Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year

It's New Year's eve 2011.  I'm on the floor having a breakfast 'picnic' with my boys.  Currently their lovies, Fluffy and Via, are imitating the Power Rangers which is on the t.v.  Dad, Pappy and Frankie the Wonderdog are catching up on some sleep.

I have a little time before I have to deal with the pork roast.  My Dad requested one that falls apart and doesn't need cut (if you know the name of that type of roast, let me know...).

2011 has been, in large part, not very good.  I could couch it in spiritual terms of 'building character'.  I could rationalize the financial burden as a 'turn down in the economy'.  I could make excuses for poor decision making as 'doing the best we could'.  I could philosophize death and loss as 'part of the circle of life' (cue the Lion King theme).

Instead I will simply say, it's been tough and I am glad it's over.

There is one thing I have always loved and that's a good redemption story.  Could be my faith, which is singularly built on the hope and promise of beauty for ashes.  Could be my inner squishie which really just wants everyone to do and be their very best. 

Whatever the reason, that is what I and my family will be in 2012-a good redemption story.

How do I know?  Lying in the ashes of this year are some refined nuggets of wisdom.  Wisdom tried and purified in the fires of lack, loss and laziness.  My resolution for 2012?  Pick up those nuggets and put them to use. 

The first nugget?  Time with children needs to be quality AND quantity.  Once upon a time, I thought the 30 minutes I could be eye to eye with my little fellas after work/dinner/homework was enough.  Once upon another time, my mothering pendulum swung the other way.  24/7 with the little guys was the ONLY way to go.  Now, at least for me, there is a balance.  Spending 24/7 where we all satellite each other in our own orbit isn't really quality.  And spending time playing, talking and laughing together for hours on end isn't realistic.  What matters is a balance of both.  They need me.  They don't need a full agenda of developmentally appropriate and intellectually stimulating activities.  They also need to know they can be okay without me.

So here we sit, in the waning hours of 2011 laughing and singing along with cartoons.  My heart is full as my four year old cuddles in close to watch me type.  I discuss with my 8 year old whether Doofenschmurtz or Perry is the coolest.  And my pocket is full of a nugget inscribed with quality + quantity.

2012 is already shaping up to be a good year. 

Thursday, November 24, 2011


Thanksgiving was, heretofore, a holiday I would simultaneously dread and look forward to.  I would dread the hours of cooking and cleanup.  The worry over whether it would taste good (the memories of the great Stuffing Debacle in the '90's haunts my culinary memory).  I dread the 20 minutes of gastronomical bliss after hours of work.  It always reminded me of lack-lack of pans, space, ingredients and skill to do anything other than what my mother and grandmother had always done.

On the flip side, I love to feed people.  I love to cook something and watch them eat it.  It's my inner Italian NaNa, or the very real outer big girl.  I also love the three minutes or so of familial connection, at least until someone spills something or the kids decide it's more fun to unroll crescent rolls than actually eat them.

This year, in anticipation of my yearly madness, the "boys" (aka-husband and father) requested a low key meal, affording them maximum football time and minimum dishes.  At first, I was offended.  What was it about my elaborate meal wasn't good enough?  And then, a healthier, balanced thought broke through.  Perhaps, we could have a meal which was tasty and good and leave all the madness behind?

I thought of ways to cut back on dishes, thanks to aluminum disposable pans.  I trimmed the menu to include only our favorites.  I started early in the day and thanks to the dishwasher we only had half the dishes post consumption.  Thanks to my famous Thanksgiving lasagna recipe (think layers of turkey day favorites all drenched in gravy goodness) I was able to re-purpose leftovers as we cleaned up.

Tonight, as the family lazes about in a tryptophan induced coma, I could thank the 'boys' for talking me off the ledge.  It wasn't overly stressful.  In fact, it was even fun.  I could thank them.  However, thanks to over-eating I can't drag myself out of the recliner. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

It All Adds Up in the End

To say the last two years have been a battle would be an immense understatement.  So I'll just give you the run down, by the numbers:
  • Number of funerals-4
  • Number of jobs gained and then lost (hubby and me combined)-4
  • Number of months hubby away from home for dream job-5
  • Number of times I traveled (4-7 hour trips each way) to visit hubby with two kids in tow-8
  • Income this year so far-40% less
  • Church changes-1
  • Consulting businesses launched-2
  • Novels started-1

Yeesh.  I promise I will not do that again!  That is a list cringe worthy and a precursor for much therapy.  Stick with me though, it gets better.
The thing is, despite all of the things above, there is another list I can make.  It's the spoils of the wars listed above.  
  • Marriage closeness and strength-100% better
  • Number of words written in just 3 months on first novel-60,000
  • Relationship with God-1500% deeper and growing
  • New friends found in unexpected places-6
  • New jobs-1
  • Consulting clients gained-4

What prompted this assessment was a recent parent teacher conference.  As we approached the school, my husband and I braced ourselves, readying ourselves for whatever the meetings would bring.  In the past they focused on our eldest working through reading and anxiety challenges.  This year, however, the wild card of our youngest was thrown onto the table and we had no idea how that would play out.  We also braced for what we were sure to hear-the struggles we faced as a family would naturally have an effect on their day lives at school.

We met with the very traditional second grade teacher first.  The report card was resplendent with A's.  The only N (for needs improvement) dealt with organization and neatness.  We already knew that, we cleaned up after him everyday!  She simply smiled at us.  We looked at each other and asked, "Is there anything we should be concerned about or work on at home?"  The answer, "No, he is working up to his full potential." WORKING TO HIS FULL POTENTIAL.  Yep.  My fella.  My reading, writing, no inappropriate behavior demonstrating 8 year old ROCK STAR was working it!  

Next we visited the preschool teacher.  She smiled and said though he was younger, a 'summer birthday', he was always pleasant and eager to do the work.  Even if it took him longer than his older and wiser peers, he would keep at an assignment until done.  HE WAS DILIGENT and EAGER TO LEARN.  By this time we were nearly doing high fives and the flippin' macarena in joy!

We were giddy at our new found revelation.  OUR KIDS WERE FINE.  Despite all the challenges as a family they weren't just surviving, they were THRIVING.  We were so thankful because we knew we weren't alone in our parenting.  Truly God had partnered with us when we asked Him to pour out  supernatural grace and strength for all of us, and especially our children.  There can be no other explanation, and we won't look for any other.

There's more good things to come, I believe.  Here is a final list of the things we have done which seem to be working-so we'll keep on keeping on.  If you have any to add, please comment. 
  1. Drawing closer to each other and God.
  2. Pray and pray some more.
  3. Setting up healthier, clearer and safer boundaries.
  4. Walking away from people, places, things and ideas which didn't reflect love, truth and accountable relationship.
  5. Embracing new people who come with arms outstretched and who left their agendas at home.
  6. Laughing and playing everyday and every chance we can get.
  7. Chocolate and caffeine (my personal fave).  
So today I count my blessings and remember James 1:2-4, knowing that all this has a purpose greater than myself and my family.  And it will all, someday, add up to something great. 

"Consider it wholly joyful, my brethren, whenever you are enveloped in or encounter trials of any sort or fall into various temptations.
    3Be assured and understand that the trial and proving of your faith bring out endurance and steadfastness and patience.
    4But let endurance and steadfastness and patience have full play and do a thorough work, so that you may be [people] perfectly and fully developed [with no defects], lacking in nothing."

Monday, October 24, 2011

Starbucks Babies

This is my four year old eating a birthday cake lollipop and chugging Pellegrino sparkling water at our local Starbucks.

I was startled and had to capture the moment I realized the G-U-L-F separating my kids growing up experiences and my own. 

Not to sound like that old comedy routine, "In my day, we had to walk to school up hill 2 miles, BOTH WAYS and WE LIKED IT!".  But in my day, it was a very, very different day.

First, my parents would never think to spend money on WATER, least of all fancy Italian water, for their four year old darlings.  Our treats were limited to 7-11 and we had to bike there.

Second, even the taking of this picture was different.  I had to wait until my Mom remembered to develop the film-my son asks to see every pic immediately on my PHONE. 

Third,  my kids go to a coffee shop and have their own drinks.  My eight year old gets a tall, vanilla bean with chocolate swirl.  My Caden gets whatever he wants (see my other blog: "No Children Were Harmed In The Making of This Commercial").

Finally, the ability to even sit at a coffee shop with my kids is new.  My mother rarely, if ever, had time to sit down with us for no reason other than to drink caffeine.  She was always doing something-cooking, cleaning or sorting mail.

This tells me a few things about my modern day babies and raises some critical life questions.  First, we have disposable income.  Or at least we view a larger portion of our income as more disposable then my parents did.  Asks the question-is it really that disposable?  Makes me stop and revisit the wisdom of budgeting and goal setting. 

Second, technology is as natural as breathing for our kids.  We struggled to attach and work our ginormous beta to our even larger televisions.  My kids assimilate new technology as easily as changing socks.  Their expectations for performance from technology is instantaneous.  It is the blinking, beeping crack which feeds the 'right here/right now' mentality.  How does this bleed into other areas of their lives, their character and their behavior?

Finally, sitting and chatting with them at the coffee shop are some of my favorite moments with my boys.  We have giggled and chatted our way through more than one beverage.  I look them in the eye and hear their voice.  It makes me stop and literally smell the coffee.  With thousands of messages and voices bombarding them everyday, am I getting through?

This won't be the last of a blog of this kind.  The world is changing at the speed of Google.  However, I will stop and try to answer the questions brought about by sitting down with my Starbucks Babies.

Monday, September 19, 2011

I Prefer Brudder

My four year old looked at me this morning and said, matter of factly while consuming his cereal, "Mommy, I prefer brudder to walk me to my school class." 

For a moment  I basked in vocabulary pride at his use of prefer.  I have never been one to talk down to my kids.  I talk the way I want to talk with words that are big AND small.  I just define the big ones for them.

The next moment, I had to choke back a tear or two.  He preferred his big brother to me.  It happened.  I was ditched for someone cooler-my ginger haired 8 year old. 

Of late, Caden wants to do and wear and eat and say everything big brother does.  This gets down to the irritating minutia of matching socks.  At first I thought it cute.  "Ah," I said to myself, "Caden has a hero and it's his big brother!"  I patted myself on the back at my superior parenting.  I built such a strong relationship between the two.  Good job me. 

Reality has informed me they are individuals who build their own relationships.  In the world of siblings relationships can change on a dime.  I lost years with my brother due in part to my religious zealotry and emotional brokenness.  It has only been in the past few years we have regained a solid relational footing.

What has soothed my slightly deflated Mommy ego, is my solid commitment to demonstrating I prefer them, no matter what, when or where.  To demonstrating God prefers them in an even deeper way.

I stood, in the parking lot, a little sniffly and watched my eight year old lead his little charge into the building.  I remembered it will be my arms he runs into at the end of the day and for that moment, I will be his preferred.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Heroes and Villains

It's early on a Sunday morning.  I stayed up far too late writing and reading.  The kids got up far too early.  I'm gulping coffee like it's air.  The 8 year old is in the corner downloading extreme snowboarding videos.  And the 4 year old?   He's wielding a civil war pistol and Captain America's shield.

"What are you doing buddy?" I ask.

"Playing Capt. America," he answers executing a shoulder roll over the couch pillow.

"Whose the bad guy?"

"The aliens.  And Steve is a Super Soldier and he is the Captain," face plant into the love seat.

"Are you a super soldier?"

"Yeah."  Of course you are buddy.

In Caden's mind he is a super soldier.  For those few moments when I am not snipping at him to clean up/be quiet/quit jumping off the couches, he is super.  By the way, he not only shoots his gun and narrates his story (saying both sets of lines) he hums a soundtrack.

I know, from my perspective 10 times his senior, that heroes and villains aren't always that cut and dry.  The good guys and the bad guys can shift positions sometimes in the same day. 

I know too that he is shaping up to be one of the good guys.  I can see it in the way he gently talks to every baby and toddler in a half mile radius.  I can see it when he will spontaneously say, "Fank you Mommy for taking us to the park!"  He's a good guy when he reluctantly listens when he would rather rebel. 

His father and I are starting a consulting business.  Part of it is political consulting.  Politics is full of villains who, with the right marketing and branding, who can become heroes overnight.  Heroes can become villains just as quickly as the pressure and the influence in politics quickly becomes a drug from which there is no recovery. 

I recently saw an interview with former Governor Mark Sandford.  He was a rising star in conservative politics.  Smart, articulate, handsome and with a strong wife and cute sons by his side, he was a hero.  Until disastrous personal choices cost him his marriage, his family and his political career and influence.

To be honest, I hated him.   He betrayed his wife and his children, a nearly unforgivable crime in my book.  He lied to his constituents, another sin.    He was the utmost of villain to me.   My husband, who is my personal hero, suggested/cajoled/bribed me to watch the interview.  He said Sandford could have been President one day if he hadn't blown it with his stupid personal choices.  I reluctantly watched.

What I saw was a man who owned his own mistakes and was working through the consequences from them.  In the interview he protected his family with an impenetrable shield of deflection.  He refused to back down on his sole proprietorship of the mess he found himself in.  He credited faith with getting him on a path to wholeness.  He recognized the reverberations of his actions affect not only his wife but his kids and even his entire state.  In one interview he went from Villain to Hero.  He showed character when it would gain him nothing.  He took responsibility even when he could never hope to fix it.  He was a grown up swimming in a sea of salacious gossip and innuendo. 

What does a philandering Governor have to do with my four year old being Capt. America?  It's not the strength of his muscles, or the accuracy of his pistol which will make him a hero in my book.   If I can help build that shield of character to be impenetrable to compromise and permeable to humility and accountability, he will be Capt. Caden, a hero. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

First Day

Tomorrow officially starts the school year for my boys.  The backpack is packed, the pencil box filled and the required 6 folders in their assigned colors properly assembled.

Tomorrow my 8 year old starts second grade.  Gone are the worries he wouldn't be able to read.  Forming relationships became easier and those 'problem' behaviors all but disappeared.  In the midst of preparations, I realized something.

He will enter the bus a completely regular kid.  No deficits.  No interventions.  Nada. 

He's looking forward to seeing his pal Eli.  He is bummed to go back and promises to still only really like recess.  He didn't really care what he was going to wear, only that it wasn't 'fancy'.

I see the shape of the young man he will become forming in his features even now.  I see time leaping forward.  I see him growing increasingly-himself.  And I am completely fascinated by this new person.

With a son, there is a bittersweet mix.  On one hand is it really possible he can't manage to find his shoes most days? Or remember to brush/wash/clean/anything for longer than 5 minutes or until something electronic and shiny happens by? 

On the other hand is this knobby kneed body which is all angles trying to fit in my lap.  A boy-baby who leans into me just because he can.  He still tells me first of all the newly acquired game characters or levels attained on some beepygamethingy.  He falls asleep reading and comforts his brother when I am mean.

I love him.  I am made crazy by him.  And tomorrow, on first day, I will miss him very much.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Lucky Charms

As I sit silently, eating my bowl of Lucky Charms, I fight tears.  I fight the sinkhole suddenly appearing in my chest where my heart once resided.  I don't want to cry in front of my son because I know it wouldn't be the Julia Roberts sniffle, it would be a full on, Oprah style 'ugly cry'.  My mother in law, my second mother, my friend and his Nana is gone.

He reaches across the silence and puts a horse sticker on my hand.  A reminder, when you are four, stickers are the currency of friendship and love.  And I wonder, will he ever know?

Will he ever know his NaNa loved he and his brother with every fiber of her being?  She gave them everything she had and more.  She gave money, "I'll give you a dollar if you eat your peas!"  She gave them laughter in knock knock jokes in the backseat.  She gave them adventures big (vacations at the beach) and small (forts made out of her comforters and every cushion from the couch).

Will he ever know his Nana loved when it was difficult, sharing grandson time with an ex-husband just so the picnic was a success?  She laughed when it was painful finding joy in the midst of sorrows.  And she shopped because she could.

Will he ever know his laugh echoes hers-bouncing off walls and making every room a little brighter?  It's the only sound, besides my children's cries, to which I wake with a smile.

Will he ever know he sparkles with the same effervescent personality which drew people to NaNa? I know tomorrow 100's will fill the funeral home to bid her farewell.

Will he ever know his little body and soul wrap around you with every hug, as hers did? Short of 5'5" her hugs landed not around your shoulders but right near your heart.

Will he ever know she sacrificed her own badly needed sleep for a few extra hours to lay beside him on the medieval futon? She needed to hear he and his brother breath and dream.

Will he ever know she was a Spartan warrior in the ICU, battling through two heart attacks to stay with him and his brother?  Will he know she died fighting for him?

Will he ever know?

He will.  Because I and his father will tell him.

And this morning, over soggy cereal and with eyes even soggier I tell him how lucky he is to have had a NaNa like her.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Be Present

"Today is a gift that is why it is called a present.  Cherish it."

Saw that once on a poster and laughed out loud.  What cheeseball psychobabble.  Seriously, today is a gift?  (I think on that particular day I was unemployed, broke and more than a little bitter.)

My counselor has been working with me on being 'in the present'.  To recognize what I am thinking and feeling at any given moment so I can learn how to understand and navigate my life in a far more healthful way. 

As I drove home from the airport yesterday, I finally understood what it meant to be in the present.  I was returning from "The Ragged Edge" writing conference (a blog on that glorious encounter later).  In the privacy of my car I was sobbing.  My heart was in a vise grip and my breath seemed to come from a very narrow place in my chest.

How was I going to pay this bill or that bill?  How was I going to have a career, a marriage, a ministry AND write?  How was I going to care for and nurture this infant artist and writer I just gave birth to at the conference?  How was I going to survive when I could count on 3 fingers the creative and artistic people I knew (and could stand)? How? When? Where? Why?  Add this to my general pissed-offness at God that I was in this dry place AGAIN.

Somewhere between stress eating a ham and cheese pretzel sammich and reaching home I discovered a truth.  I only have control of and participation in the present. 

My past is past.  I own it.  I also possess every single piece of wisdom gained from walking every solitary, broken glass covered step.  I can't change it.  God can't either. (Try that little theological nugget on for size.)

My future isn't up to me.  I can't choose who will love me or who will hate me.  I can't make a job happen or money appear in my wallet.  I can't build my dream home or spit out a published novel (or trilogy or two).  By worrying I can't make a single blade of grass grow.

What I can do is decide that at this moment, in this minute, how I will feel and what I will think.  I can decide to express my fears at the top of my lungs to a God who feels as far as the east from the west.  I can then decide to remember that He draws near to the broken hearted.   He also perfects that which concerns me.  And baby, I gotta load of concerns.   I could also put on an 80's pop tune, sing at the top of my lungs and 'drance' (dance + drive)-which is exactly what I did.

Today I practiced being in the present.  When I was working I was at the laptop, with planner and pen ready.  When I was with the kids I left my phone on the counter, looked them in the eye and played 'rain golf'.  When I was writing this blog I let my husband put the kids to bed.  I was present and fully accounted for.

Am I less stressed?  Most certainly.  Have the answers, provision and opportunities suddenly burst forth with an orchestral musical flourish? Um, no. 

I am content to merely hold my present.  And, for the first time in a long, long time I am looking forward to opening my new present tomorrow.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Ragged Edge

The Ragged Edge is a writing conference in Franklin Tennessee in August.  And I am going.

This is billed as the antithesis of 'normal' writing conferences.  It has two clear outcomes (from the registration page):

People who attend will leave either:
  • Brimming with enthusiasm, having learned what it takes, in which case your investment will return much.
  • Terrified, having learned that the writing life is not for you, in which case you may wisely never spend another penny on another class or seminar—an even greater reward for your investment.
The writing life.  Is that what I am seeking? 

I told my husband, in the typical wife/bargaining/spend money speech, that I have only written as therapy or to get other people money (part of my consulting business is grant writing).  In essence, I couldn't remember a time when I did ANY-THING that wasn't for someone else.

So I am approaching the ragged edge of actually (finally) embracing my creative side.  I am making it official.  I am a writer.

Whoa.  Why suddenly am I paralyzed from completing even a simply blog entry?  Why am I petrified I am wasting a huge amount of money on something that makes no sense and will only cause hardship down the road?  What if I go and realize I am NOT a writer?  Then what am I? What if...what if...hyperventilate...huff...puff...


Stop the inner critic. 
Look at the smile on my face at FINALLY stepping up to the ragged edge of a writer's life (combined with a Mommy's life, a political life, a ministry life and a wifey life). the background...quietly 'their' 'that' idea...I can't wait to get started.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

To Ian Upon His High School Graduation From His First Grade Self

Wow.  Mom said I would get bigger and taller than her, but I didn't know by how much.  Dude, you are amazing!

I am writing this letter to you, from your first grade self, because there are a couple things I want you to remember.  This year has been pretty amazing for me and it set the stage for some of the success you have enjoyed over the years.

First, I became a reader this year.  You might laugh now, but remember when everyone knew what those symbols meant except you?  I told Mom how hard it was when everyone knew the answer but me.  Not anymore.  At the end of first grade I am at or above grade level in reading.  In fact I comprehend (Mom says that's understanding what I read) at a 5th grade level!  It took a couple extra years and some extra help, but we did it!  I don't just read stuff-I consume it.  Often Mom finds me bleary eyed after reading my favorite illustrated novel well past my 8:30 bedtime.  I love her favorite author Ted Dekker's "Circle Trilogy".  I hope you still love to read.  Remember my second favorite? "Captain Underpants".  Oh, yeah.

Second, I figured out how to hit a baseball.  Dad says it's one of the hardest things to do in sports.  I do it lefty which sets me up for success.  I hit it so hard that Mom is afraid to do batting practice with me-she's scared I'm gonna take out her face (I almost have more than once!).   In one season I went from bench warmer to starter.  I know you'll catch better than I do now (especially when Mom throws-she's not so good).

Finally, right now Caden is in bed an hour early for yelling and screaming and tantrums.  He's lying in bed-yelling, screaming and having a ginormous tantrum.  It's hard to be his big brother as he takes my stuff and yells at me and gets in my way.  However, it's fun to play with him and he's a really tough wrestler.  Mom says I am his hero and he is lost without me.  As you graduate and move on to what's next, please remember Caden and the role you play in his life.

You made it all the way to graduation.  Take a minute and think of me, your first grade self, and remember how quickly things can change for the better (like in reading and baseball) or how important you are to your brother.

You are also important to Mom.  You don't know it, but every night she comes into your room, straightens the blankets and tells you how much she loves you.  Sometimes she picks up your laundry or trips on a toy.  And sometimes she prays, a tear in her eye and love in her words.  I know, as you got bigger, she respected your privacy more but know if your feeties never got cold at night and your spirit never grew weak, it was because of her late night prayer visits.

Congratulations and remember me-the shorter and quirkier version of you.

Ian (aka-Ian Bee-yan, EbeeGeeBee, Midget Man, Stinky McStinkerson, Good Guy)

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Blog Bits

There are those little nudges.  Like those I blogged about previously, "Turtles and Roses".  Had another of those, curiously flower related.

My grandmother had a desk in her home beneath the front window.  Atop the scratched and water stained desk perched plants.  She could grow anything.  She chose to always grow African violets.  The most stubborn, often unblooming, fat leafed houseplant God ever made.  When flowering they are stunning with a deep purple or delicate pink or a variation of the two.  Upon her death, my mother was nurturing two African violets in her home too.

This weekend I had the opportunity to speak at church for the first time.  To encourage and celebrate, my newest friend gave me a purple gift bag.  As I knew it would make me cry, I waited to look inside until I was done sharing with everyone and it was time to leave.  Inside was an African violet.  Of all the flowers, in all the shops, she chose that one.  Nudge.

I have a friend who plans large scale community/art/fundraisers for hundreds of people with barely a whiff of anxiety.  However, ask her to plan a party for one of her amazing children and she freezes like a Popsicle.  What is it about planning parties for our children that makes even the bravest mommies shudder?  Why do we spend far more than we should on themes, prizes and games for events only passing in their memories?

For the first time today I attended a party for a child and a family I didn't know.  The guest of honor was a little girl who plays with my son everyday at preschool/daycare.  When her mommy asked her who she wanted to come to her party, she answered "Keegan" (this is how she pronounces my Caden's name).  I got a little note in his cubby, rsvp'd and we were off!  When I talked to her Mom, she said it would be a small gathering of little ones, with my son and two others.  They would do crafts, make some pizza and do some other kid stuff.

When I arrived, my heart sunk.  In the driveway was "The Hummer".  "The Hummer" is driven by a Mommy who is friends with a group of Mommies who ignore my cheerful,  "Good mornings!".  As they drop off their little darlings at the same preschool/daycare they don't acknowledge my presence for their morning, obnoxious SUV side, coffee klatches.  I'm either not good enough or they are better than me.  However, in my newly (and hard fought for) emotionally self actualized state, I walk on by.  Today for the party I had to walk on in.  Damn.

The small fete turned out to be 12 kids and mommies and daddies and aunties.  It was chaos and confusion.  They didn't recognize me out of my morning uniform of ponytail and whatever is clean and laying at hand.  I wisely chose a matching and preppy ensemble.  No make up though, darnit.  The Birthday Mommy kept snipping at her husband and wondering aloud, often to no one, if everyone was having fun.  She was a wreck.  So much so, as I left and her husband thanked me for coming.  I told him, "It was perfect.  And when she calms down please tell her it was perfect too."

What was memorable to this mama was how little the parties these days are about the kids.  It's about the show for friends and families.  It's about comparing and trying to better their peers.  It's all about icing-sweet nothingness that will last but a moment.  I know as I have been a Mommy who threw those kind of parties.

Makes me rethink the upcoming plans for my little guys.  Whilst I was in the Hummer/Mommy/Birthday Vortex, I actually considered contracting with my friends who do entertainment for a living.  I thought of turning my back yard into a child's paradise carnival.  Then I took a breath and reconsidered.  I will be about building memories for my sons.  Memories with friends they love and choose to spend time with.

What the other mommies think don't get to be part of the equation.  And the next morning, when their crowd ignores me by "The Hummer" I'll remember it wasn't my kid who jumped in the wading pool fully dressed or who threw a tantrum because the cupcake was pink or hid behind his mother or tackled kids out of the way of the pinata candy.  It was their perfect little darlings who did that.  Cue the gloating.  (In the interest of full disclosure it was my little darling who burped louder than a Longshoreman at the bar on leave.  But, hey, better out than in, right?)

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Turtles and Roses

My nearly 8 year old loves his art class in school. He looks forward to it every week. For a long time he has been letting me know he has been hard at work on a sculpture. "It's a surprise for you Mom." I envisioned some Star Wars, weapon or sports related creation which would reflect his current passions. Wrapped carefully in an egg crate and stuck to construction paper was a turtle. My mother collected turtles. After her death, my brother and I stopped counting the turtles at around 200+.

A few days later, my nearly four year old asked me a question about this rose. "Did Mee Maw gived dis rose to you, Mommy?" Mee Maw was my mother. He met her three times, twice as an infant and once as a two year old. Caden's sum total experience with my mom is found in a picture on the fridge and stories I and my father may have shared. Yet, out of the blue, he asked me if my Mother had given me this rose.

I don't ascribe to the idea the dead have some sort of ghostly spirit-net through which they communicate to us once they slip this mortal coil. If so, we would all be mad with the white noise produced by the millions who have gone before us. If so, why would they only communicate in incomprehensible whispers and flick flash lights on and off?

I do however, believe that the One who created us speaks to us all the time. Of course He would want to. I like to speak to my kids and the people I love, so why wouldn't He?

With this in mind, I take these two events as a Heavenly reminder that my mother's presence in our lives mattered and reverberates into the future. My mothering has been affected by my own mother. I want to emulate her ability to always be there for the important things. She never missed a performance, a concert or a competition. I don't know how she did it, as my Dad was often deployed and gone, but she managed to always be the one to chaperone the field trip or be in the front row. I make efforts to ensure my kids are celebrated and never have a reason to doubt my love for them.

The rose came back from being cut to nothing last year following a funky infestation. This year it's blooming early and beautifully. (In the picture is a garden turtle sculpture we brought from my mother's house.) As the rose has come back, so am I from the depression, anxiety and a painful past.

I said in my mother's eulogy that she was like the turtles she collected. Tough on the outside but soft on the inside. She may have taken her time to do things, but she always crossed the finish line. I too often charge ahead and lay waste to time, resources (and my health).

I, like mom and her beloved turtles, need to slow down, toughen up on the outside and soften up on the inside. I can now, literally and figuratively, stop and smell the roses.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Baseball Revelations

This week's posts seem to all have a baseball theme, so I'll go with it.

My husband works out of state for most of the week, so all kid duties fall to me.  Field trips included.  Today was JCS day at the minor league park in our area.

It was 80+ degrees (one of the hottest days to date this fledgling summer).  I was quite thankful for the 50 SPF sunscreen which formed a sludgy, yet curiously coconut smelling, cocoon around my sweaty frame.

There is nothing like being surrounded by hundreds of your child's peers to give one a few revelations on childhood in the new millennium.  Here's my top five.

  1. Most boys my son's age dress badly.  Really badly.  I have kvetched about my son's sartorial mishaps since he has been dressing himself.  No more.  If that kid I saw in the refreshment area can wear an orange t-shirt and purple shorts proudly then who am I to question the pairing of a Perry the Platypus t-shirt and silver/black Michael Jordan shorts?
  2. Ian is goofy.  However, on the goof spectrum he is solidly average.  The little girl who loudly stated she would kill herself if Uncle Bill's pool wasn't blue (Bill is Aunt Georgia's boyfriend I was soon to learn)-that girl is on the high end of the kid-goofy spectrum.  (In case you were wondering if the pool is green you can't swim in it because Aunt Georgia said!).  The little boy who sat by his dad and watched the e-n-t-i-r-e game without moving is on the other end of the spectrum.  My Ian who was dancing and spent much of the game in the bouncy play area? Solidly in the middle.
  3. Ice cream is a far cry from the melty stuff of my childhood.  It's all 'Dippin' Dots'.  Small beads of ice cream flash frozen in some fusion reactor freezer.  They are weird little nubbins of goodness which melt more slowly yet somehow create the same level of mess as it's more traditional cousin.
  4. Whether younger or more mature, parents parent any kid within a 10 foot radius.  The Pap seated in front of us danced with the boys to his right.  When Ian walked down the steps there were hands to grab him if he stumbled.  We exchanged sunscreen, water and passed lunches with surprising speed and accuracy.  The dads around me included Ian in their baseball lessons (taking pity on me who HATES the sport and knows little about it).  
  5. Seven is not too young to hold Mom's hand whilst milling about.  Unless dudes or girls walk past.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Batting Practice

I have a friend whose son has been batting and throwing accurately and with frightening power since about the age of two.  He is the same age as my Ian.  She posts on FB his amazing little league exploits.  My son plays ball too.  Totally different story.

My goals for Ian this baseball season were simple.  #1) Finish the season. #2) Hit the ball once.  #3) Win one game.  #4) Never lay down in the outfield while a game was in progress.  #5) Don't adjust 'furniture' (aka-the cup) whilst on the field and in front of everyone.

He's achieved some.  He hit in his first game, out of the infield and to many applause.  He too has an RBI.  He is about to finish the season in a week or so.  His team has won two games.  He has lay down in the outfield, just once though (and he said he just needed to take a little break).  And well, furniture is meant to be adjusted (so my husband says) so I'll just let that one go.

He is either a rock star or a rock.  With my Ian there is no sports (or life) middle ground.  

Last night I felt terrible as he stood in the batters box and never swung the bat.  I felt bad that he wasn't successful.  I was frustrated with him for not even trying.  When asked, he said none of the balls looked like something he could hit.  Okay.  

I also felt a little jealous of the rock stars of the team. You know, like my friend's son, the ones who always hit, always start and always, well, play fairly well.  I want Ian to be one of those kids.  He's not.  He might be someday.  Then again, he might not.

I realized I need to take 'me' out of the ballgame.  I need to put him, and mothering him to the fullness of his potential, in the center of this game and every other game of life.  My natural competitiveness has to take a back seat to supporting my son.  Out of the entire world the one person he must always count on to solidly be in his corner-cheering him on-will be me.  

(On a lighter, and less mommy epiphany note, Ian did start a brilliant cheer from his perch in the dugout.  It incorporated my father and my favorite sarcastic comeback.  Seriously, it did.  It went something like this, "Get a hit!  Get a hit! A single or a double! Seriously, get a hit! Seriously!"  Seriously, I love this kid!)

EPILOGUE-Tonight we had baseball practice.  As Ian stepped up to the plate I remember it is about him and not the number of hits.  It would be about the number of cheers from his number one fan-me.  It would also be about the approval from the 'men's men' coaches.  They are all the definition of testosterone, however, they demonstrate a humor and care about our little fellas that is truly memorable to this mama.  Tonight, after a few stance adjustments, Ian was hitting it out of the infield better than ever.  Coach Steve, a brusque guy who picks on the Moms who hover around practice, said, "And this is the guy who told me he wasn't any good at our first practice.  Look how good you are doing now.  I told you it would get better!"  Ian grew an inch at the praise.  My heart grew too.  He will get better at this baseball thing.  And so will I. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


I moved 11 times from birth to age 18.  Since then I have relocated 7 times.  To date that brings my grand total to 25 different homes, neighborhoods and communities.  One thing I know how to do is start over.

Every two or three years I get the 'itch'.  No, it's not a rash, it's the itch to shake things up.  As a single person or as a married couple that meant adventure and seeking our fortunes in the big city.  Now, as a mother, it has an entirely different meaning.

Recently my husband and I decided it was time we worked for ourselves and made the big move to full time consulting.   It's terrifying to come out from under the safety and security of a 'real job'.  It is also exhilarating to escape the confines of previously painful employment experiences. 

Finally, after three months, the consulting opportunities have begun to emerge.  Currently, there are two.  One is for a previous client and works to support meaningful high school reform in Philadelphia.  The other is to become a full time political consultant for projects which would span the entire country.   Both are a move up in influence, responsibility and pay.  Both are important and exciting.  Both would require a relocation closer to civilization (i.e. airports, Trader Joe's, etc.)

I decided years ago that I wanted my children to grow up on the same block, with the same kids as we lived in the same house.  I wanted to have the closet door on which there were lines denoting their growth.  I wanted to look at the cement steps and see little hand prints or footprints.  I wanted the exact opposite of my own childhood for my own children.

Not that being an Army brat was terrible.  It afforded me opportunities and experiences most people only read about.  It made me strong and resilient.  It made me appreciate being an American to the depths of my heart.  It also made me slow to trust and ready to leave at a moment's notice.  It also made me feel like an orphan with no real identity.

So here I sit, in my father's dining room, on the precipice of determining whether my own boys will have the closet door with the lines, or a suitcase.  I am stuck, knowing either decision will ripple through all our lives for good or for not so good.  I am still, hoping to hear a whisper of God's wisdom in my heart.  I am waiting, breathless for the 'sign' to point the way.  Here I blog, un-moving.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

If Only

I am on a business trip and this morning I wandered down for the free breakfast.  As I approached the breakfast room, a beautiful little Princess toddled up to me.  She had sparkle shoes.  I told her how much I loved them and how I wish I could wear shoes like that.

By this time her mother had joined the wandering cherub.  She was tall, dressed as formally as her daughter with a sparkled head scarf in the Muslim tradition.  She smiled and then began the age old ritual of mothers of toddlers-chased her children around the room.  She reprimanded them in a mix of English and her mother tongue. 

As I searched for something I could grab and go, late as usual, I smiled.  She did what I, and every other mother have done, she repeated her child's name a thousand times.  "Hana! Hana!  See they have yogurt. Hana! Hana! Hana!"  Why do we do that?  As if our littles have forgotten who they are and if we repeat it often enough they will come to their senses and become instantaneously obedient. 

I waited for the muffin to toast, tried to block out the hundredth "Hana!" and listened to the morning news on t.v.  It was tuned to the protests in Egypt.  They were discussing the Muslim Brotherhood.  The anchor was desperately trying to convince the audience that they are no more than religious folks wanting democracy.  The leader was asked directly, "Will there be freedom of religion if the Muslim Brotherhood take over Egypt?" "Yeah, sure," he answered.

I know better.  The following is a quote from their website, ""Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. Qur'an is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope."  Doesn't sound so free to me.

I was struck by the images of the religious and political war playing out on the news.  I looked at the Muslim woman who was chasing her beautiful children around the breakfast buffet.  The gulf between her and my religious beliefs couldn't be wider.  How did she perceive the political machinations in Egypt?  How did she perceive the religious rumblings?  No matter how hard the pundits and news anchors try-under such a system, I would be persecuted.  I wouldn't be alone in a hotel, free to chase my children around a lobby.

I wasn't brave enough to engage her in a conversation.  I had to dash to my conference.  Yet, tonight I can't get that Mother and her little Princess out of my thinking.  Irrespective of how we worship or what we believe or what nation we are from or what tongue we speak-we are mothers.  We love our children.  We repeat their names ad nauseum.  We chase them around hotel lobbies. 

If only that were enough to still the murderous rumblings of geopolitical unrest.  If only Hana and my sons could grow up in a world where one will not control and manipulate the other-with oil, with money or other means.  If only...

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

What I Miss About Mom

One year ago today my mother left this earth.  Suddenly she wasn't there anymore.  She hadn't been there emotionally for years.  I took for granted she would always be here physically.  Now she is not.

There are stages of grief.  My shorthand list of the stages of grief are: shock, anger, numbness, shame, explosion, beer/chocolate, and dealing with it.  (No one ever said I was a mental health professional.)

I am dealing with it-most days.  I grieved for her over years of strained conversations and emotional chasms.  I was accustomed to not having.

When we reconciled, awkwardly and anti-climactically, in a cold, dark hospital room, a small glimmer of something flashed in my heart.  Perhaps we could build on this glimpse of connectedness.  Maybe we could make something out of nothing.  We only had six weeks.  We  built something. 

That something rises up at the oddest times.  In a restaurant I'll see a mother and daughter of any age and a tightness will grip my heart.  On vacation, I made a mental list of souvenirs to be purchased and I noted where I could get her a turtle-even though she never liked them in the first place and, frankly, doesn't collect them anymore.

Today I took two roses to her grave-one for me and one from my brother.  I also placed a turtle in the icy snow in front of the red quartz marker.  It made me giggle, because it looked so happily ridiculous.

Today I won't shred my soul and ask the questions for which I know there are no answers.  Today I am going to focus on the things I miss about Mom.  I share them with you so maybe you can take a moment to remember things about your mom whether she is still here or not.
  1. I miss laying on my Mom's lap. 
  2. I miss green jello with cabbage cut into rhombus shapes and arranged on lettuce.
  3. I miss her weirdly accurate accents.
  4. I miss turtles.
  5. I miss her plastic yahtzee game which was laying on the table by her favorite chair.
  6. I miss one and half sugars and a dash of milk in coffee.
  7. I miss looking out into any audience and not seeing her.
  8. I miss seasoning free cooking that fed the soul.
  9. I miss her laughing with me when the baby spit up all over everything, including her and I.
  10. I miss the possibility of hugging her small, strong frame.
  11. I miss her.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Safe Place

Last night my sweet three year old was crying out in his sleep, "Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!"  I went into his room, stroked his sweaty little cheek and prayed over him.  I told his little sleeping mind and spirit that he hasn't been given a spirit of fear but of a sound mind.  He quieted down.

I marveled that just hearing my voice made him calm down.  I stood there for a moment feeling every inch a mother.

Over vacation a habit sprung up between my boys and I.  When walking through a crowd, across a parking lot or in a public place, I put my hands down at my side palms open.  Within seconds a smaller hand is placed in mine.  When something scary is on t.v. or the cartoon is especially intense, I find my lap filled with wiggledy, squiddley little boy-ness.  On the Pirates of the Caribbean ride I found my side and my arms filled with a slightly shaking 7 year old who would giggle nervously when I pointed out the silly displays. 

Growing up I remember waking up early to hear my father get ready for work.  When he was deployed to the field for weeks/months at a time, I didn't sleep as well.  Then he was my safe place.

Now as an old married lady, when I travel alone I take all the pillows in the hotel room and pack them around me to sleep.  My safe place is between a warm dachshund and a warmer husband.

I have become my sons safe place.  Me.  The often impatient and always a bit frantic mother.  A safe place.

It's at once humbling and overwhelming.  I know this will not last forever.  I know their hands will soon enough dwarf mine and the last place they will want to be is with me.  Until that sad day, I'll keep my hands at my sides and my lap open-a safe place for my sweet babies.