Lick Up Those Life Lessons!

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Have kids, they said! It will be fun, they said!

I have to preface this by explaining that I am NOT a helicopter mom by any stretch of the imagination. I’m what you could call, I guess, a free-range mom? My kids are VERY independent. They pretty much never bother us when we’re out on a date, and they are free to wander within the parameters of our rules. I don’t have to know where they are exactly at any given moment. I’m what you might consider an under-reactor. Once when our older kids were on a homeschool field trip with an eccentric older teacher, they were WAY past their return time, and she wasn’t answering her cell phone. The other moms were beside themselves with worry and my alarm meter was barely starting to register. (They were fine, by the way.) Still, kids get you, don’t they?!

I have my sister’s kids every Tuesday, and they all happily run in and out and play with mine for hours. This week, the oldest niece in the batch came in the house calling for my daughter. They had been playing together outside until about ten minutes before when she thought my 7-year-old had come inside. Except, she hadn’t. I hadn’t seen her, and she didn’t pop out anywhere when we called and looked. After looking thoroughly inside and out, my alarm went off. I called and searched to no avail. In the cars. In our outside greenhouse. Under beds. I texted all my neighbors asking if they had seen her. I finally sent my 11-year-old out on his bike and my adult daughter in her car to sweep the neighborhood. Nope. Nada. In the meantime, my older niece had to leave for an activity.

At this point, I was legitimately worried. I don’t worry. I started thinking of all the horrible possibilities for a little girl that just disappeared out of her own yard in a matter of minutes. Those are not happy thoughts to be thinking a week before Christmas. Almost distraught, I opened the bathroom door that had been ajar just a moment before, and there was my little girl scrunched up on the potty all teary-eyed. When she emerged, she admitted that she had been hiding in a little cubby in our garage. I had walked by there a half-dozen times and even stepped inside and sat for a minute very quietly listening for sneaky breathing. She said she didn’t answer because she thought she was in trouble. Which didn’t make sense, really. I mean, we were concerned, but hiding isn’t like her. Why would she think she was in trouble? But, then my niece came back from her activity and added the little bit of information that made everything fall into place.

I assist at a co-op class once a week – just taking notes and keeping order, mostly, in our very large class of 16 students. My youngest daughter doesn’t have consistent childcare available for her for that hour, so she just comes with me. But, she doesn’t really have a textbook or anything because it’s really a bit above her grade level, so she just gleans what she can and occasionally answers questions whose answers are largely fed to her by said niece who is several years older than her. At the end of every month, our students cash in their tickets for toys and treats and prizes. One of the most coveted cash-in items are those very large, multi-colored lollipops. We sell them for 40 tickets. My daughter usually has somewhere between 10 and 20 tickets while our actual students can earn 50 to 100 during a month. She never gets a lollipop. I’ve never heard her complain or even say anything about it. But, when my niece came home on Tuesday, she mentioned that my little girl had her lollipop in her hand when she “wandered off.” My 7-year-old took that lollipop, hid in the corner in the dark and ate the entire thing.

As a parent, there are some times that I have to make a point to teach my kids lessons. There are plenty of lectures around here, to be sure. However, this day, there was none of that. I hugged her tightly and told her how scared I was when I thought she was lost and to please never, ever do that again! My daughter was so riddled with guilt that when we called her and acted frantic and upset, she believed that she was going to be handily and harshly punished for eating that lollipop. Without any real intervention by me, she licked up that life lesson, and it sat heavy on her heart and her stomach, I’m sure. I would be surprised (especially since that sort of envy and greediness isn’t really like her) if she ever does anything like that again. As adults, we tend to have a level of life experience that muddies this sort of pure consequence, and while I suspect she’ll remember it always, I know that I will. And, that is truly worth the cost of a hundred lollipops.

P.S. I will be taking a blogging vacation Christmas week. I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday season! I cannot tell you how much I appreciate each and every one of you who reads my blog. It humbles me that people are touched by my words and my perspective. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

A Heartwarming Holiday Tale

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Today is officially one week until Christmas!! I did a grocery run today and picked up Scotch tape, so I can avoid doing all my wrapping with packing tape. I decided to hold off on the paper and see how far my stash from last year lasts. I may or may not regret that – we’ll see. I’m mostly ready except I still have a few straggler items to sew for a few assorted gift recipients on my list. I’m getting there!

It is said that Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. I hear stories in passing about random acts of kindness that happen around December like people picking up the coffee tab for the people behind them or someone paying for all the layaway orders at a store, but I’ve never experienced it myself. (Where are these magical grocery-paying-for people??!) I was raised in a fairly closed community, and there was a lot of fear around outsiders. My own life experience has effectively deprogrammed that to the point where I think that type of thinking is complete and utter hogwash. Still, you don’t expect strangers to really go out of their way for you. But, they do. They did. So, today, I get to share my own heartwarming holiday story.

My husband was out of town for most of last week. After a quiet, leisurely weekend with our kids, my youngest daughter wheedled him into taking them to the store because we were out of butter (which, in a popcorn-loving family, is akin to an emergency) and they wanted treats. It’s about a 20-minute drive to get to our closest Walmart. Upon arrival, my husband and three youngest kids proceeded to grab the butter and add some other odds and end to their cart – lunch, some mandarins, cheese and crackers, Sunny D and a box of cookies. As they made their way to the checkout, my husband realized that he didn’t have his wallet in the pants he was wearing. He ran to the car for his checkbook, only to have the teller remind him that they couldn’t take the check without ID – the ID that was also, yep, in his wallet. With his cartful of goodies for our kids, he was going to have to walk out empty handed and drive the 20 minutes home to get what he needed or go without. He would have been annoyed, my kids would have been disappointed, and it would have been an all-around bummer for nothing more than an oversight in planning.

But, that’s not what happened at all. Instead, a man behind him saw his conundrum, wished him “Merry Christmas” and handed him a $50 bill to cover the purchases, insisting that my husband take it. Instead of a grouchy, disappointed family, my husband walked in with smiling children, bags of snacks and butter! All because there are good people in the world. While we could have paid for those groceries with a bit of extra time and hassle, somebody saw a problem and stepped in to fix it.

When you watch the news or hear Internet chatter, it pays to remember that things are reported when they are out of the ordinary. It can seem that the world is a mess and that there is no community or kindness left, but I don’t believe that at all. While most good people go about their business quietly and without fanfare, the truth is that most people are good. I truly hope that I can find the opportunity at some point to pay it forward and pass on the Good Samaritan spirit myself.

The Gift of Identity

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Sometimes when I’m preparing my blog posts, I have a lot on my mind or have had a recent experience that I’ve really been ruminating on. Other times, however, the deadline is looming, and I’m chugging along in my daily life trying to figure out what in the heck I should write about. What is this blog about? What do I have to say? And, then it hits me, isn’t that just life? Who am I? What do I have to say? Who do I want to be? How does the world see me?

Even though I have an independent streak a mile wide, I’ve spent a good part of my life picking identities off the shelf. While it’s said the youth brings with it all possibilities, the fact is that it is tempered by the pressures to be the vision that others have for you. There is a lot of fear around making the “wrong choices” or letting people down. I think this carries quite a ways into adulthood, and most people push and pull against it well into their 20s and 30s – sometimes their entire life.

While I don’t want to draw lines on the basis of gender or anything (heaven forbid!), I tend to notice this being more of a thing for women. We give so much to our husbands, to our kids, to our communities. I am my husband’s wife. For decades, I’ve basically introduced myself to people as his wife, and people say, “Ah!” and there is a place for me in their head. This year has changed that dynamic a bit because I have a reputation of my own (for better or worse), and my husband has found himself, for the first time ever, introducing himself as, well, my husband.

I am my kids’ mom. I have spent 22 years largely focused on the health, growth and progress of the seven humans that I grew in my uterus. I homeschool them and don’t work outside our home, and most of my daily energy goes into their lives. In my headspace, though, my life does not revolve around my children. I don’t think I’ve ever said that I’m “just a mom.” Because I’m not.

When women (again, more our thing) lament aging and getting older, I kind of don’t understand it. Don’t get me wrong, I would prefer to still have the flat stomach of my 20s, but I take it pretty much as the tradeoff for the better gift of life experience. I turned 40 in 2017 and posted this on my Facebook page:

“Turning 40 last month has made me super thoughtful. This has been a year of huge changes for me. I’ve struggled in my personal space over the last five years, and this has been a year of resolution and finding peace, but not necessarily in the way I was “supposed to.” There have been really hard parts and days I just wasn’t sure it was going to work out. But, it mostly is, and I feel more comfortable and confident in my own skin every day. Mostly, I just love my life so much. I have a strong and resilient relationship and healthy and thriving kids whom I just adore. I’m embracing and feeling confident in building a career that I fully believe will eventually be a huge boon to our family. I know who I am deep down where all the layers are stripped away, and I’ve really come to love that strong, beautiful and passionate woman. Life is good!”

So, if this blog seems to go in a bunch of different directions, it’s because it’s a reflection of my real life. I don’t always know what direction I’m going. I don’t always know what it is that I want to say. I’m at a point where I feel like I can be and do and say what is actually a reflection of who I am. I AM my husband’s wife. I AM my kids’ mom. I’m also a woman, a friend, a writer, an advocate. I’m less afraid to say things as I see them. I’m more comfortable taking up space in the world. I don’t always know exactly what my identity is, but I do know that it is mine to determine. This, more than anything, has been the gift of this year.

 

 

Integrity in Institutions

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There’s a common narrative when somebody renegotiates their relationship with religion that says that they were offended or weak or just couldn’t hack the expectations. I think it’s an easy way for people to organize their environment. The truth, however, is much, much more complicated than that. I think people side-eye me thinking I’m super sensitive and bothered by how things have changed for us, but I’m actually quite philosophical about the whole thing.

Institutions are living things, and they have their own priorities, politics and ways of being. While people breathe life into them, they also take on a life of their own. Recognizing this has made what we have experienced much less personal. I was talking to someone the other day and explaining to them how I’ve come to understand the people that we’ve dealt with in our church and some of the things they did. They’re not “bad men.” They would prefer to be nice and will if they can. However, their number one job is always to perpetuate the needs, priorities and politics of the institution. When people come into conflict with that, they have no choice but to choose the institution. It’s a very, very simple equation, and they believe wholeheartedly that it’s for the best to do it this way. This isn’t at all unique to churches, though I think there’s dynamics there that make it particularly hard for people to identify honestly.

Many, many people I know quietly move within this construct with absolutely no adverse effects. There are benefits to actively engaging in religion and things about it that I distinctly miss. However, when you identify institutional priorities and realize that they aren’t in line with your own values and priorities, it is virtually impossible to unsee that. I have mad respect for the people around me that I interact with on a daily basis. I have zero regard for the integrity of the institution.

According to Wikipedia, “Integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles, or moral uprightness. It is a personal choice to hold one’s self to consistent standards. In ethics, integrity is regarded as the honesty and truthfulness or accuracy of one’s actions.” The thing is that integrity to an institution is different than personal integrity. People interact with religious communities with expectations based upon their own means of measuring integrity. For many people, these never come into conflict. For me and many others, they have. And, once they do, you never look at it the same again.

I kind of raised my eyebrows a bit when my husband came home from church this week and said that he’d been called on to speak. He said that he didn’t think he had offended anyone or said anything too out there. (I think he just talked about getting the neighborhood round robin Santa sock – please don’t gift it to us again! It cost a million and four dollars to fill two of those. Ha ha!) He hasn’t been for a few months, you see. I would guess that a lot of people think that has something to do with me, but the truth is that we’re both navigating our relationship with church in our own way with pretty much zero interference or influence from the other. We’re getting better at differentiating and acknowledging that we’re both adults that can make our own decisions. He’s dealing with his own issues and working through his own feelings, some of which have to do with me and some of which don’t. He’s most definitively not weak.

I like to think, in theory, that it’s possible to have institutions where organizational integrity is in harmony with personal integrity and firm morals and values. I hope there are still spaces in this world where a people and community can come first over politics. I don’t know anymore, but I’ve made peace with my own relationship with the reality that I see, and my husband will, too. In his own way, and in his own time.

Sometimes You Just Have to Wear the Snow Boots

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As a rule, my girls aren’t particularly dramatic. My older daughters are the best kinds of girls – the friends to everyone that just avoid all the peripheral drama in their social group. My youngest daughter, however, is only seven, and it happens sometimes. My kids also naturally don’t really like change, so this was the perfect storm and made for a S.U.P.E.R. fun morning!

We’ve had snow here. It went from being pretty dry to looking like a winter wonderland in about a week. The day before this event, my little girl had thrown her shoes on and went outside to hang out with her daddy, so I knew that she had them just hours before. However, when we got up on Tuesday morning with places to go, she couldn’t locate them. Seeing as they are the only shoes she has right now, this was a problem. After digging through mountains of unused/too small/where do these belong? shoes, we found a pair of green and black snow boots that looked like they would do the job. BOY snow boots. GREEN and BLACK. Nope. R.E.J.E.C.T.E.D.

Except, we had places to go. And, we were late. So, of course, a 20-minute, full-on battle of wills ensued about whether or not my little girl was going to be caught dead in those boots. Her vote, of course, was h#!! to the no, and I went for the practical approach – wear it or stay home! I have to go! There was a tiny bit of negotiation (No, you can’t wear the heeled church shoes that are too big for you in the snow) before I finally got them on her feet on threat of being left. She wasn’t happy at all and there was stamping and crying and general disgust at being forced to wear boy shoes.

And, then she got over it. She wore them into class and nobody noticed or said anything, really. When she got home she put them on voluntarily so she could go outside. We still haven’t found her shoes, and she’s been wearing them now for days like it’s just no big deal.

My kids aren’t divas or stuck up or pretentious, really. (They live with me. Ha ha!) They don’t, however, take to sudden changes in expectations well. (Again, my kids!) I always try to remind them that things are rarely as bad at they imagine, and it’s sometimes necessary to just roll with things. I give them the option to choose in as many situations as I can (she could have stayed home), but there are times when I can’t stop and explain or convince, and we just have to wear the green boots anyway.

I really hope that she didn’t leave her shoes outside to get subsequently snowed on. If that’s the case, we won’t see them until spring, and they’ll probably be ruined for good. Luckily, there will be a new pair of boots under the Christmas tree in just a few weeks. I promise they’re not boy boots.

 

Trying to Build a Better Boat

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Sometimes the one thing that it takes to become healthy is to acknowledge what isn’t. I consider myself to be pretty proactive about being aware and keeping things balanced, but healing takes time.  We are horrible travelers. It’s always been a weak spot in our marriage. When we travel just as a couple, it’s great, but we’ve had some of our worst arguments when we were traveling as a family. It’s not pretty to have a family conflict in a closed car which is all I’m going to say about that. We had a really, really bad blowup a few years ago on the way to my niece’s wedding (we were good company that day. Ha!), and both my husband and myself made a decision that we were done with this bad, toxic habit, and it hasn’t happened since.

The funny thing is that you can fix the issue, but there is still baggage and emotional reactions there. I still have anticipatory anxiety when we’re getting ready to travel. It’s softening over time and fading as I get used to what has become a new normal for me, but it’s taken several years. This concept is really hitting home for me right now. We get used to things, don’t we? And, they aren’t always healthy or things that you want to keep around, but we crave the familiar.

The fall and winter have been very quiet for our family. Very peaceful after the turmoil that carried us well into 2019. The peace is nice. The quiet is good. But, it’s also seeps into my psyche as boring. See, our marriage has been marked by tension for about seven years now. I have friends that have never seen our relationship in a season of quiet. My husband has been my hero as we’ve plowed through this year, but he didn’t come to that overnight. There was arguing, ugly-cry tears, very real fears that divorce was imminent, pushing, pulling and just general angst that was a very real presence in our lives. It wasn’t healthy. Our kids saw it and lived through it and have their own baggage from that experience. But, it was what I’ve come to know. It became normal to me to take the temperature of my husband’s mood every day when he came home. If it was less than chipper, it became my self-appointed job to cheer him up and make him happy/grateful. Please understand that he didn’t give me this job. He was dealing with things in ways that prompted me to feel like it was, but the truth is that I took it on myself.

I’ve spent a good part of the latter part of this year working on this issue. There is less angst there. Less tension. More quiet. But, I still find myself doing this. It’s softening over time and fading, but I have to be very mindful that I’m not responsible for my husband’s emotions. I’ve heard it said before that we only do things that work for us in some way, and I’m really trying to untangle this part of our healing and sort it out. The truth is that high tension creates a bounce-back that feeds strong connection. (This is why makeup sex is great. Just saying.) The logical part of my brain does not miss the arguing or the tension or the angst, but my emotional brain is so used to it that it feels empty and lacking and just not there.

Before you get the idea that we’re a total mess that is imploding as we speak, we’re very, very normal. We have a very normal, net-healthy marriage, a very normal home life and very normal, great and well-behaved (for the most part) kids. This is just our baggage – we all have it. Our Achilles heel. Our mountain that we’re climbing. We’re getting there.

This year has been cathartic and revealing. It doesn’t make me comfortable to realize that I’m missing things that I’ve been begging to be without for years. It’s a bit embarrassing, frankly. But, realizing that there is an emotional hole from an extraction site, so to speak, is a good thing, I think. We’ve cut a cancer out, and it’s empty there. Healthy things are growing in its place, but it takes time. The missing it will soften over time and fade as it’s replaced by healthier patterns and habits. It hasn’t all been pretty, but I’m determined to use every lesson for good. Ultimately, that, I think, will be the secret to our success. Not that we haven’t waded through some really crappy stuff but that we didn’t tap out too early to see what there was to learn in it. When you see an old couple sitting on a park bench holding hands, it’s not years of Pinterest-worthy moments that you’re seeing, it’s the aftermath of just this hurricane.

I heard this song for the first time when we were driving home from Thanksgiving. (A trip that was quiet and calm and altogether unremarkable. I barely remember feeling anxious at all.) It really struck me, and it felt like an anthem for my journey. I immediately had my almost 20-year-old daughter look it up and send it to my husband who had been home for a few days already. Building makes a mess, and it can sometimes be hard to see the results in the middle of sawdust and streaked faces. At the end of the day, however, what we’re really trying to do is just build a better boat.