The Roads We Travel

A few days in a life journey.

Archive for the ‘Learning Together’ Category

Where the Heart Is

Darden Family 2017

It’s been a little more than three years since our family hitched up the wagon and moved across country from Maryland to California. At the time, it seemed surreal, like more of a vacation than a move. Now, more and more, California feels like home.

Home means many different things to different people. Along this journey, we’ve met families who live in urban cities, families who live very remotely, families in desert towns, suburban families, families with huge houses, families with tiny apartments, and families with mobile homes. We’ve had the pleasure of meeting families from varied ethnicities and cultural backgrounds. They’ve welcomed us into their homes and we’ve welcomed them to ours, and I’ve learned a lot, especially that we are all doing the best we can with what we have and it’s enough.

Our family grew by one as my youngest brother moved in with us this summer to pursue his dream of acting. It’s been great having him here and part of what makes it feel a bit more like home.

We also had another move this year. Moving from our tiny two-bedroom apartment to a small three-bedroom house. I’m grateful for the extra space and I try to stay in that place of gratitude, but it’s easy to slip into comparing it to our larger home in Maryland. I remind myself that we are on a journey, not a race. Where we are right now is where we are supposed to be and it’s enough. In time, we’ll find our forever California home or maybe California isn’t meant to be forever.

As I move into 2018, I’m grateful for all that I’ve learned on this journey so far and all of the people and families who’ve entered our lives. I’m excited about the year to come. My goal is to remain heart open and to lead with gratitude. I’m also committing to writing more here and elsewhere. ūü§ěūüŹĹ


Written by Shara

December 30, 2017 at 11:34 am

Good Grief

Are there days when you just wake up sad?

I have those days sometimes where things just seem a bit melancholy. There’s no one thing to point a finger at — it could be the weather, a bad dream, no coffee, a late start. Any number of things may add to that feeling.

I think some days it’s a culmination of grief. Grief over loss especially — and not necessarily¬†a dramatic loss, like a death in the family, although that certainly adds to it. I’m thinking more about the loss of small things, like time as your mind wanders over how big your kids are getting, or the loss of opportunity when I think about ideas that I have that I’ve done nothing to advance. Even the loss of money can make me experience moments of micro-grief (I made that up, I think, lol) — wasted money, unearned money, unexpected bills!

My daughter experienced loss-of-money grief the other day. She had saved up enough money to buy a toy she wanted and it was really hard for her to save the money since she wanted to buy so many other things, but I told her that if she bought those other items then it would take longer to save up for this toy she wanted.

After losing her two front teeth, she finally had enough money for the toy and when we got to the store to buy it, they were sold out. She was bummed, but we went online to look for it, she was going to be even more patient and wait for it to ship, but she didn’t like the versions of the toy that were available online. She decided to go back to the store the next day to see if it was restocked and if not she would buy an alternate toy.

Her first choice wasn’t in stock yet, so she found an alternate that she was happy with and made the purchase. We had a playdate with a friend right after and she was happy that she got to debut the new toy with a friend.

However, on the car ride home from the playdate, she burst into tears, “This toy is so boring. Why did I spend my money on this?¬†I want my money back!”

Buyer’s remorse. Oh boy, did I feel sad for her, but I knew it was an important lesson to learn. Sometimes, we just want a shiny new thing to distract us, even when it’s not our first choice, we just want to spend money and have something new. Usually, in the end, those purchases¬†never feel good. Why did we buy it? We certainly didn’t need it. It wasn’t even what we really wanted.

I could have let her take the toy back to the store, even though it was already out of its packaging and played with, but I thought the lesson about making wise choices with money was more important.

That brings me back to grief…

Sometimes we lose things even more valuable than money. Sometimes we lose friends. Not necessarily to death, but sometimes a friendship just comes to an end. You know the saying that people are in your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. Sometimes you meet a reason or season person, and when the friendship ends you feel so sad because maybe you thought it would be a lifetime friendship.

I had friendships¬†end like that in high school, then another really close friendship in my late 20s, they were all sad experiences and I suppose that I grieved in my own way at the time — even without knowing that’s what was going on. After the experience in my 20s though, I did a lot more thinking and reading about friendships and relationships in general. I realized that I tried so desperately to hold onto relationships because ending them reminded me of the lost relationship with my dad, which I didn’t have any control over. That didn’t stop me nevertheless from blaming myself for that lost relationship and the others that would follow. So, in an effort to control the outcome, I tried holding on to friendships and relationships wherever I could without realizing that I was only one factor in a myriad of reasons why a relationship comes to an end.

Earlier this year, my daughter kept coming home from school and sharing that she had a sad day because a friend “broke up” with her. We talked about these situations a lot and it always seemed to be the same friend. I suggested that maybe things were meant to be with this friend and maybe not, but all she could do was to keep trying to be a good friend and let the chips fall where they may. I also suggested that she work on trying to have a good day despite the status of their friendship. I urged her to look to some of the other things that were going well in her day and focus on those things, even though there may be moments of sadness about losing a friend.

Don’t you know, earlier this week, while making dinner, my daughter shared with me that this same friend “broke up” with her again. She then shared, “But I didn’t let that ruin my day. I had a great day…” and she proceeded to tell me about all of the other things that happened at school.

Friends, I can’t tell you how much joy that brought me. Is it possible that my daughter has learned something at age 7 that took me 20-30 years to understand?

I mean, I know that she’ll experience greater friendship losses than a fickle classmate who’s in some days and out on others, but the framework is there for understanding that one, someone deciding not to be your friend is out of your control, and two, it will feel sad, but it won’t ruin your entire day or life.

After the recent presidential election, I lost some friends — some closer than others. It makes me sad to think about losing those friendships, and I still have to consciously have the conversation with myself about the life cycle of friendships. It’s grief or micro-grief for sure, but it’s good grief. If you can work through the sadness and understand that it’s all for a purpose — in most cases, to teach us life lessons that help us to grow and help others along their path of learning.

Today, while driving, I was reflecting on this good grief. It’s important to feel the sadness of a loss, that makes us human, but it’s also important to understand¬†that loss is an integral part of life — we cannot escape it. We must embrace it and learn the lessons that come along with it.

My prayer today is for God to comfort anyone experience grief, any level of grief — big or small, and that God sends an angel your way to hold your hand through the experience.

Light and love.

Written by Shara

March 10, 2017 at 12:45 pm

Perceptions of Racial Reality in Media

On the way to school this morning, I asked my son to name one of his favorite shows (which are mostly cartoons) that had a girl or woman of color as the lead.

“What do you mean? Like Sandy in SpongeBob?”

No… close, but no.

I explained, think of a show with human characters or human representations in the case of cartoons. Is there one you can think of where the main character isn’t what we call White. I also explained that for some reason I don’t like the words White and Black as descriptive terms for skin color, they don’t truly represent the different shades and hues in our beautifully diverse world, but they do help to get the point across quickly.

He thought some more and couldn’t come up with any.

Then, I asked what about supporting characters. He quickly named Maria from Sesame Street, who he mentioned had recently retired, and another character from Rugrats. There! He sat back with a smile and kinda proud of himself.

Good job, son, but the conversation wasn’t over. It was just beginning.

We talked about how media shapes our perceptions of beauty and how he uses terms he’s learned through media to define beauty. Terms like “hot girls” which he almost always tends to use for girls scantily clothed with blonde hair and blue eyes. So, I asked, if this is the standard of beauty set by most of the media we consume, then what message does it send to girls who don’t look like this?

He didn’t know.

He thought some more and then said. Well, it doesn’t matter to me because I don’t need to see people who look like me on television to know I look good.


I know, son and that’s great, but much of that is because our society doesn’t use beauty as a standard of value or success for men. Not so for women. Can you see that?

Yeah, I guess you’re right, he agreed.

So, what do you think we should do about it?

I guess just like the saying goes, “we should be happy with what we have.”

Maybe, I said, but what about the saying, “be the change you want to see in the world.”

I told him that the world needs his stories and that little boys and girls who have brown skin, like him, deserve to see main characters who look like them in their media. If we don’t see them, we shouldn’t sit complacently, we should ask for them and more importantly, we should create them.

Teenage Boy Sitting On Sofa At Home Watching Television

I’m having more conversations about race with my children, in a very intentional way.

Sewing seeds.

I need my children to understand the country we live in wasn’t necessarily designed for them, but it needs them. They have an important role to play now and in the future. If they don’t understand that perceptions are both created for and skewed by a dominant culture, then they might mistake this perception for their reality. But it’s not the whole truth, far from it.

Do you have conversations about race with your children? Are you scared to talk about it? I’d love to hear more.

Written by Shara

December 5, 2016 at 8:39 pm

A Vegetable Video Game with a Special Message… Even If You Lose

My son is obsessed with Veggie Tales lately and I can’t complain too much — of all the things to be obsessed with at least he’s learning some great lessons. Of course, I want him to find interests that are more age appropriate, but in our house we take baby steps. So, we talk about balancing consumption with creativity. You can consume media, but make sure that you are creating more than consuming. That’s the goal anyway. He recently took a video game development class after school and came up with a Veggie Tales-inspired video game.

In the game, you are the asparagus with the yellow cap. The goal is to use your arrow keys to dodge the bouncing vegetables and stay out of their way. There’s also something that you’re supposed to pick up to move on to the next level. If you can do that through the first screen without losing all of your lives, then you’ll make it to level two…. I haven’t made it that far, so I can’t tell you what happens then. I can tell you that even if you lose on level one, there’s a special message for you. ūüôā

You can click here to download the game. It’s kid-friendly. Enjoy!

Veggie Tales Inspired Game

Written by Shara

October 20, 2015 at 8:05 pm

How to Marry for Life


Of course that’s only if you want to! Not every relationship was meant to be forever and ever amen… and that’s okay!

Today is my 7th anniversary. So naturally after seven years, I feel a certain level of qualification to speak on the subject of how to marry for life. After all,  surviving the seven-year itch means channeling a lifetime of patience, strength and forgiveness,  then blending it down with a dash of vodka shaken vigorously over ice. Yes, vodka (or you can substitute wine, champagne, chocolate, etc.) and ice (the ability to step back, cool-off and regroup) are key ingredients for a lifetime marriage, but remember everything in moderation,  nothing in excess.

Getting married in my 30s, as an independent-minded, ambitious, career woman, feminist and single mom, was scary. Would I lose my sense of self? Yes. Would I have to compromise on everything? No, but more than I would like. Even changing my last name felt like I was kicking aside the very essence of me.

Seven years later, I understand how we evolve, we change and we grow with every life experience. I did lose sight of my old sense of self, but I have discovered something beautiful and more meaningful along the way. I’m learning how to make time for me within the walls of my preoccupation with others. This is not an easy lesson and yet it is so important. Boundaries. It is life sustaining. Writing, creating, singing, dancing, laughing … these are my air and so I have to breathe this air daily to live. What is your air? You can’t live and thrive in a marriage without it.

My husband has been a tremendous support and partner in our journey together. Just like me, he’s learning about himself and what he needs in order to breathe, live and thrive in our world together. The more he discovers, the happier he is and this makes my heart glad.

It’s not about being selfish, although admittedly sometimes we are. It’s not about being selfless, and yes we have passed many of those days as well. It’s just working (everyday mind you) to find harmony and balance. Yes, working! Both of us work at it. After seven years, I can share that it doesn’t come naturally… not yet.

Being raised by a single mother, I heard people talk about marriage being work, but I couldn’t conceptualize what they meant. The only work I knew was stocking shelves at Hechingers and selling tickets and popcorn at the local movie theater. How do I apply those skills to a marriage?

My husband, who was raised in a home with an abusive dad, didn’t know either. So, we sought help together. I’m convinced that the tools we learned in our pre-marital counseling and subsequent sessions have been the key to helping us communicate, and see and hear one another.

Many men refuse to go to counseling with their wives and I understand that it can be a scary thing to allow a third-party into your heart, mind and relationship, however, and I feel strongly about this, if you have never learned to swim and you’re determined to teach yourself, don’t jump into the deep end first!

That’s what marriage is. It is the deep end of the pool. No scratch that, it’s the ocean and if you don’t have the skills to survive the turbulence, the strong waves and the undercurrents,¬† then your ass will drown. No question. Save the macho for fixing cars, not your marriage. Go ahead and get a swim coach (i.e., a professional marriage counselor).

For those fortunate enough to have had some effective tools modeled and taught to them by parents who had it all together, amen and awesome, keep paying it forward.¬† For the rest of us, the secret ingredients to sustaining a marriage for life (or at least seven years, ha!), lie somewhere in a lifelong commitment to learning about ourselves and our partners, making time to breathe our own unique air, an acceptance that we don’t have all the answers, and vodka blended in your favorite drink with ice… lots of damn ice!

Written by Shara

November 16, 2014 at 3:27 pm

Back to School ~ Whoop, Whoop!

Back to School

I don’t know about you, but I L.O.V. E.¬†this time of year. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good summer break, but I just love when my kids are back in school. And, not for the obvious reasons, like I can get more work done and it’s quieter around the house, but because they are engaging their little brains more and learning new things about their world and themselves every day.

With my son, it can be a lot like pulling teeth to get him to talk about his day, but there are some gold nuggets when he does. And, my daughter just started kindergarten this year. She’s always been a talker… got the gift of gab from her mom I’m afraid. ūüôā But the stories she shares and the things she’s excited to learn about get me excited too.

I also somehow signed up for room parent in her class, so I’m getting an education myself. I’m glad to be able to help out and it gives me a unique perspective on all of what is being taught, how it is being taught and what the expectations are for the children.

I hope you have had a wonderful transition back to school. Are you learning anything new this year?

Written by Shara

August 28, 2014 at 2:01 pm

Hakuna Matata… No Worries, Life is Good

Today was nice and warm here in Los Angeles, Cali — somewhere around 86 degrees. A nice day for a dip in the pool … for the kids of course, I can’t be stuck with¬†pool hair in the middle of the week.

just keep swimming

My son, the 11-year old joy of my life, loves to go to the pool. We had him in swim lessons at an early age, so while his front stroke isn’t the prettiest you’ll ever see, he is very comfortable in the water and that makes me more comfortable taking him to the pool.

I love to watch him splash about. Get in, climb out, jump back in.¬†See,¬†he’s figured out that the water feels warmer when you’ve been out of the pool for a little while. So, naturally he gets in and out of the pool, over and over again.

My son has Asperger’s, so we are still working on some of the social graces, like not wading¬†too¬†close to other people in the pool, managing the volume of his voice, stifling the loud grunting noises and wailing because the water is cold, and playing with¬†— not just beside — his friend who also came along.

If it sounds like I’m running through a checklist, it’s because I am. I take notes when we are in social settings, so that I can know what we still need to work on and to recognize how much¬†he’s really grown.

Listen, I don’t know what I’m doing. He’s my first child. I read books and articles, watch videos, go to lectures, talk with doctors, teachers and therapists, join online groups and more, just to educate myself and to do¬†the best that I can for him.

Today, two 20-somethings (old enough to know better) were at the pool, snickering when my son came by snorting and grunting. They even had their cell phones out at the side of the pool and tried a few times to take inconspicuous pictures of my son, but they kept looking up and there I was watching them both like a hawk. They put the cell phones away, thankfully. I didn’t want to make a scene or be accusatory over something that maybe was an innocent misunderstanding, but I trust myself enough to know that these boys¬†were up to no good. Having a laugh at my son’s expense.

It breaks my heart. They don’t know how far he’s come. They don’t see how much progress he’s made — ¬†to even be in the water at all.

And my boy… my joy, he splashes around them completely oblivious of their ignorant snickers, malicious glances and hateful stares.

He’s happy! Life’s good. No worries, mom… hakuna matata.

So, I relaxed in my chair, still watching, but deciding to be a little more like him today.

Written by Shara

June 4, 2014 at 11:26 pm