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Pine Cone Spiral - copyright 2009 by Laura Burlingame-Lee

Pine Cone Spiral - copyright 2009 by Laura Burlingame-Lee

Hearing my kidlets laugh and playing with them
Helping others
The ocean, the shore, and Connecticut
Beachcombing
Listening to the sound of ocean waves
Traveling to new places
Adventures
Bright, sunny days and cool rainy days
Autumn
Spring
Sun sparkling on untouched snow
The smell of fallen leaves and ripe fruits
The smell of bread baking
Soft blankets and warm quilts
Hot cups of tea
A really good, engrossing book
A clean home
Good humor and jokes
Teaching
Learning – always, always learning!
Working for peace, unity and justice
Playing with art and office supplies
Knitting
Making Art
Photography
Writing and Journaling
Watching football all snuggled up
Swimming
Snuggling!
My spirituality
Learning about new religions and faith traditions
Quiet time
Good music
Appreciating art
Singing
Found and spontaneous art – chalk, PostSecret, guerilla art
Being creative in any way

What makes YOU happy?

Roses from Grandma's Garden - copyright 2009 by Laura Burlingame-Lee

Roses from Grandma's Garden - copyright 2009 by Laura Burlingame-Lee

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Aidan and Becca, June 2009, Loveland CO

Aidan and Becca, June 2009, Loveland CO

After about a week and a half of weird, volatile weather, we finally have a typical sunny Colorado day. The temperature is 77 – just about perfect for being outside, and the around here to be able to just relax and enjoy the day; usually someone has to be somewhere and we’re rushing here and running there. Today is a wonderful exception to that rule.

We started our day by going to the park and playground. Loveland has some great parks and one of our favorites is Dwayne Webster Veteran’s Park, on Lake Loveland. The munchkins were able to run around and climb, swing, and slide to their hearts’ content, and I grabbed a table in one of the shelters and worked on some art ideas and wrote. There was a group of older adults from an assisted living facility having a picnic in the same shelter, too – I again realized how much I enjoy talking to people and hearing their stories. Some of the people obviously had Alzheimer’s or another sort of dementia, but it was so nice to talk about our kids, show pictures and listen. Two gentlemen were veterans of World War II, and we shared stories – my father was also a veteran of that war. The ladies were thrilled with Aidan and Rebecca, and my little princess-diva was captivated by all the attention. Aidan, as usual, simply took it in stride and looked for red balls.

After playing, we rediscovered the joy of Dairy Queen…is there anything more indicative of summer than seeing children eating ice-cream cones? I love seeing their little faces covered with ice-cream as they dive in and not just eat, but savor the cone with all their senses. Aidan especially loves to do this – he’ll talk about the taste and color of the ice-cream, how the cone has squares on it, and how the paper around the cone sticks to it and is blue. We enjoy these on the patio tables by the street, and he comments on the cars and trucks going by, and wonders where the nearest red balls are. Becca, meanwhile, just sticks her face in the cone and laps it up doggy-style.

Now home, we are outside and I’m on the porch writing while they splash in the kiddy-pool on the front courtyard. We live in a townhouse, with no yard, and I really miss having the expanse of green on which to play and run. Anyway, we have the kiddy pool set up on the flagstones, and they splash around having a good ol’ time. The latest bit of fun is filling cups with rocks and pouring water over them – making fountains. That’s Aidan’s idea, and it’s so nice to see him be a normal kid. (Except when he has to line up the rocks on the porch and freaks out when anyone touches them … sigh.) Even so, he’s engaging and playing and enjoying, and that’s wonderful to see. Little bit by little bit, we are unlocking Aidan, and he’s coming out more and more into the wider world we share.

The Tooth Fairy visited our house recently too – my little boy is growing up, and it’s bittersweet. The sweet part – as you might guess – is that he’s FINALLY potty-training. Big boy pants have been popular around here lately! He wants a guitar when he’s a big boy – and we’ve agreed. He thinks that he’ll get to be on “Jonas” when he gets it, and that Becca can be Hannah Montana. Who says autistic kids are completely in their own world? Higher functioning kiddos like Aidan very definitely notice and interpret the wider world. Getting them to stay there and interact with it is the challenge, and day by day, we’re still unlocking Aidan.

Summer…well, life is good, popsicles are sweet and cold, and the water from the hose is refreshing. Slides are slick, swings rush, and green grass grows, as do our kids – every day.

Saga of the energy vampire…AKA, the H-bomb in a kid suit
Current mood: Beyond pooped

Have you ever noticed that, when you are at your most exhausted, your kids are at their most hyper-active? Honestly…

Let me preface this by saying that I love my kids with all my heart and would give my life for them in a heartbeat. That said, *ay carumba*!!! Aidan was a small H-bomb in a kid suit today! He likes to start his day by waking up his little sister, usually by bouncing on her bed (and her, if he can get away with it) until she wakes up – today was no exception.

The difference today was that Becky-buns seems to be coming down with the crud that’s going around and was sleeping with Mama. So, I became the trampoline. Now, if you have trouble waking up in the morning (like I do), there is nothing like having 40 lbs. of jumping preschooler land right on your soft belly to wake you up out a peaceful dream. And I was dreaming that I had won a shopping spree! Sigh…

His next adventure was to climb over the baby gate blocking the main floor bathroom – I’m feeding the baby (who is busily spitting carrots on her hands and then running them through her hair in an attempt to look like a miniature Lucille Ball) when I hear a suspicious splash-flush-splash… “Aidan, get your cup out of the toilet – NOW!” (Followed by more splash-flush-splashes)…Sigh…Fish screaming preschooler out of bathroom, clean him up and cover his hands with sanitizing gel, put on gloves and fish floating sippy cup out of toilet, immerse sippy in pot of boiling water before deciding to throw it away, haul wailing and now VERY WET preschooler out of the bathroom AGAIN, put gate 6 inches higher, and turn off water in sink.  Return to find more carrots ON baby than IN baby, note that baby managed to untie bib and cover clothes. Bathtime…

Okay, so I wipe off as much of the carrots off as possible, strip the baby and cover the NEW dress in Shout, Clorox-2, and detergent…  I turn around to hear a mysterious banging…”Aidan, don’t climb in the dryer – you could get hurt and that would make Mama really sad…” (Long pause as impatient and wiggly baby kicks Mama in stomach – put baby in crib to check on preschooler – yell to be heard over baby’s LOUD protests) “Aidan – out of the dryer NOW!”  

So now I’m getting the bath started…get the baby in, wash out the carrots, start soaping…” What the HE**?!? Aidan, turn off that shower now! That water’s cold!!”  Aidan has just discovered that he can pull down the showerhead (a Waterpik with a nice long bendable cord), turn on the water and spray his unsuspecting mother…with ice cold water, of course. 

Next up – find clean changes of clothes for everyone and hope there is something clean for me outside of Laundry Mountain (which is beginning to resemble a whole mountain range…Sigh…) 

Other quotes of the day: “Aidan, get off of the oven!” (climbing on the opened oven door trying reach the cabinet above the stove where the treats are stored –  is this kid half monkey?? Sigh…run out to store, find and intall oven lock – on oven AND refrigerator). I’ve TRIED to kid-proof the house – honestly. We’ve got cabinet locks, outlet plugs, baby gates, door-knob covers, you name it, we’ve got it. And it looks like we’ll have to get more. This kid is ingenious when it comes to climbing – he’s tried things I’ve never even thought of. Now if he can just channel that ingenuity and energy…”

Becca, you need a bath again?” (after a diaper blowout of truly epic proportions), “Aidan, we do NOT hit sister on the head with toys.” “Aidan, sister is NOT target practice.” And so on and on and on…

The most important moments were not like these, though. They went more like, “Aidan, I love you so much. I’m so glad you come to cuddle with me. Big hug!” (during sister’s nap – we both sit and cuddle on the recliner and watch a Sesame Street video). “Aidan, thank you for getting Becca’s binky. You are such a good helper!”

There are times when I look at him, and just want to squeeze the stuffing out of that kid – he can be so darn cute!! And Becca – watching her learn walking, talking, everything about her world: “Wow – you went across the room all by yourself! What a strong girl!! I’m so proud of you!” followed by Aidan’s “Sister good job? Aidan good job!” and a big hug with both of them. And now, he’s next to me in bed, snoring away and looking for all the world like a little angel (of course, as I type this, he lets loose with a sound from his nether regions that would rival a Harley “Hog” in heat…) Man, I love this little kid…

And the big kid has his own dramas, too – Captain Obvious has a date for prom! (Am I really old enough to have a kid old enough for prom? YIKES!  Where did the time go – I remember changing HIS diapers.) I remember him as a toddler – the classic moment being in the grocery store. He loved to have me blow raspberries on his belly – so we’re in line at the grocery store, he lifts his shirt and yells at the top of his little lungs, “Blow me, Mommy!” Every head around me turns and stares at me – I wanted to sink through the floor, but tried to explain – “Raspberries on his tummy – see? (Picture me in line, demonstrating blowing raspberries on his tummy and managing to look like a COMPLETE idiot…) Ah, those were the days…

Will I look back on these days with Aidan and Becca with as much, uh…”mirth”? Actually, I know I will. I’ll smile and miss their little smiles, hugs, and boundless energy.

Yikes…ever notice how busy-ness can creep up on you? I’ve just finished two weeks of having *something* going on every night, and I’m exhausted. I mean, tired to the bone, walking-and-waking-dead pooped. And the fatigue is not just physical – it’s emotional and cognitive. Busy-ness, although marginally productive in the traditional sense, sucks the life out of me. I’ve figured out that I’m the kind of person who needs “me time” – alone, with no kids, no husband, no friends. It’s not that I don’t want to be around these people – they are the most important people in my life, and I love and care for them. However, after data collection/research, peer counseling training, nursery work, meetings, running kids everywhere, there’s just not much left to give. So…

Tonight I’m on strike. I’ve been invited to a scrapbooking event, which I’d normally enjoy for the social contact and the creativity boost, even though I don’t “scrapbook” in a traditional sense – too cutesy for me. I said “no.” It was hard for me to do, as I’m not the most assertive person in the world, especially when it comes to taking care of me. In our last peer counseling class, we covered assertiveness, and I kept thinking, “I need to do more of this – with everyone.” So, I told my friends that I appreciated the invite, but that I was very tired and would not be able to make it. I feel kind of bad, because I missed the last one, too – my in-laws came into town that night – but I need to care for me.

So, why is it that I feel bad/selfish for doing so? Well…”selfish” was the label of choice my mother slung at me whenver I insisted on caring for myself. If I didn’t do what she wanted when she wanted and how she wanted it, I was “selfish” and “bad.” Unfortunately, I’ve internalized that and now think it every time I insist on caring for myself. I figure that I at least recognize it now and can counter the message with some positive thinking. (Thank you, cognitive-behavioral therapy!) So now, I tell myself, “You are human, too. You have needs and desires, just like any other human being, and it’s NOT wrong to consider yourself. It’s not wrong to value yourself, or think that you’re worthy of care.”

Women in general seem to suffer from the burden of busy-ness in our society. If we’re not huge successes in business, we feel pressured to be the perfect stay-at-home mother, with immaculate houses, perfectly clean and dressed children, with several clever crafts on hand to keep them busy while we make dinner, bake bread, sew their adorable, fashionable, little clothes, and plan the PTA bake sale. All this while managing the local girl/boy scout troop, carpooling the little darlings to soccer/baseball/gymnastics/cheerleading, and reading up on developmental milestones and how to help your children be better than anyone else’s. BLECH!  All this emphasis on being the perfect professional woman, perfect employee, perfect mother, perfect wife/partner…it’s busy-ness in another form and is life-draining, not life-sustaining. Sustainable living should take into account, in my not-so-humble-opinion, emotional and mental elements as well as physical.

I confess – my house is a mess. In fact, I’m lucky it hasn’t been condemned. Laundry Mountain continues to grow, even while I excavate small loads. I’ll have to strip-mine it soon. Iron? That’s a vitamin, right? (Oh yeah…there is that appliance-thingy gathering dust in the closet.) Dinners come from the microwave (except when the in-laws visit – that’s when I really feel the pressure to be perfect and actually cook.) My kids sometimes wear the same clothes two days in a row…and yeah, they come from Wal-mart. (No, not Children’s Place, Baby Gap, or Macy’s.) So do mine – I don’t make money staying with the little kidlets. There is no homemade baked bread (at least not on a regular basis – I make it when I have time, feel like it and want it.) Developmentally-geared and cutesy crafts? Forget it…more like a coloring book and crayons (at least those that haven’t  been eaten or stomped to smithereens…) 

But you know what? Perfection is no longer any of my “busy-ness.” I’m not perfect, and I never will be. Yet, somehow my children are happy – and they are generally clean (at least as clean as a toddler and pre-schooler can be.) Aidan and I played “Balloon Catch” today – he was all smiles and giggles. Rebecca got in on it, and we played “Monkey in the Middle.” They are growing, they get fed (even if it isn’t homemade,organic, and fresh-grown/picked/juiced) and they seem happy. They come up to cuddle with me, they ask for Mama and they give me hugs and kisses. And, I’m happy – generally. When I let busy-ness take over, that’s when I’m not happy. And including “me-time” is not just respectful to myself, it’s necessary for my to function.

So, what’s the point of yet another rant? Ladies, we don’t have to be perfect. In the business world…we do our best, but we can’t do our best if we’re killing ourselves in the process. At home…we do our best, and somehow our families survive. I’d much rather have a happy, well-adjusted me and a happy, well-adjusted family than a perfect house, etc.  Taking time for ourselves is not only good, it’s necessary. Even if we veg out watching “Desperate Housewives” or “Lost” while eating Ben & Jerry’s (or, my favorite: a bowl of ice-cold melon, mandarin oranges and grapes – YUM), taking time to decompress is necessary to maintain our sanity. We are so good at helping others, at succeeding, at living up to everyone else’s expectations – isn’t time we develop our own?

For what it’s worth, I’m not talking about the hundreds of self-help/self-improvement “programs” or books – read/use them if they nurture and help you. But if you find yourself feeling a load of shoulds descending on you, ask yourself, “Is this really helping me? Is this really going to help me BE me?”  (Think of Albert Ellis’s comment, “Don’t ‘should’ on yourself.” ) Someone else’s idea of what is good may or may not fit – use your sense of what you need to help you out here. In therapy with my clients, I tell them to listen to their inner therapists – the part of you inside that wants you to be happy, fulfilled, and has your best interests at heart. Even that part of you has been called bad, selfish, unworthy, or anything else negative – it’s part of who you are. Now if I can just take my own advice…

Some of my favorite website resources: (These may or may not inspire you; I don’t leave these sites feeling like I’ve got a case of the “shoulds.”)

Jennifer Louden’s “Comfort Queen” material (http://www.comfortqueen.com/),

SARK’s material (http://www.planetsark.com/) – she has an excellent piece this month on treasuring girls

Small Steps to Health – the source of those commercials where people find “lost” body parts, such as double chins, “love handles,” “spare tires,” etc: (http://www.smallstep.gov/index.html)

The Foundation for a Better Life – inspiring source of billboards, posters, and other public messages that are life-affirming: (http://www.forbetterlife.org/)

For the Little Ones Inside – an affirming site: (http://www.forthelittleonesinside.com/)

The Spiral Muse – for women’s well-being: (http://www.spiralmuse.org/)

Creativity for Life – to help get you inspired, fired-up, and ready to live life: (http://www.creativityforlife.com/index.php)

Another Girl At Play – Women artists’ biographies and links: (http://another.girlatplay.com/)

So…play, enjoy, let go of perfection, just be. It’s okay – it really is. (or so I keep telling myself. )

What is it about certain places that make them feel like “home”? I’ve lived all over the country in my 44 years…everywhere from Ohio to Washington to California to Colorado…and yet none of them, even the place where I was raised and lived over half my life, felt like “home.” There is one place, though, that always did – Indian Cove, in Guilford, CT.

I recently had the opportunity to have a short visit there again, and went back to this magical place for the first time in over 24 years. The last time I’d been there, my grandfather was alive and I was 18 – I’d just graduated high school and was full of the bravado and grand plans that most young adults have. I’d gone to visit my grandparents, and we spent time at their home in Stafford Springs, and went to their cottage in Indian Cove – a small association of summer cottages with a private beach. I remember going to the beach, and trying to soak in the smell of the air, and the feel of the ground-shell sand on my toes…the taste of the salt water and the incredible colors of this place…I didn’t know when I’d be back again. As it turned out, it was nearly a quarter of a century – a time that spanned two marriages, many multi-state moves, a few college degrees and the birth of three children.

People say that when you leave a place and try to return, nothing is ever the same. My sisters and my mother and I went to Connecticut for my mother’s 50th high school reunion, and the chance to revisit the places and people we’d known since we were all children. I met men and women who had known my mother since grade school, and one of them had harbored a secret crush on her throughout their years together. Seeing him look at her, I could see that, in his eyes, time hadn’t erased her beauty or his love for her. Likewise, time had not changed my heart toward this small bit of God’s country…my heart ached to see how much things had changed, and how much things had stayed the same.

As I sat on the beach at Indian Cove on a Friday morning, I had the beach entirely to myself…and again found myself trying to soak in all the smells, sights, sounds, tastes and textures of the cove. Again, I found myself unable to stuff in nearly as much as I wanted – I’m greedy for the salty air and water, and feel like a fish out of water when I’m away. To say I’m in love with the ocean is an understatement – it’s as much a part of me as are my blood and bones. That I live 2000 miles away, is a daily sliver in my heart that seems to bleed and ache whenever I think about it. I thought that being close might ease this pain – after all, I’ve felt it for over 24 years, and have learned to live with it – but found that instead of soothing the pain, the ache has become much, much worse. I dream of being on the Sound again, and of hearing the waves – I walk the beach in my dreams, and explore the rocks again and again.

As I beachcombed that Friday morning, and later on Sunday, there were moments when my tears blended with the salt of the ocean water…Sunday afternoon, I watched families sit and children play in shallows, and could see the ghosts of my childhood self playing right along with them. I remembered the adventure and daring of actually climbing the rocks out to the diving board, and how deep the water seemed to me as a child – even at low tide. Wading out to the raft, I was surprised that the water only came to my waist or so…and remember how scared I was of the possibility of sharks swimming alongside my vulnerable little legs. Once more, I braved the rocks to get to the diving board, and once more I sought the solitude of the back beach – no one went there, but that was where the best shells were found. Once more I walked along the paths to my grandfather’s cottage – now brown and tan instead of blue and white and home to a new family. Once more I felt the breeze in my hair, and heard the sound of the water gently lapping and licking the roughness of the rocks. One last time, I walked away, and felt the itchiness of the drying sand on my skin, and tasted the residue of the salt water on my fingers…

Will I get back? God knows I hope to…the dryness of the Colorado air has nearly scorched my lungs and I’ve developed asthma since living in the West. While the mountains of the Rockies are breathtakingly beautiful, Colorado – the subject of so many wistful and nostalgic songs – will never feel like home. Neither has Idaho, Utah or California…although they are each beautiful in their own ways, there is a foreigness to them that doesn’t quite ever touch or enter the place in my heart labeled “home.” I need the Atlantic, the humidity and the sea…without them I feel like a dessicated, empty shell -quite literally a fish out of water, gasping and frantically trying to get back to its natural home.

There are other considerations, however…my children were all born in the West – one in Idaho and two in Colorado – and have never known the pleasures of letting the salt water envelop and cradle you…have never heard their hearts beat in time with the waves. My husband was born in Texas and raised in Idaho – and until recently, had never been east of the Mississippi. None of them can even imagine living so far from home. There is a part of me that thinks, “If I can just get them out there, then they can see for themselves – they’ll have to go.” But the more realistic part of me knows that uprooting a tree from its native soil and transplanting it to another climate zone can be life-threatening.

So…I’m caught between fulfilling my heart’s dream and sacrificing my dreams for my loved ones – as women throughout the centuries have always done. Where will this end? I don’t know, but I do know this: The call of sea is strong, and the tide runs in my veins. I will be back, even if only for a visit. And it won’t take 24 years this time. If home is where your heart is, right now, home is 2000 miles away. And even if you never can go back, I do know you can always visit.

Reflections of Reflections…

Other Facets of the Mirror