What is Family, Anyway?

Standard

As I write this blog post I am currently sitting on a plane that is taking me away from one home and towards another.  Every year at Thanksgiving I make the aeriel trek home in order to eat some delicious food, see my family, and eat more delicious food.  I am never disappointed.

Despite the fact that I love my life in California, I am particularly morose this year as I journey back towards the land of sun and sand.  Being together with everyone has reminded me how much we all have grown up (and how much we haven’t) and has made me realize how much I miss out on when I don’t get to see my siblings for a year at a time.

And yet, even with that year of time between being together in person, I experienced nothing but complete settledness.  Even with every single one of us branching out and living lives so completely different from one another, the moment we are back in our childhood house we immediately fall into our relationships with ease.

For those of you who are also able to experience this, how lucky are we?  We are able to grow and expand and experience and fall and succeed yet still have a place of safety and ease on which to land and take a break from everything in our regular lives.

The dictionary definition of family is “all the descendants of a common ancestor”.  However, this succinct phrasing cannot encompass the true meaning of family; having individuals in your life that you simultaneously love, can’t stand, and every other emotion in-between but overall, can’t imagine your life without.  Family means…everything.

FAMILY means acceptance.  There are five total children in my immediate clan, and two of them are married (hint: it’s not me).  Whoever walks into the door of my parents’ house opens a Pandora’s box of personality types, backgrounds, strengths, and issues.  I love so many things about every single person in this eclectic circle, and every single person has a particular way that they can Drive. Me. Up. A. Wall.

Yet, because of the bonds shared since womb-hood, I cannot imagine cutting any of them out of my life.  No matter how annoying, stupid, or irresponsible any of them can be, I accept them whole-heartedly.

The great and unbelievable thing about this is, is it is true in reverse.  I know 100% that I do and say things that drive my family nuts or rub them the wrong way.  There is no possible way to avoid doing so after 28 years of being around the same people.  However, I know that no matter what I say or do short of cold-blooded murder, I will never be cast outside of the fold.  And there is absolutely no better feeling than that.

FAMILY means constructive criticism.  While family may accept your imperfections, they are not averse to putting in their two cents when they feel necessary.  Yet in opposition to most criticism thrown around in the world, these thought-provoking comments or conversations spring out of a place of deep love and desire for the best for whoever is receiving the notes.

This Thanksgiving, I had finally gotten fed up with one of my siblings and had snapped a curt retort.  My grandma simply stated “cool it, you” as she walked past.  Straightforward, short, to the point, yet it completely shook me out of my annoyance and made me realize that my vitriol was not necessary.  Sometimes a simple reminder from people who love you regardless is just the thing you need to change a negative attitude or a habit.

FAMILY means safety.  The reason that I am able to fly so far from the nest of my youth is because I know without the slightest shadow of a doubt that I can always, 100%, rely on my family if I were to need help in any way.  Even with all of the pulls on their attention, if I were to ever get so desperate as to need a place to stay, I would have one.  If I ever need to vent and not worry about sounding like a Negative Nancy, I can call on any number of ears and take advantage.

Anything and everything that might crop up in life does not seem like a big obstacle because I have access to an incredible network of strong individuals that will do anything in their power to make sure that I am ok.  This knowledge is a powerful antidote to any fear or hesitation I might feel over any roadblock I may face.

FAMILY means abnormal normality.  My dad has been known to make up short bizarre songs on the spot.  My brother decides to speak in random accents at unforeseen times.  My sister loves to reference anything I do wrong in her eyes as the act of an “uncultured swine”.  We 100% bust out the Disney songs when we ride in the car, and my voice is usually the loudest one.

All of these quirky, random, non-normal aspects of every single person in the inner circle makes my family, family.  Every single family in the world has their weird, zany, creative, off-the-wall, embarrassing habits that they would rather the outside world not know.  I say, however, that we should embrace that weirdness as OURS.  There is a distinct sense of pride in ownership, and your family deserves that pride as much as your car or your house.

As a teacher, I am privy to the heartbreaking reality that my family situation is rare.  There are too many children and adults that go through life without the love, acceptance, criticism, and sense of belonging that they need in order to thrive.

So for those kids and grown-up kids, who is family, anyway, if it’s not blood?  Thankfully, we can still get all of these benefits from families that we build ourselves.  Actively seek out people that can offer this support to you, and make sure to offer it in return.

So, if you are in possession of this sense of family, cherish it.  If you are not, build it.  Life is better with our people, and I think we could all do a little bit more to make sure our people know how awesome they are.

Because honestly, without the bonds of family, what is life, anyway?

 

 

 

Reasons to Embrace Being Single

Standard

Whenever cocktails and girlfriends (or even just the latter) are in the same room, the conversation almost invariable makes a stop on the subject of men, or more accurately, boys.  Specifically, bemoaning the fact that we can’t find any good ones, causing us to be subjected to singledom for eternity (or so it feels).

Couples holding hands seem to pop up everywhere we go.  Pictures of engagement rings fill our Facebook feeds.  Movies like “The Notebook” and shows like “The Bachelor” get shoved in our face.  Everything couple-related becomes glaring reminders of the missing piece in our lives.

Being in a relationship, the right relationship, is an amazing thing.  However, as amazing as a relationship is, we have to remember that there are some damn good things about being single, too.

You can do whatever you want.  This is the most obvious and most touted perk of singles everywhere.  But I feel like very rarely do people actually take advantage of this freedom.  Think about it.  There are truly no limits.

Take travel, for instance.  Do you want to go overseas and experience the exoticism of Asia?  You can!  You have no one else’s schedule to worry about, no one else’s budget, no one else’s preferences for the trip.  If you want to have a super high-end luxury week with spa pampering and endless cocktails by the pool, you can make that happen.  If you want a three week trek through the jungle sleeping in a tent with the native people, you can do that too without worrying about what someone else would want to choose.

Even on a smaller, daily scale, this luxury shouldn’t be taken lightly.  You can eat takeout for dinner if you want.  You can make a four course meal every night.  You can meet up with an old friend at a moment’s notice.  You can stay in bed all day or go out and socialize all night.  It’s truly 100% up to you.

Being single in your 20’s and 30’s is really the only time that you can actually take advantage of this fully.  There are no academic obligations of high school and college.  There are no work obligations that you didn’t fully choose if you have a career you love.  There are no stigmas attached to anything that you might enjoy, because you are now surrounded by adults and not asshole teenagers.

So many people waste singlehood on Netflix and sweatpants on the couch.  There is SO MUCH LIFE to live, and it’s ridiculous to skip out on it because you don’t have someone to experience it with yet.

You can discover yourself.  This is another cliched mantra of the single ones, but it is so true.  In the past, I have been guilty of taking on my boyfriend’s interests and letting my own slide.  However, this really was because I hadn’t solidified my own interests before I got into a serious relationship.

Now that I’ve been on my own for a while, I’ve tried tons of different things and discovered what I love and what I can do without.  Just because something hasn’t been a part of your life up until this point does not mean that it can’t become a part of your life now.  For example, I played no sports in high school (sadly).  Now, I play beach football, turf football, and kickball.  I absolutely love it, and while I am not at the level of athleticism I would prefer to be at, I am getting better with each game that I play.  Had I not ventured out of my comfort zone, I would have never discovered that I actually like to play sports.

So many people don’t try things because they either ‘think’ they won’t like it or because they are simply too snobby to give something new a try because, surprise surprise, they are going to suck at it at first.  We have to stop getting so caught up in being perfect at things all the time.  It is only when we allow ourselves to embrace the possibility of falling that we will be able fly.

You can build yourself.  When you don’t have someone else constantly in your space, you tend to have a lot of time to think–if you don’t crowd out these valuable hours with mindless TV and/or social media and/or other various wastes of time.  If you spend some quiet moments alone reflecting on yourself as a person, both in and out of a relationship, you may come across some things that you don’t like.

This is hard to take.  We all like to think that we are just a little bit more perfect than those around us and if anybody needs to change, it’s the other guy.  But admitting that you have things to work on is arguably more admirable than swimming in self-denial and staying the same, even if you are a decent person to start out with.

In my reflections lately, I’ve noticed that I am a pretty selfish conversation participant.  Whenever someone has something to say, I immediately try to relate to to something similar that has happened in my life.  Not that trying to relate and find common ground is necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes letting that person have their moment in the conversational sun is the more kind and less egotistical choice.  While this is just a small example of something that I feel I need to change personally, there are many other things that we could allow ourselves to get better at if we just acknowledged that some maintenance needs to take place.

Beyond making  cosmetic adjustments to our temple, we can also build on whole new sections.  I have always admired my sisters for being able to play guitar, and a couple months ago I drug out my old acoustic and vowed to spend more time playing.   That lasted for a little while, but it has since faded away as it is not a fully solidified part of me yet.  However, I know that if I really put my mind to it, I can achieve success in that arena, and I plan to make a more concerted effort to make it happen since this is something that I do actually want to add into my life.

Overall, being single is a chance to mold yourself into the person that your future partner will jump at the chance to be with.  So often we admire qualities in other people and desire them in our relationships, but forget we cannot expect roses if we are offering dandelions.

Embrace the freedom.  Embrace the challenge.  Embrace the endless opportunities.  Our years of singlehood will be far less than our years of partnership, so squeeze every last drop out of awesomeness from your solo ventures, and don’t be sad if it takes you a while to find The One.  In fact, take some time to be thankful that they haven’t materialized yet, because you just get a little longer to date yourself.  And lucky for you, you’ll always get the rose.

Loving Life

Standard

This morning before joining my team on the beach for our playoff game (we lost *sniff*), I went on a walk down the pier and just simply looked at the ocean.  It was a cloudy day, and the stratocumulous and stratus streaks in the sky created a beautifully dappled water view that was complimented by the occasional peak of golden sun dancing across the lazy waves.

Headphones in, I simply sat and admired the view for a long moment before walking back down the pier with slow steps and a small, just-for-me smile.  It was such a simple, small, insignificant-in-the-scheme-of-things moment, yet it was perfect.

Lately, I’ve been having quite a bit of those moments.  I’ve felt a lot happier and more carefree for the past week or so than I have felt for a long time.  While I am not at the point of complete Hakuna Matata, upon reflection, there are several things that I feel have contributed to this carefree newfound happiness.

Settling in.  I have now been at my new work site for 12 weeks.  At the beginning, it was a super rough start because of teaching three different grade levels, not knowing anyone, and putting my foot in my mouth seemingly every time I tried to make a move at the school.  Now, however, I have a pretty good handle on what I’m teaching, I have made several friends, and I’ve become more accustomed to the odd politics that swirl around the staff.  In short, I’m not longer wearing sunglasses in a dark alleyway.

Entering a new situation, whether it be a move, a job, a relationship, or what have you, is always stressful in the beginning.  If you are an A type personality like me, it can be excruciatingly painful to flounder around in the shallows when you are used to swiftly beelining in the deep end.  However, I am a firm believer in putting myself in uncomfortable situations for the purpose of growth.  There is no way to improve your game past a certain point if the playing field and the players never changes.  Therefore, discomfort is a necessity.

Acceptance.  I have been in a constant struggle with my body for years.  Not that I am overweight by any stretch of the imagination, but like any female who lives in a state with 365 days of beach season, I have a very specific image of what I want to look like when I slip on my itsy bitsy bikini, and 99.9% of the time, I fall short of this picture.  There have been several times when I have reached a point where I am aaaaalmost there, but inevitably something will happen that causes a huge wave of stress in my life, which causes the tremulous hope of achieving said specific look to come crashing down.

Obviously, this sucks.  However, lately I have been giving myself more of break.  In comparison to a fitness model, I am not 1/10th as impressive or in shape.  However, compared to anybody else, I am doing pretty well.  Obviously, I don’t want to set the bar super low just to make myself feel better, but for the past couple of weeks I have stopped beating myself up for every little slip up.  Usually, if eat more than I should or have a drink when I should just pass it up, I mentally pummel myself about it and feel like a giant failure.  Now, I simply acknowledge that that probably wasn’t the best choice, and then simply… let it go.  Oddly enough, I think it has helped me start to get closer to my ideal shape.

When we beat ourselves up for every little failure, we can hardly even enjoy the victories we do have because we are focusing on how far we still have to go rather than how far we’ve come.  I am in no way saying that we should settle into a life of contentment with average and pat ourselves on the back for every mundane “accomplishment”.  However, there is sometimes something to be said for making the journey towards your goal the focus rather than the shining, ever-so-far-away end target.

Release from self-imposed obligation.  I have a lot of goals that I want to accomplish, but if I am honest with myself, some of them are goals that I FEEL I should strive for and not my actual personal ambitions.  This leads to me put certain things on my to do list because I feel obligated to do them, not out of actual enjoyment or because of some true deeper desire to fully hit that target.  Usually, I end up not doing these things and then I get down on myself for not hustling hard enough, or not putting in enough effort, or for doing other things with my time rather than shoving my nose to the grindstone.

Lately, though, I’ve let myself fully enjoy the things that I like doing and not really care when I don’t get everything in that I planned out.  I’ve noticed that ever since I’ve let myself off the hook with a lot of things, I am gravitating more towards actually doing them.  In other words, when it’s not a big scary duty, it’s actually something I want to do.  Who woulda thought?

Overall, if you are striving to become better every day, allowing yourself to indulge in what truly makes you happy, keeping your mind and body healthy, and taking the time to wash yourself in the small, beautiful moments that pop up in your life, there is no way that you can’t be truly happy.  Our life is so, so short, yet we tend to live like we have endless amounts of time to squander on beating ourselves down and wallowing in misery.

I say, take steps towards your ideal but leave the shackles of useless obligations and constant regret behind.  Life is a journey, and in order to smell the roses you are going to have to deal with the thorns.  You could try to eliminate all spikes before diving in, but that is both impossible and impractical.  Deal with the pricks but put your main focus on indulging in the deep, rich, floral scent and feeling the smooth velvet against your skin.  In the end, everyone’s last petal will fall, and only you will know if you spent the time basking in your moments of being a prince or wallowing in the few beast-like junctures you may have come across.

From now on, I chose to focus on royalty.