Cake

reception_049Americans are busy people. One of the things I dislike saying is “I’m too busy” because I know my busy is relative to your busy. Sure, for me, I have more than usual going on right now. More tasks to complete on a daily basis. At first this worried me and upset me. I miss my friends on Twitter. I miss reading my favorite blogs. I miss WRITING my own blog. But I’ve had to cut corners, so I do what I need to do for now.

Except. This morning I got up at three a.m. to work on my novel. Five days a week, for the last week or so, I have been faithfully writing a chapter or scene every day I don’t have to get up and physically get myself to school. I move forward. I do this first; I do this for myself because I’m convinced that it is even more important to do things for yourself when other forces pull at your time. After a non-stop day yesterday, I fell asleep about 8 p.m. so even getting up really early,  I’m not losing sleep. I got 7 solid hours. Good enough. Especially when today is again a day full of activities, some fun, some not so much, but not horrible either. 

For busy people who think they have to give up all their pleasures and time with their loved ones, I gotta say, it’s just not true. What is true is we make ourselves as busy as we want to be. We choose what we want to do. Yes, sometimes things start to stack up a little faster and louder than we’d like, but maintaining a soft response and a slow flow is the best way to make it through, at least for me.

I have one more assignment to complete this week for my online class. It’s a blog post reflecting on the webinar I watched yesterday while outlining a speech I was giving in a few hours. As I gathered my notes for the assignment, something in my rebelled. I have not posted a blog to my own site in a week. I took a few breaths and settled it. I’d write my own post first, then the one for class. It made me happy to free up my ingrained habit of work, work, work, and just play a little bit. Play and work are interchangeable to me, because I enjoy my work, most of the time. If you can find things to love in your work and slowly start to turn your life and career toward those parts of the job, you’ll find play at work. And it will make you better at your profession.

Then there’s the play outside work. Relationships. I continue, even in the whirlwind, to nurture my most important friendships and family ties. Later this morning, I’ll be baking a cake for my dad. In my “busybusybusy” mode, autopilot says “buy one” and I almost did, but my dad loves yellow cake with chocolate frosting and they don’t have those in the bakeries anymore. It’s all carrots and ganache and red velvet. So … dad gets his homemade cake and I get to bake, something I love to do. 

My day job is important to me. I always do my best, never skimp on any part of my work. So I have lots of papers to check today before dinner with Dad. I’ll continue to check them into the night after I return from dinner with the family. As long as it takes.

And, as mentioned, just now I have another blog to write to complete my own class assignments for the first week of being a student again, but that will be a piece of cake.

Short Path to Happy

elephant

Today my son Tim washed an elephant in Thailand. Tomorrow he’s attending a wedding. Yesterday there was a coup. That happened in Bangkok, just a few hours from where he and his wife are vacationing. Maybe you didn’t hear the political news. It was swift and non-violent, a military take-over of the government that has been brewing for months. Still. My baby!

Was so worried, I read a story about how to be happy in Psychology Today by Todd Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener. Turns out that “actions that lead us to feel uncertainty, discomfort, and even a dash of guilt are associated with the most memorable and enjoyable experiences of people’s lives.”

This amazing fact cheered me, and not just because of Tim. Truth is, I’m a happy person and so is he. And now I know that it’s okay to also be curious, try new things, never stop believing in your dreams, going for it even when it feels risky and scary, especially if it feels risky and scary. Because that’s what we do, Tim and I. It’s the way I have lived my gypsy life, and I guess some of that is in his DNA, too.

As a novelist, I never thought about being a public person. I’m a private person. I rejoiced in the internet and the fact that I could promote my work in my pajamas. But then I wrote the book of my heart. The book I was most afraid to write. And I loved it. So does my publisher. It’s a contemporary novel with modern problems: love, betrayal, divorce, addiction, child custody, family, home. So now that Luke’s #1 Rule is close to publication, I started to think “I should do a book tour.” Not a virtual tour, a real, live tour. Just where the book is set, along the lakeshore of our beautiful Michigan peninsula. I have never taken such a big risk. No wait, yes I have. This is just another step in a life full of “what’s next?” 

Right this minute, what makes me happy is knowing Tim and Alicia are getting out of Thailand safe. I refuse to consider any other option. And I am happy that the elephants had their bath.

The Elusive Happy Family

006I have an idea in my mind of a happy family. This image has caused me profound sadness. The more I reached for it, the more elusive it became. Divorce destroyed that image and for years I let the guilt of being the one who ruined everything hold me back from completely enjoying the family I finally made.

The family I was born into was not happy; I knew that because my mother yelled a lot. My dad wasn’t around much, maybe because he didn’t want to get yelled at. Or maybe my mom yelled because she wanted him to be home and he wasn’t. Mom probably had an idea of a happy family, too, and maybe she yelled because she was trying to make one and failing.

Growing up in discord made me long for a kind of special happiness, and that was my only goal: make a happy family. Be a better mother to my children than my own had been to me. Happy kids were key. My husband’s role would be to come home from work without stopping at the bar or being late for dinner. That was the recipe I put together and it worked just fine for awhile.

In my perfect family, the father had far less lines, many less opinions, than the man I actually married. My perfect husband was simply happy that WE were happy.

Men don’t come like that.

Being a better mother than my own took a lot of work, too. She kept an immaculate house, always had nutritious meals ready at regular hours, made sure we bathed and brushed our teeth every night, kissed our foreheads before bed. So I had to do all that plus add in what I’d craved as a child: kisses and hugs all day long, an abundance of love and acceptance.

Giving myself completely over to my family only worked for a little while. I had to be selfless, and that, I regret, is not in my nature. I left my husband and took my children with me. This brought relief and sadness. My kids were crushed and I had to live with what I’d done: I smashed my family. On purpose.

So there I was, 28, a single working mom. Despite long hours at my pink collar job as a secretary, my income hovered at the poverty line. I had not done better than my own mother. I had done worse.

I added things to my life–love, education, a better job, the freedom to write–that made me happier. I tried very hard to continue my most important task: to be a good mother. It was a balancing act, but I was determined that this time, no matter what, I wasn’t going to walk away from my marriage. I would stay married for my children’s sake. Just not to their dad.

Sounds a little crazy but I didn’t want to put them through any more drama. My new husband was a fully realized human with dreams, wants, and desires of his own, something I knew before I married him. This worked in our favor. A couple of times I felt I had to leave him or die. I didn’t leave and I didn’t die. I learned to ride out the rough times and my marriage came out the other side just fine.

My children grew into fine young men. I figured I’d fucked them up for good, what with the divorce and all the adjustments they had to go through. I braced myself for drugs or DUIs or other forms of rebellion. None of that happened. They never got in trouble, finished college with good grades, snagged great jobs, married women they loved. I don’t give myself any credit for any of this.

Well, except for maybe those extra hugs and kisses.