Moments Matter

Breaking Through

I stared down at the blank desk. My eyes glazed over in a daze. The teacher’s voice sounded like a jumbled drive-thru speaker. Suddenly, I was startled by a stack of papers that were slapped down in front of me on the first day of school.

My first day of sixth grade with my two younger sisters in 1982.

“People, wake up and smell the coffee,” the short, fiery red headed woman lectured.  I rolled my eyes. I didn’t even drink coffee.

I wasn’t just any sixth grade student. I was unengaged, uninspired and uninterested in school coming from a home that did not embrace education.

My mom would say: “The life you have is the life you have.”

Options for my future strongly suggested by my parents were: trucking school, beauty college, or joining the military. Don’t get me wrong, these are all fine, respectable careers, but not my dream career.

However, in 1982, my sixth grade teacher Mrs. Dixon changed everything.

Inspiring Messages
“This is your life – take control of it,” she continued while writing in a flurry on the chalkboard. She turned, her blazing blue eyes piercing through mine.

She wasn’t like any of the other teacher I had before. Put simply: she genuinely cared.  That was my break though.

I began focusing on her inspiring messages of alertness and hard work – and she took no excuses. The dog ate my homework, or in my case, my dad spilled wine on my math, never cut it with Mrs. Dixon. These would be lessons that would follow me throughout my life. I needed her firmness and direction.

I needed to know she cared.

Strength From Within
I thought of Mrs. Dixon earlier this week when my eight-year-old daughter was in Karate class. My daughter, like many children her age, can sometimes be unfocused and unmotivated.

Her Karate Master is rigid and takes no excuses. Hard work is rewarded and lackadaisicalness is penalized. Much like my sixth grade teacher Mrs. Dixon.

This week was especially critical in karate. My daughter was being challenged to break a wooden board using only her hand. She confided her insecurities with me.

“What if I can’t do it? I’m just eight, mom,” she whispered.

I responded that strength doesn’t always come from the outside, but from the inside. And that it only takes one person to believe in you.

The board-breaking day arrived. I had butterflies in my stomach. What if she didn’t break the board? Would her confidence be blown? I didn’t discuss with her if she didn’t do it. What then?

The Karate Master called her forward. He demonstrated his confidence in her by running through a few pre-board breaking exercises and practices.

My daughter breaking her first board with her Master in karate class.

Finally, staring in her eyes, he asked, “Are you ready?” She shook her head and said, “Yes, Master.”

With precise speed and aim, she broke the board into two unequal jagged pieces within seconds. In respect to her Master, she bowed to him. He returned the bow.

Before graduating from high school, I sent Mrs. Dixon and invitation to my graduation ceremony. That was my way of “bowing” to this woman who helped changed my life, forever.

I knew in my heart that our meeting was part of my life journey. Through tears of frustration in school, I felt alone many times. I knew in my heart, though, that I was never alone. My Master had always been with me.

After high school graduation, I had decided to give college a try. And, I also gave coffee a try. (No eye rolling this time).

Besides making the decision to go to college rather than pursue a vocational career selected by my parents, I needed someone to believe in me in order to reach that break-through moment.

Just like my daughter needed someone to believe that she could break that board – one break-through moment at a time.

Did you have a break-through moment that changed your life? Did you have a role model who motivated and inspired you? Where does your strength come from?

 

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Cowboy Hands

His large thumb joints protruded while holding the rope in his right hand. Callouses peppering his palms like a small checkerboard.

He sat with the chair turned backwards, legs spread in his Wrangler jeans. There was a permanent outline of a circle embedded on the back pocket from where he kept his chewing tobacco. The copper spittoon full of brown sludge lay to his side.

He roped the piece of wood for it seemed like the millionth time.

Photo attribution: Flickr by Jerolek.

I sprinted by giggling at the age of five. As if to say, “Catch me if you can.”

Game on. He stood.

The rope above his head made a perfect circular-shaped lasso. You could hear the whishing sound cut the air. I tightened for the inevitable. The rope slipped around my ankles and within seconds, I fell to the ground.

I grabbed at the dead grass fleetingly while my brother pulled his prize towards him. “Dang, girl that’ll teach you,” he muttered.

That’s a snapshot of my older brother at the age of 16. Even though he was a rather introverted guy, he had dreams to win the big state rodeo team roping championship.

In roping, there is a header, who ropes the steer first, and a heeler, who comes in second and ropes the steer’s hind legs. The event is timed, with the clock stopping only when no slack remains in the ropes and the horses of the ropers are facing each other.

The event is more complicated than it appears, involving not only strength and agility, but also impeccable timing. He and his partner lost in the final round of the championship. He never quite recovered.

When he wasn’t in his jeans, boots, cowboy hats and oversized, ornate belt buckles, you could tell just by looking at his hands – he was a genuine cowboy. The distinct characteristics of his hands told the story of the rugged outdoor life.

Moments Behind Our Hands
I thought of my brother’s cowboy hands the other day while reading fellow blogger Molly Field GrassOil‘s post of 100-words of gratitude. She described appreciation for her “writing hands.” I imagined the passion behind each keystroke. Her words flowing effortlessly on the page like an artist painting on canvas.

After reading her beautiful post, I looked down at my hands. My nails short, peeling and unpainted with a small callous on my palm from my wedding band. I noticed one little vein popping out on the top of my right pointer finger with speckles of brown spots.

I felt such deep appreciation for my hands and all they do. How they define us in many ways. As a mother, wife, cook, server, baker, writer, fighter, peacemaker, cleaner, joker, dreamer, lover and storyteller.

Our hands are there for us during life’s moments. I also thought about the hands of my  family members – and their moments.

I thought of my mom’s thick muscular fingers working tirelessly for 40 years as a hairdresser. At the age of 70 now, her various scars still remain from scissor nicks and scalding iron burns. She used her hands to help bring joy to older people by making them feel loved and beautiful – inside and out.

My dad’s hands are tough as leather and always look as if he just stepped out of a mechanic shop. He’s a retired blue-collar worker, who changes the oil in his truck. He’s also a war hero. I envisioned him loading weapons in the Vietnam War under attack with his fingers trembling – helping to protect his brothers.

Closing my eyes, I remembered my Great Grandmother Sadie, who died at the young age of 92 in 1992. I held her small, arthritic, crooked hands in mine before she passed away.

These Little Hands
Of course, I couldn’t help but think about my two daughters’ hands. In the delivery room after birth, their miniature fingers and hands fascinated me. The softness of their hands untouched by time.

And, oh, the moments to come for these little hands…

But I am not going to look ahead. I want to stay right here, right now. I want to relish in all the handholding, boo-boo kissing, craft making and piggyback rides.

My hands are soaking in these moments.

My husband and I know it’s also “game on” as parents. The clock is ticking – and so much of being good, loving parents depends on our strength, agility and timing.

You know what else? I think we already won the championship of a lifetime – hands down.

What do your hands say about you? Do you have any family members whose hands help define who they are; or do you have any significant memories related to their hands?  I’d love to hear!

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Each Breath

First kiss from my newborn niece more than 17 years ago.

Editor’s Note: This post of gratitude is dedicated to my niece, Courteney. You are so brave. I loved you from your first breath.

I held my baby niece close.

Her breath warm on my cheek.

She teetered, tottered.

But it grew dark one day.

Fighting for her life in hospital sheets.

Needles poking.

Her life changed forever as a Diabetic at eight.

Now, she’s a beautiful 17 carrying an iPhone, going to dances and football games.

Grateful for each breath, she wrote a post on Facebook…

 

521643_2493669436894_1188210607_nSo I put this up every november, just a little later into the month this year!

It’s Diabetes Awareness Month.

IT isn’t pink or sexy, it doesn’t involve boobs, football players, or cute shirts. It’s about being thankful that your loved one wakes up in the morning. It’s about 3A.M. blood checks, needles, low blood sugar, and the smell of insulin on your hands after changing the pumpsite or filling the syringe.

That’s A Diabetic’s Life.

Nearly 26 million children and adults in the United States have Diabetes. Visit American Diabetes Month to learn more about this deadly, life-altering disease.

*Kudos to Blogger Grass Oil by Molly Field who is hosting an extravaganza of 100-words of gratitude, including this post. So head on over to Molly’s place for some inspirational thoughts this Thanksgiving week.*

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Can’t Take the Country Out of the Girl

Yesterday I had to do something repulsive: retrieve and discard of a dead mouse that was dropped by a bird in our backyard.

A sliver of my backyard farm as a child.

I cringed. I gagged. I tried to pump up my courage by repeating to myself: “Come on, you can do this. After all you grew up on a farm!”

Holding my breath, I scooped up the lifeless creature and made a dash to the trash. Then, it dawned on me – I’ve been citified.

I didn’t actually know it – but there is such a term in the dictionary. Citified means: “of, relating to, or characteristic of a sophisticated urban style of living.”

I was a little bit blue about it. Not only did I feel like a big wimp for how I handled disposing of the animal carcass. But I felt even worse – as if a part of me had also died.

Breaking Citification
Growing up for the first eight or so years of my life on a farm were the most happy, memorable days of my childhood.

I have fond memories of eating juicy apricots right off the tree and running barefoot through the backcountry.  There were no blaring TVs, Internet, e-mail and messaging pings, Facebook, or too-close-for-comfort neighbors.

Now, I can hear our neighbors slam a door, or talk on the phone. I drive to the grocery store – instead of picking vegetables from a garden. I flash my gym card while wearing a cute little workout outfit. I go to Starbucks and shop at Target.

Don’t get me wrong – I am not complaining. Life is good – no, life is GREAT.

However, it has always been a dream of mine to return to the country to live – and possibly raise my own children. That’s not in the cards right now.

But how can I bring a little slice of country to my citified lifestyle? How can I break away from these modern conveniences? Or do I really want to break away?

Our Convenient Life
This idea of returning to my roots flooded back to me this last summer when we took a family vacation to visit my sister in Northern California who lives on a farm.

My two girls hanging on a country fence.

Before the trip, I was so excited that my girls would experience the farm life – with lots of animals, picking walnuts, listening to a symphony of crickets and watching the dancing fireflies in the pure night air.

Overall, we had a great trip. At times, though, I felt inconvenienced. It was too dark, or too cold, or we were too far from town to take advantage of the city’s conveniences.

That’s it – the conveniences. We are all living in a state of convenience. These are not needs, but wants.

This epiphany hit me while sitting on the couch at my sister’s ranch-style home. I suddenly jumped up and told my two daughters and husband that we were going to explore the farm.

They whined for a few minutes, but once we hit the sunshine, fresh air – and stunning countryside – it was invigorating.

My youngest daughter and I enjoying the beautiful countryside.

Showing my daughters the rabbits, which were more like mini kangaroos in the fields, I held this moment close. There was a striking familiarity of the sights and sounds reminiscent of my old my country girl life.

I will always be a country girl. I just need to stay close to my roots – and bring the country to the city more often – to get countrified – if you will.

I also didn’t miss life’s conveniences – I had everything I needed right in front of me.

Do you take the time to reflect and remember your roots? Are you too reliant on life’s conveniences?

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Niñeras: Mi Amor

Editor’s Note: As Thanksgiving is celebrated in the United States and in many parts of the world during November, I would like to commemorate the remainder of the month with the theme thankfulness in most of my posts. I hope you take the time to reflect and be grateful.

I would be remiss not to mention a wonderful post written by Alexandra at “Good Day Regular People.” Check out her post on thankfulness. Thank you, Alexandra!

Here’s an excerpt: “Giving thanks for what we have creates positive energy that others feel. It is a force that can transform disagreements, calm strained relationships, improve work situations, help to accept health adversities, maybe make peace with aging. Being grateful can pull us through financial crises, medical challenges, children with special needs, and the valleys in life.”

What am I thankful for this week? Our Family’s Caretakers (Las Niñeras).

The saying, “we didn’t have a lot of money, but we did have a lot of love,” rang true for me growing up.

In the 1970s, my hippie Dad finally had to get a “real” job to make ends meet. While my mom worked as a hairdresser, I was cared for by some loving women from Mexico.

I remember my mom driving me out to a farm several miles from our own farm in a brownish-green Pinto. I loved sitting in the backseat and looking out the big bubble-like windows.

Meet Virginia
I was excited to see my babysitter, Virginia. She was a plump, short woman with straight jet black hair. She had a bright smile, and when she laughed you could clearly see her gaping silver and gold fillings.

She had a rather fiery marriage with her husband, who was tall with white curly, dark gray hair. His size didn’t seem to matter over her small stature. When they would argue, she would push her chest toward his waist, while yelling in Spanish and pointing her finger. I, of course, didn’t understand the arguments. But yet I did.

Driving up to her dusty farm with animals and miles of crops for the eye to see, I could smell the homemade tortillas from the front-screen door.

Entering her warm kitchen, I was amazed at how she could flip the tortilla with her bare hand and quickly place it in a warming basket with a red and white towel. The food was delicious, which is probably why I love to eat good Mexican food to this very day. She always greeted me with a hug and a smile.

She also had several children of her own, whom I enjoyed playing games and running around with outside. Of course, as the token white girl, I picked up a few words of Spanish. Virginia would refer to me as “mija” – which means little girl. I also learned that underwear were called “calzones.”

These terms are engrained in my psyche, as I often refer to my young daughters as mijas, and their little panties as calzones. Trust me, though, I do get some second glances when I use these terms in the Caucasian community of Orange County.

Love Breaks All Barriers
Even though this woman was poor, and in a troubled marriage, she showed me love and affection. She also shared the diversity of her culture.

And, for my working mom, I think a niñera such as Virginia relieved some of  her guilt. It also didn’t hurt that my mom would swap babysitting in exchange for cutting the hair of her entire family. Not a bad deal.

Most importantly, she was my caretaker – providing emotional and physical support. I am thankful for her love as my niñera.

As a parent now, my husband and I screened and interviewed nannies in order to find the most loving, caring and safety-conscious person.

Over the last eight years, we have had two sweet and extremely loving nannies for our children. Each bring different, contrasting values to our home.

I am so grateful…

Thankful for the break from insanity. For helping with the mounds of laundry and cleaning up messes. For the food making, crafts, park and library trips. For gracefully handling tantrums and quarrels. For the never-ending hugs and kisses. For teaching me to be a better parent and human being. I am thankful.

I hope someday my children will share their wonderful memories of these two women who have enriched their lives – and most of all who have loved them unconditionally.

Did you have loving memories of your caretakers as a child? As a parent, do your children feel enriched by their babysitter or nanny? If so, how? Have you thanked your nanny or caretaker this week?

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