chasingwonderwoman

Sounds Like Crazy

I installed cameras throughout the first floor of my house so I could watch over my mother. Some people thought I was crazy. Hell, I thought I was crazy.

She’s getting frailer, seemingly by the day – sometimes by the hour. There are days when I think, “she is great, just like before!” And days like today, where I clearly know that she is not like before, and she’s not great.

 

It was three years ago when she shared with me that her next door neighbor was sneaking into her basement and stealing her hot water. “He” then escalated to stealing the quarters out of her Easter Lenten folder and the batteries from her smoke detectors.  “He” started to bring a friend with him and “they” began to sit on the steps that led to the basement waiting for her to fall asleep. Mom started to sleep sitting up in the living room on the couch to catch “them”.  It was about that time that I told her to pack her suitcase and I was taking her to come live with me. Some people thought she was crazy. Hell, I thought she was crazy.

Several doctors and psychiatrists later, mom was diagnosed with early onset dementia and paranoia. It took about a year and the help of a little pill called Risperidone, to quiet the voices which had moved from her basement to mine in the form of a new “him” — my next door neighbor.

 

It was 7 months ago at a routine doctors’ visit when my mom’s red blood cell count prompted a red flag for additional testing. Two specialists and four CAT Scans later, mom was diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer in both of her lungs. She’d never smoked a cigarette in her adult life and was quite possibly the nicest, kindest person I have ever known. Lung Cancer for MY mom, now that’s just crazy.

 

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The Mom Cams at work

It was just 2 hours ago as I was working in my home office that I decided to take a peek at my newly installed “mom-cams”. I saw her sitting on the floor beside her bed. Not moving, just sitting on the floor. Her nightgown was off and there was a pillow beside her. It took me a moment to really understand what I was seeing. I just sat there staring at the screen thinking it must be frozen and she’s really standing up now. What’s strange is that when you get yourself ready day in and day out to see something bad on these cameras, when you finally do, your brain doesn’t want to register it. It took less than 3 seconds to take the stairs three at a time and fly into her room to help but it seemed like forever. She was not hurt at all, but she couldn’t get up. She had taken her nightgown off so that it wouldn’t gather around her ankles as she was trying to stand. I tried to pick her up but she was too heavy for me to lift from that position. I scooted her around the room on the pillow to try and find a spot that she might be able to leverage her weight to pull herself up. If it hadn’t been my mom it was happening to it would definitely have been a funny sight to see. All 130 lbs of me trying to get a grown woman off the floor and not having the faintest idea how to make that happen. It took about 40 minutes, several breaks, a step stool, a real stool and many prayers, but finally we got her up. I wanted to cry after it was over but that would have been crazy.

 

The truth is, from the dementia to the paranoia to the cancer, I really have no idea what I am doing. I am trying and I am learning but I feel like I am always about three steps behind getting it right. After two days of her blood pressure being super low, I realized that she was probably getting confused with which day was which and over taking meds from her 7 Day pill box. I knew she was struggling with remembering the days of the week and I had seen pills missing on the wrong day but I didn’t put two and two together until the blood pressure readings. So now I keep the pill box and I hand her medicine throughout the day. I feel like I should have realized it sooner and made the change quicker.

I knew my mother was getting weaker. Many times I have to grab the back of her jacket when we are walking so she doesn’t fall. I see her teeter when getting up from her chair and the past three weeks she can’t get into bed without my help. I had mentioned it to some nurses and they said she should get physical therapy. I said yes, great idea but nothing happened and I never followed up. Finally three weeks ago at a doctor’s appointment, he asked me about her stability and I said she needs help. His office followed through and we finally got approved for 2 day a week in home physical therapy. Ironically today was the first day that the new physical therapist showed up — an hour AFTER I struggled to pick my mom up off the floor. To say I could have used that help a little sooner, is let’s just say a crazy understatement.

I have no idea what I’m doing. I’ve never done any of this before and I wonder why no one has come up with an app yet to take care of your elderly parents. I worry every day. Even the days when it seems like everything is fine, I am worried. I am worried that I am not doing enough, not doing it right, not doing it fast enough or well enough. Worried that I don’t know what the hell I am doing and I am figuring it out on the fly, and she deserves better than that. Worried that I’m going crazy.

At the same time, I do realize I am being too hard on myself and that as everyone reminds me I am a good daughter that is doing a great job taking care of her mother. I know that is what it IS, but it’s not what it feels like to me. We all have our emotional baggage and I suppose for me, I am still holding on to a 50 lb. carry-on packed tightly with guilt about my father. The “would haves” and “should haves” I still battle with about his passing away in a nursing home two years ago.

I haven’t written in this blog since May when I graduated, I said then that I was done with it – that I didn’t need it anymore. Today, I felt like I had to tell this story out loud. Today it doesn’t matter if anyone ever reads this or knows about it. Today, the fact is this story lept from my heart to this piece of paper and it was just enough to make me feel a little less crazy. Today, I needed that.

At Last

capI struggled with the words for this my final blog post. It seems difficult to believe that I have been writing about graduating from college for four years. I wanted to memorialize this journey in order to keep me motivated and now it is suddenly over. In the last year I have not been as active on the blog because the writing intensive courses I have been taking have drained me. In addition, promotions at work have been wonderful to receive but taken time away from writing for pleasure. But let me be clear, this blog has been my guilty pleasure.

Today is the day I officially graduate. I walk with cap and gown across a stage and mark the end of a journey that I began when I was 18 years old — too many years and so many memories ago. Graduations like weddings, funerals and christenings are one of those occasions in your life when you reflect on what has brought you to that event. They remind you of the struggles you’ve faced, insights you’ve gained, friendships you’ve made as well as those you may have lost along the way.

There is no shortage of emotions I am feeling today. I have cried in the car, in the shower, and as I type these words. Tears that are filled with pride, happiness and accomplishment but also with overwhelming exhaustion. This has been one of the  hardest things to keep doing. The work is not that hard, it can be a pain in the  butt at times, but I’ve learned that there is nothing I can’t do. The problem is the drive to keep going, to keep taking another course, to keep filling out the paperwork, to keep meeting with the advisor, to keep keeping on – it’s exhausting. More than once, I just wanted to take a break, stop it or say enough already, do you really need this? You’re career is on a fast track and you are missing out on some fun weekends because of homework – homework at 46 – enough already! Three things kept me going and to which I dedicate this final post and my degree…

1. My Daughter, Kalia….frankly my competitive urge to graduate before her was uber important (and perhaps a bit petty!) since she is now going into her junior year! Really though, she is everything to me. I was never that “rah-rah” mother of the year, but as she got older and I got wiser, I realized how unbelievably amazing a person she is and how fortunate I am to have her in my life. Getting this degree became a way to silently make her proud, instill in her strength and courage, and remind her that she can do anything. I have often said, anything good I have done or will do, will be because she is in my life.

2. My Friend, Bonnie….she started this journey with me four years ago and when I tell you that we have literally kept each other sane throughout, I am not exaggerating. There is something absolutely wonderful about knowing that someone is going through the exact same doubts and fears, worries and concerns as you at the same time for the same reasons. We have laughed and cried about our courses and our failures and our exploding stars! You are truly one of my best friends. Not just my cheerleader, you have played the role of wife-husband-sister-friend since the day we met. You think that I have lifted you up and kept you from drowning, when in fact the opposite is really true. The first person I always look to when I feel like I am falling, is you, and you’ve never let me down.

And finally the third and final thing that has kept me going these past four years as I stayed up late, woke up early, worked on trains, planes and sometimes airport bathrooms to take quizzes and write papers is not the most important of the three, but certainly deserves great acknowledgment…..drum roll please…..

3. Good wine…really does it need any further explanation…

To those of you who will read this today or any day and are not sure if you can do something that is hard or seemingly unthinkable but you want to, you really want to, I’m here to tell you that you can. I am here to tell you that the only thing standing between you and your dream, is nothing! Say the words, believe the dream, and envision yourself achieving your goal. There is nothing that you can not do and everything that you can.

Thanks for taking the journey with me.

All Love, Always.

The Good News

The Good News is that this summer I finished my Associates Degree and graduated Magna Cum Laude!

There is no flip side…no bad news, to this opener. It’s just ‘the good news’.

I could have followed my opening line up with BUT I have 6 more classes to take to complete my Bachelor’s Degree. But in some way that diminishes the accomplishment that is already mine. Sometimes we have to just accept the good news and not expect another shoe will drop with bad news. It took me a long time to figure that out, and to remember that I need to always celebrate the small victories. These victories keep you going and prevent you from drowning when life changes courses (as it always does) and you may be overwhelmed from time to time.

If you diminish the smaller steps toward success because there is a bigger goal in mind, you cheat yourself. So simply put, don’t do that and don’t let anyone else do it to you. Couple of things I have learned in the past three years that I want to share with you. And no, it’s not a lesson from Plato or Madame Curie or even Einstein, although all of them are evidence of my learning. What I have learned is …we focus on what we see every day; we believe the words we say out loud to our friends and the thoughts we repeat inside our heads and our hearts; we grow when we acknowledge how worthy we are despite our faults and we can accomplish absolutely anything that we convince ourselves we are capable of doing. We fail when we say it’s too hard; it’s not important; it doesn’t matter; it’s not that important; he/she/they won’t support me; I’m too busy.

My journey continues but I have not just met a milestone but I pole-vaulted over it. Three years ago, I was on my fourth attempt to get a Bachelor’s degree – and I was more than a little concerned that I wouldn’t do it. And here we are now with my finish line well in sight and not a doubt in my mind that this time next year, the journey will be concluded. They say the third time is the charm, but for some of us, it’s the fourth, or the fifth, or the sixth time. There is no number that is a one size fits all when it comes to fulfilling individual goals. The process of documenting my journey in this virtual, written platform has helped keep me motivated and moving forward. But while I have enjoyed working on  my writing and sharing my stories and my silly sense of humor with you; I have to admit that I am looking forward to the day, when I submit my last post that simply says…”I did it!”

Do we ever really appreciate what we have while we have it?

I have been practicing what I preach for over a year now, in terms of being grateful.  It’s not just something I say, or post on Facebook, but something I practice religiously, every day.  It’s also not an accident, using the descriptor, “religiously”, its intentional.  Gratitude and religion go hand and hand to me.  Of all the things I state that I am grateful for every day, I attribute to God.  Some people may just believe in a universal higher power, but I’m old school Baptist and believe that God is in the center of it all.

But when we don’t get something that we really want, despite how hard we have been trying, it’s not easy to continue to practice what we preach.

Let me set the stage…

Since June 1, I have been packing up my little back pack and attending a summer course for Chemistry.  Not one, not two, but FOUR nights a week for THREE LONG hours each night — both Chemistry labs and lectures.  I quite possibly could not hate anything with more fervor than I do this class.

I can scientifically now deduce that Chemistry sucks.  I mean really sucks.  At 16 when I took it in high school, it was terrible. At 45, it’s absolutely frightening. Not just am I taking it, at my age, I am taking the compressed summer version so we are talking 14 weeks’ worth of material, consolidated into 8.

Yesterday, I attended the 31st class – the next to very last.  I had been hoping against hope that perhaps I had scored high enough in my previous tests, lab practicals and quizzes to be exempted from the Final Exam.  The professor had told the class at the onset that students with an A average by the end of the class would be allowed to skip the final, cumulative exam in recognition of their outstanding work.  Well my work hadn’t been outstanding, but it had been a solid “Really Good”.  I had worked unbelievably hard, sacrificed countless fun summer activities with my friends, and forsaken anything that looked like a decent nights’ sleep for 2 months.  I was due this exemption!  I wanted it. And relying on my “practice what I preach” mentality, I set a laser focus the last 4 weeks of the class on getting an A.

If you want something create a post it note for it! See it every day!

If you want something create a post it note for it! See it every day!

At the start of class number 31, the Professor, who is probably the most gentle, kindest, teacher I have ever worked began the class with an announcement. He reminded us that in order to be exempted a student had to have achieved a 93 average thus far, and four students had accomplished this goal. He slowly (really slowly) began to read off the names. In my head, I had been calculating my grade all semester long and knew it wasn’t an A, but in my heart of hearts I believed in the power of positive thinking and “The Secret” and I visualized hearing my name and doing an inappropriate happy dance and perhaps victory lap around the classroom.

…The first person is…Madison Smartypants (gasp of surprise…clap, clap, clap, clap…)

…The second student is…Ashley Snottygirl (smirk of “I knew it all along”…clap, clap, clap, clap….)

Next is…Haley Knowitall (brief head nod….clap, clap, clap, clap…)

And finally our last student exempted is

Joanne Oldladyinclass (squeal of delight…..clap, clap, clap, clap….)

In the words of Florida Evans from Good Times, I mentally said, “DAMN, DAMN, DAMN!!”

I’m ashamed to say, I didn’t clap for anyone. As evidenced by my decision to do a victory lap if I had been called, I am a terrible winner and a worse loser.  I realize this is a character flaw of which I need to work at. When the last name called was the other “old lady” in the class and not me, I was just pissed.  I knew I shouldn’t be, but did I tell you how much I really, really, really wanted to be exempted and how much I really, really, really think Chemistry sucks. Yes, I am certain I did.

With the reading of the names, the Fantastic Four, left the class without so much as a backward glance at the rest of us.  I could almost hear them collectively say, “see you suckers later”, under their breaths, as they headed back to dinners with friends, beachside barbecues, and pool parties.  Summers in Connecticut don’t last long, so you have to take advantage of every single sunny, gorgeous day we get and make the most of it.  Those four had just received what I would consider the equivalent of the Chocolate Factory golden ticket.  Damn them!

For the rest of us losers, Test 3 was returned to us with our score for the test as well as the score for the semester to date on the last page.  I had received an 80 on the test and an 83 for the semester. Even getting a perfect score of 100 on the final exam would be too little, too late.  Not only wasn’t I exempted but there was no possible way of getting an A in this class. I was disappointed. I knew I should be grateful for the B.  There was no shame in a B, at all, especially not given the complexity of the topic and the compressed timeline, and my graying brain cells.  Even though the professor let us leave early to study at home, I walked out head hung low and wishing I knew where the Fantastic Four were partying so I could literally let the air out of their tires.  Let’s see how much you know about pressure and volume now, smartie girls.

Resisting the urge to end the semester with a felony criminal record, I instead, went to find any one of my friends which I had been neglecting to see if they could commiserate with me over a glass of wine and greasy food.  I found one and proceeded to tell her my story of woe over chicken enchiladas and too warm Cabernet.  As any good friend would do, she listened and drank and drank and listened. Finally at the end, she said, “so can we talk about my problems now, because this doesn’t seem all that bad?”  Correctly she summarized that with a B, even if I failed the final, I would still walk away with a high C.  Leave it to your friends to tell you, you’re being a baby without saying it in so many words.  So naturally, I listened to her story of woe and drank and listened and listened and drank. Frankly, her issue put my issue to shame. After a quick hug and a mutual pat on the back, we parted ways for home.

I was grateful.  Life for me, has actually gotten so good lately, that I was wondering, am I on some kind of a roll that has to end?  I’m happier than I have been in years, work and personal life are not just satisfying they are wonderful and full of great potential, and financially I may not be a millionaire but I don’t worry about money – what more could I want.  And that’s when it hit me, nothing.  The secret to being grateful, isn’t that you get everything that you always ask for it’s that you deserve everything you get.  To be honest, I probably didn’t deserve an A.  I could have done more and worked a little harder but I made some conscious decisions over the past two months at times not to.  The B I was getting from an academic standpoint is exactly what I deserved.  I also started thinking that I needed to view gratitude from a sum of the whole, not as a collection of the few.  What I mean is that I was so hyper focused on getting a letter grade of A in this one class, but what I needed was something more. What I really needed from Chemistry was to do well, understand the material, and leave better, more confident than I walked in.  I did do that, I actually conquered Chemistry and the fear I had when I walked in the first day was long gone.  Each time I do that in any challenge it makes me more confident for the next unknown that I have to face.  In terms of succeeding in Chemistry, I had gotten an A in the bigger picture of what I really needed from this class, not the one that I had thought.

I still have at least 6 more classes (I think) before I finish my undergraduate Bachelor’s degree. I have been plugging away every semester taking no less than 2 classes a semester non-stop. I don’t get a chance to blog as much as I used to between work, home life and classes but I’m still in it to win it! The pursuit of my degree continues and I can’t wait to report to all of you in larger than life bold letters that I AM FINISHED!  I hope I can come up with a more clever blog title than that; perhaps I will post a video of me doing a victory lap around the campus.  Either way I will be grateful to have shared the journey with each of you.

I’m Sorry For Your Loss

About three months, I sent my only child to college for her freshmen year and I experienced a tremendous loss that took me completely by surprise. I figured I would be a little sad but for the most part happy about this new chapter in both of our lives. After all, this is what I had been working so hard for all this time. I wanted her to grow into a beautiful, secure, smart young woman with all the advantages that I missed out on. Attending a great college after high school was one of those advantages. I cried for two weeks after she left and even months later, at times I find myself still sad at losing the little girl that once needed me for everything. Changing the nature of your relationship with anyone you love can be very painful and I have learned, takes time to adjust to. In my mind, the day I sent my daughter off to school was the hardest loss I had ever faced and I was grateful for each day that got easier and easier.

Flying Home

Flying Home

About three days ago, my phone rang at 2:00 am. It was my father’s nursing home informing me that he had passed away a short time ago and that they were “sorry for my loss”. I was in Dallas, Texas with friends for a weekend of fun and football. Standing alone in my hotel room, I realized that at that moment, listening to the calm voice on other end of the phone line was the worst loss of my life. My dad was only 71 years old, fairly young by todays’ standards. Everyone asks, “what happened?” People want an explanation, was it cancer, a heart attack, stroke. We want to know that “something” came along and ripped that person from you, and helps it all makes sense. I don’t have a good answer. It doesn’t make sense to me, I don’t think there is ever an answer that is good enough.

About a year ago there was a decision made to put Dad into a nursing home because he was sick and the caregiver he was with at that time no longer felt she could take care of him in her home. Dad hated being in the nursing home, and I knew it. Early on when I would visit, I could see how he disliked his surroundings and he wanted to go “home”. Part of me feels, he died not just because of his physical ailments but because emotionally he was unable to come to terms with his new environment and eventually he stopped trying. Medically, I know all the problems he had and the doctors have told me what happened, but in my heart I believe he gave up. During this year, at one point, I even gave up. I took a break from visiting my father. To be honest, it was because it was so hard. I had my mother living with me who is experiencing some aging challenges and I was wiped out. Every visit at the nursing home, became harder and harder. I would drive away in tears feeling angry that I could do nothing to make him happy and overwhelmed at what both my parents were experiencing. I had to take a break, to keep my sanity.

About four months ago Dad stopped eating regularly and he was taken to the hospital. A month later he was re-admitted again – dehydration. This time he was referred to the Palliative Care Unit, and a wonderful nurse was able to get through to him and he asked her to call me. He wanted me to make any of his final health decisions in case he could not. We got his wishes in what they call an Advanced Directive as to whether or not he wanted to be resuscitated should he stop breathing. During that week in the hospital, I stayed by my fathers’ side every day. I held his hand when he went for tests and treatments and signed whatever I had to see if we could make him better. Some days he seemed better and other days he froze me out and wouldn’t speak or even look at me. I never knew what would happen each day when I walked in, but I knew I didn’t have a choice anymore whether or not I could be there. He wanted me and I was there. When he was released from the hospital and returned to the nursing home, I promised him, I would be there every day and that I wouldn’t let him ever be alone anymore. I told him how sorry I was that I had stopped coming. I told myself every night after coming home, that it wasn’t my fault and not to beat myself up, but to be honest, that’s not an argument I won most nights.

About two weeks ago, I walked into my dad’s room at the nursing home for my visit and he was having a good day. As we sat in the room, he motioned that he was cold. It was one of those unseasonably warm October days that we get in New England so the A/C had kicked on in his room.  Speaking was almost impossible for him at this point because of the problems he had with this esophagus. Communications between us took the form of him pointing, me guessing and him head nodding. I grabbed a lightweight jacket out of his closet and in the pocket I found two lottery tickets, a book of matches and a pack of Newport cigarettes. I immediately thought to myself, oh no, I should have taken this out before he noticed them. But notice them he did, and my dad got what I can only describe as a Herculean burst of energy. You have to understand that my Dad weighed less than 90 lbs at this time and moving at all was a challenge for him. He was motioning so fast and so much that I finally had to get one of the aides to come in and help me because I couldn’t tell what he wanted. We finally determined he wanted to be in his wheelchair and wanted his sneakers on. Once we got that accomplished he wanted to go to the lobby. As I started to push him out, he signaled me to take my purse and backpack. I thought he just wanted them to be safe. By the time we got to the lobby I started to understand that he wanted to leave the building, he wanted to go for a ride! Being uncertain if he could leave or not, I checked with the staff but all along, I was thinking, I have back to back teleconferences for work which start in 15 minutes. I had only planned to be there for a lunch hour visit. I stood at the front desk waiting for an answer and I turned back to see my dad patiently sitting with his jacket and shoes by the front door, I knew that I had to take him. I also knew secretly, that it was those damn Newport cigarettes that had gotten me into this situation. When we got the green light from the staff, they helped me get him in my car. I put our seat belts on and started to drive, not knowing where we were going or what we were going to do. Somehow in the next 4 hours I managed to take the conference calls, drive my dad around town, show him the house I had bought which he had never seen, and do things that I thought he wanted to do. Our first stop was him signaling for fried chicken. I pulled into Popeyes and after some guessing and head nodding, we got his order of chicken and sweet tea and we pulled over and he ate like I had not seen him eat in months. I took him by my house and snuck him a few sips of beer, which I could only imagine had been years since he had last tasted.

My dad's last pack.

My dad’s last pack.

Next, I knew he wanted that damn cigarette. He had been fumbling with the packet and rolling one of those cigarettes around in his hand as soon as we got into the car. While he ate, he had put it behind his ear, something I remember him doing in his younger, healthier days.  After driving around for awhile I asked him if for dessert he wanted his favorite – a milkshake. He said yes. I knew the perfect place. One of my best friends, Laura, owns an icecream shop downtown and besides making the creamiest Strawberry milkshake on the planet, she also happens to be a strikingly beautiful southern belle. My dad’s eyes lit up when Laura knelt by his side, smiled and talked with him at the car door. She told him how glad she was to meet him and helped him sip his favorite shake. With my okay, she helped him take a few puffs of that cigarette he had been holding onto all trip long. When our ride was over, “Thelma and Louise” headed back to the nursing home and I got dad ready for bed. He looked at me and patted his chest and pointed at me. I thought for a minute he was having a heart attack because of all the excitement we had been through – perhaps my gorgeous girlfriend had been too much! I asked, are you okay!? He shook his head yes. Again, he rapidly patted his chest, this time I could tell it was directly over his heart and he jabbed his finger at me. A lightbulb went off and I said, “Oh, are you telling me that you love me?” He shook his head vigorously, up and down – yes. I looked at him and very matter of factly said, “Oh Dad I know that. Of all the things I know in my life, I have always, always known that you love me. I have never doubted and never will doubt your love for me.” He smiled, I fought back tears and I thought maybe he is going to be better because he just needed to tell me that and get out of this room for awhile. Maybe I have a second chance to do it better this time.

About five days ago, (two weeks after our Thelma and Louise ride), I kneeled at my dad’s bed to tell him that I was going to Dallas for the weekend with my friends. It was Friday night, I told him I would be gone for just 2 days and that I would be right back on Monday night. I told him I wasn’t leaving him that I would be right back and I would bring him a cool gift back from the stadium. I had been reminding him for a while about my trip because I didn’t want him to wonder where I was at. I wanted to make sure he knew I was there for him and that I would never abandon him. I kept telling him, I will be right back, I promise.

Every day over the last three days, someone new says to me, “I’m so sorry for your loss”. I don’t know how to respond. Every time it gets quiet and I am alone, my heart aches and I go through every possible emotion you can imagine. I wish for so many different endings.

I guess the best one I can imagine is that one day, I will be able to post the next chapter which I hope will go something like this…. About a year ago, I lost my father and I’m here to tell you, it gets better.

The Gift of Gratitude

There’s been a lot of talk recently about the importance of gratitude. I don’t know if it’s simply the latest social media wave or if it’s always been there and it’s just now infected me. You know how when you buy a new car, then all of a sudden you see the same car everywhere you go – it’s really self-awareness it’s “new-to you” not “something new”.

About 3 months ago I heard an inspirational speaker at a work conference and he spoke about the importance of gratitude. His speech struck a chord with me and from that day to this I adopted his gratitude suggestion. Simply put, when you wake up and your feet touch the floor, you do two things 1. Express what you are grateful for that happened the day before and 2. Envision something to be grateful for in the day ahead. He also added that when he thinks of the day ahead, he focuses on someone other than himself to have something positive happen to. I loved the idea and it seemed to align with so many other similar stories and messages that I had been hearing on how grateful people are happier people. Frankly, I can use as many injections of happiness as I can get, so I was up for it.

Ugliest toes in the world

Ugliest toes in the world

This is a picture of my feet which I now look at every morning. Let me start off by saying my feet are the absolute worst feature of my whole body. Too many years of too tight, and sadly in my early days, too-cheap heels, have left them an ugly mess. That being said, I do actually look down at them every day when I start my gratitude thoughts and I think as ugly as they are, I should be grateful for them too. I blogged awhile back about foot surgery and the pain I went through. Let me tell you it was WELL over a year before the pain went away and I am truly grateful that I no longer suffer with such agony.

I’d like to say that I have turned into the happiest person on the planet since embracing this concept, but that’s not altogether true. In my opinion, happiness will always be a fleeting, transitory state that comes and goes. I have good days and bad days, but for the most part many more happy days than sad. I can however say that my new gratitude mantra has changed my overall outlook and my ability to focus and direct myself. I really do wake up and appreciate things much more than I ever did. Instead of being frustrated or overwhelmed about my job, my bills or my college journey, instead I feel a sense of gratitude for what I was fortunate/blessed to have accomplished in all of these areas. That in turn allows me to get more done and more accomplished. Call it self-fulfilling prophecy, call it “The Secret”, or call it whatever you like. I truly believe with all my heart that we will always get what we want when we can figure out what it is, ask for it and focus on it.

One example as it relates to college. For a long while I have been avoiding finding out how long it will take before I finish my degree. In my head, I thought it was at least another two years or more. I was scared of hearing the answer, so I avoided it. This summer, during one morning conversation with my toes, I said…

  • I am grateful for completing Economic Geography this summer and getting an “A”;
  • Today, I want to make sure I know how many more classes I need to graduate;
  • And, for someone else, I hope that my best friend has a better experience during her second summer session than she did her first

Over the next couple of days I figured out a few things; first I needed 14 more classes to complete my Bachelor’s degree; second if I doubled up each semester, I would be finished in one year — Summer 2015, and third that I was only 3 classes shy from receiving my AS from the sister college where I have been taking reciprocal courses!

For this I am very grateful, and yes….very happy

And oh yeah, about my best friend who I added to that day’s gratitude speech….she not only loved her second summer class, she said it was the best one she has taken so far.

I think this Gratitude stuff works.

It’s Not Stalking If I Love You

I started worrying about my daughter when she was still just a thought in the very, very far recesses of my mind. I feared that I would never be a good enough person to raise someone to be an exceptional human being. I felt that my singular goal in life, if I chose to have a child, would be to make certain they made the world a better place than they found it because why else would (dare I say, “should”) we procreate. I was scared and awestruck at the responsibility. I avoided becoming a mother, because I didn’t think I was up to it. Fate apparently had other plans because seventeen years ago I brought this perfect little being into the world and the world witnessed the birth of an imperfect mother.

The wonderful thing about accepting that you are an imperfect mother is that you are fully aware that you can and probably should be doing things better, but you don’t beat yourself up over it. I love my daughter with my entire heart, body and soul and conceptually there is nothing that I wouldn’t do for her. That’s in “concept”; realistically, there are plenty of things I haven’t done. I remember when she was 11 and said to me, mom I have a splinter in my finger and it hurts. She “ouched” and hollered the entire time I tried to remove what was a microscopic sliver of wood. I was tired and had to work in the morning. Eventually I handed her the tweezers and sat a computer in front of her with a YouTube video on how to remove a splinter and said – “go for it, I’m going to bed”. Yes, Bad Mother award; but hey she got the splinter out and learned a valuable lesson about the importance of the internet and the fact that your mother places a high priority on her sleep!

Despite what I hope wasn’t too disturbing a story for you the readers, I’ve done things as a mother that are 180 degrees in the opposite direction. When my daughter started Kindergarten, I was a wreck about her taking the bus. Let me paint the scene, we lived in a lovely raised, ranch in a suburban town that was roughly 98.7899999% Caucasian with a median income of 100,000 — and this was fifteen years ago. We were the only minorities on our street and she was one of only 3 in the entire school. Yet when it came time to send her to kindergarten I seriously thought that if I put her on the bus something bad could happen. Perhaps the older kids would be mean to my little peanut, maybe they would bully her, maybe they would try to sell her drugs! In hindsight I realize I was out of my mind, but back then, I was torn between sheltering her and letting her experience the world. I came to a compromise those early days, and as I put her on the school bus that very first day, I waved and smiled as the bus rolled down the street. As soon as she was gone, I began to cry and behind my tear stained glasses, I ran in the house, threw on my sneakers and jumped in the car to follow the bus and ensure my child’s safety. I don’t know what I thought I would see, I just needed to feel that she was okay. I followed that big yellow bus through six more stops following a safe distance behind in case the bus driver “made” me – (yup, too much Law & Order). As the bus pulled up to the school, I parked across the street and strained my eyes so I could see if that little piece of my heart was smiling or crying when she descended. I never did see, I tried but I couldn’t tell. I saw her get off the bus and walk into the school and I thought, unless you plan to go inside and start hiding in the hallways, you probably should go home.

Her first day was fine, and in fact, to my knowledge no fourth graders ever tried to convince my daughter to snort cocaine on the elementary school bus. It would be years later before I told her about following her that first day of school. From that day of admission to this day, she thinks I am a freak for doing it.

As the years passed, I stopped following busses but I never stopped crying on the first day of school. Each first day of school my mind would fast forward to the fact that we were a step closer to her becoming more independent and to the day when she would eventually be on her own. A day when there would be no more busses I could follow.

This year, my ‘heart’ graduates high school and in the fall she will go to a college that is a five hour drive from our home. We both will be in college at the same time – kind of crazy! I am 10,000 times more scared and in awe then when I was considering whether I would be a worthy mother over seventeen years ago. I am both terrified and thrilled at the unknown. I’ve done a few decent things in my life that I am slightly proud of, but this kid, this daughter that I was blessed to be chosen to mother is the absolute best part of me and of my world. I now know that she will do amazing things and make the world a better place than she found it, because she’s already done it, just by being in my life.

This March, my daughter got her driver’s license. Her car (a birthday gift from dad) combined with hours of hair-graying -practice drives and paying what amounted to a small fortune in registration, insurance and drivers training fees, made her official. Her first day driving to school alone, I stood at the kitchen door as she came downstairs. She was beautiful…full of confidence and excitement, keys in hand, smile beaming on her face. She was 20 minutes earlier than when she needed to leave. I gave her a hug, told her to be safe and when the door closed, I promptly started crying.

And yes, you guessed it, I grabbed my sneakers, jumped in my car and followed her with tear stained glasses to the high school.

Unlike the elementary school bus driver, my daughter “made” me as she got out of the car. She looked over at me, shook her head, smiled that smile that melts my heart and mouthed the words, “you’re a freak.” Later that night she would tell me, I knew you would follow me. I don’t think she or I would have had it any other way.

It's Not Stalking if I Love You

It’s Not Stalking if I Love You

I will always be an imperfect mother and I will never get any Mother of the Year awards but I am positive I was wrong in thinking I wasn’t good enough to raise someone who would be better than my best dreams. If there’s an award for daughter of the decade, well then, as the kids say, “I have it on lock”.

“I love you for reading”.

I’m Back

One of the things I’m known for is telling crazy stories of things I have done or seen or witnessed. I love the stories and many times I add little bits and pieces to make it as entertaining as possible. I remember hearing a famous author (I think it was Wally Lamb) give a talk and say something to the effect that good fiction writers are really nothing more than pathological liars with a pen. I remember chuckling to myself thinking, he’s absolutely right.
I titled this blog Chasing Wonder Woman to allow me to write and do what I love, which is to tell my crazy and funny stories. My goal is to chronicle what I think is a super hero like fantasy many women have for themselves.

There are days when I think about writing to you about my love life (and lack thereof); about my family (the ones I adore and the ones that I want to strangle); about my job (don’t get me started) and of course about my friends. Frankly, all of these would make for a great movie or reality television show script. But this blog is really about my journey in college and not any of these other areas that would keep me and you amused. Maybe once I get my degree completed, I can focus this blog on one of those avenues. Who knows maybe by then there will be a Mr. Right in my life so I can chronicle how that works out.

Over the past few months, I have been absent – haven’t read your blogs and haven’t written very much. It’s not for lack of material or desire. Life for me; is like it is for all of you – too busy to do the things we love the most. I finished a great course last semester with an A and signed up for one of two summer sessions. I finally got smart enough to put in a request for tuition reimbursement from my company which will help with costs and while I still have a long way to go to finish my degree, this May I have witnessed two dear friends graduate as adult learners who returned to college – very inspirational!

I wanted to share a short message that I am back, sorry for the reprieve, and plan to do a better job staying in touch over the summer! One of my favorite television and radio personalities, Wendy Williams, ends every show with “I love you for listening”.

I want to mimic her by saying… “I love you for reading”; so don’t give up on me, I’m back!

Branded

blog

A few weeks ago I squeezed in attending a workshop for a handful of people within my organization selected to be a part of an inaugural protégé/mentoring program.  The workshop was titled “How to Brand Yourself” – – well it probably wasn’t really called that because that conjures up images of a branding iron and either horses or slaves, so I’m going to guess that they called it something else, but you get my meaning.  I arrived about 30 minutes late to the virtual workshop but what I caught was really very good. I wrote down on one of the hundreds of post-it notes that are scattered all over my dorm/office a challenge from the presenter … Fill in the blanks: “I want to be known for being ____ so that I can deliver _____ to _____.”  He dared us to complete that sentence as we attempted to discover our personal brand.  Moreover, he said, we could use it in both our professional and personal lives.

It’s been over 4 weeks since I attended that workshop and I find myself at times, looking for that scrap of paper so that I make sure I don’t forget to fill in those blanks.  You see, I really want to fill in the blanks.  It feels like something that not only I should do, but that I really need to do.

For the past 15 months, I have spent so much time being an over achieving employee, a bewildered student, a so-so mom, an elderly care-giver and let us not forget a jilted ex-lover that branding myself in a good light has been non-existent.  Week after week, month after month has gone by and I think to myself that I am grateful because my life is better than most.  But in my heart I feel like very little to rejoice over and I wonder what happened to my joy?  I believe I had it at one time, at least I think I did.

Since the time of Aristotle (throwback to last semesters’ Ethics course – – yikes), man has been asking the question that I now ponder of myself, why are we here, what’s the meaning of life, what’s my brand statement. Well maybe the great thinkers of all time weren’t quite thinking about the latter, but I believe they are all loosely tied to one another.  One day soon (I anxiously await), I will finish this undergraduate degree and I will put it behind me.  One day even sooner (sadly), I will stop having to baby my 17 year old.  She will be making grown up decisions on her own.  Sure, she will always need her mother, but not in the same way as today.  And someday soon (please God, sooner rather than later) I will stop being a Sourcing Manager for this nightmare of a position and I will advance to other work.  When all these things, that are so much a part of me now, wrap up, what will I look back on and say? Will I have found joy throughout the journey, so that when they come to an end I will say it was all worth it and I’m a better person because of it?  About seven years ago I dated a man who I believe was the one true love of my life. I remember saying to him, in his cozy condo, over large glasses of wine and even larger plates of pasta, “No matter what happens, no matter if this ends terribly, I will never regret one moment I spent with you. This was the best feeling I have ever had, exactly what I had always dreamed of, and I’ll never ever be sad it happened”.  I have dated a lot of men before and after him, and I’ve never said or even thought it with any other.

Makes me wonder, what else I feel that way about.  Being a mom? Of course, no brainer, my daughter is the most amazing person and the sole reason I haven’t tossed in the towel years ago.  Returning to school?  Yes, despite how much I hate the homework, and the expense and the juvenile classmates, I will never regret the decision to come back to college and finish my degree.  My job? Yes, even that.  Despite how much I absolutely hate pest control, office politics, and multi-client RFP’s, I will never regret the path that I took to get this role because I wouldn’t have advanced to this level without it.

I think the joy is there, underneath the layers of self-doubt and sadness I often feel, it’s there I just have to dig for it a little deeper some days, some months.  I have to be careful not to let my joy get over shadowed by the perils of a life unbranded.  So in that respect, I took my first stab tonight at my branding statements.  I think they may need a little tweaking and massaging here or there, but it’s a start. Let me know how you do with yours….

Professionally, I want to be known for being highly competent and trustworthy so that I can deliver positive, common sense results to people who trust and depend on me.

Personally, I want to be known for being worthy so that I can deliver joy and happiness to special people (and one day a special man) who loves me.

Sometimes I’m Proud

More often than not, if I were to say how I feel on any given day, it would be Sometimes I’m Overwhelmed or Sometimes I’m Filled with Self Doubt or Sometimes I Think I’m Super Fat.

Fortunately for me, the key word is “sometimes” — I don’t feel that way all the time or even often.  But every once in a while those nagging feelings of what I think I can’t do come to the surface and take hold like hungry ticks on a fat lap-dogs’ belly.

lifelineA few weeks ago I hoped that someone or something would throw me a lifesaver because I couldn’t breathe.  I am happy to say I found it bobbing up and down in the waters of my mind and I made it to dry land.  I do believe that writing this blog provides me with much-needed therapy.  I started this journey, not because I wanted to become a famous blogger, but because I felt it would motivate me and keep me from quitting.  That’s what it does.  Every post I write and every reply from one of my dear friends; every email I receive that someone new is “following me”, or “liked” my post is like a virtual hug that I feel here in my little “dorm room/office“.  I crave those hugs, I need them.  Sometimes I think I’m In over My Head but I know there are people reading this who believe without a doubt that I’m not; that “I got this”.

The good news is that I signed up for class again this semester! This is a 100% on-line class which fits in perfectly with my hectic life.  I’ve also taken a mental “chill pill'” when it comes to my new job in the new year.  I had to because I was quite literally  making myself sick with worry.  I am learning to say no to some things and how to say, I’m the boss and this is the way I want it to be done. Words I would never have thought I could say, never mind would feel the confidence to believe in after I say them.  But I do.  It’s empowering and it helps me get through the day and start to feel these small glimmers of, dare I say, — success (okay let’s just say, ‘not failures’).

Although its 22 degrees outside and a winter storm is blanketing my home like a scene from a snowpocalypse movie; technically its Spring in the world of academia.  So today its Spring for me too! This semester begins with a renewed sense of hope and a deep sense of gratitude for all of you who, whether you knew it or not, tossed me the life lines I needed.  I have to admit, I didn’t think I would be writing this message this way.  I thought it would be an explanation of why I had to take a short break, and filled with promises that I would return and not let myself down. But that’s not today’s message.  Today I’m still here, I’m still on this journey, and as I look back on the last few weeks, I have to say Sometimes I’m Proud Of Me.

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Kalia Kornegay

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