One choice can transform you

My enthusiasm for young adult fiction may have reached its pinnacle this past week.

If you, like me, savor this genre of reading material then you also know that the movie Divergent will be in theaters this week.  To celebrate this special event, a friend of mine assigned the book of the same name as this months book-club read.  Upon completion of reading something for a book-club, typically you gather together to discuss feelings about your experience reading the book.  YA fiction fans do things a little differently.

Here is a schedule of events for our book-club meeting:

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•As you enter you will be greeted by a table upon which the 5 factions are displayed.  Here you should choose a tattoo and use the small dish of water and cotton applicators to mark yourself before full entrance into the event.

•Take the following test to determine which faction you will continue on with in the choosing ceremony:

1. You most want your friends and family to see you as someone who…

  • A. Is willing to make sacrifices and help anyone in need.
  • B. Is liked by everyone.
  • C. Is trustworthy.
  • D. Will protect them no matter what happens.
  • E. Offers wise advice.

2. When you are faced with a difficult problem, you react by…

  • A. Doing whatever will be the best thing for the greatest number of people.
  • B. Creating a work of art that expresses your feelings about the situation.
  • C. Debating the issue with your friends.
  • D. Facing it head-on. What else would you do?
  • E. Making a list of pros and cons, and then choosing the option that the evidence best supports.

3. What activity would you most likely find yourself doing on the weekend or an unexpected day off?

  • A. Volunteering.
  • B. Painting, dancing, or writing poetry.
  • C. Sharing opinions with your friends.
  • D. Rock climbing or skydiving!
  • E. Catching up on your homework or reading for pleasure.

4. If you had to select of of the following options as a profession, which would you choose?

  • A. Humanitarian.
  • B. Farmer.
  • C. Judge.
  • D. Firefighter.
  • E. Scientist.

5. When choosing you outfit for the day, you select…

  • Whatever will attract the least amount of attention.
  • B. Something comfortable, but interesting to look at.
  • C. Something that’s simple but still expresses your personality.
  • D. Whatever will attract the most attention.
  • E. Something that will not distract or inhibit you from what you have to do that day.

6. If you discovered that a friend’s significant other was being unfaithful, you would…

  • A. Tell your friend because you feel that it is unhealthy for him or her to continue in a relationship where such selfish behavior is present.
  • B. Sit them both down so that you can act as a mediator when they talk it over.
  • C. Tell your friend as soon as possible. You can’t imagine keeping that knowledge a secret.
  • D. Confront the cheater! You might also take action by slashing the cheater’s tires or egging his or her house—all in the name of protecting your friend, of course.
  • E. Keep it to yourself, statistics show that your friend will find out eventually.

7. What would you say is your highest priority right now?

  • A. Serving those around you.
  • B. Finding peace and happiness for yourself.
  • C. Seeking truth in all things.
  • D. Developing your strength of character.
  • E. Success in work or school.

•To determine your faction, simply add up the number you have of each letter.  Depending on your propensity towards being selfless, honest, peaceful, intelligent, or brave, you will either continue as Abnegation, Candor, Amity, Erudite, or Dauntless respectively.

•Once you have chosen your faction, you, along with the other members of your faction, will start on a journey that will take you from home base to the grocery store 2 miles away on foot in 20 degree weather through the snow.  Without getting caught.

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I almost didn’t go.  I didn’t really want to.  I’m so glad I did!

Even though I am not a good runner, and it was very cold, and I was hiding in bushes and against people’s houses wearing all black while dogs barked at us, and we easily could have been identified as criminals and stopped by authorities (I mean look at us, don’t we look scary??), it was definitely worth it.  Especially since my group got there first.

I would definitely be Dauntless now.  Can’t wait to see the movie!

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I suppose an Encore was inevitable

I put a lot of thought into the decision I made when I wrote this post and decided not to hold on to a dream that only had the potential for disappointment.  But I guess some things are just in the stars; you can’t change your fate.  Or maybe its just in my genes.  You can’t change genetics either.

In the two months since proclaiming to no longer be a dancer, I have received more requests to use my dancing skills than I have in the last year while being proactive about teaching.  It’s as if the Universe is begging me to reconsider.

When I think about all of my most life-changing and memorable experiences—with the exception of my husband and children—they all involve dance.  And it’s not even entirely true that my family isn’t included because Aaron proposed to me on the stage that I did all of my college performing on (I’ll save that story for another time), and Jade is in love with ballet, gymnastics, and now musical theater.

I can’t escape my destiny: almost all of the traveling I’ve done, many of my most challenging times, the reason that I’m as healthy as I am despite my MS diagnosis, and the reason I spent 5 years at the school that I did and, ultimately, met Aaron all revolve around dance.  My best friends are dancers.

I have the World’s best friends.

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I know the reason we are so close is because of our shared passion for dance.  It has created a bond that is so strong that most people couldn’t possibly relate.  A bond so strong that for the rest of my life it will be difficult for me to make new friends because I will always compare them to these friends (Thanks for that, girls :P).

12 years of pictures.  How can I possibly choose which ones to share?

There are all the times we toured together…

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All the times we laughed together…

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And cried together…

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And DANCED together…

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You get the picture.  That’s a lot of memories.

I’m sorry to be so fickle, but I need to retract, or at least amend, a statement that I made before.

I do not need a new me.  I love the Me that has been shaped since I met all these amazing people whom I love so much!  We will always be friends.  And even if I’m not dancing right now, or teaching, I am a dancer.  I will always be a dancer.  And I look forward to the day in Heaven when we all (you know who you are) reunite for a big encore performance!  Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.  12:30 sharp.

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The Pen Pal Challenge

Freedom!  You’d be amazed what you SEE when you no longer have something blocking your periphery.

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I made the long overdue decision to “cancel” my Facebook account.  I say “cancel” because on the final page of the cancellation process it says “to reactivate, simply sign in using your username and password”.  So I guess the only thing holding me back from permanent deactivation is that I still remember my username and password.

I did, however, remove the FB app from my phone and the bookmark from my computer toolbar.  My biggest problem has been how easy it is to stay signed in 24/7.  My phone has almost become an extension of my arm, permanently attached, my eyes glued to the screen.  Yesterday I made the comparison between my addiction to screen-time and a bug to a fluorescent bug zapper.  And its equally detrimental.

The day that I decided to make this change I posted a status update alerting people to the impending deactivation.  Ironically, the majority of the feedback I got was that people wished they had the courage to make that change, but that they were scared of how much harder life would be.  They’re too addicted to it to imagine their life without it.

So I issued a challenge.  I DARE you to cancel your account and write me a handwritten letter.  If you are brave enough to just take that step, I promise your life will not be lacking anything.  In fact, taking those blinders off has allowed me to SEE my children more in the last few days than I have in months.  Not just because I’m looking at them instead of my phone, but because the things I read and see on Facebook poison my outlook on almost everything.  Suddenly my patience isn’t so short and my opinion of myself isn’t so terrible.  When you’re not spending all your time comparing your life to everyone else’s, you’d be surprised how great your life looks.

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As I’m writing this, I got a phone call.  It was from a friend that I see rarely except in my news feed.  She said “I went on Facebook to ask you a question but I realized you weren’t there anymore!”  I explained the situation and she said “Good for you!”  She said she thinks about doing that often.  She asked me to help her out with an activity and we set up a date and time.  We had a short but nice conversation and now I have plans to be a part of something!  How fast that worked.

I’m excited to see how my life changes now.  I have no intention of losing touch with the people who mean the most to me, I’ll just have to work a little harder.  Who wants to take my dare?  Even in this fast paced, technology filled world, its still really nice to get mail.  I love the feeling of actual paper.

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How social media has changed the way I think

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I was 14 years old and my mom finally let me sign up for my own AOL account.  Suddenly a whole new world of socialization was opened up to me!  I could actually TALK to people I was way too scared to talk to in person.  I had so many “friends” who I knew better by screenname than I did by their actual name.  One in particular was A Musolini, a boy who never talked to me at school but we would spend hours chatting online.

Eventually our relationship moved to the next level when by the grace of my freshman English teacher we ended up with our desks next to each other.  It was my last class of the day and it made every morning worth getting up for.  Sometimes we exchanged actual words, but regardless I knew as soon as I got home and heard the sound of the dial up modem, we would be besties (a word I wish didn’t exist, much like selfies, totes–as in totally– and hashtag).

This went on for months and by the start of the next school year he had a girlfriend.  I was heartbroken as I was sure our online relationship counted as dating.  It was at this point that I got my first taste of social media fiction when he promised me ONLINE that he was going to break up with his new girlfriend for me.  Of course this didn’t happen but when we finally hung out OFF the internet for the first time, the rumors quickly spread that I was a home wrecker who would do anything to get what I wanted.  Apparently, reality and my perception of it via instant message were two very different things.

I have many MANY stories to contribute to my theory of why social media, and its ability to embellish the truth, is the root of the destruction of interpersonal relationships.  I even wrote a 10 page research paper on this during college before Facebook was even popular, when Twitter was just another word for ignorant rambling, when the only way to share pictures was to take your roll of 35 mm film to Walmart for printing.

I have however realized that I communicate much better through written word than verbally (a talent I inherited from my mom, who inherited it from her mom).  Not to mention my typing speed of over 100 wpm is astounding.  It’s gotten to the point that I’m constantly editing my own thoughts before they come out of my mouth, trying to make them sound as original and interesting as possible, while also sounding natural and not rehearsed.  Many times after I say something outloud I think “Oh man, I should have saved that one for a Facebook status!  Now it won’t sound as clever because its old news.”  I stand in the shower and each thought has to go through revision to be social network ready.

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If everyone else is as OCD as I am about how their thoughts come across in writing, its no wonder that depression and anxiety rates have risen drastically since the onset of social media.  I have a friend whose husband works as a PA in an office that specializes in mental health.  He says that the majority of his patients when asked if and how often they spend time on social networking sites respond that it is their primary source of socialization.  Realizing that these patients who struggle with severe chronic mental health conditions are also socially isolated, one of their fundamental sources of treatment is to minimize or eliminate their use of such devices.

Like many teens in the 90’s, and most likely every decade before and since, I idolized certain celebrities.  I dreamed about meeting them and went through the conversations we would have in my head.  But they were untouchable and unreal to me; of course these dreams would never come true.  That was okay with me and not at all a source of self-deprecation.  Now, not only can you more or less communicate with your favorite, untouchable celebrities, but its as if every normal person on the Earth can put themselves in an idyllic and praiseworthy position.  That is what everyone seems to reach for with every status update or youtube post.  Now we not only have famous people to be jealous of, but hundreds of “friends” posting pictures of their perfect families, vacations, and accomplishments.

I am no exception.  Each time I post to this blog or anywhere else, I hope that somehow this will be my big viral break.  There are plenty of people just like me who started out as stay at home moms and then ended up on Oprah or Jimmy Kimmel/Fallon or the YouTube awards, whether it was for their musical talent, writing capabilities, or something their dog can do.

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The interesting thing, and why I say this has all changed so much of the way I think, is that I have been writing in a journal since I was in 5th grade.  Almost religiously.  I keep a box full of all my old diaries on the highest shelf in my closet collecting dust.  No one has read them and probably never will.  But I wrote the same way and the same kinds of things that I’m writing now for all to see.  I also have a row of large photo albums and scrapbooks on that same shelf full of pictures from the first time I got a camera til the last time I developed film.  So why does it make a difference now how many people see and respond to these things?

Maybe we like who people think we are on Twitter better.  And if our perception of reality really becomes our own reality, then as long as people “like” us, I guess we are liked.

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P.O.W. in my own reality

I have been medically diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.  I have been asked to visit a neurologist regularly, get annual MRI scans of my brain, and do a monthly infusion of an MS treatment to hopefully slow the progression.  “You have to do this,” they tell me, “or you will be in a wheelchair.”  So I do it.  This is me.  The sick girl who spends half her income on medical expenses.

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And then I come home, and I forget that I was ever there.  I think there has GOT to be more to life, more to me, than this.  This does not define me.  Maybe I can find a better way.  So I go to homeopathic docs seeking answers and I leave with this:

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Having to take a bazillion pills a day doesn’t make me see myself in a more positive light, free and unattached to medical necessity.  So I agree to join a fitness challenge group with my sister and a dozen other healthy people.  I exercise every single day and attempt to eat meticulously healthy.  But I don’t feel any better or worse and I think what is the point of all this?  What am I actually trying to achieve or change about “me”?

Now I ask myself, who am I really?  What is reality?  Is it what is tangible and provable?  Or is it what things appear to be in my own unconscious mind?  Am I a sick person because doctors say so or a healthy person because…well…look at what I’m doing!  And why does it even matter what is real?  Doesn’t it only matter what feels real to ME?

Almost a decade ago my dad gave me a book recommendation.  One of the things that stuck with me about this book was the following idea:

Nothing others do is because of you.  What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream.  When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering (concept from Miguel Ruiz’s book The Four Agreements).

I thought this was so interesting.  And maybe also too much to wrap my mind around.  I don’t do well with subjectivity.  I like black and white, yes and no, I think within a verifiable frame of mind.  For this reason I have a major preoccupation with being right all the time.  I’d like for every doctor to be able to look at me and say, “Now here is a healthy person.  You just do what you’re doing.  You’re on the right track.”  Here’s another idea to try to wrap my mind around:

I lived in Heaven before I came to Earth.  My body and mind were perfectly healthy, my relationships had a purpose, my perspective was Eternal.  Then my Father in Heaven said, “I’m going to send you to Earth for a short time so you can learn some stuff and when you come back to me you’ll be even better than you are now!”  I’m sure that’s how he talks.  And then he said, “The only catch is that your body won’t be quite so perfectly healthy, you may struggle in your relationships, and you won’t be exactly sure who you are or why you’re doing anything that you’re doing.  And no one will be able to give you answers to these things because everyone will be in disagreement about why they’re there.  You up for that?”  For some reason I agreed.  And here we are.

This Earth life is so confusing!  There is a war going on, both inside me and in the world in general, about what matters and what doesn’t.  Do I want my quality of life while I’m here to be good?  Of course.  Do I want to go back to Heaven? Definitely!  Am I doing so many unnecessary things in my journey to achieve happiness and exaltation that I’m losing sight of what is really important?  Yes…maybe?…I guess that depends on what really matters.  So, in MY OWN REALITY, what matters and what doesn’t?  Let’s give it some objective thought.

Things that NEVER matter:

•Which Salvatore brother Elena chooses today, whether or not Mitch and Cam’s wedding turns out the way they want, How exactly Ted did meet their mother, or who is next on Emily’s list of people to take out.

•That I wasn’t invited to whatever girls night, play group, or exercise club was going on yesterday.

•How many people come to events that I plan (“Don’t take it personally” says Ruiz)

•If today I eat a non-organic salad vs. an organic one, and tonight I have a cookie containing gluten and sugar instead of gf oats and agave.

•Whether or not I post on this blog or Facebook or anywhere else on a daily basis, or what I say when I do post.

Things that ALWAYS matter:

•My family
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•My friends
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•My health
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And most importantly, that I’m doing my best where these things are concerned.  If I were to break down my reality to its most essential components, I would be removing most of the “stuff” I spend my time doing and worrying about daily.  Now take a breath.  Life really isn’t that complicated.

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Through Heaven’s Eyes

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The other night as I stood in the doorway to my daughters room before leaving for the night, I thought she looks like an angel.  In that moment I felt the need to say, “If I was in your kindergarten class, I think we would be best friends”.  She responded, “If you were in my kindergarten class, I would play with you every single recess.”

This exchange transpired after what I considered to be some pretty heart-breaking moments for a mother.  Moments that had me questioning whether she should stay in public school.  In the past I had heard stories of mothers pulling their kids out of public school because of the way they were treated.  First of all, I thought, buck up.  One day your kid will be out in the real world and they will have to deal with people.  But I also thought my child will never have to deal with that.  Since she could talk she has made friends easily.  In fact, on her “All about me” project the first week of school, she prided herself on her ability to make new friends.

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After the first week, I asked her, “Do you have a best friend in your class?”  Her answer was, “Garrett”.  Huh?  Garrett is not in your class and he is a year older than you…and he’s a boy, I thought.  Keep your cool, mom.  “Oh, ok.  Well what about the girls in your class?  What about Kapri?”  “Kapri doesn’t like me anymore.  She said she likes Shyloh better.”  “Well you can have more than one friend, right?  Tomorrow, why don’t you all play together?”  “I tried, but they didn’t want to play with me.” :*(

Later in the week, she came home wearing a necklace with her name spelled out in little blocks.  When I asked her where she got it and she told me, “Ali made it for me”, my heart swelled with pride that she had made a new friend who apparently cared enough about her to make her jewelry.  Until a little later when she came home and I asked, “Who did you play with at recess today?”  Wrong question.  “No one.”  “Oh?  What about Ali?”  “She decided she likes Shyloh better now too.”  What?? Who is this Shyloh and why is she stealing all my daughter’s friends?  Is she bribing them with candy?

Now no one needs to tell me that I need to stop asking her about who she’s playing with and who her friends are.  Bad move, mom.  I’m new at this.  The last thing I want to do is put pressure on her to feel included.  But she’s in kindergarten and shouldn’t all the kids the be nice to each other without judgment?

Well last night I received a message from her teacher asking me if I could stop by to discuss some concerns.  My mind reeled all night long with thoughts of what could possibly be the problem, whether it related to the playground stories I’d been told for the last few weeks, and how the perfect little girl I see every day could be struggling enough to concern her teacher.  Whether my anxiety was justified or not, I entered her classroom today with my heart pounding, feeling all eyes on me like I was being sent to the principals office and everyone knew why.

However, our conversation was helpful and relieved some of my worries, as she was just seeing my daughter through the eyes of a concerned parent.  “Your daughter is very smart, succeeding very well academically,” she told me, “But she is a little…well…bossy.”  Yes, I knew this about her.  Apparently many of the kids have been turned off by her unwillingness to compromise and share.  I understand this is common and even expected, but that doesn’t make it any less difficult to hear that your child is feeling left out.

I’m struggling with the idea that THIS will be my life for possibly the next quarter century.  Maybe longer?  I hear that you actually worry about your children’s suffering long after they’ve left the nest…am I right?  Besides staying up at night with sick kids, this has been my first glimpse into the reality that my child is a real human being who is on this Earth to learn and grow, and will suffer just like anyone else.  How did I think I could prevent that?  Maybe because my daughter is special, different from the norm, raised by parents who CARE.  She is perfect.

  She looks like an angel.

This is where it hits me that, as a parent, we don’t see our children the way the world sees them.  And rightfully so.  The world can be critical, cynical, selfish.  And truthfully–regretfully–for several weeks I’ve had a resentful and even vindictive attitude towards these children (and maybe even their parents) who I believed have wronged my sweet, perfect daughter.  That is until today, when I entered the classroom, sat down with a small group as a volunteer and listened to the way these innocent children talked about their excitement for lunch, recess, their Halloween costume, the fact that THEIR mom was “coming to volunteer soon too!”  They feel no ill will towards me or my child.  How was it possible that I was feeling that towards them?  So to the members of Ms. B’s kindergarten class I say, I am SO sorry.  And also, Thank You…for helping my daughter grow into the little girl/young woman/human being that I know she can be.

And to my sweet, fun loving, beautiful–albeit bossy–little angel…I LOVE you to Heaven and back.

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