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Not My Favorite Spring Break

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Not My Favorite Spring Break

Thank goodness school started again today. Our spring break kind of……sucked. Not only that, but I’m suffering an uncharacteristic  — for me — amount of mommy guilt over the whole thing. Gotta be honest, mommy guilt is normally not in my wheelhouse (whether it SHOULD be is another question), but this week threw me for a loop.

I had all kinds of grand plans: a thorough spring-cleaning and purge of all boys’ rooms and belongings; outings to the zoo, the science museum, and hiking; frolicking in the great outdoors; garden planting and yard work. Not to mention relaxing extended family reading time, etc., etc.

We made it to the zoo Monday, but after that the week just kind of kerploofed. (It’s a word now, people, it’s perfect for the sort of imploding-while-disappointing sound I was imagining.) I had made just a few wee commitments for the week, but each of them somehow had other meetings appended to them, including meetings for and with my nieces that were really important and out of my control. Then mid-week my poor dad experienced a serious back injury that required a chaperone and multiple appointments, it rained most of the week so no one could play outside, and …… kerploof.

Lessons were learned though, and I record them here for your potential benefit, should you ever experience a disappointing kerploof of a holiday.

1. Huh, I’m raising relatively self-sufficient small people. Instead of adventures with mommy all week, my little men spent record amounts of time alone and in charge of themselves and each other. As the oldest is 13, this should be no big deal on paper, but we’re talking several big chunks of hours of time and three boys. And you know what, people? No blood was drawn, no disasters were had, lunches were prepared and consumed, and all was well.

2. Much less laundry is required when your family members spend most of the week in their jammies. This reduction in laundry was a small side benefit to the fact that the boys got dressed maybe twice between Monday and Friday……oh, look, here comes the guilt again……

3. Multiple Jammie Days??? My boys think that’s the Best. Thing. Ever. So instead of being disappointed at the lack of mommy outings, they were thrilled at the added responsibility of being on their own combined with the luxury of relatively unlimited electronics (truly not the norm in this house, honest) in their pj’s. By their accounting: SCORE.

A sleepover in the basement is the perfect end to a jammie day. Well, that and piles of Oreos.

A sleepover in the basement is the perfect end to a jammie day. Well, that and piles of Oreos.

4. Unlimited Electronics Buffet + Rainy Week Still = Squirrelly Boys. This is just basic physics, no changing that. Thank you Jesus for a sunny afternoon yesterday, or there might have been intra-familial fisticuffs.

5. I have discovered a basic, and to my knowledge, previously unnamed law of human behavior. Other people at the zoo cannot stop making up what are clearly dumb explanations for the animals’ behavior. The Corollary to this Law of Uncontrollably Fabricating Animal Behavior Explanations is the Inability to Control Mocking Others Ridiculous Explanations While Believing Your Own Understanding of Zoo Animal Behavior is Unquestionably Stellar.

6. Baby elephants are so cute, one cannot be blamed for compulsively taking what are clearly awful pictures of them….

Awww....look at the baby elephant. Well, she is cute, but there was all this glass in the way...

Awww….look at the baby elephant. If you can, through the glare, the glass, and her mother’s legs.

7. Much to my shame and dismay, I am not immune to Facebook-related jealousy. Having never really experienced it before, I was pretty confident I was above the capacity of Facebook to effect my perceptions of how fun our life is or is not. Until this week, when the pictures of Palm Desert, Hawaii and Mexico flooded my newsfeed while I went from meeting to appointment to meeting. I realized I am no better than any other Facebook user, capable of being consumed by feelings of envy and inadequacy.

A pathetic group selfie (us-ie?) of us at The Lego Movie.

A pathetic group selfie (us-ie?) of us at The Lego Movie.

I did not post that blurry mess to social media, didn’t feel it adequately competed with all of the beach/skiing/Italian spa/parasailing/rock-climbing on Mars photos. Sigh. (I am completely aware of the whiny nature of my seriously first-world problems. I am a brat. That fact just makes it all worse. More sighing.)

8. When given the chance, my boys rose to the occasion and to my expectations, whether it was helping injured grandpa walk his dog this week, managing on their own so long, or doing extra chores to help me out instead of getting to do extra adventures or fun treats. Our kids are often capable of so much more than we ask of them, and they are proud to do it.

9. This too shall pass, for everything there is a season, kids are resilient, and honestly I can’t remember ONE single spring break from my elementary or middle school years. My mom was GREAT, and I’m sure we did all kinds of super fun spring break things.  Wait, had spring break even been invented then? Anyhow, maybe in the scheme of things it won’t really matter…..

Maybe everything IS awesome….

Also, I’m pretty sure that song was composed by the folks who compose Vacation Bible School theme music. Anyone agree?

 

 

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I Win Father’s Day

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Sorry, I don’t mean to be rude. But I win. No competition. When the Head Dad up high was handing out fathers, I won. And I find myself this year at a loss to let my dad know how much I appreciate him, what a blessing he has been to me, to my younger brother before he died, and to all of the others in his life that he has “fathered.”

Well, that’s not entirely true, the “finding myself at a loss” part. Cause, you know, it’s me, and I’ve got stuff to say. But this year more than ever, I find myself full of emotion, appreciating my dad more now than ever before, at a time when based on the reality of human lifespans and forward motion of the calendar I have less time left with him than I’ve ever had before. Funny (NOT) how that works.

So, for my Dad, thank you.

Thank you for setting me straight and strong and true in this world. For never allowing me to seriously question if I was good enough. For making sure I valued who I had been created to be, and Who had created me. And I love you.

For the rest of you, allow me to share 10 lessons from my father. These aren’t a top ten, because he’s taught me far more than that. These are just the first ten that come to mind, in no particular order of importance. You’re welcome.

Ten Lessons From My Dad

10. “What kind of tree is that?” Life really is more interesting when you know what kind of tree that is. Since my parents were both teachers, we took a lot of long summer vacations when I was a kid, and several over Christmas breaks. Those trips were always peppered with my dad asking “What kind of tree is that?”, and with us kids and my mom rolling our eyes at  him. When I was a kid, I Really. Didn’t. Care. But now I’m the one asking, and noticing, and appreciating the amazing little details of the natural world around me.

9. “Mom, come on……!!” Now my kids pull on MY elbow after church. As a child, the fellowship time over coffee and cookies was always torture for my brother and I, a frustrating attempt to get my extroverted dad to STOP TALKING ALREADY so we could go home. Now, it’s MY kids who are bugging me after church, trying to get me to leave, as I wander about my family of faith, touching base, catching up, and being love. He did it then, I try to do it now.

8. Keep loving your people, no matter how hard, no matter how inconvenient. This is a foundational part of my dad’s character, and it was deeply ingrained in my brother before he passed away, and I hope it is in me. Didn’t matter if it was my dad’s childhood friend, violent and angry from mental illness; or my dad’s extended family, tense with division and hurt feelings; or a close friend, broken by his own mistakes and misjudgements. If they allowed it, Dad stood by them, walked alongside them, spoke truth to them, and always, he loved them. (There has really been only one exception to this that I know of in my dad’s life, and it was not for lack of trying. But this tremendously broken person not only could not and did not change but was hurting innocents in the process. Walking away from that was an equally valuable lesson.)

7. Life is interesting and there is fun to be had. My dad has always been interested and engaged in the world around him, teaching courses, taking courses, learning new things and sharing that knowledge with excitement. Even now, as he has struggled with health issues and the loss of his home a year ago to a fire, he is still engaged in the world in a way that inspires me. He’s currently taking painting classes, tai chi and a brain health class! Go Dad! I want to grow up and be just like you!

6. Family isn’t just to whom you are born, it’s also to whom you are called. I have always had to share my folks, particularly my dad. It seemed like young people were and are (although my definition of young has, um broadened over the years) always coming to my dad for advice, for a listening ear, for perspective and occasionally for a strong kick in the pants. He has been a surrogate father for granddaughters, for students, for people who have sought him out for his wisdom, patience and love. Have I always enjoyed sharing him? Not really. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

5. Keep your eyes on the road!!!! That may, in light of the other points, sound deep and philosophical, but it isn’t intended that way. In the midst of his zest for life, learning and new experiences, my childhood road trips were also full of one or more family members yelling “Dad! Eyes on the road!” as he allowed the steering wheel to drift towards whatever had caught his eye alongside the road. Still a good reminder for all of us.

4. Making gestures is important. My dad loves to give gifts and make gestures. There have been many throughout the years, all of them coming with the message that Dad loved us enough to take the extra time, the extra thought to make it special. The car I thought we were negotiating payments for me to make after college that he’d saved up for to buy me outright. The special earrings he wrapped and hid in the Christmas tree for my mom and I. (I will always hide gifts in the tree, it is now family tradition.) The romantic anniversary flowers and gifts for my mom, after 50 years of marriage. Gestures are important, because people are important.

3. Don’t research it to death. Do something, even if it’s wrong, so you can get on with enjoying your life. Case in point – several years ago, my husband and I (ok, mostly me) were in the market to buy our first barbecue grill, and I was armed with reviews, product specs, prices and comparison articles. I spent so much time researching “the best”, that I never got around to buying anything. One day, my dad showed up with a perfectly fine middle-of-the-road grill he’d bought for us. Was it the “best”? No. But we sure got to grilling on it, and enjoying our yard and our deck and each other. Classic Dad, and he was right.

2. Keep loving your people, even when it’s hard. Yep, this is basically a repeat of #8. But who likes a list of 9??? Not to mention, this one is the most important. Those extended family members who stopped talking to each other? He’s never stopped talking to any of them, updating them on how the other is, gently reminding them without words of the bond of family. He’s still hoping for reconciliation. (I’m hoping it doesn’t happen at his funeral. Seriously people, let bygones be bygones. Family feuds are a tragic waste of time.) Granddaughters who struggle with mental illness, with good choices, with loving behavior? He’s there, forgiving, loving and encouraging. And a daughter who is frequently overwhelmed, and frequently not quite as THERE for her folks as she’d like to be? Always patient, always forgiving, never guilt-tripping.

Yeah, this one’s the most important, because through my dad, I’ve gotten to know my Father.

1. Spoil your kids, even when they are far too old for it. By spoil, I mean surprise them by watching their small monsters children so they can have a date night, or with the occasional cash encouragement and direction to treat themselves. Say, maybe when they are in the middle of a difficult season of tight finances, trying to be responsible adults and feeling deprived of small luxuries like tomato plants and flowers. Such small spoiling says “I love you, you will get through this rough patch, but don’t forget to enjoy life in the meantime.”

Tomatoes and flowers from my dad

Tomatoes and flowers from my dad

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Sorry dear readers, but really, I win Father’s Day.

I love you, Dad.

Guess Who Came to My House This Week?

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You ever have one (or many) of those moments where you are so bonedowndeeptired, so overwhelmed, so completely buried under the big problems, the little problems, and the minutia that you just stand in your kitchen, slowly spinning around, wondering at what point it officially crosses the line between trying to catch your breath and hyperventilating with anxiety? No? Yeah, me neither.

Right………

The last couple of weeks have been a wee bit stressful, what with leading a women’s retreat, doing a couple of stand-up shows, and ushering both of my parents into and out of the hospital (one planned, one not planned, both home and better now, thank goodness!). Not to mention garden variety ongoing extended family mental health crises. Week before last, I was gone seven nights in a row, leaving my sweet husband to do dinner and bedtime for the munchkins on his own. FOR SEVEN NIGHTS IN A ROW.

By Monday of this week, I was in exhausted, directionless spinning mode, unable to perform the tiniest task because it all seemed SO COMPLICATED AND HARD AND EXHAUSTING. Putting my socks on? TOO MUCH. Clipping a hangnail? FORGET ABOUT IT.

The house looked like a bomb had gone off, and no one had even bothered to dust the debris. (Cause the hubby is amazing, but he doesn’t really, um, pick up. Anything. Minor detail, really. Cause SEVEN NIGHTS, people.)

But then guess what happened? Jesus came over. Yep. He came to my house this week, and mopped my floors. Folded my laundry. Folded more laundry. Told me He still loved me, even though I was a dreadful housekeeper, and made me dinner.

Of course, I’m not sure y’all would have recognized him without the beard and the white toga outfit, but it was definitely Jesus. Not Sunday School Jesus in the paintings, and not Angry Jesus you might read about in the paper, you know, the one who disapproves of people, and criticizes folks through thin pursed lips.

No, this was The Real Deal Jesus. The One who meets me where I am weak and vulnerable, who meets me right where I am with open arms and tells me it’s ok, I AM enough and with Him I can do whatever is in front of me.

Like I said, He didn’t look like Sunday School Jesus at all. He actually looked exactly like five beautiful women from my small group, sisters who had read through my pitiful email updates about how I was fine, just tired, just discouraged about you know…. everything.  One of them called and said “We’re coming Tuesday, how’s 9:30?” Note she didn’t ask what they could do, or tell me to let me know if they could do anything.

She simply said they. Were. Coming. When I protested, she ignored me. Gently. When I said the house was too dirty for them to come clean, she ignored me. Gently. When I said I had an appointment at that time and I couldn’t be there, she said that was fine, probably for the best, I just needed to let them in and maybe give them a list of the most important things to be done to save my sanity.

She said they couldn’t fix the Big Stuff, but they could fold my laundry. They could mop the floor. They could (Lord, have mercy on my bad housekeeper self) clean the bathrooms. They could leave me a dinner to nourish my people, and leave me some clean spots in the rubble I could gaze on to nourish my soul.

Oh, how it nourished my soul. Once I got over my embarrassment, my shame at my dirty floorboards, and my vulnerability at having others do such intimate tasks for me, they got to be Jesus. (Crazy how often we can get in the way of other people being Jesus.) Hands folded, hands scrubbed, and they were His hands. Hands chopped and cooked, and they were His hands.

Those same women and a few other dear sisters have prayed me and my family through every hard thing in the last few years, every dark turn, every moment that seemed too much to bear. Their prayers have held me up when I couldn’t pray, when I couldn’t think, when I couldn’t hope.

They have brought meals, watched kids, and taken me to get a pedicure. (Sometimes that is EXACTLY what a girl needs.)

You know what I call that? Sacred work. Sacred work that loved me, filled me, and held me up.

So if you don’t have friends like that, you need to get you some. Seriously. Because since Tuesday, I’ve breathed deeper, and felt stronger, and loved a little more patiently, and my kitchen floor is clean and sometimes that will just get you to the next moment. (And if you’re still stuck on Angry Jesus, or Sunday School Jesus, or Judgmental Jesus or Distant Jesus, you really need to meet this other Guy.)

Yup. That’s Real Deal Jesus, and He came to my house this week.

Not a Christmas Letter Kind of Season

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Good thing I rarely write a Christmas letter. Don’t get me wrong, I love getting them, opening that envelope and reading them, so I know that makes me a bit of a hypocrite. When I do write one, it’s a surprise to everyone (especially since it may arrive at any random time of year that ISN’T Christmas). This year, though, I’m grateful for the low expectations I’ve nurtured amongst friends and family.

‘Cause this year, the Christmas letter wouldn’t be very fun. Or it would be VERY fake.

Not that I couldn’t talk about my kids, how they are growing, how they are doing in school, what extracurricular activities they enjoy. I could wax eloquently about summer family camping adventures, or my husband’s job, or my new-found conviction that I am exactly where I am supposed to be right now, even though I am about the least-qualified stay-at-home-mom EVER. IN. HISTORY.

But that letter would be bunk. Hooey. Bull-hockey, as a friend’s grandpa used to say.

The truth this year, as I stumble my way through Advent towards Christmas, is that I’m weighted down with sadness. An inescapable sadness from different tough things going on in our just-outside-nuclear family, a sadness that pours down over me like sticky, heavy syrup.

And sadness ain’t Christmas-y, people.

Truthfully, sometimes life just sucks.

Sometimes, the very best available option of a whole pile of bad options is still pretty awful.

I hadn’t put a name to what was up until I took a few minutes recently to just sit quietly and “feel my feelings”. As the sadness made itself known, and I realized how deeply the sticky heavy had sunk into me, I felt myself getting panicky.

It’s Christmas! Season of joy, happiness, and celebration! I have gifts to buy! Cookies to bake! Teacher gifts to wrap! Decorations to decorate! A tree! Carols!

Much of the fun hullabaloo of Christmas is up to me to create for my family, and we have three boys who need fun! And Christmas! and more hullabaloo! (Tiny tangent – in case you were concerned, that is the correct spelling. Hullabaloo is in my spell check. Really? Hullabaloo? OK.)

So I began to forbid the sadness, and to feel guilty for feeling it. Panic rose up in me, telling me loud lies about how the sad and I would ruin Christmas.

And then I felt a Whisper*. A Whisper that said it was OK. It was ok to be sad. I am sad for good reason. If I faked my way through Advent, convincing myself and everyone else that I had it All Together All By Myself Thank You, then why would I need Christmas?

If I can’t be honest that I’m grieving real things that are really happening, that we live in a broken world of broken people who are hurting and who hurt us, then I don’t need a Christmas from a God who would reach down to us through time and space and history to give us Hope.

And I DO need that. I do need hope.

And I need to be honest. Honest with you, Blog Readers, with my friends, with people I see. Because if I say all is well and I fake it till I can make it, there is no authenticity or vulnerability that leaves room for healing or for hope. There is only room for the lies to get louder.

So….yeah. I’m sad, and it’s Christmas. But that’s ok. ‘Cause if I am real about the hurts in my life and the empty places, I make room for Him to reach down, and room for us to reach out. Then we get to help be Emanuel, God Among Us. We get to be His strength and peace and hope for each other.

And that is Merry for sure.

In case you were wondering, BTW, I don’t think I’m depressed, not clinically. (Honest, Mom.) Been there, done that. (And I’ve already given the hubby permission to be on the lookout anyway, just in case.)

*(I’m from way too moderate a tradition to probably ever feel comfortable saying “I heard God say….” However, I do feel Whispers. And Nudges. And occasionally Kicks in the Pants.)

Have you ever had a Christmas that included some sad? How did you honor that?

Sweet Halloween Victory

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The best opening line of a joke EVER

So, a hillbilly, a pickle and a Lego man walk into a bar…….

Isn’t that the BEST set-up for a joke? It’s been crackin’ me up all week. And I don’t even have a punch line! (And technically, it’s a Lego mini-fig, but that just doesn’t roll off the tongue the same way…..)

But yesterday was one of those magical moments when the parenting stars align. When it doesn’t matter how NOT artsy or craftsy I am, or how much laundry didn’t get folded this week, or how grouchy I or may not have been the day before.

What mattered yesterday was the fact that my sweet husband and I (with an assist from the teenager) pulled off some serious Halloween 2012 Costume Victory. Three boys, three costumes that actually resembled what they were supposed to resemble.

The nature of the victory? The usual. No contests were entered, no medals awarded. Honestly, the three costume recipients weren’t even effusively grateful. But when for even a brief moment I feel like I’m doing this parenting thing right, I claim that little victory!

Highlights from Halloween 2012

  • Hillbilly costume – triggered by four unfortunate though necessary pre-orthodontic dental extractions that left the 11 y.o. with two front teeth surrounded by large gaps of empty space on both sides. This costume was a no-brainer. (Except for my lingering “first-world problem” concern that maybe the costume really just made fun of poverty and people who cannot afford dental care? Neither of which were my intentions. I stand firmly against both poverty and lack of access to dental care.)
  • Pickle costume – a specific request from the six y.o., as it is his favorite food. If you can’t tell, he was a dill pickle. Not sweet. I don’t know why. I just know I’m eternally grateful that the dollar store had vaguely pickle-colored laundry bags, cause I don’t sew.
  • Lego costume – this was a lot of work, but I asked for it. Middle child always wants to forgo a creative homemade costume for a PC costume from the store. No, not politically correct. Plastic crap. I was protesting this consumeristic approach when I naively said “hey, let’s look online for costume ideas, I’m sure we’ll find something cool.” Cool, yes. Easy, no. But at least if I ever need to pour a four foot cylinder of concrete, I’m totally ready with the remnants of a 10″ cardboard concrete form. (The tube for the head.)

Lessons learned, 2012

  • If you need suspenders, always ask Grandpa. Where else are you going to get a fashionable pair pre-printed with hunting scenes – ducks, deer AND rifles?
  • You can hot glue gun warts on a pickle at a rate of about 20 warts per 15 minutes, if you are not picky about quality and are moderately careful not to glue costume to small child within.
  • Lego man may need to sit down at some point. Check this out before he wears costume to school for the day.

Another Halloween has come and gone, and I am keenly aware that I don’t have many years left to enthusiastically craft poor quality costumes, or supervise candy sorting and trading, or scrape sugared-up little boys off the ceiling and pour them exhausted into bed and kiss their sticky cheeks. So forgive me, but I’m going to sit back and savor this for a spell. Pass the Reese’s Cups, would you?

Sweet Halloween memories made here

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