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An Elevator Challenge

Every four months, I see the dental hygienist at 7:00 am.  Yesterday was one of those days.: in at 7:00, out by 8:00.  Late afternoon  I rode the elevator with a woman in my building who asked how my day was going.  “Great!”, I offered, “Starting with the dentist at 7:00, followed by a water workout  at 9:45, and __”, and that was all she needed to hear.

Her two hands immediately shot up, elbows pressing against her sides and fingers spread wide as though she were being arrested. She stopped me in my tracks with, “I cannot believe you were at the dentist office before I even g0t out of bed!” I mistook her words as complimentary about my unusual energy level.  I began to smile and almost made a fool of myself by thanking her, when she blasted me, “Why do you always have to be busy every moment of the day?”  OUCH!  This was no compliment!

Why do you always have to be busy every moment of the day?”

While she was not about to be nationally recognized for her interpersonal skills,  I must admit, her question was noteworthy; as a matter of fact, it haunted me. The impact of her emphasis on the word “busy”, (translation: meaningless) was like being shot with an arrow that hurt like the dickens and needed to be dislodged. The elevator door came to my rescue, she got off, and I was left to remove the arrow.

So call it justification or an over reaction on my part, call it whatever you like, but here is how I removed the sting of her arrow:

I was “born busy”. I have always been busy. Frankly I like that part about me.  I get a lot accomplished in a day. I remember writing “to do” lists (TDL) well before my 10th birthday, thriving on the awesome feeling of crossing off each accomplishment. Back then the items frequently on my TDL were organizing my school supplies, writing a story, or setting up a “store” in my basement).

As I was raising a large family and starting the first of many careers,  I relied on several different TDLs to manage my varied roles of mom, homeowner and business woman. More recently, I graduated to my Alexa version of an electronic TDL–not quite the same crossing off experience, nevertheless it keeps me technologically current.  Recently retired, my TDL seems longer than it should be, wondering how I ever managed to get 5 children off to school, tend to my own business, cook, clean, and attend the kids multi-league basketball functions  throughout the week. I would argue that it is because of my reliance on a TDL, albeit it paper or electronic, that allowed/allows me to get it all done.

So the arrow was removed and I feel better again. But as a high SUCCESSTROGEN woman like yourself, I know that I need to look a bit further into how I am spending my time.  The real issue here and therefore the challenge put forth to me in the elevator, is about purpose, not just being busy doing  things. Throughout my life, I always had a clear, driving purpose: To be a mom, to earn my PhD, to teach at a university, to help Michael manage through his Parkinson’s, and to be instrumental in building a community spirit in my condo.

But what is my purpose now? What am I doing beyond the things listed on today’s TDL to contribute to my community, to help others? High SUCCESSTROGEN women continue to use their skill sets well beyond their motherhood or professional status to help others manage their lives more easily.

Shout out to the woman on the elevator  for posing the question!  I  am reminded that I need to continue the search to be clear on “my who” and “my why.”  When clear on that, I am truly functioning at my best, I am helpful to others, and I feel good about myself.

By the way, enough about me, have  you given any thought to “your  who” and “your why” lately?

 

 

 

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Out of Control

 

 

 

Cancer is the result of cells that have gone out of control; the cells have literally run amok!  I have  breast cancer, meaning  my cells out of control.  While this diagnosis is new to me, being out of control is way too familiar.

Sometimes my eating is out of control. I know it when it happens because I have an  upset stomach, my weight is up, and there’s a gross extra layer of flab hanging over my waistline that wasn’t there the week before.   As I stare at my not -so-flattering mirror image, eating half a coconut cake comes to mind, as well as a few too many Almond Joys.  That recollection fuels my need to quickly throw out any left over junk food, start a daily/early morning abs workout, swim laps , and add steps to my usual 15K until I get control of my eating, until I look and feel good again.  I know I am out of control when I  ask the kids about their Easter plans and they remind me it is only August,  when my daughter likes a certain shampoo and I send her 6 bottles, and I recently experienced being out of control when I found a great pair of leggings for travel, and I bought 6 pair for my friends!

My kids describe me as  “over the top”, but it means the same thing…too much spontaneous action, no regard for consequences, a.k.a. “out of control.” I am the problem and the cause and frankly, I and only I, am the solution.

However,  my out of conrol cells present a different problem.  I cannot fix my cancer. I cannot calm down the out of control cells, or make the malignant ones disappear.   I cannot fix this by being less impulsive.   I need to rely on someone else, apparently a team of someone elses, to get things back under control.

As high successtrogen women, women who have clearly defined success for themselves,  we know when somethng  is out of control  and whenever we can, we face it and fix it.  When something needs to be fixed by someone else, someone more skilled, with an expertise that we don’t have, we go to them quickly and we  put our problem in their hands.  We don’t hesitate.

This week I am putting my life in the hands of others to get my cells back in control once and for all.  And while they are busy tending to the task, it would be wise for me  to get the eating and shopping in control once again as well as once and for all.

Airport Friend

 

On a four hour layover in Charlotte Airport, I determined I was going to need something other than the usual faux-leather chair stuck to eight identical others.  I was going to need a rocking chair so I could read my new book. Unfortunately,  all the rockers were occupied except one, but even that one wasn’t exactly available. A guy was getting up from that rocker slowly, gathering his stuff which was strewn about the floor.

“You off your rocker?” I asked, admiring  my clever approach. He responded quickly.

“That’s what she said last week… said I was nuts, right before she dumped me.”

“Is she right?…Are you nuts?”  I asked moving cautiously in the direction of the rocking chair while keeping both eyes on him, after all, maybe he was nuts!

” Not sure.   I mean it’ true,  I can’t  seem to pull the trigger, you know, commit.” He indicated quotes with his fingers held alongside each ear. (I do that too sometimes and I made a mental note to stop doing it, it looks so lame.)  He was still talking.

” I don’t know, maybe I am off my rocker.”

“HMM”, I made that sound I often make when I don’t know what to say next, it sort of buys me time.  “Maybe we are all a little nuts”,  I added, “Sorry about your girlfriend, though.”

“You married?” he asked.

‘No”. I responded simply. While he was willing to putting it all out there, I wasn’t.

“Divorced?”

“Well, I’m not sure how to answer that.  I was divorced and then my former husband passed away. I’m Catholic so according to The Church (I wanted to do the quote sign thing but held myself back)  I am a widow because the church never recognized my divorce. I am not really sure what I am. It doesn’t much matter any more.” (I guess I was going to put it out there after all.)

I realized we were  both standing alongside the rocker, which oddly enough was rocking every so slightly. He caught me looking at it.

“Please”, he said, “Sit down.  I am off this rocker for sure.”

” Sorry about your girlfriend”, I added.” It’s sad to lose someone you love.”

‘Whoa… who said anything about love?  I never said I loved her.  Who really knows what love is anyway…do you?

“I think so, at least  when I was in love, it was just as I envisioned it to be.  I felt happy deep down to my soul.  He saw more in me than I did in myself, he was kind and fun. He respected me,allowed me to speak my  mind and flourish according to my own plan. People who are in love, love all about the other, even the differences, even the quirks.  I think that’s love.

“Are you in love now?”

“No, I don’t seem to be able to find what I once had. Sometimes I think that 25 years of being in love is more than most people get and so I am grateful for that.”  He sat down on the floor alongside me. Didn’t look like I was going to get to read my book any time soon.

“Steve” he said, extending his hand.

“Mary Ann.”

“So what’s does Mary Ann do?” he inquired.

I’m an adjunct , USF Tampa.  And I am retired so I spend time with my grandchildren, and travel a lot. Life is good for me.

“Cool”, he said.

“What do you do, Steve?”

‘Me? I dabble.”

“You dabble,” I repeated it as though I was questioning the legitimacy of his answer.

“Yeah you know, a little this and a little that. I invest in property,  I own a bar in Jacksonville.  My parents died early and for better or worse left enough money for me to just ..well…dabble.”

“Ah”…most people would envy  you, being able to dabble.”

“Yeah…I guess. It probably wasn’t the best thing for me. He went on to talk about some poor business and life decisions. No, he wasn’t nuts, just hadn’t found his ground yet. I talked about dabbling with my writing, about my need to create stories and share them, and my search for what’s next in my life.   We chatted easily as though we had been friends far longer than this short encounter.

“This is cool.” His fingers went back and forth pointing to him, to me and him again.  I mean, I know it is just an airport friendship, but it’s cool.”

I liked the term, airport friendship.

Steve glanced at his watch.  “Crap! I gotta get to my gate, but thanks, Mary Ann.  I don’t think I’m off my rocker, but I am glad I got off my rocker for you. Before I go, can I ask you a very personal question.”

“You already have . Why stop now?”

He smiled approvingly, “Yeah, but this one is even more personal.” I knew in an instant the question, so I answered before he even asked,

” 73″.

“No kidding!” he responded with wide eyes and a huge smile that I hadn’t seen before.  ” Wow, you look great in skinny jeans!” And off he went.

And so my airport friend put closure on our friendship, and  was on his way to  go dabble somewhere at something. He left smiling, making me  think he felt better as a result of  our conversation, and frankly I was smiling as well.

SUCCESSTROGEN is about defining your life as you wish it. And I wish my life to be like that night, meeting others and sharing  stories–nothing life changing, but powerful just the same.   I never did get into my book, as a matter of fact I left it there on the rocking chair for someone else to read in case they chose not  to share their story with an airport friend.

Where’s Julio?

 

I am “visiting home”, vacationing in the very building in which I last lived. While fully aware that things change,  my hope was that I would find my former residence exactly as it once was and my friends just as I had remembered them.

As I Ubered into the parking lot, a myriad of  memories swirled in my head, each one competing for my attention.  The tall white concrete structure reminded me of how long it took to paint the building, a six-month project that turned into a 2-year one, nevertheless it still looks beautiful. The sight of the hastily scattered shopping carts outside the front entrance forced its way to the front of my mind. That always bugged me. Why couldn’t people walk just a few steps further to the shopping cart storage area? When I lived here, several times a day I would take the abandoned carriages and return them where they belonged.  Today was no exception!

The maintenance crew greeted me with hugs and smiles, reminding me of the relationships I had built beyond that of other residents. I recalled the late night cake parties at the front desk, the incredible smart women who lived in this building, and the feeling that we all watched out for one another.

The memories kept coming:  I recalled when three of us traveled to Philly to see Pope Francis, four of us went to Manhattan to be on the Rachel Ray Show, and a group of us celebrated Helen’s retirement, our favorite concierge of all time. We all dressed up with wigs and masks of Helen’s face and did this funny recitation, “Please, Helen, Please Don’t Go!”  So many wonderful memories’ I couldn’t wait to see everyone.

In a high SUCCESSTROGEN mode of  keeping relationships strong, I carefully planned   breakfasts, lunches and dinners each day with one friend at a time. I am happy to say that most are today as I remember them from a few years ago…bright, active, and grateful for all that is. A few have moved on to nursing homes,  one friend died this week while I was here, and sad to say, a few others died before I had a chance to say goodbye.

But one friend, Julio, was nowhere to be found. We met because we both had routines that intercepted every Sunday. Julio swept the sidewalk at Classico, an outdoor cafe. Early Sunday morning he would power wash the sidewalk, pick up hundreds of  cigarette butts and bits of broken glass carelessly left behind by the Saturday night crowd.  He worked hard,  cleaning the area as though he was preparing for a visit from the King of  his native country, Mexico. I often worked along side of him as we chatted. Only when  there were no more butts anywhere and all the pillows were in place, did he go home.

Julio and I became friends..two people, with entirely different lives but a shared value set about hard work. I looked for him on Sunday but there was someone else in his place.

“Where’s Julio?” I asked rather abruptly as though the young man had done something to my friend.

“Mam?” he asked.

“Julio, my friend who used to do this job. ” I said.

He  just shook his head and got in his car.   As he  drove off, I couldn’t help but notice the butts under the furniture and the crooked pillows left behind. I discarded the butts, moved a few chairs so they would allow for better conversation for the lunch crowd, and  straightened the pillows, just as Julio and I had done so many times together.

Julio,  I don’t know where you are.  But I think often of our chats about doing a job well,  thoroughly and being proud of what we do.  I miss the chats and I miss you.

Lap 13

“What happened?”, that is the question that haunted me recently after my morning swim.   A more specific follow-up question is:  When did I develop a selfish side?

My awareness occurred during lap 13 which shall now forever be embedded in my mind. I swim every morning. I usually do water aerobics for about 30 minutes and then swim laps.  My mom was a championship swimmer “way back when”, but that gene is one I did not inherit.  However I am drawn to the water and perhaps that is a way of staying connected to her. I am not a good swimmer, certainly not a pretty one, but I love my 60 minute daily swim far more than any other exercise I do.

At Washington Sports Club,  there are four lanes in the pool, carefully roped off by heavy plastic ropes, suggesting that each swimmer stay in her lane.  I am a believer of the “lane” concept. Beyond swimming, it refers to one of my basic values:  “staying in my lane” if you will, where I can excel. Every now and then I step “out of my lane” and  try something new, like learning to speak a new language, but find myself happy to retreat back to my lane as mom, gram, Professor O’Neil, and Social Committee Chair. In my lane I am at my best,  confident, comfortable, and happy.

On the morning in question,  I was literally in my lane doing my laps and as I approached the wall preparing for a turn on Lap 13, I saw a man standing outside the pool looking to see where he could fit in. “Oh No!” I thought to myself. “I don’t like to share a lane.”  I pretended to not notice him. I checked the other lanes and found they were all  occupied. Surely one of the other swimmers would offer to share their lane! I,who meets and greets strangers on the street every day, deliberately never made eye contact. with this man. I did my turn, and kept on going on to Lap 13, at a faster pace than I ever remember swimming.  It was as though I was swimming far away from that guy, or perhaps more accurately said, ” far away from the right thing to do. “–not like me, not at all like me!

On my walk home, I could not get my mind off what had occurred. When did I get so selfish that I couldn’t so much as share a lane with another swimmer? I always think of myself as a generous person , but not this time. No this time I was downright selfish.

I couldn’t help but wonder:  Was this an isolated decision or were there other selfish moments lately? I couldn’t answer that question but I will continue to search hard. A high SUCCESSTROGEN woman takes care of herself (makes choices that work for her) but does so with full acknowledgement of its impact on others around her (the swimmer looking for a lane). If I find other examples, well then that is not the woman I wish to be and I will make the changes I need to make.

And so I am off to visit a friend, will share this story with her and she will “let me off the hook” by declaring that I am not selfish.  She will back her statement up by several examples of things I  did years ago when I lived here that she benefitted from directly.  But you see, my belief is that whether I am selfish or not is not determined by what I did in the past, but rather by what I do each new moment and my moment before Lap 13 I decided to be selfish.

 

Christmas Poem 2017

 

On the 1st day of Christmas, I was sure as I could be

That the most important part of my life is my incredible family.

 

On the 2nd day of Christmas, I quickly glanced around

And smiled at my good fortune to live in Bethesda, downtown.

 

On the 3rd day of Christmas it was easy for me to see

How many incredible people live here in The Darcy.

 

On the 4th day of Christmas what quickly came to me

Is how much we have grown: 17 members on our Social Committee!

 

On the 5th day of Christmas, we all need to realize

That it’s in the giving, not the getting, that is the real prize.

 

A 6th day of Christmas brought to my mind

my long-standing dream that everyone in the world would be kind.

 

A 7th day of Christmas warns us to take care of our health

Far more important than focusing on our financial wealth.

 

An 8th day of Christmas reminds us that we are not alone,

There are those who are hungry, there are those without a home.

 

Being inclusive and tolerant, living without much hullabaloo

Is what the 9th day of Christmas tells us to do.

 

The 10th day is for being present and living a purposeful life

Being a model parent, a faithful husband or a loving wife.

 

 

The 11th day says to be joyful, spread cheer all around

Be happy and grateful, our feet solidly on the ground.

And the 12th day offers a wish from me to you

May you be blessed in 2018 in all that you do.

 

 

 

Merry Christmas to you all!

Mary Ann O’Neil

Christmas Poem 2017

 

 

 

 

 

The Junk Drawer

My friend just stopped by to drop off a NY Times article she thought I would enjoy. She said she didn’t have time to chat because today was the day she was going to clean out her junk drawer. The door no sooner closed behind her and I found myself standing in front of my junk drawer, aghast! It appeared that everything I ever owned had found its way to the perfect hiding place.  Surely  if I had found any one of these items on my coffee table or my precious new, navy-laminated desk, I would have tossed it out.

A junk drawer? In my very neat and well-organized apartment?  Heavens! Years ago I always had a junk drawer but back then there were way too many kids, a husband, a business to run, and a tennis competition to get to. Back then there was no time to clean out a junk drawer, as a matter of fact, I think I had several!

But today, I am retired, by myself, and I have all the time in the world to make sure a junk drawer never occurds. My OCD about keeping order just doesn’t allow for a junk drawer! Right now, it you were to open my refrigerator you would see all my water bottles, neatly in rows like soldiers, one behind another, labels to the front. The same is true of my yogurt containers, all in neat rows, like flavors with like flavors, allowing one to easily select the flavor of the moment.  Further, my socks are all paired and neatly arranged in my sock drawer, my shoes are organized by type (heels, clogs, sneakers, Jack Rogers, and the like. So how is it that a pizza cutter, an old sales receipt, post it pads, two screws,  pens, an outdated coupon, a UND laminated name card, scissors, a paper clip, and broken rosary beads  all gravitated together in one drawer.

And so the project of organizing the junk drawer began.  The first few items were easy throw away decisions: an outdated coupon,  a used theater ticket, an old sales receipt from Pottery Barn for furniture I purchased when I moved here to Bethesda. But then I came upon the broken Rosary beads from my visit to Philadelphia with Helen and Leah to see the Pope. With tears in my eyes I recalled a very meaningful and faith-driven weekend. I miss Helen and Leah and thought about planning some sort of weekend reunion with those women who were once part of my daily life.  My Notre Dame lanyard reminded me of a workshop I delivered there for Catholic school coaches, as well as the football games we enjoyed while Michael Jr, was a UND student. Again, more tears. A theater ticket from Thurgood, an incredible look into the mind of Thurgood Marshall, a ribbon left behind by my granddaughter, and a photo of Michael, my former spouse had also made their way to the drawer.  How did these very special things end up here in a so-called junk drawer?

I couldn’t throw out the photo, the Rosary beads, the lanyard, or the theater ticket…they weren’t junk, they were…um, uh,…they were part of my story. So what am I to do with them? I looked around my small apartment and could not find a suitable place for any one of them. And then the only logical thing came to my mind: rename my junk drawer.  I went to the trash and retrieved the furniture sales receipt, the theater ticket that led me to better understand a very conservative mind.  I left the  old screws right there in the trash because I could not remember their significance.  My new “Special Things” drawer looks the same as its predecessor, but now the things that are in there belong there and nowhere else. As I closed the drawer, I realized how much pleasure opening the Special Things drawer brought me, I will have to do so more often.

Women with High SUCCESSTROGEN are organized because they need to be in order to do all that they do.  But they, too, allow themselves the luxury of a Special Things Drawer where stuff just lands, not junk , but really good stuff that is part of their story. The stuff in this draw  cannot be organized or labeled, nor can it be discarded. But it can bring them back in time occasionally, to recall parts of their story that reminds them of how they got to today.

Have you thought about taking a trip down memory lane lately and reviewed the contents of your junk drawer?