Was it my time?

Obviously not or I wouldn’t be writing this. Could it have been the day my ticket expired? Maybe. Last Monday morning I didn’t sleep well, waking frequently with a mild headache and a general feeling of unease. I woke my 16 year old that morning by knocking on his door and went downstairs to finish getting ready. When he came down for breakfast we started having a conversation where my words were coming out slurred. He asked me if I was drunk and I said of course not, it was 8:30 in the morning! When I answered him I could hear it, the slur. I said a few more things that became even more slurred and he said, well then you’re having a stroke. It was the most surreal experience I’ve ever had. It was almost as if I was looking at the scenario as a third person. I remember thinking, hmm maybe he’s right, I might be having a stroke. The rest of the morning is a blur, filled with the emergency room, a CT scan, and people talking to me too fast for me to process what they were saying. I had become unable to speak shortly after I arrived at the ER. I was given TPA, which is a clot-busting medication and transferred to the ICU. I was very lucky my son was home because I don’t know that I would have had the wherewithal to know what was happening or call someone for help if he wasn’t here. Now I get to spend the rest of my days listening to my youngest son tell me he saved my life inferring payback is warranted. I say that jokingly. It scared the crap out of him but it didn’t take long for him to start cracking stroke jokes after he realized I was going to be okay.

When my wife and other children showed up I was not able to speak. I really did not want the kids there because I didn’t want them to be scared. It’s weird the things that you think of when something like that happens. I was more worried about them being worried than about myself. Anyway it’s been about 10 days now and I need to keep that in mind when I become impatient with myself. I am not a patient patient.

I’m grateful that I still have 6 weeks before our big trip. I am worried about my abilities and I’m actually a little scared. We have so much on our agenda, New York for 3 days, Cartagena Colombia for 3 days, Santa Marta Colombia for 5 and then 7 days in the Riviera Maya, Mexico. This is where reminding myself that it’s only been 10 days and not to future trip would come in handy.

Well; if I wasn’t already committed to retiring early and getting the hell out of Dodge, I would be now. My job, that I love, is extremely stressful. I went to work on Tuesday and didn’t say anything, I mostly just observed Court and by 3 in the afternoon I was exhausted. I run three businesses so easing back into work is almost a joke but I have excellent colleagues and co-workers that are making it as smooth as possible.

I’m 43 years old. My sister died of a ruptured brain aneurysm at 47. I have another book to write (both literally and figuratively) and I’m not ready to go. I finally have everything in order. My kids are almost all adults and doing well, I have the woman of my dreams, and I have plans!! I am extremely grateful the universe extended my ticket with a reminder to be brave, you only die once.

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Back to what?

As labor day came, so did the flurry of Facebook posts of people sharing pictures of their children on their first day of school. In our house and for the first time in over 20 years, I had nothing to share. My youngest son is only a junior but we live in a state where juniors and seniors get to take their classes at the college for free and have them count towards their associate’s degree as well as their high school diploma. The fall quarter doesn’t start for another couple of weeks and even then I highly doubt he will let me take a first day of college picture of him though that won’t stop me from trying! This week we are also celebrating my second oldest son’s graduation from massage therapy school. About a month ago my wusband decided he would take a 3 week long trip to Colombia starting this week as well. (Apparently my ideas are contagious!) It’s just such an odd yet proud feeling, watching them grow up and become adults with careers and significant others.

Thanks to significantly dropping mortgage rates, my wife and I recently refinanced our home and will save hundreds of dollars per month in mortgage payments. The idea is going to be to hang on to the house and rent it out while we are out of the country. We have also decided that we need to do the majority of our traveling in the next two and a half years as we will be pretty limited once we no longer have the same income that we have become accustomed to. This is not necessarily a bad thing but trying to run a few different companies, plan for vacations and relocation scouting trips, and focus on my family has proven to be somewhat overwhelming. I am a planning fanatic so in the back of my mind I keep feeling like I’m missing something for upcoming trips. I’m trying to practice flexibility because I know I cannot possibly anticipate everything that might go wrong. I used to be extremely anxiety ridden over trips when the kids were younger and when we had less money. Over the years I’ve learned to be more fluid and the family is pretty much running itself. As a matter of fact I agreed (somewhat reluctantly) to cancel the car reservation for our upcoming trip to Colombia. Based on feedback from locals, it’s easier and more affordable to use taxis and public transit. We shall see! I’m sure we will learn more when the wusband returns. Talk about brave! His first solo trip and he sets out to Colombia.

My oldest son is spending a lot of his time down in Oregon building a timber frame home and living his best life. My third oldest son transferred from Montana State back to Washington so he will be starting at Western in the winter. He’s not sure what career path he will be going down and that’s okay, he is only 19 after all. I’m 43 and I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up! I’m so proud of all my boys. ❤️❤️❤️❤️

So they’re you have it. They’re is no “back to” anything. The only things guaranteed in life are change and death. Being brave requires a step outside your comfort zone. I can see resilience and bravery in every one of my family members and I could not be more proud.

Who are you?

More importantly, who aren’t you? I am not a Mathew McConaughey follower by any stretch. Sure, he’s entertaining and not hard on the eyes (all right, all right, all right…. ) but he isn’t someone I’ve ever viewed as a guru. Until today. I came across this video on Facebook and to say it struck a cord doesn’t begin to describe the way it spoke to my soul.

Since I was raised without any sound guidance or a positive parent role model, I used what my mother would do as an example of what NOT to do myself as a parent. Mr. McConaughey’s video emphasises just that. To find yourself and define who you are, you must first define who you aren’t and who you don’t want to be. The emphasis is on controlling your environment. Don’t be around anyone or anything who antagonizes your goal and life’s purpose. My mother has served me well and when I’ve deviated from my, if my mom would do xyz then do the opposite, mentality, we have all paid the price. Since I am in the home stretch of having minor children (1 year 8 months but who’s counting?) and I am focusing on the future, this could not be more timely. I feel, and I mean really feel, very mindful of the message in the video. From time to time I question the decision I’ve made about my future plans so this is an excellent affirmation. I do not want to live in the US anymore. I am done with the rat race.I don’t want my children to be afraid of the unknown, or of taking calculated risks. I do not want my life now to be the end of my story. I want more than anything to help children in a developing country and to be able to work on my book and truly live my life. I know who I am and who I am not and I know what is important to me.

I have another life ahead of me. I know it lies in another country and I know being idle won’t get me there. I am looking forward to getting to know the future me as I continue to grow and embrace what I desire from the one life I’ve been given. Sometimes I need the reminder to be brave, I will only die once!

Hosting a Colombian host

I wasn’t able to post at all during the month of July because we were lucky enough to have visitors almost the entire month. Early in the month, my surrogate family came as well as my best friend and her husband to celebrate my birthday! After they left, we spent 8 days hosting a gentleman from the Colombia government who had chaperoned children over to stay with their potential adoptive families. What an absolute treat that was!

It all started with a random question from my colleague and friend over lunch a few months ago who worked with an international adoption agency. “Hey, do any of you know someone who would be willing to host a Colombian host for awhile this summer?” Of course I wanted to jump at this opportunity! First I had to make sure my wife was on board as she is much more of an introvert than I am and was probably going to think this was a crazy idea. I on the other hand, thought it was going to be an experience of a lifetime! When would we ever get this chance again? We have been researching for months and now we have the opportunity to hear first-hand experience from somebody who not only lives in Colombia but also works for the Colombian government in the foster care system! The universe could not have been more perfectly aligned.

We were given a short bio on our guest, he worked as a psychologist for the central authority working with children in the foster care system. His interest included Mozart, theater, and heavy metal. From the moment we met him I felt that there is this instant connection, likely because our worlds already overlapped in so many areas. Miguel was kind, helpful and anything–but obtrusive. Socially we shared the same values and beliefs.

Miguel is at the end of the table standing next to me

Because our line of work and interests overlapped, I brought him with me to work and he was able to meet several of the judges and players in the county that I work in and observe our court system. Listening to his observation of our court system and how civil he believed we were to each other in court was really an eye-opener for me. Sometimes I become extremely frustrated in the line of work that I do, though I love my colleagues, and listening to Miguel’s experience opened my eyes to how good we do have it here.

Miguel told stories of corruption in the central authority in Colombia and how there is a real lack of care for the children at all and that they might as well be treated as random numbers. I heard of stories where social workers would just swap the names children on reports and submit them. Some social workers wouldnever even see the children they were making recommendations for. It was not uncommon for the only reason the were social workers had the job was because they had a friend that got them the job and they were paid decently but they really had no desire to do that line of work.

We learned so much from Miguel during his stay. We learned that Colombia it’s experiencing a regression under the new president and there is an increase in Narco activity along the Pacific side of the country. He spoke of poverty, homelessness and drug addiction being issues but it seemed like the biggest issue was poverty. He did say the US was the biggest “client” the Narcos had. He said the tourist areas and more affluent parts of the country are not necessarily impacted and he believes it would be completely safe for us to rent a car and travel the route that we have mapped out.

When it was time for Miguel to leave us, Lisa and I felt genuine sadness. He quickly became part of our family and will always have a place in our hearts and our home. Maybe we will be fortunate enough to host him again next year and we will definitely look for a reason to visit him and meet his family in Pasto.

Hasta luego, Miguel!

Self Actualization

Maslow’s hierarchy of need is a stripped down analogy of what we, as human beings, need in life. There are 5 progressive levels of this pyramid and it starts with the most basic needs; food, air, water, sleep. Second up is safety and security, this is followed by social; love and belonging. The fourth tier is esteem; you are respected and you have respect for others. The last tier is self actualization; the need for development.

Maslow called the bottom four levels of the pyramid ‘deficiency needs’ because a person does not feel anything if they are met, but becomes anxious if they are not. It is not until all 4 deficiency levels are met that a human can focus on the last level and even then, self-actualization (per Maslow) requires uncommon qualities such as honesty, independence, awareness,objectivity, creativity, and originality. I, like many others, learned of Maslow’s hierarchy in an intro psych class decades ago. I believe it makes great sense though I don’t know that I buy into the idea that only a few privileged people will achieve this enlightened state.

My entire life has been chaotic from as long as I can remember. My twin brother and I rounded out the last six children in my family and we’re primarily raised by a sister that was 10 years older than we were. (can you imagine raising two year old twins when you were 12?) It has been my experience that having such a rough upbringing has resulted in several long term issues as an adult. Through my work, I have become very familiar with the ACE’s studies and I believe I don’t need to say much more than, my ACE score is an 8.

One area that has daunted me the most is purpose. I have struggled almost all of my adult life to fill a a vast void with distraction, service to others, material things, etc. Though this void wasn’t present when I didn’t know where I was going to sleep or how I was going to get formula for my oldest son 25 years ago. This makes sense when you look at the pyramid. As things settled for me over the years, I have been most fulfilled when in my role as a mother, working with abused and neglected children, being a foster parent, a gestational surrogate, etc. My level of contentment revolved around service to others. My ex husband (Wusband) was an excellent support person and would remind me that I could not distract my way to happiness or fill it with material things. I wasn’t sure what was missing in my life but a large something was and the more things settled, the bigger the void became.

If you look back at the pyramid, you can see that one of the most core needs is belonging. Love/loving/loved and inclusion are paramount. I certainly have been loved by many others in my life but I struggled for decades with self love and acceptance. It wasn’t until I came out three years ago (at 40) that I began to feel comfortable in my own skin but then the focus was on family, minimizing harm to my children, half who were still under 18, and adapting to a new role. My soon to be ex husband and I concocted a plan on how and when to tell the kids and what life was going to look like as co parents after 18 years of marriage. It was not an easy road to go down and while my Ex knew I had some “tendencies” my children had no idea and were practically blindsided. I spent the first 18 months out of that relationship distracting myself with another and as you can imagine, that blew up with fantastic success! I did feel more comfortable as a lesbian, in public, at home, work,you name it, than I ever have as a straight woman but there was still something missing.

After the complete annihilation of what my life used to look like along with some extremely stressful life events, things began to settle down during the last 18 months. While I was busy working on a new non-profit (distract,distract,distract!), being a mother, an employer, an advocate, a friend, and a partner, my life shifted gears yet again. It feels as if it almost happened without my participation or knowing. All the desires to fill the void had been gone and for who knows how long? I wasn’t paying attention. What finally clued me off was a bout of insomnia a few days ago when I realized I no longer had that feeling that something was missing. I can be pretty oblivious.

So this is what it looked like… Laying in bed, trying to fall asleep and thinking about how I would like to add alternative titles to this book I am working on and give a little explanation as to why, “My sisters/cousins” would have been appropriate or “Leave my liver out of this!” and finally settled on the one I chose (no telling) and why. When reflecting on the alternative titles,I felt nothing. And I mean, nothing except contentment. This is a brand new experience for me. When I realized this void I had been dragging around forever had somehow disappeared and I didn’t even recognize when or how it happened, I felt blindsided myself. How did this happen? What have I done so differently? I had embraced myself. I was able to do so because I am in a healthy and happy relationship. Not just with myself but just about everyone else in my life. My wife is incredibly supportive and loving and creates a safe space for me to be me. There is no drama, there is no toxicity, there is no pretending to be someone I’m not. There is no judgement. There is no need to search for something as I completely unknowingly had satisfied all 4 need levels of Maslow’s pyramid. Don’t get me wrong, this was not an easy task and it came from identifying and pursuing my needs as well as recognizing and adjusting toxic relationships (family and friends) and loads of therapy. I am sure there is a lot more to it but that’s my limited insight.

The last three years have been quite an experience and I do believe I had to go through all of the bad to get to the good. I am extremely optimistic about the future and pushing the limits of what I am capable of now that I have this new found freedom. I feel more certain now than ever that early retirement=finish book. I am not saying I have achieved “Self Actualization” but I do know I have never been closer.

But what about family?

Today is the last day of school for my 16 year old son, next year he will be a Junior. He is the last of 4 boys who range in age from 16-25. My family is, and has always been, the focus of my life. Slowly becoming an empty nester has made this inevitable transition easier. I have gone from buying 2 gallons of milk at a time to 1, then to a half. I remind myself that one of the two things guaranteed in life is change, the other is death.

Moving to another country, away from my children, will not be without struggle. Even though the majority of them have moved out and are adults, we still have regular family dinners, celebrate holidays and birthdays together and have the random lunch dates just to catch up. As exciting as it is to plan for the future, I continue to have a little momma bear sitting on my shoulder, whispering to me horror stories that might succumb the children if I am not physically present. I flick her off and remind her I have tried to teach my children to be brave, fearless, and to pursue their dreams. Who would I be if I let her keep me from mine?

In researching Colombia, it appears that when we apply for a (M) Migrant or (R) Resident Visa, that children under the age of 25 can obtain a beneficiary Visa. That takes care of my youngest 2 of 4 should they want to spend some time in Colombia. My oldest is a frequent traveler to Costa Rica-he is a bit of a gypsy so I imagine he will make his way to visit plenty of times. My second oldest son talks about traveling with his long term girlfriend during a gap year to Central and South America. My hope? They love it and want to stay but even if they don’t, who is going to pass up a couple of weeks a year with mom on the Caribbean coast? We are keeping some property in the US, whether it is our family home that we rent out or a small apartment is yet to be decided but there will be plenty of coming and going We are trying to be as realistic as possible so we are concurrently planning on returning to the States after a decade or so, should we chose.

As much as I remain family focused, I also remain committed to living my life to the fullest and being the brave, daring, bold, mother that has tried to teach them that they can do, be, accomplish whatever it is that sets their soul on fire. I just might do so while wiping away tears in the grocery store while buying a quart of milk.

Work…a four letter word

There is a bit of a phenomenon that happens when people decide to retire and I bet you can guess what it is…. Short timers syndrome! Ok, I am not really there but let me tell you that after spending the month of May attending a few different conferences and meetings only to have your worst suspicions confirmed, it is disheartening and makes me wish I could speed up the clock! Actually, it makes me wish I could wave a magic wand or say a spell and *POOF* every family would be healthy, loving, and functional. I work in child welfare and the last few years have been exceptionally hard. My role is to recruit,train, and supervise child advocates to represent children in court who are in the foster care system. Not exactly work for the faint of heart to start with.

I absolutely love my job. I love the kids I work with. I love most of my colleagues. I hate stifling and ill fitting policy and bureaucracy. I hate that our social workers are not paid or supported enough and this leads to significant turnover which leads to delayed permanency for our kids in care. I hate that parents are generally only given two, two hour visits per week if they need to be supervised because the Department lacks the resources to provide more and frequently, even those minimal visits aren’t happening.

Earlier this month I was interviewed on a local radio station about what it is we as CASA’s (Court Appointed Special Advocates) do and how we can make an impact on the life of a child in system. (You can listen to it here if you are interested) I stressed the importance of CASAs and GALs (Guardian ad Litems) in the current turmoil that our county is experiencing. If you are interested in learning more about becoming a CASA, visit www.wacasa.org for Washington State or www.casaforchildren.org in other states.

While I can neither speed up the clock nor wave a magic wand, I can focus on what I can do over the next 2 years, 10 months and 17 days to improve anything and everything in my control to help the system run better. Our kids deserve to have visits with their parents, they deserve to go home if it is safe enough, they deserve to be adopted when reunification isn’t an option, they deserve to be loved. They deserve to wonder what they will be when they grow up and they deserve to sit on this side of the keyboard, planning for their retirement.