

3. The Republicans are their own worst enemies. Enough said.

2. Write down every funny thing your kid says or does. I am so glad I started compiling my list of "Maxisms" three years ago. He keeps me laughing, keeps me smiling, refocuses my life and rarely goes to sleep before 10pm. And I have no idea what I'd do without him.

1. I actually kinda really love my life. Sure, there are many things I wish were different but hey, who doesn't? My life has never been easy. It fact, I've had quite a bit of shitty stuff happen over the course of a lifetime (see My 40 Moments blogs). But I've learned so much. All of it has made me who I am. I can't come up with a single thing I need in my life that I don't already have. Sure, a few wants I can think of but NOT a single need. That's absolutely incredible when I think about it.

So, no matter how shitty the past year has been, I still find myself loving my life.....Who is this person I have become?????


Friday, December 30, 2011

Lessons from Youth Revisted

When I graduated from high school, I walked out the door and for close to 20 years, never looked back. I seemed in some respects to be running from it; wanting desperately to start anew. I'm not particularly sure why. I grew up in the same house, went to the same school, graduated with a large number of people who had known me since I looked like this:

Whatever the reason, I avoided many of the people I had come of age with like the plague. I didn't attend a single class reunion. I didn't want to revisit it. I wanted to move on.

Interestingly enough, outside of a year stint in State College, I have never lived out of the area, living most of my adult life in Kennett Square. I worked with a handful of classmates in the restaurant business, but for the most part, only kept in touch with two or three people from my childhood. That is, until now.

Yes - it started with Facebook. And believe it or not, I was a hesitant participant initially. I got on there at an urging of a friend, who had discovered it prior to all of the privacy features (although nothing really is private, is it) that it has now. We could join, lurk around on people from our past pages and seemingly never be detected. I did this, very occasionally for close to a year before I extended or accepted a single friendship. But slowly, a network developed and all of a sudden I was in touch with people I hadn't seen in 18 years. And I was kind of having fun with it.

So I went to a small reunion of a handful of loosely connected 1988 graduates a few months after my 20th reunion. It was a mixed bag. I was surprised by some, disappointed in others but entertained nonetheless. And so we went back Facebook and our lives.

About 6 months later, I lost my brother which impacted me deeply. I reevaluated absolutely every aspect of my life and made some fundamental changes in my world view. I softened on many parts of my past. I let go of other parts. I moved on with my life in a completely different way. I started to value my friendships in a way I honestly don't think I ever had. I realized that just like my family, the people who had come and gone throughout my life had had just a big of an influence as anything on what molded me into who I had become. And I'm thankful for that.

So, much to my surprise, I found myself reaching out to people from my past. I found new friends from my past. Previously peripheral people, meaning I had known them, but not really known them. They have become my friends. And I'm so grateful for that. I really am.

So, I put together a list of a somewhat loosely connected group of people from my past and suggested we get together. Which we did. And it was fun. We are not these people anymore:

We are adults, entering middle age. Living middle aged lives. Dealing with middle aged problems. But we all have one thing in common. Our youth. We were all molded by a common experience of growing up in a middle class open acreage of  Southern Chester County. Some of us started in Chadds Ford, some in Unionville, some came along later. But there we were 30 plus years later, realizing how much we knew about each other by virtue of having walked the same halls of a now ridiculously overpriced, oversized school.

And I have a few observations I'd like to point out that came to the surface last night:

1. Most of us look the same. Those grade school photos are just mini versions of our adult selves. Except you Drew. You used to look like this...

2. And not to pick on you Drew, but the bottom line is this; you will always be Andy to us.

3. It's a wonder most of us are alive after the shit we did in our teens and twenties. It's absolutely frightening that we will now have to try to teach our children what we couldn't teach ourselves until our frontal lobes had fully developed (which is after age 25 and is responsible for impulse control).

4. Most of us did the majority of our growing in our 30's. And for alot of us, our 30's sucked. It was nice to hear I was not alone on that one.

5. We spent no time on religion or politics. Instead we talked about Lymes Disease and Arthritis. And the possibility that we all really have Lymes and don't know it .

6. We figured out that all of us really never belonged to a clique with any sort of conviction. And Unionville had alot of them. Alot of us couldn't hold to tightly to any single group because at the end of the day, we wanted to go out and smoke during 10:10 break and after lunch. You needed to be comfortable hanging with the heathens to do that. So we were.

7. And speaking of heathens, according to Lauren, there were several sub groups. You had your Dead Head heathens, your Metal Head heathens and your good old regular heathens. And it seems incredibly ridiculous that any of that even came into play all of those years ago.

8. And further on the heathen subject, apparently that term is Unionville specific. In most other parts of the country, there are referred to as "Heshers". Except for in South Jersey, where my friend Wendy went to school. There, they were referred to as "Devils". And we thought we were bad.

9. I realized that I really like people. I know that sounds crazy but I am notoriously cynical. But I have found myself over the past few years, excited by the successes of those from my childhood. I want the best for the people around me. And I hope they want that for me too.

10. Last, I am happy to have reconnected with my youth. So many parts of it were hard for me.I think the hardest part of coming of age is pretending to know who you are when you have absolutely no clue. By the time you hit high school, you are a child in a grown up body, thinking you have it all figured out. It's so great to look back and see it for all it was. And laugh.