Birthday Wish to all of you

“A ship in a harbor is safe, but it’s not what ships are built for.”

Today is my birthday. In the past 10 years of my life, I cannot believe the “outside of the harbor” choices I’ve made. Ironically enough, given the quote’s nautical nature, I do not consider “moving across an ocean” to be one of the most trans-formative choices.

I learned a new language (something one can do anywhere). I changed my career path (you can also do this where you are, and consider that applicable to all below). Together, my parents and I mended conflicts well before it was too late (today, they are two of my closest, most treasured relationships). I maintained a healthy physical lifestyle and weight, which wasn’t easy when I couldn’t walk. I published a book. I became “Aunt LaLa” to the Ayres Little Men and added a new family (my “Henry” carries their family name). I gave my hair to make wigs for children with cancer…four times. I faced, and continue to face, my fears (crippling stage fright and fear of heights). I watched marvelous sunrises in gratitude and walked through challenging sunsets in humility. On this day in 2011, I converted to Catholicism, which was the single-most authentic decision I have ever made.

Perhaps, some of the most trans-formative trips out of the harbor are those we simultaneously fear and welcome? Though we are afraid, we know we truly have to go – into the vast, seemingly-unending expanse. Someone calls and says, “I have the perfect job for you, but it’s in Lichtenstein” or someone writes you an email and begs, “Can you please take in this rescue dog?” or even “Marry me, my love?” Life changes in one … Augenblick.

One of mine happened on January 22, 2016 when I saw and heard a strong heartbeat from a machine in Bern, Switzerland. It took me about a second to process that was his (Christopher Henry) heartbeat. Sometimes, I guess, that second is all it takes to pick up the anchor and set sail. Fear be damned. Best decision I ever made, pulling up that anchor.

I know it’s tough and scary. Many times in the past 10 years, my ship has ventured out into the sea only to return battered and bruised. Heartbroken. Sea voyages can be treacherous and arduous. There are literal ups and downs that either propel you forward or crush you. It’s difficult to leave the comforts of a tranquil and serene harbor. Ah…but, that’s not what ships are built for.

I like to imagine wisdom from my four grandparents, as I push away from the harbor each time. They have four simple rules for each journey.

“Be bold, Lulabelle.”

                                                                 “Be authentic, Sweet Girl.”

                                    “Be brave, Granddotta!”

                             “Be peaceful, Princess Wawie.”

 You can do it, too.

Be bold. Be authentic. Be brave! Be peaceful.

The Rollercoaster’s Lesson

Ups and downs. Tension and release. We rise, we fall…only to rise again.

How do we process the curve balls? When it was time to say “goodbye” to Wyatt Walter on Sunday, he burst into tears. What do I say when the blue eyes of one of my favorite things on this planet fill with tears that are my doing? We won’t see each other for one year, I can’t change it. What do I do to make it better? He wears a cross that says “WYATT LALA,” but I know it’s not enough for him. He needs hugs. (So do I.)

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How do we process the high-as-a-kite moments? I received keys today. They unlock a future – a life – a chance for a career, love, happiness. How do I take it in stride when there are a million Nadia Comāneci-butterflies doing somersaults in my stomach? I’m feeling excited about my future in a way that feels almost selfish. So many of my friends and family members are struggling and I am feeling only excited about what comes next. Shall I instead say “cautiously optimistic”?

That’s step two for me. How do I ride the rollercoaster, this time, without feeling broadsided by the downs? In this current apartment and this current life (both of which I will be shedding tomorrow), I have learned how to deal with despair. It was the hardest lesson.

I lost both of my “God”fathers here. I lost Granddaddy. I lost L and fled to Luzern for 2 weeks. I lost him again. I lost him a third time. I lost Hope. I lost it again. I lost it again (7 times, in total). I met the Csendes family. I said goodbye to them. I welcomed them. I said goodbye to them again. Ups and downs. Over and over again.

I learned a hard, but valuable, lesson – my Faith is stronger than my Hope. Faith is in the air. If I am breathing? (and, according to the paramedics, I wasn’t at one point in this apartment)…Faith is refilling me with what I need to take another breath, another step, another journey.

There will be a day when the blue-eyed, 8-year-old is visiting his Aunt LaLa (technically, he calls me “Wala” because it combines both of our names) in Switzerland. There will be a day when what seems “full of wonder” is a bit clouded by the harsh and not-so-picturesque reality of law school. I’ll find a way to take the Rollercoaster’s exciting journey the way this guy does…That’sLifebythePro

Being real, even when it’s hard – UPDATE

“My life is amazing now. Please, do not come back into my life with drama and chaos again.”

More or less, that’s what I said 12 days ago. Actually, I think it is verbatim what I said.

So, why did Drama run his happy ass to my door, while Chaos sprayed “Liar Spray” all up in my face on a lovely Saturday afternoon in Switzerland? Hmm? Why?

Because it had to be.

It was in line with what was happening the entire time. I just didn’t know.

Lies, drama, and chaos were the bedrock of our relationship the entire time because he was lying about something as fundamental as “I always want to do the right thing.” All this deceit is painful to recall; but, now, because of his email last Monday (I still cannot believe he emailed me), I know the truth. Endlich. (And although, I didn’t lie or create chaos, my life situation sure as hell was dramatic. He is not alone in that responsibility.)

What I’ve learned in the past 7 days hasn’t been easy, and there is a lot more to learn. However, a few lessons include:

  • A man that is uninterested in or allergic to acts of basic human kindness is not a man that I need to invite into my heart.
  • People in my life are in my life because they are good people. If they don’t like a man I am seeing? I need to pay attention instead of making excuses (again).
  • I am naïve and I am gullible. Because I am 39, and not 9, that is probably not something that I can change (do I want to?). Thus, I need to refer to numbers 1 & 2 if I ever decide to date again (big “if”).
  • If I ask someone “not to come into my life with drama and chaos again,” I already know what will happen. People aren’t constantly confronted with those things in their relationships, when they are with healthy people.

The comments, particularly the nicknames about him (I particularly liked “utter turd of a creature” PS- I love the way Brits use “turd”), did entertain me, mainly because I’ve never seen him that way! Until I read his words of truth. Read them…in an email. (So, “utter turd” does somewhat to fit.)

But, honestly? There’s no need to demonize or vilify him. It just gives him power and strength he doesn’t deserve (and never demonstrated).

I don’t think he likes himself all that much. That’s sad, I think we can all agree. My prayer is that he will stop being the “bad guy” and be the “super Catholic” he purports to be. He should strive to become the hero of his own story.

Like I am. Because I…well…I’m gonna kick the ass of my own life and give myself one hell of a great story.

Stay tuned (pun intended).

(Sorry I don’t publish all the comments, but I don’t normally publish comments unless I know the person in my daily life, as y’all know. But, thanks for all your sweet messages and comments.)

Settling – it’s what’s for dinner

There was this day late in August of 2013.

I was 12 hours out of the hospital with a serious back and neck injury. I had an important appointment with the 80th lawyer. (Who probably asked to see me because she needed extra spending money. For sure, it wasn’t because she had anything concrete to offer in the way of pertinent legal advice.) And, the man I loved made a big offer (PETAL 1):

“I’m going to pick you up and take you to the appointment.”

“Really?”

“Yes.”

Twenty minutes after I needed to be picked up (a brace around my back and a medicinal brace around my neck), I heard the sound of a Vespa (PETAL 2). I remember thinking, “no way” and reality bitch-slapping me, “yes, way” when a little blue speed demon came around the corner.

Twenty minutes after having a helmet shoved on my head to “protect me” (PETAL 3), I was sitting in the lawyer’s office talking about her brilliant ideas – I either betray the man I love or publicly humiliate myself (PETAL 4). I knew I would chose the later, but…really? I think I popped a pain pill.

Forty-five minutes after that disaster, I was crying too hard to have the man I loved see me. His SMSs “I need to get to my meeting, are you done yet?” etc. went unanswered until I got myself under control. Bearing in mind: 12 hours out of the hospital, intense physical pain, exhausted, etc.

There was no helpful suggestion from the lawyer. No help from the man I loved. No help from God. No one heard me. I walked out of the door, having sent an SMS “I’m ready now” and saw something on the building in front of me:

  Post Tenebras, Lux.

But, there was no light after that darkness. That darkness was followed by more darkness.

I think it goes to a simple point and that’s in this poem I’m attaching below called “Just a Petal.” We are born with this tiny seed. It’s given to us by “whatever” made us. It’s the pure version of us, you know? The one that doesn’t know how to spell, smell, or identify what a “gun” is.

We forget about this. Time goes on and we pile a lot of stuff on that core (it’s “Kern” in German) part of us.

I think it’s important NOT to forget and I think it’s important to place a finger on that “Kern” and identify it. Remember who you are.

Otherwise, riding a Vespa with a back & neck injury or paying 500CHF to be told nothing by a person who doesn’t care about your future might seem “good enough.” When, those things are actually…just petals.

Just a Petal

Once upon a time feels a long way away.

Did it happen for real, did I actually say?

“Granddaddy, I dream of a day when I’ll settle

for a man carrying, not a rose, just a petal.

 He’ll be ‘not that bad,’ he might ‘like’ me a lot

The petal’s not much, but it’s all that he’s got.

He doesn’t hit me or cheat, not so much anyway.”

Once upon a time? Feels a long way away.

“No,” Granddaddy’d scold, “it’s not right what you say.

There’s much more you deserve, settling’s not the way.

Just hear it from my side, and see what I see.

‘Cause here’s what I see, what your future should be.

 For you, I dream of a man who will be a real man.

Needn’t head for the hills, running fast as he can

if trouble draws near, hanging above like a cloud.

By your side, he will be, and he’ll always be proud-

 he is yours, you are his, there is no end in sight.

There’s someone to hold, if you’re scared late at night.

My dream is better than yours is, I see it so clear.

Where did your dreams all go wrong? How’d you find yourself here?”

True, when did I start to settle…for only a petal?

Who says the minimum’s okay? Fidelity gets a medal?

We might see each other if he manages ‘some time?’

Do I feel butterflies, as I hover over my bottom line?

 Is this my Prince Charming? Someone moving like a fish

quickly in and out of my life, no intention to commit?

“I don’t remember what it feels like,” I say, though he knows,

“to be special enough to deserve the whole rose.”

 “Go back to your dreams, Granddotta – Remember who you are.

You deserve more than a petal –You’re your Granddaddy’s star.”

Laura Anne Ayres, 2014

BRAVERY PROJECT: guest blogger: Chantelle Edwards, “Live to make a difference – the essence of brave”

I hope all of you find Chantelle’s words as profound as I do. I admire her bravery in sharing them. Follow this project at @BeforeYouBook

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I Am Brave

by: Chantelle Edwards

Wow. That’s something I never thought I would hear myself say. For some reason it doesn’t seem humble, and indeed insignificant. When I place that title on the people that I hold high on my list of role models: Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King; who am I?

Then I read one of my best friends projects where she mentioned the little things that no one knows that you’ve done, that just might change a course of action and inspire someone else. These people took those actions without knowing the outcome and that is the bravery. Yet still I have a problem with that statement, it’s slightly self boasting. As a mother how do I inspire my children to be brave without truly verbalising and showing them what that means? So I write this to my Son and my Daughter, and someday you will read and comprehend that if you are ever deterred on a course of action that is the right path; be brave. Hopefully I am physically there, but even if not, somewhere up there your Mummy is looking down on you, holding your hand through what you know is the right thing to do. It is not about what we think the outcome will be, but who you truly are inside.

My Story

Define who you are

You may both go through times at school where you will be teased and or bullied. I hope not. I remember spending some lunch times in the toilets. I remember the taunts I had for the size of my bust. By the way they will be an asset later on in life. I remember feeling so different I tried to rub off the colour of my skin. It was red raw and the irony was the scar that was left was darker than my skin. In these years you are going to truly discover yourself, embrace yourself and be brave to love you; for who you are. The true beauty will be who you are inside and what you do. My first act of bravery was to accept this, my second act was to step in when another girl was being bullied and save her from a fate that I had experienced before. Stand up for yourself and others.

Define how you act in injustice

I really hope the issues your Daddy and I have faced will not exist; however, at the current pace there will likely still be prejudice due to your ethnicity and for you my daughter your gender. To my son remember you have a mother, sister and hopefully one day maybe even a daughter. Treat every woman with respect and equality. Now back to the bravery point. There have been times when I haven’t got what I needed, wanted or probably deserved because of the colour of my skin or my gender.

Funny episode number one was sending my CV via a friend to a company who apparently loved my CV, but “could I just attach a picture?” This was not necessary in England, but is in Switzerland, and suddenly my CV was no good. When I did have a role being told women are paid less was a big morale breaker. Lesson one: you can choose to react negatively or choose your battles. Your Papa (Granddad) told me “you will have to work harder than everyone else, you may be more educated but you still may not get the job, but keep on going because one day things will change.” He was unfortunately right. Lesson two make sure you get your education it will stand you in good stead and remember generation after generation things change.

 

Funny episode two was the unemployment office telling me I was nothing in Switzerland and was obviously no good. I persevered week after week retrained to work in a new skill, and learned a new language (you already speak four). Moral of this story (lesson three): is that some people may want to put you down, be brave, focus on positive energy and action to change the situation. Know that you are the content of your character, and don’t let someone else’s judgement of your skin colour affect you, do not give them the power. Lesson four, you may need to be flexible and adapt to life and the circumstances: retrain, reskill, move location but you can do anything you put your mind to trust me; I know and see it in the both of you. By the way your Daddy wouldn’t marry me just to get a Visa. He wanted to do it in his own time. So this was a very stressful time. I managed to stay in Switzerland on my own accord and your Daddy asked me to marry him after I got my Visa. Your Daddy is amazing and we married for love. Lesson five make: sure that you marry for love.

Funny or actually not so funny episode 3. As part of my reskilling I trained to teach yoga. Well you’ve probably heard your Daddy complain about my sweaty yoga pants; so this isn’t new. But a long time ago I taught a style called Bikram back in 2013 a number of cases were brought against Bikram which alleged harassment and rape as well as settled out of court cases on racism. There were several accusations where corruption, bullying and unethical behaviour took place. I remember being in a lecture at Teacher Training where the content was that gay people deserve to die from aids, all fat people should be put on one island to starve and a number of degrading comments to women. One: your Mummy stood up in a very cult environment and gave feedback on the quality of the training and unethical content (my heart did race). Two: when the allegations then started to come out I was not silent, despite losing the ability to teach at the studio, and the abuse in the community. I moved on and taught for your aunty Susanne which was bliss and kept my integrity. Lesson six: integrity is everything. There are times where the impact may be negative, but it goes to the very core of who you are, that doing nothing would let injustice prevail. Stand up for what you believe in. Your heart may race but Mummy is there.

Funny Episode 4. In Switzerland to get an apartment you have to put you nationality, what car you drive, religion and actually this may seem normal for you as this is where you were born. Trust me in England this is not the case it is based on can you pay and your previous references. You should see the places where we have lived, but purely because that was all we could get.   I would visit places where there were over a 100 people at the viewing and make an effort to speak to the people in German, but they would look at me with disgust. I was not Swiss and black. Just before you were born my daughter, we actually almost had nowhere to live. We stayed at your aunty Jas’s while I urgently looked for a place to live. I had to write to the prospective landlord and explain that we were going to be like Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus on the street. The phone never rang so quick; suddenly we had a flat! It used to be the ex-drug lord’s apartment, and even though we both had upper class incomes for Switzerland we were lucky we could get that given my skin colour. After that we bought. I never wanted to go through that again. Lesson number seven: if you ever need anything please obviously come to me, but aunty Jas will also be there for you. Lesson number eight: have good friends just like aunty Jas they are worth their weight in gold. Lesson number nine: try and establish empathy. Okay comparing yourself to Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus is extreme but I was 7 months pregnant and it got into the Swiss psyche. Even if you know the way that they are treating you is unfair, be brave start to get them to think about you as a person, and know you beyond a stereotype. When your Papa (granddad) first came to England they used to have signs “no dogs, not blacks and no Irishmen,” so this was a big leap forward. Bravery is sometimes about the long game and things will change. There are moments where you need to take big steps of bravery, and moment’s small seemingly silent ones that change people’s hearts and minds.

Funny episodes 5 to 15+. Well I have lost the number of times that I have been asked at interview if I’m pregnant? Am I planning to get pregnant? Why I want to work if I have kids and indeed not to work because I have kids! There are not enough fingers and toes for these questions, hence the number of episodes. I choose to work. I choose to use my mind that I had educated, worked on and to make a difference. I hope that you never felt left out. I visited your day care before I made the choice to go back to work, and make sure that it was a place where you would have fun: sledging, building fires in the woods, free play, making friends and learning how to be social. I got up at 5 am in the morning so that I could be there when you come home and wrap my arms around you for cuddles, play puzzles, draw, count, do your ABC’s, bake, play in the paddling pool in the summer, build snowmen in the winter, bath time, read the 5 + books you demand at night with my rapping of verse, Gruffalo voice and Jamaican accent that your aunty makes me put on over Skype for Mama God and Papa God a Caribbean tale. That said bravery is sometimes doing what is the right choice for you and your family even if it is against what society expects. I may be paid less because I am a working Mummy, but just somewhere out there, may be, I give someone hope. I also hope I role model to you my daughter that you have a choice. You can stay at home or work it is up to you both are hard work, and to my son you are ½ Scandinavian you support strong women to have that choice.  Lesson number ten: don’t put anyone down for their choice there is too much in fighting about how people should live their lives, every family is different and they do what is right for their family. Lesson number eleven: do what is right for your family period!

Live to Make a Difference

I guess this is the essence of brave. My whole life has orientated to this point. I am just now about to lead a huge program that affects childhood development globally and start a new business which will make such a difference to people’s lives, giving them more time on the things they love with the people that they love. I am hoping by the time you are reading this I have put in place a legacy that benefits future generations It’s funny even when you were both in my womb I think it was you that taught me to be brave. Somehow you have given me more strength then before. How can I make the world better for you? Every decision is about you and our family. The time we spend together and the happiness we have. So bravery lesson number twelve: whatever your dreams are – go do it, be happy, don’t be afraid and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t.

So in a way ‘I am Brave’ but somehow we started to have this dialogue before you were even born and you taught me the true meaning of brave.

 

BRAVERY PROJECT – Show me your brave

Think of the Top Ten bravest people in your daily life. Why do you consider them brave? What constitutes an act of bravery?

We can all point to clear examples of bravery: Malala Yousafzai, normal people stepping in when the Boston marathon bomb went off, the teachers at Sandy Hook, the fire-fighting heroes in West, Harvey Milk, Hillary Clinton & Ted Kennedy, police officers. The list is long and their accomplishments are amazing and awe-inspiring.

Great. What about you?

I’m one of the 10 bravest people I know. It’s not arrogance – I work for that title. I would love to hide in a cubicle, hide in my beautiful flat, hide with the people I already know well. Can’t do it. It isn’t brave. I make it my mission to be on my own top ten list. Things I am not on my own top ten list of include: fashionista, fabulous singer, fabulous writer, etc. Most of my readers know that I am a deeply-flawed gal; however, I am brave.

I fight like hell to be brave. I use my voice, my education, my website, and anything else I can utilize to fight things like poverty, injustice, and ignorance. I speak up for people suffering unjustly. I do not always get heard and rarely get things done exactly the way I want. Not the point.

Here’s the real kicker about bravery: sometimes you fall flat on your face. Sometimes you say words that are hard to say and the other person laughs at you. Sometimes you fight something and you lose the battle (but maybe not the war…go Hillary & Teddy, now we have Obamacare). Here’s the reverse kicker – nothing can diminish brave. Brave is too strong to be diminished by a “no.”

So, what do you decide? Safe walk or bravely blazing a trail?

Start thinking of yourself as brave. Did you start your own company this year? Did you admit to a big mistake? Did you write to a government official? Did you commit yourself to volunteer work? Did you lose 20 pounds? Did you use your website or FB status to really make a thoughtful statement promoting tolerance or education (Mike Mayes and Tony Barrese, y’all always inspire me)? Did you lose a loved one and make it through without becoming a crack addict? All those things might seem “small.” I assure you, there is bravery within each of them.

I’ve never ever seen on-the-spot bravery announced with glitter and rainbows. Not once. Bravery doesn’t look like much to most people, it’s something you do that makes you, sorry curse word-haters, scared shitless.

I just came from my sanctuary in Luzern where I heard something amazing, “Only deep inside of you can you hear who you really are.” There is a small voice inside of all of us calling us to be…brave. So, do it. If you need inspiration, I love this song https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xwTr_CRw3GY What a fantastic message. “I just wanna see you be brave.” (Songwriters: BAREILLES, SARA / ANTONOFF, JACK Brave lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC)

Anyone who has a story of bravery, I don’t care if you saved a child or an opera company or 50 bucks…whatever you think “brave” is, share your story somewhere. You can be a guest blogger for me. You can post it on my FB page (Before You). Post it on your own. Be bold.

Show me…how big your brave is. Follow this project at @BeforeYouBook

Allerseelen by Strauss

Former President George H. W. Bush had good, practical advice about public speaking under emotionally-challenging circumstances. When he had to speak at the funeral once, he read the speech over and over again, attempting to pull the emotional attachment out of the words. When I heard that story, I thought it was a good idea, but not particularly brave (no disrespect). I think it’s a hell of a lot braver to be real and real people get choked up.

There was a song on my concert last week called “Allerseelen.” It’s about a couple and they have clearly been through the ringer (By the way, what this story is not about…is a dead person…and somewhere in Steiermark, a dashing, white-haired German poet is screaming, “ENDLICH.”):

Put the flowers on the table and let’s talk about love, like we used to. Give me your hand, I’ll hold it in secret. If someone sees? I don’t give a damn! Give me just one more of your sweet looks. Everything is new and fresh again – there is one day every year when even the dead come back to life – come back to me! I need you back, my love! The way we used to be. How we used to be.

Any smart singer in my situation would avoid this song like the plague. I have rarely performed it in public since 2011 without crying a little bit because it reminds me of, well, my own “sweet look”er. When I began preparation for the Hospice benefit, I found it in my “old recitals” folder. “Allerseelen” is my song. It is set by Strauss (who writes for my voice type), it is in German (liebe the German), text is amazing (I’m a nerd) and it has breathtaking piano & vocal marriage.

If the concert in honor of the Hospice was going to be my best, I needed to sing it. My “sweet look”er has never attended one of my concerts and doesn’t particularly like opera anyway. If I did cry, it would be minimal and not ugly Oprah cry (with snot). The song went on the program. Easy.

Nope. In the telenovela that is my life, my “sweet look”er would attend the concert and stand in my eye line throughout the entire concert, including during “Allerseelen,” which I was singing to him, though he didn’t know it and thankfully never will because he never reads this blog.

Papa Bush is right. It is hard to sing or speak when you cry or when you are seriously attached to the text (in an emotional way). It might make the message more about you and less about the message.

But, for my “sweet look”er and the hell we have been put through? Well, it was worth that tear, that lump in the throat possibly coming in. It wasn’t easy for him to come to the concert and it wasn’t easy for me to sing (see previous post). We were both brave last Sunday and the result is that I didn’t cry during “Allerseelen” because it was our song and I was singing it to him. It wasn’t sad, it was beautiful.

Ein Tag im Jahr ist ja den Toten frei, komm an mein Herz, dass ich dich wieder habe, wie einst im Mai.

Wie einst im Mai, indeed.

 

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