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 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.


~ 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.


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.