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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

I was an Angel Tree Kid

I was asked by a fellow blogger to write about my experience as an Angel Tree Charity recipient for her series on Holiday Giving. I thought I would share it here too. Also please check out Michelle's blog. She is a momma of 4 and writes with honesty, spiritual depth and humor   


I was an Angel Tree Kid

I am not sure what people envision when they pull a name off of the tree at Christmas, choosing a child to be gifted by your generosity. (That tree that usually stands near the checkout line of your grocery store or is in your church. )
Do you assume certain family situations. Races ? PoliticS? Welfare? And what happens to those kids?

I can't speak for all of those little angels. But I can speak for one. For a period of time I was an Angel Tree kid

Now to start I don't know if it was the official angel tree program. I am certain it was through our church. And someone shopped for gifts for me. Just like most programs. 

A little history: we were never on welfare. My parents were divorced. We actually lived quite well for a while on a small horse farm. But as time went on, things progressively changed. By my 8th grade year we were struggling.  My mom during this time worked a minimum of 2 jobs. I had 2 sisters, one was moved out/ to college(paying for herself) and working. We lived in a nice town. Were involved in sports, 4-h, horseback riding and worked. And maintained good grades. 
So why Angel tree? Well one job my mom had was Walmart. And another ad a Cna. Not well paying jobs. And to be honest, in retrospect my mom was not making the best financial decision s. she never touched a drug in her life. But I can see now that her brain tumors were affecting her back then. 

From what I am aware of we were on church support programs from that time on. I remember getting Thanksgiving baskets too. I think my mom let us know about where the gifts and food came from from the beginning. 

There are a few pictures and emotions that I connect with significantly. Good bad indifferent. SometimesI was grateful sometimes I was not. I'm just being honest. 


I remember one year receiving a Walkman or cd playerI had asked for. I cannot tell you how much that meant to me. I don't remember a single other gift I got that year. But this was what I wanted and I could listen to my music in privacy without criticism about choice or volume. It created a little world for me. ( this year i knew these gifts were from the program) and someone out there in the bigger world thought of me. My wants and hopes. 

After some recent discussion about used Angel tree gifts on Michelle's blog, I think about a gift situation with a "used" gift-not from Angel Tree.   I remember opening a gift in 8th grade from probably "Santa" that was clearly a well used puzzle. MY puzzle. Yes, one i already owned and had put together. I was  confused and disappointed. This was out of the ordinary. I wondered about my mom seriously. Not sure if it was her illness or we were that broke. But I wonder how embarrassing that was for her when I was clearly not excited about it. I wonder if parents feel that way when their kids get well loved gifts from strangers. 

As a recipient, I remember getting clothing that I loved and shirts that I did not. To get the gift receipt and exchange it for something I liked, just like any other Christmas present, helped me feel more normal and more myself ( since I already wasn't cool in hs) and that is an empowering gift. 

I asked my sister her thoughts looking back on it. The thing that stood out to her is that it helped her know that God didn't forget about us. Is there really anything else more important than that?
  (FYI she now is a Big Brother/Big Sister in her area and donates toys to needy kids every year) 

And now, that Angel Tree Kid, me, some  15-20 years later. Has a family. A masters degree. Helps people for a living. Lives comfortably. Is happy and extremely aware of how blessed she is. I look forward to sponsoring a few families through Catholic Charities, the main organizer of this program in our area. We have sponsored 2 families , 5 kids total. I take their list with me to the Day after Thanksgiving shopping to get good deals on a few things they want. I don't buy everything. I am not wealthy. But make sure some of their requests are filled as closely as possible. I even throw in something for the parent if there is any info. Like some pampering stuff or a gift card to a grocery store. 

And I do it out of a mix of emotions and reasons. Gratitude. Guilt. Fun. Excitement. Obligation. Charity. Self-fulfillment. Selfishness. Obedience. Empathy. 

I look forward to involving my toddler more in the future. To see a world of real struggling people out side of our own who need him. Showing people that God hasn't forgotten about them. If for nothing more than a coat or a toy. It doesn't take much. 

I guess what I am trying to say is that it matters. It matters to that kid, parent, family in the moment, and in years to come. 

So when you are considering what to do, in these tough economic times, to shop for a child you will never meet, when you see the tree...

I truly hope you consider choosing a name off that tree 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Parent therapist

I started working as a therapist before I had children.

And as a therapist, I have heard some outrageous, horrendous and unreal stories. 

And nothing prepared me for how being a parent has changed me as a therapist. What I focus on. How I hear stories. And how stories and which stories affect me most

Words that would have astounded me 2 years ago, create a momma bear reaction. Things done or said to a child in the past or present(Some tings I can call DCFS  for, some I cannot). I imagine for a second my child. If anyone were to ever say the things I have heard at work to my child... Please don't make me speculate the consequences.

And having to swallow my momma bear reaction and instead have a therapist reaction. Sometimes the hardest part of my job is this separation. Or allow them to merge somehow. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

jury duty

Last week I had the privilege to perform my civic duty, and headed up to the Lake County Court house for jury duty.

Some people loathe jury duty. For some reason trying to get out of it seems the cool thing to do. Like it is some sort of torture.

I for one , while inconvenienced with trying to plan my week and daycare, was kind of excited about it. I had no idea what to expect. All I did know, was that I had been warned that there would be an awful lot of waiting. So I prepared my ADD self like I was going on a long flight, with a bag of tricks. My bag included my Kindle, a for real book, my laptop and all possible plug ins for all things, including my phone.

While I generally love people watching, I wasn't sure how much excitement would happen while "sitting", and I was right, nothing happened. And there was a lot of sitting and waiting.

What I found fascinating was when the "jury lady"...the person in charge of the jury and jury quarters, came up to talk to the group and explain the process and why it was important that we were there. And what to expect if our number did get called. (And you do get assigned a number)

I thought I would share some of what she said...

First, in my county, only about 4% of all cases go to trial. So when they pool a jury, they prepare for enough jurors to cover 4% of all the possible cases that might go to trail docketed for that week. Obviously it never really gets to that 4% which is why so many people sit and wait. She explained that the very fact that we were there waiting makes a difference to those who are in the courts. Most people want some control over the outcome of their case. So they tend to plea down or settle or come to some compromise. Even at the very last minute. Putting a case in the hands of a jury, complete strangers, puts your fate completely out of your control. knowing we, the jury. are there and ready to go at any minute, puts most people into the position to settle.

So if we were to be called to a case, our number would be randomly called. If that was the case, you would be sent "upstairs", given a small schpiel on the case and then interviewed. Demographic questions, some silly questions like your favorite book , your criminal history or whatever they feel like asking or pertains to the case. If you were "accepted" as a juror, you get to sit a trail. It is also possible that an attorney would dismiss you for some reason or another. A few people's numbers were called. Mine wasn't for a trial. And I don't know what happened with those.

I was secretly hoping I would be called upstairs to interview for a trial. I mean, I was there, why not. However I was also realistic that if interviewed, I would probably not be chosen based on what I do for a living, and the criminal population I used to work with. I would be too "biased" But you never know.

Day 1, no such call happened. I did however  do some reading and caught up on Parenthood episodes for the season. By the end of day 1, they said that we were free to go home. Only if you were numbers 1-101 did you have to come back the next day. I was number 74

Day 2 I returned to continue with my emails an Parenthood and reading. it was weird to look around and see a whole lot less than 100 people. The "jury lady" explained that not all jurors come for various reasons. You are assigned your number before you verify if you can come. Lots of people move out of the county or are excused for some reason. Out of 101, there were 38 of us on day 2. Odds looked pretty good that I might be called to interview. Alas, again I was not. in fact 0 numbers were called upstairs on day 2 and we were sent home, as they knew that there were no other cases that would possibly go to trail left that week.

And thus ended my stint as a juror.

Other little facts and perks to being a juror.
1. i will be getting a check for $5 a day plus mileage. So it will be like $15-$20. maybe a dinner at Chipotle for the trouble?
2. They do give you $5 a day on your juror number to use at the courthouse coffee shop. Good for a latte and a scone(for me, not sure what anyone else chose). I'll take it!

They say the average number of years between getting called to jury duty is 30 years. So I guess I will be back after I retire. And Ben is married.

See, its not so bad.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Early rising

There is something to be said for getting up early. For a run. A shower. A cup of coffee before children arise. Checking email. Doing a devotion. QT with kitty.  To see the sun rise. I may not be able to enjoy all of these in the morning. But one sure is nice. 

I am also aware of the energy I have in the morning when I wake up early. It might take a few minutes, but the way I feel the rest of the morning and day is dramatically different. I am more energized, alert and present with my son and more productive throughout the day
Or those weekend mornings when I am up to get in a long run. I feel invincible those days afterward. It's the beforehand that I struggle with.  

The time difference I am talking about is not long. Say 30-60 minutes. Sometimes more. Sometimes less. 

So why then is it so darn impossible to get up in the morning? I love those extra 30 minutes in bed. I relish them. Sleep feels good in the moment. When I hear my little buddy waking up I get him and bring him into bed for some short lived snuggle time (he is ready to run in less than 5 minutes!!) and then I find that I am dragging the rest of the morning. I want to sit back and will myself to wake up. I do more watching my baby play then play with him. And count down the minutes till nap time. Not very "present and in the moment" 

I reflect on that this morning as I sit, freshly showered with my cup of coffee and banana. Feeling ready to start the day. Excited about what we can do. I am the one in charge, ready to take off in 5 minutes. And the day goes so much better!

It's like trading 30 minutes for an entire day. 

How do I remind myself of this in the morning? When I am dragging. When I want "5 more minutes in bed" and I get 7-8 hours of sleep a night. So I am not sleep deprived. 

(I am seriously open to suggestion) 

Talking to my hubby this morning as he got ready for work helped. Perhaps also creating a plan, though I am not much of a planner. It can give me a goal the moment I wake up. 

I want the day to be mine!

Any other ideas? Am I not alone in this?

Friday, November 8, 2013

Melanie's grave

This weekend takes me to part 2 of my Equine Assisted Psychotherapy training.
This and part 1 a couple of months ago took place in rural Elgin, west of St.Charles, Plano. Actually not far, about 10-15 minutes from my cousin.
But I haven't been in this specific area, where the therapeutic barn is, in over 15 years.

Its an area that I used to drive through often in my high school/4-H years. Each morning/evening I have been driving through this area, pieces of it begin to look familiar and take shape to a memory. Memories that feel like a lifetime ago.

I am fairly certain I passed by the barn that used to house the old 4-H open shows. I know that I passed by the large animal veterinary practice that I interned with my senior year of high school when I was certain I wanted to be a vet. I think I recognized one property that is now for sale as to belonging to an "Ursula" who was in a different 4-H club. So weird.

I like to vary my routes. So each of these I have passed on a different day in or out. But each day I have ended up passing by this old church. With its cemetery across the street. And my gut told me I knew this church. I had only been there once. For a funeral.

Today on my way out I finally stopped. I knew exactly where the grave was. Still. 15 years later.

It is Melanie's grave.

Melanie passed away 15 years ago almost exactly. She was driving back to school at Murray State in Kentucky. A driver in the other direction took his eyes off of the road for a second. Resulting in a head on collision.

I remember getting a call from my 4-H and high school friend. We went to the funeral together, to pay our respects. To her friends. to our 4-H friends. To her family.

The thing is, I really didn't know Melanie all that well. I knew who she was. We were always at the same horse events, shows, did this thing called "Horse bowl" and "hippology" and were on the same team. Melanie was a couple of years older. She was that girl who was gorgeous. She was good at everything. It seemed everything she touched turned to gold. She seemed to win everything at the fair. She was popular. She was smart. She was good people. Never got into any trouble. We did not talk much. And she was as intimidating as hell to me.

She had everything going for her. Her whole life ahead of her.
And in an instant. It was gone.

I recall being struck by a particular notion then, and it still does now: She was an only child.

She lived with her mom. I am not sure what the deal with her dad was. If there was a divorce, if he died, if I just never saw him, etc. But I do remember her being everything to her mom. (I did actually talk to her mom and was kind of drawn to her warm personality)

My heart broke for her.

And now, as a mom, my heart still breaks for her. And maybe more so. My baby is everything to me too.

And it hits a tender/sore spot in me. Her story is an example of while I love my son to pieces, I want a sibling for him. A #2 for me. And desperately. And its killing me that it hasn't happened yet. Even though there is still a ton of time.

Is it weird/sick/wrong to feel this way? maybe. But it is there.
Don't get me wrong, I don't just want another child as a "just in case". I love children and big families and God-willing I would happily have another 5 children. (and if I could only get Bill to be more open to adoption...) My biological clock doesn't have space for 5 more.

My superstition is keeping me very careful with my selection of words from here.

My greatest fear is here. In Melanie's grave.

And as I think of her mother, her poor mother, is her life any less valid because Melanie is gone? Is Melanie's life any less valid because it is gone?

Absolutely not. 15 years later, I still remember her. Her family does I am sure. Her 20 years of existence were full of life. They ripple out. her footsteps give meaning and life lessons to silly folks like me. Who were too afraid to ever talk to her.

But if I live my life in this fear, my life is saying that it is not valid.

All life, no matter how short, is valid. Has meaning. Is beautiful.

And so what is my take away?

I stopped at her grave site today. Her picture, in her prime, still shining on the stone like it was just yesterday. I said a prayer. And asked for strength to be ok with what is. To not be afraid of tomorrow. Of what I have been given or not given. But to live it now. With full attention to what I have now. Not to what could be or should be or I want to be. But what is.

Stop being so damn afraid.

It all comes down to value for me. We tend to value roles. People being useful. My head tells me I am valuable when I am doing things. When I can define myself. But my heart tells me otherwise. We are valuable because we are. No fill in the blanks. Whether I ever counsel, have another child, have physical ability to walk or talk or whatever. Value does not go up or down. It remains the same.

And so it is.
Melanie is valuable.
Melanie's mom is valuable.
A newborn baby is valuable.
Ben is valuable.
I am valuable.

You. Are. Valuable.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Second half

It's been almost 2 months since I ran my second half marathon in September. I have had things to say about it but struggle feeling braggy about running stuff and accomplishments. 

Since this blog is about personal growth and i have grown from this experience. lets do this.

Can I start by saying this race took place in Racine WI. Not known for being particularly special or beautiful. In fact my husband lovingly calls it a"dump town" I can hardly ascribe that name to it after some of these views along the route


Perhaps I am too quick to accept a label

Also I have really begun to enjoy this running thing. It is so mind clearing when I do it alone. I did most of my training alone. 
I did start to get to do my long runs with others. With Sandra who was training for a full. With Alana who would run the Racine race as well. These 2 make 6 am look good. And it's easier to get up when you have others waiting for you. And let me tell ya, 10 miles goes faster and easier with other people. 

When it came to race day, I had been assuming Alana and I would be running our own seperate races. Alana is a more natural athelete than i and believe it ir not, more competetive! Only the day before did she reassure me that we would be running together. (She says she can do short races fast. 13.1 was a whole nother beast)

And so we ran it. Along the Lake Michigan shores. Chatting. Commenting on what we saw. Talking to a few other runners. A guy from Michigan was on a similar pace to us and all smiles. We passes a girl around mile 10 who had an accomplishment pasted to her back of having lost 120 pounds. I was in awe. Alana's dad showed up at a few hilltops along the way to cheer on his only daughter. 

It got hard at a few points. We pushed through. Alana picked up the pace. We started to cheer on those around us. And those we passed going the other way at the double back spots. Ahead or behind. 

I remember near the end we both had this feeling that we were holding the other person back and encouraged the other to go on if it was too slow. I knew we both would finish. But neither of us would leave the other behind. We had come too far together. The last mile seemed like 5. And I needed her encouragement. And we pushed on. 

And in the end I made my 3 goals. I finished. I did not walk. And finished at 2:30(and 30 seconds). For a while that 30 seconds was really bugging me. But have since let it go. 

And now I am scouting for new goals. I have few in mind (maybe a tri. Maybe a full) and plan on starting official training at some point soon. 

And to be honest I am a little nervous of doing a long race myself. I have trained alone. But done the dirty deed with others by my side. And I love it that way. It's so much better. It's more fun. It's more encouraging. 

Life is better when run with others