Gosh, darn it! Once again, I’m a schmuck. Queen of the Schmucks, sitting right here!

musings from the trenches

open mouthSo, I did it again. Open mouth, insert foot.

I didn’t mean it that way, but I’m sure I came off tacky.

Petty.

Selfish.

Down-right bitchy.

Gosh, I hate it when I do that!

And, as if screwing up isn’t bad enough, I must then think about it.

Over and over.

Replaying the scene, the dialogue, that moment–on endless loop.

Gosh. I reallywas a schmuck.

Ouch, there it is again, playing in my head, here it comes . . . that’s where I say it, “No! Don’t say it this time . . . !”

Damn. Said it. Again.

Well, not really, but in my head. Re-living it, in all its cringeworthiness.

hiding under the blanketIt’s like a movie that’s stuck replaying that one scene, the “pull the blanket over your head moment.” You know the moment I’m talking about. You know it’s going to happen–the girl is going…

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Being a Reluctant Hero: the true role of the parent

27d71d088b682abee8b4e7488530b1c4Last night I was snuggled in my bed with Arabelle. We were all cozied up in a pile of blankets trying to hold off the last effort of Winter to make any real impression on the north Texans this year. It was chilly, but honestly, I think he failed in his attempt–no real winter here this year.

Arabelle had her head on my shoulder and my face was nuzzled into her hair. It was one of those perfect moments that make life just so beautiful.

Unfortunately, the topic of conversation wasn’t quite so beautiful. We were chatting about all the pre-teen drama that little girls create, and boy do they create a lot!

As I listened to Belle’s tales of woe, I found myself thinking back to my own pre-adolescent years, and I wasn’t feeling very nostalgic! I cringed inwardly as the memories of awkwardness, insecurity, and immaturity came flooding back. Those years are just so hard! Doesn’t matter who you are: the outcast, the nerd, the average, or the popular, it’s just downright awful most of the time.

Everybody is insecure, uncertain, and too often hurtful to others, as they try to transition from a child into this strange new world of the preteen. Too often, out of that insecurity, girls can get really catty and be downright mean. I’d lived it, and now my precious little girl was living it.

images (1)I listened to Arabelle pour out her worries and struggles with a twinge in my heart. I wanted to protect her from these years, but I knew I couldn’t. At best I could help her get through them, and part of that would be helping my very sensitive and insecure daughter to not take things too personally, and to help her believe in herself.

With that in mind, when she began her litany of how she didn’t measure up, I countered with all of the wonderful and unique things about her. And I had a big list that I was determined would help her see her worth.

For every positive I laid out, she counteracted with its negative.

Finally in exasperation she sighed, “I wish I was like you! You’re perfect!.”

“Wait a minute, what?” I turned so I could look into her eyes.

“Well you are!” she answered back to my look of shock, and she began a long list of all my attributes.

Idownload (1) was a bit stunned. I sat up and blinked stupidly at her for a while and then finally said, “But you know how imperfect I am better than just about anybody! You live with me! You see the times that I’m impatient or when I lose my temper. When I’m not as thoughtful or as kind as I should be!”

“But mom, you always have a reason for those things.”

“But that doesn’t make them right! It’s still wrong that I do them!”

She shrugged. “I still want to be just like you. You’re my hero.”

Wow. I’m her hero.

I didn’t ask to be her hero. I don’t think I want to be her hero. But I guess it doesn’t really matter if I asked for it or if I wanted it–it’s what she’s made me–a hero, albeit a somewhat unwilling one.

Rather than feeling flattered by that pronouncement, I felt humbled and a little scared.

My mind flashed back to a conversation we had had earlier that day where I had done something that had so clearly echoed my own mother. “Ugh! Grandma just pulled a body snatch on me! Clearly that wasn’t a Mommy thing to do! How does Grandma do that?!”

Arabelle had laughed and said that being like Grandma wasn’t so bad.

I jokingly teased her that she needed to beware, because when she became my age, she would find herself echoing what I do and say in ways that she never thought she would, even in the ways she had vowed to never be like me. “It happens to us all,” I teased her. “I’ll do something and all of a sudden I’ll see a flash of my father doing the exact same thing in the exact same way…it’s kind of creepy!”

She was going to become just like me, the good, the bad, and the ugly. It hit me with a new clarity.

Contest-flier_1I’m her hero. She is watching me. She wants to be like me.

What I do and what I say, how I act and how I fail to act, all of these she sees, and many of these she herself will become. And in time her children, and her children’s children. Passed on from generation to generation…

The responsibility, when you really take the time to wrap your mind around it, is staggering.

All parents, at least all the good ones, realize that they are setting an example for their children. We understand that they are learning based on what we model, but I don’t think we fully understand what it means.

When we become parents, we really are like the potter with a lump of clay, but what we sometimes don’t think about is that, even when we are not actively molding that clay, we are still molding it.

In fact, most of the molding of that clay happens, not from our active working with the clay (active parenting), but rather from the inactive moments. The moments observed by those big, innocent eyes. Not only our observed actions, but our observed inaction. When we fail to act. When we fail to fight for something we believe in. When we let lethargy seep in and cause us to accept less than the best from life and the people around us. When we allow someone to ignore us, disrespect us, or knock us down, and we don’t defend ourselves. When we’re confronted with the obstacles in life and we don’t fight back, but instead give in.

All of these too are children see, and they will follow in our footsteps.

I find myself thinking of all the ways that I don’t want my daughter to be like me. Those are the very things that I need to work on. Yes, there are lots of ways I would be happy to have her follow in my steps I do many things well, but that doesn’t discount the ways that I want her to be better than me, more than I am.

4029757ce58eb958d4137859df44694fAnd I am realizing in a way I never have before, that the best way to do that, is to be more than I am. I need to become what I hope she will one do become, so that she has an example walking before her, one that I feel like is totally comfortable with her following–and I’m not there yet.

I know I can’t be perfect. I know I will fail and I will fall, and no matter how hard I try, those failures may hurt my daughter and she will carry some of that into her future. But I need to know that I did my best, that I became the best I could be so that she can be the best that she can be.

I didn’t ask to be a hero. I don’t deserve to be a hero.

I’d better do my best to become one though. There is a little girl who is watching me to see what heroes do, and one day she will echo the choices I made.

That’s an awful lot to live up to!

I Choose Happiness; What are you Going to Choose?

I’ve been doing a lot of research on happiness lately.

As many of you know, I started a new position as a professor of Psychology this January. It’s been a good ten years since I’ve delved into all things Psych, and I’ve enjoyed diving back in. What I’ve been finding excites me. Some of this I had known, but haven’t thought much of in the intervening years. But much of it is new. The research keeps revealing new information, and the more we understand about happiness, the more I find myself in awe at the intricacy of our biology, our emotions, and ultimately, our spirituality. We are not an accident. Our design is not an accident. We are amazingly and wonderfully made.

happiness-flowchartThe more that is learned about our biology, the more we realize it is wrapped up in our spiritual/emotional self. We are also beginning to realize that we have more control over who we are, what we feel, and even sometimes, the health of our own bodies than we previously understood.

This excites me. We are not at the whim of fate. We are not a pawn in the hand of chance. Our happiness is not contingent on what we have/don’t have or even what happens/doesn’t happen to us. Our happiness is not determined by outward forces, but rather by inward resilience, and everything is indicating that this can be learned. Happiness is quite literally a state of mind.

I’m a bit of a control freak, so I can’t help but love this. I can control my own happiness. I’ve always believed that, but now all the research is backing up that belief. I might not be able to control the random hand of chance as it forces itself into my life, but I certainly can control how I respond to it.

I have often wondered why two individuals can experience the exact same conflict and yet have a completely different response to it. Is this merely the result of personality differences? Is it simple genetics? Are some predestined to be more capable of handling conflict than others? Are they simply, genetically speaking, more resilient? Is there an X factor–some unknown factor that creates resilience? What exactly is resilience anyway?

I’ve always struggled with the idea that it is purely genetic. That simply isn’t fair. Why should some be given the ability to deal with life’s difficulties and others not? It simply feels a bit too Calvinistic to me, stinking too much of predestiny. Would God really stack the deck against us like that?

My husband and I have both experienced a lot of grief and loss in our lives, an exceptional amount, at least by American standards.

(Nolana aplocaryoides) Pan de Azucar National Park

I tend to bounce. That doesn’t mean that I never feel depressed; I most certainly do at times. It doesn’t mean that I never get angry or feel twinges of bitterness; I’m no stranger to either of these feelings. What it does mean is that, no matter how horrible the circumstances, the sun peeps through the clouds. I see a solitary flower growing in the desert. It might be scraggly and undernourished, but I still find that flower. The weak ray of sunshine somehow manages to find its way past the cloud cover.

In other words, I always find hope. Hope in today. Hope in a better tomorrow. Hope that if I keep fighting, there will be something good at the end. Hope that there is a purpose to all the pain.

lostgirl05-300x168Sometimes I feel like a prize fighter. I scrape myself off the mats, still sore and bruised and bleeding. I’m barely able to stand, but by golly, I’m going to stay in the ring and give it another shot. I’m going to keep fighting, and when I feel like I can’t fight anymore, I’m going to dredge up some more chutzpah and somehow keep going even if it’s on will alone.

Sometimes I question my sanity. I know I’m going to get knocked down again. I know that by putting myself in the ring, the blows are inevitable, but I do it anyway. One would think that after being beaten to a pulp, I’d have a better sense of self preservation than that.

Or maybe, at an elemental level, I understand something hugely life altering…that life doesn’t exist outside of the ring. That life, with it’s blood, bruises, and broken limbs, is still vastly superior to a life lived in the bleachers–observing, but never participating.

Bobo-Doll-experimentAll I know is that, no matter how many times I get knocked down, something inside of me makes me bounce back up again. I just keep getting up like one of those bobo dolls, no matter how hard you hit them, no matter how hard you try to keep them down, they somehow keeping getting up.

Sometimes I’ve compared myself to a buoy. Buoys can be submerged, but they always rise. I know that no matter what life throws my way, I will rise. Life will be good again. And the hope of that sustains me in the periods of drought and famine.

Aaron, on the other hand, doesn’t bounce. He reminds me of a rock thrown out on the water. He tends to sink. When things get dark, they tend to be black. He can’t find the sun. He begins to wall himself off, protecting himself. He is like a turtle that crawls into his shell and no amount of coaxing will get him to come out.

We are polar opposites in this. I am an optimist and he is a pessimist. I bounce whereas he sinks.

optimism-pessimismSo, does he just throw in the towel and say that, “Well, since I’m genetically pre-disposed to sink, I guess I’ll go ahead and lay down and die. What’s the point anyway?”

Obviously not. Giving into hopelessness and depression is never an answer.

What the research shows us is that though it might be much more difficult for the self-professed pessimist to rise back to hope and happiness after a huge blow, it is still in the realm of possibility.

Blog-Entry-1-AmeyGod made us all capable of great resilience. It just comes easier to some of us than to others.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to share the tools I have, along with some of the new research out there. I haven’t figured all this out yet–no one has. I am not claiming to be an expert, but more a pilgrim. I am pooling my knowledge of psychology, my understanding of God and the human spirit, and my own hard-won experience in an effort to share the the wisdom I’ve learned and the tools that have proven to work.

If you’re an optimist, you probably do some of this instinctively, but we can always get better at how we manage stress and crisis.

If you’re a pessimist, don’t throw in the towel and consign yourself to a glass half full mentality. It’s a lot of hard work, and it takes some dedicated cognitive therapy, but you too can begin to experience the buoy experience of resilience.choose-happiness

 

 

Are you comfortable? Then it’s time to rock the boat!

stock-photo-5337523This morning, after dropping the girls off at school, I headed straight for the coffee pot to get a warm up on my now cooled coffee. I picked up the pot and stared at it blankly. It was empty. I blinked stupidly at it for a moment. It was empty…how was it empty?

I went through my mental list…Aaron grabbed a travel mug full before he left…still should have been a cup or two more…I had made a full pot, right? Of course I did! When would I not make a full pot in the morning? Silly thought, that! Well, then where did it go…

Gavin.

Gavin hadn’t headed to the bus stop yet when I left for the girls… Gavin?! My 11 year old son, 6th grade… coffee?!

I headed for the front door, and peeked out. The bus hadn’t come yet. Gavin was still there. I pseudo shouted (didn’t want to be too loud with still sleeping neighbors) and pantomimed toward him and my coffee mug. He pretended ignorance. I tried again. A distant, “Maybe…” was his response.

A maybe from Gavin means “Yes, but I don’t want to full out admit it lest I get into trouble.”

I stood blinking at him as he lifted my Starbucks travel cup and shot a hesitant smile in my direction.

boy-cup-cute-drinking-hot-Favim_com-264574My son helped himself to a cup of coffee, and as I watched I saw he was really drinking it.

I didn’t know how I felt about this. Too much change. My baby was just changing way too much for comfort. It was just such an adult thing for him to do!

He brushed his hair this morning. On his own. Without me having to tell him to do it, or more likely, just having to do it myself. He didn’t just wet it down and call it good—he brushed it.

Obviously there is a coffee drinking girl in the picture and she obviously takes the same bus he does. My kid is growing up.

why-turning-forty-is-actually-pretty-great-0
That’s a heck of a lot of candles!

If this wasn’t enough evidence of the ticking of the great clock of time, the fact that my two best friends just turned forty is irrefutable evidence of that darn clock. They’re forty, which means, I’m next. Granted, I have to turn thirty nine before I can turn forty, but it adds the sense of impending age, as if it is hanging over my head ready to swallow me into that group of officially past our prime, not yet elderly, but showing signs of wear and tear humanity.

And it doesn’t help that I keep getting invitations to join AARP in the mail. My husband, less than a year my junior, doesn’t get invitations to join, nope, not a one. But they keep rolling in for me! Maybe it’s because his man bun makes him look young and hip, maybe it’s because he still looks about thirty despite the slight graying at his temples. Maybe it’s because I’m  starting to look fifty, sixty…what’s the age to join AARP anyway! Surely it’s not 38! Geesh! They could at least wait until I turn 40! Come on already!

All of these factors are combining to force me to confront the reality that my life is about half over. That reality floats on the edge of my consciousness.

It’s not a vanity thing (though that’s there). It’s not the new wrinkles or the pudgier figure I now sport. It’s not that the face in the mirror sometimes doesn’t see like mine.

timeIt’s all about the time.

When you’re young, it feels like time spreads in front of you unending. There is so much of it, and you don’t really have a sense of it running out, ending–EVER. It feels like you have forever to do all the things you want to do. Years and years tumble before you in an endless string, all of this time to accomplish your dreams.

When you start nearing that forty mark, when your face shows the signs that your youth is fading, when your children start approaching their hero days and you begin to realize that you really are just a supporting character in their stories, the reality that the road does end, that time does run out, that it is limited and finite, starts to come home to roost. And that is uncomfortable to say the least.

As I have a tendency to do, I was reading a fantasy series the other day and was contemplating all the things that I would do with my time if, like a vampire, I didn’t have to worry about an aging body and an eventual death. As I contemplated, (and oh, the list was so long) I started to think of all I wouldn’t have the time to do. The books that will go unread, the countries that will go unseen, the languages I will never learn to speak, the things I will not have the time to learn…

I didn’t think of these things when I was twenty, because, though my time was limited even then, it didn’t feel limited.

This line of thought, rather than depressing me (though it does sadden me that, though I do happen to believe that there is life after to death, I don’t know that the things that matter now will matter then…will I want to read piles of books, or with immortality, does our need for knowledge disappear because we will know all things?) lit a fire under my oh, too comfortable derriere. If my time is finite, and quickly moving through the hour glass, I should not waste it on a treadmill (the figurative one).

ground hog's dayI don’t want to spend the last half of my life simply seeing the same scenery, living the same days over and over again (sometimes life feels a bit like “Groundhog’s Day,” doesn’t it?).

I need to get a move on it. I need to take some risks, and dare to make my dreams happen before it’s too late, before I run out of time.

It’s so easy to get comfortable, particularly as we get older. We surround ourselves with all these things that make us feel safe, cozy and well, comfortable. Our routines, our houses–all this stuff. We settle in. How could we risk all of this? It’s not practical.

Hmm…I think we give up more than we know in the name of practicality.

doubtMany dreams have died a slow death in the names of comfort and practicality.

Dreams, by their very nature, are at odds with comfort and practicality. They require guts, and risk, and daring.

No one is going to come and hand you your dream. The pursuit of dreams requires something from you–room for possibility–room for impossibility.

This idea has been coming at me from several directions all at the same time, and, being that I have been spending a lot of time in prayer about this very thing, I have chosen to believe that all of these are a confirmation that I need to get out of my comfort zone, stop being so practical, and start giving possibility a bit more room in my life.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained…

The pastor who spoke at our church on Sunday said something that really rang true with me. Sometimes we eliminate the possibility of the miraculous. If we are continually living within the box of practicality, of only what we know we can [afford, do, be] we never give the miraculous a chance.

I want the miraculous. I want to not just live comfortably, but live passionately knowing that I’ve made the most of the 80 or so years I get on this planet. I’m not going to get that by playing it safe.

When I read the Bible, I don’t see anything that leads me to think that we are supposed to live our lives in the pursuit of comfort. Show me one disciple who lived comfortably. You can’t.

The truth is, the Bible again and again tells us that life will be uncomfortable, or even more, if will be downright HARD. A continual test of faith.

comfort zoneIs your life a continual test of faith? Are you comfortable? Do you have a pretty good idea what your days are going to look like from today to the end of your life?

If your answer is yes, I believe you’re doing it all wrong, and I dare you to dare yourself for something MORE.

I’ve stepped out and taken a chance. I’ve given up my reliable, steady fulltime position at a job I didn’t really like and have accepted a job as an Associate Professor of psychology in one of our local colleges. I’ve always wanted to be a professor, though I always envisioned English, not Psychology. This is a dream of mine. A dream that requires an amount of risk.

I’m excited–and terrified.

It’s a risky move. The biggest risk factor that is killing my controlling nature is that, like most associate professor positions, it is part time, not full time, and so I’m going to have to supplement my income. I am going to need to make up the difference via tutoring, piano lessons, and hopefully, eventually, the odd writing job. Lots of uncertainty there.

Is it risky?

Yeah, that is definitely there. Giving up a sure thing is always risky.

But does it open the door of possibility?

Absolutely!

The time and opportunity to make a go of it as a writer is there. If I ever had a chance to do it, to make it, it’s now.

Not to mention the opportunity to be more present in the lives of my children, to capture the moments in these swiftly fleeting days.

Not to mention…I get to be a professor!

There are times when the uncertainty of it is very scary.

There are times that I want the security of the comfortable.

fall flyBut I confront these with the assurance that living life means taking risks, and with the firm belief that, if it’s what I’m supposed to do, it will work out. Somehow. And I do think it’s what I’m supposed to do.

So, I’ve stepped of the ledge. It’s time to see if I can fly or if I fall. Either way, I think it’s the right decision.

I take that back. It’s the only decision.

I Dare you to Fail–it might be the best thing you ever do!

mean-old-ladyI had the worst first grade teacher ever. She was a cranky old bitty who thought I was stupid, who broke all my pencils, and who threw my shoes in the garbage. I hated it her.

But I owe her a huge thank you.

She was my introduction to difficulty. She was my very early initiation into the practice of not perseverance, but of overcoming.

I could have accepted her early analysis of my intellectual capabilities. I could have started the inner monologue of my incompetence, my inability, and my general suckiness, but instead, despite my immature, impressionable six year-old mind, I made impossiblemy very first decision to overcome, to confront her analysis head on, and to prove her wrong.

That was the first time I confronted an obstacle, and I believe it set the precedent for how I would handle all the obstacles to come.

Where did my courage to deal with the difficulties that have come my way over the last several decades come from?

I believe that it came from that very first experience with her. She had told me I couldn’t. She had told me I was dumb. She had labeled me and written me off. But I didn’t accept that, and by third grade I proudly walked the long hall to her room to hold my report card full of A’s to her startled face. Dadgummit! I had done it! I had proven her wrong, and if I’d proven her wrong, why couldn’t I overcome the next obstacle, and the next one? I had overcome, and that overcoming gave me faith that I could do it again.

Because of her, from the very beginning, I was only too aware of my imperfections. I never labored under the false perception of perfection, so when I screwed up, as I inevitably did time and again, it was not  the end of my world. I did not label myself as a failure, but instead, I recognized that I could do better, be better.

failure-and-successI was very aware of my ability to change and to grow, because I had proven that ability from the tender age of six. I had proven to myself that I could be better tomorrow than I was today. I never thought I was perfect, but I knew that with effort, with tenacity, I could be more than who I was currently.

If I had stepped out of the gate with straight A’s, if it had come easy to me from the very beginning, if I hadn’t had the very early lessons in difficulty, would I have had the courage to confront obstacles instead of just avoiding them? Would I have been scared to risk failure and take chances if I wasn’t thrust into it so early on?

According to Carol Dweck, author of “Mindset: the new Psychology of success” I very well might not have. How we deal with failure early on, predicts how we are likely to deal with it our entire lives–unless me mindfully make a decision to deal with it differently.

If, when we are confronted with difficulty, we choose to overcome it, we will keep daring, keep risking, keep pushing our limits to see what we are capable of doing.

If, when confronted with difficulty, we back away, and stay in our comfort zone of what we know we do well, in our zone of tried and true success, we are likely to never find the true potential of what we could do.

failureAnd it all starts when we’re just little peanuts. If we allow our failings to be an impetus for growth, rather than a label of who we are–a failure–we can become so much more.

It is that very willingness to confront the obstacle that I learned way back then that keeps me blogging. I have blogged for years, and yet my following consists mainly of my mother, a couple of loyal family members, and a handful of faithful friends. Logic says that I should have given this up long before now, but am I going to quit? Nope. I’m going to keep doing it, becoming better, working out the kinks, until one day, I firmly believe, someone (hopefully lots of someones–and this isn’t to say I don’t appreciate you, my faithful few!) is going to notice.

And my novel. I know it’s going to get rejected. Probably many times. Is that going to stop me from writing it, or from sending it out to the inundated world of agents and publishers?

The-best-success-stories-often-begin-with-failure_-8x10Absolutely not. It didn’t stop Stephen King and it didn’t stop J.K. Rowling, and it’s not going to stop me. I will keep working on it, tweaking it, taking the advice and suggestions I am given, until finally, one day, someone says, “Yes. I’m going to take a chance on you.”

Sometimes, this mountain I’m trying to climb seems insurmountable, and I am tempted to throw in the towel, but I just can’t do that.

Thank you, Kelly, for the nudge I needed through the book “Mindset” you sent my way, and thank you Chris, for the nudge you gave me with the book “Daring Greatly.” It is a good reminder to keep going, keep trying, and keep believing, that by daring to it, and myself out there, I am doing something worthwhile.

And thank you Cassandra for telling me you “want to be [me] when you grow up.” You say that to me now, not as a published author, but as one who is daring to try to become one. It reminds me that it’s not the success I achieve, but the willingness to dare to achieve it that is truly admirable.

So, if it’s the willingness to try that sets us apart, what is it that you need to be willing to risk? What is it that you need to dare to do? Aren’t you curious of just how much you can achieve?

Daring to risk and failing, does not make you a failure. It makes you courageous. I dare you to dare with me.

I’ll have a pan of brownies, a Bud light and a book on the side please–I’m a little bit stressed

musings from the trenches

Everybody has heard of the “Stress Eater.” Lots of people fall into this category. When they get stressed, they go buy a chocolate bar or, better yet, they eat a whole pan of brownies. Pretty typical. Pretty normal.

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Or the stress drinker. When you’ve hit that stress point where you feel like you’re going to break, do you grab a Bud Light from the fridge? Or maybe you’re more a merlot kind of gal. Again. Normal.

Image

Normal was never an adjective used to describe me. When I get stressed, I tend to lose my appetite. Well, except for the sweet tooth. I mean, let’s be honest, when does cheesecake NOT sound good, right? And though an occasional glass of wine at the end of a bad day is not something that I’m opposed to, it’s just not something that I’m ever going to make a habit out of–it’s just not me…

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A Lot Less Commercialism… and a Little More Christmas, Please!

Christmas seems to have snuck up on me–again.

texas christmasI don’t know if this is a result of living in Texas where December is more in line with the fall of my childhood, or perhaps it’s from the general chaotic pace my life has taken on, or maybe it’s some other factor that I have yet to identify. Whatever the reason, I’m staring Christmas in the face, and I feel totally unprepared.

ChristmasTooEarlyI used to put my tree up on November 1. I figured that, so long as we had passed Halloween, it was fair game. It wasn’t a matter of finding the time, but more a waiting a respectable amount of time before putting up that first sign of Christmas. I was ready and waiting, a runner poised for the blast that singled “Let the games begin!”

My Christmas shopping used to be done by December 1, and the only thing I needed to scramble for were a few extra stocking stuffers. I leisurely wrapped the gifts while listening to Bing croon about the white Christmas I could already see outside my window. I savored the season: enjoying the moments, admiring them, fingering them one by one.

christmas_stress_shoppingNow it’s more of a mad scramble, a dash from one event to the next–a chaotic sprinting, not a leisurely stroll.

The tree is put up in stages. First there is the bare tree, then days later it acquires some lights and maybe a ribbon or two. Finally, when we can all fit in a spare couple of hours together, we add the ornaments. And then at last the tree bedecked in all its glory to remind us that, yes, Christmas is coming (like a freight train), despite the blue skies and sunshine outside my window!

mom paperGifts are bought in a helter-skelter, often last minute fashion these days. Presents are wrapped only to be opened moments later–literally moments later. No enjoying that pretty wrapping paper peaking from beneath the tree branches. No children having days to wonder about the mysteries wrapped and waiting beneath the tree. There’s no shaking of the boxes, wild guesses, and the peeled back corners of gifts that sit under the tree to tantalize the little people in my life. Nope, there is a still puffing Mama who did a wrapping marathon only to thrust the presents into the eagerly waiting hands. I barely wipe the sweat from my fevered brow before the little people are tearing that pretty paper off and all my efforts are now crumpled in a heap on the floor…

And then there is the Christmas baking…don’t let me get started on the Christmas baking!

I used to love the smells wafting through my kitchen, the strains of the Trans Siberian Orchestra in the background, and the cup of Joe or the glass of red in my hand (depending on what strikes my fancy at the moment). I relished my role in my husband’s family as the maker of delectable desserts (it probably helps that their idea of a Christmas spread is cookies and pie bought at the local supermarket, but never mind that, I relished my role as the Martha Stewart of Christmas yumminess). They waited with anticipation for me to walk in with my homemade oreo cookies, my peanut butter bonbons, and what ever else I decided to throw into the mix that year.

They start anticipating early, at Easter, throughout the summer (never mind that I have spring and summer versions of dessert decadence), already anticipating the Christmas treats that are to come.

Oh, the pressure! I created this beast and now I have to feed it!

cooking messAnd the baking, no longer the savored Christmas experience, is something that I smoosh into my hectic Christmas Eve morning somewhere between the candlelight service (which they now have early in the afternoon which allows us to maintain our scavenger hunt tradition in the evening) and the scant few hours of sleep I’ve managed to cram in with all those last minute Christmas errands the day before the stores begin to close up shop and tell us procrastinators to “go the hell home! We have families too!”

Ah, Christmas. Still my favorite time of year, despite how quickly it comes and how quickly it’s over! How I miss the time to savor you as you so deserve!

My house may not be decorated to perfection, my array of treats might be appallingly scant, and the gifts might yet be crammed in shopping bags in the corners of my closet, but somehow, I don’t think that is what my children are going to remember (I know that’s not what I remember, though I’m pretty sure my mom was probably the chaotic, sweating, marathon running mess that I am today!).

Family-exchanging-presents-at-ChristmasMy children will remember, not the presents or decorations, but the time spent together. They will remember the traditions, the games, and the warm fuzzy feelings that Christmas will bring their way for years to come (until they have kids of their own and the chaotic insanity becomes their very own!).

I find myself reminding myself that it’s not about perfection. It’s not about a beautifully set array of cookies and perfectly wrapped presents. It’s not about the perfect kids’ craft that results in perfect little treasures for grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles.

The kids won’t notice the clutter around the house. They won’t notice that there are only two kinds of cookies this year. They won’t notice that the handmade presents are a bit less spectacular this year.

And I shouldn’t either.

Christmas CardIt’s time to stop running around like a crazy person and settle in and just enjoy being with my family.

And it’s time to remember what this season is really all about. Not the great commercial rush it has become, but something so much more–infinitely more.

Sometimes I need to remember that.

You can only do what you can do, and really that’s not the point of it all anyway.

Merry Christmas from my chaotic family to your own! May it be perfect in its imperfection!

Mama to a Big Boy–a lesson in letting go

“Deez nuts!”

“Yo’ Mama…”

“Doritos and Mountain Dew!”

If that made sense to you (or if you at least recognized it–I don’t think I really understand it myself!), if you groaned and rolled your eyes, you just might be the parent of a tween boy.
Oh, and let’s not forget out about Pewdiepie, Sundee and Pizza Hut (and no, not the restaurant)… Household names, right?

Tween boys, I am finding, are a unique breed. Their testosterone goes into over drive, their sex drive rears its immature and somewhat awkward head, and all sense seems to go out the window.

It is an age of laughter (often derived from very inappropriate jokes), posturing if you’re lucky, and all out fist fights if you’re not, first crushes, first broken hearts–and the first time mom is shut out.

And I don’t like it.

As any mom of boys knows, there is a special bond between a mother and her son. Gavin was my biggest snuggler (and if you know Arabelle, that is really saying something!). I think I can say with confidence that I am his favorite person in the world. And I like it that way.

tween boyHe might get mad at me, but within an hour he’s coming up to snuggle with me on the bed or sit on my lap (and that, these days, is quite the fete with his long, solid body that seems to weigh at least a ton! My legs, and the arm he’s leaning on, go numb, but I’m not about to tell him he’s too big. Soon enough he’s going to be done with snuggles and cuddles on my lap as it is. I’m not ready to let that go until I have to–numb legs and all!).

Almost every night he asks me to take a walk with him. And on those walks, he used to tell me everything: his frustrations, his hurts, his first crushes–but not anymore. Mom is being pushed out of his private world, and I feel a pang in the vicinity of my heart. My boy is taking some of his first steps, a whole new group of firsts, and this time mommy has to watch from the sidelines. The first steps of true independence, of creating an identity away from mom and dad are starting now, and he won’t talk to me about it.

I know he had a girlfriend for the first time. I know she broke up with him five days later. And I know she hurt his heart. But he won’t tell me why or how he feels or how he’s really doing.

video-game-2_2362669bHe’ll talk about the latest Sundy video, or of Call of Duty and Mine Craft, endlessly, but ask him about matters of the heart, about matters that, well, matter–and I hit a wall of silence.

I know he likes a new girl. I don’t know her name. I don’t know if she likes him. I don’t even know if I know her.

I know his latest pranks, the latest scuffles and which teacher is the newest to find her way to his crap list. These are the things he tells me.

But the things that matter…? These he is keeping close to his chest. Who he shares them with, I don’t know–but I know it’s no longer me.

This is a weird thing. An uncomfortable thing.

No. No, that’s not it.

Let’s call it what it really is–it sucks. It is completely sucky, and it hurts.

It signifies the beginning for him–the first transitions into becoming his own man, independent and separate from our little family.  I want this for him; I want him apron stringsto fly…

These are his first steps as much as those first wobbly baby steps so many years ago. And I want to be there cheering him on like I did then, feeling the mixture of pride and the bittersweet pang of crossing a threshold.

But I don’t want to let him go!

But I have to…

It is a tug of war between what I want to do, and what I need to do.

This is a bitter sweet season of letting go. Whereas, my girls and I seem to grow closer as they near adolescence, my son is growing away. And I know, boys, when they grow away, they really do grow away from their mums.

I miss him already, and he’s not even gone…I’m proud of who he will become, but…I don’t want to say goodbye to the little boy that was.

 

Sometimes No Answer is Exactly the Answer We Need

As most of us tend to, I find myself reflecting on what I’m thankful for as we approach Thanksgiving Day.

Five orange pumpkins sit in a row in front of a distressed, wooden background.

There are many things I’m thankful for: my family (near and far, big and little), my country (and all the freedoms that come with it), safety and security in the light of the turbulent world we live in (I think of Syria, and Paris, among far too many others), my health (in a time when I hear about a new person with cancer at least once a week), my family’s health (which I know only too well is a gift), enough food to fill our tummies and then some (I’m thinking turkey and stuffing right now)…

There are so many things I am thankful for, likely we have more to be thankful for than any previous age of man, and yet, the thing I find myself reflecting on the most this Thanksgiving season is Unanswered Prayers. I am thankful for so many of my unanswered prayers.

Wait a minute…what?!

There are certainly many prayers that went unanswered that I am not thankful for–the top of the list would be those for my beautiful daughter, Serena–but there are so many others that I am grateful that God did not give me what I asked for, and it is for those I find myself thankful today.

garthAs so many from my era, when I think of the phrase “unanswered prayers” I can’t help channeling my inner Garth. Garth hit the nail on the head with that song. Sometimes, the best answer God can give to our prayer, is to not answer it.

The twenty something Heather had no idea who the almost 40 Heather would be, much less what she would need. I am glad that young, naïve girl wasn’t the one calling the shots for the map of my life. She would have gotten it all wrong.

There are so many places in my life where I find myself thankful that God did not give into my pleas. So many times when He, knowing me better than I know myself (both the person I was, and the one I would become), did not answer, not out of malice or indifference, but because He saw the me then and the me to become. He saw my life both today and tomorrow, and He knew what the end result could be.

gods-plan-vs-my-planHad He given me what I so diligently prayed for, I’d be married to a man who, though a good man, was very ill-suited for me. My life would have likely headed in a very traditional direction, which, though there is nothing wrong with that, again, it doesn’t really fit me.  I would have lived a life that I could imagine in my finite humanity.

My prayers would have had my life follow the lines of a DaVinci, beautiful, amazing even, but one that fits my scope of imagination.

picassoBut God had something else in mind, more of a Picasso, vastly different than I could have imagined, sometimes, jarring, even bordering on discordant at times, but somehow coming together to make something unique and moving and utterly different.

I am thankful that God does not cave to my whims like a weak-willed parent, but that He holds out, that He withholds, that He stretches me–sometimes even prods me–to be the best version of myself that I can be and to live a life that He envisions rather than allowing me to be limited by my own powers of imagination.

I am thankful for the husband God led me to, who, though we have had more than our share of struggles, has helped me to believe that I really can achieve this dream of being a writer, who pushes me to not give up. I am grateful that he not only accepts my inner geek, but brings it out and encourages it. I am grateful because he challenges simple minded thinking and makes me consider life in all its facets: God, philosophy, science. I am grateful for his out of the box thinking that challenges me to look at life not within the confines of practicality, but instead to push the edges of the box and look at the possibility for life beyond the normal limits. Had God answered my early prayers, I would not have him in my life, and I would not be me. I would be less than I am today.

I am thankful for this crazy journey that God has put me on. Many times it has felt like wandering in the desert. Often I have felt lost at sea. But just as the analogy I heard as a child, I have only seen the underside of this tapestry–my understanding is so limited. God has begun giving me hints of what the full pattern might look like (or at least, a part of it) and I find myself once again grateful for unanswered prayers. What He planned, when it is done, will be something so much more than I had planned.

We all have our unanswered prayers. We tend to feel abandoned, forgotten, or ignored when God doesn’t answer. But we’re not. He’s in the unanswered prayers as much as the answered ones.

Whatever your unanswered prayer is, be it big or small, know that it is not indifference that keeps God from answering.

Some, like the death of Serena, we may never understand or even fully accept–but if I can see God in so many of my unanswered prayers, I have to believe He is there, somewhere, even in those.

the-greatest-giftsAnd with so many others, if you have eyes to see, you will see God’s hand in the silence, in his withholding. Take heart. He knows you better than you know yourself. He knows what He is doing.

He is devoted, not to your comfort, not even to your happiness, but to you becoming who He has planned for you to be from the beginning of time. His plan is bigger than your plan. It’s more.

That unanswered prayer is not a mistake. It’s part of the plan.

Know that, take heart, and watch and see what He will do.

When the Rose-Colored Glasses Come Off

When you are young, as with so much of life, you look to motherhood with a strong shot of romance and a healthy side of idealism.

mom and babyA co-worker brings a new baby into work, and everybody crowds around, oohing and ahhing at that amazing little miracle of life…and all you see is chubby cheeks and warm baby snuggles. (Not the tears–your own not the babies–and the 10th dirty diaper of the day or the growing mound of poo bespeckled laundry–again, not just the babies.)

You see the proud glow of a mother who watches her child achieve the winning goal, the special award, the winning medal…and you think of how brilliant your child will be and how proud he or she will make you. You see the look of pride you will wear and the look of envy the other mothers will shoot in your direction. (You don’t see the stress of playing chauffeur, the many dinners eaten in the car, the tears and arguments when said child doesn’t want to go to practice or is over-tired when practices translate into late, late nights of homework)

crying-babyYou see the mother soothing an adorable toddler’s tears away…(aww…isn’t she cute? —No, not really. After the fifth meltdown of the day, that cute baby voice is starting to sound like nails on the chalkboard and that little, red, howling face is the thing of nightmares)

To the young (and naïve) all of these inspire feelings of longing, a desire to be a participant in that moment, to be the mother, to feel the tenderness and pride. The rest of it is unknown or ignored. The rose colored glasses are on and the pictures of family bliss overshadow the known realities.

Maybe not everyone feels it, but many, even most, do. I sure did.

Outside_Looking_in_by_M_photographyI remember, before I was a parent, the longing I felt for a child. I remember the fear that I would never find a man I wanted to marry, or who would want to marry me, and the fear that I would never experience that–that I would be left on the outside looking through the shop window at what I couldn’t have, watching other women experience those moments. I would be on the sidelines–watching, wishing, but not participating.

For me, I got to experience this not once, but twice. I did meet a man, and we fell in love, and we had a beautiful, gorgeous, perfect little baby, and I felt the joy, the tenderness, the rush of pride, only to bury my beautiful little girl a year later.

Those moments on the outside looking in were all the more painful after that. Those mothers had what I had had, only it had been stolen away from me, and I feared that I would never have it again (the risk involved was just so great). I felt by turns angry and bitter, but most often, I despaired. What if, having known what being a mother was, I never got to be one again?

I remind myself of that frequently these days, so many years of chaos later. I remind myself of how much I wanted this, and how I almost didn’t get it.

When I lost Serena, I thought I knew what being a mother was. In fact, I thought I had a better picture than most, because I had experienced the joy being a mother was, but also the devastation it can bring. But the truth is, I didn’t really understand what being a mother was at that point.

look_at_life_through_red_tinted_glasses_by_andela1998-d68zvuuDespite losing Serena, I still wore rose colored glasses. My eyes and my heart were full of the tender moments, the warmth. My mind was filled with remembered snuggles, and the memory of that unique baby scent, the soft cheeks and that perfect little nuzzle spot just between the edge of the jaw and the neck…

I had not yet experienced the daily grind of parenthood. I hadn’t faced the discipline and arguments, the tears and “I hate yous,” the endless emails to teachers to try to turn zeroes into passing grades, the wrappers on the floor and bookbags in the doorway. These were not something I knew.

I didn’t yet understand that to be a mother was to put one’s self in the back seat, to place another completely and entirely above oneself. I did not know that it meant that my life would be filled with mundane moments of caretaking, or that the peacefulness of silence would be something I only fondly remembered, but never experienced.

I did not know that my wants, my needs, my own desires would be in such subjugation to the needs and wants of others.

I didn’t understand.

I wish I could say that I always handle it with grace, but I don’t.

I wish I could say that losing Serena makes me always remember to appreciate the gift I have in my children, but it doesn’t.

I wish I could say that I never feel angry, or bitter, or resentful of all that I have given up for this dream of motherhood, but that would be a lie.

I do feel resentful sometimes. Sometimes I’m angry. Sometimes I lose patience. Sometimes I wish that I could travel the world like I did before. Or I think fondly of a time when my to-do list wasn’t so long that it went straight out the door and wrapped around the block. There are those moments.

mom-daughter-share-ice-cream-607496-printBut there are also the other moments. The love, the tenderness, the laughter. There is the knowledge that I finally understand what the Bible is talking about, to truly put someone above yourself, to be willing to lay your life, not your death, but to lay your life down for another. That is so much harder.

That is motherhood–day in and day out.

It is grace. It is selflessness. It is sacrifice.

It is not perfection, but being able to admit when we’re wrong, and to keep trying when we want to give up, and sometimes loving the unlovable until they are lovable again.

I am not a perfect mother, but my children are perfectly loved, and everything I gave up cannot come close to everything I have gained from having them in my life.

I am lucky to be their mother. It is a privilege–sometimes I have to remind myself of that, but that doesn’t make it any less true.