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

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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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August is Lying to You!

There is a restlessness that comes over me this time of year.  Like a flea infestation in the dog days of summer.  I hear thoughts whispering gently, convincingly, into my consciousness.  “This is the year.  This is the year you will climb that mountain.”

Most people have these thoughts in January.  But let’s face it.  In January, I’m too hung over on a disabling combo of unmet Christmas expectations and processed white sugar to even consider making resolutions.  Although, I must admit to lying prostrate for hours in the living room watching football because the remote has gone missing again, envisioning myself at Weight Watchers or organizing closets.  But, it’s a lot like penguins thinking about flying.  It sure would be nice.  Not going to happen.

In August, it’s different.  As the back-to-school ads crank up and the shops are filled with perfect boxes of crayons and crisp white shirts for boys, I sort of get swept up in the whole concept of a fresh start.  This is the year.  I’m going to be THAT mom.

You know the one.  The one at the bus stop who looks like she just stepped out of the salon.  What is that glittering on her ears?  Earrings?  Egad.  I forgot I had pierced ears.  Somewhere in July I remember the last one falling off as I wrestled a comatose kid out of a sleeping bag and attempted to convince him to pee in the freezing blackness outside the tent, like a sensible person.   During the mad dash through summer, I forgot about jewelry.  Sparkly things are distracting.  I was focused on not losing one of my dusty, sweaty, popsicle covered offspring in a National Park.  Priorities, people.

But as summer excitement winds down, August sings to me.  Fall is coming.  See that family in the back-to-school Target ad?  See them casually flopped in a pile of leaves, all wearing color coordinated outfits , heads thrown back in laughter with amazingly white teeth?   That could be your family!  What with a little extra effort and some serious dentistry, you could have the year you’ve always dreamed of as a mother!  This is your time, woman!  You will be organized.  Your kids will be well coifed and studious.  Your dog will trot obediently behind you to the bus stop.  This is the year.  You will be THAT mom.

All I need is some sort of organizational tool and I will have preplanned, simmered to perfection meals on the table when my husband walks through the door.  I will convince the children that not all food is handed through a window or packaged in the shape of a “bar”.  I will stop spending the college fund on coffee at five bucks a crack because I left the filter in the coffee pot to the point of green mold again.  I will shop the sales, stock my cupboards like that Proverbs 31 gal, and not laugh hysterically at the thought of cooking one month of meals at a time to “pop out” of the freezer “when life gets busy”.  I will not buy food thinking, “How easy will this be to eat with one hand?”   We will sit around the table holding hands to say grace before dinner.  The children will have to learn.  Saying grace is not just for Thanksgiving.

August blows through my soul.  This is the year I will do laundry like a sane person.  I will say things like “Let me just get a load started before we dig into that book report due in two weeks, sweetie.”  I will not wait until every item of clothing we own is piled above the level of the window in the washroom.  We will not make jokes about “Mt. Laundry” as we drive to Walmart to buy new undies in a crunch.  We will banish the words “triage load” from our vocabulary and the 13 year old will not believe that a maximum capacity washer could be filled with only socks.  No way.

This the year I will wash and fold like a monk.   We will not leave piles of clothes on the stairs to be jumped over like an Olympic event because our home owners insurance is just not all that great.   I promise to not swear like a sailor when I find entire piles of already washed and folded laundry dumped into the hamper by my precious children.  I will sympathize with how hard it is for able bodied children to open a drawer.  Indeed, I will be so understanding that I will not launch into 45 minute tirades regarding Laura Ingalls Wilder washing clothes in the creek.  Even if I have the props and perfect sound effects for wet clothes on stone.  Instead, I will smile.  And I will pray.

This is the year we will not over schedule.  We will commit to a reasonable amount of activities.  “No you can’t go to soccer, basketball, Boy Scouts and honors band on the same evening, darling.”  I will be mature and not ruled  by my parenting insecurity that tells me fourteen sports and Japanese lessons will give my kid the “edge” in life.  Instead, I will dig out the chore chart I made in 2004.  I will motivate the children will peppy family mottos.  “Team Clean is Keen!”  This is the year my kids will develop character scrubbing out the toilet and clipping coupons for the family shopping trip.  It will happen.  Because I have an open square on a chart and hundreds of star shaped stickers.

And when we do head out for  “wholesome family activites” we will arrive on time.  I will not make the children cry because we are LATE and I have ratcheted up to 120 decibels to get the little pumpkins moving with sufficient urgency toward the minivan.   I will not careen into the church parking lot on two wheels shouting loudly, “Hurry up!  For crying out loud, how long does it take to eat a granola bar?”  This is the year we will walk, like a mother duck with her ducklings, into the building 15 minutes early and graciously greet others.  We will not straggle across parking lots with our tutus around one calf and over the other shoulder, sniveling, “Mom, did you even wash this?  It smells funny.”  We will not.

This is the year.  The sun will shine.  We will be organized.  Backpacks will hang on pegs.   We will not request the same permission slip 5 times only to phone desperately on the day of the event to give “verbal permission.”  Encouraging notes will be slipped into lunch bags filled with nutritious sandwiches prepared with love.  We will go to bed early.  We will get up on time.  We will discover something called “breakfast“ to be eaten at something called “kitchen table”.

August, how you whisper sweet nothings into my ear.  Paint a picture of perfection so beautiful, I am willing to get excited all over again.  Because every year, in August, I look at their long brown legs covered with picked over scabs.  Wild summer hair bleached by the sun hanging in their faces.  How have they grown so much since stepping off the bus in June?  So fast, too fast, their childhoods are passing.  Ankles poking out of jeans.  Shirts grabbing across the shoulders.   How can I want anything less than perfection for these hearts of my heart?

I really want to be THAT mom.  I hold the advertisements in my lap and sit cross legged  in the broken chair at the dusty picnic table.  And I pray.  And honesty steels across the scene like a sudden frost.  I know the truth.  My perfection quest is for me, not them.  To be the perfect parent would alleviate my guilt-a-thon filled nights.  I would be free from desperately wondering, “What if my shortcomings are stunting their growth?”  Like a flower, root bound in a tiny pot.   What if my disorganized, frenetic parenting style is keeping them from full bloom?

And sitting on the sundrenched patio, I hear God laughing.  Not a condemning laugh.  A welcoming, pulling, beckoning laugh.  The sun is so bright, I close my eyes and feel the warmth on my neck.  His call was never to perfection.  His call is to love.   “Be holy as I am holy.”  Moses had to take off his sandals because the ground before him was holy.  What can earth do?  Molecules of dirt cannot achieve perfection.  It was the presence of God.  He makes the vessels holy.  Holiness is God’s standard of perfection.

Holiness might not be a perfect meal.  Arriving on time.  Getting the “edge”.  Wearing socks that match… or are even clean.

Holiness might be sitting down to eat our 99 cent gas station tacos with grateful hearts.  It might be eye contact before talking.  Laughing for no good reason.  It might be listening with interest to a 55 minute explanation of Ninjago.  Or painting her nails even though her room is still messy and might remain that way until 2026.   Holiness might be allowing grace to trickle into the hurried moment.  “Can I help you find your shoes?”  How hard is that to say?  How hard is that to do?

I sit and listen as God’s laughter melts into song.  He is singing over me.  That’s what my Bible says.  I allow Zephaniah’s words to erase the Back to School chalkboard of expectations.

The siren call of August must be tempered and tamed.  My goal is not to climb the mountain.  Just one hill.  One day.  My call is to love.  Love freely.  Love here in the confusing, messy moment.  Love these kids.  Love this day.  Teach them that life is not about perfection.  It’s about holiness.  God’s standard.  The goal is more and more of Him.  Not just more and more.   Childhood is so short.  Life is too short to care about a standard achievable only in the world of photo shoots.

This fall, I will love with abandon.  And stack the laundry on the stairs because why mess with a system that works.

 

Hollylu  7 < 8

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Aiming for Excellence but Thrilled with Average

Why would anyone want to read my blog?  I’m a white, middle class American.  It’s not like there’s a cutting edge anywhere in my comfy wonder bread existence.   The internet is filled with witty, insightful commentary, unique voices, and colorful experience.

That’s not me.   I like to sleep in.  I prefer shallow social dialogue.  I never wake up in the middle of the night trying to solve the world’s issues.

I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about brownies.

And sometimes, as I munch on a square of chocolaty “Hate me in the morning” deliciousness, I check out the internet.  Listen to the voices of the people.  It’s wild.  Posts range from brilliant, philosophical treaties articulated from the depths of the soul to raucous, whacky diatribes spouting from the social fringe.   These diverse perspectives are a fun escape in the dark.

But I wouldn’t want to live there.

I mean, if you had to think deeply about every single thing, who would have time to watch “Hoarders”?  Someone has to justify the need for 500 cable channels.  And although the fringe is colorful, it’s not comfortable.  Refusing to sell out to “rampant consumerism” and “opting out” of organized society, most likely means you live in a tent.

I don’t want to live in a tent.  Especially since I think I will become a hoarder living under a pile of my rampant consumerism.  Can you imagine the packing and unpacking?

The majority of us fall somewhere between the cushion of genius and the fringe of the blanket.  Somewhere in the middle of the bed.  I know this because I took a class in statistics.  Twice.  The second time, I hired two tutors named Amrita and Zhang to take shifts drawing pictures and laying fervent hands upon my head in prayer .  Like a twisted graduate school version of the three musketeers, we slaved away for an entire semester before I miraculously passed with a C-.   Most of it didn’t stick.  (I blame Zhang who had a facial tick and an odd habit of saying, “This not is difficult.”)  But I do remember a beautiful rainbow shaped curve forming a bell.  This bell was magic.  No matter how many times a task was attempted, the numbers would shake out, smoke would settle, and there would be almost everybody having a party under the “bell”.

And that’s where the majority of us hang out.  Under the bell.  The land of average.  But instead of celebrating our status, we malign it.  It’s not good to be “only average”.  One must be above average.  And if you are only average, you should never admit it.  You should make a big deal of pointing out who is below average and hope the above average people invite you to their Scentsy parties.

For years I tried to play the game.  Get my numbers up.  Climb the ladder.  Whiten my teeth and religiously wear Spanks.  But somewhere in the mid thirties, reality dawned.  I would never get the gold medal in figure skating.  Or sit on Ellen’s couch.  Or take a midnight call from the White House.  I was only average.  I was the designated “audience” to the parade of stars in People magazine.  Not only was I average, but I would have to scrap and claw and scramble to stay average.  Physically, I’d peaked.   Age was marching (mostly downward) across my stats.

It was depressing.  I cancelled my subscription to “People” immediately.  I signed up for “Simple Living”.  I bought comfortable shoes.  I stopped feeling guilty about shopping at Walmart.  In short, I accepted my cup.

And then God turned my life upside down.  My career.  Snap.  My health.  Crackle.  My sanity.  Pop.

In that dark time, I would have sold my soul to be only average.  It was touch and go.  But instead of dying, moving in with the folks, or cosmically communing with Elvis, I lived.  Eventually the numbers shook out and the dust settled and I was once again under the bell.

And life in the curve is a lot nicer than I ever noticed before.  So what if my hair will only go one way.  And my purse is from my neighbor’s garage sale.  And my son continues to use his sleeve as a napkin at age ten.  No one is watching.  That’s the freedom of average.

Here under the bell, I’ve learned that something has value because it has been assigned value.  So, I can value whatever I want.  A sunset.  A really good cup of coffee.  An episode of “Toddler’s in Tiaras”.  Whatever.  The term “rich” is subject to the standard of measurement.  How rich is the life of those set free from the status quo.  Having been relegated to insignificance by the world’s esteem, we can find richness in gift of a new day.

So as I neared my fourth decade, I commenced a life of dedicated underachievement.   And occasionally I meet a like minded spirit, and we celebrate our mediocrity with glorious spontaneity like preschoolers in the park.

If only I had known how delicious is the life of the “unknown masses”.  I would have embraced my ho-humness years ago.  In fact, the freedom of average was so transformational, I wondered if anyone was getting the word out.   “Lukewarm is the new hot.”   Incredulously, I discovered “average” is woefully underrepresented in the blogosphere.

 

So, with as much forethought as I put into anything, I pick up the mantel of the “average joe-ann”.  This is for the rest of us.  Who spend the majority of our time looking for our car keys and wondering if we were supposed to be somewhere.   Never quite living up to the expectation we put on ourselves.  Those of us wearing comfortable shoes.

Let’s eat brownies in the dark and celebrate the sunrise.  Life is shorter than we expect, sweeter than we know, and immeasurably more valuable than anything on cable.  I am in no way specially qualified in anything.  There is no good reason to read this blog.

Isn’t that awesome?

 

Hollylu  7 <  8

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