This is not a life without regret.

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Today I heard a writer being interviewed on the radio. He said that what makes his life perfect is his little family, that sharing stories around the dinner table are the moments of perfection in his life, of pure happiness. He also said he has no regrets. He listed all the things that could have been regrets for him had he not anticipated and corrected them before they had the chance to become tiny stones in his shoe to worry him forever. I googled “no regrets” and there are so many famous quotes, so many people who claim to have lived a life without regret. Imagine that.

I think that’s an interesting idea, living a life without regret. I understand the sentiment, or  at least the desire. Who wouldn’t want a life where nothing from the past ever popped up holding a question mark aloft like a birthday balloon?  No regrets. It’s a great anthemic sort of sentiment… a tune I could hum or a chorus I could holler with a crowd at a concert, but how real can it possibly be? In a life lived fully and imperfectly how can anyone truly get from one end of living to the other end without any collateral damage, with nothing you wish you could take back or do over?

If I run at life with my eyes and arms wide open, full of any sort of passion inside of me, how can I hope to regret nothing? I will hurt people, say things I wish I hadn’t, make decisions that were absolutely wrong when they seemed absolutely right. There will certainly be, at the end of my life, a long list of atonements I must make before any pearly gates will open.  So what does “no regrets” mean, besides being a really cool tattoo?

Does living without regret mean doing whatever you want and not taking responsibility? Does it mean filing for moral bankruptcy and walking away from debts of the heart or spirit? Is it a kind of YOLO for the enlightened ? I genuinely don’t understand it. Is it about self forgiveness, maybe? About acknowledging past errors or lapses and setting them down? I don’t know how to do that either. I have a nicely packed little basket full of “what I did, what I said, what I should have said, what I shouldn’t have imagined, what I should never have tried, who I should have been kinder to” and there’s no convenient place to put it down.  It isn’t the kind of load someone else can carry for a spell, and let me off the hook either. And yes, I’ve had it suggested to me by the no-regret campers, that “should” is a word best left along with the basket of regrets.

Perhaps the people who have no regrets have lived kinder lives than I have, or maybe they have managed to make peace already with the sins of their past selves. I have a soul unwilling to let go of those sins and in a way I am glad. I don’t dwell, I don’t mope or spend nights staring at the ceiling feeling dreadful, but I do carry that little basket. It’s a reminder to me of who I have been and who I wish to be. A reminder of where I have gone and where I hope not to go again.

I think we need to feel regret. I think regret informs our decisions, informs who we become and how we behave. It’s a guide through the dark and rocky patches, where the easy path seems so tempting. Regret is the burn that reminds you the stove is hot.

At the end of it all, I won’t be able to say I have nothing to regret and that’s okay with me. Instead I’ll keep working to make sure I have nothing NEW to regret… that’s all I think I can honestly hope to achieve.

Bitchy Tuesdays and the 68 minute 20 minute drive.

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I swear I didn’t wake up this morning thinking this was going to be a bitchy day. I didn’t roll out of bed, snarl and crack my knuckles, ready to rumble. Hell – who takes on a Tuesday unprovoked?  I woke up and it was 26 below zero, crisp and clear and cold and beautiful and I was happy about that. I woke up happy, started my day calmly with coffee, a fuzzy bathrobe and a shower. I did the normal morning things that get me from horizontal (dreaming of hosting a huge dinner party in a Mexican farmhouse with no running water or electricity – no idea where that dream came from or why I remember it) to upright and mobile.

Leaving the house was where things started to go sideways a bit.  Sixteen year old girls and their mothers do not always move in blissful synchronicity. Sometimes, without warning, harmony and smiles turn to discord and gnashing of teeth, while the benign turns radioactive and toxic in a matter of seconds. Ommmmm.

So we left, we drove and we got to where the bus ought to have been but wasn’t. It wasn’t there, of course, because we were several pleasantry filled minutes behind the bus… (that was irony). From my home to her bus stop should be, with no traffic or red lights, a straight forward 18-20 minute drive. Of course that almost never happens. If she misses the bus, which has happened a time or two, we have a problem. The journey from the downtown bus stop to her school is an easy 7 minutes’ drive. The journey from her school back across the bridge to my office is, inexplicably, an agonizing 20 minutes on a good day. We’re talking bottleneck traffic jam backup swearing going nowhere late for work I guarantee it chaos like you just don’t see in a small city. There is a new roundabout, there is a new traffic light, there are 3 school zones and a two lane bridge to contend with, all leading out of a crowded suburb that everyone leaves in the morning to go… you guessed it, the same place as me.

This morning, there was also a car accident – a fire truck and a  flat bed and a couple of cars where they don’t belong…right in the intersection next to the two lane bridge just ahead of the roundabout. You’ve really not seen anything like it unless you’ve been on the Interstate 5 outside of LA at 5:15 on a weekday.  Every side road was bumper to bumper, and there was no getting out of there, period.

So the commute to work, usually a seamless 20 minute jaunt took me 68 minutes. Without coffee. But even that didn’t push me over the edge to bitchy… nah. Once the initial WTF are you KIDDING me happened, I kind of took it in stride. I got to work, told my tale and carried on.

The bitchy has come on by way of a few other things; small things, pissy little things and frightening large things that come with a separation and having teenagers and a new job and all of that real life. Many days I can surf on through it and emerge un-bitchy at the end of the day, but for some reason today those little things have sharp little barbs – they’ve been clinging to me. By the time I walked back into my place tonight I was about done with this day. It wasn’t done with me, of course – that’s how these bitchy days seem to roll.

But I have to thank you, big wide world of people I don’t know. This blogging (also known as utter self indulgence and naval gazing) has given me a new perspective. If I look at it differently, I’ve actually had a great day. I’ve been working on cultivating gratitude, and I’m learning it helps in situations like this. I have healthy kids, a great job, a car that can withstand -26 (it got to -27 as a matter of fact) and a pretty reasonable relationship with the husband from whom I am separated. I have a warm house with a fridge full of goodness and plenty of tea to calm my cranky old soul. My daughter had her moment of angst and anger where it was safe and appropriate…with me, her mom. I had my moment of cranky here, with people who can choose to listen or not (what a great freedom that is!). If I smeared anyone with my cranky today I can try to make it up to them tomorrow. If I sound Pollyanna now, that might just be what I need to fend off the bitchy Tuesday vibe.

Tomorrow is a Wednesday and we all know Wednesday is nothing at ALL like Tuesday. For one thing, it’s payday and that’s guaranteed to make me smile.  My car is plugged in and ready to take on the morning and there’s even a chance we’ll make that 20 minute drive in under an hour.

Here’s to Wednesday…

Same me. New calendar.

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And so the inward looking begins…or continues… in search of meaningful & achievable resolutions. Pointless to say I will exercise more and eat less, folly to suggest I can change much about how I process my external world. I’d be lying to myself if I vowed to drink less red wine and avoid chocolate and cussing.

I need smaller resolutions, tiny resolutions that will be little stones in a giant pond. I need to find tiny ways to alter how I give myself to the world, to my family, to those I love. I need little itty bitty meditative alterations that will smooth the painful bristles of my coat, that will make me more huggable and less of a systemic shock to those whose well being matters most.

I want to be gentle. I want to be kinder. I want to be more loving, more giving, more forgiving, more forgivable. I want to be soft. I want to be feather soft. I wish to be a balm, a soothing salve rather than a burn, a wound, an abrasion.

I don’t know where these new ways of being live. I don’t know where to find them. I want to.

I want to.

It’s a new year. This year there is no hollering, no kicking of cans. This year there is only quiet retreat, a catch in the throat, a throb behind my left eye. I wish things I can’t give, I’ve given things I can’t reclaim.

It’s almost a new year. It’s almost a new…

No, it’s the same me on a new calendar page unless I can find a new path.

And the stone is about to fall, and the pond is about to ripple.

So happy new year.

 

And They will Change the World

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I recently met a young woman who has, by the strength of her conviction and passion, challenged the way I see the world and my place in it.

At 22 years old, Morgan Wienberg is co-founder of  Little Footprints Big Steps.  She has created a safe place for street children in Haiti; a transitional home to help them reintegrate into their families when possible. She has worked with international donors to help these children find hope, safety, health and education. The families of these children are poor. Many were tricked into turning their children over to orphanages in order for them to have an education, a better life.  It seems the more starving children an orphanage can show to the world, the higher the income of the orphanage owner. In Haiti many orphanages are run by profiteers who abuse the children, pocket the aid and sell whatever goods are donated by international aid groups. Morgan saw this when she did an internship in an orphanage and it changed the course of her life.  She has now spoken at the United Nations, is legal guardian to several Haitian children and has had a profound impact on the lives she has touched…mine included.

When I listened to Morgan’s presentation a few weeks ago, I heard her words. I thought about her story. I was impressed by her poise and her certainty, her dedication to the children and families she serves.  Later I tried to tell the story to my daughter. Morgan’s words came back like a kick to my stomach when I tried to share them.  I couldn’t talk about the children whose stories she shared without tears. I still can’t.  I’ve found my mind wandering to the place she talked about, the people she described, the troubles she faces every day.  I find myself researching how to get to Haiti; researching visas, immunizations, airfares…  She told me the annual operating budget for her entire program; housing up to 50 kids, school fees, food, salaries for staff, even buying small plots of land for families to build homes is a mere $160,000 per year. That is less than the base salary for any CEO of any US or Canadian based charity.  I can’t get over how much she can accomplish with that meager budget, and yet she does, with grace.

At 47, there is a lot of stuff in my head, a lot of stuff in my heart. I am as busy as anybody else, with as little spare room in my schedule as ever but I can’t stop thinking about this. I can’t stop thinking that somehow some time I need to do something bigger than I’ve done. I’m very happy that Little Footprints Big Steps will now be receiving funding from the organization I work with, glad to see new relationships sparked from the presentation I helped organize, but I still feel compelled to do more, personally. I think a visit to Haiti is in my future. I genuinely have no idea what my presence could possibly do, how I could be of any use, but I’m guessing an extra pair of unskilled hands will come in handy at some point.

We hear so much about the bad, the lost, the directionless youth. There are so many young people doing so much good in our towns, our communities, across the globe. At the presentation Morgan did  recently at my workplace, the audience was packed with youth. Three local high schools brought students – Canada World Youth brought us eager young people from across Canada and Mozambique, eager to learn more and participate fully in their world. This is so exciting to me… it fills me with so much hope.

We can (and should) worry for the young people who are not participating, but we really have to celebrate people like Morgan Wienberg, young citizens like the students in the audience that day, intently listening, taking action in their very own homes after listening to her speak. We have so much to be proud of  and thankful for in these young people… they are amazing, and they will change the world.

Please visit Morgan’s site, and look at the work she is doing. She and the staff of Haitians she has been able to employ are currently caring for many former street children, providing them a safe house, an education, love and medical care. If you are moved to give, please do so. If you are moved to act for another cause, please do so. I am grateful to Morgan, grateful to anyone who gives so much of themselves.  Through them, I believe I can be better. I can do something big.

So soon?

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A few weeks ago I gave birth to a magical little redheaded baby girl. She’s 20 now, but that is the way the heart massages time…the real passage is hard to measure in ordinary terms. To my arms, the weight of her baby self is still a recent memory, there is still an ache in my shoulders from pacing with her while she cried of colic. I still hum the only song that calmed her, and when I am stressed I remember how the sound of the vacuum was the only thing that soothed her mysterious fretting.

I left her in another city the other day, this baby child of mine. I left her in her own apartment surrounded with the trappings of a new life. No diaper pail, no stuffed rabbits or pastel blankies; instead pots & pans, thrift store dishes and school supplies clutter the space.

She is ready. She is ready to take on the world and be a shining beacon of newness, of hope and promise. She has the confidence, the kindness, the grit and the guts to tackle this new chapter. She is, after a few years of holding my breath, everything I knew she would be. I am the kind of proud there are no words for.

But I am now 5,385 kilometers from her forehead… the forehead I like to kiss goodnight. And it turns out I am less ready than she.

My baby girls are 20 & 16?!

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What a crazy emotional week for me. My eldest turned 20 years old today and my youngest will be 16 on Thursday. How? How can this be? I swear to you that only a few weeks ago they were little and snuggly and damp, all sweet breath and need and warm cheeks and lullabies.

My first born is preparing to launch… this nest has grown too small for her. She’s off to a real city, a bigger city, a new fresh start…school, friends, the BEGINNING of it all. My youngest is still half mine, half belonging to the world. So hard for me to separate, she is so much more ready than I am. 16 is nowhere near as old as it was when her big sister turned 16.

When your first child reaches a milestone, a threshold, it’s HUGE. 10 is so mature. 16 is SO incredible, so grown up. Since you’ve never been there before, it’s all enormous, especially because the younger siblings seem so… young, in comparison. Now, as my “baby” turns 16, I look at her with shocked eyes and wonder how on earth this young girl can be so near to being grown. How can I imagine letting her do the things I let her older sister do, especially now that I KNOW better!

When I grew up as the eldest of 6, I was the trail breaker. I had to fight all the fights, win all the  battles, break down the door for my younger siblings. Once my parents got through battling with me over every living detail they had lost the will to fight… at least that’s what I assumed. Maybe they just decided they’d best pick their battles and trust in the universe a bit. Either way my younger sisters had it WAAAAY easier than I did.

In my house, it’s the opposite. I was so innocent, so naiive as a mother I let my eldest do things I will NOT allow my younger daughter to do. I know… now I KNOOW so much more than I did then. Poor kid 😉 Her big sister was supposed to clear the way, not alert me to the risks!

Either way I have these wonderful 3 kids, all of them growing up in their own way and following their own rocky paths. I want everything fabulous, magnificent, exciting, scary and exciting for them. I want them to be explorers, adventurers, life long learners, readers, do-ers, sharing kindness and their gifts along the way. Thankfully too, my son’s birthday isn’t ’til Fall, so I have some time to recover before getting all emotional again.

Can they possibly do that without growing up? Without growing away? Without leaving me? Please?  This is a week of joy, of remembering, of story telling… and of being a big soppy sobby emotional puddle. Happens to me this time every year. Hard to avoid; two birthdays in a week… Happy Birthday Emily, Happy Birthday Chloe.  Love you both bigger than sunshine.

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