Out of the Box

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Dear Keepers of the Status Quo;

Please accept delivery of your box.

I am finally returning it.  After all these years, I’ve decided that it’s just no use. I cannot do it.  I cannot live inside the box you sent me anymore.

I really tried to make it fit.  Really I did.  I was so deeply in love with you.  But what does a child know about real love?  I thought the only way to win your affection was to fit in the box you sent.   So the day it arrived, I jumped inside.  Instantly, I discovered my hips were a little wide and my teeth somewhat crooked.  My hair fuzzed out and I could only sing off key.  Your box was never really made for me.

Turns out, the box you sent was stamped “perfect fit only”.

I guess the perfect fit inside comfortably.  The rest of us with our unsightly flaws and mediocre abilities rub and chaff against the sides.  Every time I moved, I jostled and bumped against the corners.  Constantly reminded of my imperfection.

The only way to cope was not moving at all.

I was younger then.  I got confused.  I mistook not moving in an ill-fitted box as “fitting in”.  At first it was hard to be quiet inside the box you sent.  But I loved you so.  I longed to be with you.  Even if I had to live inside a box.  So, I learned to be quiet.  I learned to be still.  To not call attention to the corner of the box that bulged or the lid that popped up when I sneezed.  I thought this would please you.

I waited patiently for you to notice how well I was doing at living inside the box you sent.

But you didn’t notice anything about me.  Unless part of me inadvertently squeezed out of the box.  Then you might lash out in distain.  Or laugh in disgust.  But mostly, my existence went unacknowledged.  And inside my ill-fitting box, I was wondering.  Is this what I wanted?  To hold space inside a box?

While inside your box, I noticed how little room there was for anything new.  The box you sent was a mighty tight fit.  It pinched my off my dreaming.  Stunted my curiosity.  It gave me indigestion.  And amnesia.  Gradually, I started to forget that I was a person living inside a box and not the box itself.

In one last attempt to win your love, I slipped out of my box.  To stretch.  To exercise.  To work on my blemished parts.  Older and wiser, I knew I could never fit inside the box you sent unless I worked on the bulging and sneezing and all the other things that didn’t fit just right.

It felt great to be outside my walls.  To breathe the air.  To feel the grass.  But then, when I saw you coming, I would scramble back inside.  Hoping you’d see how nice I fit.  “Look at me!”  I’d shout from inside the box.  You must not have heard me.  The box muffled my voice.

Then a funny thing happened.  With every foray out of the box you sent, the return trip was ever more uncomfortable.  I couldn’t find any resting position.  I felt the smallness of the space so much more than before.  After living inside your box so long, I had no idea how dangerous climbing out of the box could be.

And then one day, I couldn’t fit back in your box at all.  Not even my toe.  I have simply outgrown the box you sent me.  At first, I was somewhat dismayed because the box felt like home.  But the air was fresh and the flowers were lovely.  Time passed.  And now I can’t even remember why I ever climbed in the box you sent in the first place.

For a while, I left the box lying around.  I was busy.  What with the bulge now a bump and the sneeze now a wheeze.  Here in the open, I’ve stayed the same while changing so much.  I’ve discovered that outside the box, I am what I am, not what I am not.

I’d almost forgotten about you and your box.  But today I noticed a child looking at the box in the corner.  A lovely child with a beautiful voice and wildish hair.  And her eyes filled with something new.  A strange longing for you.

And suddenly I saw the box you sent me for what it is.  A dream-squeezing, people-pleasing, difference-loathing, ridicule-loving, standard keeping jail-in-a-box.  The box was never a gift of love.  Real love never involves box dwelling.

So am returning this box to you post haste.  I’m sorry I ever accepted it.  It took me a while figure it out, but now I’m going to dance with girl who has wildish hair and every wonderful, outlandish, unusual, and uniquely imperfect person I meet.

And hopefully, we will all be too busy celebrating with our feet in the grass and our face in the sun to ever accept delivery on a mysterious box that says,  “If you want me to love you, first climb inside.”

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1

Yours truly,

Finally Out of Junior High

 

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Green Eggs and Purity: How NOT to Talk to Your Kid About the Birds and the Bees

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Purity.

It’s complicated.

Give me a good political debate. Or union grievance. Or a bunch of mothers arguing the merits of spanking. I can handle it. But purity, that’s tricky-woo. Everything with teenage daughters is tricky. However, Purity (combined with her awkward sister-in-arms, Modesty) well that’s a virtual fire swamp.

All moms eventually discover any discussion of “wholesomeness” involves walking a tight rope between frumpy prairie skirts and trampy hot pants while dangling over ill-defined quagmires of makeup and body piercing.

Hmmm.

It’s not like we can sit down and have a rational conversation. “Honey. What message are you trying to send with that outfit? Because the billboard I’m reading shouts “Pretty Woman meets Count Chocula.”

Nope. Nothing straight forward permitted. “The Mom” has to be all “sensitive” and “mature” while our lovely daughters question our fashion sensibilities with a level of tact matched only by Howard Stern. Best as I can tell, teenagers are looking for something to push against. Apparently, my standards are the barrier for the crash test trials. “Oooo. Hit me again. Only this time, crank it up to 200 miles per hour.”

So along with mammograms and the containers in the back of the fridge, I’ve been avoiding discussing the importance of purity with my kid.

Which is weird because I talk about everything like I’m stuck in confession mode with no booth to hide in. But for some reason, “chastity” makes my mouth dry. And my stomach churns a little. And I get distracted looking for Rolaids instead of embracing the birds and bees.

I’m not alone. Turns out there are all kinds of “suggested guidelines” for hapless parents. Entire WEBSITES dedicated having “the talk’ with your kid.
What? Where were all these rules and regulations back in the days of my “tender blossoming”? My mom could have used some structure. I vaguely remember her describing “the curse” and drawing anatomical pictures of a vagina with ovaries on a McDonalds napkin. (I’m not kidding). After a lengthy discussion of pads and tampons – she briefly covered sex. “It’s something moms and dads do before the baby comes.”
And we called it a day.

The rest of my education had to be gleaned from slumber parties and eloquent missives scratched across the painted stalls of the girls locker room.
Either my Mom was sneaky like a fox, or I was exceptionally blessed or I ended up dumb lucky. Or some combination thereof. Because I married the most amazing man. And although we were two naive babes on our honeymoon, we have managed to make two kids. It takes practice. Lots and lots of it.

It’s hard to explain my “purity journey” to anyone. I have nothing to boast about. In fact, my chastity was somewhat annoying. I was committed to waiting for the right man. But God, in His infinite wisdom made sure I was never tested. I mean never. NEV-ER. I was TOTALLY invisible to guys until I met “the guy”. It’s not like I was a social pariah. I was marginally attractive. And my mom was constantly giving me fashion tips. “Good Lord, Hollylu. Unbutton your top two buttons so you don’t look like Sister Prudence.”
But I only really dated. Only really kissed. Only really wanted to be with one man.
And I think this is a BIG part of our happy, happy marriage. We’ve never known anything or anyone else. And twenty two years of coming home to a rock solid relationship has definitely trumped the high school years filled with Friday nights alone with my ice cream and a stack of Seventeen Magazines.

This is the stuff I want to convey to my daughter as she morphs from gap toothed wild child into a lithe, super model. Egad. She’s getting more beautiful by the minute. Where is all this “good looking” stuff coming from? Some sort of genetic scramble I suppose.

This summer, as Anna walked beside the lake, the boys were looking. At her. At my BABY. Sheesh. Resisting the urge to punch the interlopers in the face, I handed Anna a towel. “I’m cold. You need to wrap up in this.”

Clearly, fisticuffs weren’t the best option. I really needed to “parent”. Or something.
I didn’t want to bully her. Or take all the fun away. Desperately, I wanted to show her a glimpse of the bigger picture. To help her see how waiting for the “good thing down the road” is worth the temporary loss or loneliness. Life can be so sweet. So beautiful. So amazing. But it takes a lot of faith. And guts. Lots of guts.

This is what I wanted to say.

But as she changed in front of my eyes, my fear of losing her, my frustration at not knowing how to be the best possible parent, my anger with our culture’s twisted version of womanhood, and knowing that this Halfling had NO idea how creepy-awful the world could be. Well, all that stuff short circuited my thinking. When I opened my mouth stupid stuff came out.

“Why don’t you wear waterproof mascara? You look like a Betty Davis in the bad years.”
These comments made her angry. Even after I explained how Betty Davis had it all – except maybe some under eye concealer.

Like I said. Purity is complicated.

My friend with a bunch of daughters loaned me her “box set” for creating a “Purity Weekend”. What an awesome idea. Go away from the crazy home life. Just daughter and mom. Eat chocolate. Go shopping. Discuss standards and wholesome choices. When I pictured the weekend in my head, it was bathed in the orange light of sunset like a Hallmark commercial. We were holding hands, and at one point, I was pushing her on a tire swing. Yes. This was how it was meant to be. No X-rated napkins. No locker room paint. Just beauty.

Anna had just turned twelve. I told her my plans. “We’ll go away, just you and me. No boys. And we’ll have fun and we’ll talk about not having sex until you are….”
“Eeew. Can we not do that?” She cut me off midsentence. Her face screwed into a disgusted snarl. “I mean I’d like to go away with you. But not to do that.”
“Ok.” I said. “We’ll wait till you’re more mature.” I added the last part because sometimes I’m just snarky.

But really, I think I was more relieved than she was. Clearly, WE weren’t ready. My preteen was grossed out by the whole concept of sex and I was freaked out about talking about the whole concept of sex.

A year passed. Yada yada. What a year. My cute little kitten turned into a fire breathing dragon. My friend with all the daughters had warned me about this. I thought all the “teenage angst crapola” was mostly hyperbole. Wrong again, Harriet.
Clueless, I fumbled around navigating rough seas. Safe harbors were few and far between and mostly found under a Starbucks sign. Everything about me as mother was now an irritant to my first born. On slow days, I gave into poking the dragon just to watch it roar. My hard core rule is that parenting is nothing if not entertaining.

At 11 am, Anna would emerge from her Sanction 9 bedroom, half dressed and fully painted. Completely ignoring every Focus on the Family recommendation, I’d respond in a breezy voice, “Good morning darling. Did you get dressed and put on makeup in the dark again? Let me get you a light bulb.”

Like I said. She was difficult.

I briefly brought up the idea of a purity weekend. “We could go away. And talk about our standards. Why we believe what we believe. And we could get you a ring. You know. To sort of save the place…”
“Eeeew? Mom. Are you kidding?”
Wait, what? I wasn’t sure just where I was wrong. Suddenly my parenting GPS was going all rogue and driving me into vacant lots and off cliffs.
“I don’t want to wear a ring. Gross. Why do you want me to wear a ring? Don’t you trust me? Why can’t I be committed without having to make it everyone’s business?”
I stood looking into a face so familiar and so foreign. And the GPS in my head said, “You have reached your destination.” What? Where are we? When did everything get so complicated? Weren’t we just wondering if she’d ever eat anything but chicken nuggets?
Clearly, I’d missed my window. It came as small surprise to me. I’ve ruined my kids several times over. This was just the latest installment.

I still had the Purity Weekend box set from my friend. With a sigh of defeat, I put the “purity box” into the pile of things needing to be returned.

Yada yada. And now she’s fourteen. And the box was still in the pile. Because I suck. But we’ve covered that already.

This summer was a long one. My daughter wore a bikini and I collapsed on an airplane. It’s a toss-up as to which of those two experiences was most emotionally grueling. But anyway. Somewhere along the line, Anna and I started pulling a little more together. In her season of changes, I also felt a loss of traction. And frequently, letting go was the only option. It’s hard to be exhausted and snarky. Fear and stress matured me some. God is funny like that.

I looked at my daughter as she headed back to school. Ninth grade. Almost as tall as me. And I wondered. Would she ever really want to talk to me about love and sex and the pitfalls of nose piercing?

“I really want to go away with you, Mom. I don’t care what we talk about. It will be fun if we are together.”

What? Holy smokes. Now? I’m always up for a party. But all I currently wanted was a Netflix marathon and Starbucks in the form of an IV. Why am I never ready for these big parenting moments?

Given our depleted bank account and energy reserves, the beach house, mountain cabin and fancy hotel were clearly out. But Mike found us a cheap commuter room off the interstate 15 minutes from our house. Not exactly a golden sunset, but at least there were 12 miles between me and my laundry room.

We stuffed our backpacks and I grabbed the Purity Box as we headed out the door. I felt a strange quivering in my stomach. Nerves. I was nervous. Like I was on a first date!
I fumbled around trying to make conversation. Anna eyed me suspiciously. Smart girl.
We pulled up to the hotel which was located at the end of a decrepit strip mall. The lot was full and we parked in front of a defunct Korean restaurant. For a minute we stood in the rain under a giant sign that read, “BI BIM BAP and SOUP”.

“It’s like Dr. Seuss named it.” Anna said, balancing her bag on one hip.

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Instead of my Hallmark commercial, we had landed in Green Eggs and Ham. Suddenly, I was reminded of something that had fallen out of focus. I not only love this kid; I really like her.

We hurried through the mist to our bleach scented hotel room with its strange moisture-less hotel air. The Purity box had lots of CD’s in it, so I figured we’d better get started.
While Anna laid out our “provisions” I opened the box and thumbed through the manual. My heart sank. Apparently, the weekend involved all kinds of homework for the parent. “What? Are you kidding me? My homework was borrowing this box set two years ago. Seriously, there’s more?”

Lots more. All of my insecurities were instantly confirmed. What kind of mom borrows a “purity weekend box set” and doesn’t even open it for two years? My palms were sweating and I needed water. “Well, let’s just listen to the CD’s and see what we think.” My voice quivered.

We popped the CD into my laptop and the room filled with the sound of a rumbling engine. A giant voice boomed, “Ten. Nine. Eight.” Anna looked at me quizzically. The countdown continued.

The engine sound grew louder and over the din a voice shouted, “Are you ready to blast off to purity?”

Just then, my computer stalled and the room went silent. I fiddled around and couldn’t get anywhere. Probably because my hands were shaking. So I restarted the disk.
Loud engine. Ten. Nine. Eight. (Cue the voice of an exceptionally upbeat man.) “Are you ready to blast off to purity?” Sputter, silence.

Anna looked at me again. This first date was really not going very well.

“Ok.” I tried to not sound irritated. “Why don’t you fix yourself a snack and I’ll run down to the front desk and borrow a CD player.”

I ran down the hall and practically accosted the young man (he looked to be about 12) at the desk. “Do you have a CD player?”

Man-boy smiled and made a funny, sniffing sound. “Wow. A CD player? Do people still use those?”

My heart was racing. My lack of everything was ruining this weekend. Lack of farsightedness. Lack of preparation. Lack of focus. Lack of skill.

I walked slowly back to our room. Anna met me at the door. We tried one more time. Engine rumble. Countdown. Man voice. “Are you ready to blast off to purity?” Silence.
All of my frustration and fatigue pushed to the front of the line. “Gaaaah.” I flipped the laptop back across the bed and turned to face Anna who was sitting cross-legged on the floor.

“Look.” My voice cracked. “Bottom line. You have to wait.” My words were firm and lifeless and I felt like I was lifting bricks. “Don’t have sex until you are married. Don’t. Don’t do it. Just. Don’t.”

Anna looked up at me. Shocked. Mouth open. Eyes wide. And my ugly, awkward words hung in the stiflingly air. I could hear the clock on the bedside table ticking.

“Now,” I said, struggling to regain my composure. “Do you want to go swimming?”
Every judge. Every doubt. Every moment of failure. All crowded in until the room was stuffed with my inadequacy. And I looked down at my daughter and couldn’t believe how far I fallen short of being her mom.

And in that moment, Anna sprang to life. She flung herself back on her bed squealing with delight. “Mom, that was the worst Mom-talk ever!”

Stunned. I stared at her as she writhed around on the bed shouting, “Epic. So awesome!”
Utterly exhausted, I sank on to the bed with a giggle. “It was pretty horrible, wasn’t’ it?”
Instantly, Anna was up on the bed and posing over me. “Bottom line. Don’t have sex until you are married. Just don’t.” She made her best mom face and patted her hair. “Now let’s go swimming.” She collapsed again overcome with the sheer horror of her mother’s foray into the birds and the bees.

“Well, now that I’ve ruined our weekend, what should we do?”
“Well. There’s always BI BIM BAP…” she waited, gazing at me with a delicious air of expectation.
“and soup?” I responded.
“And SOUP!” she shouted throwing pillows. “Three. Two. One. Are you ready…?”
“to blast off to purity?” I answered again.
“No, to the pool!”

And that was that. I sat in the hot tub and watched her lapping the pool, astonished at the magnificent creation God was growing before my eyes. And the awful “first date” feeling melted into the bubbles.

God used my worst foot forward fiasco to set us free to be ourselves. After the swim, we did a really bad job painting our nails. We talked about life and what makes it hard. We talked about “guts” and what “guts in action” look like. And we laughed and laughed. That’s what I remember most clearly. The sweet sound of our laughter.

The next morning, we went to the mall. And we shopped and talked. We drank a lot of coffee. And somewhere along the line we bought a tiny silver ring. And sitting in our van, the rain pelting the windows, I slipped the ring on her finger. And we snuggled close. And without really planning it. Or announcing it. Or counting down to it. We prayed. Sweet. Free. And Beautiful.

As we finished, the sun came out. I’m not kidding. For just a few minutes. Brilliant and blinding. The light danced off all the water cloaked cars and puddles until the entire parking lot was transformed into a diamond gallery. It lasted just a moment before the clouds returned and the rain resumed.

We headed home. Work. School. Life. It’s hard to see around the corner and through the clouds. But I remained focused on that moment in the sun. When the monotony of a parking lot was transfigured into beauty rivaling Versailles.

God is hard to figure. If you plan for Hallmark, He sends Dr. Seuss. You search for sunset and a tire swing and He gives you a parking lot and a minivan. Urban decay and empty store fronts are just elements of redemption. He doesn’t need our “perfect plan”, or “perfect timing” or our perfect anything. He is perfection.

All he wants is room in our hearts. Room in our day. Room in our plan. He’s in the transformation business. All He requires is room to work.

A purity journey is not that different from what he asks of all of us every day. “Is there time for Me? Is there room for My plan? Is the ugliness you face just an empty building or a catalyst of my choosing?”

As I share life with a teenager, moments of clarity are few and far between. But sometimes the clouds do part. And the sunlight is stunning. Every time we hear a countdown, Anna and I share a conspiratorial smile. We haven’t nailed down everything purity related. We decided that it’s an ongoing discussion with yearly getaways to update our research. She is committed to Him. And I’m here with the coffee. The push-pull parent child relationship continues to be tricky, but less harrowing. In hard spots, one of us will usually send up our white flag, “BI BIM BAP…”

And the other will relax. And breathe. And maybe mature just a little. Before responding. “And soup.”

Love Hollylu 7< 8

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Vacationing with Family and Other Oxymorons

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I just finished off a bag of Oreos.  Yes.  The bag.  Why?  Because the cookies were in the cupboard.  Why were such clearly designated “circles of the devil” in my cupboard?  Because.   I have a car, a driver’s license, and a debit card, and I’m not afraid to use them.  And besides.  Unlike cocaine, I know how to score the “Big O”.  I don’t care what you heard at Weight Watchers.  Sometimes, you need an entire bag of Oreos.  Want proof?  My children are still alive.  And we can thank my supplier, Nabisco.

I’ve got stress, people.  Vacation stress.  I know.  Go ahead.  Hate if you need to.  Roll your eyes.  Sigh in disgust.  Vacation stress?  What a “First World” problem.  Sort of like complaining about coughing up insurance money on the third car.  Or grumbling as you get off the couch to pay the gardener.   But “problems is problems”.  And I’m in deep.  DEEP.  Two weeks sleeping in a tent with my offspring loom before me.  And I’m vacation stressed-out.  How oxymoronic.  (Actually, we as mothers are used to embracing all things moronic.  Oxy or otherwise.)  Vacation stress is REAL.  So REAL.  And there are NO support groups or self-help books devoted to the topic.  I checked.  Therefore, all of us “slightly below average mothers” are left to our own devices to survive “death by minivan”.  Nothing says “vacay” like holding a popsicle and sunscreen slathered preschooler as they barf on the side of the road from “car ickness” while the older sibs bark supportively out the window, “Hey Mom, our show won’t play with the engine off!”   Yipee.  Can’t.  Wait.

So, my sisters.  Grab your own personal contraband substance (might I suggest the stale Easter candy you’ve been hiding from the kids?), pull up a screen and join me for the first official meeting of IRDTBOVWMFSG (I’d Rather Die Than Be On Vacation With My Family Support Group).

Vacationing with family.  A benign phrase.  American tradition.  Conjuring  visions of the Brady Bunch singing merrily as all NINE of them rolled along in a station wagon.  No ipods.  No super van with drop down media system.  Just NINE of them in the car.  And no one is crying or puking or contracting some disease from eating gum off the ground at the rest stop.  And what about the Duggars?  If they can peacefully take all kabillion children on wholesome family trips to Dollywood, can it really be all that hard to vacation as a family of four?

Yes.  Yes, it can.

I would like to point out the deceptiveness lurking below the surface.  Like a ravenous crocodile.  Vacationing with family.  “Vacationing” is easy to understand.  A break.  Some time off.  A change of pace.  And “with family” that is also comprehensible.  I mean, I’ve spent over a decade “with family”.  I get that we are rather a matched set.  And I’m the designated grown up making sure we eat, and bathe, and avoid anything endorsed by the Kardashians.   I’m the MOM.  I get it.  What I really don’t get is vacationing with family AS THE MOM.

Being the mother of some highly adventurous, free thinkers, the tools of my trade include a bathtub, a fast food drive-thru, and the pediatrician’s office.  These are the essentials I use to GET THROUGH THE DAY.  A vacation involves leaving all these “helpers” behind along with the beds, the microwave, and my very best friends, washer and dryer.  And when the peeps were little, I’d leave behind something every mother knows she can’t live without.  The ROUTINE.

Husband:  Why are the kids acting up?

Me:  Well, hon.  The two year old hasn’t napped in 4 days.  He’s punch-drunk and looking for a windmill to fight.  And the five year old won’t eat your mother’s cooking because she doesn’t recognize anything not in the shape of a nugget as food.  And your mother does not believe in nuggets of any shape, size or food group.  So while staying at grandma’s house, we have all the key players to reenact the Alamo.  The kids are way, way off their schedules.   This might be the time to look for a calm, non-stimulating environment to refocus and regroup.  But since we are standing in DOWNTOWN DISNEY, the mother ship of preschool adrenalin surges, I don’t know why the kids are crazy.  Your guess is as good as mine.

Husband:   (long pause) Oh.

Getting ready for vacation goes the same way ever year.  I fuss and fidget like a squirrel in the fall with 19 containers spread across the living room floor.  It doesn’t matter what I pack.  I always forget something critical.  (One time, the TENT.  Another time, the SIX YEAR OLD.)

Eventually, the dreaded day dawns.  Like a lamb to the slaughter, I climb into the over-packed minivan.  Buckle and belt.  Check and recheck.  I gaze at the monstrous amount of stuff we have to take along to “get away from it all” and wonder what on earth filled my suitcase before I had offspring.  Seriously, what?  Lipstick?  And I turn on the obnoxiously upbeat children’s music to muffle the sounds of my weeping as we pull out of the drive way.

Deep in my bones.  I know the truth.  I’m pretty mediocre at mothering on a good day.  A day that involves using 31 appliances and the internet before breakfast.  I can’t even pack the right stuff for a two hour field trip.  And now.  I have to be a grown up and keep this brood functioning with nothing but my wits and the contents of my suitcase.  At this point, my weeping gives way to slightly hysterical giggling bordering on mania which always frightens my husband more than the tears.  Smart man.

My loving husband is amazing and compassionate, but he has difficulty wrapping his head around my “vacation stress” issues.

Eventually we reach our destination.  My face has developed a twitch.  The kids are hot and hungry.  It’s way past nap time.  My thighs are sticking together.

“This is supposed to be fun.”  My husband says as he sets up the tent like an Eagle Scout.

I stare at the back of his head.  Switch the smelly toddler in need of a diaper change to the other hip and reposition the five year old whimpering about her infected bug bites while permanently hugging my leg despite the heat.  “What makes you think I’m not having fun?”

Here’s the real deal, ladies.  Vacationing with family is 900 times harder than “regular life” because your job responsibilities do not cease to exist, but are in fact compounded by lack of resources, unidentified dangers, and no escape hatch.  And usually, there is an audience of quasi-relations ready to pronounce judgment on your parenting as your three year old goes supernova in the zoo parking lot.

Yep.  Sign me up for VACATION.

Now is the time to paint your spouse a word picture.  “Let’s say, honey, that you are at work.  Someone comes in, takes your computer and your i-phone and everything called “indoors”.  They take your pens and your file cabinet and leave you outside with a broken crayon and a paper bag.  But you still have that presentation at 3:30.  And everyone expects you to maintain your quality of work.  And your boss will be there and he has invited your critical Aunt Helen.”

And then, as your words sink in, gaze deep into his eyes and whisper, “Welcome, dear.  To the land of vacation stress.”

It seems to me that we need to change the name of this American Institution.  Instead of “Family Vacation”, I offer these more accurate monikers…

1)      How long can the toddler go without a real nap?  And do we really want to know?  And why do we always find out in front of the in-laws?

2)      See how hard Mom works at not cussing when looking for a Walgreens to replace the 9 year-olds now missing inhaler.  Deduct points if she cusses in a foreign language.

3)      The Continuing Quest to find Unicorns and/or Campgrounds with Showers.

4)      “Mom, will you hold this stuffed animal I insisted on bringing?  And will you hold it for seven hours and 3 flights?  And by the way, I will need hours of counseling if you accidentally leave it at a Denny’s in Toledo.”

5)      “Vacations are for family time.  Now stop hitting your sister.  Don’t look at her or breathe on her.  Pretend she’s not even there.”

6)      Heading to the ER because the 14 year old was too cool to wear sunscreen.  On a boat in the Ozarks.  And she’s from Seattle.

7)      “Why do you people always get strange rashes on vacation?  Why do you never get strange rashes at home?  No.  Always on vacation with the strange rash business.”

8)      “Help your brother barf into the bag and KEEP MOVING.  Sweet mother of pearl, we are not missing this flight.”

9)      Adventures with Laxatives because the Five Year Old won’t go #2 on Strange Toilets.

10)   “Dad, can you take us to the arcade?  Mom wants some free time to wash our clothes.”

It seems to me that a whole lot of stress could be alleviated by not expecting an actual vacation while on vacation.  We need to head into vacations rather like a runner preparing for a marathon.

Me:  Okay, today was a good work out.  I washed a load of ketchup and cherry snow cone splattered whites in the sink and used one burner to cook dinner for seven.

Friend:  Yes, but you have to build up.  Your vacation is in two weeks.  For tomorrow’s workout, dip the toddler in a rain puddle and roll him in sand before you have to cook dinner.  Remember, you can only use the two pots for cleaning and cooking.

Me:  Excellent.  Feel the burn, baby.

Friend:  That’s what I’m talking about!  Just wait till we simulate the poison ivy!  Epic!

Vacationing with family takes stamina, ingenuity and a secret stash of Starbucks.  My friend had to camp in the rain with four boys under seven and staved off insanity using  only a French press and a semi-squashed McDonald’s cup she found in the back seat of the van.  When the cup developed a slow leak, she sealed it with chewing gum.  Mother of the Year.  In my book at least.  I have another friend who paid a taxi to deliver a pizza in the wilds of Mt. Rainier.  “Worth every penny.”  These are my kindred.

I know the world is chock full of supermoms who have bulletin boards on Pinterest dedicated to “making crafts in airports” and “potty charts for staying regular on the go”.  And I really admire you people.  From a distance.  You see, I don’t even aspire to work harder on my vacation than I do in my every day existence.  I don’t.  I want to lie down on vacation.  And read a book.  With chapters.  What sounds relaxing to me is a whole trip where I wash only my body parts, and not in the sink at the Dairy Queen.  My dream of vacation time does not include harried trips to a pharmacy, or games of I-Spy with children just mastering colors, or any renditions of “Wheels on the Bus”.  Vacation means staying at hotels without digging through the lost and found for my son’s bathing suit (seriously still can’t figure out how the NUDE little man made it all the way back to the room).

I know.  When it comes to vacation, I’m a whiner.  Not much of a team player.  Leaving a smudge on the hallowed halls of motherhood.  I understand that I FALL SHORT.  I know the little cherubs will be grown and gone in the blink of an eye.  There will be many lonely years to languish poolside and wonder how it all went so fast.  Why did I ever stress about precious family time on vacation?

And then, out of the corner of my eye, I will see a young mother with peeps in tow.  She’ll be carrying several overstuffed beach bags and a nine month old.  Her oldest will dart for the ice machine and the three year old will stand for 10 minutes in the automatic doorway trying to get his flip-flops on the right feet.  And the mother will pause with her brood.  And I will hear something like a hysterical giggle, bordering on mania.

And I’ll slowly sip my drink with its tiny pink umbrella.  I’ll raise my glass to my sister in arms.  Carrying forth the banner of motherhood while simultaneously closing the ice machine door and fixing the flip-flop.  And I’ll drink deep until every last ounce of vacation stress slips away.

Love Hollylu 7 < 8

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Does This Chicken Suit Come in Black?

 chicken_suit_costume-vibe-vixen

This Saturday I will go to my fourth funeral in two months.  I will sit in the back.  I will stand and pray with fellow mourners.  I will wait in line to pay my respects and honor a life well lived.  I will allow the sadness of death to wash over me.  Move me to tears.  And then I will walk into the sunlight.  And drive home.

My problem with funerals is that life has only stopped for one of us.  And running out to Walmart for orange juice later that evening  feels… Well, it feels incredibly awkward.

I freely embrace my shallowness.  I avoid thinking about sad and confusing things because typically I end up feeling sad and confused.  Shocking, I know.  But as much as I try to busy myself with the mundane habits of the living, funerals force me to contemplate the inevitable end of everything.

So as I prepare for this Saturday, my mind revisits all of the funerals I have attended.  And I wonder.  How are they now?  The ones who remain.  How do they live?  Does breathing ever come as easy as it once did?  Can laundry and dishes and driving to church ever settle back into the muted colors of everyday life?

What hope is there for those who of us who walk the road behind them?  Who have yet to bury a parent, a spouse, a child?  What life after death is there for those left living?

These are the questions that percolate as I pull the black dress and sensible black heels from the back of the closet.  A quiet pondering invades my normally frenetic consciousness.  What life after death is there for those left living?

Ironically, in this season of funerals, I reunited with an old friend I’d last seen at a funeral.  Death had separated us.  The death of a child.  A daughter.  A beautiful spitfire of a girl.

Her daughter, Taylor.  Seven years old.

I was Taylor’s therapist.  Although I never did much of anything therapeutic.  For Taylor.  I may have provided some counsel and comfort to her mother, Melanie.

And for sure, Taylor and Melanie were my therapists.  Teaching me stuff no graduate school could ever convey.  Chief among the tutoring was the understanding that hope need not be reasonable, and that the communication of the heart is not limited by language.   Taylor, a child with no words, taught me joy is not earned, it just explodes when you least expect it.  But only if you have surrendered yourself to the possibility of its existence.

Taylor died suddenly.  In the night.  Found by her shattered parents in the morning.

And all of us who knew them circled the wagons.  Cleared our schedules.  And prepared for a funeral.  Our society’s process of separating the living from the dead.

I am a health care professional.  There are  boundaries we must maintain to preserve ourselves.  You simply cannot function.  Cannot get out of bed and go do a job that involves living and grief and pain and death, if you allow yourself to get too close.  You’d turn to dust and blow away.

So it was rather inexplicable to find myself calling the grieving mother and asking to speak at the funeral.

“Taylor would love that.”

 photo

And then I was caught.  Between the self I knew and the self I wanted to be.  Fierce.  Brave.  No boundaries.  Only a freedom to follow the heart, wherever it may lead.  I wanted to be a lot like, Taylor.

So I dug out my chicken suit.  Yes.  My chicken suit.  Traded shifts at work.  And with a dear friend behind the wheel, we set off to separate the living from the dead.

The memorial home was packed.  I felt like a foreigner.  I was just the therapist.  Here among the broken, devastated family.  Taylor was my patient.  Not my cousin.  Not my sister.  Not my granddaughter.

What am I doing here?  The sadness at a child’s funeral is so heavy.  There is no comfort from a life lived.  This is a life snuffed out.  Too soon.  And we all know it.  And we pull and stretch the biblical texts into some sort of buffer.  And no one says, “I’m very angry that God let this happen.”  That’s not what you say at funerals.

But the truth is that God was at the helm during her whole complicated little life.  God is at the helm at every funeral.  All things.  All things are his.

And sitting in the back with my chicken suit buried deep in a gym bag, I knew the only way to survive was to feel.  Angry. Shocked.  Broken.  And to push deeper into a God I loved.  I dare you God.  I dare you to make sense of this.

And suddenly, I was filled with joy.  With no reason.  With no purpose.  Just joy.  And I felt free.  Free to live in the face of death.  Free to let go, so I could keep.  Free to follow a God who does not limit himself to human understanding.

When the time came, I maneuvered to the front of a very full room.  Many were openly weeping.  And I looked into the faces death left behind.  My fingers grasp the gym bag so hard, I couldn’t feel them anymore.  But joy is worth the risk.  And so, with a deep breath, I said good bye.

“As we go through our days, every once in a while, we encounter a life force so concentrated, so undiluted, that we are changed by their presence.  Taylor was one such person.  Ask anyone who knew her well. Taylor was a “game changer.” 

I met Taylor when she was just a tiny peanut.  Barely a year old.  But it was clear from the moment I held her; Taylor had a lot to tell the world. 

Taylor was a soul communicator.  Her nervous system may have betrayed her, but her spirit never did.  During our first session, we sat on the floor and she sized me up with those big brown eyes.  I could clearly read her thoughts.  “Look lady.  Let’s get something straight from the get-go.  I’m in charge.”

As therapists, as health care professionals, we operate with the understanding that we come to help.  We come to teach.  We come to fix and change.  We pray to bring healing.  To restore what has gone amiss.  To regain the balance in a world askew. 

Our patients must remain our patients.  What type of therapists would we be if we fell in love with every person in our care?  We must keep some distance.  We must remain professional.  We must care but maintain the boundaries of “professional caring”.  We learn to color inside the lines.

As I worked with Taylor and her family, I gradually realized there were no easy answers to be found here.  Any plan I came up with, didn’t seem to go anywhere.  But Taylor didn’t seem upset with my lack of progress.  Just as I was about to give up, she’d lean in with her open mouth kiss, and the whole frustrating session would evaporate into joy. 

And as our relationship deepened, I slowly set down the tools of my profession.  The picture cards.  The manual signs.  The buttons and switches.  The answers weren’t coming from any of the books I’d read.

And then, Melanie sighed one day.  “I guess we’ll have to read the book of Taylor.”  And so we did. 

Although I never heard a sentence, Taylor communicated loudly!  Her message was clear.  I’m going to do what I’m going to do, when I want to do it.  We learned to set our clocks by Taylor time. 

Don’t get me wrong, Taylor may have had the face of an angel, but she had an ornery streak the size of Texas.  I’ve already referred to her has a “soul communicator” and mostly she spent her time telling me where, exactly, I could step off. 

I remember once I was trying to get her to point to picture cards.  Taylor would have none of it, and when I persisted, she took the cards, scooted over to the ball pit, and plopped them inside.

Her mother affectionately referred to her as “butt”.  And anyone who ever asked Taylor to do anything she didn’t feel like doing, soon whole heartily agreed with this moniker.  Even if we didn’t admit it out loud.

Perhaps my most favorite moment I shared with Taylor happened on Halloween.  Taylor came dressed as a chicken.  Yellow.  Fluffy.  Completely adorable.  On this day, of all the children who filled CTU, Taylor was the cutest.  And she knew it.  She rocked that costume with all the poise, confidence and flirtation of a runway model.  Parents of other children scrambled to take her picture. 

As Taylor, Melanie and I trick-or-treated around the unit, Taylor worked the building like a politician in November.  

And from this vantage point, I was better able to read the book of Taylor.  Here was someone who had no trouble communicating what truly mattered.  And somehow, even though I was supposed to be the teacher, I found Taylor and her family teaching me.

Some answers will never be found in books.  Some thoughts are too precious to be expressed in words but must be communicated by the soul.  Sometimes the short, straight line is the wrong path to take.  Sometimes it’s more important to enjoy where you are then to press on to new horizons.  Sometimes, dressing like a chicken makes perfect sense.

After my Halloween with Taylor, I didn’t even try to keep a professional distance.  The word “boundary” wasn’t in Taylor’s worldview anyway.  If she wanted to go somewhere, she did.  Even if it meant stealing away the hearts of her therapists.

As much as I tried to build a functional communication system for Taylor, I never succeeded.  However, I have rarely communicated with a patient as well as I communicated with that little sprite of a girl. 

Usually, we were arguing.  Usually, she was winning. 

The longer I knew her, the more I realized that Taylor was right all along.  Let’s not waste time on what doesn’t matter.  The world is flooded with communication no one receives.  Most of what we say slips through our consciousness without really registering.  How many people, fully capable of speech, glide through life without really connecting?  Without ever knowing, and being known by another soul.  How many of us have never stopped to examine an interesting crack in the wall, or tried to kiss a bubble as it floated by?

How many fully-abled people live without really being alive?

After reading the book of Taylor, I couldn’t see cute, little chicks without thinking of her.  It’s ironic that I associate little chicks with this amazing, beautiful girl.  Chickens, you know, have wings and yet remain flightless.  Birds equipped for journeys fate will not let them take. 

But they don’t seem particularly perplexed by the situation.  They are not angst ridden or bitter.  They simply embrace wings that flap but don’t fly.

Taylor lived inside a body that barred her from fully experiencing the world.  And yet, Taylor did not seem remotely concerned with her limitations.  She cared nothing for the timelines of others.  The agendas, the therapy goals, the IEP objectives.  Tay was intensely interested in doing what she wanted to do.  Living.  Seeing.  Doing.  Being.  She was the star in the book of Taylor and she knew it.

When Melanie told me of Taylor’s passing, I was sitting at my desk, at work.  And somehow, it felt as if the lights were dimmed.  The sun was shining, but the air was cold.  I ended up wandering home.  Wondering.  Doubting.  Unsure.

But slowly I started to recall everything I’d learned from the book of Taylor.  The memories came dancing back.  And I was holding that big eyed baby on a blue therapy mat.  And trick or treating with a fuzzy chick on Halloween, and fishing my picture cards out of the ball pit… again.  And I was laughing and crying at the same time.

And I wondered how to say goodbye to a beautiful, fierce, vibrant spirit.  How could I let her family know and the world know that Taylor was indeed a “game changer” because she had radically changed me.

And then, suddenly I knew.

A  tribute of joy.

Taylor taught us that when you can’t get around the puddle, you can at least have fun stomping through it.

Taylor taught us that boundaries are for maps but not people.  Love is limitless.  Coloring outside the lines is messy, but real.

At this point, I pulled a gigantic, yellow chicken suit out of my bag and began wiggling into it.

Taylor taught us that when you feel like lying down and quitting, it’s much more fun to kick your therapist.

Taylor taught us that communicating, being known, is beyond words and the language of hope is beyond full understanding.

She taught us to laugh, and giggle and play.   And when needed, to tell bossy people where to “step off”.

I’m standing here in a chicken suit because sometimes that’s just the right thing to do.

Good bye, Taylor.  Thank you.  Thank you for shaking it up, keeping it real, and living in joy.  The next time we’re together, you can teach us all how to fly.”

Standing in the front of the room swathed in yellow feathers, I looked up.  And in the red eyes and swollen faces I glimpsed something new.  A reflection of the joy Taylor had brought to so many.

It was then that I realized funerals are truly an opportunity to separate the living from the dead.  But not in the traditional sense.  The moment death arrived, Taylor had gone on ahead.  She was instantly more alive than I have ever been.  Free from earth’s restrictions and dancing in the presence of God.

No, funerals are not for the dead.  They are for the living.  As we sit in the pews, we have an opportunity to evaluate the corners and closets of our own lives.  To pull open the drapes and let the searchlight of eternity illuminate how much life we are actually living.  Life happens in the “now”.  How many “now” moments are we completely consuming?  How many “now” moments are we “living to the full”?  In this way, Taylor was the least handicapped person I’ve ever met.

This Saturday, I will go to a funeral to celebrate the completed life of a noble and very kind man,and I will honor him by evaluating my own.  I will separate what is living from what is dead in my cluttered heart.  I will rededicate my life to following God alone, even if it means attending funerals in feathers.  And then, I will walk out into the sunlight.  And drive home.

 

Love  Hollylu 7  <  8

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IRONy

Monopoly-Pieces

Hello.  It’s February.  How did that happen?  What have I been doing?  Oh, right.  Slow, insidious death by fifth grade science fair.  I hate science fair.  I know I am only supposed to admit to hating the devil. But, I’m pretty sure when people enter hell, they’re handed a tri-fold board and told, “I’m sorry, your hypothesis was not accepted.”

On top of science fair, the girls and I have been working like little beavers to get ready for the Girlfriends Guide in March*.  I have aptly named “deadlines”.  With the few “type A” brain cells I posses fully occupied gluing bar graphs to cardboard, it’s been hard to give deadlines their due.  In fact, I’m pretty sure my deadlines have little kitty feet so they can ninja-crouch in the dark for days before turning into giant psycho clowns with butcher knives leaping from the shadows screaming “I’m DUE tomorrow!!!”

So blogging time was taken up by “triage laundry” and midnight runs to Walmart for rubber bands and baking soda.  Did I mention how much I hate science fair?

But I was thinking.  Or as close as I come.   And watching.  And I’ve been stewing in the deep end of the pot.  And here’s what I’ve deduced.

The world’s gone cray cray.   The cheese is clearly off the cracker.  Mad.  Mad.  Mad.  Which of course, makes everything more interesting.

Top Five Signs that the world is distinctly more INSANE in 2013:

1)       Monopoly Ditches the IRON.

My heroes.  Perfect insanity.  Instead of trying to return to a standard, let’s just vote it off the island!   For years, my brothers would take the DOG, or the TOP HAT and stick me with the IRON or the THIMBLE, because I was “a girl.”  Humph.  So what if it took an extra couple decades for feminism to filter down to board games promoting total domination?   Even as a kid, I always thought instead of burning bras, us gals should have been throwing out the mop and tossing frying pans.  Now, it seems the world has caught up to my logic.  Or maybe not.  The Super Bowl halftime show was a virtual worship service to supportive undergarments.  “Girl-ness” was clearly NOT associated with intellect.  But, then on Monday following the Super Bowl, we tossed out the iron.  Crazy, funny IRONy.  Anywhoo, no longer will moms have to cringe as they listen to children trying to figure out what the tiny triangular playing piece represents.

Neighbor Kid:  “What’s that?”

My kid:  “I think they used it in olden times.”

Neighbor kid: “No, my mom has one.  She uses it for clothes.”

My kid:  “Oh.  We used to have one.  My mom used it to keep the screen door open, but it rusted on the porch, so she gave it to Goodwill.”

2)      The MAIL stops coming on Saturday.

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds, except for Saturday.  We don’t do Saturday anymore.” 

What a great idea.  Why not take Saturdays off?  Why didn’t I think of that?  Instead of working shifts at the hospital, carting boys to obscure junior high gyms, shivering and standing court-side because “we don’t heat gyms on weekends” or believe in bleachers at the intermediate level.  Followed by racing to another gym on the other side of town, all the while forcing my kid to compile DATA for his science fair project in the car because the minivan is clearly the perfect place for science to happen.  I wonder.  Why don’t we just TAKE THE DAY OFF?  Far be it from me to take tips from giant bureaucracy laden institutions or junior high furnace schedules, but I think they’ve stumbled onto something.

 3)      We LANCED the STANDARD, but good. 

I don’t know what you were doing when Lance and Oprah had their heart to heart.  But I was living with a ten year old boy.  Thanks Mr. Armstrong.  I simply had nothing else to do in the month of January but field a ka-billion questions about winning, losing, truth, drugs, world view, honor, and competition.  Fairy tales sometimes come true.  But mostly, they’re just fairy tales.

The interesting part is that our family got to dig a little deeper.  What created Lance Armstrong?  As a society we’ve sold out “competition” for “winning”.  The glory is for the victor alone.  Everyone and everything else is screwed, including personal integrity, moral responsibility and the love of sport.  Lance was just the tip of the iceberg.  According to the media buzz, if they disqualified all persons associated with some form of cheating competing in the Tour de France with Lance, the medals would have gone the person who finished around 38th!  Cheating has become a way of life.  Widely accepted.  “We’re # 38!” just doesn’t look good on t-shirts.

The difference between “playing to win” and “winning to play” is a hard topic for simple minds and I’m sure for ten year-olds too.   The facts and “the fall” were discussed again and again at our dinner table forums.  “Honesty” and “victory” were pulled apart and reconstructed.  Muddled and reviewed.  This additional cognitive load was plopped on top of my “science fair taxed mom brain”.  But it was worth it.  In a bleak moment when we were struggling to complete the required amount of experiment trials, it was clear to all present that we could end our misery and just LIE.

“It’s only a fifth grade science project for crying out loud.”  And Mom might have caved.  She almost did cave, so deep is her loathing of manipulated variables.    Besides, morality is mostly what other people mess up.  But then my kid and HIS DAD rallied. “We have to do it again because that’s the only right way.”  And although temporarily discouraged by science, I was amazed at the truth growing inside us all.  Especially me.

4)      Even the MAN AT THE TOP feels like throwing in the towel on Mondays.

Did you hear?  The Pope quit.  At the end of a “business as usual” meeting.  On Monday.  In Latin.   Amen.

I’m a small and insignificant person.  I’m not commenting on whether he should or should not have hung up the hat.  But the facts are more awesome than fiction.  The last time it happened was 600 years ago.  Clearly the status quo was busted.  On a MONDAY.  And he quit in LATIN.  The smart guys all around him had to scramble to catch up because 1) his resignation was not mentioned on the “official agenda” as Robert’s Rules clearly dictate and 2) it was in LATIN, the official language of Popeworld spoken by very few of the current movers and shakers in Popeworld.  Well played, Benedict.

My mind just goes back to this scenario again and again.  Regardless about how one feels about the Pope, you have to admire his incredible courage and class.  How I have longed to bust free from my status quo.  Especially in “churchworld”.  I long for agenda free living with God and God alone deciding my course.  When Monday morning demands crowd out Sunday morning promises, I tend to shut down.  This week at work I pulled my Bible out and read with abandon at lunchtime.  Something I haven’t done in quite some time.  If the man at the top can bust free, so can we.  “Is est pro licentia vos  expedio.”

5)       The School Roof is Leaking but Baseball is America’s Game.

Yesterday, the school bond failed.  By a lot.  Times are hard.  Kids can make due.  I mean, if you have to put 40 fifth graders in a classroom because there is just no room anywhere else, then that’s what you do.  Of course, we can’t understand why no one is learning very much.  Those dots are just too far to connect.  But why be glum?  Yesterday we also learned that Felix Hernandez will be making $175 million to throw a ball three nights a week for the next seven years.  Thank you, world, for clarifying our priorities.  My husband, who happens to teach 5th grade, would have to work 416 years to earn what Felix will make in 12 months.  That’s 416 science fair projects.  Why is this so incredibly funny?  I don’t know.  It’s like a really good cup of tea at the Mad Hatters table.

So there you have it.  World gone mad.  But so very interesting.  Golden boy, Lance Armstrong, has fallen from glory and his former sponsor, the US Postal Service is trying desperately to repair some deflating tires of its own.  The “iron” is out, but ogling girls in underwear is definitely in.  Good thing you don’t have to iron underwear.  The Pope’s stepping back inspired me to move forward.  Because living free always comes at a price.  And finally, I’m not sure about the science fair, but the one thing you can still learn in school is that Americans will keep playing the game.  Even if it means ransoming the future.

A few days ago, Teddy asked Annalee what “irony” was.  And Annalee responded, “It’s like you go to every store in town trying to buy hot dogs but no one has them.  And then the next day, you go to the store and hot dogs are on sale, but you don’t want them anymore.”

Well said, little Peep.  Successful living is all about knowing what you really want.  I guess more than anything, I want real change.  Ordinary people have no influence on the world’s stage.  The only effective change I can make is within my own self.  The choices I make here in the moment I’m living are all I really own.  “Now” is the scope of my influence.  The beautiful, transcending irony is that at any given moment one person making one choice can change the world.  Just ask Lance.  Or Benedict.  Or Felix.

Fascinating.   I’m going to free myself to live a big life by embracing the small moments.  The small moment is everything.  All of the power, all of the transformation, is waiting in the moment.  And not just the world, but eternity hangs in the balance.

Love  Hollylu  7<8

*The Girlfriends’ Guide to Getting Real with God is an out “out of the box” life application bible study for women.  The study features live teaching, YouTube magic, and lots of coffee.  Perfect for the overworked and under rested who desire deeper relationship with God.

Girlfriends Guide to Getting Real with God  Lighthouse Christian Center, Thursday nights, 6:30 – 8:30.  March 14th – June 6thChildcare provided with advanced registration.  Registration now open at lighthousehome.org   More information available at Hollylucoon.com

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Angry at Christmas

A few weeks ago, in a town very far from my home, twenty children were murdered in their classrooms.  I was on my way to a Christmas party when I found out.

Somewhere, at that very moment, mothers and fathers were running from place to place.  Desperately searching.  Hoping against hope.  Waiting for their hearts to start beating again.

I turned off the television and went to the party.

That afternoon, I picked my kids up from school.  I looked full into their big blue eyes.   I could feel my heart beating.  “Thank you for coming home.”  That’s all I could say to the innocent.

I started the car and played the Christmas music too loud.  If only we could drive away from the real.  Evil had climbed from the shadows into the morning light of our middle class, American dream.  And the lambs lay riddled with bullets.  And the offender lay dead beside them.

This was the truth.  Not a movie.  Not a novel.  But life.

Where was God?  My God.  He is mighty.  And a deep lover of the innocent.  Where was he this morning?

In control.  He had not slipped.  Or blinked.  Or been caught unaware.  This was also truth.  God is sovereign.

On this hand, we have twenty children ripped from the world by one evil act.  On the other hand, God was, and is, and always will be, the author of life.  These two truths are highly combustible when stored in the same cognitive space.

So I nailed all the doors of my brain shut.

That evening, we drove to church.  The kids were performing in a Christmas play.  They sang and danced and promoted a holiday that celebrates God’s light come into the world.  The words were simple.  Inviting.  “God with us.  Abide in us.”

The message of Christmas.  God’s light is for everyone.  If only we would open this gift.

I wanted to settle into the moment.  To celebrate the truth of these songs.   But  I felt a chill.  I felt guilty.  Looking at a stage brimming with beautiful, unmarred faces.  What had I ever done to deserve such  a lavish blessing?

And my heart whispered.  “What is she doing?  The mother who knows her daughter is lying dead, but looks for her anyway?”

My tall, beautiful boy was singing and dancing in the middle of the pack.  Shining eyes.  He believed the words coming from his mouth.

And I did too.  But I’m not innocent.  And I’m not very deep or strong or smart.  And doing the math it takes to believe in a loving, all powerful God on the same evening that Evil strikes such a powerful blow is physically gut wrenching.

So I nailed the doors of my heart shut.

I was grateful for the Christmas bustle.  No time to think.  If I think, I will weep.  December 14th had illuminated the abject shallowness of my “high priority” to-do items.  But I pressed on.  Unfortunately, I’m a champion at completing “brainless” activities with absolutely no heart.

Before Sandy Hook, my defenses were already weak.  One of my dearest, oldest friends was praying with me in November.  Her husband had a “side ache”.  We laughed.  He’s probably just out of shape.  It was nothing to be sure.  But just in case, better see the doctor.  Just in case, we better include it on our prayer list.  In less than two weeks, there was no traction in my prayers.  Like kicking a benign stick out of the path to find a cobra sprung to life.  Stage four cancer.

And then, a few days before Thanksgiving, a friend’s daughter walked into a gymnastics practice.  Random, freak accident.  And now, the world is askew.  She is paralyzed from the chest down.  At fifteen.   How many hundreds of times have I dropped my kids off at practice?  I take for granted they will walk back to my car.

I take so much for granted.  So much.  I just trust that things will work out.  Don’t we all?

Honestly, most of the time, I just trust that life will be good.  Rather blind faith.

I bustled and jostled through the waning December days like the log ride at the fair.  Moving, eating, sleeping.  The mall.  The Santa line.  The parties.  The platitudes.  People often ask me to lead in prayer.  Because I’m not shy about how much I love my God.  I wanted to gather all these “fellow believers” close.  Like the way we used to hug in college.  And ask, “Why do we believe these things?  Do we really, really believe them?”

But we’re not encouraged to say these things out loud.  It’s not what “good Christians” do.

However, at night, alone with myself, I’d sneak up to the sealed up doors in my brain and heart and feel the heat.  A fire raged just on the edge of conscious thought.  Successful as I was during the day, wrapping presents and buying cookies, I couldn’t chase these questions away at night.

If my husband, so much the source of my strength, was stricken on Monday, would I be thanking God on Tuesday? 

If my child, my heart and soul, was altered in a “freak accident”, would I continue to not only acknowledge but follow a God who claims to be “always at the helm”? 

And, here’s the kicker.  If my peeps were struck down in a hailstorm of bullets in the very place I sent them for nurturing, could I continue to believe my God to be loving and just?

And the weakness of my faith was more terrifying than the evil lurking in the shadows.

I pushed my Bible away.  I pushed it all away.  I let the Christmas lights and 30 second Advent readings buoy me along.  And I made it all the way to Christmas night.

As I turned off the tree the doubt flooded in.  Is this what Christmas really is?  An exercise?  A convention?  A socially driven community thread?  Is it over now?  All things end.  We will put the decorations back in the box.  The CNN coverage of the funerals will give way to other news.  Do we just go back to living?  Back to blindly trusting it will all work out?

The house was dark.  And my heart was darker still.

Blindly believing is for idiots.

I am no more guaranteed that things “will just work out” than were any of those parents in Connecticut.  So if I’m going to believe, my faith must not be blind.   I must pull these thoughts from the deep recesses of night into the light of day.

I’m angry with God.

There.  I said it.

And so I stand before all I know to be true and ask.  Why, God? 

Six and seven year-olds, Lord.

Where were you?  How could you let this happen?  If evil must exist, why not allow the gun to take the mother and father as well.  Why must they live in a world and cry out for children who will not answer?  This is so hard to understand, God.  How can this be?

I will never have the innocence, strength or wisdom of Job.  I’m rather lousy at being a “good soldier”.  I don’t take direction well.  I need to know why I believe what I believe.  I want to know in whom or what I am trusting.   I am only myself.

Alone in the dark, I rant at God.

Like a foolish child, I wish for December 14th to be erased.

Why?  For the parents, of course.  But also, deeper still.  So that I can go back.

Back to what?  To innocence.  But also, to blindness.  To blind trust.

For someone with so many questions, I am surprised by this revelation.   There is much I don’t question.  Don’t even think of questioning.   This is sobering in the dark.  My faith is quite blind.

Each day, I take so much for granted.   I get out of bed and walk across the floor on two legs that work.  Blindly accepting.  I go to a job and earn money for food and electricity and a lot of stuff I don’t need all that much.  Blindly accepting.  I quibble with my kids about lost shoes and excess laundry, blindly accepting they will be there tomorrow for more quibbling.  My husband, kind and patient, the straightest arrow I know.  Each night, he comes home to me.  Blindly, I accept this as a given right.

Blind.  Blind.  In my blindness, I accept all these things.  I accept all of this comfort and love as my baseline.  This is life as it should be.

And what drives me to blindly live?

I’m busy.  I’ve got stuff to do.  Places to be.  Television to watch.  The shallowness of this thought surprises even me.  So I take a deeper look.

Why live blindly?

A broken, selfish heart and a wayward, shortsighted intellect.

In summary, my lazy soul.

I pace around in the blackness of the living room.  A lazy soul.  I know a good God.  I belong to him.  I’m through the pearly gates, right?  What else is required of me?  So I live, consuming His goodness like an unfeeling vacuum.  Until, I choke and sputter on December 14th.  This slaughter of lambs incenses my spirit.  Riles up a long dormant sense of justice.   And I wake from my blindness to question.

Who are you, Lord?

I feel exposed and raw before God.  I’ve shaken my fists and stomped my feet.  And I’m waiting for answers that make sense.

And I wonder.  To wake up.  To consider each day as part of the equation.  To consciously know that my husband’s footsteps outside my door are not a given.  To see the daily toil, strain and stress as a crazy beautiful dance with twenty four hours to perform it.  To breathe in and out and know that the air in my lungs is a gift from God.

Why am I not doing this?

It takes effort.  And work.  A bending of one’s inner nature to the greater One.   A working out of the faith.  To open my eyes to the realness of God, this takes a conscious surrender.  My blindness robs me of the ability to keep a proper account.  Laziness clouds my vision from seeing God at work.

The greater evil here is that I’ve labeled things incorrectly.  Sandy Hook is the baseline.  Cancer, illness, corruption is life as it is.  The planet is wounded and broken.   Mothers will cry out for children who lie dead.  Sickness and disease and meaningless accidents will rob and kill and destroy.  This is real.

I am weeping now.   The doors I’ve nailed shut are burst open and I can feel.  And mourn.

And hope.

I remember the words to the song my son sang on December 14th.

“God with us.  Abide in us.”

Abide in me.  The only cure for my anger, my questions with God, is to devote myself more fully to living a conscious faith.  To not give in to being lazy and blindly flowing along until the raft starts taking on water.  To wake each morning keeping a full account of God’s movement in my heart, my life, this world.  To collect a better representation of the data.  And in doing so, to build a house upon the rock that will not be shaken.

I’ve seen this rock.  In a father as he spoke on Sports Radio of hope that sustains and lifts his family and his gymnast daughter even as she lay facing a new world from her hospital bed.  I’ve felt this rock, in my friend’s prayers as she described being in a giant room filled with God’s grace as the storm of cancer raged somewhere outside.  And I’ve been overwhelmed by this rock, as a devastated father stood before a speechless nation and forgave the man that murdered his daughter.

I want my life to be here.  On the rock.

In the dark, I plug in the Christmas tree once more and the room is filled with light.  The shadows exist in the corners, but only for a time.

Matthew 4:16

The people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.

Love,   Hollylu  7  <  8

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I-confused

 

Everybody talks about paranoia as if it’s a bad thing.

There are mucho, mucho reasons to be paranoid, my friend.  For instance, at the very moment I write this, I’m sitting in a meeting.  There are very familiar-ish looking people in various states of rumpled suits and ties.  We are hunkered down in the public library.  The agenda has NINETEEN items.

I got here late and I’m not sure what the meeting is about.  All I have is a napkin that says “library 8pm”.

Sadly, it’s not the first time this sort of thing has happened.  Usually, I fake calm and play a human version of Sudoku to figure out where exactly I’ve landed in the unending list of unclear obligations.  But today nothing is working.  I’ve listened really hard for five minutes.  And I’m still not sure.  Thus far we’ve covered the greeting, introduced the new members, and summarized the agenda.  I’ve ruled out school board meeting (these people brought snacks) and I’m pretty sure this is not a religious event (we didn’t open in prayer).  I’ve taxed my inner Nancy Drew.  And still.  Not really sure if I’m supposed to be here.  Haven’t even ruled out that I’m speaking at this little soiree.  Thus, my paranoia.

Before you call the white coats, allow me offer this brilliantly original defense:  It’s not my fault.

For my current state of confusion, I blame Steve.  And Bill.  But mostly Steve.

I’m the victim.  To be more precise.  I’m an i-victim.  Defenseless against the slow insidious creep of “helpful” technology that has taken over my brain.

Like a spider weaving a web, Steve Jobs convinced me that all of my problems could be solved with my i-products.  I was a hold out.  I loved my paper calendar and pen that had color changing tabs at the top.  But I just couldn’t argue with the “i-solution”.  If I went techno-girl, my calendar would always be available via “the cloud”.

Ooooh.  The cloud.  Sort of like heaven.  A place where nobody shows up at the Boy Scout meeting exactly on time one week late.  For penance has to call 75 angry popcorn customers three days before Christmas.  No one pays penance on “the cloud.”

The promise of being a fully functional adult was just too wonderful to pass up.  At the urging of my friends, I ran away to Verizon on a madcap weekend adventure and woke up Monday morning with a brand new touch screen and a two year contract.   Technology and me were finally hitched!  What a honeymoon!  Yowza!  For a girl who NEVER knew where she was supposed to be, or when, or with what, I could turn on my email and get “oriented” right in the middle of Costco.  Finally, my kids were not the LAST ones to be picked up, and for the first year ever, my son had the right uniform on in the team photo!  Bliss.

But even the best honeymoons end.  And now, I’m stuck with a spouse that teases and promises, but eventually leaves me sitting in a public library in an insanely boring meeting, I may or may not be speaking at.

It’s a sad story.  But since we’ve only moved on to the second bullet point on the agenda, and no one has called my name, I’ll share.  You lucky person.

Two months ago, my phone stopped sending emails.  It pretended to send emails, but it was just going through the motions.  Like me at spinning class.  “Hey, my feet are on the pedals.  What else do you want?  Sweat?”

People kept giving me the “I can’t believe you didn’t answer my email” dirty look.  What?  Beg pardon?  I DID return your email.  I remember distinctly pushing send while holding up the Burger King drive through.

True confession:  For years I’ve been lying about returning people’s email and just sort of letting the “mysterious technology glitch” cover my bad.  So like that boy who cried wolf, I’m now left alone in my minivan not really sure to whom I promised bag of “boy clothes” and who gets the tray of brownies.  Hmmm.

Note to self:  Bring brownies and boy clothes to next five events.  Problem Avoided.

I’m a PSA expert.  Problem Solving Avoidance.   My Olympic sport.  I’ve avoided my way through advanced algebra, Spanish 3, Tax returns for years 2003-07, and 73 employee improvement seminars.  PSA is what you do when you are too busy, too guilt ridden, or too confused (or some toxic combination thereof) to actually solve the problem.  Sort of like when QVC labels size 14 as “medium-medium” or when your husband answers a question with a question.

So my phone quit sending email.  It’s not the end of the world.  I own a computer.  I can check up on email during my free time at home. Which according to my Google Calendar is from 1:34 to 1:45 a.m, Pacific Standard Time.

I was limping along.  Trying to make this techno-marriage work.  I went to counseling at the T-mobile booth.  My counselor’s name was “Ian”.  He appeared to be about 12.

“I’m sorry ma’am.  You need to make an appointment at the Apple store.  It’s a software problem.”

Counseling session over.  Clearly, Ian was not a people person.

Note to twelve year-olds everywhere : 1) Don’t try to pass yourself off as techno-marriage counselors.  2) Never, ever call me “ma’am”.  Can’t you see I’m hip and happening?  Isn’t the I-PHONE and SPARKLE EYE LINER a clue that I’m not even close to “ma’am-ness”?

In his attempts to help, Ian only messed me up.  Now my phone would not even receive emails.

“Ma’am, You just need to go in and reset your account passwords.”

Yeah, right.  Hey Ian, if I knew how to do that, do you think I’d be standing here letting you call me names?

I started asking my friends’ husbands for help.  No luck.  They talked too fast while pushing random buttons and suggesting I visit the T-mobile booth.  As my desperation increased, I sought out teenagers in the mall.  I looked for kids that didn’t appear to be on crack or showing crack, which pretty much left the home-schooled crowd.  Nada.  They must have been busy sewing their own clothes.

I most likely would have straggled along in a PSA induced haze indefinitely.  But then the bottom dropped out.

My Google Calendar stopped working.  (Insert discordant pounding of piano keys here.)

It was like somebody sucked all the oxygen out of the room.  I staggered around hardly able to recall my own work schedule without breaking a sweat.  With the homing beacon turned off, I couldn’t even figure out the day of the week.

Side note:  When did Google Calendar sneak up Maslow’s Hierarchy?  Just yesterday, the “pyramid of needs” went like this: 1.  breathing   2.  water   3.  food ….   And somewhere around 7,569 we found “Google Calendar.

And now, Google Calendar has wheedled its way into the top three or arguably, the TOP TWO?   What?  It’s not like we’re talking blood and plasma.  It’s Google Calendar for crying out loud.  A time saving convenience.  Not a brain sucking symbiote.  But, I digress.

With no email and no calendar, I was up the creek without a paddle in sight.  The first day, we missed the orthodontist, marching band (which was meeting at the stadium of all places) and two private pay patients I had rescheduled and WISELY NOTED IN MY OMNIPRESENT CALENDAR.  It’s not like I was sitting at home.  I was busy driving like a mad woman to all the wrong places for all the wrong reasons.  Mike had to walk home from work and the youth group went without snacks, thus confirming my status as “completely loser parent”.

Ignoring the constant whiny drone for nourishment coming somewhere from the backseat, I frantically looked up the Apple Store in the PHONE BOOK.  (Oh, the irony.)

“Ma’am, we have an opening. The day after Thanksgiving.”

“Are you kidding me?  You mean October is over?”

“Ma’am?”

I hung up.  I have all kinds of important things to do in November. And apparently, someone changed the month without asking.    I raced home and fired up the old monolithic computer vintage 2009.  It wheezed and sputtered.  I can’t believe it took a whole 90 seconds to turn on.  What a dinosaur.

Just then my phone rang.  Apparently, all my phone agreed to do was be a phone.  Completely LAME.  When’s the last time anyone let me do JUST ONE THING?

“Hello?”

“Hollylu, are you coming?”

“Of course.  What time again?”  (Please note subtle problem solving avoidance strategy.)

“Are you kidding?  Eight.  At the library.  I thought you were going to help set up.”

“Right.  I’m on my way.”  I frantically wrote notes on a napkin.  Not even a clean one.

And here I sit.  Scribbling these words on the back of the agenda.  Desperately trying to look like a grown up.  Every time there is a pause in the speaking, I almost wet myself with anxiety.  No one has called my name.  Yet.

How did this happen?  Technology with its slick digital screens and convenient plugs that pop into what we used to call “the lighter “ has slithered into my cognition and beat the holy crumb out of my grey matter.  Once upon a time, I could read a map.  I had an ongoing love affair with Thomas, my guide, as we navigated the backwaters of the Northwest.  (Way too many trees to route like a Nebraskan).  Now if my GPS told me to turn into a strange driveway and go inside and make dinner, I’d blindly obey.  I’ve literally driven past my destination FOUR times trying to find the checkered flag!

Before my conversion to “handy time saving devices” I knew at least 20 phone numbers by memory. But like an addict mourning the loss of dentition, I have to look down to tell you my cell phone number.  My own number.

What will be next?  Will some form of technology return all my messages, emails and texts, thus forming a techno-version of me that my friends will most assuredly prefer to the flesh and blood me?  Will my Pinterest self become so much more interesting than my actual self that I will die of loneliness while being “followed” by thousands?

These are the things you wonder when left alone in a meeting of strangers.  No email.  No texts.  No Facebook.  No YouTube.  No Pandora.  Nothing but an alarming amount of reality and no means of escaping it.  How did I ever live like this?  Surviving on nothing but the wits God gave me and human kindness?

Hmm.  I want to continue this deep vein of thought.  But I’m jonesing for a dog shaming video like you wouldn’t believe.  Oh dear.  They’ve stopped talking.  I’ve lost track of where we are on the agenda.

And everyone’s staring at me. (Insert more discordant piano music, only louder!)

I hate you Steve and Bill.  That’s it.  We’re through.  As soon as I PSA my way out of here, I’m going cold turkey.  I’m going to get a pen and a notebook and a map and a compass…AND USE MY BRAIN.

Post Script:  Turns out they just wanted me to turn off the light for the PowerPoint.  Seems my meeting was ACROSS THE HALL.  Forget all that tripe about going full commando using my brain and actually thinking.  I LOOOVE you technology.  Especially you, iPhone 5.  Maybe we can get together for drinks sometime.  I’ve told Santa all about you.  I’ve been really good this year.  Except for the last month, things kinda got away from me, I was getting out of a bad relationship….

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(junior) HIGH ADVENTURE

 

Imagine a butterfly and a firecracker meeting one day at an ice cream social. One thing leads to another.  Despite the obvious challenges of this relationship, they fall in love, get married and have a kid.  And that kid would be my daughter.  Giant heart.   Deep soul.  Feisty, feisty, feisty!   So being her Mom has always felt a little like stumbling around in the dark on Christmas Eve.  You know there’s “good stuff a waiting”, but where the hidey-ho is it?  Over the years I’ve grown accustomed to groping along, one step forward, two yogurt containers under her bed back, and then – BAM-  blindsided by splendorous joy.

Like most mothers and daughters, it’s complicated.  Any which way I turn, I feel a little bit like I’m in a wildlife special.  “Here we see the mother bear.  Taking on a swarm of bees, hysterical raccoons and two tranquilizer darts to protect her offspring.”  This is my kid.  Half my DNA.  There is simply nothing that compares to my fierce mother love-pride-neurotic need to worry that comes with knowing this girl.  We’ve always been prone to lively discussion.  Been willing to debate the deeper stuff.  Like the “gross old-lady-ness of turtlenecks” or “how appropriate is glitter lip gloss over forty”.   We can fight like cats in a bag and make up in an instant.  We don’t do mornings.  We are allergic to cleaning.   We love animals.  We are so much alike, it’s scary.  She’s my “Mini-me”

Of course, I blame her grandmother.  She put the parenting hex on me.  Standing in the kitchen, insisting I use silverware at the tender age of 12.  Fascist.  Sighing a long, long sigh, my Mom prophesied, “Someday, Hollylu!  Someday you will have a child JUST LIKE YOU!”

“La-la-la, not listening mother.  I will have 10 children.  I will name them cool names like “Denim” and “Lace”.  We will own a pet store.   And we will eat only finger food.”

Fast forward three decades.    Alone with my laundry, I have time to ponder the universe.  I fold my daughter’s third blue Aeropostle t-shirt (Why does anyone need three blue t-shirts almost exactly the same?)  And it hits me.  Egad.  Mom was right.  In so many ways, Annalee is JUST LIKE ME.  Social.  Tender.  Stubborn as a famous farm animal.  But in just as many ways, if not more, she is a total mystery.  She has will power.  She has actual talent.  She wants to be fashionable.  And she likes to cook.  Weird.

We managed through the elementary years pretty well.  Our major disagreement centered on the state of her unusually wild tresses.  Each morning, as I attempted to tame her mane with hair bands and barrettes, she’d stare fiercely into the mirror like a lioness.  “Mom.  My hair wants to be OUT not IN.”   She brought home an endless list of the unlovely.  She collected the broken and beat up.  She found charm in castoffs looking for love.  And my love stretched as she grew and made room for the unexpected.

And then, she turned thirteen.

Whaa-happened?  Back to the wildlife special.  “Here we see two big horn sheep.  Settling their issues by ramming their heads together with the equivalent force of a freight train.”

I woke up one morning and my IQ had dropped 50 points.  My blonde little muffin could turn into the ferocious HONEY BADGER with absolutely no warning.  My fashion advice, unappreciated.  My cooking, suspect.  (Even more than usual).  Clean laundry, a sacred rite.  Her bedroom, a sanction nine government clean up area.  Her phone, “So outdated, mother.”   Suddenly, I was to be visible only when beckoned.  And she preferred I walk three steps behind and to the left.   (Prince Philip, how have you managed not to push the queen off the balcony for 50 years?)

It’s not like people didn’t warn me.  I’ve heard all the stories.  I read the books.  Listened to the PBS special on the “teen age mind”.  Hey, my generation was so angst filled we came of age blubbering through movies like Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club.  I get it.  Teenagers are COMPLICATED.

Complicated I was expecting.  Breathtakingly rude, astoundingly short sighted, and unbelievably hard to get out of bed- well those things caught me a little off guard.  But don’t despair dear reader.  Although off balance, I was still well armed.  Everyone knows.  The only way to fight a honey badger  is to BE A BIGGER HONEY BADGER.

I know.  I know.  It amazes you how smart I am.  Why, the most logical thing to do when your kid turns into some mythic fire-breathing creature, is POKE it with a STICK, of course.  Dr. Dobson must have missed that chapter.

“Honey, fill me in.  Is having your hair flopped in your face like a sheepdog considered “trendy” in junior high?”

And so, we were pretty evenly matched.  Summer was some fun.

The one thing we have in our corner is the fact that we are really good at admitting when we are wrong – later.  AND coffee.  So I guess that’s two things.  But increasingly, I’d climb under my covers and wonder.  Does she like me anymore?  Have I turned into the enemy?  Is she singing depressing Adele songs because she’s depressed or because she likes Adele who only sings depressing songs?

I worried that when junior high started up again, she’d slip even farther away.  Or maybe I was pushing her away?  Maybe, subconsciously, I wanted her to be away because when she was near, I was so confused.  I started out patient and understanding until I exploded and became the exact opposite of patient and understanding which makes me… yep.  You guessed it.  The honey badger.

In bed, under the covers, I prayed.  “Dear God.  Help me to love her the way you love me.  I don’t want to be a honey badger.  Amen.”

God understands prayers like that.  God works in the real.

The fall schedule rolled in like a hurricane.  I resumed my tawdry affair with the minivan.  Rolled myself from band practice to play tryouts.  Took work phone calls outside the gym, writing insanely important stuff on the side of  Burger King bags.  Wondering who birthed these extroverted peeps.  Why weren’t they home rotting their brains with video games like normal children?  Who told them to “reach for the stars” while their mother goes gray in the parking lot?

After the first week of rowing on the “back to school” slave ship, I caught the “back to school cold”.  Worn out and stuffy, I took a shower and slipped into my pj’s before wandering out, barefooted, to the van to pick my girl up from youth group.  I just wanted to be in bed.  I pulled into the dark parking lot and watched the glowing glass doors like a hawk.  Minutes ticked by.  Kids of every conceivable size and shape drifted through the double doors, but not one that belonged to me.

We reached the 30 minute mark.  That’s six days in van time.  (Van time is a lot like “dog years.” And ANYONE who has ever completed two business deals, filed their taxes, given themselves a really bad mani-pedi and knitted enough scarves to keep the Duggers warm while waiting on just ONE kid can pick up what I’m laying down.)

The only thing that saved my child from having her frothy mouthed mother rampaging through the church in search of offspring was…  no not maturity, or love, or patience or anything remotely “parental”.  I was in my pajamas.

When my Butterfly-firecracker daughter finally flitted to the car, I went all Mariah Carey (in the bad years).  I believe the words “responsibility”, “conscientiousness” and “oh my word God did not PUT ME ON THIS PLANET TO BE YOUR CHAUFFEUR” were batted about.  We drove home in angry silence.  I stomped up to bed.  Honey badgers need their sleep.

Under the covers, I prayed some more.  “God, I am so grumpy.  I am sucking the joy right out of my first born.  Potentially, you will have to pull a Zachariah and strike me dumb.  I simply cannot open my mouth without H.B. showing up.  Amen.”

It’s hard to be this spiritual.

Anywhoo- you get the picture.  Each morning, I’d vow to do better.  Plan and scheme.  Imagine pleasant niceties being exchanged, deepening the mother-daughter bond.   Then we’d get all the way to 8:45 before we’d duke  it out over the coffeepot.

The very next night after the “youth group blow out”, I had to give my daughter a ride.  Again.  The chauffeur pool is rather small.  On the way to church, we were quiet.  It was a beautiful September evening.  The leaves just hinting at the gold to come.  I reminded her I would be waiting at 8:30.  “I know,” she said.  But there was a softness in her voice.

I soaked in the lovely trees as I drove home.  My cold was still waging war on my sinus system and a hot shower sounded too good to wait.  As the water streamed down my back, I tried to remember a peaceful season of parenting.  Was their ever a peaceful season?

Throwing on pajamas and socks, I set out to pick the kid up.  I drove slowly in the dusk I cracked the windows to let in the evening air.  And I had a vision.  A flashback.  We were all driving home in the dark.  The kids were very little.  The streets were black and wet.  It must have been sometime in the spring.  In the gleam of the headlights, tiny tree frogs were hopping across the road.  Mike careened to a stop and we ran around in the mist, squealing with glee.  We cornered two little frogs in a McDonald’s cup and brought them home.  My two blonde pumpkins talked to the froggies as we released them into a mesh bug catcher.  The three amigos convinced me to wait until morning for the “release” so that the kids could watch them hop away.  After everyone was tucked into bed, Mike and I lit some candles and snuggled on the couch while the frogs sang to us from the kitchen counter.  I remember feeling completely contented.  Very peaceful.

I rolled along,  reveling in the memory.  They were so little then.  We were a unit.  A team.  No one was vying for my authority.  Everyone liked my ideas.  I wondered.  Had I appreciated it all then?  The simplicity to be found catching frogs in the dark.

The golden twilight and the peaceful moment pulled me into prayer.  “Jesus, help me to see the beauty in this time with my children.  I don’t want to only see it in the rear view mirror.”

I swear I am not making the rest of this story up.

I was almost to church, when suddenly I drove by a giant frog.  Seriously.  The biggest frog I’d ever seen.  So big, in fact, I turned the van around and drove back for a second look.  He sat on the side of the road like a little despot.  I could almost see his crown.  A jogger ran by and the amphibian king didn’t move.  Maybe he was just a rubber toy.  I longed to investigate.  But once again, I’d driven off in my pajamas and shoeless.  I pulled up as close as I could.  He sure did look real.

Reluctantly, I turned and headed for church.  Sitting in the parking lot, I texted my friend.  “I just saw the world’s biggest frog.”  Clearly this was breaking news.  What on earth did we do before texting?  At 8:30 on the dot, a blonde streak flew through the door and hopped into my car.

“Look, Mom.” She said beaming.  “I’m learning to be responsible.”

I felt a lump in my throat.  I smiled.  “Thank you for being responsible.”  As we headed for home, I told her about the frog.  “I so wish you could have seen him!  Should we drive by and see if he is still there?”

“Absolutely!”  she responded with a glee I hadn’t heard in quite some time.

We drove down the streets in the growing dark.  A family of raccoons ran in front of our headlights.  “Looking for a frog-leg dinner,” I joked.

“If that frog is half as big as you make him sound, maybe they’re running for cover.”  We giggled.  The darkness of the car was snugly.

Sadly, we rolled by the curb where the Frog King had been enthroned.  Empty.  “He must have been real because he hopped away.”

“It’s okay Mom.  I believe you.”  I turned the van around and we imagined frogs and raccoons having a street fight.  We were headed back down the road when I saw a lump in the gloom just outside the headlights on the opposite shoulder.

“That’s him!” I shouted, pulling off  the road in a cloud of gravel.

The dust settled.  The Frog King sat unblinking in our headlight beam.

We both started screaming.  Maybe because the frog was so big.  Maybe because it felt good to scream without malice.

“You know what we have to do,” I said, composing myself and looking seriously into my daughters open face.  Her eyes were so pretty now.  Sparkling in the streetlights.

“What?”

“You have to catch him.”

I have to catch him?” she screeched.  “I can’t.”
“You can!”  I said scrambling around in the minivan clutter.  I came up with her cereal bowl left in the van since breakfast.  “I don’t have any shoes on.”  I thrust the bowl into her hands.  “Use this!”

She screamed again and hopped out of the van into the dark.  Shouting directions from my open window, I watched her inch up to the monstrous, unmoving, unblinking frog.

From her new perspective, she shouted back to the van.  “No way, Mom!”

“Yes, way!” I shouted back.  “Catch him!”

“No way!  The bowl is too small!”  We were screaming again.  She ran back to the van as I dug a little deeper into junk.

“Here, take the CD case.”  The CD’s flew across the van floor.

Half out of the van now, I shouted encouragement with my stocking feet sinking into the gravel.  Again, my first born inched up to the freakishly large amphibian.  In a move that was far from grace but amazingly brave, she plopped the case over the frog.

Instantly, the CD case sprang to life, bouncing forward, then backward, then forward again.   Our screams filled the darkness outside the bright beam of the headlights.  In my flannel Tweety Bird pajamas, shoeless and without supportive undergarments, I left the still running van to join the chase.  The CD case lurched for the brush.  “Catch it!  Catch it!”

Both of us were rather afraid to touch the CD case, but we managed to stand on top of it.

“Mom!  Mom!”  I looked down into my daughter’s breathless face.  “Stop screaming!”

“I can’t!”  I answered, breathless myself.  We stood and listened to our pounding hearts.  It was a minor miracle that no one had summoned the cops.  What with bright pink pajama bottoms screaming in the night.

Note to self: Curtail shoeless, bra-less, pajama clad public outings until youngest is safely off to college.

Somehow we managed to scoop the frog up and into the case.  We drove home, talking loud and over each other but still hearing.  Our captive periodically thumping his protest from the CD case prison.

 

Careening into our driveway on two wheels we raised a ruckus, flushing the boy from his bed and Dad from the computer room.  The boys were impressed.  A photo session commenced.  Much more screaming.  At one point my husband, son and daughter were all asking me to stop.  But every time the leviathan moved, I responded with a visceral yelp.  Finally, father and son headed off to return the Frog King to his kingdom.

I thought for sure she would go with them.  “No.  I’ve had enough of a frog chase tonight.” She answered, smiling in my direction.  “I want to stay here with mom.”

I smiled back.  We made cocoa and snuggled on the couch.  I lit some candles.  We replayed the evening pretending to be commentators on a wildlife show.  “Here we see the CD case, the natural enemy of Frog Kings.”  It was getting late.  Tomorrow was school and work and life.  She stopped at the bottom of the stairs and looked over her shoulder.

“That was a crazy adventure, Mom.”

“Sure was.”  I stared at her, trying to see the little girl I once knew.

“You know,” she said softly.  “If I could choose between all the moms in the world, I’d choose you.”

The lump was in my throat again.  “I love you too.”

Soon I climbed up to bed myself and crawled under the covers.  And then all the dots connected at once.  God had answered my prayers.  Powerfully.  Undeniably.  Answered.  Ka-bam!

Earlier that night, my heart had wandered back to a simpler time.  To golden pictures of a family with small children chasing tiny tree frogs in the road.  I questioned God.  Had peace left the building?  Would honey badgers spar over coffee pots for the rest of my mothering days?  Once they could think their own thoughts, was I more of a nag than a nurturer?  And God answered.

The adventure grows.  A Frog King waiting in the twilight.  Waiting for me to notice.  Waiting for me to go get my first born.  Waiting quietly beside the road for the CD case.  On a dry, September, Northwest evening.  This is how God gently, extravagantly, answers the prayer of a mother driving in the dark.

And God said, “My magic does not stop with tiny frogs hopping in the road.  My adventure is ever expanding, ever changing.  And no cereal bowl will contain it.  Your daughter is growing and you must grow with her.  And I will fill your CD case to overflowing.  And your joy will fill the minivan and my love will bind you together even if you never agree on turtlenecks.  Follow me.  One day at a time.  And my adventure, my call for you will be more than enough.  And as you look for me, I promise to always, always provide a light in the dark.”

I slipped out of bed and onto my knees.  Thank you God.  Thank you for answering prayers.  Thank you for children growing into adulthood.  Thank you for love that stretches and pulls and bends into wisdom.  Thank you for the adventure always expanding, always changing.  Honey badgers may bristle and fuss for a time.  But just around the corner, in the spot I can’t quite make out, the Frog King is waiting.    Because an infinitely patient and loving God has called us,  every one of us, to (junior) HIGH ADVENTURE.

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THE MOM

Now that we are all back in our slavish fall schedules, I’ve noticed once again.  I’m THE Mom. I know, I know.  I’ve got kids.  And they call me “Mom”.  And I love it.  But the universe also sends me little updates.  Subtle or not so subtle confirmations that underscore my “momness”.   I’ll be whipping through the day with my normal “organized train wreck” passion and suddenly I’ll pull up short.  Giant graffiti letters will scrawl across my psyche.  “Don’t even try to hide, lady.  We will find you. (Insert climax music from Psycho.) You are THE MOM.”

And so, I am posting a few of these prophetic signs of “momness” to see if anyone else might be receiving these messages as well.

Top Five Signs that you might be “THE MOM”.

1)       You are the only person in the family capable of replacing the toilet paper roll. 

For years now I’ve suspected some sort of paranormal phenomenon occurring in the john.  The toilet paper is always empty.  It simply is never, ever full.  I’ve even replaced it and returned fifteen minutes later to find it empty.  What are they doing with all that toilet paper?  Writing notes?  Wrapping a mummy?  It simply defies rational explanation.  For a long time, I thought they were just too young to get it.  Maybe “replacing the toilet paper roll” is on some rubric measuring advanced intellectual achievement.  Patiently, I would demonstrate digging a fresh roll out from under the sink, popping the old roll off and the new roll in.  I drew pictures in an easy 3 step process and taped them to the wall.  I promised stickers and cheerios.   I took the cardboard tube and pretended to play the horn.  “See children, only the lucky one who replaces the roll will get this little beauty!”  They would nod with agreement.  But nothing.

Every time I visited the throne, the queen would have to hop, pants around ankles, to the sink to retrieve another roll.  Of course, I’d wait for the appropriate time to discuss improving this behavior with my children.  I’d never even dream of screaming, “Are you people blind?  I can’t believe you’ve left me high and NOT dry – AGAIN!!” while my daughter sat with her brownie troop in the living room.  I wouldn’t.  Nor would I open the door and throw the cardboard tube at my son stating, “You forgot to TOOT YOUR HORN, BUDDY.”  Good mothers don’t do stuff like that.

Given some excellent feedback, the kids eventually wised up.  No, they haven’t grasped the need for COMMON COURTESY.  But to fulfill the letter of the law, they started leaving one strategic square on the roll.  One square.  Technically not empty.  For crying out loud, the “one square left” move is worse than the EMPTY roll.  Because when I rant and foam like a rabid jackal, they can stand there with giant doe eyes, “But Mom, it wasn’t all the way empty.”  Thanks to all those tips I picked up in Parenting with Love and Logic, I value open and frank communication with my children.  But logic escapes me when my pants are down.  So without an ounce of reason, I begin splitting hairs regarding “empty” vs “almost empty” vs “oh my word do you want your mom’s face to start twitching again?”

If you live in a similar vortex, where all the able bodies in your home are completely incapable of replacing a roll of toilet paper, or if you have “drip dried” more times that you are able to count, or you’ve spent time trying to convince your six year old that a paper tube is “cool like a light saber”– then you must be THE MOM.

 

2)      You are the only one who can clean the fridge.

We are very routine oriented.  And governed by guilt.  So, across the years we have honed to perfection a process for dealing with leftovers.  Step one.  Eat the food, or in my daughter’s case, pick with your fork while asking clarification questions, “Mom, did you mean for this green stuff to be in here?”

My kids have been raised on the manna falling from the Golden Arches.  But I do know how to cook (sort of) and occasionally, like when we have a WHOLE BIBLE STUDY on how important it is to set the “tone” of your home by lovingly  “preparing nutritious and tasty meals”, I take a somber look at Proverbs 31 and attempt to cook in my very own kitchen.  (Again the soundtrack from Psycho seems oddly appropriate.)  Despite the obvious pitfalls of having to cook and eat your own food like less evolved cave dwellers, another drawback to home cooking is “leftovers”.

I know.  I know.  Millions of people are starving.  No need to heap on the guilt, sister.  I’m a professional.  So instead of just admitting that the food I cook was pretty miserable to eat, we package it up in nifty plastic square boxes and pop it in the fridge.  Step Two:  Pretend to not see the plastic boxes in the fridge.  Push them to the back.  Hide them behind the milk.  I don’t care how full the fridge is, ignore all the plastic containers.  When hungry, go to the fridge, look at the milk carton and say, “There’s nothing in here but plastic squares and some milk.”  Wait a few more days.  Allow the guilt to compound.  Then when the ice cream starts melting because the fridge door won’t close, move on to step three.

Step Three:  Loudly announce to anyone within hearing, “Someone needs to clean out the fridge.”  We all know who that someone is, but pretend you don’t.  Wait until the fridge is two days past critical mass.  Then invite a “judgmental presence” over for dessert.  Like your neighbor with the perfect yard, or perhaps your Zumba instructor.  Wait some more.  Then, then right before your “dessert”, go completely stark raving mad cleaning the house.  Your children, well inoculated to your “motivational speeches” will have wisely planned to “be busy anywhere else on the planet”.  Alone in your misery, open the fridge and play your own sadistic version of “Deal or no Deal?”   Solemnly swear an oath upon your mother’s vintage 1970’s “burping top”, pea green Tupperware that you will never let the fridge get this gross again.   Trust me.  Somewhere you mother is smiling.  She is the grandmother.  You are THE MOM.

 

3)        You are one that fields the Impossible Questions.

Dads are great.  We all need a good, strong Dad.  But when it comes to “quantity time” the match point usually goes to mom.  Mom’s are there.  Consistent.  Reliable.  Familiar.  Rather like furniture.   People usually don’t notice the furniture until its missing.  It’s awesome to be so present in the life of another human being.  But kids are usually not all that adept at appreciating or even acknowledging the gift of mothering, unless they sadly don’t have it.   Our little peeps perceive Mom like, well, like part of themselves.  A comfortable, cushiony, part of themselves.  So, as their internal dialogues develop, the darlings have a hard time keeping the dialogue “internal”.  It is our job as “ever present furniture type parents” to patiently and tenderly, shove that dialogue back in their little heads before we go insane.  Trust me ladies, it’s a slow process.  In the meantime, we end up fielding an endless list of impossible questions.  Questions that should have been left on the “inside”.

Here are a couple of my favorites.  “Mom, where is my other shoe?” This can only be answered with about 20 new questions which are usually equally impossible to answer.  How do you lose one shoe?  Don’t you take them off in the same zip code? If I’ve told them once, I’ve told them a million times.  If you are going to lose your shoes, have the courtesy to lose BOTH of them.  Losing one shoe just pushes Mommy’s Looney-tunes button.

Here’s another impossible question.  “Mom, when is the new Ninjago coming out?”  Listen up rookie moms.  Feign ignorance.  If for some bizarre reason you KNOW what the heck Ninjago actually is and that Dragoscorpion is going to be released next month – DON’T LET ON.  If you answer this question, there will be a ka-billion more.  How much will it cost?  How many quarters is that?  Will they have a red one?  Why does Jacob already have one?  Is Jacob’s Dad the inventor of Ninjago?  Sooner or later, your kid will pin you in the corner with you crying, “SWEET MOTHER OF PEARL, STOP ASKING ME QUESTIONS.  I DON’T KNOW.  I DON’T KNOW.”  So, when an impossible question comes your way, realize there is no way out.  You are THE MOM.  Practice a glassy eyed, rather wind-swept expression and say, “I don’t know sweetheart.  We’ll have to save that one for Dad.”

 

4)       You are the only one who recognizes “empty”. 

This morning I pulled not one, but two empty boxes of cereal out of the pantry. I ask you, why would anyone take the time to put away an empty box?  Just for sanity’s sake, I walked off the steps to the trash vs. the steps to the cupboard.  Two steps less to trash/recycle bins.  And yet my house is full of empty boxes.  More perplexing is the pattern of finding full cereal boxes on the counter, while empty boxes are put away in the cupboard.  Strange.  Of course, no one knows who in the family is doing this.  I’m pretty sure all the kids know the difference between “full” and “empty”.  Grover covered it pretty well on Sesame Street.  I can still sing the song and cheer up my grumpy crew by cranking it to full volume while driving carpool to junior high.  Certainly, the kids have no problem telling me when their stomachs are “full” or “empty”.  And for heaven’s sake, I get regular updates on the full/empty status of the jolly rancher reward jar.   But daily, I go through the house, picking up tissue boxes, shoe boxes, granola bar boxes.  Empty.  When I reach my breaking point, I round up the usual suspects.  I get out the “hot seat” and pepper them with questions.  Present, as exhibit A, an empty box of Sugar Smacks.   Irrefutable evidence.  “But, Mom,” they whine, pointing out a morsel in the bottom left corner.  “It wasn’t all the way empty.”

It’s then that my face starts twitching again.  And I realize, no matter how many facts pile up in my corner, I’m THE MOM.

 

5)      Sometimes, no one else will do.

This week, I was out of town.  For the first time ever, my fifth grader was waiting 45 minutes at home alone– the span of time between Dad leaving for work, and his ride coming to get him for school.  Normally, this is “our time.”  Mother and son.  We are exceptionally deep people and usually rush through our morning routine so that we have time to watch one and a half episodes of “I Love Lucy”.  He had to carry the torch by himself.

But then, no one came.  My friend forgot to pick up my kid.  (So happy that other mothers make these types of mistakes – it so validates my humanity).  Instead of freaking out, my son worked the problem (Beep, Beep.  Dad’s gene pool coming through.)  He got on the phone and started calling around.  My phone rang in my meeting.  I answered to the sweetest voice on the planet.

“Uhm, Mom.  I watched Lucy for us.  It was a good one.  And, uhm, no one picked me up.”

There was not an ounce of panic in his voice.  In fact, the “lack of ride situation” was not even his lead off comment.  I completely melted.  Two phone calls and ten minutes later, my son was safely off to school.  It was hard to regain my focus.  And it hit me.  How fast they are growing up.  My son with the good sense to watch “I Love Lucy” for the both of us.  My daughter with her brave spirit and delicate palate.  No matter how old they grow, I will always be THE MOM.

My kids will get big and they will learn to take off both shoes in the same general vicinity.  They will master the art of personal hygiene and get jobs out in the world.  They will have busy lives filled with challenge and adventure.  But I will always be THE MOM.  No matter what, I will always want to advise, convince, and cajole.  I will always applaud their decency as humans.  I will always celebrate their contentiousness (and shamelessly take credit for it).  I will always illuminate the wasted energy that comes from hanging on to emptiness or feeling guilty about what didn’t turn out right.  As their Mom, I will always want better than the best for them, but only if they work hard for it.  And I will always, always melt, just a little, at the sound of their voice on the phone.

Okay universe.  Bring it.  Push me with the insane monotony of mothering.  If being THE MOM means I get to be THEIR MOM – Well, I’m all in.  Especially since I’ve learned to check before I sit.

 

Hollylu  7  <  8

 

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How to Clean a Room with a Ten Year Old Boy

Party-Rock-Anthem-Kia-Soul-Hamster-dance-Commercial-HD-LMFAO-MTV-VMA-Youtube

Blogs are a nifty forum for dispensing advice.  Expertise, success, a rudimentary understanding of grammar and/or having something remotely worthwhile to say appear not to be prerequisites.  So once again, I find myself completely qualified if not superiorly equipped.

Imagine me with a contemplative face.  Leaning back on the balls of my feet and looking upward, attempting (but not succeeding) at stifling a self assured expression.  No one has broached the subject of room cleaning with any sort of clarity since Dr. Dobson dared to discipline.  As parents, it is our duty, our mission, our quest in life, to nurture and mold our offspring into quality individuals.  Amazing mother that I am, I seek to capitalize every opportunity to imprint my values, standards and addiction to caffeinated beverages on my beloved offspring.

So with much care and contemplation, I provide this detailed instructional account of cleaning a bedroom with my son, keeping in mind that all the while the experience was designed to shape my mollycoddled halfling into a MAN.

Step ONE:  Consistency is the Key

As with all mundane domestic tasks, self-discipline and regular maintenance keeps the dragons at bay.  Strict adherence to cleaning regimens is a must for success in life as it distinctly increases the odds you will keep roommates capable of paying their portion of the rent.  Dutiful attention to excess clutter frees up the brain for tackling bigger life issues, like deciding what to watch on television.  After all, the house is only so big.  (My husband refuses to buy us a bigger one – something about outflow exceeding income.  If you ask me, it’s a rather flimsy excuse for not wanting to move my 70 boxes of Christmas collectables).  So no matter how busy we are around here, we make tidiness a priority and rigorously clean the bedrooms.  Once per year.

I know.  Obsessive, right?  Well, my accountability group at church feels the exact opposite.  And they have spent much time and energy cajoling me to double my efforts and clean twice per year.  “Something, something organized something, something good steward.”  To make them happy, I have agreed.  (However, I have found feigning major illness usually takes one of the dates off the calendar.)

So, by this point in my parenting, I have perfected the once a year room clean-out to the level of efficiency and finesse only matched in nature by a Tsunami wave.  But unlike killer waves from the deep, we know when cleaning day is going to happen.  For months.

As a parent, one needs to remember that “surprising” kids with cleaning is just rude in addition to the fact that not since the little peeps figured out the Santa thing, have we wielded such a powerful parenting motivator.  To gain the upper hand for the summer months, gather the children around you in June, put on a serious “I’m the parent face” and mark off a Saturday in August with a giant scrawling “X”.  Make it in red or black ink with rather spidery legs so that it literally glows with doom on the calendar.  Then all vacation long when the little guy steps out of line, wag your finger in the air and state “Don’t make me move that date up, son.”  Show him the “X” on your google calendar (tech savvy wonder-mom that you are) so that even as he unrealistically whines about hiking in the BADLANDS on a 100 degree day, Armageddon  advancement is just a click away.

Here is a tip thrown in for free.  If your spouse is one of those loving, compassionate types, with a weak stomach for frothy mouthed ranting or possible bloodshed, you may want to send him hiking for the weekend.  It just makes things easier.  As eliminating the voice of reason usually does.

Step Two: Gather the right tools for the Job

God bless Martha Stewart.  And I quote, “The correct tools [referencing an antique bone paper creaser] make staying on top of household chores, or what have you, so much easier.”  Oh, how true, Martha.  How true.  Over the years, I have discovered that before catching my son and heading up the stairs in our own version of the Bataan Death March, it is very important to collect the appropriate supplies for the day ahead.  In addition to our normal cleaning staples, industrial strength vacuum (thank goodness we only crate that puppy upstairs once every 365!), gloves and goggles (see step 5), we take a few other necessities.  Namely, an entire box of “Hefty, Hefty, Hefty” garbage bags, first aid kit, two seasons of Adventures in Odyssey (oh the irony), my cell phone, sharpie pens, and 36 cans of Mountain Dew.

Step Three:  Debriding

Before stepping across the threshold, drink an entire can.  Trust me, there is simply not enough adrenaline in the body to take on this task until your resting heart rate is up to 110.  Upon entering the bedroom, steal yourself.   Every single parenting insecurity, real or imagined, will now jump on your psyche like Rugby players in the playoffs.  Take a deep breath.  Remember, today is about your child’s failings.  Not yours.

Expect that you will have a smooth beginning.  You will start separating the flotsam and jetsam into rational piles like the black shirted muscle guys on the Clean Sweep Crew.  Using the sharpie, clearly label hefty bags: “keep”, “donate” and “Oh my word how many times do I have to tell you not to keep food wrappers in your room unless you want to use your allowance to pay the exterminator.”  Write small.

When you start having a panic attack after seven minutes of cleaning, stop and recall that this is two minutes better than last year.   This might be the time to employ some of the self soothing mantras you’ve picked up over the years.  “Every day, in little ways, I am getting better and better.”  If this doesn’t work, loudly announce the need for a break and rock cross legged in the corner while your son wiggles like a sausage into a Superman t-shirt you bought when he was in preschool.  “Hey look, Mom.  It still fits.”

Step Four:  Clarify Cleanliness Standards

Periodically during the day use teachable moments to “refresh” your child’s understanding of how the world works.  Use extremely brilliant, philosophical questions.  “Do you think I do laundry for fun?” or “Do you know how a hanger is supposed to work?”  It’s good to demand rationales for incredibly bonehead discoveries, like “Why didn’t you tell me the fish died in March?”   And when your own thinking becomes muddled, don’t be afraid to come up with your own mixture of the tried and true, “Do you think your Dad is made of trees for money and stuff?”  Demand answers knowing that no possible response from your offspring could be remotely satisfactory.

Once you have decided what clothes are in the “keep” pile, take the opportunity to remind your little pumpkin that all of the laundry comes “folded” and not scrunched into golf ball sized wads in the back of a drawer.  It’s helpful to visibly demonstrate, as some sort of yearly mothering ritual, how to fold a t-shirt and place it in a stack knowing that given his “Y” chromosome, it probably won’t stick.  (Remember to clearly label all piles with your sharpie pen as you go because after the third can of Dew, you will be tempted to heft everything into one big mass labeled “stuff to get out of this house before I lose what’s left of my blooming mind”.)

Step Five:  Expect the Unexpected

When you do come across the failed science experiment under the bed or the ant farm that has branched out into risky real-estate schemes, it’s good to have a plan.  Made in advance.  When you still appeared sane, at least from a distance. Now is the time to don your homemade Hazmat suits including swim goggles and rubber gloves and get to work scraping the residue off the wood floor.  Since you’re on your knees anyway, pray for perspective.  Sigh with relief when you realize that you won’t be back here for another 12 months.

When you find strange divot marks across one wall and down the other, be prepared.  “It’s okay, Mom.  That happened BEFORE you told me not to swing the bat in the house.”  Take out your phone and text a friend.  Make elaborate plans to run away to a PTA meeting where they have the good sense not to allow anyone under 18.

Vacuum and dust.  Suck up the debris like a domestic tornado in search of “simplicity”.  Press on to the finish.  Reclaim the territory.  Firm up the boundaries.  Thus proving your worth as a parent and ward off the Super Nanny for one more year.

You can do it.  I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again.  Parenting isn’t for the lily-livered.

That was the plan.

That’s how it was supposed to go.  All summer long cleaning day hung over our heads like a grumpy cloud.  But like death and taxes, it can only be avoided so long.  Today is the day.

Cleaning day is here.

I am ready.  With the supplies in one hand and vacuum in the other, I head up to the bedrooms with the determination of General Patton.  Half way up the stairs, we stop.  My little camper is feeling down.  Perceptive as I am, I pick up on subtle signs like open whimpering.

“How about we pray and ask for God’s help today?”  I look down into his face.

My son blinks at me with a suspicion belying wisdom beyond his years.  His mother has a peculiar habit of evoking loud, rambling prayers as a last ditch effort to avoid going super-nova in Walmart.  “Okay,” he says.  “I’m going to ask God for you not to yell so much.”

I swallow hard.  Smart, smart boy becoming a man.  I agree to pray for patience for me and a good attitude for him.   Sitting together on the stairs, I pray and we decide that we can open some soda to “fuel up”.  Just this one time.  He laughs because I can “crack open” a can with one hand.  I love his laugh.

Half way up the stairs, we have picked up the right tools.

In his room, the normal panic and guilt consume me.  Threaten to pull me under.  When I find evidence of a visiting mouse, the room starts to spin.  “Good job not yelling, Mom.”  I look down into his friendly, brave face.  He is crouching next to me.  When was the last time we spent a day together?  Just me and him?  I smile back.

Encouraged, he races out into the hallway and reappears with a can of Mountain Dew.  “You drink this and I’ll put the sucker thing on the vacuum.”  I try to laugh but my face is stiff.  We sift through the remnants of a year.  The program to his Christmas play, his basketball metal, a funny note of apology from his sister.

“I have music for you, Mom.” he smiles plugging in his ipod.  “Rock music!”  He has planned ahead.  “It’s from that commercial with the dancing hamsters that makes you laugh.”

My son has paid 99 cents of his own money to download “Party Rock Anthem”.  I don’t know how to download anything.  I am dumbfounded.  We take a break and dance between the hefty bags.   The music is good but some of the lyrics are sketchy.  Ignoring, I dance with abandon.  The bedrooms of Rome weren’t cleaned in a day.

My little man works hard.  And I steal glances at him from the corner of my eye.  We laugh more.  Trying on shirts becomes a sport.  I fling with amazing precision.  One wraps completely around his head like a turban.  “That’s the money shot, Mom!”  This time I laugh for real.  A few minutes later, I make an elaborate show of vacuuming a foul smell from the air.  It sends us both into fits of giggles.  A sacrifice of time as no ten year old boy can recover from gastrointestinal humor in less than 20 minutes.

We haul the bags down the stairs.  I polish his small desk and line up his books.  He talks about the year ahead.  He wants to save for a computer.  He’d like to go to Texas.  I love the sound of his voice.  Today we have our own Odyssey and the CD’s remain in the hallway.  We make his bed and finish the vacuuming.  I turn on his lamp as the shadows begin to fall.  “This looks so amazing Mom.”  I look full in his face and agree.

At bedtime, he races up to his room rattling the windows of our old house.  Since Dad is still hiking, I come up to tuck him in.  He beams at me from under the covers.  I want to pick him up and hold him close.  But he’s ten.  Halfway to man.

In my own room, I fall into bed and pray.  I thank God for not using a stringent list of rules with me.  For not setting a standard I can never reach.  For befriending me in the midst of my messy life.  For grace that meets me coming up the stairs.  For his amazing love that dances around my garbage piles and reminds me that “what is ahead” is worth the effort.

Too hopped up on caffeine to sleep, I count my blessings.  One Christmas program folded in half.  A basketball medal found under the dresser.  A letter of apology from one sibling to the other.  A full life.  A slightly less full house. The unfathomable freedom to be found in Jesus who set me free from the law of sin and death.

I’m so thankful for a God who dances with joy when a boy half grown plans ahead for cleaning day with 99 cents of hamster dancing rock music.

And for bags so “hefty, hefty, hefty” they don’t leak disgusting fish water down the stairs.

 

Love Hollylu  7 < 8

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