jackie26On a cold October morning at 6:00 am, in 1968, my life was forever changed with five little words.

I was barely six-years-old but sophisticated enough to know that my mom’s Barbie Doll-like figure had not begun to change as a result of her over indulgence with fudge and potato chips. As her tummy distended further and further out each month, I knew something very special was developing in her womb. A little person was growing, and about to become the fourth child to Jack and Lassie Madden.

“Wake-up kids.” My father said joyfully, as he opened the door to the bedroom. “You have a new baby brother and his name is Michael.”

Hearing the news, Dave, my older brother, and Tim, taken as my twin at twenty months younger, immediately shot up and began bouncing wildly on the queen size bed, their heads nearly touching the ceiling. I, on the other hand, stood in complete and utter shock. With tears beginning to sting the lining of my eyes, I let out a painful gulp and performed a swan dive back under the covers.

“No! Not another boy!” I sobbed hysterically. “I want a sister.”

Later that morning, my father piled us into the family car and drove us to San Francisco to meet this new creature. Staring blankly out the window, I was sure my life was over before I even entered the first grade. I was familiar with the words, “life is sometimes unfair.” My mom loved to say that every time I squealed when I didn’t get my way. But this was beyond unjust. To me, it was plain cruel; some sick joke God decided to play.

As we walked into the hospital room, myself lagging way behind, my mother could see how desperately disappointed I was. Walking up to me first, she wrapped her one free arm around her only daughter as she cradled this so-called bundle of joy in the other. “I’m sorry honey. It is what it is. I promise you everything will be alright.”

It didn’t take long before I discovered she was right. The moment Michael was placed in my arms, I fell in love with my baby brother and happily took on the role as the little mother, completely forgetting I ever wanted a sister in the first place.

Gently, those childhood years passed, but through them, those words were never far from my mom’s lips. It was her answer for everything. And to me, it seemed to state the obvious. In my adult years, I discovered there was an unspoken part of this infamous line that would resonate with me forever- “so what are you going to do about it?”

Mom was never the type to fight her children’s battles. The season I sat on the softball bench, keeping it warm for my more athletic teammate’s bottoms, not once did I see her pull the coach aside and demand more playing time. Instead, she’d smile in my direction letting me know she had my back and encouraged me to be a good sport. And, when Suzie was mean to me, rather than calling her mother to complain, she’d gently kiss me and help me find someone else to play with. My mother’s greatest tutorial was to take a cruel hard fact and learn to overcome it.

“Jackie,” I remember her saying over and over, “you can’t help what others do to you. But, what you can do is control how you react. When something bad happens, rather than take it personally, you either fix it or change the way you think about it. It’s all about your attitude.”

How right she was. I couldn’t force the coach to give me more playing time. After all, I was one of the worst players on the squad. But I did become the best cheerleader that ball club had ever seen- chanting songs, dancing wildly, and encouraging my teammates on to victory.

Throughout my life, I’ve thrown many a tantrum, even if only in my mind when life was mean. I wanted to blame everyone and everything for whatever I deemed unfair. But, each time I buried my face in my pillow to wail, I heard my mother’s voice gently calling, “what are you going to do about it?” It is up to me to make things better.

Today, in 2009, we are facing extremely difficult economic times. The jobless rate is at an all-time high, people are losing their homes, and the education system is a mess. But each morning, we’re given a lovely present when we wake up– the gift of choice. We can allow what is negative to eat away at our hearts, or we can open up our minds to what is possible.

We’re all partners on this human journey called life. I say we band together and make it a joyful one. By releasing stress, we can become a witness to all the wonders that are right before our eyes.Then, perhaps, we might find it easier to acknowledge it is what it is, and embrace it. By starting with ourselves, we can become a conduit for attitude adjustments in all those around us. How amazing would that be?

Being a positive thinker when life becomes challenging is not always easy. For me, I often find it exhausting, but ultimately the rewards are great. When is “it is what it is” for you, and how do you find ways to cope?