Monday, December 31, 2012

A prayer for the New Year




Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, 
as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning, that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Amen.
The Prayer of Saint Francis


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Every rose has its thorns

Do you know this girl?




















If you do, then you are lucky. If you don't, then I can promise you that you wish you did.

Why?

Because this girl is a delight.

This girl can tell you more about dogs than you ever needed to know. Aren't sure which breed is right for you? Ask Annie. She will ask you some questions about your home, lifestyle and personality and instantly come up with the right dog for you based on size, temperament and energy level. Wondering about a mixed breed? Annie can look at any mutt and accurately assess which breeds came together to form that charming little pup.

And if she should ever ask you, "Do you want to know how it works today?" Say yes. Because you won't believe what spills out of the imagination of this small girl on a daily basis. Every day is a fairy tale in Annie's world and one day we might all be flying dogs, superheroes with a particular power, or half-human/half-animal (of your choosing). Oh, and word to the wise, you better have a darn good reason why you chose the animal you did because without a decent explanation for being half-elephant she will promptly veto your plans and assign you an animal much better suited to your needs.

It's not that she is without her faults. Who isn't?

She worries too much.

She is wounded too easily.

She can be stubborn and forgetful and does not care for vegetables all that much.

But none of those things are the things that make me look toward her future with trepidation.

As much as I fear her heart being broken and her propensity for drama and anxiety... no, those are not the things that put me on my knees.

The thing is... this girl could be anything. And she has many ideas for what she might be. On any given day she'd like to be a veterinarian, a dog walker, a doggy-spa owner, a doggy day-care owner (are you detecting a theme?) and then sometimes for variety, she opts for being a gymnast, a teacher or an actress.

And I have no doubt that if she puts her mind to it, she could be any one of those things.

But in addition to being a dog walking-tumbling-veterinarian, I'm afraid my daughter is going to be something else.
















A hoarder.

It's not that she likes to save lots of little trinkets and mementos. It's that she likes to save ALL little trinkets and mementos... and packaging and special notes and items from occasions that she didn't even enjoy.

For example, the purple nose-breather-thingy from the dentist office when she had a cavity filled. Do you think she enjoyed having a cavity filled? Do you think that is a special memory?

Neither do I.
















How about the empty box pictured there? Nope, there is nothing in that box. But it has pictures of dogs on it so therefore it is meaningful and of great value. That dalmatian tail was part of a costume that Jack wore to his high school TOLO dance. I could have killed him when he offered it to his sister. Now, it is a permanent part of her ever-growing shelf display that only multiplies and never subtracts.

Last Christmas, Santa gave Annie one of those Dog-A-Day tear off calendars with 365 days of dogs. How perfect for our little dog lover, right?

Yes...and no.

Because every day is a new dog just as precious and adorable as the day before, none of which can be parted with.

I tried putting the torn off days into a folder hoping that eventually they would mysteriously find their way to the recycling. But Annie has a high need for visual displays of her most favored possessions.

What to do...what to do...(my plans all involved cutting the collection down to her Top 10 favorite dogs).

She solved the problem herself. All it took was a roll of scotch tape (which you'll notice is now permanently housed on her shelf, see picture #1) and her unique vision for interior design.







The door to her bedroom.
















The cute flower fairy alphabet cards used to be her only wall display.

Not anymore.






This barely even scratches the surface as there are dog-calendar pages taped to virtually every surface in her room now.

She recently told me that she hopes Santa will bring her a new 2013 Dog-a-Day calendar.

Not likely.

It's all enough to make her minimalist-mother break out in hives.

I can only hope that whatever slow-growing "cleanliness gene" that I must carry, which allowed me to grow from a messy child into a tidy adult, is lying dormant somewhere in my sweet girl just waiting to flourish in adulthood when she will look back on these pictures and wonder aloud, How on earth did you stand this, Mother?

To which I will simply smile and pray that she will be blessed with her very own adorable, creative, tender-hearted, cart-wheeling, dog-loving, dreamy little hoarder.

And I'll be sure Santa leaves her a Dog-a Day Calendar under the tree.


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Newer skies

Kneeling in Bethlehem
by Ann Weems

It is not over,

this birthing.

There are always newer skies

into which God can throw stars.

When we begin to think

that we can predict the Advent of God,

that we can box the Christ,

in a stable in Bethlehem,

that's just the time that God will be born

in a place we can't imagine and won't believe.

Those who wait for God

watch with their hearts and not with their eyes,

listening

always listening

for angel words.


This has long been my favorite Advent poem. I love the way it challenges us to imagine the possibility that the miracle of Christmas was not merely a one-time event in history, but evidence of God's ongoing, persistent, tireless, devoted and dogged determination to be known, to be felt, and to be present in our lives. If only we will listen.

This year, as I read this poem anew I was struck by the first lines and how much of motherhood is an endless process of birthing. That newborn whom we labored to bring into the world bears almost no resemblance to the toddler we must teach to walk and talk; nor he to the grade-school boy who must be taught self-control and compassion; and then we turn around and we are staring into the chest of a man-child, a head taller than ourselves, who is poised to take his first steps out into the world alone, possessing little more than youthful self-confidence and optimism- but anxious to leave nonetheless.

It is not over...this birthing.

And right now I am praying with all my might that there are newer skies ahead- skies that are star-filled and exploding with wonder and hope.

For him.

And for all of us.

Blessings to all this First Sunday of Advent. 


Friday, November 23, 2012

Bring it on

This morning...this day-after-Thanksgiving morn...Annie and I snuggled together, both of us positively gleeful that there was no reason in the world we had to leave the warmth of the covers and venture into the very wet, very cold day outside.

In fact, as I type these words I am still happily outfitted in my pajamas (if pajamas can be considered an "outfit"). What?! Perhaps it is 1:00 in the afternoon and perhaps I did just eat lunch- a most delicious turkey/stuffing/cranberry sauce sandwich- all while in my pajamas. Why do you ask? Whatever...there are no hidden cameras here....All of you who were showered, dressed and made-up by 8am this morning can just take your judgment elsewhere. I have no regrets and even less shame. (I could stand a smidge more vanity though as I have seriously considered venturing out in my current attire but have been cautioned against doing so by certain members of my family. Some people are so fussy).

Anyhow, back to that cozy memory from this morning. While I enjoyed a few extra minutes of pillow time, Annie played on the ipad and ended up pulling up the Charlie Brown Christmas app. It is essentially a narrated storybook with a few small activities thrown in. I've been pleased by how much she enjoys this app given its simplicity. She really seems to just enjoy hearing the story over and over again.

I closed my eyes and listened to the familiar words of Charlie Brown lamenting the commercialization of Christmas. I smiled as Lucy tells him he needs to "get involved" with something, thus cornering him into directing the Christmas play.

What a lovely thought...I mused...a group of children who set about organizing, writing, directing and performing their own Christmas pageant, with no adult in sight. I wondered how that would turn out if I were to turn loose my band of kiddos at church to organize themselves?

Annie asked why I was laughing to myself.

And then came that unforgettable moment when Charlie Brown cracks (I'm hoping not to have a similar moment myself during our pageant rehearsals...) and cries out to no one in particular:

Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?!?

And Linus, sweet Linus... always ready with a historical anecdote or timely quote, all with blankie in hand...gives his unflappable answer:

Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about.

Not gonna lie...I felt myself choke up for just a second when I heard those words. And Annie and I cuddled even closer as we listened to Linus recite what must be some of the most familiar verses in all the Bible.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the Angel of the Lord came upon them, and they were sore afraid. And the Angel said to them, Fear not: For behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the Angel a multitude of the Heavenly Host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, good will toward men.

That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

Advent begins in just a matter of days, which means Christmas is on its way.

I understand all of the reasons people lament the commercialization of Christmas and get overwhelmed by too many activities and expectations. I understand... I do. I am also deeply aware that for many people this is not the most wonderful time of the year. I've had those seasons, those Decembers when I wished I could erase the whole shebang from the calendar so I wouldn't have to spend days on end pretending to be interested in celebrating when what I really wanted to do was stay home avoiding anything that hinted of Christmas.

If that is you this year, then know you have my heart, my prayers and my wishes for peace. I've been there...

But this year... still basking in the thankfulness glow from yesterday, I was so incredibly grateful this morning for the almost giddy anticipation I felt for the weeks ahead. Perhaps because I know how it is to feel otherwise and I know how much my 7 year old needs me to join her in her excitement over all of the wondrous expectation contained in the season of Advent, followed by the JOY of Christmas morning.

This year, I'm right there with her.

Annie asked me this morning, her voice plaintive and cautiously hopeful, Mommy, when can we start decorating?

I pretended to be deep in thought, weighed down by the gravity of her question.

Oh, the boxes...oh, the mess...oh, the clutter...Christmas!...Bah humbug.

Then I smiled and squeezed her tight and asked:

How about today!!

Advent may not officially begin for another week... but I say,

Bring it on!











Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Doubled by wonder

~ The other evening Timothy sat at the dining room table working on homework when suddenly, without lifting his pencil or halting his work, he proceeded to belt out a line from what I can only assume is some sort of song. Loudly.

I'm not sure if this is a song you might hear on the radio if you are hipper than I am, or if it came out of that secret stash of musical genius that Timothy hides so well. All I know is that just as I was about to inquire as to whether it was completely necessary for him to sing at a volume that could only be meant for the neighbors down the street, I heard the next line of the "song" being bellowed from upstairs in the direction of Jack's bedroom.

They went back and forth like this, yelling singing alternate lines of a song that I still suspect may only exist in their brotherly sub-universe until it apparently reached its conclusion and Timothy went back to solving geometry problems and presumably Jack returned to his state of active non-studying.

All was quiet.

~ Recently, we have had more than one occasion when all three of our kids have been occupied elsewhere at the same time. This remarkable convergence of events has meant that Ben and I have been alone in our own house...together. It's utterly shocking. Truly, we become frozen by the improbability of it all and generally spend the entire time babbling to one another about how strange it feels to be in our own house with no children. I'm hoping that by the time we are actually empty-nesters we will be able to get past the inane babbling stage and settle into a slightly more productive lifestyle.

But one of the things that always comes out in our incoherent meandering thoughts is the reality that were it not for our little Annie, we would likely find ourselves with quite a lot of this Home Alone in reverse scenario. With two teenage boys, their schedules frequently take them out of the house for extended periods of time-particularly on weekends. Nowadays, it's incredibly common for Friday and Saturday nights to be Annie-Mom-and-Dad time while the boys are at football games or friend's houses. It doesn't take a mathematician to figure out that if you subtracted the smallest of those individuals you would end up with just the two of us.

It's exciting and surprising and disorienting when we find ourselves with time alone at home, and I know there will come a day when we will be ready for more and more of that time..but not yet. Right now, we always end up looking at each other, smiling, and thanking God we aren't there yet.

Because what would we be without that little sprite that dances through our days and fills our lives with puppies and pink?

Really, what would we be?

~ In spite of all my best laid plans we aren't making a lot of progress on our Countdown goals. The biggest area of contention is in the arena of Kitchen Duties. Clearing dishes, getting them in the dishwasher, emptying the dishwasher, helping to plan/prepare meals...all getting woefully forgotten in the hustle and bustle of days filled with soccer, gymnastics and college application essays. I'm definitely guilty of succumbing to the "it's just easier to do it myself" school of thought.

It's also easy to become grumpy, resentful, sulky...

Then Jack beckons me from the computer saying, Mom, you gotta see this...

And I bite my tongue from snapping something along the lines of, Sure, let me just stop washing all the dishes, preparing dinner and doing ALL OF THE OTHER WORK AROUND HERE...

I look over his shoulder at the computer, noticing his twinkling eyes and wide open smile and can't help but wonder what has got him reverting back to the giggly boy he once was.

He shows me a Youtube video- a comedy sketch. Certainly not appropriate for Annie but safe enough for a boy on the verge of turning 18 (nor am I so naive as to think he hasn't seen worse). I'm a little surprised but also amused and pleased that he thinks he and I can share this.

And the truth is, it's funny. Like, laugh out loud funny.

And we do...laugh out loud. Together. And it's amazing because he's like this borderline adult who gets that his parents have a sense of humor and that we might even sometimes have the same sense of humor.

Amazing.

~ Remember the age old paradox, What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?

I used to wonder if Timothy was the human embodiment of that paradox except he was both the immovable object and the unstoppable force and we were the ones trying to get him to bend.

He is still virtually unstoppable and frequently stubbornly immovable, but it is a force that is increasingly being used for good. Watching Timothy grow up, my sister would often comment, When Timothy decides to use his powers for good, there is nothing that can stop him.

In school, in life, on the soccer field, with his family...everyday in hundreds of little ways, Timothy is using his powers for good.

Nothing can stop him.

~ Annie and Jack reside across the hall from one another. Each night as I put her to bed, I perch on the end of her bed listening to her work through her day trying to keep her from spiraling too far into worry or dismay over events that are over and done, or haven't even ever happened. By the time I have started telling her no more talking and close your eyes, Jack will usually appear in the hallway having made his way upstairs to retire to his own room.

He stands silhouetted in the doorway with the light of his own bedroom behind him.

They say their goodnights, with the private names they reserve only for each other.

Night night, Gonky.

Night night, Jackie.


Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.
~GK Chesterton

Happy Thanksgiving one and all.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

An open letter to College Admissions

Dear College Admissions People,

Very soon (fingers crossed that it will be very soon), you will be receiving from my eldest son an application for admittance to your respective college or university. As I have assisted him in filling out the endless pages on the Common App, made sure that all pertinent details were correct, and nagged encouraged him to persist in writing his essays, I have become aware that in spite of the very comprehensive nature of your application process I cannot escape the feeling that you will not be getting a complete picture of my son.

The measures of success required on the college application are certainly valid and necessary to your assessment of his potential. I'm not quibbling with your methods, just concerned that you might overlook an excellent future college student if you look to those measures and those measures only. I can hope that his essay and teacher recommendation might help fill in the colors and nuances of the portrait that is Jack, but perhaps I can offer some helpful visuals as well. I'm sure you can agree that undoubtedly no one knows this young man better than his own mother.

1. Jack is, and has always been, 100% his own person.


I have yet to meet a child who I worried less that he would succumb to the pressure to be or do anything that he didn't want to be or do. Jack has been known to turn down invitations to parties, tickets to concerts, and a host of other requests that might appear to be socially advantageous simply because he didn't care to go. His sense of self is solid and at times maddeningly intractable, but always, admirably, true to his core.

2. Jack is a confident, unflappable public speaker. He has no fear of getting up in front of a group of 10 or a group of 500, and is known in his senior Speech class as the King of Impromptu speeches. This is particularly useful when you are the sort of kid who occasionally forgets to prepare/practice his speech in advance. (maybe I should leave that part out?)

3. Jack chooses his friends well. His friends run the gamut from being the academic stars of the school, to the athletic heroes, to the seemingly ordinary guys who are just fun to be around. But one thing they have in common is that they accept one another completely, laugh easily, and are loyal to the end.


4. Jack is a good sport. His strong sense of self prevents him from being embarrassed easily which means he's generally willing to take one for the team, so to speak. This includes willingly sitting on Santa's lap at the age of 17.


5. Jack is a terrific older brother. 'Nuff said.



6. And, finally, Jack is uniquely suited to dorm life because of his extensive experience with making the most out of small spaces. Jack has been exceptionally creative within the boundaries of his own relatively small bedroom and I know he could work his similar brand of magic within the confines of dormitory living.

First, there was the unique placement of his desk in relation to his closet. At first glance this might look like a hindrance to hanging up one's clothes, but Jack has addressed that issue as well.  He has perfected a clockwork-like system that involves living out of one hamper of clean clothes, while filling a separate hamper with the dirty clothes until it is time to do laundry again. Repeat cycle. It works seamlessly and eliminates the need to hang up one's clothes at all. The wrinkled look is in, by the way.


And if the desk-closet arrangement wasn't enough to convince you of Jack's powers of imagination and creativity...

...I give you MegaBed.


Yes, what you see there are two twin beds pushed up together vertically with two twin mattresses arranged horizontally across them. I will leave it up to you to imagine which way Jack chooses to sleep most nights but let me just say that I am setting aside money for a chiropractor, just in case.

Nevertheless, surely you can see that Jack is not bound by the limits of societal expectations, the principles of Feng Shui, or good taste. He is a young man destined to push the boundaries and to work outside of the box, all while charming the world with his easy going nature and engaging smile. What college campus wouldn't benefit from the talents and disposition of this young man?

Seriously, he's a good kid.

Could you all just get together and agree that at least one of you will send him a big "YES"?

You won't be sorry.

Sincerely,

Jack's Mom

Friday, November 2, 2012

You got a friend

Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion. ~ Truvey (Steel Magnolias)

Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning. 
~ Psalm 30:5

For all your troubles I give you laughter. ~ Francois Rabelais

Tomorrow morning...very, very, early... I am leaving on a jet plane. I am headed down to sunny Southern California to meet up with over a dozen old college friends. Some of these friends are women I have stayed in touch with and have seen at reunion gatherings over the years, and some are women I haven't seen in 20+ years. Truthfully, some of them are women I had no reason to think I would ever see again. But thanks to one special friend we all share in common, we are gathering together to celebrate the gift of life and old friends. 

As excited as I am about this quick getaway and time spent with dear friends, I know the entire weekend will be touched with the sad reality that the friend responsible for bringing us all together is conspicuously absent. It shouldn't surprise any of us though that our friend Sharon... ever the hostess, ever the uniter, ever the organizer...has managed to reach across the boundaries of time and pull this off. And because Sharon wouldn't want it any other way we will celebrate. We will laugh. We will cheer when we hear her name. And even through the tears, there will be joy.

It's difficult for me not to carry into this event the regret that I didn't find the same motivation to attend this run/walk a year ago when Sharon was still with us. And there again is one of the lessons loss teaches us. Don't wait. 

But I have learned, Sharon, and that is why I have moved mountains to leave my family for this whirlwind weekend trip that is sure to be filled with unforgettable memories. I have learned and I promise to relish the opportunity to laugh and reminisce and talk into the wee hours of the night with these lovely and amazing old friends. I will be fully present to this moment and leave all of the worries of home behind me.

So many of my days are dedicated to being a mom and a wife and, of course, no matter where I go or what I do those roles are always with me. I treasure those roles. But this weekend, I am going to wear my friend-hat loud and proud. 

Hold down the fort, Superdad.

This weekend is just for the girls.


Monday, October 29, 2012

I'm the Mommy

This past week has been a doozy.

Major school projects that require dismantling half the house have kept the entire family up way past our bedtime (Superdad's bedtime is 8:30pm, Annie's bedtime is 9pm, the boy's bedtime is 10pm or whenever they finally fall asleep, and mine is whenever all those other people are at last tucked in bed and snoozing).

Tim and Superdad got the thrill of flying down to San Francisco at the crack of dawn Wednesday morning to attend Game 1 of the World Series. It was worth all of the hassle and expense to pull together such a last minute trip, but it did create a flurry of activity and chaos right smack dab in the middle of the week.

The infamous Senior Thesis is still hanging over our heads like a not-at-all-cute version of Winnie the Pooh's little black rain cloud. For better or for worse, it will be turned in by this Friday morning at 8:10am but for now, it's still hovering.

Emails continue to pour in about November 15 college application deadlines. The dogs seem to be growing accustomed to the wailing and whining that erupts from me anytime one of these emails pops up in my inbox. There's a lot of heavy sighing, too.

Jack had the ACT test on Saturday morning, followed by a high school dance that night. I wonder which one was more fun?

And, of course, there were two soccer games (in the rain) this weekend and an attempt to not completely ruin our third child's childhood experience by finally going out and buying pumpkins for our porch. God help me, this probably means she is going to want to carve one of them sometime in the next 24 hours. Give me strength.

At any rate, as the evening wound down last night, I started fantasizing about climbing into bed, resting my head on my pillow and hoping upon hope that my brain would agree to shut down the swirling thoughts of deadlines and duties and allow me some much needed rest.

Turns out, last night was not the night my dream of a peaceful night's rest was going to come true.

At about 10pm, when I was starting to make my move to close up shop and make a run for the covers, I heard a tearful, plaintive cry from my youngest's bedroom. At that time of night, when a certain little one should have been asleep for over an hour, any cries for Mommy can't be good.

I went to her and found a shaky, weepy child obviously feeling sick and quite possibly about to throw up but fighting it with all her might. Like most of us, Annie is not a fan of throwing up. I assured her that she was in good company.

For the next two hours, I traveled with her back and forth from her bed to the bathroom as she went through waves of feeling better and then flooded with the uncomfortable queasy feelings again. We finally settled ourselves on the cold, hard tile of the bathroom floor. She rested her head on her pillow while she verbalized with stunning clarity everything she was feeling about her experience.

It was funny for me to listen to my "talker" and think about how even in illness my kids have their own unique dispositions and methods for coping. As a little boy, Jack was downright pleasant when momentarily flattened by the latest bug going around. An undemanding little patient, who would bear his suffering unceremoniously and without complaint. His disarming sweetness almost made the sight of him lying ill all the more difficult to witness.

Timothy, healthy as a horse and hardly sick a day in his life, is far more offended and resentful when illness finally takes him down. Our competitive, tenacious child views any malady as one more adversary to be defeated and maligned. He is certain that *someone* must be to blame for this setback and heaven help you if he decides you are among the suspect. Lucky for all of us, his sturdy constitution generally brings him back to good health quickly.

No surprise, Annie requires a great deal of love and attention when she feels poorly. Nothing soothes her more than the reassurance of knowing she has mom and dad's full sympathy and attention. But Annie also processes almost any experience verbally and the experience of feeling sick is no exception.

While kneeling near the toilet bowl, just in case, she proceeded to engage in her own self-help version of therapy, all in her small, pathetic, shaky, tired voice.

I just wish that I could know if I'm going to throw up or not, then I wouldn't be so worried. I just feel worried because I don't know what to expect. I don't like throwing up but I know that sometimes after you throw up you feel better. Right, Mommy? How many times have you thrown up, Mom? Do you ever feel worried and scared about it? Did you feel better afterward? Why does God have to let people be sick? I know it's because he made us to be human and so he lets human things happen to us... 

(heaven help me, the child actually hears me. I better increase my prayers for wisdom so I don't say anything too stupid),

...but I still wish he would stop people from being sick since he loves us so much.

(she's a budding theologian, my girl...)

Mommy, would you pray for me right now? Actually, just pray in your head, when you pray out loud it makes me feel like I'm going to throw up.

(good to know-I'll avoid praying out loud in public lest I cause people around me to start vomiting).

This went on for two hours as I attempted to stroke, soothe, calm, pray, quiet and sing her anxieties away. As it neared midnight and I could see fatigue starting to win out over whatever discomfort she was feeling, I let out a sigh myself and without thinking muttered, "Oh, Annie...I'm so tired."

She lifted her heavy head off of her pillow in alarm and asked frantically, "Are you going to go to bed and leave me by myself?"

Brushing her hair back from her face and shushing her quietly I quickly assured her that, no, I was not going anywhere. I would stay with her as long as she needed me, even if that meant all night.

Her weary head relaxed and settled again into her pillow and with her eyes heavy with exhaustion she mumbled, "Because you're my Mommy....right?"

I thought of the dozens of reasons I wouldn't leave her sick and alone lying on the bathroom floor, but none of them seemed as good a reason as that one right there. It's the reason we all soldier through disruptive school projects, rainy soccer games, messy pumpkin carvings, hundreds of school paper edits, college application essays, and late, long nights sitting on a very cold, very hard tile floor with nothing more than a penguin shaped Pillow Pet for comfort.

Because I'm their Mommy.

Here's to the Mommies. Hang in there this week. We are all in this together.



Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A thousand words

Very slowly, the immediate agony subsides. Around the edges of that opening, things begin to heal. Scar tissue forms. The hole remains, but instead of allowing only a constant stream of emptying, it begins to permit things to enter. We receive some of the love and wisdom that loss has to give us. Now is when loss can have content beyond the ache. This is the time to create meaning. Pay attention to what comes in that open space. Nothing can make the pain go away. Making loss meaningful is not making loss disappear. The loss endures, and time will not change that truth. But now it has some purpose.                ~Rabbi David Wolpe (from Making Loss Matter)

Jack is having his senior pictures taken in two weeks. I'm a little behind with this one which I blame on a mix of denial and my usual procrastination tendencies. Some people who know me might find it surprising to hear that I am a procrastinator but that's because I hide it under a carefully constructed veneer of perceived competence and efficiency. Ultimately, I will always finish a job and usually I will finish it well so no one is the wiser of how much of it came together in the 11th hour. Someday I'm going to write a book titled, The Organized Procrastinator, but I keep putting it off so I wouldn't hold your breath.

Lucky for me, I have a dear friend who is a gifted professional photographer and she was happy to sneak Jack into her busy fall schedule so he won't have to wonder someday why he was the only one of the graduating seniors not to have any formal pictures taken. I'm always trying to stay one step ahead of winning that Laziest Mother of the Year award, but there are some days it feels like it is breathing down my neck. Especially lately... what with it being October and all.

As I was emailing my friend, Lynette, about scheduling Jack's pictures, I couldn't help but think about the interesting turns life takes and the fact that if it weren't for my babies, Joseph and Molly, I might never have met Lynette. That would have been a loss on so many levels not the least of which is the simple gift of Lynette herself, as vibrant a personality as you would ever want to meet. But it would also have meant that I would have missed the opportunity to be a part of something very special.

It's amazing to me to look back and remember how early on I knew that my twins were leading me to something that would bring meaning to their short stay on this earth. Even in the midst of deep grief, I knew I needed to have my eyes open for where they were taking me. I had complete faith that once the thickest fog lifted there was going to be a place or a task or a mission that I could pour all of my broken heart into. But I also had the sense to take my time. To wait. To resist the urge to jump toward the thing that appeared the most obvious. Because I knew my strengths weren't going to be in the areas of direct fundraising, organizing major events or even just licking and stamping envelopes. All important, necessary work in the world of charities and non-profits, but I wanted to land somewhere where I could have an impact using the gifts I felt I had to offer. Quieter gifts. Behind the scenes support and maybe a little writing? I wasn't sure... I didn't have any idea where it might be or what it might look like, but I was prepared to wait.

In the waiting, we approached the second anniversary of our twins' birthday (it's hard to know what to call that day, but for simplicity we opt for birthday). One of the things I decided I wanted to do for myself in honor of their birthday was to figure out a way to make sure the few photos we had of them were preserved properly. We had a handful of photos taken with the hospital camera and then also some polaroids. Frankly, none of them were wonderful and my mother's eyes felt they didn't do justice to the sweetness of our tiny babies but they were all we had and I was determined to make sure they would last a lifetime. I knew that my little home scanner was not enough to make quality images of the polaroids that we could then save to a CD but I was positively terrified to take them outside of my home. Where exactly are you going to go with such sensitive photos? You can't exactly walk up to the photo counter of your neighborhood drugstore and casually explain what it is you need. Nor was I willing to send them off to some online service for fear that I might never see them again. I was stymied but still determined.

Around that time there was a new, local non-profit establishing itself that was garnering quite a lot of media attention. It was founded by Lynette Johnson, a well-known local photographer who had been quietly offering her services to Children's Hospital to photograph children with life threatening conditions. For many families, the only chance they have to get beautiful, professional-quality photographs of their child is if a photographer comes to the hospital where their child must spend his or her days. That can be difficult for a family to not only think to arrange but also to know how to find a photographer comfortable handling a potentially difficult photo shoot. Lynette's story is long and amazing and I won't attempt to do it justice here, but in short, as she worked with more and more families she became painfully aware of an unmet need in our community. A need she was uniquely gifted to fill. Today, Soulumination, the non-profit Lynette founded has a team of over 30 volunteer photographers who will give their time, free of charge, to photograph families facing the unthinkable- a gravely ill infant or child. They have also since expanded their mission to include families in which a parent is terminally ill. Their mission and gift is to provide these special families with gorgeous professional photos and they do it in a way that would take your breath away. It's so much more than photos... these are memories. Priceless memories.

When I learned about Lynette, and Soulumination, I thought they would be able to help me in my quest to preserve our twins' photos. I wasn't looking for anything more than guidance since our photographs were already taken and we couldn't turn back the hands of time to improve upon them (though I wish we could have), but I felt this was at least someone I could trust to understand what I was looking for. Initially, I sent an email, feeling far too vulnerable and nervous to try and talk with someone on the phone about these photos that I had never shown to anyone outside my immediate family. Even after sending the email I had regrets wondering if I was really ready to go down that road. Well, I had to get over those regrets quickly because in a day or so after sending my email I got a phone call from Lynette. And in her fantastically Lynette way, she cut right to the chase. She was kind and sensitive, of course, but she was also unafraid to ask me some very direct questions about the photos, our babies and our experience. Having worked with so many grief-stricken families Lynette is a rarity in that she is able to look loss straight in the eye, with great love and empathy, but without flinching.

She insisted I bring the photos to her office which then housed both her professional photography business and Soulumination. She felt confident they would be able to do everything I wanted themselves, all I had to do was trust them. It was several years later that Lynette learned how truly poignant that day was for me. I didn't tell her at the time that this was the first time anyone outside of my family had seen these photos. She had no way of knowing how fragile I felt handing them over to her, waiting for her reaction. She also couldn't have known then how much it meant to me to have her respond to their little faces as though they were the perfect baby photos everyone hopes to have. "Oh! Aren't they just little angels!" Which, of course, they were.

And that was the beginning. The beginning of our friendship and the beginning of my involvement with Soulumination. Sometime later I was asked to be on the Board of Directors for Soulumination and my primary responsibility during that time was to write and produce the annual newsletter which was a labor of love I enjoyed for many years. In producing the newsletter, I had the blessing of seeing the images of many of our Soul families day in and day out as I worked with the layout and copy. I knew all of their names and even in the tiniest faces I could see that unique spark gifted to each one of us at our birth. It was, for me, holy work.

There are so many incredible people and organizations doing important work in the world and both my faith and my heart compel me to try and support as many of them as I can. But one of the things I learned from my work with Soulumination is that even as we struggle to fight against the seemingly insurmountable injustices that plague our world, we cannot forget the power of offering a gesture of kindness and compassion to one person at a time. Photographs are not likely to bring us world peace, but they can bring an enormous amount of peace to the hearts of parents afraid that their precious, irreplaceable memories of their child might one day fade.

So, during this week in which thoughts of our heavenly babies are closer than at any other time of the year, I wanted to thank them for the gifts they have given me and the special spark they brought to the world. Love you always, little ones.

"...each person's life has meaning simply by virtue of carrying his or her own Divine spark into the world. But also we help create meaning for the lives who touch us. When we change our lives because someone else has changed us or moved us, we create meaning for the other person's life as well." ~Rabbi David Wolpe

This prayer flag was created for and displayed at
Soulumination's 5 year Anniversary Celebration





Monday, October 15, 2012

Muscle memory

October arrived late this year. And by that I mean that the rain didn't start until October 13, after a virtually rain-free September. We have been spoiled with a glorious early fall here in the Pacific Northwest but now October has arrived. And, as my husband likes to say, rain is in the forecast from now until April.

Sigh...

I love the fall. I really do. I don't even mind the turn of season we've had in the last few days in which the temperature has dropped, the mornings are darker and as if on cue, the leaves seemed to have figured out they are supposed to start changing color and dropping. We went from indian summer to autumn in one very short 48 hour span of time and part of me finds it reassuring and lovely. We Northwesterners are accustomed to a change of season and it can almost be disconcerting when one season lingers too long, drifting into the next one. Although, I'll admit, we are less bothered when summer is the season that decides to hang around to close down the party. We may enjoy our four seasons but aren't afraid to admit our favoritism for the sunny months.

But I'm realizing that this year October couldn't come at a worse time.

The other night, Superdad and I were lounging together enjoying a rare moment of respite, watching Modern Family, and thoroughly relishing a 30 minute window where we intentionally opted to do nothing. As the credits rolled though, all of the duties of life came intruding back into my brain and I commenced a long, borderline whiny lament to my blessedly attentive husband.

Ugh. I just can't stop thinking about all of the stuff that has to be done in the next month, let alone this weekend. Tim still has that stupid science project to finish and, I'm sorry, but it really is a stupid project. Just give the boy a test- he'll ace it and I won't have to be drawn into the web of suffering. Jack is only about 1/3 of the way done with his Thesis and he still needs several outside sources which have been almost impossible to find. Not to mention the minor detail of those college essays he needs to write. I'm starting to think we can kiss any of the Nov. 15 early action deadlines goodbye, which is just great. And on top of all of that, I can't stand how disorganized the house has become and I'm getting close to throwing out every single thing we own and we can start living like hippies. And even though you know I love to organize things, love to get things whipped into shape, love to assist with filling out forms and managing deadlines- I can't seem to get my head around any of this stuff right now. I feel completely unmotivated and find myself wishing I could take a nap every single afternoon. What is up with that?!? What on earth is wrong with me??

Superdad just smiled sympathetically as I took a breath and allowed my rant to quiet and disappear into the air like a deflating balloon. He reached over, gave me a big squeeze and gave me the answer I'd been looking for in just three words.

Because it's October.

And he was right. I don't know why it still catches me by surprise every year that the seemingly innocuous act of turning a page on the calendar, and the inevitable arrival of fall weather should knock me off my game so significantly. It really shouldn't be a surprise anymore. But now that the other eleven months of the year pass so peacefully I get lulled into a fall sense of calm that this will be the year that October will feel like any other month.

Nine years ago, at the end of October,  I birthed, held and said goodbye to our tiny, too-small-to-stay, infant son and daughter. Our twins, Molly and Joseph, arrived too soon and left us too soon which is a story too big to tell in its entirety right now but has left us with a twist in our family tale that we never expected or wanted. And I'm learning yet again this year that whether I choose to make it so or not, October will always be their month.

I know that sounds sad. And, of course, it is a sad memory. But honestly, after having been given the gift of time and distance, October isn't about sadness anymore. That's not what it is. It's a quiet remembering, with maybe just a hint of melancholy. There is even some happiness in the remembering simply because most of the time now I don't give myself much time to go back to those feelings and think about what was, what we had hoped for, what might have been; most importantly the children we planned for, prayed for, wanted, loved and love still. In October I am forced to give myself that time, one way or another, because it's all wrapped up in the season, the weather, the pumpkins on porches and everything that is October.

But this year is hard because of all the pressing to-do's. Many of them aren't really my to-do's but they require my help, my support and a little guidance. They aren't the sort of things that can be put on the back burner to be dealt with at a later date.

You learn a lot when you go through something traumatic. Not that you want to hear that when you are in the midst of wading through suffering. In fact, I should be clear, you do not want to hear that when you are in the thick of grief. Ever. Those of us standing on the outside of someone else's experience of loss must resist the temptation to offer pithy platitudes or awkward attempts to find the silver lining. I beg of you. Inevitably, whether we want to or not (and I would venture to say that we do not), we will all learn the lessons that loss has to teach us, but they are ours to learn, in our own time, in our own way.

One of the things I gained through my experience was the ability to prioritize and to really examine who I was and what was important to me. I let a lot of responsibilities go during those months following our loss and one of the few gifts of grief is that people will usually let you. When I started to emerge from the thickest fog I had a unique opportunity, the chance to decide what I was going to allow back into my life and what I was done with forever. Nine years later, I can say that I am still very careful about where I choose to land and to what things I will give my time and energy.

So, now the challenge in the remaining weeks of October is how to find a balance. How to press through and get done what needs to be done, and how to recognize I may not be running at full speed so what then can be left until a later time when I have more energy to give?

What would really be helpful is some sort of time freezing technology. Something where I can freeze a few days here and there between now and the end of the month where I can give myself 24 hours to just rest, read, relax, reflect etc... and then rejoin the world of housework, home management, college applications, work duties, and school projects without having lost a minute.

Is there an app for that?

Can somebody get on that for me??

I carry you with me into the world,
into the smell of rain & the words that dance between people
And for me, it will always be this way,
walking in the light,
remembering being alive together.
~Brian Andreas


Monday, October 8, 2012

He ain't heavy

I love to read. A lot. I mean, when I say I love to read I actually mean I love to read. And, yes, I would marry the act of reading if I could (if I were not already, in fact, married- because a polygamist I am not).

I've already made it clear that I have tendency to fall in love with books rather quickly. But I'll be the first to admit that my love affairs with books tend to be a bit fickle and short-lived because I'm usually onto the next love-of-my-life book within a day or two after finishing the previous oh-my-gosh-I-love-this-book. That's not to say that I fall in love with all of the books I read, I don't. Some of them definitely fail to light my fire. But, if I'm being honest, I'm pretty easy when it comes to falling in love with books.

However, there is a difference between the momentary flirtations I experience with the majority of books I read that come and go sometime between reading the first page and finishing the last, and the handful of books that have left a lasting imprint on my heart.

One such book that will forever go down in Lori's Literary Hall of Fame is A Prayer for Owen Meany.

I need to stop right here and offer a word of caution. I love Owen Meany so much that I get a wee bit defensive over any criticism, constructive or not, of this literary gem. For me, my passion for Owen Meany could be likened to some people's deep and abiding devotion to their political views. You know how you have those friends with whom you would never dare reveal any of your political leanings that might run counter to theirs for fear that their head might explode? That's me with Owen Meany. If you have read it and didn't like it, don't tell me. I might not ever be able to look at you the same way again. I'm not proud of this intolerance of mine, but the heart wants what it wants- and my heart is forever bound to one unforgettable character named Owen Meany.

This isn't intended to be a book review, there are plenty of places you can go to read a far more detailed and intellectual review of A Prayer for Owen Meany than I could produce. What brought Owen Meany to mind for me recently was two things. First, a dear, old friend of our family passed away this last week which was sad in and of itself, but also brought back up to the surface my own father's passing eight years ago as he and my father were old friends. In fact, this longtime friend of my parents gave the eulogy at my father's memorial service. Truly, a good man and a good friend.

The loss of my father was monumental in my life, occurring less than two years after the loss of our infant twins at birth. Suffice to say, I was well acquainted with grief during those years. In the days, weeks and months after my father died I found myself repeating over and over to myself the final line of Owen Meany. I had always thought it one of the best closing lines of any book I had read, but it took on a new poignancy for me in the wake of my father's death.

O God - please give him back! I shall keep asking you.

I'm still asking.

You will be relieved to know that the second reason Owen Meany has been on the tip of my tongue this week is far less sad. Simply, years ago, when I first read A Prayer for Owen Meany it helped me to come to grips with the reality that I will never, ever, ever, truly be able to understand the mind of a boy. This, in spite of the fact that I was raised with two brothers, grew up with boy cousins, attended gender-mixed schools throughout my entire education, and am now raising two sons myself. Some aspects of the inner workings of a boy's mind have always been and will always be a mystery to me. Quite specifically, the unique sense of humor of the male species.

Early on in the story of Owen Meany (in fact it arrives on the second page) there is a scene in which, John Wheelwright, the other main character of the story, relates how when they were children in Sunday School they would pick Owen up and pass him around over their heads because he was so small. The scene is relayed in great detail including Owen's trademark high pitched, loud voice shrieking to be put down. When I read this book for the first time (I re-read it every few years) I felt a mixture of horror and sympathy for the poor, pathetic, airborne Owen Meany. Every feminine, maternal instinct in me resisted finding even the slightest bit of humor in such a childish, thoughtless display.  In fact, I couldn't imagine any other reaction. And then, my father read the same book. My father... my gentle, kind, generous father who never raised his voice to me in my life. And yet, according to my mother who was seated next to him on the airplane while he was reading, he laughed hysterically while reading the very same scene that had filled me with such dismay.

When my mother questioned his reaction, because she too had read the book and had responded as I had, he could only wipe his eyes and shake his head and say, "Because it's funny!"

Boys. Sigh...

But the thing is, my guess is that John Irving thought that scene was funny too when he wrote it. And in any case, developing a wider tolerance for boy humor has only helped me to maintain my sanity in raising two sons of my own. Because let me tell you, my boys have a really odd sense of humor sometimes.

I am so lucky that my boys are both brothers and friends. Oh, they'd deny the use of the word "friends" only because they would find that word way too weird in describing a relationship that really requires no definition. They would just shrug and say, I don't know... he's my brother. But that's because they don't know how difficult family relationships can be. They don't know how lucky they are to have grown up together in relative harmony and to have arrived at this point in their lives still comfortable and content in the other's presence. I hope that will always be true for them.

What can't be denied, though, is that part of what bonds my boys is their bizarre and sometimes unexplainable sense of humor. Here's an example: My boys like to make fun of one another. They usually keep it pretty tame and they both truly find it a hysterical exercise in creativity. I, myself, have to take deep, cleansing breaths when they decide to engage in this twisted brand of conversation. Quite some time ago, Tim's favorite jab at Jack was to call him "slow". Slow as in speed, not intelligence. After awhile this got shortened to "low" (and you have to say it in a loooong, drawn out way) and now it is one of their favorite back and forth running jokes.

Tim: Hey, Jack! The doctor called and he said you forgot to take your low medicine.

Jack: Oh, Tim... paging Professor Low, your class is waiting for you to give your low lecture.

Tim: Ummm...Jack, are we going to need to be stopping to get gas for your low-mobile?

Jack: Captain Low? The tower has cleared your low-plane for take off.

Don't get the humor? You are in good company. But I have to admit, after awhile I get caught up in their goofy smiles and boyish laughter and can't help but start laughing along with them. Now I catch myself chuckling when hearing the latest "low" comment and thinking, "Oh, that was a good one!" Egads. What have these boys done to me?

What all of this has made me wonder though (you knew I had to get to a point eventually, right?), is whether they have any idea how much they are going to miss each other next year. Because they are. Maybe Timothy more than Jack because he will be the one left at home with no one to engage in a verbal sparring match, but I suspect even Jack will have his moments of longing for the simple familiarity of home and a brother who can always make him laugh.  I think that often when we think about the first child leaving the nest we focus on the impact on the parents, forgetting that there are siblings whose home environment has just changed dramatically as well.

Hopefully though, in this age of texting and Facebook and almost unlimited forms of instant contact they will find ways to continue to seek each other out and mock one another in ever-increasingly creative and mystifying ways. Isn't that every mother's dream? That her children will continue to taunt and provoke one another long into adulthood?

Well, when it leads to smiles like these... then, I guess, yeah... it is.







The highlight of my childhood was making my brother laugh so hard that food came out his nose.
~Garrison Keillor






Friday, September 28, 2012

Shifting gears

Great. Now I have a new annoying mantra running around in my head.

You'll remember this pithy little phrase that I adopted from that guru of self-help himself, Dr. Phil:

You don't have to want to do it, you just have to do it.

Ugh. I should be grateful for the number of times that phrase has gotten me into my running shoes and out the door, or helped motivate me to get the laundry folded, or forced me into going to the grocery store so I could...I don't know... feed my family, but I'm not. Nope, that grating southern drawl ringing in my head still does nothing but annoy me... but it does get me moving sometimes.

Now, thanks to a friend's inspirational quote on Facebook, I have some new words of wisdom making me want to kick something, or maybe just take a nap.

If you really want to do something, you will find a way. If you don't, you will find an excuse.

Ouch.

I'll confess my first inclination was to deflect the convicting tone of this message from myself and point it straight in the direction of my kids.

Oh, that is good. My kids need to hear this. I'm going to put that right on the refrigerator message board. They will read that and be instantly motivated to get their homework done, write their college essays (um, that was directed toward one kid in particular but I won't say who), clean their rooms and then learn a second language in their spare time. This is going to be a game-changer, that's what!

The refrigerator message board is one of my favorite tools of communication. I have it on good authority that my kids treat notes on that board as gospel. I haven't actually ever heard them say this but I imagine a little voice in their head saying something like, "Wow. I had not thought of that before. This is really something to ponder... How did I get so lucky to have a mother so full of wisdom? Where is my journal..." 


Aren't I inspirational? Can't you see why they love my messages so?
But as I was daydreaming of all the ways my children were going to be motivated to adopt a "no excuses" lifestyle, another voice intruded on my thoughts. And this voice was the one that is really worth listening to.

Why do you notice the splinter that's in your brother's or sister's eye [or your kid's], but don't notice the log in your own eye?

Ouch, again.

I've been making a lot of excuses lately.

Excuses for why I can't seem to get to the multiple closets in my house that desperately need to be cleaned out and organized. Excuses for why it takes me three days to get around to making one phone call. Excuses for why I haven't scheduled my mammogram yet (I swear, I'm getting to that one!) Excuses for why I am chronically a minimum of three weeks late sending out birthday cards and gifts to my nieces and nephews. Excuses for extending my no-more-than-one-day-without-a-shower rule to two. Excuses for never wearing anything other than workout clothes whether I have exercised or not (full length yoga pants are considered a dressy day). Excuses...excuses...excuses...

Some of those are issues worth exploring and some of those are peanuts in the grand scheme of thing, but the biggie that has been inspiring a whole host of excuses lately is my continued failure to meet my goal of having my family sit down to dinner, around the dining table and eat a meal together at least four nights a week. That has not been happening.

I could give you my list of excuses and, believe me, they are good. It's a long and exhaustive list but the bottom line is, do I really want this or not? Because apparently, according to the Facebook quote gods, if I really want this I will find a way. So, do I?

Honestly, I don't know.

I know I want to spend lots of time together talking as a family and being together as a family and enjoying one another's company. But, frankly, we do all of that really well even if it rarely involves sitting around the dining table. Is a meal eaten while perched around the breakfast counter, spent debating replacement refs and the Huskies 2012 potential any less of a family meal than one with proper place settings and softly, glowing candles? Maybe... but it sure feels like family time to me.

So, I'm backing off my goal of four family meals a week around the dining table and counting kitchen counter meals as "good enough" for at least two of those four meals. Let's shoot for two meals in the dining room each week. Probably no one is going to want to write a book about our minuscule attempt at "FAMILY DINNERS", but whatever. We aren't auditioning to be on a reality show, this is our reality. 

But I know I'm still going to need a push to get that table set and candles lit even two nights a week, so here we are back to that annoying motivating little message mentioned previously. I thought about putting it on the refrigerator message board but I knew that my kids (and possibly my husband) would take that to mean that it was aimed at them. And it's not. This has got my name written all over it. So instead, I put this on my bathroom mirror. 

This one is just for me.
And on the infamous refrigerator message board, I put this:

And this one is for them.
I'm sure they will want to journal about this too...
 Life's a journey, sometimes you gotta shift gears.

Look at me- spitballin' my own inspirational quotes... That one is goin' on the refrigerator right after Sunday dinner. I don't like my kids to go more than about two days without having a chance to bask in my wisdom.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The stories we tell

Families are full of stories. I feel very fortunate that both the family I was raised in and the family I am raising have been blessed with mostly good stories. Some are funny, some are quirky, some are touching, but most of them are good. That is something to be thankful for.

The thing about family stories though is you never know which ones are going to stick. My experience is that the most enduring family stories are usually ones that were never meant to be remembered at all. They just happened and something about that moment in time became forever lodged in a child's mind to be forever repeated, with hysterical laughter, around the Thanksgiving table long into adulthood.

This is one of the realities of family life that I keep reminding myself as I move forward through this year, this year of preparing to launch my firstborn. Because so few of those intentional moments and memories you try to create as a parent are going to be the ones that stick. And that's not to say that it isn't worth going out of your way to try to build special family moments or celebrations, you just have to be prepared that what your kids might take away from your artfully presented four-course dinner marking the changing of the leaves was when Tim fell out of his chair for no apparent reason, or when the dog (yes, let's blame the dog) let out a major stinker in the middle of saying grace.

Once, when the boys were young, I decided we should have a special Epiphany dinner complete with crowns, served on our best china, with small, symbolic gifts reminiscent of the gifts the Magi brought to Jesus. Isn't that sweet? Aren't I a good mom? Perhaps, but if you asked my boys they would have absolutely no recollection of that incredibly touching memory created by their mother completely on their behalf. None. I should know, I've asked them.

What they do remember is the time when I was holding baby Annie up above my head making her giggle and wiggle with glee when in her joy she blurped up her last meal which then landed in my mouth. They love to tell that story to anyone who will listen and the hilarity never seems to end. I'm certain that will be the story they pull out to regale the other senior citizens while visiting me in the nursing home. They are sweet, sentimental boys...

You really don't get to choose which stories stick.

At 7 years old, Annie is still in the process of building her repertoire of family stories, but already I have noticed a pattern. The stories that seem to embed themselves into her young memory are generally of two genres; either they are really funny, or they are really scary. Without putting labels onto my daughter who still has lots of time to grow and change in all sorts of ways, Annie can be a bit of a worrier and is rather easily frightened. We guard carefully the images that go into Annie's young mind because otherwise we know we will have a lumpy, sprawling visitor in the middle of our bed that night (and the next night, and the next night, and the next night....)

So, given Annie's dramatic leanings and tremendous fear of being alone, it would stand to reason that one of the stories she has begun to repeat (and repeat often) is the time she inadvertently ended up lost and alone for 15 minutes, in the dark of night, while we were on vacation in Hawaii. Not exactly a family story I intended to create.

Okay, so here's the thing... I have never claimed to be a perfect mom. In fact, I'm pretty willing to admit all of the ways I fall short of my own ideals. But if there is one thing I've been pretty darn consistent with over the years it is that I really, really try not to lose my kids. That one is always high on my parenting priority list. But once again, sometimes kids and their annoying tendency to act so childish have a way of thwarting our plans.

Here is the quick version: Annie, the boys and I were standing at the movie rental kiosk in the lobby of our hotel. Having made their selection the boys declared they were heading back to the condo. 30 seconds after they walked away, Annie asked if she could go with them. They had just disappeared from view so I told her, "okay, but if you don't see the boys right when you turn that corner you need to come straight back to me." Given her high level of fear of being alone, I felt pretty safe in assuming she would do just that. She didn't. Leave it to an unpredictable kid (a slightly fearful, anxious one at that) to pick that moment to try and earn her courage badge. Annie did not see the boys but felt confident she could find her way back on her own. Turns out she couldn't. Meanwhile, I arrived back at the condo, heard the boys watching TV in their room, started chatting with Superdad when suddenly my inner red flag went up. I asked quickly, "Where's Annie? Did she come back with the boys?" In about 10 seconds, after some frantic yelling toward the boy's room, we all determined that she wasn't there and everyone proceeded to fly out of the condo. I took the elevator, the boys all took the stairs and amazingly I hit the ground first. I raced back toward the lobby not knowing what else to do, frantically started looking around the outdoor restaurant when a waitress caught my crazed eyes and apparently knew exactly who I was and who I was looking for.  She pointed toward the bar and said, "She's right there." And there was my sweet girl, sitting on a bar stool sipping a lemonade. Hugging and weeping commenced. Thankfully, after having made a not-so-good choice (venturing out into the night alone) Annie made a very good choice once she realized she was lost. She went back to the place where she knew there were adults who could help her and we would be most likely to find her. Praise the Lord, seriously.

So, there you go. High drama. An exotic location. Live music in the background. It's a story just tailor-made to become etched on a child's psyche for all of eternity. Super.

But maybe, every once in awhile, we get a chance to change the narrative on what otherwise looked to be an indelible childhood memory.

Annie has been having a somewhat rocky start to her school year. Her perfectionist personality combined with somewhat anxious tendencies can make school a daunting place for her. She is a highly capable student with lots of friends and a teacher that she loves, but that doesn't stop her from imagining all the ways her day could suddenly, irrevocably go wrong. And those fears can spill into her home life where her once peaceful existence is now fraught with angst.

She was having one of those angst-driven moments when I took the occasion to try and remind her of all the blessings in her life. As we counted them together I offered, "And look at all the people who love you! Mommy loves you. Daddy loves you. Oma loves you. Your brothers love you."

She shot back, "My brothers don't love me!"

Of course I disagreed and we went round and round with the usual "but they tease me" and my explanations of "that has nothing to do with the fact that they love you, that's what brothers do"... all to no avail.

Then, I had a flash of inspiration. It was a risky flash of inspiration, but it was inspiration nonetheless. I weighed the potential downfall of bringing up her most painful memory to date and decided to boldly take the chance at putting a new spin on an old story.

I said to her, "Do you remember when you got lost in Hawaii?"

Her eyes widened in fear, shocked that I would initiate a conversation about that horrible night when usually I was trying to get her to forget it. She nodded mutely.

I went on, "Well, remember when I found you? Do you remember who came running up right behind me?"

She thought about that for a minute and answered slowly, "Ummm...Daddy?"

"Yep, and who else?"

Again, she paused and then said, "The boys?"

I nodded and told her quietly, "That's right. And you know I just realized that you don't really know that part of the story. What you don't know is that when we all figured out that you were missing your brothers dropped everything they were doing and ran out of that condo as fast as they could. They didn't even put on their shoes. They told me later that when they took the stairs it hurt their feet because they were jumping down them four steps at a time trying to get to the bottom as fast as they could. But they didn't care. All they cared about was finding you."

Unable to control herself, Annie's face transformed from one of fear to one of undeniable joy and contentment. The pleasure of this new memory was enough to quiet all of the anxiety and drama she allowed to build in her heart and give her peace.

A few days later, I overheard Annie talking with some of her friends while working on an art activity at Sunday School. I don't know how the conversation started but I heard Annie say, "You know what? One time when we were in Hawaii, I got lost and my brothers ran SO fast to find me, they didn't even put on their shoes!" Her friends were visibly impressed with her tale of heroism.

And I smiled, hoping that maybe this family story really does have a new ending now. That forevermore, when Annie reflects back on that night when she felt momentarily scared and alone, she will no longer remember it as a story of fear...but instead, a story of love. It was the night when her brothers raced out into the dark, with pounding hearts and bare feet, intent on only one thing- finding their little sister.

Hopefully, she will never again lose sight of the truth. That no matter how many silly ways they might tease her, or how often they seem disinterested in her little life and her seven year old ways... they will always come to her rescue.

And that's a true story.

The End







Thursday, September 13, 2012

Ostrich Parents

Last night I figured out what kind of parent I am (yes, it's only taken 17.5 years to put my finger on it...)

I know...I know... I said I hate labels. I know... I said I particularly hate parenting labels. And without exception I still stand by my previously professed hatred but the thing is, my label is just too perfect. So, I hereby give myself an exemption from my aforementioned ban on parenting labels. You can do that when you are living in a single-person dictatorship. It's a tricky balance holding all the power and yet being oppressed at the same time. It's a wonder I can sleep at night.

Anyway, last night was Curriculum Night for all three of my kiddos. That, too, was tricky since I am only one person and Superdad was not available to act as my alter ego for the evening. Even a split-personality-single-person-dictator has their limits and time travel is mine.

So, I had to make a choice. What I really wanted to do was to just attend Annie's 2nd grade Curriculum Night. Why? Because her school is two blocks away, and I work as a substitute teacher there so I already know her teacher and the curriculum quite well. In short, easy peasy. Nothing scary, no surprises.

But, for those very same reasons, I knew that where my presence was really required was at the high school both of my sons attend. I'm quickly discovering that Senior year is a never ending string of forms, dates, deadlines, "don't forgets" and late night panic sessions. And while I have done the Freshman year thing before, it's amazing what you forget in three years and Tim has some different classes then Jack had so prudence suggested that I get on board with the 9th grade curriculum as well (you know, that Prudence is always suggesting stuff... no offense, but she can really be an annoying busybody).

So, I got myself into my car and drove the 30 minutes to my boy's high school only to leave two hours later feeling slightly nauseous and missing my pants because they got scared off me during Block 1 of my eldest son's schedule.

In looking at the boy's schedules I had to decide which of their classes I felt were most critical to attend. Because, as I mentioned, I am only one person and have not mastered time travel. The one class of Jack's that I knew for sure I wanted to attend was his cohort class for his Senior Thesis.

Does the word "thesis" not immediately make you get a metallic taste in your mouth? No? You're lucky then because I thought I was on the verge of a stroke as soon as I started reading through the Thesis requirements.

I was so proud of Jack when he told me he wanted to take the Senior Thesis cohort the first quarter of the year so he could "get it over with". This was one of those times when I thought Prudence had interjected her thoughts and we were all the better for it. I'm starting to wonder if Prudence was just looking to set me up for a big fall (I've always suspected Prudence of having passive-agressive tendencies...).

I guess I was under the impression that the Senior Thesis was due at the end of the year and that you could take the cohort class any of the four quarters. I guess, now that I think about it, that doesn't really make sense. As it turns out, your Senior Thesis is due at the end of whichever quarter you've opted to take the cohort class. What does all that mean?

JACK'S SENIOR THESIS IS DUE NOVEMBER 2!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Oh lordy... my mouth tastes like pennies again.

So, after I peeled myself up off the floor in Jack's Block 1 Senior Thesis cohort class the rest of the night kind of went downhill from there.  Not because anything I heard the rest of the evening was anywhere near as terrifying as the Senior Thesis due date but because I felt like it was all a never ending litany of everything that was going to come along in the next nine months to wreak havoc on my otherwise happy, peaceful home. A single-person dictator really doesn't care for feeling out of control, it's in the job description.

And so that's when it came to me. I'm an Ostrich Parent. I want to stick my head in the sand and ask someone to come along and tap me on the rear when the school year is over. Hopefully by that time I will get to re-enter the world only to find out that Jack has graduated, been admitted to college, and has started remembering to wear his retainer on a nightly basis. In addition, I will be delighted to discover that Tim made the high school soccer team, continued his academic excellence, grew three more inches and got his braces off. And Annie... well, now I'm going to miss watching her grow up over the next nine months. But an Ostrich Parent has got to do what she's go to do. Hopefully she won't have grown so much that I won't recognize her and she will still ask me every single day, "Mom, what kind of dog breed do you want to be today?"

Now you know where to find me if you need me. I'm the one with her butt up in the air and her head in the sand. It may not be flattering, but it's way less scary.