Ramblings of a Creative Mind

Thoughts on Work and the World from an Executive Mom


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Wednesday Love

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It’s Monday, the beginning of another week. Nothing special. Just one day in a string of them. Ordinary. You’re motoring through when something catches your eye. For a moment, you stop, wonder, and move on.

Still the moment sticks with you. It tiptoes through your thoughts now and again, then more often. There’s an allure to it. It’s fascinating. You can’t stop thinking about it, don’t want to start thinking about it. And then, sooner or later, you’re in love.

The first rush of love – the beginning – is overwhelming. Consuming. Intense. Starting something is thrilling. Your emotions careen about. You’re proving yourself. Love is lifting you up.You’re high on the future: massive, infinite, limitless.

Then, you settle in. It’s familiar. The rush is gone, but it’s still warm and comfortable. You’re doing well at the office, coaching Little League, cleaning the garage, going through the days. You’re in Wednesday love. Halfway here, halfway done. Maybe you’re distracted or a little discontent, but it’s all good.

There’s something about that midweek love. You’re not really paying attention in the same way you used to. And that love that lifted you up? It sets your *ss down, and when you’re not looking, it reaches in. Love wraps its fingers around your heart, and lets them rest there. Holding on quietly. Biding it’s time.

Until something happens.

We have a lot of “Mom-isms” in our house.

  • “It’s far better to be kind than to be right.”
  • “Patience is a virtue.”
  • “I love you always and forever, no matter what.”

Mom-isms are great. The thing is, they’re not always right.

The last few weeks have been rough. I’ve become used to this idea that love is infinite, immutable. But, in a way, I’m wrong. I’m at that age when immortality disappears, and vivid, frightening mortality takes over. I’m a member of the “sandwich generation,” caring for my parents and my children at the same time, and while it is a greater blessing than I can ever express, it is also intensely difficult because time is far too present. We had a scare, and now I’m counting how many years, months, days, and minutes we have left. On top of it, a friend lost her husband suddenly. He was a few years younger than I am, with a loving marriage and two, incredible kids.

I’m having a hard time finding a place for it all, which is unlike me. Generally, I power through life. Not so much right now. Time is everywhere. Each second that passes by thunders inside my head. It’s so loud that I can’t think, can’t bottle up the emotions. Frankly, I’m not sure I want to.

You see, I’ve been stuck on Wednesday for a while. I gather it’s natural. Life has been comfortable. Now, it’s not. That bastard Love isn’t sitting around quietly anymore. That hand around my heart is gripping tight, and it hurts like hell. I wish it would stop hurting, but I know that’s not in the cards. You see, I’m awake again. It’s not Wednesday anymore. And while I know it will only get harder, I’m remembering that I’m tough. I’m alive. I remember how strong Love is, and even though it’s not lifting me up like it did in the early days, it’s hold on me is closer, stronger, and more intimate than it ever was before. I’m still in the palm of its hand as its fingers wind around my heart. It braces me – embraces me – as I ready myself for what’s to come… whenever that may be.

So tonight, I will hold them close and hope it will ease the pain, drown out the noise, and bring some peace. Yes, things end. Friday comes. Always is not forever, but it’s incredible while it lasts.

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Life in a Snow Globe

Eiffel Tower MagicA few days ago, my younger son saw a snow globe for the first time. He was transfixed. It was a miniature one: maybe three inches tall tops, with the Eiffel Tower and a million sparkles inside. To me, it didn’t look like much, but seeing it reflected in his eyes, it was pure beauty. So, we forked over $3.99 plus tax for a little bit of wonder. He cradled it gently in his hands on the way home and throughout the rest of the day. When he went to bed, it glittered softly by his bedside, reflecting the glow of his nightlight. All was well with the world, until it wasn’t.

The next morning, Paris beckoned. I told him how I’d been to visit the city, and promised to take him there one day. He was mesmerized. So was I. He shook the snow globe. As we pondered adventures and how many sparkles one sphere could hold, he shook it harder. Swept up in his enthusiasm, he flung out his arms, striking the fragile trinket into his wooden nightstand. Crash. Water, shards of glass, and shattered dreams spilled across the floor.

Now, I came late to this motherhood business, well into the season of life when you begin to count how much time you have left. I understand loss. So, when you’re counting your own minutes, you tend to be uber-sensitive to anything that could hurt your little ones. That natural fear began to rise up, and then I saw the look in his eyes.

He was devastated. I mean really, really devastated. I don’t know if I’ve seen that look before. Something was broken. Tears and “I’m sorry” spilled out of him over and over. That broke me. To me, it was a cheap little trinket. I even got 15% off. To him? It was so much more.

There are times in our lives that demand our attention. It’s easy to tell which days or moments are the big ones – milestones, the wedding day, the birth of a child, their first steps. We’re alert, filled with intention, consciously caring. So often though, we motor through this thing called life like our evening commute. We’re running on cruise control, a little tired, or distracted: just not 100% there. We take it for granted that we know our way home, and that the folks we’re headed to will be there. Dinner, how was your day, bedtime stories: the routine is comfortable and familiar. We could do it with our eyes closed.

All of those little things, those small choices or forgettable questions may be meaningless to you. They may mean something intense to someone else. Those words we rifle off quickly, our go to “I’m listening but really not” phrases, our slightly impatient tone… we think others don’t notice, but maybe they do. Perhaps those frustrated, protective or defensive words do more harm than we could possibly know.

The snow globe was small but beautiful. In a small, unintentional moment, it shattered. The damage could not be undone. And when I looked in Luke’s eyes, I realized that, sometimes, hearts are as fragile as snow globes as well. Something that was measured only in dollars and cents to me was sheer magic to him. I didn’t know it until it was too late.

There are so many snow globes in our lives, known and unspoken. People. Promises. Memories. Dreams. Faith. Self-worth. Love. Whatever they may be, we treasure them deeply. Others have them too. And while we may hold and guard ours gently, they’re fragile. We’re fragile. So are those around us. We can’t take for granted that something said or done in frustration, anger or sheer inattention doesn’t have a lasting effect on those we love. We can’t assume that words we barely recall don’t carry weight; that hearts mend easily, forgiveness always comes, or people will be around forever. They won’t, and that’s probably the only fact of life that really matters.

Thinking about his tears then makes me tear up now. My heart still hurts for him. I did my best to ease the pain, to help it heal. I hope it has, but only time will tell. Still, I will see a little more clearly and watch more closely for signs of the magic… so it doesn’t run out.

 

 

 

 


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Show Time

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I come from a creative family and married a creative man. We both worked in the arts for years and encourage a love of them in our boys.  Yes, we listen to show tunes and get pumped when we sing in harmony with the kids. So, a few years back, it seemed perfectly normal when we bought a piano for me, picked up my old cello, and then added DJ turntables (yes – it’s music) and a drum set for Steve – instruments we could already play. Later, we added the saxophone and a guitar, and while the extent of my guitar playing skills begin and end with one cool *ss riff, it still made sense.

Then one day, the Hubster brought home the ukelele.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The ukelele is a pretty cool instrument. There’s something quaint… perhaps intimate… about it. It’s four strings, a few chords and the hint of a warm, Pacific breeze. Steve bought a professional quality one and told me he wanted to learn to play it. Awesome idea, but hard to fit into a schedule that includes working on his Master’s Degree full-time, managing construction on the house, wrangling two unruly boys and keeping life moving while I’m traveling for work. So the ukelele has sat quietly on a shelf in the closet under a pile of sweaters, waiting for a moment in the sun.

Today, there was no sun. It actually rained in Southern California. It was heavy, thick rain – the kind that makes hills slide onto streets and freeways turn to shimmering rivers. My 59 mile commute might as well have been 5,000. When I came through the front door out of the darkness and into the light, my kids followed me around bouncing like manic little munchkins, and announced rather loudly that they had a show for me. Now, my blood sugar was subzero and the Hubster had made hot dogs for dinner. This is not generally a recipe for a successful evening. Still, our focus as a family is remembering that every moment is a gift, so I begged them for five minutes to decompress and promised them I would watch one more production (probably another Lego battle or charade thing-a-ma-bopper).  They guided me (and my hot dog) to my seat, our couch pillow thrown on the floor, and began the show.

The Hubster pulled out the ukelele, strummed a few chords, and the boys began to sing:

“I have a dream I hope will come true: that you’re here with me, and I’m here with you. I wish that the earth, sea and sky up above will send me someone to lava.”*

For four precious minutes, Steve played clumsy, sweet, tender chords on an instrument he barely knows, and the three men I love most in the world sang a song they’d just learned this evening. Their eyes were brighter than any star ever born, and the tears ran down my face heavier than tonight’s rain – as they are right now as I write these words.

There are times in your life that are amazing: your first kiss, when you say “I do”, or when your child is born. Somehow, tonight was just MORE. This was one of the most incredible nights of my life. They gave me a gift I can never explain. The love I feel for them is too much for this skin of mine to hold in. I’m so grateful, so humbled and so thankful that this incredible man fell in love with me and that, together, we’ve made people as miraculous as Jake and Luke.  And here they were tonight, singing to me.

Life is good. Love is better.

I could not ask for more.

*Lyrics are from Pixar’s animated short, “Lava”. If you have not seen it, RUN NOW. GO!  Or, grab a box of tissues, click here and enjoy. It’s worth it.


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1989

The End of the InnocenceIn January of 1989, my brother died.

Cancer is an evil thing.  It sneaks up on you, striking when you least expect it.  No matter how strong or young you are, cancer is often stronger.  My brother was very young and very strong.  He fought the disease for four years.  I thought he’d beaten it.  But it surprised us all, and we said goodbye very suddenly.

His death affected our family deeply, and everyone coped in different ways.

As for me, I was lost for a while.  I was in a dark place.  I was very insecure back then, and never was comfortable with myself… hating what I saw when I looked in the mirror.  I couldn’t deal with the reality of his death.  So I practiced being someone I wasn’t.

Now, I always loved the arts, and I threw myself into it even more.  It was a way to run away from the pain of his loss, the pain my family was feeling… frankly, the pain of everything.  I NEEDED to run away.

So, I did.  I was beyond excited when I got cast in a show out of town.  At that time, I lived in California, and my summer gig was up in Michigan at a beautiful place called Boyne Highlands.  This would be my first time moving away from home.  My first great adventure.  My first escape.  I packed up my Mom’s minivan and set out across the country.

I spent the summer of 1989 living in a bubble of sorts.  There we were, sixteen young adults living in paradise.  It would have been easy – even natural – to get lost in all of the beauty of Northern Michigan.  Life at a golf resort.  Learning to bartend.  The music.

Instead, in the summer of 1989, I dealt with the after effects of my brother’s death.  I met someone who helped me believe for the first time that I was beautiful.  I learned to forgive people who had hurt me long ago.  And as I laid on the greens at the 7th hole and looked at the stars, I learned to be brave.  1989 taught me that the world is not always kind, but that’s a part of life. And in the background, always on the radio, was Don Henley’s “The End of the Innocence.”

The song and I met at the intersection of my youth and my adulthood.

Written by Bruce Hornsby and Henley, it went to #8 on the charts.  It is #1 in my heart.

“Remember when the days were long
And rolled beneath a deep blue sky
Didn’t have a care in the world
With mommy and daddy standin’ by
But “happily ever after” fails
And we’ve been poisoned by these fairy tales
The lawyers dwell on small details
Since daddy had to fly

But I know a place where we can go
That’s still untouched by men
We’ll sit and watch the clouds roll by
And the tall grass wave in the wind
You can lay your head back on the ground
And let your hair fall all around me
Offer up your best defense
But this is the end
This is the end of the innocence…”

Whenever I hear that song, I am again lying on the cool grass in Northern Michigan… letting go of illusions, remembering my brother, remembering those people, remembering the joy.  Knowing life will never be the same again and knowing that’s okay.

In 2013, almost 25 years later, I attended a leadership event.

Who played that night?  Bruce Hornsby.

He sang “The End of the Innocence.”

I sat in the audience with tears streaming down my face, missing those I’d lost, loving them.  I gave thanks for the blessings in my life today, and knew just how fragile they are.

Here’s a link to the video from that night: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10151365340347478&l=872927215193903441

These moments are fleeting.  Don’t miss them.

This blog post is part of the weekly DPChallenge.  Check it out here: http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/11/04/weekly-writing-challenge-music/


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Requiem for Words

Sooner or later, death comes to visit us all. No matter how much we deny it, we can’t escape it. Hopefully, it is patient – waiting quietly in the wings as we live life brilliantly. But often, it is an impatient companion… touching us too soon and demanding that we feel its presence.

Death and I first met in 8th grade over Easter vacation. It announced itself when my choir director called. I remember Miki as a quiet, bright young girl who sent me 10 candy grams that Valentines Day, as she knew I had not received many the year before. She left suddenly and too soon. And since that day, I’ve met Death too many times. Generally, it’s been unwelcome but expected.

But tonight, my heart aches for a friend of mine. He’s lost a brother.

Last night, a young man laid down to rest. He didn’t get up this morning.

There is no reason. No cause. Just a few words to his loved one, and then silence.

Perhaps in the coming days or weeks, there will be an answer. Why? There will still be pain, and there will still be those last words.

Death expected allows us to prepare. Something like this though is a visceral reminder of how fragile life is. How brief. How words matter.

When I became a parent, I “prepared”. I wrote wills, established trusts – documenting the who, what and how of the days and months after I am gone. But what about the days before? Am I ready? Are you?

We take life for granted. Our routines are comfortable. We wander through the days and years of our lives, going through the motions. Enjoying things. Wasting things. Wasting time. Wasting words.

Words have great power.
The last words I said to Miki years ago were “see you in a week.” That never happened.
The last words I typed to a friend of mine who died in a car crash were “Love ya.” Those were good.
The last words I said to my Gramma were an apology, and “I’ll come next weekend instead.” I will regret those forever.

Last night, someone said words that were final. I hurt for the people who love him.

They say that actions speak louder than words. But words matter. Yours matter. Share them. Don’t regret them.

We say in my home lately, “practice being kind, not always being right.” But share your kind words too. Be generous. Give more. Give back. Time may be great or it may be scarce. I’m reminded again. When your journey on this earth is through, there will be many people who love you that are left behind. Many miles they would travel to be where you are then, but tonight, they are only a breath away.


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A Boy and A Blue Balloon

Close up of a blue balloonThis morning, I had the honor to be a small part of something special.

After rolling out of bed before the sun came up, I was pretty tired.  So were the hundred or so fellow travelers I shared Southwest Airlines Flight #150 with this morning on the way to Sacramento.   Engrossed in our smartphones, on auto pilot, we picked up our bags and began to exit the plane.  That’s where the magic began.

As I stepped out the door and onto the jetway, I glanced up and saw a blue balloon taped to the wall.  Odd, but not remarkable.   Then, there was another.  And another.  In fact, the jetway walls were lined with bright blue balloons – far too many to count.  Confused, I stopped.  So did everyone else. I heard our flight attendant bristling with excitement, lining up the pilots and prepping them for photos and the surprise.  And there, nestled amongst it all was a sign – “We’re honored to help!  Yay, Mason!”  As my dazed companions and I got moving again, I was struck by the bright smiles on the faces of the flight attendants, the crew, the passengers… and me.

I have no clue who Mason is.  I don’t know his story.  I overheard that he was headed to Orlando, so I think he is a child, but why is he going there? What made this trip so special that a team pulled together to create a thing of such joy for him, for themselves and for all of us who were brief witnesses to the moment?

The background of his story may be bright or perhaps tragic.  At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter.  What hit home for me is how someone on that flight crew cared deeply about someone they barely knew, had an idea and led others with love.

The notion of love in leadership may be controversial.  As we build our careers, we focus on learning the ropes, connecting the dots, generating the ROI and building a great strategic plan.  Those are all necessary components to any great business.  But where is the love?  Where is the emotional connection that is so fierce, so deep and so passionate that it leads you to chase dreams, move mountains and inspires others to follow?  Data, metrics and business plans provide a framework for any good enterprise.  Companies and leaders become great though when they inspire people to believe, to get uncomfortable, to go out on a limb and to give.  We have to take that risk and bring love into the equation.  It’s love for the company, it’s culture, it’s team and its customers.     It’s spending the time to get to know someone else’s dreams, what they want to achieve, and then committing full force… being there to help them achieve that dream.  It’s investing in what’s in it for someone else.  It reaps greater rewards for the giver than you can ever accrue for.  Even more, it reaps rewards for your team as they invest emotionally.  They go father, reach higher, work harder and smile wider.  They’ve shared the joy.

I still don’t know Mason and his story.  I think it’s better that way.  What I do know is that Mason was a king this morning, and whatever mountain he may need to climb, he is stronger today and has a hundred strangers cheering him on from the sidelines.  I’m among them.

Traveling on business has its perks.  Frequent flier programs can get you a window over an aisle, free wifi and sometimes, a front row seat to greatness.

How can you lead your life with love today?  Who will be your Mason?


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Father Knows Best

DadSo, now it is Dad’s turn to celebrate another birthday – perhaps a little unwillingly.  That tends to happen more and more as life goes along, I guess.  The family gathered at his house to share his special day.  Have I mentioned that my family is rather large?  There were seven of us kids there (and that’s not the entire crew), not to mention the kids by marriage, assorted boy/girlfriends and grandkids here, there and everywhere, two dogs, two cats… You get the drift.  It was extremely loud with all of those lives everywhere. Every table was heavily laden with food (it’s a Francisco Family tradition). Fingers big and small made music on the keyboard, and voices lifted in harmony as the organ dimly played its fading bossa nova beat in the background as we passed by.  In other words, it was home.

We came together in a dance so familiar to celebrate the man that unites us all.  We had a great time, one that I am reminiscing about now as I sit in my quiet home – close and still too far away.  So tonight, I wanted to share a few things about my Dad that still serve as life lessons for me today.

1.  Small people make a big impact. When I was a child, my Dad towered over me like a giant.  Dads do that.  As I have grown, I have come to realize that many members of my family are “vertically challenged”, myself included.  Yet, while my Dad may be small in stature, he has made a significant difference in the lives of many people beyond just our family members.  When Dad moved to the States, he soon became a small town doctor.  That small town doctor brought life to generations after generations as he delivered them in homes, in hospitals and out in the local Hutterite communities.  Doc Eddie still reigns supreme in borders well beyond those he knows, as others live today thanks to the work he did.  The magnitude can’t be measured, and it is real, meaningful and eternal.

2. You don’t have to show off to prove your worth.  Dad is a genius – literally. That can be rather humbling to a kid who thinks they know it all.  Yet, Dad never mentioned it… Not once.  He never really touted his accomplishments; he didn’t have to.  He demonstrated who he was in his actions, and others touted it for him… usually to his embarrassment.  And he never made his know it all child feel down.  He knew when to win, and knew when he needed to let you win. That’s a hard one for me, and I’m working on it. There’s no benefit in always being right. It’s impossible, and hurtful too.

3.  Know when to work, and know when to play. Children of doctors know the routine – the early mornings, late nights, even later emergency calls from the answering service. There was no doubt that Dad was always on during the week.  But Dad also knew when to call a time out.  My favorite silly day, one among many, was on my twelfth birthday.  I sat at the kitchen table with my homebaked cake, my brothers and sisters, wearing a cowboy hat, when a giant yell came from the stairwell.  Out bounded Dad in a much too small matching cowboy hat, brandishing irons (a fork and spoon) and whooping that he was the birthday bandit.  He was exhausted and on call that night, but I never would have known it.  He made time stop for me and for the family.  Work hard, yes, but there are times that everything else can wait.

4. Silence often means more than words. Dad pretty much does not speak. He is known for one word sentences at most, but more often – if we asked him a question – his response would be a nod, a lift of an eyebrow, or pointing with his lips. It’s a Filipino thing. “Dad, want some ice cream?” Nod. “Strawberry or chocolate?” Lift left eyebrow twice. “You got it, Dad.” He is a quiet man, but says so much without a word. I sat down next to him today, leaned against him, put my head on his shoulder – and with one simple pat on my hand, he said more about how he felt and his love than a million flowery poems or this blog ever could. Words are often overrated. Dad shows his love instead with a gentle touch, and through his endless cooking of pots of adobo, plates of pancit and piles of lumpia. You never go hungry, belly or soul. People show love in different ways. How open are you to receiving it?

5. Don’t forget to dance. We are pre-iPod, CD and cassette. Yet, Mom loved music on at all times (probably to mute the sounds of us crazies), so Dad installed a radio in the kitchen, hanging underneath the cabinet. It would play in the background every night. Then, after the food was gone and the dishes washed, magic would happen. Several nights a week, a song would come on that Mom loved, and Dad was swoop her into his arms, waltzing her around the kitchen in a grandiose arc. Then, he’d pull her close to him, sway softly and sing Julio Iglesias or “Dahil Sa Iyo”gently as an eerie quiet would fall over us all. Life goes by too quickly, and the days run together and are soon forgotten. Yet, those fleeting minutes are magic. Don’t forget to dance.

Here’s to you, Dad. Thank you for the food, the Angels, the unexpected piano concertos and the karaoke marathons.

You are the best.