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).

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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.

*   *   *

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.

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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.

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He was ready.

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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.

She Remembers

Dear Alicia,

It’s funny how kids sometimes just “know.” Neither Daniel nor I have said anything about the significance of today’s date to either of our kids. Today marks the fourth year that has passed since you left us. It’s been an eternity, and yet it’s hard to believe…. four years already.

Alice doesn’t speak of you as much as she once did. So it caught me off guard when she asked me this morning during breakfast, “Do you remember how Aunt Alicia used to smack her lips like this when she took a drink?” Alice then proceeded to take a drink and smack her lips in perfect Alicia-style.

“Yes, I remember,” I replied. How could I forget? Apparently Alice couldn’t either. You left such an impression on my little four year old girl; that’s the kind of person you were. What else would you have taught Alice had you stayed longer?

Alice and Ian have changed so much since you last saw them, and I wish you were here to see those changes. There’s so much about Alice that reminds me of you. I’ve often thought that (and have been glad that) we named her appropriately. (Although to be 100% honest, I never even thought about how closely related your names were until after you pointed it out to me.)

Even while I miss you today… and tomorrow… and forever, I’m comforted that Alice still remembers and reminds me of the little things.

As Always… Missing You,

Natalie

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With Great Power…

I’m on a quest… a quest for sound parental advice. For the past 8 months I’ve been feeling like a total failure at this mom-thing, and it’s not a particularly welcoming feeling to be failing at your job. I’ve sought guidance from many sources, mostly from parents with children ages equal to or greater than my own, who seem to have reared decent kids.

The wisdom I’ve received from my interviewees ranges from “Stand your ground. Do NOT give a millimeter. Make sure they know who’s boss.” to “Back off. Just let things go. It’ll all turn out.” Some days, I feel like I’m swinging from one extreme to the other, a beginner trapeze artist trying desperately just to hang onto the swing.

The constant through all of this havoc has been my running. In recent years (recent because I’ve been running less than four years), I stopped running from about November through March… or sometimes June. This winter, the need to pound the pavement instead of my children drove me outside or to the cooler temperatures of our basement where the treadmill resides and the children tend not to be found.

Thankfully, the weather is warming up, and I’m back outside along with the rest of the fair-weather Lancastrians.


One such sunny Saturday morning, our entire household was in a full blown uproar. I don’t remember who started what, but by the end of it, all four of us were involved, each parading his/her temper and sporting emotional scars. After the showdown, I fled the house in full running gear and later realized with a dead phone battery which meant no music to keep me company.

Instead, I had to listen…. to my knees cracking as they warmed up, to my breathing and my feet picking up an even tempo. I listened to my mind replay the blowup, analyzing what went wrong and how to react differently. I replayed the words that were spoken to my children, words that were meant to deter future negative behavior, but was pretty sure they had missed that mark.

Then all of a sudden, I heard one of the scariest sounds you can ever hear as a runner… the sound of the horn of a tractor trailer that’s heading straight toward you. Even now, my heart beats double time as I relive that moment. I had no idea why the driver was blowing his horn, and in my confused state, there was a moment of sheer panic when I thought it was all over. This. Was. It.

In that moment, I realized how small and weak I was compared to this monstrous machine that could wield serious and permanent damage to my body. I had absolutely no way to defend myself against this gigantic piece of metal that was speeding toward me. The truck was larger, louder, and quicker than I was, and could easily turn me into mincemeat.

Obviously, the truck passed without incident, and I quickly gathered my over-dramatic thoughts. The truck’s message had been short and light compared to the level of sound I know a big rig is capable of producing. I’m 99.95% sure the driver was simply “tooting” his thanks because seconds before I had stepped off the road, over the cement curb and was attempting to run (remain upright) in the grass, allowing a decent amount of space between the truck and myself.

(I always think the odds of me tripping on grass-covered, uneven ground and falling out into street only to be squashed by the very traffic I’m trying to avoid are much greater than if I simply stay on the street and keep sure footing. But I can understand why a truck driver would rather I be in the grass than sharing the road with him/her.)

As my heart slowed down a bit and my mind slowly refocused on my children whom I would soon encounter, my thoughts stayed partially with the truck. And I worked it out… at least the start of it.

I am the truck. I am larger, louder and quicker than my children. I can easily make mincemeat out of their hearts, their intentions, their joys, and their failures. I have great power, the power to do serious and permanent damage. I also have the (great) power to build up.

And this is where I will start.

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A Boring Breakthrough

Once upon a time, my son came to me and said, “I’m bored.” I replied, “Sweet son of mine, you have more toys in your room than most children in the world will ever see. Go build a bridge for your dump truck.” At that, my son smiled sweetly and ran excitedly to the living room to begin his new building endeavor. And he was never bored again because he knew how good he had it. The End.

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These are the things I fantasize about (that and sleeping in until 9am).

As any parent, or child for that matter, knows the “I’m bored” scene is rarely happily ever after… although sometimes miracles do happen.

A few days ago, Ian came out to the kitchen and started it. “I’m boorrred,” he whined. I used to get really mad whenever my kids complained of being bored until I finally figured out that if I simply gave them some Mommy-time when this happened, they would usually return to happily playing with their toys afterward.

This particular day, I realized that I hadn’t spent one blessed minute of meaningful time with Ian, so we read together… two books to make up for my neglect misdemeanor, and we did a puzzle. Problem solved, or so I thought.

But instead of leaving me alone returning to his toys, he had the nerve to lay on the kitchen floor and say it again… and again, “I’m bored… I’m bored.” I fired back with the usual parental jargon.

“All these toys and you’re bored; that’s ridiculous.”

“Go make your own fun. I’m not here to entertain you.”

“I can help you NOT be bored.”

Until I finally gave him my extremely creative, one-of-a-kind ultimatum. “If I hear you say you’re bored one more time, you’re going to your room.”

Of course within the next 30 seconds, my boy uttered the offending phrase and was promptly sent to his room. At least I was left in peace to think about the exchange while furiously stirring my slowly thickening cornstarch pudding.

That’s when I decided to break out the big guns. When my pudding was finally finished, I grabbed a picture from my desk where I had strategically placed it a few weeks ago for such a time as this.

I walked into Ian’s room and sat down beside him. I told him I was sad to hear he was bored when he had all these amazing toys at his fingertips. Then I showed him the Heifer International brochure from my desk, pictured on the back were three little boys playing with their toys.

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Obviously these toys were the barest of the bare, certainly not even worth playing with compared to the battery operated, smooth, molded plastic multitude of toys Ian owns.

Ian looked at the picture; his flippant response broke my heart. “That’s boooring,” he muttered as he looked away.

Experiment fail.

After telling him he could come out of his room when he was ready to play (and not complain), I walked back to the kitchen with a heaviness in my heart.

Ten minutes later, Ian came into the kitchen holding four toys in his hands.

“Mom, where’s the bag of things you’re going to take to the store to sell? I want to sell my toys.”

Now there’s been a lot! of discussion in our household about money recently, more specifically about the kids being responsible for buying their own toys. The kids are also aware that people sell things in order to get money. They have even gone so far as to try to sell some junk, err… I mean toys, in the front yard. I think they’ve raked in a whopping 25 cents so far.

I was genuinely dismayed as Ian stood there asking to sell his perfectly good toys in order to buy new ones so he wouldn’t be bored. I was sure he was remembering the two carloads of baby things I took to the Reuse-It Shop this summer, thinking that I gotten paid for those things, even though at the time I had explained it was a donation.

I tried to explain it to him again, “Ian, the bag is downstairs, but I’m not selling those things. We give the things to the store to sell, and the store gives the money to people who don’t have as much as we do. We don’t get any money for what we give to the store.”

“I know,” he stated. “Where’s the bag? I want to sell my toys.”

“But Ian, you’re not going to get any money if you put your toys in that bag. The store will sell them to help other people.”

“I Knoooow!” he declared, frustration edging into his voice. “I want someone else to play with my toys.”

What??? Wow! He got it! He understood! And I had been too frustrated to remember that to Ian the word “sell” also means donate or borrow (as in Ian “sells” books from the library).

Not only that, I realized that his statement of “that’s boring” after he saw the picture wasn’t flippant in the least. He was stating how those toys appeared to him… boring. Hence he decided to give away his toys to those little boys so they could have better toys.

My heart overflowed. (And I was reminded never to assume.)

I know we won’t have this meaningful ending every single time he’s bored. Another use or two and the picture will lose its punch. But at six years old, maybe he’s starting to get it, to care about people he’s never met before.

At this point in time, I couldn’t ask for more.

 

 

 

Charity for the Children?

Title Disclaimer: Daniel is my go-to title guy. This was his first suggestion, and we laughed so hard we had to keep it. You’ll see it doesn’t quite fit the content.

Recently I’ve been thinking about money and children. Or more precisely, my thoughts are about children wanting money and how not to raise entitled, spoiled brats.

My kids have hit the stage where they want… everything.

Even though there are at least 42 stuffed animals currently residing in our house, Alice begs me to buy her one whenever she spots a cute ball of fur in a store. (To be honest, I understand. I also have a big soft spot for stuffed animals. I’m sure she senses my weakness.)

Until recently, I’ve been telling Alice that she can buy things with her own money. Well, she took that to heart, and the small fortune she had amassed during her eight years of life (about $5) has been spent on an impressive assortment of gum balls of every color imaginable.

Now I no longer have the luxury of telling her to use her own money. Her piggy bank is empty, and she has no consistent source of income.

During the months before Christmas, Ian was the champion of “I want…”. My mind numbing response was “Put it on your Christmas list,” while reminding him over and over that he would not get everything on his list.

Now that Christmas is past, the wants continue, along with my increasing insanity while listening to constant begging for this and that from both children.

Daniel and I had very different monetary backgrounds as kids. He had no cash flow until his first teenage job making soft pretzels.

I had cash flow at an early age (around 6-8 years old) due to working on the extended-family farm. From the very beginning, I was taught to divide my earnings into savings, spending and giving, a principal I continue to this day.

To be honest, I’ve felt strongly that our children should have some source of cash flow by 10-12 years old. I know it helped me establish a strong understanding of the value of money, and I want the same for them.

However, neither of us received weekly allowances for doing household chores, and as parents, we’ve been adamantly against giving an allowance to our children for completing chores. Chores should be performed (cheerfully, of course) because a child is part of a family. Chores give children a sense of accomplishment and contribution to the family.

But the wants and whining continued until I was ready… ready to pay my offspring to do chores as an avenue to teach them the value of money.

As I talked with Daniel, we agreed that there would be chores the kids were expected to complete and chores we would pay them to do. The list of paying chores was short, emptying the dish washer and folding large amounts of laundry with mom supervising.

eager beaver

It has worked beautifully. Each child is ecstatic when I say it’s time to fold laundry or that it’s his/her turn to empty the dishwasher. Fights have erupted about who gets! to do the work. The maximum each child earns is about one dollar a week because obviously there is a finite number of times these chores need completed each week.

Due to the slow accumulation of money, I feel the kids are beginning to understand they can’t buy everything they want. They have both changed the item for which they are saving several times, hopefully realizing (over time) that wants change and impulse buying generally isn’t a good way to spend your money. And Alice is starting to understand that buying a gum ball each week moves her away from making a larger purchase.

Despite it’s apparent success, I’m still struggling with our system. At some point in time, I feel emptying the dishwasher and folding laundry should be moved to the list of chores that are expected to occur without payment. What kind of pushback am I setting myself up for in the coming years?

Even now, they offer to do non-required chores but always accompanied by the question “will you pay me for it?” I feel our current system is definitely not teaching them to be helpful out of the goodness of their hearts; instead they are expecting payment for non-required services… feels a bit like entitlement to me.

Then I stumbled across this earth-shattering article, which basically says (if you can afford it) just give!?! your kids a set amount of money each month—no strings attached except that you help them divide the money into savings, spending, and giving (sounds familiar). Author Ron Lieber says “Don’t start it too late, don’t link it to chores, and don’t skimp.”

 Sounds crazy, right?

The premise—kids should be given early and ample opportunity to learn to use money before they are making high stakes money decisions, such as going to college. Instead start them with small amounts of money and slowly increase the amount until they are responsible for their own clothing budget, for example.

Another glaring point by the author is that linking chores and payment is a huge no-no. Instead non-completion of chores should result in losing privileges… makes sense to me.

And yet this goes against every fiber of my being. Just give my kids money? How will they come to understand that money is earned, and that at some point, it won’t just fall from the ever-giving-parents? As teenagers will they possess incentive to get a summer job to start saving for college if mom and dad are already giving them money?

Well Mr. Ron Lieber, to say the least, I’m definitely intrigued and your book just went to the top of my reading list. (And to be completely honest, I’m having a hard time delaying my own instant gratification because I have to wait until your book is no longer listed as a “New Book” so that I can get it on loan from a distant library since my local library doesn’t have it.)

How about you… what do you think about allowances? As a parent? As a child who did or did not receive an allowance? Do you have any words of wisdom to pass along to me before I dive into this heresy?

 

Winter’s Gifts

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I haven’t been able to write for a couple of weeks. Is this is the dreaded Writer’s Block? Although, I’m not sure I would classify my current state as “writer’s block” as much as I would call it “Zero Interest”. The ideas are plentiful; however the words don’t flow in fluid thoughts and the passion has disappeared. So I haven’t pushed it… until tonight.

I’ve started this post three times, from three completely different angles. Just to be clear, I’m not happy with how this is currently going. But maybe if I get something onto a page, my creative juices will begin to stir in my veins and will eventually pour out of my fingertips onto the keyboard.

This is a weird place where emotional energy has run out, leaving no desire to express myself in written format after I’ve spoken my 10,000 words for the day. However, I am hopeful because unlike where I was at the end of January, I think I have finally detected a spark of life glowing in my soul.

Every year since the Horrific 2011, late January into mid-February has become the lowest time of year for me (as evidenced here, here and here). Maybe it’s winter’s darkness that grows darkness in my soul. Maybe it’s the fact that my sister received her diagnosis in February and that has somehow tainted Februaries of the future. Maybe it’s just plain lack of sunshine and too much concentrated time with my kids. Most likely, it’s a combination of all of the above.

After the Christmas Craziness, I had been hopeful that January would be a restful, replenishing time. That did not happen. Instead I was driven deeper into emotional bankruptcy due to life’s circumstances… nothing earth-shattering, just regular life situations that became overwhelming. Even though January wasn’t the winter oasis I had hoped to experience, the brutal cold and snow of February did bring a shred of long awaited relief.

Last November, five of my (very dear) friends and I registered to attend a silent retreat during the first weekend in February. When I registered, I didn’t think about my recent “winter history”. It hasn’t been something I wish to dwell on; nor is it something I assume will happen each year for the rest of my life. But by the end of this January, I knew this retreat was my lifeline, possibly my way out.

To say that the weekend was “magical” would only diminish its value, and yet, it was almost magical. During the weekend, I experienced the most healing moments I’ve had in a very long time. I laid down people and situations that were not mine to carry. I picked up pieces of myself I’ve forgotten along life’s road. Through an unusual meeting, I was enthusiastically affirmed for who I am (or I should say for who I had forgotten I was) by a complete stranger. Although there was some sadness, there was great freedom as I re-prioritized goals—good-bye running 750 miles in 2015. For 48 hours, I gave myself permission just to “be”.

Below is a conglomeration of quotes I heard or read that spoke to me at some point during the weekend. I wanted to put this together not only for my own reference, but also in hope that something in one of them speak to you as well. May we realize the gifts winter offers. (And next time I will remember my “real” camera. Sorry for the poor quality pictures.)

 

I gaze in the mirror at my weary brow and tired eyes,

I realize that I’ve met the enemy-

And she is me.

~BJ Gallagher

gates

To keep your lamp burning, you have to keep putting oil in it. ~Mother Teresa

loner

Be your own kind of beautiful.

courtyard

Our greatest fear as individuals should not be of failure, but of succeeding at things in life that really don’t matter.

library

When we reach the end of what we know, we find God. ~The Cloud of the Unknowing

chapel

Because sometimes we need to stop and pause and let our souls catch up with us.

library 2

Don’t underestimate the value of doing nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering. ~Winnie the Pooh

passage

We cannot do great things, only small things with great love. ~Mother Teresa

arch

True love requires sacrifice. True faith is loving a person after he has hurt you. ~F. Chan

sunny courtyard

Grant us to remember You at the heart of each moment.

Merry Crazy Christmas!

Well, it’s four days past Christmas, and Jesus still hasn’t made an appearance in the Miller household. “How’s that?” you say.

Simply said… we’ve been too busy.

“Too busy for Jesus? On Christmas? Isn’t that a problem?”

I guess you could say the problem is me. This year Christmas was Busy.

Insane.

Insanely Busy.

Honestly, I have no way of conveying how crazy Christmas was this year except to tell you that the thought “I hate Christmas” spontaneously ran through my mind several times during the two weeks leading up to December 25th.

That and the fact that Jesus has yet to make his appearance on our advent calendar. The kids reminded me after lunch that baby Jesus is still trapped behind door #24, to which I said, “Sorry, we don’t have time to get him out and read the last verses of the Christmas story before we run out the door for yet another event. He’ll have to wait until tomorrow.”

IMG_0340

You see, I said “yes” to way too much this Christmas. I meant well. I wanted to spread Christmas joy to others. I wanted to let others know I appreciated and cared about them. I wanted to give until it hurt. (Mission accomplished!)

In late October, I started saying “yes”.

Yes, I’d love to co-ordinate the Christmas staff luncheon at Alice’s school. It’s only for 35+ people? No sweat! I’m used to planning for 80. I’ll do it on one condition—I don’t decorate. Period. I barely decorate my own house, so don’t expect me to transform the uninviting gym lobby into a magical Christmas oasis.

“No problem,” they said. “There are plenty of parents who will signup to decorate.”

And it wasn’t that big of a job. The parents were phenomenal; all the meal items were covered within 72 hours of posting my signupgenius list in early December, EXCEPT for decorating.

No one signed up to decorate…. no.one.nada.zilch.zip.zero.

And so it was left to me to decorate, which was hours upon hours of work for this Christmas-decorationally-challenged woman. Centerpieces, poinsettias, snowmen, battery operated candles… by the time I was done robbing my mom’s house of her Christmas decorations, my entire car was crammed full of Christmas-ness. I felt like I was driving the Christmas Car or Santa’s sleigh… or perhaps heading to Christmas College.

car
Only partially packed… there’s much more going in there. (And a huge shout out to my mom who came and helped me actually set up the decorations! Mom… you’re the best!)

After all the decorations were returned, assembling 12 gingerbread houses for Alice’s class (and of course one for Ian) came next… because I’m the room mom, which also meant email after email of party logistics amidst having two kids with strep throat.

The eve before the strep diagnosis we canceled plans with friends, and the next two days, Daniel and I went solo to our respective family get-togethers while the other parent stayed home with recovering kiddos. How utterly sad that I found immense relief in those unexpected hours at home when I should have been enjoying the company of friends and family. Instead I was comforted knowing I was slightly ahead of schedule which might leave extra time to wrap a gift or two before Christmas Eve.

gingerbread houses

Ian's gingerbread house

There were various church obligations as well: a special service I was invited to write for and read at, Sunday school to teach, a seasonal choir I was asked to sing with, and a community Christmas project to cook and bake for. (I know I’ve got some serious grammatical issues happening here… sorry, don’t care right now.) I said “yes” to all of it. My heart was in the right place; my head was out to lunch. (Or as Daniel commented when reading this, “Ok Dufus, here’s your sign.”)

And since that wasn’t enough to put me over the Christmas edge, my man decided it was time to redo our dining room floor during his Christmas vacation. I’ve been waiting for about five years for this project to commence, so believe me, I wasn’t about to say “Hold the icing on the sugar cookies, Santa. I’ve got way too much going on right now to add obstructing the major traffic corridor in our house and cluttering the living room to the Christmas Craziness.” But seriously, it was ironically amazing how incredibly awful the timing of this project was.

floor

more floor

I crammed it all in. I crammed and crammed and crammed some more until I was so crammed with Christmas crap that I couldn’t think straight. I was not only losing my mind, but absolutely losing my patience… yelling at my kids, snapping at Daniel and flinging daggers with my rapidly blinking eyelids at the grocery store cashier who had the guts to tell me about all the Christmas gifts she had gotten for her dog.

By the time Christmas Eve rolled around I was so exhausted, I couldn’t wait to get through the next six days of Christmas celebrations just so life could resume its slower pace.

Look at everything I’ve done in the name of Christmas, in the name of helping others. I’ve given and given and given so much, there’s no room left for anyone… not enough time to enjoy the tradition of making cut out cookies with my kids. (I halved the dough this year so that project didn’t take as long.) I barely got to watch the kids decorate the tree. (They had 30 minutes to hang ornaments while I was in the kitchen preparing food for an imminent get-together.) Certainly no time to relax by the tree and enjoy its beauty… not even enough time to put Jesus on the advent calendar.

* * *

Today we opened door #24 and read the last verse… “the Word became flesh”. And I thought about Jesus, how his life on earth was unhurried. He spent time with many, not chasing them away or telling them they were consuming precious time in his carefully planned day.

completed

And I know without a doubt that I failed this season of joy and giving. But I also know there is (hopefully) next year… or even next week or tomorrow. While “doing” is important, it is not the most important.

May this be the last Christmas where I am so hurried that I lose sight of simply being, encountering the unexpected, and welcoming others.

single tree

lillies

floating trees
Merry Christmas to me! We renewed our Longwood Gardens membership. This is one place I go to just be. Looking forward to being here again.

 

 

 

 

The Maiden Voyage

Catching up on my November writing…. because let’s face it, life happens. And it snowed again, which reminded me of a post I forgot to write.

*     *     *

I admit it; I didn’t want to go. The whole week had been very busy, and it was one of those days where everything was planned, right down to the minute. I hate living life like that, but every now and then, it happens. Life happens. Thanksgiving side dishes for 18 people needed to happen along with the rough draft of a writing assignment for church… all in less than 36 hours.

But first, let’s back up a few months. During the warmth of late summer, we stumbled upon an old runner sled at an antique shop. Daniel lit up like a Christmas tree; he was thrilled. I could tell he had a pretty heavy case of nostalgia going on when he saw that sled. Me? I was cool with his find, but my best sledding memories include a toboggan and a huge hill at my Grandpa’s (presently my brother-in-law and sister’s) farm where you had to perfectly time the bail-out or you would end up head-first in the creek.

But now it was November, and we were enjoying the first snow of the season. With a small amount of excitement in his voice, Daniel yelled up from the basement, “Do you want to walk down to the church to take the kids sledding?”….so I can try out the runner sled were the unspoken words hanging in the air.

I paused. When I was a kid, playing in the snow really didn’t thrill me like it does most kids. And the older I get, the combination of cold and wet and frozen fingers and toes appeals to me even less. (I like cold, just not wet and cold.) Earlier that morning, I had given Daniel my snow gloves because he didn’t have any gloves (other than leather work gloves) which left me with a pair of flimsy yarn gloves, the worst for snow play.

And besides, I didn’t understand why he wanted to walk to the church to sled when our own yard is a pretty decent sledding hill to begin with. I imagined dealing with two cold, whiny, tired kids on the quarter mile walk home… oh. so. fun.

I wanted to say “No thanks, I spent enough time with the kids this week. But if you take them sledding, I will thoroughly appreciate the peace and quiet while I compose that piece for church… or peel five pounds of potatoes.” But I acquiesced, put on my cold-yarn mittens, and mentally scoured my to-do list for an item I was going to “Let (It) Go” in order to go sledding instead.

As we trudged to the church, the cold and wind were worse than I had thought they would be; my face and ears quickly began to ache even though I used a saucer to shield my upper body from the wind. I was less than excited about this adventure. Maybe I should have stayed home instead of raining on this parade.

Once we arrived at the field by the church, Daniel tried to forge a path across the gently sloping terrain using the runner sled. It didn’t work very well. We tried another spot, where the sled ran a little better, but we both agreed… our yard was more fun than said field.

In light of Daniel’s excitement, I hated to admit it, but the trip was pretty much a bust. The kids hadn’t even put their sleds in the snow. (Be still, be still my lips and tongue, be still!… Is there a way to jokingly say “I told you so”? I didn’t think so.)

The kids were underwhelmed and getting cold when I finally snapped myself out of my own way. There had to be a decent hill somewhere on this property. I scanned the area, and there it was.

A short, steep run that ended in the… already snow-melted parking lot. This hill was shorter than our own hill at home.

But you only live once, right?

ready, set goWe had fun.

downhill

Ian solo

We laughed

D makes a trail

upside down

…and made some memories.

Alice &D runner

Ian & D runner

And we know that next time, we’ll probably stick to our own backyard… or I’ll convince Daniel to drive to the farm that holds my best sledding memories where we’ll put that runner sled through its paces.

But truly the trip was all worth it. Later that day Alice came to me and said, “Thanks for taking us somewhere different to sled. It was fun.”

I thought so too, Alice. I had fun.