Sunday, May 24, 2015

Mr. Wilson and Me: The Journey Toward Greater

     My life hit its lowest point in September 2014.  A relationship that moved me 2,600 miles ended. My career brought me into a new line of business, leaving me struggling to learn a new way of life. At 40-years old, I lived out of suitcases and off the grace of my brother and his wife. I needed something to believe in – my confidence was shaken and my insides were raw. Back in my once hometown, I was poor, lost and desperate. My brother’s wife’s family graciously included me in their weekly ritual of watching the Seahawks. This, it turned out, would be my saving grace. Not the game, not the wins - but the loss of the Super Bowl and a guy called Russell Wilson.  How could a devastating loss save someone? Because in life, we lose and break. That doesn’t make us losers or broken. Makes us human.

Family Tradition
     The details of my relationship failed mirror the Super Bowl loss in such a way that I can write one phrase and it applies to both. It has taken months to gather the courage to write about this.

     A risk taken didn’t go as planned. What woman (after the age of 40) really finds their soulmate? What team wins the Super Bowl two years in a row?  (Eight , but let’s be honest – winning the Super Bowl consecutively isn’t the point here.) The point is that I believed and went all in.

     Surrounded by loved ones, a decision was made and changed my intended course: a marriage, a family, a Super Celebration. Once the play was complete, coming back for victory was the thing of miracles. Miracles weren’t granted. When I climbed out of the fog of disbelief, I was shaken. Sleepless nights passed, wondering how the other players were coping. A search for answers produced nothing.

     Monday after the Super Bowl, Russell Wilson posted pictures of himself getting his haircut. “Russell got a haircut,” I relayed to a friend. They didn't seem as concerned as I was. On Tuesday he went to the hospital to visit sick children. At this point I was peripherally part of the Russell Wilson fan club. He was a kid – a super star, who worked next door, but existed in a parallel universe. I was (now) a 41-year-old woman living with her two dogs in a tiny apartment. Football was part of my world only because it was a way to connect with my family (and I’m a sucker for party food). But when he got a haircut, when he visited those kids, my mind got wrapped around this idea: no matter how messed up things get, life moves on and you have two choices: let it move on or move on with it.

     Russell moved on with it, refusing to let one play define him. Who was I to let a failed relationship define me? He was moving forward. Who was I to wallow in my self-pity, embarrassment and guilt? I was a fool in desperate need of moving forward, that’s who I was. If he can get a haircut, I can too. If he can get back to visiting kids, I can get back to me. So I did. Everything became about achieving greater.

Why not?
     There’s a story Russell tells about “Why not us?” There is no reason why we can't achieve greater - well, there is one: you choose less. After my loss, I had the strength, but not the tools. Therapy, wine or intense exercise didn't work. What did? I decided I was destined for greater. The losses were part of the past - they no longer had the power to define today. That's my blessing. I define my future, which is going to be amazeballs. 

     I’ve now closely followed Russell for more than four months and can tell something is amiss. To say I have a clue is to create the very false impression I have inside knowledge. I have a gut instinct that’s usually precise. If you read the papers, you know that contract negotiations aren’t wrapping up as quickly as anticipated. His future as a Seahawk isn’t solidified. I know what is solid – that his future is going to be amazeballs (just like mine).  He'll be a great athlete for a long time.  But I see football as a stepping stone for Russell. This is the thing he’s doing now to propel him to greater. He will use his fame and influence to change the world. I blieve this with every fiber of my being.

Ready for Greater
     In the deepest recesses of my heart, I see him using athletics to change lives through charity work. He’s going to need a solid strategic advisor to run the business side of it. He’ll need someone who is hell-bent on helping the world move toward greater. That’s me. Likelihood of this happening? Small. But why not me? Why not? Why not believe in greater? Why not believe that I can use my journey to inspire others? Believing any different is a betrayal of this lesson.

     Just like the team, I had to lose. I had to be rebuilt for something greater. That’s how we all are coming out of this – stronger, wiser, greater. What the future holds for me is anyone’s guess. I haven’t come this far to stop. I came this far because I decided greater is what I’m going to achieve.

     Had Russell never posted the haircut picture, I don’t know if I would have understood. But he did and I do. I believe life moves on and you have to move on with it. Anything less is not worthy of greatness.

Monday, May 18, 2015

IKEA + Pinterest = Allison Fail

The Inspiration
   For weeks I’ve wanted to convert the spare room into a study.  Like most social media savvy teens, I took to Pinterest for ideas.  The one that jumped out was taking a countertop from IKEA and marrying it to shelves from Target. It was as if my two favorite stars were hooking up and creating a Super Child that would cure cancer and win The Voice.
   Along came Friday night. With the weekend ahead of me, this would be the perfect time to create my new office, which would help me launch my writing career.  First stop:  IKEA.  Or is it Ikea?  Let’s go with IKEA as I feel the all caps adds an excitement factor. If you had asked me to list off the reasons I moved back to the PNW, IKEA was on my top 15 list.  It’s heaven for people like me – poor, ambitious and blind to our own (in)abilities.  Upon arriving at IKEA, I circled the 10,000 acre parking lot only to see that I’d be relegated to the farthest parking stalls.  The closest available spots were for family parking.  While I am my family, this totally pissed me off. But I followed the rules and sent a snarky tweet.  #singlelife.
   Once inside the 100,000 acre store, I decided to just skip the Target element of this table and get the shelves at IKEA.  I love you Target, but I wasn’t in the mood for a second stop that particular night.  Plus, Fred Meyer had them cheaper.  But the last time I went there, I was appalled at the teenage mom-to-be smoking near the entrance.  All three elements of that scene were just too much for me to handle.
   I strolled to counters, past the couple making out on the couches, past the people going the wrong way, and through the families in heated discussions.  “Focus!!!” I reminded myself.  I snapped pictures of the items I needed and headed toward the “Self Help” area.  They really should have a mental health professional there to help you through this.  I walked back and forth between shelving units to assure they’d all be the same height once complete.  They would be.  I grabbed a leg post just to be safe.  $242 later I was on my Merry Fucking Way.  I was thoroughly impressed with myself and ready for a fantastic Friday night of building shit.  And that’s when my plan (as usual) went down in flames.
    I do this to myself every time.  Every project.  I am magnificent at planning.  Execution and I have no business being together.  A precursory glance through the pages of my furniture history SHOULD serve as a lesson book.  However, I am thick with faith and even thicker in my head.
   When I got home, none of the box moving carts were available.  This mean schlepping the boxes up (four total) one at a time.  From parking spot to my door it’s a 10th of a mile.  “I got this!”  In came the first box:  a lovely 27.5” shelf thing.  It went together beautifully.  Out went the empty boxes and up came a cabinet – also 27.5”.  PERFECT.  It turned out beautifully. I placed the two pieces in the precise location and hauled up the 59” countertop.  It was now just before 10 p.m.  I’m respectful of my neighbors.  And even though I hated going to bed with it incomplete, I could tell it wasn’t going to work.  My heart knew.  The countertop’s width was too much.  My worry about height distracted me from considering width.
   I was up with the sun, and when the clock crossed into the 9 a.m. hour, I started screwing the counter to the two supporting pieces.  My gut said “It’s not going to work.”  My mind retorted, “Shut your pie hole!” My powerful drill was too much or my screws were too shitty.  It didn’t work.  It just looked crooked and awful.  I resigned myself to what I already knew – that getting creative with tools isn’t my thing.  Creativity with words is.
    When the doors opened at IKEA, I was back – buying four decorative legs.  Before noon the configuration was configured.  I was pleased, but deflated.  Now I had a cabinet and shelves to fiddle with.  As I type away, I look over my shoulder at the duo – perfectly beautiful and put together, but a waste of $150. 
   This is where I came to understand why IKEA encourages family parking.  Single people, we have no place in IKEA.  You should never go in alone.  Never, under any circumstance, go with anyone less talented and logical than you.  When you get your stuff home, you need help – even Wonder(Single) Woman needs an extra set of hands for it all.    

    So, IKEA, this is where I surrender to you.  You are grander and more ambitious than my practical skills can allow.  While my checkbook loves you, my heart is remorseful. On the upside, I do have a beautiful new office – and am looking forward to writing my masterpiece right here.  Hopefully you’ll come along for the ride.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Oh The Places I Went

Original publish date:  May 9, 2013
Oh The Places We Went
Along the hall in my home the words, “Oh the Places You’ll Go” hang above art and posters representing the places I’ve gone. From the Great Barrier Reef to the edge of America’s West Coast, the places I’ve traveled are memorialized on my walls. It is, of course, a nod to the Dr. Seuss book about life and its many adventures. When it came time to return to Huntsville from my 18-month stay in Gulf Shores, I began the desperate search only a perfectionist/procrastinator can make. The perfect piece of art to join my hallway collection had to be found. Visits to off-the-beaten-path galleries were made. I flipped through pictures and marveled at paintings. Nothing struck my fancy. Nothing that could encompass angry people, grateful athletes, fresh seafood, musical events, lonely weekends on the beach, sand in everything, tennis, and the great fight was found. The wholeness of my beach life was too complicated to be put in a frame. As such, nothing hall-worthy made its way home with me.
During that time, I spent much energy focusing on how I’d honor this time. How would I use this experience in my future? What would I bring with me? If I couldn’t find anything to hang on the wall, surely the representation would come in my personality. Yes, I’m different now – but only slightly. I’m stronger, wiser, and more determined. Wouldn’t that have happened anyhow? Most likely. I was consumed with a genuine desperation to define and honor this magnificent experience that I wasn’t allowed to share with any external souls.
As it happens every spring in North Alabama, the brownish grey of winter gives way to the green of spring. As the season subtly transitions, a dusting of yellow pollen covers the region. The fine granules work their way through closed windows and screen doors. On the streets, piles of this allergen are stirred up as cars head forward toward their destination. Glancing in my side mirror, I watched it swirl and scatter in my wake. It was this simple, out-of-the-corner-of-my-eye sight that perfectly epitomized the struggle I was navigating internally.
Life is constantly happening. Seasons are constantly changing. We’re all just passing through this place. Why would you focus on what you bring with you to the next place? Instead focus on what you leave behind. Our legacy has very little to do with what we hang on walls or stories we tell. Our legacy is about improving this place. Honoring our past means doing the best in our present so when it becomes our past, we have made it better.
When I look back at my time on the Deepwater Horizon Spill Response team, I see a legacy of which I am incredibly proud. I recall communities we rebuilt, lives we enhanced, and industries we revitalized. We did it in the face of intense criticism and pressure. We created a legacy by establishing programs that will last for decades. Looking back over my life, I see I’ve always grown not by what I took. I grew by what I left. Addition by subtraction.
At the exact moment I shifted my perception, peace grew strong in my heart. The anxiety created by trying to honor the experience settled. We always say that God only gives us what we can handle. Challenge that. Take on what you can handle. Choose what you release. I choose to release that anxiety. By doing so, I’m finally done chewing on this experience.
Regardless if I ever find anything materialistic to symbolize my precious time at the beach, it stays alive in the memories of what I left in my wake. That is more amazing than anything you can hang on a wall.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

On Being a Dog Mom

   It’s just after 7 on Saturday morning. The sun’s light brightens the room, signaling that it’s time to rise. I turn over and without pause, Jake Ryan grunts. In hopes of throwing him off, I freeze. It’s too early to get up. Dogs know no difference between today and yesterday. They know they have to pee and would like to eat or be petted. They know I’m the ticket to getting all three of those needs met. He grunts again. I sigh in response and throw off the covers and place my bare feet on the cream carpet. Poncho is motionless. I rise and dress. We’re out the door within minutes.
Jake Ryan: Snuggle Guru
   The boys, now 8 and almost 9, tear down the hall toward the elevator. Five dings later and we’re in the lobby. Out they go – pulling and whining with excitement. I no longer discipline them. The years ahead of us are less than the years behind us, as such my forgiveness is greater. My duo waters the plants, sniffs the shrubs, and barks at the birds. We continue on our morning ritual, touring the streets of Kent, leaving marks as we go.
   Mother’s Day will come tomorrow. As I do each year, I feel a slight nostalgia for the kids I never had. My mom is a world away, tending to our country’s needs in Africa. Before I can feel too sorry for myself, I’m reminded that being Jake Ryan and Poncho’s mom has brought me great joy. This is my story of being a dog mom and how thankful I am for the journey.
   Nine years ago, I decided my life needed a little something more. I got a dog. Eight months after that, I thought we needed something more. We got a dog. The weekend before Jake Ryan (dog #1) came home, I went to PetSmart. The feeling of buying the best of the best brought me to tears. With watery eyes, I pushed the blue cart through the store and loaded it up with a sturdy crate, a plush bed, and a bevy of foods. Attaining perfection for his homecoming was essential. When Poncho (dog #2) came home, he was wrapped in a blanket we picked up at Walgreens after we picked him up. They weren’t best friends at first, but now, years later, they are thick as thieves. That is my greatest accomplishment.
Copy | Paste
   My dogs are my first priority. Their bills and food come before mine. I’m home from work as early as possible just so they can go out to pee. Road trips are a weekend staple. They’ve visited a half dozen states and logged more miles than I can attempt to calculate. My trusty companions sustained me through the deepest depression. When they became mine and I became theirs, I promised I would give them the best, do my best, and be the best. In turn, they promised not to pee inside (but sometimes on each other) or to leave.
Beach Boys!
   Being a dog mom isn’t like being a human mom. For as long as the dogs live, I’ll be picking up poop, making meals, and giving baths. I’ll bury them, a fact made all too real this last month when we said farewell to my brother’s dog. If I’m lucky enough I’ll hold them and wish them well as their last breath leaves their bodies. Yes, the years ahead are fewer than the years behind. But the joy continues to multiply. When Poncho gallops through fields, when Jake Ryan nudges at my hand, the joy multiplies. When they’re curled up on top of another, the joy multiplies.
Poncho - Cutest thing ever
   Poncho’s new thing is to come to me when I’m standing and put his front paws on my legs, looking at me “Pick me up,” his eyes say. In one fell swoop, his 14-pound body rests in the crook of my elbow. Jake Ryan’s new thing is napping in the spare bedroom. This started in March, shortly after a terrifying health scare. I’ve laid out a mattress topper and put his favorite blanket on it. The room is dark and when I slide the doors shut, it’s quiet. He’ll be 9 in three weeks. Our years – they’re passing. I don’t like this new habit. Instead, I lay down beside him and whisper gently, reminding him of the day he came home or of the adventures we’ve had and promise him more tomorrow. Inevitably, Poncho joins us. Before I turn in for the night, I usher him into my room, where he either sleeps beside me or in a bed in the corner. I say my prayers, thanking God for these beings who gave me a purpose I didn’t know I was missing and beg for as many more years are possible.

Hawk Fans 
   When Jake Ryan grunts us all awake tomorrow, the country will be knee deep in celebrating moms. Brunches, phone calls, and flowers mark the day. For this trio, we’ll embark on an adventure – something symbolic of another day passing, something to remind me why being their mom is the best adventure I could have ever asked for.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

I'm a Street Walker

Today I had a dentist appointment, it’s a half a mile up 4th Ave from work.  I walked – because I’m a city girl now.  As I trekked under the overpass, past the park, and up the slow grade that is 4th Avenue, with its busy cross streets and hodgepodge of people, I realized that yes, in fact am a City Girl.  A year ago, my ass would have driven a half a block for tacos.  Now, I’m a City Girl.  And when you’re a City Girl, you’ve got to adapt to the city streets.  Here is how to survive:
     1.        Earbuds.  Play your music loud enough to drown out passerby’s conversations, but not so loud you can’t hear a roaring fire engine tearing down the street.  Play tunes that transport you, because even when you love the city, it’s not always pretty.  My favorite is “Come with Me Now” by KONGOS or the basassery that is“All I do is Win” by DJ Khaled. You should see my hand gestures to the line “My hands go up and down like stripper’s booties go”.  It’s precious. Truth be told, Eminem’s “One Shot” gets me pumped up anytime. You’ve got your tunes. Next?

      2.       Sunny side.  Walk on the sunny side of the street. Yes. We have sunshine in Seattle - a shit ton of it.  Skyscrapers block out a shit ton of the shit ton of sun, so find the sun and walk in it. It’s the universe big hugging your awesomeness. Plus, tourists usually are on the shaded side. Trust me. 

      3.       Yes, that smell is what you think it is. Pot, piss, poop. Yes. Yes. Yes. I’ve smelt them all. Blech. It’s as disgusting just as much as it’s part of the city. Febreeze should make 4/21 National Spray Out the Smoke Smell Day. As far as the bodily function smells, I totally understand why the French Quarter is hosed down every morning. Since we don’t always have rain, wear a scarf and cover your nose and walk away. Quickly.

     4.       Stride. Own your sunny side of the street. Push past the tourists, they’re too mesmerized looking at the big buildings and taking pictures. But stride on, Sister.

     5.       Panhandlers. Deal with them in a way you feel comfortable. Commit to how you deal with them. I don’t give them money. I’ve bought them coffee and brought them gloves and tissues, but never cash.  

     6.       The crosswalk. It’s illegal and a social taboo to jaywalk in Seattle. But I do it. Standing there, facing that red hand when nary a car can be seen, oh it kills me. I’ve got places to be. So I go. Halfway through the intersection I want to leap, arms extended and yell, “RULEBREAKER!!!” I’d also like to add in a twirl. I figure that may be shoving it in karma’s face, therefore I restrain. Take charge of yourself. Are you really the kind of person who is going to let a 40 watt figure dictate your life? I didn’t think so.

     7.       Put your shit away. Don’t fiddle with your phone, lanyard, keys, sunglasses, drink, dog leashes, or anything. Put it where it’s supposed to be before you leave your office/home. This way you stride with purpose.

      While I love being a Big City Girl during the day, at night I return to my suburban downtown. Those rules are completely different. We’ll get to that next time. Until then, stride on!

My Mother Wears Combat Boots

Originally written:  November 3, 2005
            Not many 30-year-old women are on the receiving end of panicked phone calls with bombs blowing up in the background as their mom yells, “Don’t worry, I didn’t get hit! Call Nanny and tell her I’m fine. Talk to you later.” While countless mothers across the country watch their young children fight for freedom, I am among a small group of adult daughters who watched their mother head to war. But it wasn’t always this way.
            For nearly two decades she was a good wife and a wonderful mom. During the earliest years of our family’s life, mom stayed home and raised three children who would grow into people she “not only loves, but truly likes.” Fast forward to the late 90s and you have a single woman in her early 50s; her three kids nearly done with college. Inside she believes that there’s something more. She could have put in a few more years at her unchallenging job and sailed to retirement.
Instead she bought a map, nailed it up in the kitchen and began to study the world. Soon after, she took the written part of the Foreign Service Exam and passed. Then it was onto the oral exam, a grueling eight-hour session with the country’s brightest brains putting hers to the test. She passed. At the age of 52, she was accepted into the Foreign Service and the U.S. Department of State.
            The decision wasn’t an easy one for her, but ultimately she took the State Department up on their offer and went to Washington, D.C. to be groomed, educated, and refined. She was the oldest one in the class. After her official training period ended, off she went: first Australia, then to Africa. The conditions in the western part of the country weren’t exactly enticing. So in April 2003, when the call came for volunteers to go to Iraq in January 2004 she jumped at the chance. Surely the war would be done by then. When the time came she packed her bags. Despite what the president said, the war was still underway; it was not “mission accomplished.”
            She came home to Alabama for the holidays and then to D.C. to learn how to tote a gun. I’m sure she did more important things than this; the image of my 5’6” mother toting a shotgun sticks in my mind. The final phone message she left stays with me always, “Just know you were always loved.” After hearing that, I grew scared. While she was gone, I refused to talk about the war. I assured myself that she’d be back before long. Time crept, but in mid-July she was home, complete with a medal!
            My mom, now in her later 50s, was never the typical mom. In third grade she told me to improve my handwriting because “you’ll never get married with bad handwriting.” She used to deny saying that. Now she simply shrugs, “Well, I was right.”  In her mind, she always is. My brothers and I will tell you how she can’t read a map, but somehow made her way through Sadaam’s palaces in Baghdad and the bombings in Mosul during the height of the attacks, all the while living in a storage container. She can’t bake but two things, but chewed her way through pounds of chocolate when the fighting got to be too much.
            I am becoming my mother: the way I sit, the way I hold myself, my laugh, the wrinkles. I will never be as intelligent as her. She’s always making a plan to move ahead. I’m the last to figure out where I am. She dines with Presidents and Ambassadors; I enjoy lunch with friends sometimes, but mostly alone. She can recite Shakespeare; I can tell you what Carrie told Big when she saw him the morning of his engagement brunch.
            Last December, I asked her if she wished for a daughter more like her, one she could discuss politics with; one who didn’t spent time making faces in the mirror; one who ran meetings, not races; one with countless accolades, not countless shoes. “Nope,” she replied. “I love you because you are everything I could never be.”

            Although it’s hard to bring this daughter to her knees, I am humbled by my mom. I am humbled by her unconditional love – for her family and our country. While mom and I may never agree on mules, pumps, or sling backs, I am proud to say my mom wears combat boots.