Thursday, December 20, 2012

Herd Bound

I apologize that the following post is a bit long and wandering. I have had a hard time corralling my thoughts this past week. But I’ve grown weary of thinking about this, so I share my untidied thoughts: 

I was reading details of last Friday’s nightmare and one fact struck me. When asked about the shooter, a former administrator who had known him in high school said, “Did you find a best friend? Did you find any friend? You won’t. He didn’t have any.” The young man had no friends. Not one. Now, I am in no conceivable way excusing his actions, nor even trying to explain them. I’m just noting this fact. 

Every time I open Facebook, another beautiful face appears. These are the faces of the children who were killed at their Elementary School where they should have been safe from a maniac with a gun. Seeing their perfect, precious faces brings fresh tears to my eyes again and again. I can’t fathom their parent’s pain. All weekend long, the world felt out of sorts for me.  

And now today, alone in my house, I feel even more out of sorts. As a mom, you know all too well the worry that goes with parenting. But there are times when the worry you feel for your children is cranked up, and other times the worry recedes, like background music. Normally, by 9am on a school day, I can relax. If any of the school buses carrying my children were to have crashed, I would have heard about it by now. My children are safe at school. There is a break in the worry until 2:45 when they board a bus again. I am out of sorts because I can’t stop thinking about the path a crazed gunman might take in my own children’s school buildings. I wonder whether the fire doors could be automatically closed off to protect them. I consider that the Middle School seems safest because the classrooms are so far from the entrance. These are not thoughts that usually torment me on the average week day. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Sibling Truce At Last

Kids fight. I know this first-hand. I remember some particularly spectacular disputes with my little brother that ended in violence – me with a pencil point in my hand, him flung against the kitchen wall so hard he was knocked unconscious (or faked it really well) causing me to hide in the bath tub from my mother. I remember when “I’m rubber and you’re glue, everything you say bounces off of me and sticks to you” seemed like a powerful protection, forcing me to resort to saying nice things.  

My own kids fought just as fiercely. There have been days when I have screamed in frustration when every other word uttered by my cherubs to each other was antagonizing or insulting. I continuously underestimated the topics and situations over which my children could fight with each other. I was horrified by the vehemence with which they spoke to each other. I lamented that they would never be friends. I implored them to remember that they were related and needed to back each other up, and when that didn’t work I reminded them that they were stuck with each other forever! 

This past weekend we headed out to choose a Christmas tree. It is not difficult for me to pull up recent memories of tears and insults passed back and forth in our quest for the perfect tree. The threats given in hushed voices with knowing looks did not quell their battles. Their insults and complaints echoed across the valley of trees causing childless young couples to shudder and me to cringe with embarrassment. As I recall there were always pleasant families, happily choosing and cutting their trees just one aisle over, while we sent someone back to wait in the car if they couldn’t be nice. More than once, my husband asked me, “Why is it we do this again?” 

If this is your family too, then it is with great joy that I offer this glimmer of hope. We chose our tree peacefully this year. As we wandered the rows of trees, the kids joked and gave silly names to potential trees. Then after posing for pictures with the chosen tree, they happily carried the tree up the hill to pay for it. My husband smiled and said, “Do you remember when…” and we laughed.  

I’m not sure when the moment happened that our children ceased their fighting and put down their guns. But sometime over the past year, they’ve discovered that they actually like each other. Sure, there is a nasty word on occasion, but for the most part the teasing is good natured and funny. Instead of hearing shrieks of indignity from the kitchen in the mornings as they get ready for school, I hear laughter. I watch them walk down the drive to the bus stop, chattering about music, computer games, comedians.  

They are developing their own collection of inside jokes. Some I am allowed in on and some they keep to themselves. They call each other by nick names and send each other funny messages on Facebook. They enjoy each other. 

A rare peaceful moment a few years ago.
As I said, I’m not sure what changed. At some point they crossed over an invisible divide. Maybe it’s that the youngest is old enough to keep up with their verbal banter. Or maybe the middle one has mellowed. Or perhaps it’s that the oldest finds them both a good audience. No matter. I’m not asking questions. I’m just grateful that the war seems to have finally ended.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Spelling Bees and Life

Is there a more awkward, obvious way to torture children than a Spelling Bee? This morning I witnessed my own child’s Bee. To be fair, she was not up to her normal revel-in-the-spotlight self. She wasn’t feeling well, woke up on the wrong side of the bed, and was rushed out the door to run for the bus. And spelling isn’t necessarily her thing. It’s her brother’s thing. Which he reminded her of before the qualifying test. “They didn’t have the Bee when I was in Middle School, so you’re my only chance.” (None of us pointed out that there is another child in the house. That one’s still warming to the idea of spelling words correctly.) 

After she qualified for the school Bee, her older brother decided he could “train” her. He asked her to spell nonsense words he made up in an attempt to teach her patterns. It made a pretty hilarious comedy routine for the rest of us, but sadly, his efforts were a little too late (first practice was the night before the Bee). She was undone in the third round of the Spelling Bee by the word ‘receptacle’. Tricky word. I had to type it slowly. 

The thing about Spelling Bees is that the words are chosen at random. You might get ‘dog’ or you might get ‘reluctant’ or you might get ‘contemporaneous’. It’s very much a game of luck. And good memory. And the ability to keep track of where you are in the word as you spell it out loud. Some kids had pens with them and wrote the word out on their hand and then simply read it in to the microphone. Seems like cheating to me. I was surprised my daughter didn’t employ this method since she is constantly scrawling the lyrics of her favorite songs on her arms. 

At any rate, as I watched my beautiful, smart child on stage nervously trying to recall “receptacle” my heart hurt. She is so very bright, but at that moment she felt much less than bright. In fact, when I met her on the way out, she said, “I’m so stupid.” Wrong. I told her this and pointed out that she was one of only 28 students out of the entire school who had qualified to be on that stage. Still, she walked out of there feeling less smart.  

I’m sure the Bee affects different kids differently and deep down she is proud of the fact that she qualified for the Bee. Her brother certainly is. I heard him bragging to another high school student that his little sister had qualified for the Spelling Bee. He then went on to explain his inventive training program. 

A long time ago when my oldest child was lamenting that he wasn’t a superstar soccer player, his father reassured him that he was a superstar in other areas. He told him, “If there was a travel team for reading, you’d be on it.” So I guess the Spelling Bee is basically the travel team for English. It’s something to be proud of and an experience that will most likely seem better in retrospect.  

I hope the memory will be one of pride and not failure. Our kids are constantly putting themselves out there – testing their academic prowess or their athletic ability. Measuring themselves against their peers. The test of character is not which round they make it through in the Bee or how many goals they scored in the big game, it’s what they do with the assessment of their abilities. Are they proud of their efforts? Will it inspire them to work harder or will it cause them to pack up and go home?
 
We are constantly judging ourselves. I’m not sure if it is good or bad, but I know that it is a constant. Very few people, if any, refrain from comparisons. Spelling Bees are brutally embarrassing ways to rank abilities.  

When my daughter comes home this afternoon, I will tell her again how well she did. I will watch her face to see if the Bee has inspired her or defeated her. This was a big, public assessment, but every day in smaller ways our kids are working out their spot in line. They wrestle with the demons that doubt them. They are sorting out their abilities, their preferences, trying on possibilities. Society tells them that they must be the best. Just getting on the stage is not enough. 

Most likely she will have already left the Bee at school. “Spelling,” she’ll tell me, “is stupid.” As long as she doesn’t tell me she is stupid. Then she’ll sit down at her piano or pick up her guitar and make music. It is her medicine for everything that ails her. 

My youngest, non-spelling child is anxiously awaiting the results of the preliminary screening for the Geography Bee. He hopes to make it again this year. At ten, he is confident about the world and his place in it. The teen years will change all that.

 

 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Incredible Shrinking Christmas

My kids don’t really need anything. I come to this conclusion every year when I contemplate Christmas gifts. I’m certain they would not agree with me here, but compared to the rest of the world, they want for nothing. And yet, Santa beckons. 

Every year I say I’m going to cut back. We aren’t going to give as much or spend as much or stress out as much. This is going to be the year. This year. Really. Of course, December hasn’t even begun so there is plenty of time to catch the frenzy. 

I floated the idea of a smaller Christmas with my ten-year-old. “What does that mean?” was his logical question. I explained it would be more about quality rather than quantity. Surprisingly, he embraced the idea. “I have too much stuff to carry up the stairs. So it would be good to get less of that.” (translation: I’m too lazy to carry the toys I cart downstairs from my room back up to my room each day, so logic follows that if he has less stuff, he has less stuff to carry.) He then went on to elaborate, “So that way I could get the really, really big nerf gun instead of bunch of little things.” Hmmm.  

I suppose I am just grateful that my child is in favor of less stuff, even if his motivation is saving his own sweat. I think he’s not alone in this desire for fewer belongings. I think all of us are weighted down by the things we own. I heard a sermon once about simplifying that went like this: “Every single thing you buy will require you to use it, clean it, find a place for it, repair it, maintain it, and eventually get rid of it. Better to not buy it in the first place.” The more stuff we accumulate, the more trips up the stairs, the less time for living our lives. 

I’ve fantasized about going on a cruise for Christmas or a vacation to the Islands. I know people who’ve done this. But somehow between finding a horse-sitter and suffering the expense and hassle of traveling at the holidays, the dream remains a fantasy.  

And, honestly, I love Christmas morning in my house. I love waking up and knowing how happy my children will be that day. I love baking cinnamon monkey bread, our once a year treat. I love piling in to the living room in my pjs with my kids and parents and watching the cat navigate the bodies and presents complaining that no one has remembered to feed her. I even love going out to the barn and wishing the horses a Merry Christmas. Mucking a stall on Christmas day seems better than on other days. 

Maybe what I love about Christmas the most though, is not the presents or stockings or sinfully yummy food. It’s the quiet on Christmas afternoon. Everyone is sated with happiness and food. There is nothing that must be done (except for my husband – he must decipher instruction manuals and find appropriate batteries). I can lounge all day with my cup of tea and whatever wonderful book I found under the tree. If I want to, I can play the games on my kindlefire that I loaded a year ago and have never had the time or the guilt-free zone to indulge in. I can even take a nap on the couch by the woodstove with the cat. It doesn’t get much better. 

Even when the kids were little, I remember Christmas afternoon as a time of truce. No one was fighting. Everyone was feeling grateful and happy. Or at least exhausted and willing to nap.  

As we march towards Christmas, this year I really am going to try to stay out of the fray. Oh, I’ll sing carols and badger my husband into hanging up lights. I’ll bake some holiday treats and take the kids Christmas shopping for their father. Always a fun adventure, we’ve graduated from “anything you want to get him from the Dollar Store” (which honestly thrilled them no end, but also resulted in some pretty funny and heartfelt gifts – bearclaw ice scraper anyone? Plastic screwdriver set made in China?) to a calculated assault on the Home Depot.  
2010 Christmas Bear
We’ll choose and cut our own tree from the shrinking farm near the high school and take pictures with the fake bear (see pics!) in the parking area. And even though they are almost all teens now, I am certain there will be a serious argument over who gets to put the star on the tree. Just like I know there will be endless negotiations over who gets to hang up the advent ornament on the advent calendar each day. 

2011 Christmas Bear
The traditions and memories of Christmas time are riches for the soul. But I think I’m also ready to step back some from the hysteria and overindulgence. I’d like to seek the quiet. I’m going to make room for the wonder. I won’t be so busy baking and scheming and cleaning that I miss out on the awe. On some of these charged December evenings, after everyone is in bed (or at least in their bedrooms with their headphones on), I plan to turn off all the lights except the Christmas tree lights. I’ll settle myself by the woodstove with my tea and bask in the multi-colored abundance that is my life.


Bonus!
My Favorite Blog Post full of Ideas for Simpler Christmas
 

 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Divided Mind


Worry divides the mind.  Max Lucado 

I’ve just returned from a wonderful, decadent four day getaway with my lover of 17 years. We visited wineries, hiked on the shore of the Rappahanock River, rode our bikes through dapple-lit leaf tunnels, and laughed with friends over amazingly fresh and fabulously cooked food. But I missed my kids. 

How is it we can’t wait to get away from them, but once we’re down the driveway we worry what they’re up to and crave their intrusions? When I’m caught up in the planning of our escapes, four days doesn’t seem like long enough, but after I’ve been gone only a few hours I worry whether my youngest will be in tears at bedtime or my oldest will remember to feed the cat. I worry about my four footed children also. What if their caretakers forget to check the water trough? It’s hard to be gone from them. 

As my kids get older it is getting easier to relax another state away. But only a little. I know that my parents raised three kids of their own – quite successfully, mind you, but that still doesn’t keep me from worrying whether they’ll be overwhelmed by my children’s demands (the two and four-footed dears). 

I imagine that this condition of the worrying divided mind became acute upon pregnancy. The quote about motherhood meaning that your heart is now outside your body and walking around on its own is painfully true. And it is not a fact that any pregnancy or parenting book can warn you about. It strikes the moment you learn that you are becoming a parent. Sometimes it is a suffocating notion and at other times you are just incredibly grateful that these people have helped you discover places in your heart you never knew existed. 

That’s it. Parenting is a life-long condition. No escape. Vacationing serves only to remind me of the invisible thread that tethers me to my children.  

One of my babies turned sixteen this week, adding an entire new level of worry to my already overly divided mind.  

I suppose the real skill in parenting is letting go of these worries. It’s trusting the universe with my most precious creations. It’s knowing that I’m doing the best with what I know and so are they. Laying down my worries is an act of faith. Parenting then is an affirmation that this world is a good place. It’s underlining our trust in the world as a sacred and safe place.  

I let my babies go beyond my grasp and try to beat back the worries to a manageable state. But worry will forever divide my mind, maybe that’s why parents are so good at multi-tasking.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Missed Busses and Inner Voices

My kids missed the bus this morning. The basement door flew open and they tromped down the stairs to tell me this, interrupting the last five minutes of my run and the climatic scene from the horribly violent television show I watch while on the treadmill. I was dripping with sweat, stressed by the awful scene on the television, and furious at the idea of driving them to school (15 minutes each way). This would send my entire morning in to chaos. I’d have to wake their little brother early and urge him to eat a healthy breakfast and pack his lunch without my assistance. I’d have to put on clothes over my sweaty self because it was near freezing outside. This would mean morning barn chores would be rushed. There would be no lingering over my tea and the Sudoku puzzle today. AGH!  

To put it lightly, I was angry. I snapped at them and verbally harassed them as I scrambled up the stairs and rushed around to set the morning in motion. The ride to school was tense. My oldest apologized and my middle child rolled her carefully made up eyes at my anger. Half way to school I realized I was overreacting on a huge scale. They did not mean to miss the bus. In fact, they rarely ever miss the bus. They get themselves up (more or less, but sometimes require their father’s assistance), feed themselves, pack their lunches, and get to the bus stop while I am either out on a run or in the basement on the treadmill watching the horrible (but terribly exciting) show that was interrupted this morning. I’d say that’s more than most of the 13 and 15 year-olds I know.  

Perhaps my frustration was justified, but the anger was unnecessary. I apologized to them for my words. I assured them that I knew they hadn’t meant to miss the bus. I praised them for their ability to get to the bus on a regular basis. And then I watched them head off for school feeling like the horrible mother I am for the sag in their shoulders. What a way to start a day. 

“The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.” – Peggy O’Mara. 

I hope that my weak apology erased at least a part of the angry words I showered on my children this morning. My words are haunting me and renewing my commitment to speak gently to my children. I can excuse myself easily – we’ve been trapped in the house for three days ducking Hurricane Sandy. But excuses won’t mean a hill of beans to a wounded heart. I messed up.  

Lucky for me, they are too young to move out, so I’ll get many more opportunities to speak gently and react more calmly to minor mishaps like a missed bus. I want my children’s inner voices to reassure them when they are worried and to encourage them when they are challenged. I want them to have confident hearts and compassionate souls. Their inner voice is what will guide them when things go awry. I hope that voice is reasonable, calm, and maybe sounds a little like the guy on the old AT&T commercials (what was his name? His voice sounded like molasses).  

I’m sure this isn’t the last morning when I’ll miss the mark. Undoubtedly, I’ll let life and my moods get the better of me another day. But at least for the rest of this day I will speak kindly. I will create an inner voice that is calm and loving and knows there’s nothing to be gained from losing it over a missed bus.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Braces, Braces, Everyone?


My oldest son got his braces off this month. This would be a financial coup, except for the fact that his little sister got hers on last month. Alas, are we destined to give all our savings to the orthodontist? Which begs the question, what about Kid #3? Today in my inbox I discovered a friendly reminder e-mail that he is due for an evaluation. Am I a bad parent if I ignore that e-mail?  

Son #3’s teeth are straight and even, with a few gaps (room to grow). He has a much bigger mouth than his siblings (not just physically). Seems to me if you’re bent on spending money you could find a reason to put braces on every kid alive. Probably most adults too. At one point does it become a luxury? These are thousands of dollars that could be spent on college education or a trip abroad. How critical are straight teeth? 

Son #1 has retainers now. Well, sometimes he does. Already I find them abandoned next to his breakfast dishes after he’s already on his way to school. He’s begun this incredibly annoying habit of removing his bottom retain with his tongue and then playing with it in his mouth like a gobstopper. When he does these things I emit a shriek characteristic of a cartoon mom and begin making threats like, “You’re going to pay for the next set of braces!” To which he replies, “I never asked for braces.” Which is a good point. He didn’t. 

In fact, his teeth weren’t so bad to begin with. Just a slight misalignment, nothing anyone would really point out. But he is our first born and you know how that works. Nothing is too good. How could we not want him to have perfect teeth? So on went the braces.  

The girl-child has had teeth issues from the get-go. Initially she didn’t get her first tooth until eleven months, prompting us to worry that she didn’t have any. When they did come in, it was in layers. Too many teeth for too small a space. It didn’t help that she held on to her baby teeth way past their expiration dates, necessitating six of them to be removed by the oral surgeon. She had an expander at age 8, a “Lip Bumper” at 9, and then the series of teeth extractions culminating in this past summer’s extraction of four permanent teeth. And still there is a stray tooth hanging around above her front teeth poking out of her gums looking for a place to land. Braces were never a question with this child. 

And now we come to child #3 and I ask you, are we obligated to put braces on this one? I keep looking at that e-mail in my inbox. It is my habit to leave messages in the inbox until I deal with them. I like a tidy inbox, so most don’t hang around long. I have a feeling this one might still be here by next summer.  

My concern isn’t just about the expense, well, okay, it’s mostly about the expense. But it’s also about the point. I had braces when I was a teenager. I mostly followed the directions. Somewhere in my college years I lost my retainers and we never spoke of it again. And now my bottom teeth are crooked as a witch’s nose. It’s as if there were never braces to begin with. 

My orthodontist didn’t take the lovely before and after pictures that we received in the mail this week substantiating the initial reason for the braces and the unarguable results. I don’t really know how crooked my teeth were before braces. Everyone I knew had braces, both my brothers, most of my friends. It’s what you did to make middle school even more awkward. And if you were really lucky, you got to sport your tinsel mouth halfway through high school.  

So, for the time being, I’m consciously ignoring the reminder e-mail and having an internal debate. My husband, having been the third child, always says, “the last one thrives on neglect.” It’s tough to be the third in some ways, but in other ways it’s quite the boon. My youngest stays up later, watches more TV, has more computer time, and gets way more privileges than his siblings did when they were his age. On the flip side, there is less video footage, fewer mementos of his childhood saved, and he’s known who Santa really is since he was eight. Even the tooth fairy quit early for him.  

In the end, I will probably roll the dice and take him for the appointment. I don’t want to worry that someday when his teeth are pointing in all directions but down, he asks “How come you never got me braces?” But maybe I’ll be able to say, “We took you to Europe instead.”

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Unclear and Present Dangers

This past summer I attended a writing conference with my oldest son. He writes as much and probably better than I do, so it was exciting to attend together. He still enjoys my company, although I know there are moments when he wonders how we could be related.  

This particular conference was held in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. We were staying with a dear friend who lives in Victor, Idaho, just over the mountain pass from Jackson. Every morning I drove her Ford Expedition over the pass to attend the conference. Early in the evening before dark (the sun sets late in Idaho summers) we drove back to Idaho. 

The pass between Victor and Jackson is a road familiar to me. It is beautiful, steep, and offers a phenomenal view of the Jackson Valley from the top. The Grand Tetons are to your left as you come down in to Jackson and they are breathtaking, as is driving over the pass in general. I have been visiting this friend for 15 years and in that time I have never managed to ride over the pass without some moments of absolute fear. In recent years guard rails were added, which eased some of my fears, but my friend and her husband love to recount the stories of vehicles plunging over the edge of the pass. At one particularly sharp turn which has boulders instead of a guard rail, a potato truck crashed through the boulders and fell to the bottom, scattering potatoes for as far as the eye could see. “Did the driver live?” I asked hopefully. They chuckle and say, “Nope.” 

The runaway truck ramps offer no comfort and neither do my friend’s words when she says, “You’ll be alright. Just don’t use your brakes too much, otherwise you won’t have any left when you get to the bottom.” Easy for her to say. Her other words of advice directed me to not look in my rear view mirror because people tend to tailgate on the pass and it’s unnerving. 

The first morning I confidently climbed up the pass, resolved not to let any late-for-work locals intimidate me in to driving anywhere near the speed limit (50?!!). I pulled in to all the scenic vista spots to let my followers pass. When I reached the top, I flipped the rear view mirror up so I wouldn’t be tempted to watch the cars stack up behind me. There was no need for this since my son delighted in giving me regular updates, “Wow, there’s seven cars behind us now!”   

Each day’s travel became an adventure that we shared together. Instead of keeping his nose in a book, as is his custom, he monitored my progress commenting on how it wasn’t taking as long as it did the first day or laughing with me when we encountered an RV dragging an Expedition of its own and pondered asking for a lift.  

On the last trip back over the mountains, it was dark. We’d meant to leave earlier, but couldn’t drag ourselves away from wonderful new writer friends we’d met. One nice consequence of driving home so late was that there were very few cars on the pass. Still, we led a parade of about four vehicles as we descended into Idaho. I crept slowly around one of the first turns on the far side of the mountain and the truck groaned its way in low gear. Suddenly, we came upon a moose lumbering across the highway in front of us. Actually we came upon a moose’s legs. Moose are much taller up close, built upright like a giraffe. My headlights only illuminated his lower half. I was able to stop and we both held our breath as we waited to see if the cars behind us would find their brakes. 

Not our moose, but we did get a glimpse of this guy while rafting.
The moose halted his progression across the highway, his regal head just five feet in front of the truck’s hood, and regarded us. A moment later we could see headlights making their way up the pass towards us in the opposite lane. I frantically flashed my lights to get their attention and thankfully, the oncoming car also stopped. The moose was still undecided as to whether to continue across in front of me or go back the way he came. He didn’t seem panicked the way a deer would be – flitting back and forth blindly. He stood his ground, watching us expectantly, and when we didn’t move, he slowly turned and ambled back over the guard rail as if his huge feet were clod in snow boots.
 
We continued our drive down the mountain, only now the cars behind us kept a respectable distance. Arriving safely back at our lodging, we told our hosts of our adventure with the moose and how we had stopped and waited for him. We felt like old pros now, commuting over the mountain like locals. My friend poured me a glass of wine and commented, “Good thing that moose didn’t charge you. That would have really messed up the truck.” What? Who knew? Moose’s charge?  

Brady and I, the last day for the conference
in front of the giant metal Charlie Brown shirt.
(the conference was held at the Jackson Center
for the Arts)
Our moose adventure kind of sums up my efforts to keep my children safe these days. I am careful and attentive to the dangers I know, but there are so many I don’t know about. My kids are moving in a world quite different from the one I grew up in. I do all that I can, but in the end I must trust that they are smart people who will make smart choices. If I’ve done my job well, they won’t need me so much. They’ll sort it out, whether it’s a conflict with a friend, a decision about alcohol, or an encounter with a moose.

 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Fabric Memories

People talk about how a song or a smell can bring back memories, but for me it’s clothes. There are certain t-shirts, dresses, even socks that transport me to days gone by, some of them special, but many of them the simple ordinary moments of childhood. The watermelon dress that my daughter wore incessantly was a soft red-checked poplin sleeveless number with a big watermelon framing her face. She wore that dress to preschool, church, play dates, even to ride her pony. And the Tigger sweatshirt that my oldest adored, forever captured in a photo at Disney World. The look on his face when he met Tigger reflected the enormity of the moment and reminds me of how magnificent his imagination always was and is. My youngest has filled my storage bins with sports t-shirts. His first year as a Phillie in T-ball ignited his love for baseball (and the Phillies). Or the England jersey stained with blueberry syrup from the year his soccer team went to the championship game under the lights.  

Baby clothes make me especially emotional. I remember the sweet faces capped by the tiny hats I’ve saved. The funny onesies that made everyone laugh at my baby showers – “Don’t call me cute, I wanna be smart!”. Gift clothing is a double bonus of gratitude – the giver and the wearer. The tiny crocheted booties a friend brought my daughter back from Ireland still sit on my dresser. I could never part with the gorgeous baptismal outfit chosen when an older and wiser friend took me on my first outing with my newborn baby, patiently waiting while I loaded every possible necessity in to my diaper bag and calming my worries about feeding him in public. Even the flannel receiving blanket that swaddled my babes in the hospital nursery, the one with the blue and pink line, the same given to every other child born in that hospital, makes me sigh.  

These days my children are still cute, but not quite so cuddly, yet I still hoard their special clothes. The t-shirt my daughter made that says, “You Laugh At Me Because I’m Different, I Laugh At You Because You’re All The Same“ captures a moment that must be saved to pull out when her own daughter is challenging her sanity. The purple tie worn to the first Homecoming dance recalls my teenage son’s awkward confidence. The faded T-shirt that proclaims, “My Uncle Flies Airplanes at Seymour Johnson AFB,” reminds me of the bond my youngest has with his uncle and makes me proud. These are the fabrics that embody the moments that have shaped who they are becoming. These get stashed in my “Keepsake Clothes” bin (actually three bins now).  

I have a friend who makes memory quilts as a side business. She is a master at sorting through a pile of old clothes and creating a sacred and treasured family heirloom. Some day I will enlist her skills to create my own quilt of memories. I don’t know if I’ll be able to cull the herd down to the material for one quilt. It may require several. Maybe one will be from when they were babies and I’ll wrap myself in it when I am missing them. Another can be comprised of their teenage years and when I’m doubting my own abilities to overcome obstacles, I’ll draw comfort from those memories. And one will be comprised of clothes that tell a story. Someday I can curl up with a grandchild and tell her about the “cow jammies” that her mother insisted on wearing every night, stubborn as she was. Or maybe I’ll just wrap myself up in the memories, knowing that the fabric of this quilt was worn soft by the lives of my babies.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Daily Grind

There are times when I wonder if today will be the day that my life changes. It seems as if the last few thousand days have been preparation for something. Most days I move through the matter of caring for three children and too many animals on autopilot, doing what needs to be done. I pick up the stray laundry, the cheerios hiding in the kitchen corner, the twisty-tie the vacuum spit back out. I do this because there is no one else. It’s not that there is no one else capable of doing the things I do, certainly there are plenty of bodies and minds in this household who know they can do anything better than I. No, it is simply that there is no one else who will do it. The raisin smashed on the floor under the chair, the dog toy lodged between the mission table and the wall, the toilet paper roll spinning empty on the hanger, these things are not visible to the average resident of this household. They do not matter. 

And yet they do. 

Without a keeper of the mess, the chaos would suck us all under. Our collective disorder would make us grumpy, accusatory, overwhelmed. Or maybe that’s only my overly inflated need to justify my days. All I know is that when everything is in order, those rare moments that last only until 3:24pm when my freshly educated spawn blast back through the door, those are moments of contentment. But it is a hollow and lonely satisfaction, remarked on by no one, not even the cat. We sit together silently, me with my tea, and her with her superiority. I feel calm. 

And then the chaos ensues and there are papers to sign, stories to listen to, arguments to settle, and emotions to sidestep. Dinner is prepared, animals are fed, dishes are done, children are deposited and retrieved from practice or lessons or meetings, clothes are pulled off the line and folded, phone calls returned, my day winds down. Every now and again, I pause. I wonder if this is really me. Wasn’t I meant for bigger things?  

There are days when it is all I can do to put one foot in front of another. The bus is missed, the team not made, the child not chosen and I fear I will run out of caring. But I don’t. Somehow the well grows deeper. I can’t ever be sick or take a risk without a cushion because too much depends on me. There is some comfort in dependence. It’s pretty thin. And I don’t do all this with expectations of the reward to come. I know that life is tenuous and all manner of ills can conspire against this little boat. If today is not reward enough, what is the point? 

We say our grace and I silently count my blessings. Oh, I know I am drowning in them. My life is good and full and so privileged. How dare I wish for more? I just keep doing what needs to be done. But secretly, my heart does wonder if that next phone call or e-mail will change everything. If I keep working, keep writing, keep spending my emotional energies on the people and tasks before me, if then, just maybe, something will come of it. 

The hours spent cleaning spaces and things that will be uncleaned momentarily cannot be returned. The emotion expended on children, who do not register or necessarily appreciate my worries, is spent. I do the work that no one else has time or desire to do. I keep doing what needs to be done to carry this life, and all the lives that depend on it, forward.  

On my quiet morning runs in near darkness, I have space to wonder. After I mentally sift through all my plans and worries for the day, I sometimes imagine a bigger life. A life of a famous author, a rich lottery winner, a sought after celebrity. But then I get back home and someone asks me to cut the crusts off his sandwiches and sign the homework planner and I realize that I am already one rich and lucky mama who is a sought after celebrity in her own world.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Gotcha!

As I opened the kitchen door, returning unannounced after my appointment was canceled, I heard scuffling in the living room. The door to the stereo/DVR consul clicked shut and a light went out. Little feet thumped up the stairs. I listened quietly and then set my keys down with a clunk on the counter. Kicking off my shoes I called a greeting to my lazy cat curled up on a stool at the counter. Mama’s home. (an hour too soon) 

I am well-aware that my children were doing something elicit. I could bust them. But I don’t. I’m not up to the scuffle tonight. Tonight I’m tired. Their father has been traveling for two weeks a continent away. I don’t have it in me to confront them, wiggle out the truth, and deal out the consequences. Not that watching a little illegal television drivel is so bad. Still. 

Later I tuck them in to bed and I say nothing about their earlier actions. They are more obedient than usual, kind of like how everyone on the highway slows down when they receive a pass from the cop with the radar detector. Count the blessings, and be very careful. At least for a little while. 

When I tucked my own self in to bed, I lay awake worrying. This isn’t the first time I’ve pretended not to catch them. There’s the missing chocolate chips and jello mix obviously eaten by the child with the sugar addiction. There’s the crumbs left on my desk right next to my open laptop that is still warm. And what about my dead phone battery run dry by Rat on a Scooter?  

I cut them a break on a regular basis, but is this the best parenting? Are they learning bad behavior is OK as long as they don’t get caught? This seems to be a universal condition. I’m just as guilty. I speed, turn illegally, park where I shouldn’t. When I do get a ticket, I hide it from my husband and appease myself by thinking I owe the state this fine since I’ve gotten away so many other times. 

There is a guilty pleasure in getting away with something. We’ve all felt it. Does it make us bad? I think that twinge of guilt, that moment of heat on our neck, proves that we are decent human beings. 

Calling my kids on their violation of the house TV rules tonight may have taught them something. Or it may have just reinforced that they need a better look out. I’ve resolved to bust them next time. If for no other reason than they need to be reminded that their mama always knows what they’re up to – eyes in the back of the head, as they say.  

Better they learn that now, so when they are 17 and tempted to host that keg party on an evening I’m out, they’ll make the smart decision.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

What are you, Chicken?

It was time to let the chickens out. Every spring I coop them up in their pen for the duration of the gardening season, and every fall I let them loose again to eat the grubs and turn the soil. This past spring we introduced twenty new chicks to our brood. They had grown in to beautiful and interesting hens. This time around we ordered not only for egg production, but for aesthetics, choosing different colors, hair styles, even chickens that appeared to be wearing Ugg boots.  

When I opened the gate for the first time, late on a warm and windy afternoon, the old girls raced out and didn’t make it further than ten feet from the pen before applying beak to ground and getting right to work. The new hens watched from the doorway in a state of shock. There’s a world outside these walls? They clucked their concern and waited for the other hens to return. They even poked their heads out the door before scurrying back to the safety of the pen. 

The kids and I watched, calling, “Hey what’s the matter? Are you chicken?” The chicks were not tempted by our taunts and remained firmly planted in the safety of the familiar. 

It’s hard to leave what you know. Besides that, what’s the motivation? They had plenty of food, a soft place to lay eggs, a big yard to run around in, and a cozy house to roost in at night. Why leave? So they didn’t for the first four days that the gate was open.  

But then one ventured forth in to the wild blue yonder. The others cackled and fretted, but soon followed her out in to the world. Sometimes taking a leap of faith requires a leader. Or at least a guinea pig. Once you see someone else do it and survive, it doesn’t seem quite so impossible. 

This philosophy has inspired all kinds of creatures to do things as crazy as start a business, try out for a team, perform in public, marry, or have children. Others have done it before us, so we can do it too. 

But what about when the first one out of the pen is eaten by a fox? Or captured by a hawk? Or gets lost and can’t find its way back to the hen house?  

Amazingly, chickens, like people, don’t focus on these catastrophes. Chickens, to my knowledge, don’t have the capacity for imagination or empathy. They don’t care that the other chicken didn’t make it and they can’t imagine that a hawk might come for them too.

People are not chickens. Truth. Our fears have nothing in common with poultry fears. Many of us are afraid to leave the pen because it could lead to failure or rejection or embarrassment. For some, those fears trump even the fear of boredom, mediocrity, or repetition.  

My three kids each fall somewhere different on the chicken and the pen spectrum. One of them never even notices what the other chickens are doing. He ventures forth following his own lead. He is not easily embarrassed and would consider boredom a failure. He tries all kinds of things while his parents are stunned in to submission. We are not like him. At least, I’m not. When I was a teen, I was never brave. I walked to my own drummer, but quietly while no one was noticing. This child of mine doesn’t concern himself with how he should dress or act or speak. His curiosity drives his decisions about his personal time. He would most likely be one of the first out of the pen, were he a chicken. 

Another of my brood is somewhere on the outside of the fence also, but she would not follow any other hen out. She would go out her own way, perhaps flying over the fence or tunneling under. She would not let expectations dictate her actions. She does wrestle with her own fears once free. She does not like to fail or lose or be made a fool. Lucky for her, she is a fairly competent chicken.  

What she does better than most is to lead. So once she has successfully scaled the fence, she will go back to help a few others get out too. She is very un-chicken like in this way. Chickens may stick to their flock, but they could care less about the individuals in that flock. Not my chick, she’s watching the others. She worries about their well-being, wants their company, and craves their support. 

My last little chick is still learning to trust his abilities. He needs to see the leaders go first. He is willing to follow and to learn from them. Next season, he will be the first out of the pen, I just know it. 

All of our children will leave the pen some day. Our children must learn to believe in their own abilities to handle what they may encounter outside of the comfort zone of their chicken pen. They must be equipped with confidence, competence, and the ability to ask good questions.  

We must encourage them to take risks, rather than shielding them from every danger. Helping them learn to trust in their own abilities by allowing them to use them. Mostly, we must teach them to be curious about what is outside the pen. 

How do we do this? I have a few ideas, but must confess right upfront that this is an ongoing experiment for me as my chicks have yet to truly fly the coop. 

I believe we must let them make their own decisions as often as possible. As a young parent I believed whole-heartedly with the “give them choices so they feel in control” parenting philosophy until it became ridiculous. Truly, children don’t need a choice at every meal. I finally hung a sign that says, “Dinner Choices: 1. Take it. 2. Leave it.”  

But I do believe we must let them make their choices (and endure the consequences) when it comes to school work, what to eat or not eat, and who to be friends with.  

My oldest child’s first grade teacher said something on back to school night that has stuck with me all these years. She said, “If you sit with them and make them do their homework now, you’ll be doing the same when they are in high school.” I’ve never sat with my children while they do homework. Now, I have been blessed with children with no overwhelming learning disabilities, so that helps, I know. 

I do believe that all kids want to do well in school. And I also believe that kids sometimes battle with parents just because they can. If you draw a line in the sand over homework, I promise your child will cross it. They don’t want to fail. Trust me, no one does. Now, does this mean I never mention the H word to my children? Nah. But I do restrict their computer time (Windows 7 makes this very simple), and provide them with a “clean, well-lighted place” in which to work. I told them all at the beginning of their academic career – “I will never nag you about your homework unless you give me a reason to nag.” And for the most part, they haven’t. 

Food can get trickier, it being my own holy grail of sorts. I prepare a dinner five nights a week and my two older children prepare one dinner a piece one night a week. In the beginning we helped them, but slowly we are backing away and letting them take the lead. What is served is the only option. If you don’t want to eat it, that’s your choice. You can help yourself to something else, but it must be healthy dinner-worthy substances. They choose their own snacks each day. This gets a little hairy when they snack on too much and don’t want dinner, but allowing these freedoms provides the impetus for us to discuss all sorts of food issues like snacking vs eating a meal, what makes a healthy meal, not getting enough protein, eating while distracted, eating because you’re bored, and why exactly your stomach hurts. 

I don’t like every kid my kids are friends with. Who would? I’m not Mother Theresa, I don’t like everyone. I do talk to my kids about the friends they choose. I ask what they like about their friend. We talk about the interactions they have with their friends, and I tell them about the people I encounter. I’m open about my frustration with some people or my disappointment with others. I also tell them what I love about my friends and sometimes offer comparisons about my relationship with a particular friend and my child’s relationship with one of their friends. “She’s like your Linda,” I might say to my daughter when talking about a friend you can tell anything to because my daughter knows how close I am to my oldest friend Linda.

These seem like such small details of parenting – homework, food, friends, but truly they are the building blocks of life. They are the training ground for work, well-being, and love. Three things that can make or break the happiness we all seek for our children. If we control and dictate their behaviors when it comes to these areas of their lives, how will they have the confidence or competence to survive outside the pen?  

I want my children to step out in to the big wide world confident in their own abilities, knowing they can handle all that life throws at them. I also want them to know I believe in them and I trust them to lead their own life wherever it takes them. Even if it is far away from the hen house.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Active Kids


I reeled off the list of all the places I needed to have my three kids within the next there hours. My friend sighed and said, “I’m glad my kids don’t like to do anything.”  

It’s a blessing and a curse having three active kids with lots of hobbies and interests. A blessing because it’s so good for their minds and souls and bodies; they will be much better rounded than I ever was. They will explore all the possibilities. And even if they never play bass guitar in a famous rock band or fence in the Olympics or dribble a ball down a college basketball court, they can say they’ve tried.  

I think back to my younger days and I wish I had tried a few more things. I wish I’d tried field hockey or volleyball back when my body was more cooperative and agile. I wish I’d learned how to sketch a face or play the harmonica or tap dance. Sure, I could pursue those interests now, but when would I have the time? And just how ridiculous would I look in a leotard? 

So I offer up these opportunities to my kids and explore every idea they throw out. When my 10-year-old wanted to sword fight, I found a swordguild that would let him try. And five years later, he still has a blast each week bouting with men old enough to be his grandfather. When my middle child wanted to sing in a rock band, it was only a matter of months before she was posting her exploits with a local music studio on YouTube. Then she wanted to play the bass guitar and we found ourselves learning more than we ever wanted to know about used guitars and amps. My oldest wants to be a writer and this past summer he rubbed elbows with some real writers at a writer’s conference and attended a college writing camp. My youngest decided he loved soccer more than all the other sports he’d tried, so we found our way to Travel Soccer tryouts. 

The curse part of the equation is the logistics of all this. And the expense. We don’t eat out or take fancy vacations, we invest the money saved in these daily endeavors. I spend hours in my car driving and driving and driving. Then I spend more hours waiting and waiting and waiting. It’s an investment in their souls. They may quit any or all of these endeavors next month, but I won’t lament the money and time spent. They’ve gained greatly from the people they’ve met, the skills they’ve honed, and the knowledge they’ve gathered about their own abilities and what makes them happy. It makes what they don’t want clearer. It narrows the focus. We are incredibly blessed to be able to give them these opportunities. 

And one of these days we will hit upon the thing that makes their hearts sing. I don’t think they will find it staring at a screen, no matter how redeeming the program or website. They need to go do. They need to go be with others who are also doing.  

Tonight there is rock band, voice lessons, soccer practice, and a newspaper meeting. Tomorrow there is fencing, more soccer, and bass lessons. I live for the white squares on the calendar. They are few and far between, but when they arrive I breathe a sigh of relief and soak in the calm because tomorrow we will be back at it, whittling away at their dreams.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Rules of Life

Lately I’ve done a lot of listening. I’m deep in the heart of tomato season and with over 100 pounds of tomatoes canned and at least that many to go, I don’t dare predict a finish line. My legs ache and my feet throb from standing for hours at a time peeling, seeding, chopping tomatoes (and herbs, onions, peppers, etc.).  

Sometimes while I work, I listen to Pandora, but this is a maddening exercise because my hands are too covered in glop to press the thumbs down button when a song I don’t like comes on. My musical tastes are sporadic and varied and creating my own station is a lengthy progress. Somehow, my channel skipped on to a whiny woman/man (couldn’t tell for the nasally voice) and I had no choice but to endure. Now that lovely sound is entrenched and the station is nearly ruined. 

When I turn the music off, the house becomes my entertainment. I can hear my daughter in her bedroom playing her guitar and working out a new melody. I hear the cats arguing over the lounge chair that is my laundry basket. I can even hear one of the new young hens when she makes the distinctive “I’ve just laid one!” announcement up in the chicken house. 

Mostly I hear my younger son and his friends in the living room discussing the rules before they begin their latest nerf battle. This intrigues me. They spend easily twice as much time arguing over the rules as they do actually shooting each other. And then the game has frequent pauses while they argue even more over who is actually dead and who is just “gassed”.  

I can’t help but giggle. This seems like rehearsal for future congressmen. My older son comes in the kitchen and asks why I’m laughing. When I tell him, he smiles and says the rule making is part of the fun. We listen together and laugh conspiratorially at the ridiculousness of the whole activity. Finally, I can take it no longer and call a halt to the war with the peace offering of lunch. Seems food trumps fighting. At least for now. 

After they are fed and dispensed to the woods to begin a new battle, I have time to reflect upon their behavior. It’s very human. We seem to thrive on rules and regulations. Keeps everyone and everything in its place.  

I was talking with a friend from a neighboring state about taking treats in to our children’s classrooms for a birthday. I told her I was going to make “magic wands” (pretzels dipped in chocolate and sprinkles) and she was horrified at the idea. How can anyone be opposed to homemade chocolate anything? It wasn’t the product she worried about, it was the idea of taking something “not packaged”. What if there are germs? I’m sure there are. But I’m guessing that the germs on my magic wands are much better for children than any kind of artificially flavored and colored concoction that comes in a package. 

Seems other states have rules about these sorts of things. They don’t allow unpackaged food to be brought in to the classrooms. Thank God, Pennsylvania hasn’t thought of that rule yet. 

I believe that men have a larger propensity for rule making. Take sports. What man can’t argue for hours about the rules of his favorite sport? And sitting at any organized ballgame, be it professional or amateur or even little league, who hasn’t listened to men debate an umpire’s take on a particular rule or a coaches ability to interpret a rule. Frankly, it’s exhausting, all this rule making. 

As a mom, I get to make rules on a daily basis. My rules, for the most part, are bendable. I am a fair dictator. I must admit having rules makes my life easier. It’s much less taxing to say, “That’s the rule” than to listen to the explanation and make an exception.  

But exceptions to the rules are what make life bearable (and interesting).  

I think we must be careful when we make rules. I believe the less rules the better. All encompassing rules are the best ones. Rules like “Respect each other,” cover a multitude of situations. It is not respectful to shoot nerf darts at your sibling when he is still sleeping. Telling your brother he is an idiot as the parting phrase of every encounter is not respecting him. Playing your drums or your bass guitar at 7am is not respectful of slumbering family members. Monopolizing the bathroom for longer than 30 minutes, borrowing shoes without asking, forgetting to give a phone message – all not respectful. Putting the empty milk container back in the fridge – again not respectful. (OK, maybe that’s stretching the rule a little.)  

I think the Respect-each-other rule should be a world-wide rule. Think of how much better things would be. There would be no invading of other countries, no suppressing rights, no intolerance, no discrimination. I think we should make it the 11th commandment. Although when Jesus said, “love thy neighbor as yourself,” I think he was basically saying, “Respect each other.” There’s no such thing as love without respect. It’s a basic ingredient. 

A little later in the day I found the boys playing a game of Blokus in relative peace. Sometimes it’s nice to have all the rules laid out in black and white. Of course, that doesn’t stop them from arguing over who ate the rest of the cheezits or who cut the last fart, clearly stated rules can only take you so far.

 

 

 

Friday, August 24, 2012

It Does (thankfully) Take a Village


We were picking crabs one night with friends on an unseasonably warm late spring evening. The sky threatened to ruin our evening, but other than a few sprinkles, it never made good on its promises. 

Our friends’ teenager is my oldest son’s best friend and I affectionately call him my “other son.” He is the youngest of four incredibly smart, competent, and truly good kids. I’m in awe of this couple and what they’ve accomplished. My own kids seem like spoiled slackers in comparison. So I take every opportunity to hang out with them, hoping some of their wisdom will rub off on me. 

When the crabs arrived, the other dad joined the kids at their end of the picnic table and launched in to an enthusiastic lesson on how to properly pick crabs. He was patient and encouraging, and waded through their questions about “the gross yellow stuff” and the “squiggly white things” with good humor, calmly admonishing my youngest not to “bash” the crabs quite so hard with his hammer.  

His wife and I watched and she laughed and said, “He’s good to have around. He always makes sure everyone is taken care of and having fun.”

I comment, “That probably makes him good to raise four kids with.”

She smiled and said, “That too.” 

It’s important to have a partner when raising kids. In fact, it’s important to have several partners, whether they are spouses, uncles, aunts, grandparents, friends, or teachers. None of us have all the qualities of the perfect parent. None of us can teach our kids all they need to know. It may be cliché, but it certainly does take a village. 

School is peeking over the horizon and every conversation with other parents begins, “Which teacher did your child get?” Of course, there are a few I would prefer, but at this juncture in my experience, I have to say, it isn’t critical. My kids have had some wonderful teachers – people who lifted them up and brought out abilities in them I had never thought possible. And my kids have had some not so stellar teachers. It’s inevitable. Even teachers with a reputation for being excellent aren’t always a good match for a particular kid. 

I remember an elementary school teacher my oldest son had years ago. She was difficult and unorganized and critical of my son. To his credit, he took it well. After sitting in for recess once again for a missing paper (that turned up in her stack on her second search), he came home and said, “I’ve figured her out.”

“Really?” I asked, curious to hear his observations.

“Yeah, she’s from a different planet than me. So I’ve just got to figure out what language she speaks on her planet.”  Not bitter, and with nothing else to add, he headed outside to play. 

I was blown away once again by the wisdom of a child. And grateful for this teacher I had been lamenting. She was teaching my son a lesson it takes many of us years to learn. We all have to work with people who don’t “speak our language.” It’s part of life and figuring out how to play nicely with everyone is an important life skill critical to our success and survival.  

My husband and I have very different parenting styles. He’s more of a take-no-prisoners kind of dad. He yells first and asks questions later. Generally his first answer is no, but the kids know he can be reasoned with. This may sound harsh, but it is a good counter-balance to my waffling-let-me-explain-why-I-think-you-should-do-this way of parenting. My kids have figured out when it comes to just about anything except what they eat and how much screen time they get, there is always wiggle room with me. 

Some days I get frustrated with myself and the authority that seems to elude me not only with my children, but with my incorrigible dog. So it’s nice to have someone who isn’t afraid to be the bad guy. 

My husband is the one who teaches them the technical stuff – math, tools, computers, and sports. My expertise is better suited to teaching them about relationships, social issues, personal health, and wondering. It helps when your spouse is such a perfect complement, even though our differences can also get in the way of presenting the unified front that good parents should have.  

My mother-in-law is really good at teaching my children to be skeptical of the messages they hear from the media and their peers. My mom loves to indulge my children and in so doing teaches them it’s OK to enjoy forbidden fruits like Fluffanutter sandwiches and Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal every now and again (or whenever you visit Grammy).  

The example my little brother has set by serving in the Air Force for 22 years has been a living object lesson in respect for our country and the fact that there are people who risk their lives for our freedom. 

There have been many volunteer coaches that have imprinted on my kids, I couldn’t mention them all. During baseball season one coach told my husband, “Your son is such a joy – so coachable and fun to have around.” When he relayed the coach’s comments, I teared up in gratitude and pride. It humbles me again and again that these men and women volunteer their time and energy (and patience!) to help my children learn not only how to play a sport, but to be team players. 

The bad examples can sometimes teach our children important lessons too. Watching a confrontation in the Walmart parking lot, led to a discussion on respecting others. A snide comment about my bumper sticker from a person who disagreed with my electoral choice, gave us a chance to talk about political freedoms.  

Unexpected witnesses also imprint on our children. Working at our church’s soup kitchen and encountering a mentally ill person, opened up a conversation on the challenges of caring for someone who can’t care for themselves which wound its way to a discussion at the bus stop of our society’s responsibility in such circumstances. 
(Pictured is a coach my son still views as a superhero.)
Teachers, partners, healers, leaders, and prophets are scattered all through our lives. Appreciating this can help you to feel less alone as a parent. 

I’ll say it again, it take a village to raise good kids. None of us can do this alone and that is a relief! So on the days I don’t think I’m up to snuff on this parenting deal, I take comfort in fact that so many other people are investing in my kids. In the end it will be a cumulative effort. I won’t be able to take all the credit, nor all the blame. Whew!
 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Nearly Empty Nest

Being thrown from the nest can be a good or bad experience depending on your ability to adapt and your attitude. This week I threw three chickens and one child from our nest.  

Broody hens are uncommon. At least that’s what the chicken books say. Today’s domestic chickens have had all the broodiness bred out of them. Their job is to lay eggs or become dinner. For the last two years I’ve had a silly number of broody hens. Broody hens are hens that have become overwhelmed with the desire to hatch eggs. They will park themselves on the eggs and refuse to move, foregoing food and water, and pecking anyone who tries to move them. 

Last year I humored three of my hens and allowed them to hatch chicks. It was all fun and memory making and all that until the chicks grew up to be roosters (five of the seven) and we had to butcher them. Not fun. Not happy memories. So this year when three of my hens started in with the brooding, I cruelly (and carefully) removed them from their eggs each night and stuffed them in the hen house with the rest of the girls. I did this for nearly a month grumbling all the way. I confess that I was less than gentle with my words and actions many nights. It was a battle of wills. 

Alas, the hens proved more stubborn than I, and I was forced to not only remove them from their nests, but also from the chicken yard. Having tried to convince them to give up their brooding dreams the nice way, it was time to stop asking. With the addition of 25 new almost grown up chicks to the chicken yard, there was no room to be spared in the laying boxes. We have three lovely laying boxes that our girls share happily. During the brooding fiasco, the broody hens allowed the other older hens to climb right in with them and add their eggs to the nest. Not so for these next upstarts. When the younger hens venture near the laying boxes the three old biddies start clucking and threatening and getting their feathers all ruffled up.  

Nature is soon going to dictate that these young hens lay their first eggs. And in years past there have never been any issues with the younger hens copying the older hens and laying their eggs in the boxes too. But right now there are no available boxes. So, in a fit of frustration I threw all three hens out of the chicken yard. They have been frantically pacing the fence wanting back in. This is somewhat ironic to me since I have to clip all their wings each spring so they will not escape the yard.  

Never mind that what these hens have been sitting on lately is the golf balls I left in place of the eggs I will not let them hatch. They are frantic to get back to their golf balls. One of the hens is so stressed out her feathers are falling out.  

The young hens have been carefully exploring the boxes full of golf balls. It won’t be long before they lay their first tiny eggs. The first eggs a chicken lays is comically small, but they get successively bigger. 

And what about the child thrown from the nest? Although she protested as we packed her up for camp (a camp she decided she wanted to attend four months ago), once she saw her tent and tent mates she couldn’t get rid of me fast enough. I suppose removing this one from the nest follows a natural path of separation. It is a trial run for when she separates herself from us for good in just a few years. If that event is anything like this one, I’ll have to be careful the door doesn’t smack me in the butt when she thanks me for the ride and shoos me away.

 The hens are another story. It’s been five days and two of them repented of their broody ways and are back with the other girls. The third one still stalks the fence line by day and huddles in the rafters of the barn by night. At least half of her feathers are gone now and she is a sorry sight. She cannot seem to let go of her dreams of hatching a golf ball. I suppose I understand some of what she’s going through. Only it wasn’t so hard for me to leave my golf ball since she’s all grown up and in good hands.  

Still all week I have missed her and wondered if she is enjoying camp. I wonder if she has de-toxed from the sudden break from her electronics. I wonder if she is learning to make a friendship bracelet and a dream catcher. I wonder if she is playing her guitar around a campfire and singing songs I learned when I was a kid. I worry that she isn’t brushing her teeth or using enough sunscreen. 

Her leaving the nest for a while is good for her and for me. She’s remembering that she can take care of herself and that life can be rich without an internet connection. I’m realizing all the ways she adds sparkle and energy to this household. I’m also realizing that the quiet is only nice for the first few hours. After that I want my golf ball back.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Mother's Comfort

When my children were little and they were hurt or afraid, it was easy to gather them in my arms and make everything okay. It’s not so simple now that they look me in the eye and question my competence.

My middle child is sensitive to any slight in the distribution of parental tolerance, reprimands, and praise. She sees injustice everywhere and well she should. Life is not fair. Never once have I suggested it is or should be. If life were fair, we wouldn’t have the abundant blessings we take for granted. But I digress.  

Because this child perceives that I “like the boys more”, she does not welcome my comfort when it is offered. She craves my attention, yet pushes it away when it is presented. My husband says she is exercising her woman’s prerogative.  

Earlier this week I carted her off to the oral surgeon to have four permanent teeth pulled. While she is my loudest child, ironically she has a tiny mouth. There is not enough room for all her teeth; and her permanent teeth are vying for front row seats creating a multi-tiered smile. Four have to go and then we have years of braces to look forward to.  

The original plan was to have my husband escort her to this appointment. While I am a woman of hearty stock, I become squeamish at the sight of a man with pliers in my daughter’s mouth. She has had eight baby teeth pulled in previous visits, trying to help the permanent teeth find their proper place. Each time I held my stomach and my tongue as I watched the doc work. This time it was to be my husband’s turn. 

Events conspired against us – the doctor had to change the date and the only date available was during a week my husband would be safely hiding on the other side of the planet. It fell to me. 

I let her use my coveted iphone to play games during the drive to the office and reassured her repeatedly as she let out small, whimpers each time she looked up to see that we were closer to our destination.  

Once in the chair, she was stoic. The doc was very impressed, gushing, “You’re awesome!” as he stuck her repeatedly with his nasty needle. I survived the ordeal by looking out the window and concentrating on the whir of nitrous oxide machine rather than the crunch of the pliers extracting each tooth (“Oh – the last baby tooth – bonus!”).  

Afterwards, as we stood by the check out desk, my daughter looked lost and beaten and kept holding her numb chin to be sure it was still there. I pulled her to me and wrapped my arms around her sharp edges hoping she would accept my comfort. When I looked at her face, it was obvious my hug was more painful than the teeth pulling, so I released her. 

She was quiet until about 15 minutes in to the ride home when the blood seeped through the gauze stuffing her mouth and spilled on to her shirt. I pulled over and tried to help, but she just screeched at me through her cotton-filled mouth and smacked my hands away. 

Once home, the tears finally came. I offered ibuprofen – the liquid form in the blue-raspberry flavor she loved (to heck with the food colorings). She swore she couldn’t drink it because her lips were too numb. I hunted up a straw and placed it in the tiny dosage cup, and held it out to her. She put the straw in her mouth and then cried even harder, shoving the cup back at me.  

Thirty minutes later she found me in the kitchen and through teary eyes informed me that her mouth hurt. I leaned towards her, arms outstretched and she leaned away, so I offered ice cream instead. She rebuked me like the idiot I am – how could she eat if she couldn’t feel her lips? 

I retreated to my desk to write, but she followed me there, still whimpering like an injured dog. I offered my kindle fire – maybe there was a show she could watch. She looked through the offerings and said there was nothing she liked.  

Today I could not offer my daughter the comfort she needed. In the end all I could say was, “I’m sorry this had to happen.” That seemed to be what she needed. She nodded and left to find the cat who apparently can offer much better comfort than I.