Negotiating with Others

Do not learn how to react. Learn how to respond.” – Buddha

Yesterday as I was getting the kids in the car to drive them to school, Mr. D became very upset because I hadn’t picked the right socks. “The dinosaur socks upstairs” he insisted and I went back to scramble for the right ones but when I came back, they still weren’t the right pair.

Now we were going to make Miss O late for school if I continued to hunt for the mythical socks. Mythical in my mind at least because the problem wasn’t the socks, it was that he didn’t want to go to school yet. So I gave Mr. D a choice between monster socks and airplane socks. He chose airplane and when I got them out it started a whole new round of crying, “That’s helicopters.”

Oh, holy hell. It reminded me of a theory my brother passed on to me about relationships when we were in our twenties. Our beliefs about what’s important will always differ from those around us and that’s the topic of my Wise & Shine post this week: Navigating the Gray Area

The Magic Kingdom

The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” – W. B. Yeats

I watch a lot of Disney movies these days and I’ve noticed there is always a pause before the magic kicks in and works. Like in Beauty and the Beast, Belle comes back to the castle and the Beast is fighting off Gaston and is gravely injured. Belle goes to him on the terrace and says, “I love you” just as the last petal falls from the flower that held the magic of the curse that turned him into a beast.

Everyone thinks its too late and Belle is crying over his crumpled form…until the magic lifts him up and transforms him into back into a prince.

As I notice the pattern, it makes me think about magic in our lives – and that the pause is of indeterminate length and certainly of a length that we can’t predict. For example, establishing a gratitude practice. My kids and I made gratitude boxes, little boxes to slip the things we are grateful for on a daily basis. But starting that practice and feeling the magical onset of a good mood of the soul isn’t instantaneous.

And the same goes with blogging. It’s not like we write our first blog, and then instantly we’ve perfected our style, know what we want to write about and are surrounded by supportive blogging buddies. It takes time to find our sweet spot and build our WordPress community.

Ditto for passion and love. And everything else where we step forward and then life meets us.

So I know what you’re thinking – none of these examples involves any the special juju as depicted in a Disney movie. There are simply hard work and time.

But I think there is magic involved. It’s magical that we find our way to the things that work for us. And beautiful that we get enough to keep us at it. That we open just long enough for someone else to be open and see us. The magic is in that it can happen in the time between when I open and you close.

It’s magical that when we risk, we open ourselves up to opportunity. When we make ourselves vulnerable enough to be seen, that someone else comes along to hold us is rare and then we tell the stories to inspire others to do the same and we get those tingles all over again.

In The Princess and the Frog, the prince gets turned into a frog by a voodoo man. Then he kisses Tiana because he thinks she is a princess, but she isn’t and they both end up as frogs. [SPOILER ALERT – I’m going to tell the ending here.] After a Disney movie length adventure of making friends and finding out what is truly meaningful, they fall in love, give up their human dreams and get married. Once they do, Tiana becomes a princess because she married a prince, albeit in frog form. The prince kisses her and they both turn back to human.

They stop struggling to be what they thought they wanted and just love each other as they are – only to get it back again. The magic of life.

The secret is in the waiting through the moments where all seems lost, holding the faith for as long as it takes for the magic to work which will likely be longer than the pause in a Disney movie. The magic is in believing it will still happen even as we wait. And then, when it does happen, seeing it as one whole story and telling it to others so they too will last through the wait.

(featured photo from Pexels)

Unlearning My Way Back

A child can teach an adult three things: To be happy for no reason, To always be busy with something, and To know how to demand with all his might that which he desires.” – Paulo Coehlo

My sister-in-law recounted a conversation she had this week with my daughter, 7-year-old Miss O while holding hands and walking through an outdoor shopping center near our house.

Miss O said, “I love this place. Fun stores, good food, no BS”

My sister-in-law paused for a beat, wondering if she should ask, hoping Miss O didn’t know what it meant, and then asked, “Do you know what BS is?”

Miss O replied brightly, “Of course! Bad Service!”

After I stopped laughing, I wondered why it is that we think it’s bad for 7-year-olds to know swear words. Other than the fact that their executive brain function isn’t fully developed and they might deploy them inappropriately, indiscriminately or both. I landed on the fact that it feels like a loss of innocence.

I heard an interview once with singer and songwriter Billy Bragg where he posited that the opposite of faith isn’t doubt – but cynicism. If I think of Miss O using bad language, it feels cynical as if some beliefs of childhood would have had to have suffer in the process.

At their age, Miss O and Mr D believe that:

They are loved beyond measure and worthy of love

If you pray, those prayers will be answered

There is magic in the air so that sometimes fortunes found in fortune cookies will reveal the next fun thing

Potential new friends are everywhere

If you cry and show your vulnerability, you will be taken care of

Looking through this list I’ve typed, I think that I need to unlearn my way back to those beliefs. Because my cynical self might have been feeding me a lot of BS instead – and by that I mean bad service, of course. 😉

Turning Towards

Know all the theories. Master all the techniques. But as you touch a human soul be just another human soul.” – Carl Jung

“Guess what?” Miss O says to me and when I reply, she says, “I love you.” It’s a little call and response that I started with her when she was about 4 years-old. But I stopped doing it. She asked me why the other day and I don’t know. Was it because Mr D got older and I didn’t want to leave him out? Or was it because she started to know what I was going to say every time?

These little bids for connection matter according to Drs John and Julie Gottman of the Gottman Institute. They are our ways of turning towards our loved ones and even though the Gottmans primarily focus on partner love relationships, I think it applies to children as well.

On a recent Unlocking Us podcast with Brené Brown, they were talking about their latest book, The Love Prescription: Seven Days to More Intimacy, Connection and Joy, and what caught my attention was how grounded in research their advice is. Not surprisingly since these are the psychologists and researchers who proved their ability to tell if relationships would last and be happy from just 15 minutes of observation with a 90% degree of accuracy.

They made the distinction between turning toward a bid of attention (responding or engaging when your partner says something like “look at that blue jay out the window”), turning away (ignoring) and turning against (responding with something like “why are you interrupting me?”).

In happy relationships, people turn toward their partner’s bids for attention 86% of the time, couples who were not successful only turn toward each other 33% of the time. John Gottman explained the result, “Couples who increase their turning toward wind up having more of a sense of humor about themselves when they are disagreeing with one another, when they are in conflict.

As Brené Brown summarized “Turning toward gives us a sense of confidence about our togetherness.”

“Love is a practice. It’s more than a feeling. It’s an action. It’s something you do and not something that just happens to you and you need to give and get a daily dose to maintain a healthy and thriving relationship.”

The Love Prescription: Seven Days to More Intimacy, Connection and Joy by John Gottman and Julie Gottman

The funny thing about when Miss O does the call and response with me lately is that she gets me almost every time. She says “Guess what?” and my busy head doesn’t anticipate the next part. It’s the surprise that breaks through the momentum of the day.

I can’t remember why I stopped this particular ritual but now that I’ve been reminded, I am delighted to start doing it again. Because what relationship doesn’t need to be grounded in connection and fun?

A Voice From the Past

Would I rather be feared or loved? Um…Easy, both. I want people to be afraid of how much they love me.” – Michael Scott

On the first weekend of August, Seattle holds its Seafair festival. There’s a parade downtown, the Blue Angels do their airshow and at the center of the activity is the hydroplane races on Lake Washington. Most summers my brother hosts an outing on his boat to watch the Blue Angels fly. The featured photo is a picture I took from my brother’s boat this summer of the Blue Angels.

When my dad was alive and we were together watching, I’d make him recount the story of watching the first Seafair hydroplane race in Seattle when he was 15 or 16 years old. It was one of my favorite stories that Dad told.

So in light of this week of the anniversary of my dad’s death and of talking with Troy about writing about him, I put together this audio recording of my dad telling this story. It’s rough, informal and short (five minutes) – just a recording I made of him on my voice app but for anyone who loves my dad’s humor cards I feature on Sunday Funnies and is curious to hear his voice, here it is: Wynne Leon on Recording Your Loved Ones

To Dance or Not to Dance?

We’re fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance.” – Japanese Proverb

The other day a friend and I were talking about a conflict that’s arisen in her multi-decades marriage. She’s taken up ballroom dancing and loves it. It engages her mind and body in a way that feels like something generative and renewing. She loves studying the movements and the thrill of putting it all together.

Her husband doesn’t have any interest in doing it with her but also has a problem with her dancing with other partners. At times the thought of her dancing with someone else makes him feel queasy. He wants her to quit.

Before I continue, I must interject that these are both very smart, well-intended, committed and gracious people. This particular conflict occurs amidst the backdrop of a loving marriage, not as a crack in something that is already falling apart.

As my friend has progressed with ballroom dancing, she’s learned a great deal – but there have also been injuries that come with learning something new and moving in different ways (usually minor). Every time she has an injury, she wonders if this is a sign that she should quit or if she is learning to push through adversity. And every time it renews the conflict in her marriage. To push through both an injury and the resistance of having her husband against the idea is more than twice as hard but the idea of her hanging up her dancing shoes makes her feel sad and a little robbed of joy.

This is where things become muddy for me. First as someone who has been single for over a decade, I am sorely out of practice at compromise. But mostly because it seems to me that this conversation, and maybe most conversations where we can’t be supportive of what someone else wants to pursue with good intentions, are about something else. Unresolved conflict, old stories, wounds that haven’t healed, insecurity?

When I look at the situation, I can see the ripple effect that comes from one person forcing another to quit something they love. But it’s of course far more complex with that when you have more than two decades of history. It seems like my friend and her husband are already dancing but somehow have gotten out of sync.

So how do they find the wisdom to get back in step?

(featured photo from Pexels)

More Than a Cup of Coffee

When we do the best that we can, we never know what miracle is wrought in our life, or the life of another.” – Helen Keller

Yesterday morning I had a house guest. I could hear that she was ready to come downstairs so before I went upstairs to wake the kids, I made her a cup of coffee and left it on the counter with a note.

When I returned with the kids, she said, “I can’t believe you had time to make me a cup of coffee.

She turned to Mr. D and said, “Your mom is a miracle worker.” I smiled because it really was not a big deal. But no one need worry that I’ll get all puffed up because Mr. D replied,

My mom is a mommy.

It reminded me that as we go through our day, what we do is largely interpreted by the roles we play: parent, friend, sibling, daughter/son, grandparent, neighbor, project manager, boss, boy/girl scout, whatever. Those around us expect us to perform our duties as per our roles. And when we do, it seems then we don’t stand out for all the many things we do.

But that doesn’t make our best efforts any less miraculous. Especially when we are getting it done under tough or stressful circumstances, we are touching others as we do our “jobs.” The stretch that it takes to be a little more intentional, a little more careful or put in a little more effort to do it right will change us and the people around, even if it’s not immediately visible.

We can’t control how or whether other people will see us. But as the Helen Keller quote says, when we do our best, we never know how it’ll touch others. Hopefully for the better.

And if nobody notices, perhaps they have not yet had their cup of coffee. 😊

Has anyone noticed what you have done recently? Or do you have a story about noticing someone else’s best efforts?

Our First Team

“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. ‘Pooh!’ he whispered. ‘Yes, Piglet?’ ‘Nothing’ said Piglet taking Pooh’s paw, ‘I just wanted to be sure of you.'” – A.A. Milne

After I landed at the airport on Friday night, I received a text from my nanny as I was making my way home:

“Lessons of the week:

  1. Big sisters make the world go round
  2. You can’t out-bargain a 3-year-old
  3. Sometimes you just gotta go out in your underwear”

Quite frankly, I was impressed that she was able to get Mr. D to go out in underwear when he has more often than not opted for the full on naked this summer.

And then she expanded on the role that Miss O played during the week.

“I’m just so thankful for and impressed by [Miss O]! There were some really emotional moments with [Mr. D] and she was there for a hug whenever he needed it! She helped me find things around the house, helped me interpret some of his words, and has a true talent for knowing exactly where Bunbun [D’s beloved stuffy] is at all times.”

It made me think of my family of origin. I have an older brother who always made me laugh and cherished me. And I had an older sister that was angry that I came along and was jealous of the easy way I rolled through life.

It seems to me that siblings are the first team that we join in life. Not surprisingly, I was delighted to be on my brother’s team when we were growing up. These days we don’t talk all the time – or even all that often. But if I need to feel better about something incomprehensible, no one can match the comfort I get from my brother.

And if I want to know how to do something, I watch my big brother.

When I don’t understand how the world works, the person I listen most to is my big brother.

He’s like a huge filter of the information I take in as if his context provides me a starting point of where I need to go next.

In my business, I frequently help companies turn data into information. That is to say, there is often too many sources of content and not enough time for workers to verify them. For instance, there may be so many versions of the company background sales presentation, that a new employee may not understand which one to use when her boss tells her to start with that. So I help build systems that tell people which content is trustworthy.

I suspect our older siblings are like that – the systems that help us to know where to start. Whether we learn to trust what they say or to do the opposite of what they say, either way they are a reference point. And when they are trustworthy sources, we have an advantage of using them to help us read the world.

I don’t always listen to my brother, agree with him or even talk with him – but I am forever attuned to taking cues from him. And I suspect little D is growing up to do the same with his sister.

When Mr D was first walking, Miss O decided to train him to give her hugs on command. She’d clap her hands and then yell “hug” and he’d come running (some of the time). When I came home after being away last week, it was like that bond they’ve been building for three years was that much stronger. I’m so grateful not only for the team I have with my brother, but that my kids are building their own team.

How do you feel about your siblings?

If you want to see a video of Miss O training D to give hugs, check out my instagram @wynneleon

I’ve also written about the split in my family of origin because I’ve come to see my older sister’s suffering as one that started when we were young as a feeling of not belonging. More on that at Forgiveness or Letting Go?

The Whole Mountain

The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Yesterday, I was driving near an elementary school when I saw two school busses. My heart felt a deep pang of missing my children. Which is funny because my kids don’t even take the school bus. But I was driving in New Jersey, not in Seattle and since this is my first trip on an airplane by myself in 7 years, I guess that my heart isn’t being picky about what triggers it.

I once heard some very sage advice about what to do when we’ve grown weary around the people we love most – back up so you can see the whole mountain. And it spoke to me because often when I’ve climbed mountains, I’ve found them to be a lot of sweaty, hard work. And yet every time I see one, especially Mt. Rainier my “home” mountain, I am struck speechless, even for just a second, by my awe.

Back up and see the whole mountain to me speaks of finding the edge where our familiarity begins. And also of being able to trace the contours of the well-worn path where we often go with our dear ones. It calls me to picture in my mind the beautiful wholeness of my loved ones faces and the expressions that I most love to see on them. And when I’ve backed up far enough, I feel the pang of my ache for my beloveds deep in my body and know where they reside in me.

I’ve had three nights away from my young children. No one has spit half-eaten food in my hand or used my clothing as a napkin (and boy, wouldn’t that be weird if that had happened on business trip?). I haven’t been called in to witness grand accomplishments of using the bathroom and I’ve been able to sleep, eat and work out without interruption.

It all sounds great except I’ve had to do all that without my heart which remains at home with my beautiful children. Like climbing a mountain, my life is a lot of sweaty, hard work. But wow, I’m so glad I backed up enough to be able to see how much I love it, them and this beautiful inspiration called life!

How do you restore your love when (or if) it ever feels a little worn thin?

(featured photo is sunset from the airplane)

Monday Mourning

If I had a flower for every time I thought of you…I could walk through my garden forever.” – Paulo Coehlo

The other day I needed to drop off something at the church where my dad last served as senior pastor. It’s also where his ashes are interred so I stopped by the Memorial Garden and put my hand on his stone. Even now, almost eight years after his sudden death in a bicycle accident, tears immediately sprung to my eyes as I imagined all the things I want to talk with him about and even heard his answers down in my bones.

After I’d been standing there for a couple of minutes, someone that knew my dad and knows me walked by. She simply whispered, “Beautiful picture” as she passed.

I’ve been thinking about that moment as I’ve watched the celebration of Queen Elizabeth II. Grief for someone who has done life well or is touched our lives significantly has its moments of being so beautiful. It celebrates both our relationship with them as well as what they did well in life. For me processing my grief means that I can start to distill the most important lessons I learned from those I’ve lost.

Trying to get a perspective on the huge topic of grief, I turned to Atlas of the Heart by Brené Brown. She quotes the work of The Center for Complicated Grief at Columbia on their definitions of grief which include both acute grief, which marks the initial period after a loss, and integrated grief.

Integrated grief is the result of adaptation to the loss. When a person adapts to a loss grief is not over. Instead, thoughts, feelings and behaviors related to their loss are integrated in ways that allow them to remember and honor the person who died. Grief finds a place in their life.

The Center for Complicated Grief

Specific to my dad, I feel as if the longer he’s gone, the more I embody him. It’s as if I relied on him as a source of energy and wisdom for all those years he was alive and now that I don’t have him to do it in person, I’ve had to become that energy source. There are also others who I’ve grieved and in that process have learned the lessons of what not to become so it’s worked both ways.

Despite that integrating, I still leak tears when I talk to my dad. And also ache for those going through acute grief in all those rending and earth-shattering emotions.  We stand on the shoulders on those who went before us – may we remember all their lessons, good and bad, and honor them in those beautiful still moments.