Archive for March, 2012

The abnormal of normal

Posted: March 27, 2012 in Blending, Family, Happiness

I feel we have definitely reached a point in our march toward the official start of the blended family where we have fallen into a state of normal.  We no longer spend time asking each other who has kids when and what activities are taking place on each weekend.  We are in that stage of anticipation when all the plans have been made, the final choices are done on menus, the wedding invitations have gone out and now we are just waiting for the time in less than two months to arrive when we move from knowing where we are going to finally really being there.

This past weekend we headed over to my soon-to-be in-laws house to get wedding favors ready and while there I also took care of swapping out a over the range microwave.  Once the tasks were done everyone had a dinner of taco salad while most of the kids had pizza.  My fiancée’s two sisters were there as well.  From all perspectives it was a foreshadowing of what everyone would call a normal weekend at Grandma’s.  Except it was abnormal.  But that is good.  Feel like you’re reading about a Tim Burton movie yet, where you think you know what’s happening and then Abraham Lincoln stabs a vampire with a stake?

Let me explain.  I spent the majority of my adult life going to family gathering or just visiting on the weekend or just hanging around the house with my family in normal life and having it often devolve into a mess.  My fiancée had her own version of bedlam in her marriage and beyond as her husband/ex did his thing.  I would attend Thanksgiving dinner and ultimately end up with my wife pouting on the couch wanting to leave because she was not having fun or being treated like the center of attention.  I would come up with reasons to not visit eventually because it was just easier than the drama.  Sure we always went to major holidays but visits to the parents got less and less frequent and with distance less and less awkward since we now had a somewhat legitimate reason for the loss of common contact.  Long before the Great Recession I had a new normal in my daily existence.

If an impartial observer could have watched our Saturday afternoon unfold as if a scene in a snow globe, they might have quickly yawned and fallen asleep.  We arrived, said hellos, cleared up a misunderstanding about who was here as opposed to who was expected with laughter rather than dramatic prose.  I performed my appliance task; most others played with candies, ribbons, Fiskars cutters and mini-origami favor boxes.  Kids played outside and a dog lay on the sidewalk observing the world.  Dinner was made, served, enjoyed and hilarious conversation erupted for a while in the way that only siblings sharing childhood memories can do.  Another fix on the computer was completed; several people gathered round a TV and watched some clips of a favorite show.  We said our goodbyes and we drove home.  Are you still awake, or have you fallen asleep reading this rather droll account that is just a common afternoon around America for millions?

The wonder in this normal was that for us it was so abnormal to how these events had happened or in many cases not even happened at all in our marriages.  There was no wailing and gnashing of teeth, no embarrassing comments to apologize for or gloss over or pray no one heard.  It was just a Saturday afternoon with normal tasks and people spending time together doing ordinary things.  It was great to not have to wonder what would happen next and what catastrophe would need to be averted.  It was liberating to know that those days were past and were not coming back.  The drive home did not involve an argument about anything.  The kids were not stressed out from the events of the visit or the drive home or there.  It was so far removed from what happened all too often when I was married that it did honestly feel as if I was in a Tim Burton other reality, only instead of  it being all strange and weird and out of place, it all felt just as it should; ordinary, nice and ordinary. 

As we proceed into the future, the Great Recession and our divorces have created a new normal that is well understood by many, but the blessing of us finding each other and bringing our families together has also brought us back to an old normal that we were both pulled away from by our life choices for a time.  I’m not sure if this counts for our wedding as our “something old, something new” but I’m taking it.  I promise you normal never was so extraordinary.

A lesson from death

Posted: March 16, 2012 in Christian, Family, Lessons

I was recently listening to the director’s commentary on Courageous and at one point they made a statement that stuck with me.  They did not provide information so that I could research it on my own, as I like to do, especially with something I’m going to use as a blog post, but it was so impactful that I said I’d still write the post and let everyone make up their own mind.  For you see, in my case, what they said, in retrospect, certainly held true.

The statistic they cited was that people, when they lose someone to death, more than any other response to the question of what they regret the most, gave the response of love withheld. 

In my estimation, and I believe in the directors’ as well by their subsequent statements, this does not only mean love in the sense that most would be subject to jump to, of the romantic or similar variety.  Instead it means love in the strict Christian sense of genuine caring and feeling for another human being who we come in contact with, as in “love your fellow man”.  It is those moments that we missed the opportunity to share a connection because we were too tired, too busy, too distracted, too swept up in the unimportant details of life that we lost the opportunity to focus on relating to an individual in a way that let them know they meant something to us.

Again, I’m not talking about “friends with benefits” or even hugging a friend when we meet them, but things as simple are not glancing at our smart phone while we are talking to them and instead giving us their undivided attention.  As I think back to those who have died, I agree that in almost 100% of those cases, I would agree that love withheld is what tears at me most. 

Most recently with my aunt, and repeated with others in my family, I let distance, my marriage and other things easily take me away from showing them attention.  Losing a friend as a child to an untimely death I could not help but think about those times recently when I had blown him off to do something stupid, figuring I could just catch up with him next week.  In Courageous they do a great job showing this complacency to human relations we easily fall into when the father of the girl who dies is holding her on his lap for what neither of them realize is the last time, while he stares blankly off at the TV.  The commentary explains very clearly with the omniscience of movie making, that oh for that one bit of knowledge that this would be the last time he would hold his daughter, how he would have made that interaction so different.  Love withheld.

I want to be clear that I understand, this is usually never intentional, but nonetheless it is still not a reason to not look for a way to change.  In several cases in my life I have not had the opportunity to make things better, and luckily I was given a different driver than death, and that was divorce, to make me realize that neglecting relationships because I was just too caught up in other things is not the right choice.  Since time is not unlimited, I certainly will always need to make choices about what I do, but there was a better balance than what I was doing in the past.  God has placed me in a situation where I no longer need to make those choices and I am blessed for that.

What I have learned over the last few years is that when I feel the urge to pick up the phone and call an out-of-state friend I have not spoken with in six months, my response should not be “I will do that tonight” it need to be to call them.  When I am sitting on the couch watching TV and my kids want to play a board game or my wife wants to talk to me, I should focus on them.  When someone I do not know is struggling to carry a package to their car, I should evaluate if I really am not able to take thirty seconds and help with their burden.  The shift, I have found, is one of really being honest with yourself about how pressing those distractions in life really are and in lowering your own importance to the world, as I view it to be a humble servant to others, whenever possible, rather than a self-absorbed arrogant person who over estimates their own self-worth.  Sure my time is important, but so it that other person’s.  If I am late to a meeting, I show everyone there that I value my time more than theirs, that I place myself higher than them.  Love withheld. 

I will never be successful or able to respond to every interaction and not withhold love, and some choices require you to do that.  If I have two conflicting engagements with my children, God has not given me the ability to be in two places at once, so I must choose to withhold love from one or the other.  Those things I cannot control, but where I can, I continue to work to do better every day than I did the day before and will do that as long as I live.  When another loved one passes from this earth, I will probably fall into that same situation as the majority of others do, of thinking to chances when love was withheld, but if I have honestly lived with this goal in my heart I think it may be less often or about moments less impactful.  This weekend I will enjoy time with my fiancée as our children are off with their other parent.  She has some work that needs to be done and we both know that must be her focus, but I have errands I need to run and tasks I need to complete as well.  I will do everything I can to make sure I do them in a way that makes me fully available to her when she is complete with her tasks, for to do otherwise would be to place those distractions above my focus on our relationship, and as I’m sure you understand by now, I learned that lesson a while ago.

Making lemonade

Posted: March 12, 2012 in Christian, Divorce, Recovery

“It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees”  — Psalm 119:71

This weekend we got a taste of spring.  It was unseasonably warm and Sunday was a glorious day where the children played outside for bit and I got to fertilize the lawn and get it ready for the upcoming season.  It was definitely a day when we could have been on the porch sipping lemonade and thinking of the year to come and deciding what paths to take.

With divorce we all need to make a choice of paths our life will take as well and there are really three ways we can go. 

First, we can choose to have our life change for the worse.  We can let the experience of divorce dominate and control everything in our life going forward.  We can be immobilized and damaged and unable to function not just physically, but mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.   If you know people who are divorced, and these days I think we all do, you know that some just wallow in sadness and depression, constantly play back their marriage, assume nothing will ever be good again and on and on.

Second, we can choose to have life be the same.  We are not damaged but there has been nothing taken from the experience in regards to learning and growing.  What the psalmist states above has not occurred.  We have been afflicted, but through either stubbornness, lack of desire or lack of understanding have not benefited in any way.  We run the risk of repeating our mistakes, being attracted to similar people, responding the same way and most dangerously of thinking we had nothing to do with our failed marriage.  It was all the fault of our ex.  It is so easy to fall into this path.  Why do the hard work of searching our soul and finding out what needs to be examined and changed when we have a ready made villain packaged up for us with a pretty bow.  No matter the circumstance none of us could not learn something from our breakup.

Third we can choose our life to change for the better.  Your self talk changes from “why me?’ and “God why did You let this happen?” to focusing on how to make you life better.  How can you take what has happened and glorify God? I have chosen to continue providing support to other people going through divorce.  I write this blog, I facilitate DivorceCare groups, I talk with people one-on-one as the opportunity presents itself.  I have learned what I did that contributed to my marriage failing such as not talking openly about my beliefs and needs/wants in starting and continuing a relationship. 

On this bonus spring day when we should still be in the throes of winter cold, it was easy to be happy and excited about the possibilities.  As we process our divorce, the same thing occurs.  Everyone gets that giddy feeling that comes with being out of the emotional weight of day in and day out struggle of a collapsing marriage.  It felt like I could breathe and did not have to walk on eggshells and could just do what I wanted without clearing it with anyone.  Just as it takes strength to remain optimistic and cheerful after three weeks of rain and clouds and gloom, divorce runs that parallel too.  So many things are real concerns that need to be dealt with, but the lightness of being that comes from choosing the take control of your life and trust God for His help is so much better than letting life run you over.

As I minister to others I see how hard it is to take the third path.  Society, media, other people we know make it so easy to stay in the sadness and hurt.  Just like the news reports almost exclusively things to inspire fear and paranoia, our negative stories provide a lot more spice and fun as we share them than a conversation about how we have grown as a person by making some little change.   

As spring approaches, if you find yourself on one of the first two paths, vow to cut through the woods and get to the third path.  You will find the tress less foreboding and the water you need to refresh you less dank.  Chopping through the dense underbrush, brambles and low hanging limbs of the forest to get across to the path will not be easy.  You will inevitably stop for a rest in the middle of all the toil and be tempted to turn back and just walk back to the path you came from, but press on.  Finding and taking the third path is not always easy, but I promise you the lemonade tastes awesome.

We all hear phrases like, “The best laid plans…” There is a popular bumper sticker which I have seen around a bit but it was ironic that my fiancée came across it this week and texted me; “I plan, God laughs”.  There is an old Yiddish proverb “Mann traoch, Gott Lauch” which is the origin of this and it means “Man plans, God laughs”.

So in the last week I’ve been tossed two examples of this related to being divorced and the blending of families.  I have been a relatively good student of learning the lessons of the Serenity Prayer, however in my new life circumstances I seem to get irked by those “things I cannot change”.  It is little solace that this is a pretty common occurrence among those of us who are divorced.  I like to think myself better than that, but this is one result I am having difficulty with.  We all like to carve our own path, make our own choices, and it is hard enough learning that in life to work with others we have to change our path.   Having to do that as a result of an ex is downright maddening.

The first example is one made of my divorce, meaning it involves my ex.  I have been praying and working to get my children, both bio and step, to find God.  In the last few months I have seen real changes in my kids in this regard, and for that I am thrilled.  As a blended family we have found a church and this has gone a long way to aid in the process.  My plan is working.

Then God giggles.  My bio children are now trying to convince my ex to attend church…. OUR church!  My eldest proudly announced, “I nearly go mom to go to church this Sunday!” when she returned from the normal visitation this week.  I should be thrilled right?!  However I find I am not.  I think it would be great for them to be able to go to church, and certainly the consistency of going to the same church and getting exposure to the weekly teaching from the same source would be excellent.  The monkey wrench in the plan is my ex and the impact I’m almost certain she would try to have.  She has already made comments on at least three occasions just in the last six months about how she was stupid to leave, how she realizes how hard life is and how easy I made it for her, yada, yada, yada.  If she now attends our church, and God forbid, likes it, I can only imagine the litany of “Oh, why did I not see God before, we could have stayed a family”.  I view this church as a great place to learn and grow and a real different environment that when I was married to my ex.  If God draws her in through the influence of my children, that environment is gone.  I understand I should be happy that she may yet be saved, I’d just like her to be saved somewhere else.  I know that’s awful, and the whole process of me even thinking these things makes me feel awful.  Why is God doing this?  Stop laughing!  Yes you can envision me pouting, crossing my arms and letting out a “Harrumph”.  STOP LAUGHING!

The second example is one made of my blending, meaning it involved my fiancée’s ex.  She shared with me very early on his joy of fighting through the court system.  We recently filed a motion to change the school district of her children and expected a response.  The normal window to reply has come and gone and crickets.  Normal people would be thrilled, but as she has made clear he is anything but normal.  Even though he does not have a case, she anticipates something just because this is what he has done in the past with other women in his life.  At some point that means time in court and a decision of if we pay an attorney or if she represents herself as she has done in the past.  She has done everything you can expect and more to be as prepared as possible, but the reality is that while we plan to have a great married life together there will be some impact of her ex and his penchant for court proceedings on our future.  Even if she represents herself, time in court is time not spent working, and for a self-employed person that means loss of income.  So God brings together two of His people yet leaves this probable major disruption in our path?  Is it just because no one can be too happy?  Is it not enough that he can giggle over our trial and travails of raising six kids without ending up in a rubber room?

 I realize, just as with anything the Serenity Prayer warns us against, this is all about control.  I cannot control what my ex will do when the kids finally get her to come to our church.  I could change churches, but I’m not going to do that.  I cannot control if my fiancée’s ex chooses to file something in court.  I could call the whole thing off and just walk away, but I’m not going to do that.  What I plan on doing is focus on the positive and hope God keeps his jollies at our expense to a minimum in the process.

If the kids get my ex to bring them to church on her weekends they get consistent exposure to strengthening the most important relationship they will ever have, and that is with God.  If they have that, it will make them more able to get through life well.  It will make them happier.  I may have to deal with some inappropriate and uncomfortable conversations with my ex because of it.  It will make me a better person to suck it up and let the kids get what they need while I take some crap for it.

The other situation is more difficult for me right now because I do not feel the same level of understanding of the players involved.  The ex will manipulate his kids into taking his side and probably causing more drama.  We have already talked about how he will take the most basic situations like siblings arguing and call child services to investigate and find nothing of note, but still wasting our resources.  I’m not sure if I’m the bad guy with her kids at these times.  It does create a situation ripe for manipulation and with someone who thrives on that it will create situations.  My challenge will be to try to only deal with them as they happen rather than spending too much time playing them out in my head ahead of time to try to preempt anything.  This is the case of a strength becoming a weakness.  I have supreme confidence in my ability to negotiate, to explain and to build a maze of “properness” that in my mind will be seen by any logical person (read judge, investigator, etc.) as so rock solid that they will turn around and laugh in her exes face about how stupid he is for even thinking he has anything to argue about.  Therefore I view this as a finite problem that has a straightforward solution.  My fiancée with her infinitely deeper experience with her ex and the family court system thinks otherwise.  At this point we keep asking God to keep him busy and hope that His sense of punishing the wicked outweighs his desire to go to the comedy club.  The other positive is that this impact, unlike the other situation with my ex, has a definite end in about ten years when the kids are all of age and the court system can do nothing to help him cause disruption.

God will do what He wants.  I can’t blame him.  From the start we’ve been a pain in the ass.  He gave Adam and Eve one rule and they broke it.  God plans, and man laughs.   He gives Moses tablets and he drops them and He’s got to make more.  He promises a ninety year old woman, Sarah, a child and she literally laughs.  God’s response?   Name that son you laughed about Isaac, which means “he will laugh”.  Throughout history man has always thought they could laugh at God, stepping further and further away as a group.  I guess mankind has given God more than enough reasons to mess with our plans for His amusement.

So my plan, most likely fantasy, but what I have some control over, is to create a blended family that is such a cool place to be that as our kids age and can speak up for themselves they will look at the shenanigans of both our exes and tell them to stop.  The exes may disregard it but only at the expense of their relationship with their kids.  I understand it will never be smooth.  I do know that for the sake of my kid’s salvation and the joy of spending what time God has left for me with my wonderful fiancée I will sit back and let God laugh at my plans.  I also trust that God does not create situations that are just downright mean.  If I felt he had a vindictive, sarcastic streak I would be concerned.  Because I understand that if we work to glorify God and strive to do what He desires we will ultimately end up on the positive side of the balance, I am confident that since that is ultimately our family’s plan that we will be OK.

What color is your flag?

Posted: March 7, 2012 in Communication, Tools

One of the best experiences I had was attending a seminar by a pastor by the name of Mark Gungor.  Mark is pastor at Celebration Church in Green Bay, WI and is one of the most sought after speakers on marriage and family.  He also has a daily internet radio show which can be found at www.markgungorshow.com and his website for seminars and materials is www.laughyourway.com.

Mark tours the country and presents a two days session lasting about 6 hours entitled, “Laugh Your Way To A Better Marriage”.  It was a terrific experience and one I would certainly share with my fiancée if and when Pastor Gungor comes this way.  In this seminar he talked about something called a Flag Page, which is what I am going to focus on in this post.

For those of you who work in a white collar job you are probably familiar with things like the Myers-Briggs or the Conflict Resolution Test.  Businesses have us go through them and many others to determine how we are likely to react or how we behave and it is mainly meant as a tool to help ourselves improve or change from within.  The Flag Page is different in that it takes that stance that you are the way God made you and the best thing you can do is share with those you love how they can best interact with you.  In short, what you learn from this process is what energizes and drives you.

The process is pretty simple.  It does cost $10, but for what it provides it’s well worth it.  I truly encourage anyone who wants to really get a interesting and beneficial view of themselves to get their own Flag Page.  You begin this process at www.flagpage.com and after you pay your fee it takes about five minutes to answer the three screens of questions.  It really is well designed and explained.  A virtual Mark will talk you through every step. 

Once you are done you get some information.  The first thing is what “country” you prefer.  The concept here is that just as with real countries you communicate best in the language of your native country, and if people understand what Home Country you are from they will know how to speak with you.  You do not talk to someone from Germany is French and expect to have great results.  The countries are Fun, Perfect, Control and Peace.  In your scoring you will have leanings towards all of them, but one will come out on top.  You also find out what is your Adopted Country.  When things are not working out this is where you will head in most cases.  After you understand this you eventually get to see your Flag which is where the Flag Page gets its name.  This flag is made up of your top 5 motivations.  There are 56 that can be selected and in the process the system narrows you down to 5, very, very quickly.  These are the keys to your happiness.  If these five needs are met you cannot be unhappy.  You know this because you selected these things in the process of answering the questions to get your flag page.  It really is a fascinating tool and I again encourage you to check it out.

In our case my Home Country is Fun Country and my Adopted Country is Peace Country.  My fiancée is the opposite and her score are much stronger than mine for each country which indicates that she is more firmly rooted in her countries than I am in mine.  It is interesting in how things play out between us and how I can quickly think back to our flag pages and figure out what is going on.  I tend to like to have fun.  This makes sense since my country is Fun.  But my fiancée is at Home in Peace country and at times when I push the fun too far (make little comments) she can get upset because she is more serious and fun can be taken too far.  I don’t normally have that hang up and it can cause of to not communicate too well.  Since I understand this I can quickly recalibrate when things are going off track and since my Adopted Country is Peace country I can easily shift to speak her language anyway. 

When you get to our flag pages it is very interesting.  Of the five talent colors, my flag incorporates four of them.  As I said I am much more evenly scored amongst all countries.  My fiancée on the other hand has only two colors, and of her five sections of the flag, four of them are one color, so she is much more definitively people driven.  As I look at her choice of career and what makes her light up, it is so obviously correct.  I love the insight the flag pages provide and I use it often when I need to be reminded about what makes my darling tick.

The five motivations are ranked too, so anyone you share your page with can quickly understand what the driver to your happiness is.  In my case the top three motivations are Competent, Faithful and Fun.  My fiancée’s top three are Thrives on encouragement, Loves People, Sincere at heart.  I will work on things until I can do them in my sleep.  My fiancée lights up when she is praised for things.  Just last night we talked about how she has been receiving feedback on one of her jobs that she is so much better than her predecessor and how smoothly things run.  I can hear the excitement in her voice and you can see it in her body language.  It powers her like no other; since it is her #1 motivator that makes sense.  Me on the other hand like encouragement like anyone else, but I am fine knowing I did a good job and not really caring if anyone comments on it.  It is just not something that I need to make me happy.   

The site gives you a lot of detail explaining how to use your flag page and describing your makeup from what comes out.  It really is an amazing process and one of the few things I really get excited about, but it has been so helpful to me and those around me.

One of the really neat things is that they provide a kids version via a game that lets you get Flag Pages for your children.  As a parent we like to think we can pick up on things, but we were shocked to see where some of our kids ended up.  More importantly when we started playing to their motivations it was amazing to see how differently they responded. 

The key to this tool, is that I think it is easy for us to understand ourselves.  When I look at my Flag Page I say, “yup, that’s me”.  The challenge is explaining to others is a really good way what drives us.  This inexpensive tool gives you a way to do that.  By ranking things it also helps pinpoint what is important.  I certainly can see that my fiancée lights up when she is praised so I know that it is important, but I’m not sure that even she herself could have told me it was MOST important.  Being around her and listening to her for months it is reinforced by what she enjoys doing, and how she does it.  I’m not sure it would be so clear to see.  Relationships with others and our kids are challenging enough.  This tool helps you make them a good deal easier.  It will be the best $20 you ever spend if you and your significant other complete it and understand it.

Let the light of your face shine on us. – Psalm 4:6

This past weekend my fiancée and I resumed our discussions over the “Love & Respect” book we had been studying beginning last summer.  With wedding planning and just the general laziness of winter we had spent a few months away from the book.  As always the discussions led us to varied areas, which is part of the reason I really enjoy the process.  It is a great way for any couple, especially one who is getting ready to move into married life to get things out on the table and talk through them before they become a problem.  Laying the understanding out is something, I hope, that will be a foundation to constructively resolve arguments as they arise.

The really cool thing I have found with this process is that we end up in areas that are outside the edges of what the book focuses on.  As I have come to expect, this session was no different.  In discussing the topics this weekend we ended up at one point talking about the differences we see in how the kids handle the situations of boundaries and how we, mainly me, had to explain my views and what was therefore creating an issue I wanted to air.

We had established in many past discussions that things are obviously still in this strange limbo where we are not in the blended situation of sharing living space.  This has resulted in a situation or two when my fiancée’s kids would, as I saw it, become curious and just open things up.  It might be a drawer or a box on a counter.  This caused me concern because I felt like my kids knew to stay out of certain drawers, like my office, but these boundaries seemed foreign to my fiancée’s kids and I explained to her that it basically was starting to make me feel like I had to check over the house before they came over and hide anything that I felt was in this vein.

As you might imagine, this led to a loud discussion.  It really was not an argument, which I think in itself, shows how we’ve begun to understand each other’s communication styles in these exchanges much better and we can avoid getting to the point of yelling at times.  She opened up about her frustration that she sees about me doing the same type of thing to my kids.  This led to me explaining how the root of all this is just being able to have some areas, like the master bedroom or an office, that the kids understand are not exploratory areas.  I also had grown up with and continued to have a real dislike for having to replace items that were broken through lack of caring.  Mind you, I’m not talking about the legitimate accident that might happen; I’m referring to handling something that is obviously expensive or fragile with a lack of respect.  Nothing like this was really happening in any of the past issues we discussed but I am wired to be hyper sensitive to the possibility they can.

The real breakthrough came when my fiancée noted that she felt I do this with her children because I’m still viewing them differently than mine.  At first I wrestled with that in my head, heading down the road of denial that I could not possibly be doing that when I was making such an effort to not do that.  The comment that made me realize I was was “If it was your daughter that was opening that box, would you have felt that way?”  After a few seconds of trying to respond with a resounding “Yes” I quickly had to respond truthfully with a sheepish, “No.” 

As we continued to talk I realized this is a challenge I still need to work through in the blending.  Part of the reality is as I have mentioned before, it is not possible to mimic the reality of all of us living together until we are.  Like it or not, that creates reactions and emotions in all of our minds, mine and the children’s, that cause us to respond and filter situations.  I realized in the discussion that one of my hurdles was that because I still have limited exposure to my fiancée’s children I do not have the level of trust with them that I do with mine.  Even though I will still tell my kids to be careful with something, I most certainly do not get a weird feeling of “she has no boundaries” when they open up a case with bassoon reeds that is sitting on the kitchen island and say “What is this?”  (Yes, that’s the most recent incident that caused the thoughts to surface again). 

On the outside looking in, this seems petty, and I think is what causes my fiancée to shake her head in frustration.  She mentioned in her house things are not off limits, but as we talked through the night, she did eventually agree that it certainly made sense for a few choice areas to be off limits, like our bedroom closets and drawers and certain things in our offices.  Not that we keep questionable things in the house.  It’s not like my closet is full of porn magazines, or my office is housing documents about my true identity as a secret agent for the Canadian Mounties, but I do feel I should not have to think about tossing my checkbook in a drawer or placing anything in those off limits locations with worry that the kids will come exploring. 

The issue is, as I believe all the blending issues will be, one of two different styles coming together.  We had just not discussed this.  She was observing my behaviors and making certain assumptions (many of them wrong) and I was doing the same (with the same level of wrongness).  It is amazing how quickly two people who love each other dearly can get to an understanding when they use words instead of presumptions, observations and snap judgments.  Just as when a clerk in a store says or does something rude, or a co-worker acts in a lazy manner, it is just natural to assume they are that way all the time or for a reason we are certain we understand.  If we were to have a conversation with them we might find they are having a bad day because their children are home sick and they had to come to work and they are worried or something else that would totally change our view of them in that situation.  I think we easily fall into this process in long-term relationships where we begin to give more weight to the continued observations.  After all, this is not one random encounter with a sales clerk, her view of what I was doing and vice versa was based on months of repeated situations.  It was a very good lesson for both of us that even after all that certainty we were still both wrong in our assessments of the source of those behaviors.

It comes down to what light you observe in.  Because I do not have the level of trust of her children to be comfortable with just accepting the fact that they are certainly well behaved and courteous, I observe their actions in a light clouded with that lack of trust.  God blessed my fiancée with the ability to assume the best in everyone and also not to have a overtly attuned sense of dread over the financial implications of certain situations (you should have seen my reaction when we came back to my house to find the dog had shredded a $3.50 luffa I had just bought).  Through my life experiences, as I shared with her, I was wired differently.  Neither of our wiring is wrong, it is just different, and in some cases such as this one we need to discuss situations to find that middle ground that makes us both comfortable.  As much as I would like to think I could just stop worrying about a $5 mug the same way I worry about a $1,000 TV, I know better.  I have improved over the years, but I also understand that it will always be a part of me. 

I also see that some of this is related to my attempt to control the environment that was borne of more than two decades with someone who made that seem like a functional way to live.  That is not deep seated from childhood and I retain the hope that I can compartmentalize that away much easier.  It will take a combination of changing what I can and making my fiancée understand what I really can’t and how we meet in the middle with what she can’t change to make things as copacetic as possible.

Also, just as having a discussion with my fiancée helped clear things up, I think we both have not really done a great job of explaining to the kids what the expectations are.  I think that makes more sense to do together when we are officially a family as I think there is confusion created otherwise, but on the other hand that is what causes some of this weird limbo misunderstanding.  We talked about that in the course of our conversation; that I need to speak up and just let the kids know that I would like them to understand. 

I do think that there is also some of this strange not knowing exactly how to interact with our kids towards us as well.  And like it or not that same effect of observing and reacting to us in a certain light is happening from their end.  The difference is that they all have another audience to play to when they feel they are wronged coupled with the lack of maturity that we as adults have to process a situation.  A teenage girl will think something is much more impactful than a middle age man will.  I really do not tear up every time Robert Pattison appears on screen it’s just not that big a thing to me.  If I try to explain that perspective to her, I will get some variation of total dismissal and not understanding how the universe really works. 

I really think we are doing great.  If the biggest thing that causes a disagreement is how important a mug or a bassoon reed is, I feel we’re doing excellent.  We are in the midst of wedding planning.  This week we took care of tuxes and my wedding band and the rehearsal dinner and some details on the invitations without a hitch.  I think in the end the light my fiancée and I look at each other with, which is understanding that we are both working with genuine good will and intent to love each other as the basis for everything, will impact how the rest of our household uses their light.  As a human being I do not always have the light of God working for me, but I strive to turn that way as often as I can.  I have things I need to work on, and I will continue that effort each day.

I have been having a debate over the last twenty four hours with a friend of mine down in Tennessee.  He and I used to work together and we have very different backgrounds.  He is African-American, grew up in extreme poverty all his life, dealt with the segregation and inequality for jobs that situation created, and really lived the “lift yourself up by your bootstraps” life that America was built on.  I am Caucasian, my parents did a lot of the lifting with bootstraps, and while for a time we were certainly not wealthy, we always did OK.  I was never looked at strangely for the color of my skin or looked askance at for where I lived.  I did work hard to get to where I am today.  Since I moved away there are three of us that periodically will have a heated political debate about something one of us came across maybe on the radio, article in a magazine, or just by talking about our lives that leads us down some rabbit hole.  It’s never dull and always a pleasure.

The latest discussion ranged us into familiar territory, the state of America, but then continued on to the future we see.  In it we hit on a topic that was relevant to what I tend to blog about here, which is family, kids and life in general. 

At one point, part of his response to me was: “So given that, I will teach my kids that they need to be adaptable and flexible in terms of their careers.  They should be ready to move around the world to do the things they want to do because the best opportunities might not be in this country, but they might.  They need to be willing and able to take advantage of opportunities wherever they exist and they will have to work with whomever can help them realize the life they envision.”

Here was my response to this specific segment: “OK, but let me ask you this.  How realistic do you think the life you propose for your children (“be ready to move around the world”) will be to actually making them fulfilled and happy as individuals?  You are in a similar boat, but you can at least drive up to Louisville on a weekend to see your family.  Having been away from all of my family for over seven years now, it takes a huge toll on you as a soul.  Finding a spouse who wants to just pick up and move overseas for a job is pretty rare, and even then your extended family does not follow.  It creates a very lonely existence.  So on paper, I agree, that would work to make them financially successful but don’t you think you are encouraging them to enter into a lifetime of poor relationships and shallow companions? 

 Take this process for example.  Sure you and I maintain contact and “talk” via e-mail.  But I do not think either of would disagree that it is nowhere as close a bond as we might have if we could get together every few days in person, sit in your whiskey club debating these same topics in person, and fostering a relationship based on actual human contact.  I think we tend to be too easy to say video conferencing, Skype, e-mail, the phone make everything OK.  I used to think that.  I maintain contact with my parents in Florida through all those things, but I am not as close to them as I was when we lived three miles away.  It’s not that I love them any less or want to relate to them any less.  The change that has caused the drift is the physical distance and the relationship distance it creates.

 

So I think it is sad that we have allowed the country to devolve in such a way that we must now encourage our children to move away to be successful.  I disagree that other countries have that issue.  Our people in China are wildly successful and they are in country.  Our people in the Netherlands are the same.  I would venture that few parents in other countries are sending e-mails suggesting they will raise their kids to be willing to move around the world.  Why?  Because I do agree with you on that point.  America is now in a position where the best opportunities are not here.  A Chinese parent does not need to say leave China anymore.  Coming to America is becoming less and less a draw.  Leaving America seems to becoming the new norm.  And yet that does not worry you?  What greater indicator of our decline do you need?  I agree there does not need to be one superpower, but I think the field can be leveled to include multiple.  My worry and fear with what I see is that we will not be in that group, but a has been like England, content to survive on the fringes and pretend the world cares about us as it once did, yet having to hide behind our snobbish properness to pretend it does not hurt that we no longer matter to the world’s economies.”

It really hit me as this response came out of me this morning that I think we fool ourselves into thinking that moving away for that job will not impact our relationships with people we care about or love.  This subject hit home with me on another front as we were discussing something related with my fiancée last night too.  I was talking about my job and the fact that I think my boss is going to recommend me up the ladder at our parent company as a “high potential employee” as we term them here.  What that means in my experience here is that they will eventually ask me to take another role with another operating company within the group.  Who wouldn’t want that right?  I mean don’t we all grow up as kids thinking that is how the world works; you work hard, get noticed and keep getting tapped for better assignments and become a gazzillionaire?  To a large extent I’ve been lucky enough to be living that “dream”.  But I’ve come to realize it might not be all it’s cracked up to be.

As I mentioned in my response, I now see it comes with a price.  So as I talked with my fiancée about the situation, I said we may actually want to pray that at this time they do not feel I’m so wonderful and awesome and the words my HR manager was using as she gathered material from me to present to the powers that be.  I talked about my strained relationships a few posts back with my family.  They were not caused by moving away, but they will certainly be hindered in their repair by not being able to drive over on a weekend and spend physical time together.  I’m just a voice on a phone, or word on a screen.  I used to think that could work, and in business I think it can, but I’m not trying to feel and love and care for my work colleagues as I am my family and friends.  My fiancée is near her family here and I know that is a good thing.

She has lived away for a time, so I know she has that experience.  As I write this I realize I honestly do not know if she moved back to be close to family or if it just worked out that she ended up back here.  Actually, I think she just lived in the other city for a work assignment, come to think of it.  Oh, she’s going to kick me for not remembering the details.

The reality me and my children live in now is that now that we care more about that human contact for we understand it really is not the same, it is no longer a possibility.  Even if I wanted to move back to by home state, which I do not, my brother is there, but my parents are 1,200 miles away.  Now that I have lived in multiple states, sure I still have friends in my home state, but I also have some in five others, none of which my parents are in.  The friends are spread out because they also moved for work. 

This complexity of life that the modern world has created impacts human relationships.  I am not like my friend who will prepare his children to “be ready to move around the world” and do so with an upbeat spirit.  I will do that, because it is the reality of our lives today, but will make sure they understand this “connection cost”.  I know it will certainly play into any future decisions we need to make.  I am confident enough in my abilities to know that at some point I will be asked to take another opportunity.  I also know that my organization does not have any other companies in the state I currently reside in.  The decision will be only slightly similar to the ones I made before.  In my first move, the similarities are almost non-existent.  We embarked on that with children who were basically too young to understand we were moving and what that meant, all of them being seven or younger.  My wife and I looked at it as an adventure and because of all the family strife were not concerned about moving away from family plus we felt we had means to communicate so all would be the same on those fronts.  In my second move, both of us were away from family.  We would be leaving friends only but the kids were all old enough to be impacted, but they were all not yet in that critical high school age when transition is tough.

The new world of work means that once you achieve a certain level of income, the likelihood of finding something at a similar pay grade without relocating is pretty low.  Sure that has always been the case, but I believe the expectation now is more common now that most people do not spend their whole lives within fifty miles of where they were born.  So the only similarity between my other moves and a future decision will be do we maintain an income level and move, or do we take a substantial pay cut and stay.  My spouse would be moving away from family, and her kids would be doing it for the first time as mine did but at a much older age.  One possible, perhaps higher probability, new assignment would move me back to my home state, so we have the new situation where I would be moving to family, while she moves away.  Unless we are lucky enough to not have to be faced with this decision for over ten years, we would also be moving a high schooler  or six, the most at risk age for behavioral and emotional problems to develop in a relocation.  And lastly, we both have exes in the area that would have an impact on our ability to move out of state.

My fiancée and I have talked about the likely reality in my career that this will surface.  We know all these things, but we both operate on the plane that we will worry about it when the opportunity surfaces and make the decision based on everything in our lives at that time. 

For me I have found that relationships are really not the same using technology.  Maybe for some people that is not the case, but I would find that hard to believe.  I think anyone who tells me that is just suppressing something in themselves to convince themselves it is OK.  If you are facing this situation and have not really looked at the human relationship element in this level of detail, I would encourage you, if you have the option, to do so.  It needs to be part of the decision.