Thursday, May 31, 2012

Revisiting Cindy

I just spent the past week in sunny Southern California, land of my childhood and still home of my mom!  I was there visiting for a few days that I tacked on to a work trip, as I was working at a homeschool show in Long Beach this past weekend.  It was the perfect opportunity to combine two into one, so Dominick pulled  triple duty as Chief Bottle Washer/Teacher/Bread Winner!  We had a conversation before I left about how surprisingly helpful it has been for our marriage over the years to regularly switch roles.  You all know how often he steps up at home, and fills in when needed.  In many ways we are interchangeable in that regard, except for there is just something a little  softer about Mommy Love :-)  What you may not realize is that in years past I have spent just as much time in his roles too.  I have detailed cars...plenty of them!  I have run our second airport cafe for several winters while he ran his.  This role reversal might just be the single best thing we have ever done to  foster real understanding and compassion about how difficult each of our jobs really is.  When I say I have had a rough day at home, he gets it because he has experienced it and doesn't think for a moment that my job is an easy one.  When he comes in totally beat after a long hot day, I get it because I know just how exhausting it can be.

A big plus is that the kids also know it, for they too have walked a little in Dominick's shoes.  They recently have all done some detailing with Dominick, working long hot days.  They have worked in the restaurant since the day they could, and now are as valuable there as many of our adult employees have been.  What I see developing in them because of these opportunities is a respect for work, and a respect for those who work to provide an education, food and clothes for them.  They have seen first hand how difficult it is to earn the money that puts food on the table and clothes on their back, and they don't take it for granted. Although they can't as easily slip on Mom's role as educator, their own effort at school helps them understand that "brain work" isn't necessarily easy either, even when it seems on the outside to be simple.  Believe it or not, more than once when I have "pulled an all nighter" planning a unit study, or researching curriculum, I have actually been thanked by the kids.

So anyway, there I was, driving up the 101 Freeway (and trying hard not to forget and call it "highway" as we do back in Colorado), in this cute little Nissan Versa and enjoying driving a non-mom car for even a little while, and on the radio is playing songs from my teen years.  A little Aerosmith, some Lover Boy, a Styx song, and it was SO SO SO strange!  I actually drove right past our old high school, whose football field is alongside the 101.  Maybe it was the time of year, so near graduation.  Maybe it was re-entry in a small way into the life I once lived.  Maybe it was being and feeling old these days as my right hip gives me fits from arthritis and my arms are no longer long enough to help me read print clearly.  Whatever the reason, I felt as if I was straddling two worlds, and recalling the dreams of my youth while contrasting them with the reality that has become my life is an interesting place to find myself right now.

Never, in a million years, did I ever imagine my life turning out the way it has.  Never could I have known the plans God had for my life.  I thought I'd always live in Southern California, no matter how ill fitting it actually was.  I thought I'd have the requisite two kids before I was 25, which would have meant that by now my imaginary children would be in college.  I thought I'd have a career of some sort, although what that might be was not at all apparent upon my graduation and I had vague images of photography or teaching hard of hearing children.  Later it was perhaps business management at the drug store I worked at, then it was management at the pest control company I worked at.  None of those dreams were ever all that flashy, they were rather ordinary.

The main thing that I prayed for was a life filled with love and happiness.  Little did I realize at the time what a tall order that really was.  It took living life awhile to recognize how hard that might be to come by, as I watched over and over again as lives around me took painful turns, and were mired in joyless chasing of the Almighty Dollar and the American Dream, which seemed to have grown to include a Mercedes in every garage and a house with 4000 square feet with a swimming pool.  The farming community I had grown up in had become a very prosperous city, and with it came bigger and bigger desires.

Here I sit, 25 years later, evaluating the twists and turns that led my life to where it is today.  What have I done with my life?  What have I really accomplished?  I am a high school graduate, an unemployed homeschooling Mom who spends her days picking up dirty socks, correcting grammar workbooks, and asking for the 22nd time for someone to please shut the door!  I have no fancy diploma on the wall, no claim to fame, no diseases cured, and nothing at all to brag about should anyone care to listen.  Interestingly though, the ways in which I defined success when I was young are still the ways I define success today.  Oh, I am certain that any alumni present at a reunion from my own graduating class might look and scoff.  There would be many of us, I am sure, who would be placed in the "Loser" category for what we don't have to show for 25 years of living post-high school.

The success I have though is exactly what I chose to chase.  It isn't measurable in the same ways.  That life filled with love and happiness is no longer a dream, but has long been a I absolutely do not take for granted.  Those two kids of the dreams of my senior year Family Class somehow morphed into five, and the faces that greet me every morning are far more beautiful than Dominick or I could have ever produced ourselves, even if they look nothing like us at all.  We have a decent home with space around us that helps us feel somehow freer.  We have much laughter!!!  There is always a hand to help, and a hug to share.  There is love spoken here, not just occasionally, but hourly, and sometimes moment by moment.

My success is not at all in what I wear, what I drive, or the furnishings that surround me.  As I took that long look back this past week, as my youth came rushing back to me in the familiar scents of smog and oleander, and the unceasing sounds of traffic off in the not-so-far distance, I smiled. No, I am not even close to living the life I once imagined for myself, and how awesome it is that I was not limited by those undersized dreams!

But it was just yesterday evening when I really understood that I had truly achieved the kind of success that has meaning and value.  The girls and I were out on a little jaunt, alone without the menfolk as we stopped by our church and then the grocery store for a couple of items.  Somehow the conversation turned to relationships, and what makes them work.  I spoke of how very blessed we are to have the kinds of conversations in our family on a daily basis that some families are never able to have.  Angela asked "Why are we like that, Mom, and others aren't?" and I said "Courage, Angela.  It takes a lot of courage to reveal your heart to others, to risk being laughed at for sharing what you really feel.  It isn't easy, and I think in some families the parents themselves don't understand that it is important that they let their children see inside their hearts to teach the kids how to do the same thing.  They want to hide things, they want to always look strong and not look vulnerable or weak."

Angela got really quiet, then as we pulled into the driveway she looked over at me with tears in her eyes and said "I am so glad you and Dad are my parents.  Before I came home, I never showed anyone my feelings, it didn't feel safe.  Now, I always want to, and you always seem to understand.  It's like my heart is really open for the first time, and it feels good, even though it was scary at first.  I have the best family in the whole world, not just because I got adopted, but because I got adopted by THIS family."

That's a kind of success that the 17 year old Cindy couldn't have possibly understood.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think that school reunions do not allow us to delve into the depth of the lives around us. We see what the person is wearing, how they have changed. We exchange information (after looking at the badge to see whom we are talking to)--name, occupation, family configuration, and how are your folks.

Yet, as the years go by, I think more and more of us value family and love as successful. Others envy those who have made and sustained loving families with or without copious quantities of money. Yes, we might look a bit harder at those who seem to have both family and financial success, and we can't see that at the reunion, on the street, or in casual grocery conversations. Shopping for the latest toy(snowmobile, boat, flat screen TV, etc.) we wouldn't stop to think about what is most valuable to us, but given a life-threatening disease, pain, loss, we are brought up short and are forced to reevaluate our list of life treasures and goals.

For some this thoughtful way of living arrives late; for some, never. For Team LaJoy it is an ongoing process that produces people we want to emmunlate and enjoy.

Thanks for the blog, it doesn't need to be more glamourous or exciting. Please don't quit.