Friday, December 13, 2013

Imperfectly perfect

Whenever I see posts from people saying goodbye to their beloved pet, it seems like most of them have beautiful, touching things to say about their furry friend.

World's Best Dog

My Best Friend

One of a Kind

Today we said goodbye to our 10 year old Golden Retriever, Reagan, and I can say almost none of those things about him.

He was not the World's Best Dog.

He was not my "best friend". In truth, at times he felt like my nemesis.

But, he was indeed, one of a kind. And in the end that is why we are shedding tears and mourning the passing of our big, crazy-making, food-obsessed, disobedient, infuriatingly lovable dog.

He was not the "World's Best Dog". But he was our dog.

And in fairness to Reagan, he didn't come to us at the easiest time. We didn't know it was a bad time, or that it would become a bad time, but maybe we should have known better. We had two young boys and I was pregnant with twins. Probably not the best time to bring a puppy into the family. But we were grieving the loss of our Labrador, Shelby, and getting a dog seemed to make sense. We were not thinking clearly.

But we did indeed get a puppy. An adorable, high energy Golden Retriever puppy. Reagan became a part of the family and we never looked back.

He was horribly nippy and mouthy and food obsessed from the get-go. He tormented five-year-old Timothy relentlessly. Reagan clearly decided that Tim was low-man on the totem pole and he was going to at least get above him in the hierarchy. If I turned my back for a second I would hear Timothy screaming for help in the backyard as Reagan had ahold of the edge of his shirt or, worse yet, the crotch of his shorts and wouldn't let go. I hate to think back on how many of Timothy's shirts and shorts were ruined that first summer Reagan came home.

Even after we got past the mouthy puppy behavior, Reagan continued to be a handful.

He flunked Puppy Obedience. We sent him away to Boot Camp and even those seasoned trainers could only shake their heads and say, "Good luck" when they returned him to us.

He would gulp down socks (not chew...not shred....GULP) which resulted in a very expensive surgery during which they removed two socks and a dishtowel from his small intestine. Our children quickly became experts at keeping socks out of reach. We became the household that routinely had piles of socks sitting in windowsills or on the tops of bookshelves.

He would steal any food within reach.

He ate the Christmas lights.

No amount of training ever got him to properly walk on a leash without the use of a prong collar.

He would never come when called unless bribed with food.

He was big and pushy and stubborn and I spent many years wondering if this dog would ever reveal any redeeming qualities.

And then, Annie came along.

Our sweet, dog-loving Annie. Maybe she came into the world pre-programmed to be the dog-lover that she is, or maybe it's because she was born into a house already over-run with one giant, larger-than-life dog. But whatever the reason....Annie loved Reagan.

She just loved him.

She never saw him the way the rest of us did. She had no negative memories, no torn shirts, no lingering resentments over money spent on surgeries, failed training and replacement clothes. She only knew him as the older, more mature dog that he had become and she loved him.

And her pure, unconditional love and acceptance of Reagan, helped the rest of us to love him, too.

Annie's love cast Reagan in an entirely new light.

We were reminded that he didn't have a mean bone in his body, and he never had.

That in the same way Annie loved him, with all his quirks, faults and foibles, he gave us that same love in return. We weren't perfect either. We hadn't always been able to give him all the time and attention he needed. And yet, he still loved us.

And maybe we would have come around in his senior years either way, but aided by the love between the two of them, we are happy to say that we spent the second half of Reagan's life enjoying him and appreciating him in a way that I can't really say we did for the first half.

Reagan was not by any stretch the World's Best Dog. But he was a good dog. He was our dog. And in his final act of graciousness he spent the last two years of his life being an exceptionally good role model and companion for our new dog.

You forget what puppies are like. We didn't realize what we would be asking of Reagan bringing a puppy into his life when he himself was a senior citizen. We had moments of wondering if we had made a terrible mistake.

But I don't worry about that anymore. Reagan helped Rooney to settle into his new home. He taught him to swim. He gave him companionship. And in return, I think Rooney gave Reagan companionship, too. I think he made these last years more interesting and playful. I think it was good. I hope it was good.

And so, we say goodbye.

Goodbye to our faithful friend.

And in saying goodbye, we will remember all that was good about our Reagan.

He was so friendly.

He was tolerant.

He was a champion swimmer.

He never met a meal, a morsel, or a crumb he didn't like.

He was handsome.

He was quiet and unflappable.

He loved us.

He was loved.

Monday, December 2, 2013


I've taken a little heat for the speed with which we moved onto decorating for Christmas this year. The turkey carcass was practically still sitting on the counter when we hauled all of the Christmas boxes up from storage and started decking our halls with boughs of holly. I could give you a long list of reasons why we were completely justified in leaving Thanksgiving behind so quickly but the biggest reason of all, the one that I challenge any of you to try to resist, would have to do with one little girl who simply loves Christmas.

It really isn't her fault. She cannot be judged for her inordinate love of all things Christmas-y and tinsel-y and Christmas carol-y...because, the thing is, it's in her blood.

At the risk of blowing your mind on this early Monday morning and sending you running for that second, third or fourth cup of coffee, I have a pretty big secret to share. Well, at least it's a secret to some of you. Some of you, and you know who you are, won't be the least bit surprised. But the rest of see, what you might not realize, and will likely come as a bit of a shock to those who have only known me as an adult is...okay...brace yourselves...

I grew up as the daughter of Santa Claus.

I'm sure some of you are smiling, or perhaps wrinkling your brow in confusion, or chuckling, imagining that I am simply telling a cute joke. I am not joking. And I can assure you that any of my oldest, dearest friends- those closest to me and my family as a child-some of whom might be reading this at this very moment-are not chuckling. They are nodding in all seriousness, and would solemnly tell you if asked, "Oh, yes, it is absolutely true. Her father was Santa Claus."

Because they know.

And it wasn't just because my father donned his red suit and beard almost every year of his adult life, thrilling children and adults alike with his booming laugh and jolly spirit.

It wasn't just because he always seemed to know the right thing to say to encourage a shy child to share their deepest heart's desire.

It wasn't just because both babies and awkward teenagers never seemed to balk at taking their place on his knee, sensing him completely worthy of their trust.

It wasn't just because of who he was on that one day each year.  Even though everyone saw and knew and believed he was Santa Claus on that one day.

But the real reason we knew, why we still know, was because everyone saw and knew and believed he was Santa Claus everyday of the year.

He laughed like that everyday. He could get any child to warm up to him, everyday. He loved babies and teenagers alike, everyday. He gave and he gave and he gave....everyday.

And I miss him...everyday.

But especially at Christmas.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

For as long as it lasts

This morning, Annie asked me what superpower I would choose if I could choose any power from the infinite store of superpowers in the universe (okay, she might not have said it exactly like that).

Me: I would choose the power to keep you my little girl forever and ever.

Annie (indignant and annoyed): No! You have to choose a power that will SAVE THE WORLD!

Ah, details, details.

Of course, she was right. Pretty selfish of me to muddy up my one chance to dramatically alter the course of the universe with my own petty, small feelings. But in that moment, as I brushed her hair, braiding her still-growing bangs out of her eyes, it was what I really wanted. Just for that moment.

The other night I proposed getting a special doll for Annie's big Christmas gift. Superdad had his doubts about my decision. He asked, "Does she really need another doll? How much longer do you think she is even going to play with those dolls?"

Something along these lines is what erupted from my mouth:

But that's exactly why she needs a doll for Christmas! Because she's still asking for one! Because she's not asking for a cell phone or an iPod or make up or a belly ring! She still wants A DOLL! She still gets that catalogue and pores over it showing me all the things that would be "so cute" and "so fun" and tells me she is going to ask Santa for that doll because even though she knows she doesn't need another doll she thinks it's okay to ask Santa because that doesn't cost us anything. SHE STILL BELIEVES IN SANTA, for goodness sake! SHE STILL WANTS A DOLL AND NEXT CHRISTMAS THAT MIGHT NOT BE TRUE ANYMORE SO WE ARE GETTING HER A DOLL!

I can't say for certain because it's all a little foggy after that, but I'm pretty sure Superdad responded with,

You are absolutely right, Honey. Get her the doll.

He's not only a super dad, he's a smart husband.

A lot of my writing this past year has focused on our eldest child leaving home and going to college and it's true there has been a lot of letting go involved in that process. But, truth be told, a lot of letting go had already happened long before we got to the final launch.

I'm sure every parent has different weak points. Maybe you crumble a little seeing your baby grow into a walking, talking toddler. Maybe it's that first day of Kindergarten. Maybe it's their first real dance or getting their driver's license. Maybe it's their first summer sleep-away camp. Most of those were pretty easy for me. Sure there was wistfulness or maybe even concern for their well-being, but none of those things brought me to the moment of truth. That moment when you know you have to let go and yet all you want to do is to hold on tight.

I'm realizing that for me that moment isn't a moment at all. It happens over days and weeks and months. It is that imperceptible line that separates little kids from big kids. It is the point you realize they don't get out their toys anymore. That vague realization that you don't hear them talking to themselves in their rooms anymore pretending to be...something. When you notice that prized Captain Hook doll never comes out of the toy box anymore. The costume box sits undisturbed and in place of cars and dinosaurs and dolls strewn about, there are sports shoes and hand held electronics and garbage from that late night snack.

I love my big kids. I truly enjoy many, many things about having teenagers. And I will enjoy Annie as a big kid and teenager, too. I will. But I will feel a little sad when she is done with dolls and stuffed animals and her beloved Dog Academy figurine set.

The hard truth is, there have been too many reminders for me in this past year that to see your children grow up is nothing short of an incredible privilege and blessing. To wish it to be otherwise is forgetting what that would really mean. So, I do not really wish for the power to keep my girl a little girl forever.

But I will enjoy it while it lasts.

And she IS getting a doll for Christmas.

Friday, October 25, 2013

No two are alike

This was originally written five years ago. At that time, I was asked by a collaborative online grief support site to write about the intersection of loss and faith. It's a long story as to how and why I was asked, but I was and I did. I have written a lot of things over the years but this one has always stood out for me as one of the most honest things I've ever written. It has become a sort of testimony for me in the larger sense of the word. It is my story and it is my truth. 

I have updated it to reflect this 10 year anniversary, which has felt strangely significant. I don't know why a number should matter so much but it seems to. So, thank you to the friends and strangers reading this who will allow me this 10 year mark to be a bit sentimental. I'll try to tone it down for the 11th. 

And just in case this story makes you concerned that I am spending my day tucked in bed with the covers over my head, I'd refer you to my post of the other day. I am completely okay. I'm just using this mile marker as an opportunity to share some things I haven't before. Sort of a release before I move on to the next phase of the journey. 

So, I'm okay, friends. But I'm not ruling out a nap.

No Two Are Alike

It was January and it was snowing. Great big fat flakes were floating down and, even more exciting, they were sticking to the ground. It was enough to make two young boys nearly hysterical.

I helped them piece together whatever suitable outdoor clothing we could find and sent them out the door in ill-fitting snow boots from last year and adult sized stocking caps that kept falling down over their eyes. They whooped and hollered and started scraping together snowballs from the wafer-thin blanket of snow that had accumulated on the grass.

I retreated upstairs to my bedroom, my sanctuary, and leaned on the windowsill watching them from above. It had been less than three months since I had birthed, held, loved and said good-bye to my other two - the two that now existed only in my dreams. Silent tears slipped down my cheeks as I struggled yet again with my inability to find joy in a scene that was nothing less than joy-filled. Two glorious, living, breathing, sturdy boys. Mine. But my thoughts were consumed by the two that were missing.

During those long three days in the hospital prior to Joseph and Molly’s birth, and then death, I felt held. I prayed only for God’s presence and He was there.

He was there in the nurses who ministered to us with such tenderness and mercy. He was there in the family members who waited with us in silent support even when we refused to see anyone. He was there in our friend, an ordained minister, who abandoned all of the duties of her own life to come to us in our time of need. He was there in the remarkable peace that surrounded us during the hours we held our babies, loving them, memorizing them, struggling to figure out how to let them go. I felt sustained by the prayers and rituals of our faith that were offered up on our behalf. Tears were everywhere, but so was grace.

I thought that presence that had been so easy to recognize in the hospital would follow me home. It didn’t.

I thought the peace I had felt when my babies were here would continue in their absence. Again, no. Life moved on so quickly, it had to.  Boys at the ages of five and eight don’t understand periods of mourning, or a mother who can’t find the energy to help them with their homework or to volunteer in their classroom. Guilt heaped on top of grief and I found myself drowning. 

Through it all I tried to pray. I tried to cling to all that I had always known to be true in the hopes that it would bring some kind of comfort. I tried. But most of the time my prayers didn’t get any further than, God, please help me...

Help me what? Help me heal? Help me still be a mother to the children who are here with me? Help me stop torturing myself with all of the things I believe I should have done differently? Help me stop doubting my babies’ value, and my right to grieve their absence? Yes, all of that. That, and so much more. 

I gave into many demons during those days. I agonized myself with all that I had done wrong, and shut myself off from everyone who cared. But the one voice I never gave credence to was the one that tried to claim this was God’s will. The devil didn’t win that one. I had reconciled long before this tragedy that I was a part of a larger story; a story of a broken world and a broken relationship with God. Accidents, illness, disease, all evidence of a creation gone wrong. As a Christian, I believe the Incarnation and the Resurrection restored our relationship to God, but Creation is still in need of repair. The Kingdom has not yet come. The world is still broken and we see that brokenness in a thousand different ways every day.

Leaning on my windowsill that snowy afternoon, I felt myself slipping into doubt, into despair. Over and over I thought of the cry of that anguished father in the Gospel of Mark: Lord, I believe; please help my unbelief. And in that moment I felt something. It wasn’t peace. It didn’t erase the sorrow in my heart. It was more like awareness, a window opening to a place that I hadn’t seen before.

In that space, for just a moment, I heard His voice.

I’m here. They mattered. They matter to me. They were my beloved. You are my beloved. They are with me and they are perfect. You will be okay, I promise. I am here... I am always here.

In the quiet of that blessed assurance I looked out the window and saw my boys working together to try and gather every ounce of snow they could find to build a miniature snowman. From the depths of my soul, I smiled.

It’s been ten years now and I still hold onto that moment of clarity.

It is the voice that tells me it is okay that I am still here, still writing about them, still remembering them, and still missing them. It is also the voice that tells me it is okay that I am happy again, that joy returned. It is the voice of love in all its forms. The love that weeps over those we miss, and the love that rejoices in the blessings of today.

I believe in love.  I believe that God is the source of that love. I believe we are called to love and that in doing so we assist God in repairing the world. And I believe that my babies, my son and daughter, are wrapped forever in eternal love - both mine and God’s.

I believe.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Beautiful and terrible things

Ah, if only you knew the peace there is in an accepted sorrow.
~Jeanne De la Motte-Guyon

The first time I read this quote, it annoyed me.

It felt just a little too much like being patted on the head and gently chucked under the chin while being told to, "Buck up, little camper!"

But then I couldn't get it out of my head. It just stayed there, whispering to me through the years, as though it really did know something that I didn't.

Now when I read those words, I hear an entirely different voice. I no longer hear the condescending, chiding tone telling me to "get over it" that I once heard. Instead, it is the sound of a gentle friend, patting my knee, offering a glimpse of hope while at the same time still honoring a very real and present pain.

For me, these are the words you think to yourself- while wishing them for someone else- but never saying them out loud. Because if it is too soon, then they will be just what they were for me- annoying. Or worse yet, hurtful.

These are the words you come to when you have reached the other side.

Occasionally, I write about stuff that's a little deeper than my usual fare. I'm always appreciative of my friends and readers who seem to be able to tolerate the whiplash that must come from reading this little blog. Entirely lighthearted stuff mixed in with the heavy can make one a little seasick sometimes, but I'm finding it's hard for me to do otherwise because that's really what life is. It's messy.

This post generated more traffic than anything I have ever written which surprised me as much as anyone. I don't write here with the purpose of developing a large readership. I really just write for me and for the handful of people in my life who seem to enjoy hearing what I have to say (probably because I've always communicated better in writing than in actual speech-go figure). Which is why it was startling to see the number of "hits" on that post go steadily up and up and up, knowing that most of those people reading my words had to be strangers to me. It's an odd feeling.

But what this tells me is that we all secretly crave a certain measure of vulnerability in our lives. I think all of us, at one time or another, have wanted nothing more than the assurance that our feelings and experiences are not completely outside the range of "normal". We all want to know that we are not crazy! 

So, to the extent that I might have been able to offer that assurance of normalcy to other people in the world, strangers or not, I am glad.

The only complication I have in writing about some of my experiences is I fear it can make people think they need to offer me something. That I am seeking condolences or support or sympathy. I felt that after writing "Stay" and it was a little uncomfortable for me because I didn't really intend that to be about myself. It was more of an encouragement for others facing more recent losses and the friends who might be struggling to support them.

This post is ending up even more rambling than usual (which is difficult to do) so let me try to arrive at a point here. This is a poignant week for me. These are days of remembering our babies who both arrived and left too soon, whether I want them to be or not. Even when I try to make it otherwise, my body and my heart force me to remember. I can't explain it, so all I can do is embrace it. I live these days with a heightened awareness of both their presence in my life and their absence. And I know that at the end of this month it will fade again and the memories I carry of them will settle back into a quiet, unobtrusive place in my mind.

That's all true. But what is also true is that I am okay. I don't share these things to garner attention or words of sympathy. I write because I am compelled to and because it seems like every once in awhile something I say actually helps someone else.

And perhaps, a small part of me shares these things in an act of rebellion against a culture that would rather we all keep our more difficult emotions to ourselves. With the exception of ranting about politics or the manufactured social divide of the day, I think we all know we aren't really allowed to be too open about ourselves, right? We are supposed to be fine and busy and just great when people ask how we are.

So, once again, this is me...being a rebel.

But, the truth is- really, truly, for real- I am okay.

There really is peace to be found in an accepted sorrow.

But you gotta travel a long path to get there.

In your own time. In your own way.

Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid.
~Frederick Buechner

Monday, October 21, 2013

Boxes and Labels

I have a friend who way-back-when worked as an organization development consultant (or something like that) for one of our big tech companies up here. I'm sure she was good at it because she is super smart. I'm also sure she was good at it because they ended up promoting her to the European division after which she and her family moved to Paris for several years where she did leadership training all over Europe and the Middle East. She is also one of the funniest, most magnetic people I know.

Anyway, about a million years ago, she and I were chatting and I was telling her about my tendency to start strong with things and then lose interest somewhere down the line and wish I'd never started the thing in the first place. I can't remember exactly what tiresome project/plan/organization I was referring to, but I must have been growing weary of something I'd agreed to.

She listened intently, nodding along very seriously. Then, in her bright, ever-optimistic way, she smiled widely and slapped me on the leg and said, "Well, that all makes perfect sense! You are an Initiator not a Sustainer!"

I stared at her silently for probably a full five seconds as I let this revelation settle in and then I burst out laughing. Hysterically.

I congratulated her for finding a way to put a pretty label on the reality that I am a lazy slacker with grand intentions who eventually wants everyone else to do all the work.

We laughed and laughed together with her assuring me that Initiators were every bit as valuable in the world as Sustainers, and me shaking my head and saying, "Uh huh. I'm sure that's how those dependable, reliable Sustainers look at it. Thanks a lot, Initiators. Don't worry about us as you flutter off to your next project, we'll keep this thing rolling..."

And even though that conversation was at least a million years ago, and was always something I remembered with great humor, I also never forgot it.

I catch myself evaluating different decisions I make, projects I start, committees I'm considering and thinking, "So, this something you can sustain? Is it necessary to be able to sustain it? Do you want to?" Which are all really very good questions to ask of anything we are considering giving our time and energy to.

It also makes me look at my kids and quietly evaluate their tendencies. I have one that definitely exhibits a preference for Initiating things over Sustaining, one that shows all the signs of being a stalwart Sustainer, and one that is a little hard to tell. None of it changes how I relate to them or what I expect of them, but it's an interesting distinction to ponder.

Let me be clear, I don't really believe in boxing people into labels. I'm also certain my friend doesn't either and if I ever reminded her of this conversation she would probably say, "I said what?!?" And then we would laugh hysterically about it all over again. But I do think there is something to this. I do think there are people who are better at generating ideas and energy and enthusiasm, and there are people who are better at buckling down and keeping the day to day operations of things rolling along.

This blog is a good example of my struggles with Initiation vs. Sustaining. It's true I have Sustained the blog but I also have done a terrible job of sticking with the original intention behind its Initiation.

But here's the thing:

I completed high school, college and graduate school.

I've been happily married for 21 years.

I have one friend whom I've known since infancy and two others since preschool. We are still very connected to one another and have been long before the advent of Facebook.

I just returned from a reunion with some of my college girlfriends (for those keeping count, that would have been 20+ years ago). We do these reunions every other year and they only get more and more fun. We pick up right where we left off every time.

I talk to my sister and my cousin (who is like a sister to me) almost daily.

My house is reasonably tidy (but please don't stop by unannounced).

I have been in my Director of Children's Ministry position for two years now and I have no interest in stepping away anytime soon.

If I do agree to see a project through, I really will (it might just happen in the 11th hour).

Last time I checked, I never stopped being a mom for the past 18+ years.

So...what's my point?

Maybe I'm a Selective Sustainer? (I just created my own new group functioning term, I hope my friend is impressed). Maybe I am more than capable of sustaining the things and relationships that really matter but anything else has to be weighed against the energy I'm already pouring out. Maybe I recognize there is only so much of me to go around so I keep a handful of things in the "Sustain Permanently" column and everything else goes in the "Sustain Until I No Longer I Have the Energy" column. Actually, I'm pretty sure there is a third column titled, "Avert Your Eyes, Keep Your Head Down and Do Not Agree to One More Thing". That third column is a biggie.

So, that's what I'm going with. I am both an Initiator AND a Selective Sustainer. I will not be contained by labels and boxes. I am going to be like a human Venn Diagram with a foot in each circle. I am the embodiment of "and/or"and a living oxymoron.

I'm such a rebel.

Just don't ask me how the Great Bedroom Switcharoo Project is coming along...

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


A year ago, I wrote about what October means to me. 

Here we are again, but this year I am moving through this month with focused determination not to let it throw me off my game. Not because I am unwilling to allow myself to feel the things that this change in season brings up for me, but because I feel that now, ten years later, I should be able to achieve a better balance.

I can be there (in my thoughts) and here (in my actions) all at the same time.

At least that's the theory.

So, I have been making to-do lists and dutifully checking things off each day. I have been showering regularly (any of you who have been following along know this is HUGE for me). I have been spending time reading things that keep me grounded in my faith. And I have been making a concerted effort to be present in the world, spending time with friends, being available to substitute teach when needed, and just generally leaving the house (again, HUGE).

Next week, I have an incredible girl's weekend to look forward to down in sunny California with some of my dearest college friends. It couldn't come at a better time and I am gearing myself up for extended bouts of laughter, conversation and minimal sleep.

It's easy to look at someone else's situation and determine that any emotional obstacle is really just as simple as "mind over matter." Other people's problems or griefs appear so darn fixable to those of us standing on the outside. Maybe not immediately though- usually, depending on where the loss falls on our internal scale of sorrow, we allow for a certain period of mourning. But my experience is that the timeframe for grief we on the outside allow and the reality of what goes on inside a grieving person are wildly different.

It's hard to say what prompted this post today other than I keep seeing loss around me. It just keeps coming and the older we get the more likely it is to hit close to home. And without over-generalizing things, knowing that everyone is different, I wanted to offer just a couple of thoughts to anyone who might not yet have experienced a profound loss and deep grief. Or, perhaps someone close to you is suffering and you are floundering to understand her experience and what she might need.

Here goes... my completely non-expert perspective:

-Grief is physical as much as it is emotional. It is an actual weight on your body. You literally feel that everything is heavier and that makes accomplishing the simplest tasks that much harder. Imagine trying to clean your house, pick up your kids from school, go to the grocery store...everything...with 10 lb. weights strapped around your ankles and wrapped around your neck. Life is heavy when you are grieving. And the weights don't come off all at once in one glorious "I'm all better!" moment. They slowly peel off, ounces at a time, and even when they are mostly gone they can find you again. Holidays, special dates, changing seasons, both happy and sad occasions can make everything heavy again.

When your grieving friend seems too tired to even go to the movies, she probably is.

-Grief looks a lot like depression but they aren't the same. This was one of the most helpful things our grief counselor told my husband. He wanted to see me bounce back and get back to my old self not because he didn't understand and share the reason for my sorrow, but because he was scared of who I had become. He didn't recognize this quiet, tired woman who never wanted to leave the house. He needed reassurance that this was okay and not a permanent condition. Once he could wrap his head around the idea that grief is long and heavy and not super pretty, but isn't the same as depression, he was able to support me where I was. Of course sometimes grief and depression can overlap and that is something to mindful of, but according to my counselor you'd be surprised how seldom they do. True depression is chemical, grief is a natural response to a broken heart.

-Profound grief is long. I hesitate to use words like "profound grief" and "deep grief" because it implies a scale or measure of grief. No such measure exists and the reality is that if you feel your loss deeply, regardless of what others have felt in similar situations, then you have to move through it in whatever way you need to. But my point is, if your loss has rocked you to your very soul then it is going to take a long time to find your footing again. So much longer than anyone wants to believe.

I'm sure there are people reading this right now who can't help but think that ten years is a long time to still be remembering two babies who died at birth. It's such a common loss, right? But common doesn't mean easy. And just because someone stops talking about something doesn't mean they don't still feel that loss. It might just mean that they don't feel safe enough to let anyone in on how much they are still affected by that part of their story.

We do a pretty good job in our culture of subtly (and not so subtly) letting people know, "Enough. Time's up. I gave you 'x' number of days, weeks, months and now it's time." And what we are really saying is it is time for you to stop talking about this because I can't hear about it anymore.

I hold myself as accountable for this as anyone. It's hard to continue to bear each other's burdens. And there are those people who seem to wallow in and relish some measure of despair. We have to watch for that and it's okay to distance yourself from someone who truly seems to just love company in their misery. But if you have a friend who has experienced something truly traumatic- the loss of a child, a spouse, a marriage, a sibling...the pain is not going to go away in six months, or even a year, or even two years... These are life altering losses. Be gentle. Be patient. Be that friend who is still there when the laughter starts to bubble up again and the weights have fallen off their shoulders.

I know I am so grateful for my friends who stayed.

Be the friend who stays, even if you don't know what you're doing. Even if your friend says she wants to be alone and doesn't want to talk (I was that person). Even if you think it's been too long and you think if she would "just do 'x y or z"..." Just wait...quietly, patiently.

Be the friend who stays.

Thank you to all of mine who did.

"Lend me your hope for awhile. A time will come when I will heal, and I will lend my renewed hope to others."
~Eloise Cole

Monday, September 23, 2013


When the first baby laughed for the first time, its laugh broke into a thousand pieces, and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies.
~J.M. Barrie


When the boys were quite young, I remember saying to Superdad, "It will be a sad day when Peter Pan leaves this house for good."

Of course, like so many childish fancies, it didn't happen in a day, or in a moment that would be so easily noticed. Instead, it was more of a slow realization. And it wasn't exactly sadness, but more of a quiet wistfulness when my mind drifted back over days, weeks and months and couldn't remember the last time the boys had put on pirate coats, drawn their swords and sailed off for adventures unknown. They had left Neverland and it had taken awhile for me to notice.

This Thursday, the long-awaited launch our firstborn will finally happen. Granted, we are hardly sending him off to some foreign land and in theory could still see him frequently if we were all in agreement. But the winds are a-shifting and changes are on the horizon.

As we were looking ahead to this momentous occasion, Superdad and I agreed that we should take one last family hurrah knowing that family vacations with all of our children in tow may soon become difficult. In spite of my best efforts, my children do seem intent on growing up so that will mean different schedules, jobs, and responsibilities that will make it harder for us to coordinate travel together. They also may not want to! So, we knew we needed to grab this chance when we could still gather our chicks and they would willingly follow our lead.

Our boys may have left Neverland, but they haven't completely grown up....and there is still just a little bit of pixie dust in all of us.

Up early and ready for some Disney fun. They still love it!

We talked our cousins into coming with us for extra fun! 

More cousins and family! Could it get any better?!

The best!
So thankful we still have this little fairy for awhile.

The best send-off we could have asked for! Love this crew!

And NOW we are ready. We are ready for packing up clothes, loading up a dorm room, buying ridiculously expensive text books, asking two dozen times, "So, do you think you have everything you need?"- knowing that if he doesn't we are just a phone call away. We are all ready, because we have to be. It's time.

The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it.
~J.M. Barrie

Jack, you have always believed you could fly. Don't stop now. 

We believe in you.

All the world is made of faith, and trust, and pixie dust.
~J.M. Barrie

Friday, September 6, 2013

Before the storm

You know what is weird? When you spend a year being all hyper-focused on the fact that this is your oldest child's last year at home (well, last year living at home full time...hopefully...or at least until he graduates college...again, hopefully...and moves back home because the job market stinks for all those poor 20 somethings with their college educations and nowhere to go)...anywhooo... What is weird is when you get through all the stuff. The Senior Thesis, the College Applications, the re-taking of SAT's, the College Acceptances, the College Decision, the Prom, the Graduation, the strange summer after graduation when they are not really kids not really adults (I call it the 'Are You Still Here?' summer) survive all of that in preparation for the big goodbye and then....they don't leave.

At least not yet.

A lot of kids have already said their goodbyes. I know that. But that's what is adding to the weirdness around our household. Jack's chosen university is on the quarter system which generally means they start later in the fall and finish later in the spring. However, I have yet to hear of too many schools that start as late as Jack's does this year. He doesn't even move into his dorm until September 26. Three. More. Weeks. If I wasn't in possession of a university calendar myself I might start to wonder if Jack was trying to pull one over on us.

I feel like we have been ripping off a particularly sticky bandaid one millimeter at a time for the past 6 months.

It's not that I want him gone, don't get me wrong. He's not making this difficult or challenging or annoying. I mean, it wouldn't kill me if he wanted to step up his efforts around the house but even at that I have noticed him taking more initiative in small ways to help with basic household maintenance and taking responsibility for himself. Just yesterday he informed me he was working on washing all of his clothes and figuring out what he wants to take with him and what needs to be given away.

Rock on, big guy.

Rooney says, "Jack, please don't go."

There is a bizarre little expression I have been hearing in my neck of the woods over the past 6 months. I have no idea if this is some sort of well-known metaphor or if it is oddly indigenous to our area but here it is:

In reference to the tension that can sometimes exist between children poised to leave home (but still at home) and their parents, I have heard more than one of my friends say, "They have to soil the nest a little so you'll be ready for them to fly."

I don't know about you but that imagery just makes me go, ewwwww.

I personally think it's a disgusting way to explain the conundrum of a child with one foot in and one foot out, but I also imagine that for many parents it not only rings true but brings some relief. It's always helpful when our children are making us bonkers to be able to step back and view it from a more removed, philosophical vantage point. If we can say, "Ahhh! It's a natural stage of development. Perfectly normal. This too shall pass..." we can save ourselves from going down that dark pathway of, "AAACK!! WHAT IN THE HE&! IS WRONG WITH MY KID!!!"

I gotta say, I prefer the former to the latter.

So, I get the reason for the metaphor and I'm even sympathetic to why the imagery might strike some parents as frighteningly accurate, I just can't relate. And when I say I can't relate it is not in some smug, "Why, MY child would never be so awful/inconsiderate/out of control/rude...!" Ha. Please. I have never claimed anywhere at anytime in anyplace to have perfect children NOR to be the perfect parent. And I never will because 1) I really try not to willfully go around breaking commandments, including the 9th one and 2) all you'd have to do is meet my kids or peek in their bedrooms and the jig would be up.

I can't relate because for whatever reason (and I claim no responsibility) Jack is neither literally (thank goodness) nor figuratively "soiling the nest" during his final days living at home full time. He actually seems remarkably content. Which is either great or cause for concern but since I don't have much control either way, I'm going with staying neutral. He doesn't seem unhappy about leaving, but he doesn't seem unhappy about his extended stay either.

We are all of us in limbo. The other kids have started school, they leave in the morning and return in the afternoon and in the in-between time Jack does laundry, occasionally does some car detailing work for people, and gives careful consideration to what he will have for lunch everyday.

I like to think he is just pacing himself. He's enjoying the calm before the storm. The storm could either be awesome or it could be dreadful and there is no way for him to know. So, he's just sitting back, enjoying his bedroom, his easy access to chips and salsa, and maybe even his family before it all hits.

Smart kid. I should take a lesson from him.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


The minute I stopped caring about what other people thought and started doing what I wanted to do, is the minute I finally felt free. 
~Phil Dunphy

The school year has officially begun.

And I have a cold. 

The cold started a few days ago with a mighty sore throat which fizzled into sneezing, watery eyes and a runny nose, and now I feel mostly fine (sorta, kinda) except I sound like I am walking around with a clothespin on my nose. 

It's that voice where when people ask, "How are you?" and you mumble something about "having a little bit of a cold", they tilt their heads, take a few steps back and say..."Yeah. You sound like it."

Sorry about that, everyone I have spoken to or come in contact with in the last 24 hours.

But in spite of all that, I was up with plenty of time to get Annie up and ready, feed her something that resembled breakfast (none of my kids are good breakfast eaters), make her lunch, take a first day of school picture AND get to school ON TIME. BAM!

That is some stellar parenting right there, People. 

On. Time. Day 1 and we are batting a 1,000!!

Even Annie said as we pulled up to the parking lot and saw millions of uniformed children still running around the playground waiting to go inside, "Wow! We aren't even late!"

That's right, Sister. Mom is going all out this year.

I was riding high on the euphoria of our on-time arrival right up to the moment I started looking around at all of the other beaming, on-time moms and dads. Okay, mostly the moms...I don't care what the dads are doing. 

I'll tell you what they were doing. They were looking showered, freshly coiffed (yep, coiffed) and dressed in clothes that can only be described as an "outfit" is what they were doing.

Standing out in the parking lot this didn't strike me as too much of a big deal. The children were creating a huge distraction and were still the focal point of all those cameras, cellphone cameras and iPads (Seriously, who are you people who take photos with an iPad? I'm sorry but I fail to see how holding up something the size of a small television to take a picture is a step forward in technology). We were just a sea of parents waving goodbye to our little lemmings as they marched off the cliff.

But once all those little cuties disappeared into the building, the smoke and mirrors were gone. Poof. 

All of the parents started dutifully moving toward the church where the First Day Parent Coffee Get Out Your Checkbooks And Sign Up For Stuff Thingy was going on. That's when my skirted yoga pants, clunky running shoes, and going-on-day-two-without-a-shower-hair became a bit more of a liability. Inside that church hall it became glaringly evident that most parents felt showering and getting dressed (not only dressed, but dressed cute) was part of the First Day of School regimen.

Rats. I missed that memo.

There was a time this might have really bothered me. There was a time I wondered why I couldn't quite manage to be as pulled together as those other moms. There was a time when I might have left that gathering worried about the impression I had made and given myself a good 15 minute lecture on the way home (even though it's only two minutes to get home, but I would have sat in the car for the extra 13 minutes finishing my talking-to) about how it really should not be that hard to get up in time to shower and look presentable on your child's first day of school.

There was a time....but not anymore.

One of the things I've learned over this past year as I have tried to live with heightened awareness of my children's growing, changing, learning and eventually leaving is that as they are doing all of that growing, changing and learning, hopefully we are too.  And somewhere along the line in these 18 years of growing, I stopped worrying about little stuff like dropping off your kid in workout clothes and possibly picking her up still wearing those same workout clothes. 

I don't think you ever want to get to a place where you truly don't care what other people think of you. Because if you take that to it's furthest extreme that is really the root of narcissism. Of course we need to care about the feelings, perceptions and perspectives of others. We need to care insofar that we don't go around offending people and behaving like boors and showing up at weddings in a tube top. But while I applaud those moms today who had freshly washed hair, cute cropped jeans and the perfect top (I really do, I don't know how you do it), I don't feel badly that mom wasn't me today. 

It might be me tomorrow. You just never know.

But, seriously, don't hold your breath...

Monday, August 5, 2013

Little detours

My kids have grown up thinking that making the 5 hour drive across our fair state multiple times a year is completely normal. They know every rest stop, all of their various fast food options and which gas stations have the least scary restrooms. When Annie was in her stage of being deathly afraid of automatic-flushing toilets, we ALL became experts on which bathrooms had toilets that were safe and which ones you needn't even bother trying to convince her to sit upon because no amount of cajoling, begging or bribery could convince her to put her tiny bottom on a toilet that might suddenly erupt in cacophony of swirling sound and water.

Nowadays, with fears of automatic-flushing toilets behind us, the trips are easy. The kids are so used to the drive they know how to settle in, check out, and watch the miles and the wheat fields fly by. Of course with the advent of iPods, iPads and endless other personal entertainment options, the trip has only become easier year by year.

After a lifetime of trips along the Northwestern stretch of I-90 the only questions that need to be asked are:

Does anyone need to stop in Ellensburg or can we press on to Moses Lake?

Where do you want to stop for food? I am only hitting two drive-throughs MAX so come to at least a partial agreement, please.

Seriously, you want to stop in Ritzville? We are practically there, can't you hold on for another hour?

Which is all why our most recent trip was such a startling departure from the norm.

After an unusually botched stop in Ellensburg (multiple unforeseen stops, restaurants unexpectedly closed for remodeling, Annie's utter indecision as to what would satisfy her 8 year old tummy for another couple of hours...) we were back on the road again.

Superdad would be joining us the following day so it was just the three kids and I. That was also unusual in and of itself. Nowadays, more often than not, due to activity schedules, work schedules and other mundane reasons, we end up divided in our travels. The division generally ends up being made along gender lines for no other reason just does.

So....there I was with my three kids in the car. And it started to dawn on me that not only had this not happened for a very long time, but it might not happen again for a very long time. Or ever.

I'm not much of a Carpe Diem kinda gal, I gravitate more to a Seize the Nap sort of life philosophy but something was speaking to me in that moment. Something or someOne was nudging me to mark this moment.

Here they are. Remember this.

The drive along I-90 is not rich with memory making opportunities, although being a native Washington girl I do find it's varied terrain quite beautiful. Still, it sort of is what it is though. You travel through the mountains first. Pretty. Hit the more agricultural land on the other side. Pretty. Then you get a break from farmland as you move through the Gorge. Super pretty. Then more farmland until you start getting an increasing number of evergreen trees dotting the landscape, which is the sign that you are nearing the opposite side of the state where it all becomes more mountainous and green again. Pretty.

But right smack dab in the middle of the drive, something magical happens.

You see horses.

Wild horses, up on a ridge, overlooking the mighty Columbia River.

When the kids were little they believed they were real. And then, as they got older, they merely wanted to believe they were real. Because who wouldn't want to catch a glimpse of a band of wild horses in the middle of an otherwise ordinary, yawn-inducing, five hour drive.

Even the boys, easily bored and typically cynical at 15 and 18 years old, still admit they look for the horses. Every time.

But it's one thing to look for the horses while whizzing by at 70 miles an hour. It's quite another thing when your mother asks you (with what I'm sure was an annoying grin on her face):

What do you say we stop and climb up to the horses?

No surprise, your 18 year old responds with: What??? No!

You don't let it go. You tell him how you've always wanted to. That it will be really cool. Think of what a great story it will be!

He tries to bring in reinforcements. He insists his younger brother remove his headphones and fills him in on the fact that the Captain of their ship has lost her mind.

Younger brother responds in identical fashion when asked if he would like to climb up to the horses: What??? No!

Now they work as a team. Telling me that they are sure it is not allowed. I tell them it most definitely is allowed and that there is a viewpoint and a turn-off for that very reason.

The younger one (the one who never stops moving and plays soccer 7 days a week) tries to tell me that his knee hurts. I tell him that it's fine if he'd like to stay in the car while his 8 year old sister and I make the climb, since it will be too hard for him.

It will NOT be too hard for me! I'll be the first one to the top!

And the older brother rolls his eyes and groans knowing his younger brother just stepped right into my sinister reverse psychology trap.

Minutes later, for the first time in years and years of driving this route, we take the exit marked "Scenic Viewpoint". And it really is incredibly scenic.

I watch them set off. By now the boys are laughing and texting friends photos of their ridiculous adventure. Jack sends Superdad a text saying, "See. This is what happens when we have to drive with Mom." But they are smiling.

The boys do indeed beat us to the top. The climb is harder than you might think. In cowboy boots it is particularly challenging. But I keep telling her that she looks awesome and strong and determined. I know she can do it.

And she does.

We all do. And, yes, it is cool. And, yes, the view is amazing. And, yes, the horses are incredible and even more incredible that they are just here- in the middle of nowhere.

It was perfect.

Then we climbed back down (which was actually harder than going up) and continued our journey. 

20 years from now these three kids will get together with their own kids and families for some holiday and they will laugh hysterically and roll their eyes and say to each other:

Remember when Mom (our crazy mother!) made us stop and climb up to the horses?

At least I hope so. 

Because there are things in this world and in this life that will not last forever. Sometimes you have to grab hold and force time to stop for a second or two. That's all you get. Just a second or two. 

Hold tight.

Here they are. Remember this.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

100 Years

Our house is celebrating its Centennial this year.

Granted, we haven't actually lived in this house for one hundred years (seeing as we are not Zombies) and I will confess the old gal has had a few facelifts through the years. But the bones of our happy home, along with the handful of remaining leaded glass windows, are all part of her original 100 year old charm.

She was considerably smaller when we first moved in. Over the years we have stretched her to her limit; ripping off the roof and adding a third floor, moving staircases, adding 6 feet to the back of the house, reconfiguring the basement (again), remodeling the kitchen (again), and none of that includes the work to the yard and the gajillion other small projects that have been done and continue to be done so that we can keep enjoying her hospitality for another 20+ years and beyond.

The latest project doesn't involve any demo work or structural changes, but it will require some elbow grease and determination. It may also possibly drive me into the loony bin (but I've said that about a thousand other projects worse than this one so you'd be wise to take my hyperbolic threats with a grain of salt.) 

(Can I get a whoop whoop for the nice use of the word hyperbolic?)

For the past four or five years I have been saying that when Jack goes to college I am going to have he and Annie switch bedrooms. And then at some point when I wasn't looking, those four or five years went by and we are.

There are very practical reasons for the switch. His room is bigger. His closet is bigger. He has an extra storage closet in his room in addition to a full-size clothes closet. Considering the whole point of him going to college is that he is going to be gone most of the year it seems to make sense that the child who still has another 10 years of residency status left here at The Centennial House should get the better, bigger room. She's also a girl and we all know what that means in relation to closet space. She's going to need more.

Beyond the practical reasons, I'm excited about the side benefits. The most important side benefit being that this is a golden opportunity to clean out, clear out and get out lots of stuff. 

Me likey getting rid of stuff. 

So, it's all good. Both kids are excited about the move and I'm completely excited about the endpoint when it is really truly all done. What I'm not excited about is the hours and hours of work it is going to take to get us to the finish line. There is painting to be done, carpets to be cleaned, clothes to be moved, trinkets and treasures to be sorted and (hopefully) given away. 

Note to the little hoarder (aka Annie): Mom is not going to tolerate much sentimentality in this process. This is a time to be aggressive, cold-hearted and incredibly focused. Keep your eye on the prize, Sweetie. A clean, organized, beautiful new bedroom. (I've already broken it to her that the Dog a Day Calendar pages will not be making the trek across the hall.) 

So, I'm excited. Annie is excited. Jack is even happy about the change and the potential for a fresh start (his current room is beyond belief messy). Everybody is on board and ready to go!

So, why can't I get started?

Well, I'll admit, one reason is probably just because it is a BIG project and it is hard to know where to start. Do I clean out the rooms first? Do I start painting? Which room do I paint first? Where does the resident of each respective room sleep while painting is going on? Can Nate Berkus just come and do all this for me? He'd have a whole crew to help him so he could knock it out in like three days and he'd look cute at the same time (I'm not going to look cute for one second of this project). I could just sit back and post pictures to Facebook while you all envy me and my Nate Berkus bedroom makeover. Although, why would I waste Nate Berkus on my kid's bedrooms....? Forget it, if he shows up he's doing my room, and bathroom, and closet...And maybe my laundry room too, because only professional help could save that tiny space from the mayhem that it is.

There's that.

But I'm stymied for other reasons. Reasons that have nothing to do with paint colors and boxes of Little League participation trophies (what do you do with those??), and have everything to do with five years that went by in the blink of an eye.

For so long now the whole Great Bedroom Switcharoo was just an idea. A good idea, I'll give you that, but just an idea. It was out there. It was in some unknown future land in which our eldest child was going to leave home and live somewhere else for 9 months out of the year. It was just an idea.

Now, it's here. And even though he isn't going as far away as we once thought he might be, he is still going. He will have a different bedroom, in a different place and, if all goes well, he will be so happy in that new place we won't see him again until Thanksgiving. 

It's a strange thing to hope for, that your child will be so content he won't feel the slightest need to come home. But I do hope for that. Well, I mostly hope for my less selfish moments when I'm thinking more of him and his well-being than I am of my own (luckily, that is most of the time). 

Don't get me wrong, I'm going to miss him like crazy. But at the same time I really hope to be missing him like crazy because that's what is supposed to come next. He's supposed to fly and we are supposed to re-paint the nest, get used to less noise and less garbage, and eventually find a way to live in and around and ultimately fill up the empty spaces. Over time, it will probably even all start to feel normal again, in a new-normal sort of way. 

It might take awhile, but we'll get there. This house has seen a lot of big changes and she's still standing. So are we.

I'm guessing that we will finally settle into that new-normal sometime around next June, just in time for him to come flying back for summer, bringing all of his noise and garbage and beloved quirks with him.  

And that's okay. We will still be here.

Happy Centennial, Sawyer House!
Thanks for the memories!