Just Mom

It’s finally raining. I could watch the rain for hours. I’ve always thought that July is a harsh month with its insistent sun, blistering temperatures and brown, sizzled grass. Flowers hanging on only if they’ve been faithfully watered. Mine have been watered semi-faithfully, so they are only semi-dead.

We recently added a new member to our family. He’s hairy and brown, probably weighs less than a pound. We have him on a foster-to-adopt program if Ian’s furry animal allergy can handle him.

I wasn’t planning on it, but somewhere in the past week, I’ve fallen in love with this little guy. I don’t view myself as a huge animal lover, (I blame an incident with a German Shepherd when I was young.) and I didn’t expect to really enjoy, much less actually be fond of our new addition. But I am.

Daniel and I believe he bears a resemblance to Mr. Darcy from the movie Pride and Prejudice (the guinea pig that is, not Ian).

I’m reminded of how I like to care for things… babies, kids, plants, hungry people who like chocolate, and a guinea pig, I guess.

The other weekend was my 20th high school reunion. The dreaded question of the evening was “What are you doing now?”.

The kids will be going to school five days a week this coming fall, for the first time ever. Hence I’ve lost my part-time school-facilitating position that verified my college education was not a complete waste, even though my teaching certification has expired and I basically have no desire to get back into speech pathology or the education field.

The schooling change is needed. The kids are excited. I’m ready to be finished wearing my school teacher hat. The whole family knows it’s the right time, except my self-worth hasn’t caught on yet.

This is uncharted territory, being “just” mom of two kids who will no longer need me during most of the waking weekday hours. Nor do I think Mr. Darcy will require much attention since I’m convinced he is a gifted guinea pig.

I’m unemployed with absolutely no direction for the next stage in my life. I think this is the time I’m supposed to move back in with my parents, although Daniel may be a tad bit upset by that (hopefully).

With this change looming on the horizon, I’ve turned to two of my favorite men for guidance. Felix Mendelssohn and Frederick Chopin have become my right-hand therapists. Recently, I’ve spent a good amount of time in piano therapy. But I do admit, I wish I could get some decent feedback about how my sessions are progressing…then again, that might be creepy.

I’m scheduled to play prelude in church at the end of the summer, when this mini-self-worth-crisis may become full-blown as I feel the full impact of not resuming my usual teaching duties. Earlier this summer, I decided I could not play another tired, semi-easy arrangement of Come Thou Fount. The regular churchy music was too neat, too expected, too familiar. That’s not where I am.

Instead I dusted off some classical books from my high school days and have found myself relishing the practice. I sit down and dwell on notes, double flats, fingerings, dynamics, tempo changes. Twenty-two even notes in three beats against eighth notes. It’s complicated. It’s messy. It needs work and so much polishing.

The perfect fit.

(Some wise friends at the reunion suggested I figure out how to make my passions become my career. I’m pretty sure concert pianist is not in the cards.)

After the prelude is played, the Basement-Make-Over-Self-Worth Rescue Plan begins in September. The plan is for me to bring the last part of our house that still bears the 1960s vibe into the current century. I will tackle the dark, dingy basement with it’s stained track ceiling (thank God I don’t have to paint the ceiling!!), paneled walls, and paint-peeling floor.

It’s going to be a.w.f.u.l. I know I’m a decent painter due to my perfectionist nature, but I still hate it. Nothing enjoyable about it. I’m slow, and it kills my hands, so I get even slower as each project progresses.

I laughed when a friend at the reunion compared her early post-law-school days to Daniel in the movie Karate Kid. “Wax on. Wax off, Daniel-san.” Hours of mind-numbing grunt work while building muscles and reflexes required for the bigger picture.

But maybe that’s where I am. “Paint the fence [basement], Natalie-san. Up…Down…Up…Down…Don’t…forget…to breathe.” Hours upon hours of tedium. And just maybe this dark 1960s dungeon will become the sacred space where I figure it out with my good friends Mendelssohn, Chopin, Mr. Darcy, and Mr. Miyagi.

When I’m finished, my answer may be overwhelming peace to continue being “just mom.” Or maybe I’ll be excited to journey in a totally new direction. Worst case scenario – the basement will be revitalized, and I’ll be quasi-ready to begin karate lessons.

I can live with that.

Messages from the Heart

If you haven’t heard, Daniel and I are nearing the peak of marathon training, which deserves a post unto itself. (Biker turned runner!?!?) I haven’t had much time to write since training has a way of sapping energy and devouring countless hours… running, showering, soaking, eating, sleeping, stretching, foam rolling, strengthening, eating (again), and sleeping (again).

But the number one way the hours slip away is by waiting for the weather to change because I hate running in the rain, wind, and under cloudy skies… and it’s still winter. So there’s that.

But several of you have been asking what I am writing. The truthful answer up until 8:30am on Monday was “nothing,” but then this happened.

******

Around Thanksgiving, Alice and I found ourselves in AC Moore searching for a birthday gift. While we shopped, we stumbled upon a display of letter boards. The moment I saw those letter boards, I knew one of them was coming home with me. (If you’re not sure what I’m referring to, think moveable plastic letters stuck into grooved plastic boards.)

I like words. Words are powerful. I like words so much I try not to overuse them. Daniel will tell you when I talk on a deeper level, you’d better listen. I don’t add fluff. I’ve thought through what I want to say, and I’m annoyed if I have to say it twice. (This is not true when I’m shooting the breeze, which doesn’t happen often.)

When I write, I am the same way. Each word is carefully chosen. I will re-read a post until every extraneous word has been eradicated. When I initially edit a post, I usually remove several entire paragraphs. Readers don’t want fluff. I have 1.37 minutes (if I’m lucky) to share my thoughts before the reader moves to the next facebook post or youtube video or has to rescue the toddler from playing in the toilet.

As a parent who loves written words and isn’t a huge verbal communicator, I’m always looking for ways to write encouraging messages to my kids – notes in lunchboxes and suitcases, words of affirmation on their doors, etc.. In that moment at AC Moore, I decided there was no better way to subtly communicate the succinct, positive messages I wanted my kids to hear than by having a letter board in our home, an ever-changing canvas where I could compose and influence.

Alice shares my love for words. She will read anything that is available and is usually writing at least two story-lines on any given day. I wasn’t one bit surprised when she immediately told me she wanted a letter board too. But alas, I gave her some lame excuse about not being prepared to buy it then, and we moved on… or so she thought.

Two days later, I was back at AC Moore picking out a letter board. The hardest part was not buying the largest size available which would have provided maximum realty space, but perhaps looked slightly obnoxious in our modest living room. The medium sized board was presented as a family Christmas gift with one rule – anyone could write anything on it as long as it was appropriate and kind.

Since then, Alice and I have faithfully rotated heart-felt messages – a birthday countdown, a quote from Henri Nouwen, a welcome sign for the weekend the kids and I spent scrapbooking our cross country trip. I was loving it.

Then this past Saturday, I couldn’t sleep. I was replaying some mistakes I had made during a concert earlier that night – both on and off stage. They weren’t show stoppers, but as is true for most of us, I am my toughest critic.

As I was belittling my musical and other abilities, I turned to Facebook in hopes of being lulled to sleep. No dice. Instead, my brain lit up when I read a lengthy! quote that I instantly knew had to go on our letter board. Pronto! (How I wished for that larger sized board!)

Over an hour later, I had covered the entire board with this condensed paraphrase…“Some kids are smarter than you. Some have coolers duds or are better at sports than you. It doesn’t matter. You have your thing too. Be the kid who gets along and is happy for others. You are the kid who does the right thing.”

I went to bed feeling satisfied to have shared such empowering words on the board but completely missing the point for myself… there will always be someone better than I am at music, at running, etc.. It doesn’t matter. What matters is how I treat others, not silly mistakes in a concert.

The next morning, Alice walked into the kitchen carrying the letter board and beaming from ear to ear. Bull’s-eye! She got it! That quote had resonated loudly and clearly. Later that day, she pointed it out to Grandma, and Ian also said something about it. It had happened! My letter board hopes were becoming reality.

After supper, I found Ian sitting on the floor with the board, haphazardly pulling off the letters. I was tired from lack of sleep, run down from two concerts and a long-ish run, and discouraged to see my late-night work being discarded so quickly. My anger flared, but I managed to walk away without erupting, remembering the letter board was for everyone, not just me… or maybe there were some extra people in the house, and I decided to try to be mature.

It wasn’t until the house was quiet that I saw it… the first message Ian has ever written on the board. The boy who hates to write and who will condense a five word sentence to four words if he can had replaced my quote with another powerful message.

Well said, my Ian-boy.

Just an Ordinary Day

I had big plans for today. My farm-loving boy and I were going to Cherry Crest Farm, where we would (according to their website) befriend some animals, climb the straw tower, take a tractor-pulled wagon ride, launch apples and shoot paint balls at various targets, and of course…conquer the corn maze.

Ian would absolutely love it; I’d be “Fun Mom” for once instead of my usual “Mean, Boring Mom.” It was a win-win scenario in my opinion.

Ian and I have found ourselves home alone together for several days. Daniel is one week into a business trip, and Alice is at camp. Life is quiet. Very quiet. Too quiet. On several occasions, I’ve caught myself talking out loud in empty rooms in hopes of engaging someone…anyone… in coherent conversation. (Thankfully, that hasn’t happened.)

Late yesterday afternoon, I needed to leave The Quiet. Luckily my parents were home, so I spent the evening eating their food and enjoying their company. But when we came home later that night, it was quiet again…loudly quiet, and I was possibly more lonely than before we left.

To combat The Quiet, I found myself looking at Cherry Crest’s website, plotting my game plan for the upcoming day of fun. I was looking forward to being in a crowd of diverse people, feeling confident that I could still function in a grown-up world. I’d be reminded that life exists beyond dirty dishes and my dust bunny friends. I might even exchange a few thousand words with some poor, unsuspecting soul. I felt like I was about to emerge from my cocoon.

The problem was that this morning when Ian heard my plan, he wasn’t excited. At.All.Not.One.Bit. In fact, he was downright adamant that he was staying home.

Honestly, I wasn’t overly surprised by this although I had hoped that shooting at things might be the seller for him. There is a reason I refer to Ian as “my homebody.” Whenever there’s anywhere to go, Ian would rather stay home.

To the park? Nope. Swimming? Nope. Out for ice cream? Nope. Hershey Park? Nope. In fact, the most common phrase out of this child’s mouth (other than “I’m bored. There’s nothing to do.”…do you see the irony?) is “I just want to stay home”.

I get it. I do.

By nature I too weigh in heavily on the I’d-rather-be-at-home side of the scale, although I have my limits, which I had—fully and absolutely—reached.

Over the years, I have tried to honor Ian’s homebody-ness since I am usually commiserating with him. However! I also know that sometimes what I need is a swift kick out the door in order to experience new things that are life enriching and surprisingly fun.

So what was I going to do with this one? Honor the homebody or give him that swift kick?

Neither. I went into survival mode.

One thing I have learned with single parenting 24/7 for two+ weeks at a time is that my energy is precious; there’s pretty much none to spare past Day #4. Instead of using that energy to force my kids to do fun things, I have to save it for when I need to force them to do the not-so-fun-things.

With my energy reserves already heading toward fumes, I reluctantly and sorrowfully said in the most adult voice I could muster (which may have sounded more like whining), “Fine! We’ll stay home. But there’s no! extra screen time [which is what I may have resorted to the day before to keep him entertained without Alice], and we will need to go shopping instead [which he hates!].

In other words, we’ll stay home, but it ain’t gonna be fun.

So we’ve been home all morning and into the afternoon; it’s been quiet. (Shocking, I know!) No screens until 1:45p is the rule.

After lunch I picked up the book I’ve been reading since May entitled “The Gift of an Ordinary Day.” This book isn’t a gripping tale, and to be completely honest, I’ve read several books in between slowly turning the pages of this one.

The plot feels almost lackadaisical, but that’s probably the point since the book is about the aftermath of a woman who moves her family far away from the only house they’ve known, and on top of that, she loses her work-from-home-job.

Her once active and very busy world crashes to a fiercely quiet halt. Through this, she learns to appreciate the present, enjoy mundane tasks, and let the future happen on its own accord. She finds gifts in unexpected places, in The Quiet.

As I read a couple pages, the gifts of my own quiet morning resonated inside me.

Ian and I sitting side by side in front of the music stand, working on a guitar song.

Brainstorming together about a birthday present for Alice.

His questions and endless chatter about his new obsession, remote control cars.

Him wanting my opinion on which truck and RV he should purchase in the future. (I want you to come to the dealership with me, Mom.)

Me sorting out school supplies while he sharpened pencils.

Him driving his tractor around the living room while singing Christmas songs.

Both of us leaving the lunch table to watch a pair of goldfinches on the wilted sunflower by our mailbox.

I’m sure by the end of the day we will play outside, and I will read “Hank the Cowdog” out loud for as long as he can coax me to keep reading, even while he brushes his teeth and stalls for more time as he arranges and re-arranges his stuffed animals just so. One more page, pleeeaaasse?

As I put him to bed, he will hopefully ask me to lay down beside him. And since I know those requests are numbered, I will rest beside his warm, little body before giving him a crushing hug and a sloppy kiss.

These are the gifts of this quiet, ordinary day—my treasures that I could never find at Cherry Crest.

* * *

First thing the next morning, much to my surprise, Ian came into my room. “Fine!” he declared. “Let’s go.” (Apparently he also gets cabin fever, just a little later than I do.)

And we did.

At the end of the sweaty, tiring day, he thanked me and said he had a great time. I did too, and I will savor the gifts from both days spent together.

Walk with me

So Daniel recently came home from traveling for close to three weeks. While he was away, my daughter decided to see if she could single handedly destroy every single grain of parenting confidence I have ever possessed.

Upon his return,  it was decided that Daniel will be a Bostonian for this coming week…Surprise! Oh and let’s throw in the anniversary of my sister-in-law’s untimely passing.  And Voilà! The Perfect Storm.

Yesterday, I decided I needed some serious me-time in order to collect the ragtag remnants of my sanity since I could feel my inner Godzilla raging, so I did one of the things I do best. I hightailed it for someone else’s well-kept garden to be alone with my thoughts.

(Daniel: Did you take a bus or did you drive? Natalie: What? Why would I take a bus? Of course I drove. Daniel: I thought this was a field trip for one of the kids. You mean you went by yourself? Totally alone? Did you meet someone there? Note our stellar prior communication. And yes, I did meet someone there, five someones in fact….a very kind gentleman who helped me figure out the name of a particularly incredible flower [see last picture which does not! do said flower justice], another gentlemen who pointed out a bird I surely would have otherwise missed [see third picture], and a family of three who asked me to take their picture. That was the extent of human interaction for the day.)

No back talking. No decision making. No one rudely pounding on the bathroom door. (Seriously, at what stage of childhood does this stop? Do I really need to instill consequences for disrupting bathroom time?) I guess you could say I ran away…for 6.5 hours.

It. was. Perfection.

The weather was perfect. The flowers were perfect. Even my packed lunch did not disappoint, which it usually does. Also, the garden gods smiled on me as I was one of the privileged to view a test run of the renovated fountain display that has been under construction for many months (years?)…thrills! The only thing that was lacking was my camera equipment and photography skills, but that’s ok because then I would have been task oriented, which is one of the other things I do best, and not present.

And while I do not claim to be a poet of any sort, these were the phrases that rang in my head from the beginning to the end of the day.

Come walk through the garden with me, embracing a slower pace of life. I promise I’ll enjoy your company. I already had my alone time.

Applying sunblock

Avoiding field trip-ers

Hanging with the white-haired

Watching birds

Appreciating art

Answering no one

Walking slowly

Breathing deeply

Smiling quickly

Drowning beauty

Soothing stillness

Flowing tears

Sitting quietly

Remembering fondly

Healing bittersweetly

Fading frustrations

Wandering thoughts

Calming spirit

Dreaming

Hoping

Being

A Monster Truck Christmas

The last post in the series… now back to my regularly scheduled life.

* * *

Around Thanksgiving, I placed a toy truck in my Amazon shopping cart, waiting for the day when I would deem my order complete. Long story short, I had to ask my Wonderful Sister-in-Law to order said truck Amazon Prime style since we’re not prime members, and the truck mysteriously went on sale for prime members only! once it was in my cart…go figure. (We’ll talk conspiracy theory another time.)

When I went to my sister-in-law’s house to pick up the truck, I was expecting a certain size box. The box that awaited me was quite a bit larger than the box I had anticipated. I figured it was just extra packaging. However, once I unwrapped the truck completely at home, I realized the truck is nothing other than HUGE, not what I had expected.

(I asked Daniel if I should return the truck for a smaller one. He said, “No way. It’s awesome.” My apologies to the recipient’s parents who will need to add on to their house for this monstrosity.)

The little boy who receives this truck is going to be pretty happy (I hope). However, I also know this is a time of year when not everyone is happy with what they have received, and I’m not talking about oversized Christmas gifts either.

In the past few weeks, I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about the many people dear to my heart who are dealing with the unexpected this Christmas… health problems, broken relationships, uncertain futures, loved ones moving, missing deceased loved ones. And those are just a few.

Amazon sent you a monster truck when you really only wanted a matchbox. Or better yet, you want to send that truck back to Amazon and forget it ever arrived at your door.

The changes in your lives have left you shocked and hurting. This was not what you wanted. This was not what you expected. While I do not claim to know each and every one of your feelings, I grieve with you and think I might be able to say I too have experienced the unwelcomed unexpected.

I see you. I hear you. Your road is long, and it is overwhelming. Your pain is not forgotten.

But even in the unexpected, we are invited to take a risk. To fix our eyes on the Reason for the Season and not just to hope, but also to dare to expect the impossible.

Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus

From our Family Coloring Book to you…

Merry Christmas!

Expect the Unexpected

Both Alice and I have joined the craze of adult coloring books. Alice is quite a bit more dedicated to it than I am. I took two coloring pages along on our cross country trip and didn’t crack open a single marker during those six weeks.

Alice, on the other hand, used an entire! pencil box filled to the brim with colored pencils and spent large portions of many days happily coloring. Fueled by receiving a plethora of coloring paraphernalia for her birthday in August, this passion continued once we returned home. More coloring supplies are at the top of her Christmas list as four months later she is once again running low on pens and pencils.

I think Alice is an amazing color-er; she takes her time and picks out colors that compliment each other well. She has an eye for it. So as a way to connect with her, I decided to buy an Advent coloring book for us to share. I planned to call it the “Family Coloring Book.” However, Ian and Daniel don’t usually bother with coloring, so “Family” was just an alias to cover up my motive.

Instead, I pictured Alice and myself tag-teaming our way through the book, with me coloring early in the day and Alice adding to it when she got home from school or on weekends. The end product would be a beautiful shared experience that we would treasure for years. It would be ours, just hers and mine, mother and daughter.

On my deathbed, she will probably whisper to me, “Remember the Christmas we spent coloring our Advent book? It was one of the best things we ever did together.”

On Tuesday, December first, I spent some of the morning happily coloring a portion of the first page while I pondered the idea of “waiting well.” I was completely satisfied with my own color choices, which rarely happens, and was eager for Alice to add to it.

It was the next morning before I had the chance to share the book with Alice. Ian happened to be in hearing range as I explained the Family Coloring Book. Much to my surprise, Ian wanted to color too.

What?

Wait.

Really? (said with a twang of whining disbelief)

Now Ian is not quite as patient with staying in the lines or as adept at choosing complimentary colors as Alice is. He also likes to take quite a bit of artistic freedom while he colors. So my knee-jerk response to his excitement was to tell him that I needed to amend my earlier statement of “Family Coloring Book” to “Mother-Daughter Coloring Book;” my mother-daughter keepsake did not include Ian.

But I kept my mouth shut, even as I watched the kids color through almost three pages over the course of the morning; Ian sporting varying degrees of care and artistic flare. Or as he forcefully stated to one of my objections in his choice of additions to a picture, “Let me color my imagination.”

Seriously? Who can argue with that?

Still, it took me the entire three pages to adjust to my idea of a beautiful work of art becoming… a different beautiful work of art, but one that I will treasure just the same.

Change.

Change is hard for me. Very hard. Sometimes it takes years for me to adjust to a new idea or a changing tradition. I wish I were more adaptable. It’s something I’m becoming more aware of and thus am hoping I am on the road to less inflexibility.

But I don’t think I’m the only one who has trouble with change. The Jews in Jesus’s time were expecting a king, one seriously rich and fierce dude who would conquer the Roman Empire and rule the earth. Instead, they got a poor, helpless baby, a cosmic Christmas shift. Just like many of that time, I’m sure I would not have been the first one to jump on the This-Baby-is-the-Foretold-Messiah boat.

What else do I miss because of my rigid expectations? Because I am expecting one thing and miss the joy and awe of the unexpected.

The beauty of blue birds, watching my son and daughter accomplish projects independently, the simplicity of less shopping, the creation of a new work of art, the wonder of God’s plan… all totally different from my own expectations.

Maybe it’s time to expect the unexpected.

Shifting Expectations

So…maybe it’s becoming clear. This week there is a theme which formed during six hours of a writing flurry. I’m sure this will not be repeated often, so don’t expect it next week…or probably ever again.

* * *

Christmas is a season heavily laced with expectation. I expect to Christmas shop around late November (all online), spend the first weekend in December singing with a community choir, and get a tree the following weekend.

There will be chocolate covered peanut butter Ritz, and the kids will beg relentlessly until we bake and decorate cut-out cookies, which will be at least! a three day process. (This year was a new record. It took seven days from start to finish. Ugh!)

We will open the 24 doors on the same Advent calendar each year, go see Messick’s light show, and Christmas Eve will be spent with Daniel’s family. My family gathering is the wild card due to farm work, but even that is expected.

The Hallelujah Chorus will be sung at some point during the week of Christmas, even if it is a choir of one soprano (me) in my kitchen.

Finally, my kids expect three gifts to open on Christmas morning along with their stockings, just like I received three gifts as a child and “supposedly” so did toddler Jesus. Also, I expect to do the majority of the shopping for those gifts, since Daniel doesn’t enjoy shopping.

Messing with any one of these expectations for our children is like introducing some type of cosmic Christmas chaos in their little realm of the universe… or possibly my realm of the universe.

This year, instead of buying the kids their three gifts, Daniel and I agreed to buy one large family gift. Daniel spent some time on e-bay and found the item.

Since I am usually the gift buyer, I figured if we had one large family gift, there could easily be one small gift per child without feeling like we’d gone overboard. Plus I needed to shop like I do every year.

Would it still feel like Christmas if there was only one box to unwrap? Not to me, it wouldn’t. I didn’t even bother to mention my thoughts to Daniel, thinking he too would agree that one small gift per child isn’t outrageous.

Then one evening, Daniel stated he would like to put a small part of the family gift into each stocking instead of me buying small things for stockings. I hesitated.

I had already been planning the stockings, buying the cutesy little stuff that the kids beg me to buy, but I never give in, making me Mean-Cheap-Mom. Stockings are my chance to redeem my Mean-Cheap-Mom status.

But Fine! I’ll be Mean-Cheap-Mom for another year and forego the stocking stuffers; at least I can still give the small individual gift.

One evening at supper, we told the kids about the large family gift and that it meant they weren’t getting three gifts. They took the news well and have been enthusiastically trying to figure out what the large gift is ever since.

Christmas lists were made for grandparents, with me picking what I wanted to claim as the one small gift from Mean-Cheap-Mom (and Not-Mean-Cheap-Dad). I was adjusting decently.

Until one evening, Daniel and I were talking about the kids’ lists, and I revealed what I was planning to buy each child for the one small gift. To my great surprise, Daniel didn’t endorse my one-small-gift-per-child plan.

I felt a Christmas cosmic shift occur as I mentally emptied my Amazon cart. I couldn’t buy my children “anything” for Christmas? Never mind that they are getting a gift that costs more than we usually spend on them. That’s obviously not the point!

The point is that three gifts have been a Christmas standard for 30+ years of my life. What Christmas blasphemy is this?

Tradition: when the same events occur in the same manner for the same occasion over a long period of time (my own highly sophisticated and scholarly definition).

I get so stuck in tradition that it’s hard to adjust to something different, even something new that produces no negative side effects. Expecting things to stay the same keeps me anchored, which is positive, but can also be extremely negative.

When I can’t accept minor neutral changes, it’s time to re-examine. Where does my joy come from? Where am I placing my trust and hope? It shouldn’t be from my expectations about Christmas or the annual trip to the beach or my weekly schedule.

When it comes to doing school work, one of my children is very tradition driven. Subjects must happen in a specific order each day. Schedule, knowing what to expect, gives this child a sense of security, and if things are out of order, I will know about it through means of whining or possibly tantrums. Being the very mature adult that I am, I get extremely frustrated by this.

But maybe it’s time to examine my own life and remember that security does not come from tradition. Three gifts on Christmas morning is a nice sentiment, but it’s certainly not a reason to throw a mental tantrum. Instead of clinging to my traditions and expectations, I hope to make room for the real Reason for the Season.

Great Expectations Gone Wrong

Fifth grade has been a huge! adjustment for Alice and, if I’m honest, for myself as well. We were told at the beginning of the year that the teachers were going to expect a new level of responsibility from the kids, and they do. Both Alice and I are still adjusting to the implications of “a new level of responsibility.”

Daniel will tell you my stress level has been maxed out since the end of August. Pretty much every Tuesday and Thursday evening, which are the nights before an at-home school day for Alice, when I go through Alice’s backpack and the lesson plans for the next day, Daniel can anticipate some type of stress related breakdown on my end.

Such breakdowns involve ranting or furiously emailing teachers and/or fellow parents, etc. or tears or just sitting and staring because I am now beyond exhausted by it all. Or even more recently, I could be found laughing like a lunatic because, even though I am certifiably half-crazed, laughing still seems slightly more appealing than poking my eye out with a fork, which is probably my next move.

I am at my wits end. End of story.

In general, my meltdowns aren’t pretty, and after three months of them, Daniel was tired of them.

One day while the kids were at school, he took me aside. After an hour of interrogation long line of carefully crafted questions, he asked me if some minuscule portion of the problem could possibly be me?

ME???? How dare he suggest such complete and total…. rubbish!

Think. Think. Think.

Then again…

Without tooting my horn too much, I was a student who enjoyed working hard to earn good grades and thus did well academically through all my schooling. Failure, or anything remotely (or even not-so-remotely) close to it, was not an option in any subject, not even in gym, which I hated with every fiber of my intensely uncoordinated body.

I was the student doing the extra credit project even though my current “A” did not need any boosting what-so-evah. I was the college kid laboring on school work for 21 hours a day for 4 weeks straight in my second year of college. I might be considered a bit of an overachiever.

Maybe I am my own problem? Maybe my expectations for fifth grade are a little too high?

* * *

Recently, Ian had to make a construction paper Christmas ball at home to take to school where it would hang above his desk for the remainder of December. He brought home eight carefully chosen Christmas cards to cut up and glue to the ball for decoration. He was very excited about this project.

He traced a large circle template on eight pieces of construction paper and asked me to cut the circles because he’s not the best scissor-er yet (possibly because his delinquent mother still hasn’t gotten him a left-handed scissors, shame on her!). I cut the circles because I knew they needed to be uniform in order to form the sphere easily.

Using a triangle template placed in the center of each circle, Ian tried to fold the circle around the triangle, leaving a triangular imprint in the middle where he would glue words or images cut from the cards. The folding proved to be a bit more than Ian could do easily, and once again, he asked for help.

The next job was cutting the cards. Ian started cutting, hacking away quite haphazardly at the cards. He would cut out the image he wanted from the card, and if it didn’t fit in the triangular space, he would quickly hack large pieces of the picture off, chopping at the picture here and there, until it raggedly fit into the space.

One such picture he had basically hacked to bits, and the image still wasn’t fitting in the triangle. I helped him re-orient the image, showed him where to to cut, and then glued on other pieces he had already cut off which now fit because we had maximized the space. The end product pleased me even if I had had to perform minor surgery in order to get everything to fit beautifully.

For the next picture, we talked about layout and came up with a plan before he started hacking. That panel looked great too.

Then Ian picked up a card with a large star on it, and he started hacking away again. “Wait. Don’t trim so much. You can do it this way or this way and fit more of the picture in your space,” I told him showing him some ideas I had.

He threw down the card and the scissors. “Fine! You do it your way!” he yelled and walked away.

I immediately realized my error. I waited a couple minutes while he scootered out his frustration in the basement and then apologized. “We’ll do it your way,” I told him.

There may have been quite a bit more coaxing to get him back to the project since he was still a bit apprehensive of his meddling mother, but in the end, he finished the ball.

His way, minus my expectations.

Expectations

To say I was a tad nervous is an understatement. My daughter was centerstage, in front of 40+ people, who knew me relatively well. Our church was enjoying a congregational evening of playing the game Family Feud, and Alice was facing off with another child.

The Feud had apparently surveyed 100 children, asking them the number one thing their mothers were most likely to be heard yelling at their children. Alice was about pronounce what she thought was the number one answer, based on her experience with her own mother of course.

Scenes from the day flashed before my eyes (and ears) as I could hear myself scolding Alice, just before we left for church, for not brushing her hair, for lounging in the bathtub too long, and for misplacing an item we needed to take to church. Which one would she pick as the number one reprimand?

Or would she go back earlier in the day and choose other phrases that regularly come from my mouth on at-home school days, phrases such as “What are you supposed to be doing, Alice?” or “Where should you put that? * big sigh *” or “Focus, Alice,” all usually uttered in frustration.

Worse yet, what awful words did I once speak rashly, words that scarred her for life and should never be repeated, but are so deeply entrenched in her little, sensitive mind that that is the only thing she could think of under pressure and will now reveal to my fellow church-goers. (My guess is those words probably aren’t church-rated.)

I waited with a pounding heart and instantly sweaty palms. Which of my expectations weighed on my daughter the most?

* * *

Recently, Ian spent some time in our garage, engaged in his newest past time of hammering and sawing on bits and pieces of scrap wood. He brought his finished project upstairs for all to admire; it was a bird feeder.

It’s hard to admire a bird feeder that isn’t going to feed any birds. Daniel and I didn’t say anything, but we didn’t expect any birds to visit the feeder which was a piece of wood with a hanger going up through the middle.

The feeder would blow around in the wind if it stayed attached to a branch. But even more problematic, it would be pillaged by squirrels long before any bird set foot on it.

To be honest, it was a project I was hoping Ian would forget about. Out of sight, out of mind, so I moved it to the basement where I hoped it would camouflage well with several other half finished projects that reside there.

Not only didn’t Ian forget, he insisted I buy bird seed. I didn’t want to buy seed, so I told him he needed sides on the feeder to protect the seeds from the wind…and the squirrels, who would tip the end of the feeder into their mouths and watch all those tasty seeds slide right into their cheek pouches.

Ian was not deterred. After some more time in the garage….Ta-da!

He was even more proud of his bird feeder with newly installed ledges. I didn’t have the heart to tell him to keep his expectations low.

After several trips to the store and “forgetting” to buy bird seed, I finally bought a bag of cheap sunflower seeds, which claimed to attract cardinals. I’ve seen cardinals around our house, but I was still sure even the most deluxe bird seed wouldn’t coax the cardinals to Ian’s feeder, at least not before the squirrels ate everything.

Did I mention squirrels?

The first day Ian put out seed, Daniel and I watched as a squirrel hung onto a branch with its back legs and then stretched out onto the feeder, using his front legs to help himself to a large lunch of sunflower seeds, his body suspended between branch and feeder.

Well, I for one was not about to feed squirrels all winter long. But for now, we had a bag of seed that would otherwise sit in the garage for years to come, so Ian kept putting it out.

On the third day, I happened to glance out the window as I’d been somewhat keeping watch on the feeder happenings. If nothing else, it is entertaining to watch the squirrels suspend themselves between the tree and the feeder for a quick snack.

But this time, it wasn’t a squirrel I saw. Something blue caught my eye, and I did a double take. I realized a male blue bird was sitting in the tree.

I’ve never seen blue birds around our house, so I was very excited. I think they are positively beautiful birds. After a bit, a female joined him. In a few minutes, another male came.

At one point, we had five!! yes, five! blue birds in the tree. Ten years of living at this location, and we’ve never seen one blue bird, much less five at the same time!

Who knows if they actually came because of the feeder. Or if the feeder was merely the tool that caused me to watch closely, allowing me this glimpse of a rare bluebird reunion. Either way, every time I think of Ian’s bird feeder, I will be filled with awe at the beauty of such a lovely bird.

So much for low expectations.

* * *

So back to Family Feud. What did my daughter proclaim as the number one thing mothers are known to yell at their kids? What does Alice feel is my number one expectation of her?

Suuurvey says!

I’m so very sad to say that I will never know. She didn’t get to answer. Her opponent buzzed in first with the number one answer (clean up/pick up your things), and Alice went back to her seat without saying a word.

Slow and Proud of It!

Another post I knew I would write sometime even though I have tried my hardest not to write it. However, the stars aligned, so here it is. Hopefully it speaks to someone somewhere. This being vulnerable stuff is scary.

 

*      *     *

 

I ran the Hershey Half Marathon again the other Sunday even though most of the important people in my life had no clue I was training for it. (Yes, Daniel knew.) I’m not totally clueless. I know non-runners really don’t want to hear all the gory details of another half marathon. (Cue rolling of eyes and thinking Crazy runners.)

 

hershey
Please no comments on form. This was finishing up mile 13.

 

Another BIG reason I didn’t mention my participation in this event was because this was my slowest time for being (somewhat) properly trained. I have excuses why I wasn’t able to train at my peak the past two months… injury, sickness, school start up was C.R.A.Z.Y., but I won’t make excuses.

 

In general, I am a slow runner, a slow processor, and a person who enjoys life at a slower pace. The problem is when I know other women my age are pulling out numbers well below my own time doing the same amount of training I did, my competitive side comes out, and it’s hard to be proud of my slowness.

 

I really struggled with this after the Hershey Half until I remembered why I run.

 

Why do I run all the boring miles? I run because it quiets the voices I battle inside my head, voices that could otherwise rule my life.

 

Now you’re completely convinced this running-crazed woman has run straight over the edge. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. But believe me, I have it more together right now than maybe at any other time in my life.

 

For some unknown reason when I was in seventh grade, I decided that thin was good and thinner was better. (Wow, that’s hard to say!) I translated being thinner to my becoming a more valuable and certainly a more attractive person.

 

Truly I don’t know where this idea originated. Fashion magazines, MTV, and Babewatch were banned at home. My friends and family didn’t diet. I was never told I was overweight or that if I dropped a few pounds, some guy would like me. Even so, I started severely limiting calories in order to achieve thinner.

 

Thankfully, I didn’t get very far in my self-sabotage. When my friends tried to force feed me and my parents called the school nurse to weigh me one random day, I cracked under the special attention I was receiving and resumed a somewhat more normal diet; however I still read food labels and counted calories like it was my job.

 

My feelings about being thinner became stronger as I was immersed in more pop culture in later years. Those feelings became the battleground where I spent a lot of time.

 

Somewhere in high school, I figured out that workout videos were a less-attention-getting means to attaining thinness. After hours of sweating with good ol’ Billy Blanks and his Tae bo routines, I felt slightly stronger even though nothing had dramatically changed on the outside as Billy Blanks had promised would happen in six weeks’ time.

 

I wish!!! I could say, “End of story. Billy cured me.” But I can’t. Into early adulthood I continued the workout videos and power walking while counting calories and measuring energy output, striving for thinner.

 

Sometime during my pre-running years, I dropped a few pounds (purely due to stress) and found myself a few pounds below the medically acceptable weight for my height. (I know this number because when you’re trying to be thinner, this number becomes a standard.) Someone told me he/she noticed I had lost weight and said that I was looking good.

 

The struggle flared stronger.

 

Thankfully soon after that, my breakthrough came. My neighbor convinced me to start running with her and that journey has brought about new and unwavering levels of respect for my body… as well as the concept of being healthy, both physically and mentally strong, not thin. Calories are no longer the enemy, but the source of strength to help me accomplish things I never imagined doing.

 

Still, running has not cured me 100% of my “thinner is better” mindset. It still lurks, waiting to pull out its bullhorn as soon as there is a mild hiccup in my routine. In as little as a week’s time of not running, the voices are at full blast, and my mind goes places that do not serve me well.

 

When people ask me how I can run all those boring miles, I tell them “Running is my therapy.” Most people think it’s an excuse to be self-indulgent, spending lots of time disregarding my family and other responsibilities. But it’s not an excuse. Running is literally the drug that keeps me from believing the lies that my mind would love for me to believe.

 

From now on, I will not belittle myself as a “slow runner.” I will be proud that I took time to invest in taking care of both my body and my mind, not only on race day, but through all the training that keeps me sane.

 

(Next topic: How do we keep our young girls from taking this trip to Crazy Town?)