Decision Tree

This is a pretty simple concept. When I was in fifth grade all of the kids in the neighborhood decided we were going to steal alcohol and cigarettes from our parents and throw a little party. Needless to say, my best friend and I were the youngest, 9 and 10, while the other kids were almost in high school. Because they were much older, the told us we should bring the beer and cigarettes. If I remember correctly, I volunteered to bring the cigarettes and my friend stated that he would bring the beer.

Later that night, we met in the middle of the cul de sac, our loot in tow. We ventured out to the woods and began to have our party. I think we might have lit one cigarette and shared a fourth of one beer before a parent found us and the party was busted.

Being the my parents had recently divorced, but continued to always parent on the same page, my mother called my father. Later that night he showed up. I don’t remember much about what happened that night but I do remember sitting on the steps in our entry way talking to my parents. Although I cried the entire time, my parents were not harsh or bitter, only asking me to be as honest as possible about the activities of the evening and who decided what was to be brought to the party.

I didn’t know it at the time, but every other kid involved lied and placed the blame of the evening on me. Apparently I was the one who came up with the idea. I was the one who volunteered to bring the beer and the cigarettes and I was the only one who drank or smoked. Funny…I didn’t remember it that way?

My parents asked me only once, “Are you sure that’s the truth?”, and I answered yes. “If you say it’s the truth, then I believe it’s the truth.” My father said. “We raised you to be honest and I believe we did our job.” There was some discussion about what I thought my punishment should be and then I was dismissed while my parents sat on the front porch and talked about the incident…while drinking a beer.

For the rest of that summer, all of the kids in the neighborhood were unable to play with me because their parents had termed me a “bad influence”. They would ride up and down the street and shout “smoker, smoker” and “drinker, drinker” at me, knowing they had been part of the party as well.

I was 10. During that same summer, my friend and I had been caught by his father dressed in drag in the front yard of my house. My mother took a picture of us, every bit the Kennedy clan in wide brimmed hats, smoking tree twigs as cigarettes. His father had been furious. My mother laughed as our neighbor hauled my friend away while tripping on his long gown.

When I was in high school I got in trouble for another drinking party. While talking to my father over dinner he brought up the incident from the summer of my tenth year. “You know, I was always very proud of you for that night.” He said. “The other kids were rewarded by their parents for lying because those parents couldn’t deal with the fact that their children could possibly engage in such behaviors. They received new hockey equipment and shoes while you were punished for your involvement. Their lies will haunt them.” He told me.

“In life, there is a decision tree. The tree grows into a trunk which supports the rest of the tree. This is the foundation of your morals and values given to you when you are young as well as any of your genetic makeup. Next, we have the branches. Each branch splits in two eventually. Each branch represents choices you make in your life. Each choice leads to two or more choices and so forth. As you grow, your decision tree grows and all of your choices compound on top of one another. I wish I could show you my decision tree, and explain all of the good and poor choices I made in my life so that you could live your life to the fullest based on my experience. Unfortunately, you have to grow your own branches. Your mother and I always understood that which is why that evening, whether you had been telling the truth or not, we knew your choice would ultimately affect mostly your life. One lie would lead to another lie and to another lie. As life moves forwards, those kids who lied that not will display similar behaviors but you will be a finer human being for telling the truth and moving through difficult choices.”

And then he patted my back and the lesson was over.

I won’t bore you by telling you I became one of the most prolific liars this century has ever seen or that I had countless arrests and addiction treatments. I won’t bore you with how I treated people horribly, felt that I was owed something from my family and blamed other people for all of my mistakes. I won’t bore you with the countless drugs I did or how much alcohol and cigarettes I used over the years. I definitely won’t bore you with details about how I didn’t care about others’ feelings for years and only, selfishly, thought about my wants and needs.

But I will tell you that because of those years, I do not behavior in any way like that today. In fact, I attempt to live such a right life by the standards I set for myself that I am completely offended when others challenge these values. About a year ago, a business associate accused Alex and I of lying about how we had witnessed an event and reported it. I won’t dredge up the past because, as I stated, I’ve learned from those behaviors and don’t react the same way today, therefore we are friends again and both apologized for hurting each others’ feelings.

Needless to say, in being called a liar I explained that I was completely offended because that challenged the foundation of my sobriety and my values. If I am a liar, then the rest of it is a scam true; my recovery, my relationships…all of it. I might be a lot of things. But I am not a liar. Those behaviors of yesteryear were my picking the wrong branches to climb. Today, I choose different branches because I’ve learned…and my dad was right. In looking at his choices and the choices of others, and learning from one another, I’ve been allowed to live a better life.

While dissecting your life, ask yourself, Am I happy? Are there things I want to change? Are there things I believe are out of my control? What would I change today that would make me happier?

Now look at your choices!

You have many choices. The fact is not that you don’t have choices. The fact is that you don’t like where your choices lead. Many of us don’t like our choices, but sometimes choices we didn’t want to take led us in the right direction. I had no intention of staying in treatment on December 17, 1994 but by going I’ve been allowed to have the most amazing life possible. While working in treatment, I was adamant I was not going to participate in a new family group therapy program that had been designed, but after making the choice to participate rather than be fired, I learned I loved working with families. I was also forced to do an internship in an inner city elementary school. I begged and pleaded with my dean to let me do another internship, but due to my lack of planning, it was all that was left. During that internship, I met my mentor and had some of the best life change experiences ever!

It is easier to let go than to resist.

That branch was my most important.

My parents were very wise. They knew how to raise me with enough liberty to become the person I was meant to become while guided enough to have the values and morals they had learned would further me the most in this life. They were wise because they never allowed me to see them argue, with the exception of a few occasions, and they never spoke poorly of each other. They never made parenting decision without consulting one another. They did this because they loved me. They were the best parents any kid could wish for in life.

My mother was very, very wise. She never threw anything away in fear of possibly needing it again someday. Downstairs in our basement, right on top of her old Smith-Corona typewriter, sits a gorgeous photograph of the Kennedy sisters, both draped in beautiful dresses, wide-brimmed floppy hats shading their faces as they drink lemonade and smoke cigarette tree branch twigs.

I might post that picture someday…hell, we’re on borrowed time as it is!

Summer Bucket List…

Every summer I am able to gauge the happiness of the early days of June and the sadness I encounter as the buses begin their autumn ritual in late August, by the opening and closing of my favorite childhood book. Summer by Alice Low and illustrated by Roy McKie follows the adventures of two best friends and their pup through the painted world of watermelon, fireworks, melted ice cream, hay rides, water hose fights and finally…fireflies. Rhyming phrases, beginning with We like the things that summer brings. It brings the sun. It brings the heat, and ending with We stay awake and think of things…the happy things that summer brings, frame the entire book; or a perfect summer.

I’ve always wanted a perfect summer. These days I feel that many adults ruin summer by saying things like, “it goes so fast.” or “before you know it, it’s over.” But as I get older, having no children of my own, I’m unable to pinpoint the exact moment summer begins. Oh sure, everyone knows the summer solstice on June 21st defines the beginning of summer, but I’m talking about the true beginning of summer. That moment when the school doors open for the last time and children come pouncing out, racing home on foot or buses exchanging plans for late nights out and adventures to be had. Since I’m not in school and I have no children, summer begins when it gets warm and I feel inclined to buy my first potted plant at the grocery store and ends when I have to wear a fall coat out to dinner for the first time. But what about the in-between?

We live in a world of bucket lists. What do you want to accomplish before you die? If you could only have three wishes before you die, what would they be? 1000 places to visit before you die. 999 things you have to do before you die. Death, death…death. The great determiner. But bucket lists shouldn’t just be for life…they should be for all fractions of time. Marriage bucket lists. Career bucket lists. Children before they graduate and leave home bucket lists. Summer bucket lists.

Yep! This year I’m making a summer bucket list so that I accomplish all of those things I want to do before frost is on the pumpkin and the kids are screaming Tricks or Treats down the leaf lined streets. This year, I want to make sure I do as much as possible to make this the greatest summer ever! I may not cross off every item on my list, but the more I do, the less I’ll feel sad as I drive past the kids waiting for the school bus.

And you should too! Make a list of all of the things you want to do to make this the greatest summer of all! And then make an Autumn bucket list. And a Christmas bucket list so you don’t feel down, as I often do, at 9pm on Christmas day knowing everything leading up to Christmas is now over.

Nope, not this year. Mom was right! We’re on borrowed time as it is and this could be my last summer. So…what exactly do I want to do????

Ride a country hay ride late at night
See a horror movie double feature at the drive in
Eat watermelon with my bare hands outside with my friends
Make homemade ice cream and come up with crazy flavors
Watch Alfred Hitchcock movies late into the night in bed
Sleep outside in my back yard
Go fishing at night
Go on night swims
Try new fried foods at the State Fair
Go to a small county fair
Run down the Indiana Dunes
Pick wild flowers and put them in vases all over my house
Have a huge sleepover with all of my friends
Have a scavenger hunt
Make wishes on a full moon
Chase shooting stars
Catch butterflies and fireflies…and set them free

And take pictures and video of it all to store the memories…because we’re on borrowed time as it is!

Lemonade Stands…Reminders for my Soul!

Last Friday while I was sitting outside of my office waiting for a client, I received a special visit from my friend Karen and her daughter Anna. They were walking through the small artsy area around my office and walking up and down the canal eating ice cream. After talking to them for several minutes, Karen explained to me that Anna was going to have a lemonade stand on Saturday. I asked Anna several questions about the stand, but her shyness kept her gripped to her mother’s leg, kicking dirt and sand at her feet. Before they left, I reached into my car and grabbed a dollar bill and two, plastic stretchy bracelets, giving them to Anna. “I won’t get to come to your lemonade stand, but I hope this will get you started in making a profit,” I smiled. Karen made Anna thank me and the two walked off down the street.

It made me miss my mom a little bit and I guess that’s the tough thing about good incidents. They make us remember the good times which in result, can make us sad about past times or current losses. I’m not really sure what made me grab the money and bracelets in my car. Honestly, I almost thought against it, because I thought it might come across as strange, but my mom, who I guess I was missing in that moment, always taught me to live in the moment. If you wanna dance, dance. If you wanna sing, sing. Life, as precious as it may be, is way too short.

The next day I received an email from Karen. “Hi, I want to thank you for giving Anna the bracelets and dollar…hopefully we will have fun today with the lemonade stand! Anyway, thought I’d share a photo of Anna’s sign for the stand. It is kind of hard to read…hopefully you can make it out. After we left you Anna decided that the cost of the lemonade should be either 2 stretchy bracelets or 25 cents…very cute!! She is hoping most people pay, like you did, with bracelets!!

Instantly, I began crying, something I’ve been doing much too often lately, but what the hell, it’s better to feel something than nothing at all. I think I began crying because I missed lemonade stands, and calling friends to come over and play. Most of all, I missed taking things, such as lemonade stands, very, very seriously.

We are all too serious about the wrong things today. I wonder what would happen if my friend Tonya and I set up a Crystal Light stand right on the corner between the Speedway and the Dairy Queen. And she would do it too! We’d sell two cheese sandwiches on white bread, a sweet gerkin pickle and a tall glass of lemonade all for a $2 bill. If you don’t have a $2 bill. Get lost. Peanut butter cookies would be five for an old, used paperback mystery. Refills would be free, in exchange for a good joke. If you bring your dog, they’d get a nice milk bone, but only if they can do a trick or sit like proper ladies and gentleman. Awww…we would take it very seriously.

I remember back in the day working at the treatment center, I worked with this amazing woman, and friend, named Kathy. She would have me rolling in stitches coming up with jobs that, if she chose to ever leave being a counselor, she could very easily move into a new role. These new jobs would be things like snow shack manager, or the person who writes the things on the church signs like “Jesus doesn’t trust a sinner”. I would laugh all night long, yet she was very serious. I really think she could imagine a world where that would work out great for her. And she was probably right. I miss her.

The great thing about children, being such magical creatures, is that they make up their own rules. Just listen to them. A glass of lemonade for two stretchy bracelets, as if that is perfectly reasonable. My friend Karen and I were talking about Anna’s school uniform that she was wearing and Karen told me that when she was in Catholic high school, they had to wear plaid skirts, but they could wear any kind of shirt they wanted to wear. So the girls would wear striped or colorful shirts, almost never matching their skirts, and this was all perfectly fine, unless they went to the dentist, and then they seemed out of whack.

We need to go back to those days of making up our own rules; in our jobs, in our relationships, in our lives. Some of the most interesting people I know make up their own rules. I dare my clients to dream and dream big. We only have one life. Who says you can’t be Jacques Cousteau, or a fairy princess or a Moonlighting Detective. Sometimes, I’m all three between 12 and four on a hot, August afternoon. And I’m 37!

Life…has become too serious. Tonight, I almost bought a huge bottle of bubbles and sidewalk chalk. Not for my adorable neighbor girls, but for me, because I’ve always wanted to draw with that huge chalk and make peace signs and houses with tall flowers, and windows peering into other worlds, all on the pavement of my driveway. But I didn’t. And now I think I’ll go back and get it tomorrow. Because I need to dream bigger too and make up my own rules. Maybe just maybe, I’ll start charging clients ten dollar’s less, but they have to bring me baked goods. Hmmmm…I don’t think my doctor would like that idea very well.

See…there I go, being all serious! To hell with it! Brownies and snickerdoodles it is…because, as you know we’re on borrowed time as it is!