All items, events, articles, recommendations, links and comments are displayed because they have special significance and personal interest for me. Perhaps they will for you.

Ronda Stevenson

Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Ultimate Project

Raising kids is the most important DIY project you will ever attempt. It is the most difficult, the most exhausting, the most painful, the most frightening. It is also the most wonderfully amazing, magical and critical masterpiece that you will ever create.

It's not a paint brush that you can put away at sundown or place in a drawer until the creative spark strikes again. Once the canvas is begun, the creation is yours to continue. With children it's much more difficult to paint over the mistakes you make, harsh words, inattention or careless behavior. There is no do over.

The lessons you teach your children are in everything you say and do, every word, every touch, every example. For the rest of your existence you will be loving, teaching, guiding these wonderful creatures you have welcomed into your life. They will emulate you, the good the bad and the embarrassing.

You will spend the rest of your life learning the lessons of parenthood.

Why I Spill My Guts

Some may wonder why I write. Sometimes I wonder that, too. I know a piece of the story.

My goal is to make a difference in some small way. Sometimes that comes by 'spilling my guts' and digging into my past screw ups and heartaches. It won't be reading material for everyone, no doubt.

I've always been a crier. I cry when I'm happy, touched, sad, frustrated, angry, scared or in a confrontational situation. The confrontation doesn't even have to be particularly intimidating. If there's emotion involved, my tear ducts flow. It has proved frustrating and leaves me feeling powerless, particularly when I really want to be heard.

Writing provides me an opportunity to put my thoughts, experiences and feelings 'out there' without becoming an emotional mess. It's a safe space. It's a creative avenue that helps me to use the experiences of my life in a positive way. At least that is my goal. The message may be to encourage a reader or it may be a big flashing cautionary tale...I have no shortage of those messages.

I hope that what I have learned (and am still learning) will have some positive impact on others. It's a way of validating that I traveled this earth. Well, well, well..there you have it. As I'm sitting here writing this entry, that sentence just flowed out. An epiphany!

This is the reason that I write...

It's a way of validating that I traveled this earth. I was here.

Filling the Vessel...Unexpected Changes

Two years ago I moved to Las Vegas. My transition has included surprising revelations and challenges for me.

A tidbit of history. I started working at age 17. I'm almost 64 years old now. I was gainfully employed most of those years. Pregnant at age 19. I raised four children, my fabulous children...Jeff, Destyn, Michael and Savannah...primarily as a single parent. I weathered destructive marriages and painful divorces, welcomed sweet grand children and my children's spouses into my heart and into my life. I have a strong work ethic, sometimes to the point of workaholic, and have devoted decades of myself to my kids, grand kids and foster children. It's been a life filled with taking care of the needs of others, work related and personal. It's the life I chose. It's the life I've loved.

After a heartbreaking job loss several years ago and the devastating financial and personal losses that resulted, I lost self confidence. This painful situation has continued to haunt me. Fortunately, I was hired as a full-time nanny, caring for a little boy from infancy until he turned five years of age and started attending school. What an amazing experience it was, to build a bond with this sweet, extraordinarily funny and smart little boy. I'm grateful that I occasionally get to spend time with him, travelling to his family's home to care for him while his mom and dad travel. He's a little guy who has brought incredible love, joy and humor into my life. I have been blessed. In spite of this, my self confidence from the previous job loss has never fully recovered. Doubts frequently bubble to the surface. Am I good enough? A feeling that has lurked in a dark corner for most of my life, I guess.

Now I live in Las Vegas, a location that I would previously have rated 27 on a list of 10 cities in which to relocate. Though born and raised in Southern California, I am not a fan of the hot, dry desert. I like green trees, lush grass, hills and mountains, cooler temperatures...that would be the landscape and climate of Seattle, Washington. That means months and months of drizzle, rain and clouds. Despite my aversion to dry weather, here I am in Vegas. Until a couple of years ago, I would have denied any possibility of living here. Now I'm appreciating the clear, beautiful weather and the comfortable temperatures (now that summer is over). Who knew?

These past two years, three of my four children have also lived here. Plus two sons-in-law. And a grand baby for the last one year. It's been a whirlwind of change (and not just the weather).  Location, employment, social life, energy...and dammit, my feet hurt!. It has meant a change in expectations. Mine.

My relationships with my children have turned and evolved around sometimes painful corners. Plus, I have discovered that it's difficult for me to be alone. It's also difficult for me to share my space. Confusing messages to self!

My children are independent people. Guess I encouraged that in them when they were growing up. Having more time on my hands since my move here, I became more needy for my children's company. But, crazy me, they were actually very busy with work, relationships, friends and travel.

It was the first time in my adult life that I didn't have to take care of someone else. Just me. It's the first time I'd lived alone. No spouse, no children, not even little mice living in the walls. I had nothing to do outside of my own needs. And guess what!!! I didn't know what I needed. Having never had time to consider 'my needs', it was absolutely foreign to me. Clueless. Then came my new grandson. Someone to care for. Yay! For a year I did. But, daughter, husband and grand baby just moved out of state.

Back to square one.

After almost two years, I still struggle to figure it out. When asked what I want to do or be when I grow up, the answer is, "I don't know." I have vague notions but have been unable to solidify or focus on anything to any real degree. What I do know is that I've allowed myself to become isolated, lonely and without direction.

Recently, my friends and former co-workers, Kirsi and Skott, traveled from Seattle to Las Vegas. Spending time with these vivacious, enthusiastic people was invigorating, liberating and life affirming. Kirsi and Skott pushed me to think and to imagine the possibilities of my life. A life, not without my children, but a life that could survive independently from them. Three days, many hours of laughing, crying, talking and eating and a door opened for me. Hope.

From a seemingly empty vessel to one overflowing with encouragement and positive affirmations, they shined a light and helped me to begin the search for myself and for my dreams. It may be a stony and confusing path, but I think I will eventually find my footing.

Friday, October 4, 2013


When I think about friendship in a general sense, what comes to mind is gathering of friends in celebration of birthdays, weddings, memorials and graduations. It's people making time in their schedules to include the important events of someone else, it's meeting for lunch or coffee, it's sharing conversation and life.

On a much deeper level, friendship is an act of caring and love. A friend, by my definition, is a person who makes a difference on a very personal and intimate level. Someone who accepts the other, positive attributes, warts and all. These are the people who have seen me at my delirious, happiest moments and held my heart in their hands in my darkest days. My friends' personalities range from serious and formal to totally quirky. Each has had a profound impact on my life. My closest friends have loved me for many years. I have loved them.

I have deeply held friendships within my family unit and extended family members, but, today I'm writing about the enduring friendships outside of the family confine. These are the friends that have had a profound, long-lasting impact on me in such a way as to enhance and/or alter my life significantly.

I met Joannie in the eighth grade, we were 13 years old (counting to now, that's 50 years-Good Grief!). My family had just moved to West Los Angeles in the middle of the school year. Being extremely shy and feeling insecure, it was a painful transition. As I sat in class on my first day, feeling quite isolated, I was greeted by this bright, friendly girl. She had a big, warm smile and long brown curly hair. She walked over to my desk, bent close to me and said, "You are so beautiful! Would you like to eat lunch with us?" My fear melted away. There began our relationship, a friendship that started with a hand stretched out in kindness that has held strong over time, distance, years of separation, boyfriends, babies, marriages, divorces and grandchildren. We have shared so many stories. She is Mommy Joannie to my children, I am Mommy Ronda to hers. Joannie has a heart that accepts and loves every person she meets. She always finds the shining light, the good that lies within each individual. She lives life with complete, pure love, always expecting good to come forward. I love this amazing woman and consider her my soul mate. That may seem an odd assumption, but there it is.

Lorraine and I met through a mutual friend during a very tumultuous time in our lives and in the world. It was about 1970, we were 21. The war in Vietnam was still going on, there were demonstrations, some peaceful, some violent. It was a time of highly charged emotions and conflict. Lorraine and I both had very young children and wound up sharing a home together. We were as different as any two people could be. Yet we worked. We loved. She studied to be an attorney, a vocal liberal activist. She was brilliant. I learned a lot from her and will be ever grateful that she shared this world with me. I was more of a naive, go-with-the-flow, middle-of-the-road individual. Lorraine brought honesty, excitement and enlightenment into my view. We weathered the shocking death of our friend, Diana, temporary but troublesome issues between us and many years of distance with limited communication. Yet, we reconnected and found a bond still unites us. The bond of friendship and love, once based in our youth, now growing in maturity. I'm thankful for every moment with Lorraine, her kind heart, her spirit, and that she makes me think beyond my own knowledge and experience. She continues to challenge me.

Chrys has been in my life for 35 years. She taught home birth preparation classes, which is where we met. When the time came to welcome my daughter, Destyn, into our lives, my doctor was unavailable for the planned home birth. His office asked me to come to the clinic. I declined, telling them, "I'll birth my baby alone if I have to, but I'm not going anywhere." I admit this wasn't necessarily the wisest solution, but I do have quite a stubborn, rebellious spirit sometimes. Remembering that Chrys had mentioned being a lay midwife, I called her and asked her to attend my birth. This woman, whom I'd met only briefly, came to my home (her six-month-old infant in tow), providing telephone updates to the doctor's staff. Of course, the nurses were freaking out that I didn't have a doctor in attendance. Eventually, the doctor did make it, just in time...about one minute just in time! This most intimate experience was the beginning of a long friendship. She has cared for my children, I've worked in her child care center, she was my midwife at the home birth of my baby Savannah 24 years ago. There have been so many times that we have called on each other for support and to just kick around what's going on in our lives. She is someone who will always reach out to help another, be it acquaintance or long-time friend. Enduring and solid.

Corinne came into my life 30 years ago. Pregnant with my third baby and ready to burst, we met as homeschooling parents. Her son was 14, mine was 13. Our boys became fast friends and remain so today. A year later, Corinne weathered with me my separation and finally my divorce. One of the most crushing experiences in my life, she reached down and dragged me out of deep depression and gently, but firmly, pulled me from the darkness of suicide when I thought I couldn't bear it anymore. She shook me into reality. Thankfully, she reminded me that my children needed me, that I was valued, that I was lovable. We remain friends, surviving more trials in our families than anyone should have to endure. But, survive we have.

Jackee is a friendship lost. A tragic and painful loss that still brings me to tears. We met at a church function about a year after my husband and I separated. I've been as close to Jackee as I've been to any woman. We shared highs and lows..exhilarating and crazy experiences. She was vivacious and outgoing, She was the personification of 'fun'. After 20 years of friendship, including her many highs and depressions along the way, a volatile episode brought us to the final chapter. It was one of the single most devastating losses of my life. Although our relationship shattered, I still love her. Regardless of the ending, it is a relationship that included years of kindnesses and caring. It stays with me. Achingly so.

The friendships detailed below began in a working environment, my team members.

I was introduced to Matt when he joined our department 19 years ago. Matt infuses humor and silly antics into almost every space he enters. He is surprising and warm, always striving to do right by others. We became friends initially through shared circumstances at work, but that evolved and moved beyond the working environment. Matt has such a good heart, will go to the ends of the earth for a friend or family member, to his own detriment. He is a Libra. I get that. Our experiences revolved around more than work issues. Family concerns, our children, his divorce and 'coming out' as gay, painful issues with my 'ex'. Later, I was introduced to Matt's partner, Rodel, an innovative, talented and generous young man. My life has been enhanced many times over with the love that these two men continue to share with me and with my family.

Skott also joined my department 19 years ago. His impact was immediate. He lead with enthusiasm, a smile, innovative ideas and a warm heart. He always had a way of sparking interest and support for his ideas. He was a bright light. He is still a bright light of enthusiasm and heart. Skott and his partner, JR, have embraced love in its sweetest form as they work toward adopting the young foster child they have raised since birth. I have such a deep respect and love for this family. As for Skott, I am grateful for the warm cloak of friendship that he has shared with me.

Kirsi joined our department just out of college, an intern. She is one of the most charming, hard working, efficient, effervescent people I've every met. I don't know if there is anything Kirsi would hesitate to face, tackle and ultimately overcome. I have watched her grow up from youth to brilliant businesswoman and treasured friend. Kirsi challenges me to think beyond my usual 'safe' space, encouraging me to push outside the box of inaction and fear that sometimes keeps me trapped. Her enthusiasm for living life to its fullest is a constant reminder of what is achievable. She is easy to love. Though many years my junior, she is a true inspiration. She is fierce, she is unstoppable. She makes me want to grow.

Christine is the epitome of grace under fire. This smart, seemingly self-contained woman spreads a calm to those around her. Spiritual and intelligent, she strives for excellence, exuding confidence, full of love and deep compassion for others. There is a strength in Christine that has lead her safely through grievous loss, faith intact. Her friendship is one that leaves me humbled and grateful for our years together.

Loretta..Lovely Loretta we called her. My first impression of Loretta was, "OMG she talks so much!" What I ultimately discovered was a vibrant, full-of-life woman with a heart capable of loving even the seemingly unlovable. She's intelligent, articulate and creative with an energy that, quite literally, fills up the room when she enters. She has no fear of meeting new people, with a quality of enthusiasm and openness that seems to be missing in my DNA. I welcome the light of her generous nature and the kindness with which she operates her life and her relationships. We are able to share our deepest fears, our dreams, our failures and lift each other into a better place. I'm grateful for the love that she shares so freely.

There are other's in my life who have touched me with the love of friendship. Some have been with me for many years growing on the sidelines, friendships that have blossomed through a mutual connection. Others are in the early stages of intimacy and love, including some of the young families for whom I provide care to their children.

In contemplating my thoughts and feelings about the long-term, close friendships that have filled my life, I am reminded that friendship can come around the corner unexpectedly, housed with many and varied personalities, shapes, ages, religious beliefs, political leanings. Each friendship comes with different gifts. I have been fortunate to experience friendship in its deepest and most profound form, in ways that have enlightened, uplifted, taught, torn down and saved me. Differences have not been a factor and time has not diminished the love. The quality, the genuine care and the understanding that has filled and changed my life has helped to make me better. A better mother, a better human being, a better friend. I am grateful. I am honored.

Evolving...Still Here

We all need a little 'mommy' time occasionally and I'm grateful that my children still reach out for it once in awhile. And I'm so thankful that my own mother is alive and doing well and that I get to have frequent conversations with her. My own 'mommy' time. I still get to appreciate hearing her voice and her funny little giggle, listen to her jokes (again), hear stories of her childhood and life (again). They may seem old and tired, but I can't imagine no longer getting to hear her tell them, or missing her laugh, or seeing her face, or having her hold me when I cry. She's in her 80s. But, for now, I can keep her close to me. I try to be sure she knows how grateful I am for her, for the memories and for the moments that have made a difference. I didn't always do that while I was making my way through adulthood and raising children. I'm sure I neglected her and sometimes I wasn't all that kind with my words and actions. I regret that I sat in judgment at times, unable to be generous and to forgive her for being human. Now I must work on forgiving myself...for being human, for being young.

My life continues to evolve. I receive love, critique, affection and understanding from my family. Those are the gifts of my motherhood. A bonus is my kids' amazing spouses. I am so proud to claim them as my family, too. They will always have my heart and my support.

And my grandchildren, one of the last big perks of motherhood. Oh, how marvelous, to embrace your children when they become parents and begin their own journey. If my good fortune continues, I'll be around to hold and rock my grandchildren's babies, too!

In the final count, motherhood rates as my very favorite story. My story. The story of you, the mothers, our children, grandchildren, our mothers and the generations of women before them.

Clarity, Love...Letting Go

In the latter years while raising my children, there were glimpses of clarity as I realized what all my mother shared with me throughout my life, the love, the difference she made. But it wasn't until my children were grown and gone that I began to truly realize and appreciate what being a mother ultimately means. What it may have meant to my mother.

It is to pour your heart, your very soul, into these little people for most of your adult life. It is to give up things and activities, to put your former life on hold, to change expectations (pretty much daily) and to change priorities. It is to transition from calm to terrified in the blink of a phone call, to work hours that would be outlawed if at a paid job. It is to live with sleep deprivation for long stretches, to clean up puke and shit and to take care of yourself last. For many of us, this crazy life is accomplished as a single parent during those few hours before and after working a full time job.

To be a mother is to find some of your most precious joys to be a little face looking into yours and saying, "I love you, Mommy." A tiny arm wrapped around your neck, little kisses from sticky lips, the sweet scent of baby toes, a first step, smudgy drawings. It is to fall in love at first sight and to feel a depth of love and emotion that you could never have imagined until that sweet moment when you first hold your infant in your arms. It is to gaze into the face of innocent new life. A life that is in your hands and forever in your heart.

It is to grow with them. And then it is to let them go.

It's a difficult and painful opportunity that we sign up for and one that I can count, with gratitude, as my most important achievement. There's no amount of freedom, money, possessions, time or opportunity that could hold a candle to the gifts I've enjoyed for over 40 years. For me, it's the love and the thousands of treasured moments that I've been allowed to share with my children.

Those wonderful moments continue as they graciously share their lives with me now, as adults.

What I've Discovered...Reflection

While raising my children, I've always attempted to support and honor them in positive ways.

What I've discovered is that because of my own lack of self confidence and self esteem, these same painful issues spilled onto my children to some degree. In a recent conversation with one of my daughters, she agreed that I had always supported them positively, without judgment.

But, she pointed out that they learned not just from how I treated them, but how I viewed and treated myself. I'm sorry to them for that lesson. I hope that they will have learned from this revelation and be different, better, more insightful with their own children.

Ultimately, it is my hope that they will continue to grow in uplifting ways and be able to see themselves as others see them. As I see them. Strong, capable, intelligent, beautiful individuals. That they will overcome negative self views.

I'm working on that project for myself, as well. As always, we are a work in progress.

Unexpected Journey

We love our babies, these innocent, precious little creatures. Unconditionally. Absolutely. We may be under the illusion that if we fill these little vessels of life with love, nurturing, lessons, laughter (and oh, so many tears), that they will, of course, love us unconditionally.

In truth, what I've discovered is that my children do love me unconditionally. But it is not without judgement or criticism. Thankfully, my shortcomings are usually pointed out with gentleness and love. As a young mother, it didn't occur to me that my children might not hold me in reverence, placed firmly upon a pedestal before them forever. Okay, just kidding.

No, these precocious rascals actually have minds of their own, with ideas of their own design! I hadn't counted on that. They are smart, creative, thoughtful, well meaning, loving, hilarious human beings. To claim that I'm the reason for these finer qualities would be arrogant and foolish. But, I will claim whatever applause I can for having some impact on these marvelous characters.

I loved them unconditionally, did my best to make them feel that I was always looking out for them and tried to show respect for their decisions. I tried to guide them without demeaning or humiliating them, without demanding. Was I a hundred percent successful in those valiant attempts? No, but I tried to maintain that quality at the core of my parenting. Hopefully, as a result, they realize a bit more self confidence, are less judgmental of others, are more likely to embrace love when it presents, are willing to try new seek out life on their own terms.

Hopefully, my kids will always hold onto me with trust and feel secure with me. Knowing that whatever choices they make, whatever paths they follow, whatever fears they face, whatever falls they take, they always have a safe place to land for a moment, with arms to embrace them and an ear to listen to their story.

They know that they are in charge of their lives and their direction. It's rarely an easy journey. The choices are many, the temptations, too. The reward or relief sometimes seems so far in the distance that no light is seen at the end of the proverbial tunnel. But they are always loved, always welcome, always appreciated and always safe with me. I hope that they remember..the light really does begin to shine along a difficult, well--traveled journey.