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?)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have You Been Hugged Today?

This post has been in the front of my mind for the past couple of months, but I have refused to work on it, which has probably blocked all other writing capabilities. If I publish this writing, I may need to change, may need to live more into my authentic self, which is my goal for 2016 (thanks to Brene Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection).

I finally gave in and began working it out, but as I edited, this post got even harder, taking a turn I wasn’t anticipating. I’m at the point where I think this writing is all crap and hitting the “Move to Trash” button is oh-so-tempting, but I can’t for whatever unknown reason. I’m like a moth drawn to a flame. Someone will need to blow out the flame for me, either that or get out the fly swatter.

* * *

A few months ago, I knew I needed to go for a run. I didn’t actually want to go, but I knew I would be better emotionally if I did. Still, I put it off, doing everything I could to fill up my day with viable excuses for not running. An hour before the kids were due home from school, it was time to put in some miles in order to achieve a decent frame of mind for the after-school-madness.

But I didn’t have time for the leisurely long run which I had been intending to take since 6am when I woke up; thus I decided to substitute hill work, hoping to make up for the lack of endurance training with intensity.

It was a hot, humid day (meaning it was above 50 degrees). I was already sweating and sucking air as I climbed the first major hill, and I was absolutely hating myself for not getting out when it was cooler.

As I rounded a curve on that ugly hill, I noticed an elderly lady using a walker, baby-stepping up her driveway toward her open garage door. She was pushing a large empty trashcan with her walker ever… so… slowly… toward her garage.

Maybe I needed an excuse to pause the excruciating torment I had deemed exercise, but without thinking, I grabbed the empty recycle bin at the end of the lady’s driveway and ran up to her. Keeping a non-threatening distance, I asked if I could put the bin away. She hesitantly told me to put it in the garage. After depositing the bin, I went back and relieved her of the trashcan which she had only moved about 2 feet since I originally saw her.

With this finished, I started down the driveway toward her. I could tell she was shocked as she thanked me profusely. I thought she may have been on the verge of tears, and I had an impulse to give her a half-hug as I said good-bye. But I didn’t. My arms stayed stuck to my sides even though I willed them to move to her shoulders.

Maybe she will think I’m weird, hugging a complete stranger (even though I’m pretty sure she already thought I was weird).

Maybe she would be completely grossed out by my shiny glisten and brush me aside.

Maybe she would think I was going to hurt her and start to scream.

Maybe I would! accidentally hurt her thin, fragile body.

These were the thoughts that kept my arms glued to my rib cage as I waved and resumed the torment of a few moments ago.

But when I had finished my two-point-something-life-threatening-hilly miles, I was mad at myself for not doing it, for not going out on that hugging limb.

I was mad at myself for all the times I didn’t go out on that limb.

You see, I’m a closet-serial-hugger. I have a strong urge to hug people. In fact, I would like to start almost every conversation with a hug. Is that really so strange? For me, it’s not. To me, a hug says “I’m happy to see you. I accept everything about you. There is no distance between us.” It opens the conversational airways and discharges the body of frustration (as well as achieving a plethora of other positive benefits for the body and mind).

hug

Hugging is the language I speak when spoken words fail me, which happens about 99% of the time. There’s no way I can verbally express “I’m super happy to see you even though I just saw you 2 days ago!” without sounding like a stalker, so I’ll just hug the stuffing out of you instead.

When Daniel travels, I miss his hugs possibly more than anything else, even more than his computer maintenance skills, his precision lawn mowing, or his gourmet Saturday morning pancakes. I’ve often told him that when he’s away, I’m going to hire someone to come hug me twice a day. He thinks I’m joking; in reality, I haven’t found “Rent-a-Hugger” in the yellow pages.

* * *

In the first several drafts of this post, this was the paragraph where I boldly declared that from now on I would live into my authentic self and be the hugger I really am. However, as I’ve been editing, I was reminded that not all people are like myself (shocker!); not all people like to be hugged. In fact, it makes some people very uncomfortable to receive hugs. I can’t ignore this.

In light of this re-revelation, I’m floundering a bit. I do not wish to make anyone uncomfortable, at least not for the sake of a hug. I guess I’m back to analyzing social situations, guessing whether or not this person or that person is a wiling hug receptor, that is unless I’m moving to another country where hugging everyone is the social norm.

I guess I will step back into the closet until I come up with a better idea. I’m not sure what else there is to do.

One Guitar Makes a Dream Come True

For those of you who know I’m working on a piece that I don’t want to write, this is not that piece, but it’s coming soon. Hopefully you won’t feel flooded with posts.

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I’m a lover of music. For as long as I can remember, music has played a major role in my life. Classical, pop, oldies, show tunes, blue grass, hymns, hip hop, country, big band… in general, I can find songs from any genre with which I can connect. But for as much as I enjoy listening to music, I love making music a gazillion times more.

Over the years, life has revolved around piano, violin, marching band, musical, and choir practices, even into my adult years. I began piano lessons in kindergarten and playing has brought me immense joy and a deep sense of fulfillment. It’s one of the best ways for me to express myself and also to challenge myself. (Rachmaninoff how I love you, even though I still don’t know how to spell your name.)

I’m sure no one will be shocked when I say that ever since the births of my children, I have longed for them to show interest in making music. Much to my chagrin, Alice showed very little interest in music in her younger years. She didn’t gravitate to singing like I remembered enjoying singing as a young child. Kindergarten, first and second grades came and went, and she showed no signs of wanting to pick up an instrument even though many of her friends already had.

The problem is I’m an action girl. Whenever I have a reasonable solution to a problem, I’m all in. Waiting is not my game; patience is not my virtue. So it took all manner of will power not to force strongly encourage my girl to begin an instrument. Maybe one of the only reasons I was able to stay relatively calm was because Ian definitely showed more musical interest from the get go than Alice did.

But last year, it finally!!! happened. Alice began expressing interest in playing piano. I was ecstatic and started looking for a teacher. The problem is I’m also semi-cheap when I want to be.  I had years of playing experience as well as all of my music books from beginner on up, and we were going to pay someone to teach my child the basics plus buy all new books?

After much debate, Daniel and I decided that I would teach the basics, that the worst that could happen was the child-student-parent-teacher relationship would fail and I would have to find a “real” teacher.

Well, we grossly miscalculated the worst possible scenario. I can say this because the worst possible scenario did happen. The child-student-parent-teacher relationship exploded, and in the end Alice no longer wanted anything to do with piano. In essence, I had killed my own dream, no one to blame but my-own-cheap-self.

Again, I wanted to demand that Alice continue with a different teacher, but Daniel duct taped my mouth shut encouraged me to wait it out even as I resigned myself to full mourning.

This summer brought new hope as Alice had the opportunity to start an instrument at school. Once again, I longed for the positive effects of peer pressure as her friends chose instruments to study, but to no avail. Actually she did express fleeting interest in about five different instruments, but couldn’t pick one, so we didn’t push. By this time I had learned to keep my mouth shut… tight, because I’m Mom. No more explanation needed.

But wait… about the same time, Ian offered a glimmer of light as he began asking to play the guitar. To be honest, I gave it no serious thought at first. Why would he be interested in guitar? Did he even know what it sounded like? He couldn’t even pronounce “guitar” correctly, but he kept insisting.

By November, he had full-blown guitar fever, exactly the type of desire I desired from a child beginning an instrument. YES!!! My heart sang!

For Christmas, Ian received the cutest (smallest) guitar I’ve ever seen and started lessons. My dream of at least one child picking up an instrument is renewed. I love hearing him strum the open strings over and over and over again, and even more so the squeaks as he learns to pick. Contrary to what the picture below portrays, we’re only a couple weeks into lessons, but he’s still 100% excited.

brand new

Daniel and I have been playing guitar as well. I’m a total beginner learning right along with Ian. Daniel is a bit more advanced and has started practicing scales and exciting things like that.

But it only gets better! I had been hoping peer pressure might launch Alice’s musical interest; however, I had underestimated the power of sibling competition. To make a long story a little shorter, Alice has re-started piano lessons and has been heard proclaiming “I love to play piano.” Who would have thought that one tiny (literally) guitar would bring us so much music!

Alice on piano

And then the other Sunday, my heart liquified at Ian’s church-time drawing. There are no words.

Ian's notes

I know not all of my dreams will come true. I feel that pain as I mourn many of my own deep desires that will never be. And I know that even if some of my dreams temporarily do come true, they aren’t guaranteed to last. Who knows if I’ll still have two kids interested in instruments next year at this time.

But for right now, I’m going to celebrate this tiny part of a dream come true.

 

 

He’s Doing What?

Blessed school bus, how do I love thee? Let me count thy wheel rotations.

We had a great summer. Some of it was busy. Some of it was relaxing. Most of it was fun.

Ian beach

But about three weeks ago we started “being ready”.

She was ready.

walking

He was ready.

bus

I was (more than) ready.

I sent my baby to kindergarten today (or actually a few days ago – it takes time to edit). Lest you think this means unlimited kid-free days for Mama, Ian only goes to school two days a week, and I now have two grades of schooling to facilitate at home three days a week.

I tried to shed a tear as I watched my little-big-man get on the bus, but the only thought that filled my brain was my mantra from the previous evening… “Dear God, pleeeaase get us to 7:16am… 7:16am… 7:16am.”

I’m pretty sure two weeks at home without my hubby could be part of the reason for my unsentimental first-day-of-school-farewell. Unsentimental is highly! unlike me, but just maybe I was more than a little ready for a few hours of peace and quiet.  (I’ll probably be sobbing tonight.)

In case you haven’t heard, Daniel is seeing new places, meeting new people, and eating out like a king… the entire way across the country… for about two months… on his bicycle.

(I’m absolutely positive there are NO! down sides to his adventure. It all looks so glamorous on facebook, right? Ok, maybe not the 110 degree days of riding without a stitch of shade, but try two bickering kids for hours!! on end, even from separate rooms. “Ian, stop singing! I saaaiid, stop talking! Stop whispering! Mooomm!! I can still hear him breathing!”)

So while Daniel is pumping the pedals, I’ve been at home canning salsa that only I will eat (I still hold out hope that someday one of them will like it.), listening to complaints about my taste in clothes (“Mom, don’t wear THAT dress. It makes me dizzy when I look at you. I HATE it.”), and eating leftovers five nights in a row because I don’t know how to cook for 1.25 people. (My kids eat like midget birds. I’m in need of some hungry people to eat with me. Anyone?)

Since Daniel left, we’ve successfully(?) navigated summer colds all around, a fall and resulting wound that was a candidate for stitches (No, I didn’t pass out, but I was close.), my daughter’s 9th birthday and pool party for 18, a teething six year old, a dysfunctional lawn mower, my first e-book purchase, an orthodontist consultation, a one-sided 13th wedding anniversary, back to school shopping and preview night along with The Pile of back to school paperwork, and much more.

My last text to Daniel is slightly telling: “Do you mind if I go away the weekend after you get home? Will you be upset if I’m gone?”

I’m not exactly sure how to interpret his response: “Sure, sounds fine with me.” But seriously, this is the only “correct” answer, right?

Still when Daniel called me a few days ago and told me about some knee issues he was having, my inner-runner started spouting injury prevention and maintenance advice. —”Advil around the clock, even if it’s feeling good. Ice in intervals. Wish you had a foam roller.”

After the knee news, I didn’t sleep well that night playing out all the possible scenarios of how to handle this problem. This could be a trip-stopper if things went downhill.

Truth be told, I wasn’t ready for him to come home.

Not because I didn’t miss him. Or because I need to prove I am Wonder Mama. Or because I’m enjoying guilt-free sleeping with the fan on HIGH and one (or two or three) too many impromptu trips for ice cream with the kiddos.

I’m not ready for him to come home because he’s not ready. This is his dream, and I want this for him. Even if he gets to the point where he’s mentally exhausted and begging to come home, I’m not picking him up. Because in the end, he’ll be glad I didn’t. (We’ve already discussed this. He agrees. Tough love.)

A lot of people have asked me, sometimes with notable disbelief, how I am going to manage for two months by myself with two children. (My doctor basically told me she thought both of us are crazy.) Believe me, I wrestled with this question as well as with a decent amount of jealousy, but I have finally figured out my answer.

Frankly, I have to manage because I will go to jail if I neglect my children, and I don’t think I’ll fare well in jail.

Secondly, I’ll muddle through because I have a lot of people who have offered (in some cases begged) to help me as I muddle. If it takes a village,  apparently I’ve got one.

But the most important reason I do this willingly is because it’s Daniel’s dream, and I want to help make it possible. And even though I’m sometimes exhausted, jealous, and frustrated beyond reasoning by the end of the day, I am exceedingly excited to see what’s in store for him along the way!

And I know he would do the same for me.