Monday, October 20, 2014

How to die well

It starts in a flurry, this sudden plan to go see my 90-year-old ailing grandmother. Some friends had asked if they could take our kids with them on their family vacation. Since that meant being without children for ten days we thought about our response for exactly .0083 seconds. A resounding 'yes' was given. 
I had just taken time off for our beach trip so I resigned myself to only taking the Fourth of July off because fireworks set off something inside of me. The wild splash of light stirs up something in my soul. But then my dear husband makes a simple suggestion, to go see her since the grueling drive to Tennessee would be remarkably easier without children. 
Before I know it we are there, albeit slightly addled from the overnight drive. We settle into my very hospitable Uncle and Aunt's house and as I set my bag down in their familiar guest room it hits me: just what exactly am I expecting out of this trip? For I had been able to tag along with my sister back in the fall and essentially said my goodbyes. Thankfully the cancer my grandmother was diagnosed with seems to be very slow and I had told my husband that I wanted to go see her again. My grandfather was declining at a time when we had just bought a new house and were doing our best to stay afloat, but I regretted not getting to go see him one last time. So when he asked me, do you want to go see her? I said yes on the exhale.
Upon arriving at her farm the sweet lady immediately launched into stories. She pert near talked the entire time, mainly recounting a story of a woman who had helped her mother with daily household stuff. To hear my Gramman tell it though the lady was actually an angel sent from God to aid them when they needed it most. 
The next main topic was how hard they had to work, and the constant stream of chores that went in to their daily life. It is not lost on me that she tells stories of hard work on a farm and I come home to play FarmVille. That, granted, while I have a harder job than most, it still hardly compares to what life was like then. When so much of our day is spent looking at an electronic screen, how can we comprehend being dirt tired and dirt covered?
One topic that comes up is the Oregon Trail. My grandmother mentions how when she volunteered at the local library she stumbled across an ad imploring people from Memphis to come to Oregon. She went on to explain that the ad explained there was free land if they could just 'get there.' It finished with a long list of things they would need to survive the trip. With no small amount of shame I must admit that my primary reference point to understand what she was saying came from an awful Tom Cruise movie. I kept seeing him triumphantly waving a flag.
When she spoke of 'covered wagons' a mysticism entered her voice. What she focused on though was all of the work it took to prepare for the Oregon trail. The long list, and how exact it was, and how likely it had taken someone who had made the journey to write such a detailed list. For they had it down to the exact moment you were supposed to cross the Rocky Mountains. 
"Guess what that date was based on?" She asked, her eyes sparkling with enthusiasm, and we stare at each other across her kitchen table, "Grass! For the cattle..." We nod like of course that made perfect sense. 
On and on she talked about all the work that went into such a journey. Don't we get that it is so like life? That it is work, hard work, and it's a journey to get somewhere. In between these stories come out random bits about her plans, how she's arranging her finances and so forth. It's like for all the world she's packing up the flour, the salt, and cramming into her covered wagon. 
I think she's timed it just right. That she's managed to cross the Rockies when there is still grass for the cattle. And while most of me is grieved and wants to cling to her wagon wheel and scream 'not yet,' there's a delicate balance to this timing. To making the journey successfully. And my dear, pioneering, grandmother has made it just right. All that is left now is the homestretch. The downhill sprint from the Rockies into to the promised, free, land. Well, free for us, someone had a to pay- there always is a price. I hope Jesus will be waiting for her with outstretched arms. For clinging to his robes would be far better than waving a silly flag. 
I don't know what I was expecting from that trip but what I got was this: how to die well. You die well when you do so with an attitude of gratefulness and thankfulness. When you reflect on your life and recount the stories honestly. When you say your goodbyes and prepare to say a very important hello. You die well when you see your wagon full of stuff for what it was, a means to an end and certainly not the end itself. When you see your body as a vessel, a covered wagon, that gets you to a new place. This life is just a journey, it's the next one where we truly live. 


Friday, August 15, 2014

Back to school- painted lunch bags!

Lest you think, oh you're THAT mom... The one that has all the school shopping done, volunteers each year, etc etc... I assure you I am not. My work got significantly more difficult this year as a promotion meant an hour long drive to work and a lovely night shift schedule. Suffice it to say I'm doing good to leave the house each day wearing pants. But my sweet children, who often beg me to not go to bed and stay up and play with them, have been missing me. So I decided to paint with them and when we were out of painting paper I suddenly had the idea to paint lunch bags so Kaiya would have decorated lunch bags. CJ starts his half day program, but I have no idea if he will need a whole lunch packed or not. We decided to make a couple for him anyway. So if you are a slacker, or just a realist, and need an easy project get out some paints and markers and decorate some lunch bags!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Talking to myself like I do to a friend.

The words hung in the air like little bubbles from a cartoon character: 'special education.' My son is in special ed. A wave of shame crossed over me that disgusted me immediately. If a friend told me her son was starting a special education program for a speech disability I wouldn't be ashamed for them or of them. Wouldn't even cross my mind. I would listen with empathy and be encouraging. 'This will help I'm sure.' I might even praise the wonders of speech therapy as I just went this past year for a breathing issue, and I was utterly amazed that speech therapy could actually help. So why do I talk to myself like an enemy and not like a friend? 'Its all your fault. You didn't do enough work to help him. Now he will be behind in school.' These are the thoughts swirling around my curly head this week. When they should be, and are with some effort: 'your son will be fine and you're doing the right thing.'
The devil must dance when he gets us to do his work for him. Especially when we beat ourselves up so he doesn't have to. I'm going through some stuff. And it's hard, and I'm doing the best I can. That's what I would tell a friend if they were me. So that's what I'm telling me. That the deep things take years to wade through, but the best treasures aren't found on the shallow shore. They are found where it gets deepest and darkest. And the lessons we only take once to learn aren't the ones that stick with us. It just is so. The epic struggles are the ones that engrave our very soul. The ones that change us.
So. Life can change. Things can happen. Changes, certainly, will happen like friends moving away. And little boys growing up and still babbling just a bit. But there is a God who gets us through the hard stuff. He truly has been there through it all. The devil keeps trying to write God out of the scenes in my life, for it is his ultimate trick for all of us. 
How about I rewrite those scenes with him in it? See the bits of grace that were there for me despite my size nines clomping all over them. Feel the hope that was meant for me in those dark moments. Taste the freedom that he paid so dearly for. Cling to what he had for me, despite missing it the first time. For he truly is my hope and my stay. 
Let him process what he has for me. It may just look like a perfect meal of fresh-cooked fish on a beach. Like he did for Peter. Healing given in words, spoken in threes. But spoken to undo what that wretched snake had first hissed. 'Feed my sheep.' Giving purpose and direction to a weary soul who quite expected to get fussed at instead of blessed. Move on. Get up little girl and do something. Hug that little boy and listen to him without fear of him never talking quite right. 
Here is how you get through the hard stuff: you stay right behind Me in My wake and let me plow through it all for you. It looks like hell kicked in the teeth by a cross of glory. It looks like heaven opening up down here, a blast of light through this vast void of dark. Dear friend, you get through the hard by clinging to a good and holy God. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Moonlit ocean and seashell beach

I never knew I wanted to see the ocean lit by moonlight, until I saw it. I couldn't unsee it to save my life. The way the darkened waves wore a wild crown of silver. The siren song that bore its way to the depths of my soul. Come dance among the silver. You can see by my light so it is safe to bound into these darkened waves.
I consider it, truly I do, from the balcony of the rented condo room. Instead I hear my child's sing-song voice calling and I poke my head in to see how far along they are in the bedtime process. Far. Thank God. 
I bound outside again, clutching the iPad with some vague thoughts about updating my very neglected blog, only to discover that the clouds have covered up the moon. The delicious, full moon that had been throwing down silver by the armful. Navy and grey, the ocean now is, and I search in vain for silver. Though the sky gives away that the moon is still there for an arch of lighter blue splays out from where she is hiding. I drink in this ombré sky and think there is something healing about light moving towards dark. Or the other way around.
The ocean song plays constantly. A soprano roar that changes only slightly in pitch as the waves crash in different rhythms. Wild things come from this ocean, of that I am sure. I watch expectantly for the Loch Ness to bound out and start licking it's back like a cat. This deep rest that has settled upon me like a well-chosen cardigan that stretches over me and is snugly-warm, will not be shaken easily. Already I know this. That eventually I will have to check my work email again. Maybe even my personal one as well. But for now.
For now I breath foreign air that has a tinge of salt yet is oddly not dry. I smell the ocean everywhere and begin to think I will smell it always. I hope so at least. I hear the cries and calls of birds that I don't normally hear and with each sound alert me to the different. It is the different that I am noticing full this evening. For the different lets me know who I am in a way I can't quite explain. 
Seeing silver ride upon the water like horses going to battle stirs up inside the me that had gotten beat down in the hardness of daily life. Like my four-year-old son who gets slammed by waist-high waves (that for him hit him at head-level) I keep getting up but the waves keep coming. Yet another problem at work, and yet another relationship that is turning difficult. Splash and slam, again and again. 
My son, with a smile on his face, wades back out. 
This is after some beach time. We had drifted, like one tends to do when the water is going a certain way, you move with the ocean. Every now and then I would look up and see our hotel off to the side and I would decide we would need to right ourselves. To do this we would let the waves carry us back to shore and then we would walk along the beach back to our home spot. Father's Day was coming up and my daughter suggested we gather shells and make a frame for daddy. Naturally I responded enthusiastically and soon both hands were filled with shells. Every now and then I would decide that I wanted to sit and drink some water and read a trashy book (don't judge, it's like eating a bag of chips instead of having a piece of fruit), and my son would grab his shovel and dig while my daughter found shells. 
Then we would trudge back out to the waves. For me they hit about my waist and while I yearned to go further out I had little ones this time so closer in I stayed. My son started punching the waves, and naturally I responded enthusiastically and soon we were all three punching the waves. Of course it didn't stop them. It was truly silly. But it felt so good. To karate chop the impending wall of water, and watch the not insignificant splash fill the air, was healing in a deep way. 
Soon, I will go back to the daily pounding of normal life. The relentless waves will continue, for they always do. But I will go back from this deeply rested place. Like I just lounged on my makeshift tent in the beach, reading my trash, and with a pile of shells at my feet. I will charge forward, into those waves, ready to punch them, ready to lean into them, but most of all- ready to face them.
I rise to stand at the railing and say goodnight to the ocean. It is our last night and we will return to the land-locked city in the morning. The silver returns, albeit just in a narrow streak, like one tendril of silver light escaped from its captor. Goodbye and goodnight you wild silver light. I am warmed by your foreignness. I am filled with your mystery. It is good to go away, for away is where you find yourself most often. And I am a warrior, ready for another round. Bring it on you mighty waves, for I have my fists poised and ready.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Stereotypes, bad commercials and things you must stop saying to fathers.

Every time this year I am deeply thankful that we have rather atypical TV watching habits because the normal Father's Day commercials drive my husband b@t$hit crazy. You see he's the artistic type who doesn't just want power tools, and not to mention the veiled references to dad being the secondary parent send him into a tizzy. Needless to say, most of the commercials we do happen to catch often miss the mark. How come Father's Day commercials usually have nothing to do with actually being a freaking father?
The most common stereotype, that dads aren't the primary parent is just ludicrous in 2014. More and more families have SAH dads now. With the job market being so ridonkulous it is often the case that women end up being more marketable for their company has its quota of white men and if you ain't a minority then you getting laid off. (I will make no comments about how much all of that previous sentence sucks for that will take me off topic.) Not to mention even if both parents are working typically that means a more equal sharing of the parenting burden than before. I know of one family that seems to split everything 50-50 and I marvel at how they make that work. We've watched friends struggle to find jobs and have to send their wife instead, and then juggle the new role of primary parent. 
All this to say though, it seems to me that while some may pull off the 50-50, I don't know that there's anything wrong with having one 'primary' parent and one 'secondary.' Guess which one I am. I used to not mention it, even downplay it a bit, but not anymore. People, I am proud to say that I am definitely the 'B' team parent. 

Here are some things that you really need to stop saying around me and my dear, A-team, superstar husband who is the best father in the freaking world.
1) Don't ask me any sort of question about the kids that would require day-to-day contact with them to know. Like, shoe size or any clothing size. They are kids. That stuff changes by the minute. Sometimes on my hard work weeks I hardly see them for four days. That could mean they have gone up four shoe sizes people. 
It also includes what their favorite food is as somehow our youngest seems to subsist on whining and shenanigans and I have no earthly idea how to get him to eat. The oldest randomly decides she doesn't like foods and moodily makes that decision on a fact-scheme I haven't quite worked out but I believe involves the mating ritual of African bees. 
The person you should be asking these day-to-day questions is; wait for it... wait for it... Did you guess the person that spends each day with them? Hurrah! Yup. Their Dad. This also goes for our schedule. Guess which schedule I know? My work one. Especially since I'm a boss now and I have to keep up with my whole work group. Want to know if we are free three Saturday's from now? Ask him. I can tell you if I am fully staffed or not, but that's it. 
2) Don't make a comment about how it must be so nice to be him, implying he sits on his butt all day and plays X-box. A) we don't have xbox B) it's just rude. SAH parents work their butts off all day long, the equivalent of 60+--80+ work hours a week for no pay. No to mention their bosses are tyrannical monsters. No seriously. Have you considered how much you would hate your boss if he/she was a two-year-old who can't be reasoned with? 
3) Don't assume I'd rather be home with the kids. You would be dead wrong. This doesn't make me a bad mother. It makes me a wise mother. Trust me folks, I ain't cut out for it. I'm a type A woman in a male-dominated work place who keeps climbing that corporate ladder and does it in combat boots cause she hates high heels. Believe me when I say our merciful God in Heaven knew what he was doing when he made me and made my husband and put us together. He made my husband for our house and me to guard it. May seem weird to you but just get over it. (Or I'll put a boot somewhere the sun don't shine!)
4) This one is geared to the SAH moms in our sphere: for the love of God quit excluding him. I get that you want to vent about your husbands and it's probably awkward with a dude there. Guess what? The annoying stuff they do? Betcha I do. That being said, if you can't vent around a guy about guys then just have ONE play date where you don't vent for crying out loud. Either way, realize that he's doing the same job you are but with hardly any peer support. Think about that for a second. And for the love of all things holy don't tell us: oh there's this great SAH dad group. No there isn't. Not near us. Not with normal people. Don't hide behind some Victorian notion that married women should only be around their husbands. For crying out loud, it's 2014, get over your issues and deal. Guess who is around your husband all day long? Women like me: Type A's who can handle men with ease and grace. Quit being jerks and excluding him. It's rude. Remember that boot? 
5) One well-meaning person put their enormous foot in their mouth when they told us that women are blessed with a 'special grace' to deal with small children. I think they are half right. I don't think it's exclusive to women but I do think God often graces the primary parent with more patience so they can do their task. I assume for the 50-50s he splits the grace or something. Cause God is never shoved in a box. He's like a holy leviathan when you try to nail him down to one of your small-minded beliefs. Good luck with that, is all I got to say.
6) Don't assume that he got 'stuck' with this gig. Circumstances may have been orchestrated by an all wise and powerful God but my husband has knowingly and willingly stepped into this choice. This is his job. He's not incapable of finding work. He's not lazy. Yes these things have been said, or implied. If you would say that to a woman than you stink as a human being. Realize that our lifestyle choice is just that, it's our choice. Quit second-guessing it. Go live your life, for I bet it stinks if you are so concerned about other people's.
7) Quit making general comments about women being fantastic parents and men being crappy ones. It's just not true. I know some fantastic dads. I also know some crappy moms. Sometimes, gulp, I am the crappy mom. And my beloved swoops in, picks up the small child who just got yelled at cause mom was still in fight mode from a long work week, and is the fantastic dad they need in that moment.
8) On the flip side, don't make the same comments in reverse with a snide compliment dripped in sarcasm. 'Isn't he such a great dad...' For taking his kids to the grocery store? Really? I admit, when I take the kids to the store I feel like I have climbed a mountain, barefoot, but it's his job remember. He does it weekly. Sometimes more often than that. When I'm frazzled at the store people look at me like: lady, get it together. I want to scream: but you have no idea that this isn't normal for me and if I have to hear 'can we get a toy?' one more time I'm going to run screaming for the parking lot. 
In conclusion, life really is more complicated than stereotypes and simple gender roles. It is time we all grew up and expanded our universes a bit. Parenting these days is not so simple nor so uniform as it was thirty years ago. These days the primary parent can easily be the dad. It's high time people grew accustomed to that and quit acting like rude idiots. You might think it's just one little comment but you don't realize that EVERYONE is making them, and that it is frankly getting old. 
On that note. Happy Father's Day. To you 100% SAH superstar dads: you truly rock. To you 50% coexisting dads, God bless you. To you less than %ers, and I'm frankly with you sadly think I'm only hitting like 10% lately as it's been a crazy work season, do what you can and balance as best you can, all choices are hard to live with. Quit apologizing, be confident in the men God made you to be and go forward with your life. Keep being the dad you need to be, it is enough my brother.