Saturday, July 31, 2010

MORNING


1 a : dawn b : the time from sunrise to noon c : the time from midnight to noon

I'm not much of a morning person.  But I realized today that mornings are different than they used to be.  At 8:20, my brother-in-law called.  J and I were awake, but still in bed.  When I asked why he was calling so early, he laughed and said, "I've been up for two and a half hours.  It's not early."  Ahh, the joys of having an almost one year old are numerous, but none of them relate to the amount of sleep you get.

This summer, my 10 year old (A), 8 year old (B) and 6 year old (K) have consistently let me sleep until about 8 each morning.  (Except for that one week when the backsplash was being tiled - the tile guy was an early riser and started work each day at 7.  That was tough.)  Generally, I hear little feet running around by about 7:30 or 7:45, but it's near 8 before K runs upstairs and climbs into bed with me - or pulls me out of bed to come and see something.  I know from experience that we're in a very sweet place.

Before my brother-in-law's phone call this morning, B had made her way upstairs to snuggle for a while.  B's not the earliest of risers.  This summer, it's often been 8:30 or 9:00 before she emerges from her room and she will gladly stay in her pajamas even longer.  But she recently expressed a desire to make it upstairs before I was out of bed so that we could snuggle, so I was pleased to see her sweet face through my own bleary eyes this morning around 7:45.  K often comes up to snuggle in the mornings and while the bed was a bit full with four of us in it, I'm not complaining.  I know these days will rush by because I remember the ones that have already gone.

Today at lunch we were laughing about how J and I bought A a digital clock about six years ago and told her she absolutely could not come into our room until it said 6:00.  She and her uncle still remember the morning K was born, when he walked into her room and A was sitting by the clock, waiting for it to hit 6:00.  How long she had been sitting there waiting was anyone's guess. 

For a while after that day, A's little alarm clock was unnecessary.  K's cries regulated our sleep - or lack thereof.  Those newborn days are a bit hazy with each of my daughters, but I do remember several times with K when I was up and walking towards her cries before I was fully awake.  My body awoke before my mind and propelled me to her.  I don't especially miss that in-your-bones exhaustion that is the bailiwick of mothers with infants.  I don't even especially miss having an infant.  I love sleeping in a bit in the mornings and having a bit more time in the evening with J since I don't have to get up early.  I love things like K walking into the room with a baseball glove on her hand, saying, "Daddy, don't you want to play baseball with me?"  I love A showing me how she's going to do her solo when she's on So You Think You Can Dance.  I love B sharing a favorite book with me.  In fact, I have a feeling that I'll miss having daughters who are 10, 8 and 6 more than just about any stage prior to this.  They are perfect little buds - I get glimpses every now and then of what talents will ultimately flower within them, but they are still young, still children.

The days of needing to tell A she's can't enter our room until 6 are gone, but A is still an early riser.  I wonder how much longer that will last.  She's ten and is showing physical and emotional signs that adolescence is approaching.   In the blink of an eye, J and I will be the first ones awake, debating how much later we should let our teenage daughters sleep.  So while it lasts, I'll enjoy these sweet, lazy mornings in our home and I'll not spend too much time - or shed too many tears in advance - anticipating the mornings that will find a J and an S, but no A, B or K here.

Bright and early - first day of school, 2009

Thursday, July 29, 2010

RE-

(prefix)
1 : again : anew

Is it hard to start something for the first time?  Or is it harder to pick it back up again when you have a skill, a talent, an interest that you've let atrophy?  Three things have prompted this line of thinking:  having a newly functioning kitchen, exercising again in earnest for the first time since my January surgery, and experiencing the loss of community that came with a switch in churches.

Who knew a new kitchen would actually bring on a touch of cooking anxiety?  The first meal I made in our new kitchen wasn't terribly elaborate:  tomato tart, zucchini patties and a fruit trifle.  The primary emotion I felt when the meal came together just fine and tasted delicious?  Relief.  I didn't realize until relief surged through my body that I had been afraid I had forgotten how to cook.  This may sound ridiculous, but when I stopped to think about it, it had been many months since I'd been able to regularly cook. 

The New Kitchen's Inaugural Meal
The kitchen renovation kept me from cooking for four to six weeks - no surprise there.  But prior to that, my surgery in January had completely halted all cooking from me for a similar span of time.  Between the surgery and the renovation lay a lovely experiment:  food swap with three other families, which resulted in me cooking only once per week, albeit for four families.  So it had been approximately six months since I last cooked everyday meals for my family.  No wonder I was relieved to still have some culinary skill.

A graph of my work outs would have a similar gap.  Prior to my surgery in January, I worked out fairly regularly (2-3 times weekly) if not strenuously (yoga and walking were regular components).  Post surgery, it was several weeks before I could walk without assistance, much less exercise.  My surgeon, while skilled in her field, did not give me a good indication of just how long it would take for me to resume normal activity after having three tendons cut.  For a long time, when I tried to work out, it was simply discouraging.  My leg would hurt after each work out - and not in a good, achy, post-workout way - it was more of a searing pain, ice this now kind of way. 

So I stopped trying for a while.  Then, a few weeks ago, I realized how envious I was of the various people I see walking, jogging and running along our neighborhood sidewalks.  If my desire to work out had returned, it was worth giving it a try.  For the month of July, I've been moderately consistent and while I have a long way to go, the desire is there.  But it's hard to admit I now get tired after three minutes of running, instead of a mile of it.

No way am I posting a picture of me running


I would estimate we're in about mile 2 or 3 of the marathon task of finding a new church home.  Summer being what it is, we're in just about the same place we were in May, when J said, "We've determined that we like the Sunday morning experience.  Now we need to find out whether there are people we could actually be friends with."  We've been in this place before.  When A was born ten years ago, I would say we had very few true friends.  We hung out with co-workers quite a bit and saw a few friends from college days, but all in all those were pretty lonely days.  No one brought us meals to celebrate her birth.  Almost none of our friends had children, so there was nowhere to turn for advice. 

Carrying it all alone
 The difference between then and now is that now we know what we are missing.  I know that I'm lonely and miss the friendships - both close and casual - that I had at our old church.  I don't think this loss is without purpose because I continue to feel peace in our decision and I feel that God is working behind the scenes to use my sense of being alone for a purpose he knows.  But that doesn't make it easy.  It doesn't make it easier to once again engage with a group of people we know nothing about.  It doesn't make it easy to make small talk with strangers at an event (not my strong suit).  It doesn't make it possible for me to have enough inner dialogue to think through an issue in my own head like I could by talking it out with a friend.

Naming 2010 the year of change has been more apt than I knew back in January.  Change apparently brings not only new things, but old things in a new way.  In some ways, reestablishing my culinary skills, relearning to pace myself on a run and returning to a lack of community should be reassuring.  I've been here before and can relearn what I need to.  But sometimes I just want life to be easier than it is.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

PICNIC

1 : an excursion or outing with food usually provided by members of the group and eaten in the open

Sometimes the easiest requests from my children are the hardest to fulfill. Monday, K comes to me in the morning and says, “Can we have a picnic?!” As she asks this, she is nearly vibrating with excitement.  I, on the other hand, am standing in the kitchen, filling my water bottle in preparation for the treadmill. “Not right now, honey. I need to exercise. Let’s do a picnic after we go to the grocery store.”  My plan is to head to the store as soon as I finish my work out. “Ok!” K replies, her enthusiasm only slightly dampened by the idea of postponing the picnic for a few hours.

Fast forward a few hours. I’ve hit the treadmill and the shower, then played lunch lady to three girls, two of whom are still in their pajamas. It’s only noon and I’m exhausted. After clearing away the remnants of lunch, I read for a bit, check e-mail and research a few more books for our home school reading list (it only has 98 or so books on it, I’m sure I need to add a few more). Then I remember: this is the last week to turn in my intent to home school letter without paying a penalty.  I move with a bit more alacrity.

I print the form, fill it out and search the house for proof that I have a high school diploma. Lacking evidence of finishing high school, I grab my college diploma and hope a copy of that will suffice. The documents gathered, I tell A and B to put on real clothes for the first time that day. They grumble a bit about having to relinquish their pajamas, but subside when I remind them that it’s 2 pm, well past the time for PJs.

I combine the trip to the school board with a trip to the grocery store and by 4 in the afternoon feel like maybe I have actually accomplished something for the day. K makes one more feeble attempt to have a picnic, but her timing is poor: like her sisters, she chooses the moment when I am unpacking the groceries to ask for something. Coming on the heels of A’s request for a popsicle and B’s request for fruit, K's request for a picnic is not well received. I want nothing more than to get the groceries put away and sit for a moment. So I throw popsicles to everyone and sit while I eat mine.

An hour later, we’re in the van taking A to a dance rehearsal. On our way home, K says to me in a small voice, “Are we ever going to have a picnic?” Her voice is quiet, her tone gentle.  There is not the slightest hint of a whine.  My heart breaks. The poor child had been waiting all day long for me to help her have a picnic.  I have failed miserably. I've been selfish, distracted, busy.  Too busy for a picnic?  What kind of mom am I?

Rain is threatening and our dinner of eggplant parmigiana isn’t particularly conducive to dining al fresco. So I offer a meager substitute: an indoor picnic in the living room.  K does not complain.  She gets to work laying out a blanket, assigning positions to our family around it.  We eat dinner and she is mollified, if not satisfied.

And Tuesday morning? Coffee. Clothing. Picnic at the Park.  Followed by Las Paletas to further rectify my failings the day before.  Better late than never, I suppose.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

FOURTEEN

:the number of years I've been wed

Last year, I wrote an anniversary post for J.  Months after the fact, he shared with me that he bookmarked the post and went back to it and read it when he needed a pick-me-up.  It made me feel honored that my words would touch him in this way - and put a ton of pressure on me for this year's post!

In honor of the kitchen renovation that has consumed our time, our home and our budget for the past four or so months (including planning time), I thought I would use some specific examples from the kitchen that show you why I still love J fourteen years later.

1) The Decision - The decision to renovate our kitchen is itself a measure of how much J loves me.  About a year ago, we considered moving.  We had even found a house we liked and made an offer.  When that fell through, we looked at other homes in our neighborhood, but we didn't find anything that was exactly what we wanted.  You'll notice that I said we looked at other homes "in our neighborhood."  That's because I adore our neighborhood and have no desire to move.  J, on the other hand, would move to the suburbs in the blink of an eye were it not for his wife's entrenched desire to live in a neighborhood, not a subdivision.  So when we didn't find the perfect home in our neighborhood, J floated the idea of looking in a neighboring county.  With great hesitancy I agreed to at least look at a few online.  Ultimately, we decided to stay where we are - and renovate our kitchen.  J is gracious and would never say it, but were I not so in love with this part of town, I'm sure he would have found a way to move instead of living through a renovation.



2) The Plan - Once we decided to renovate, we had to figure out exactly how to make our kitchen functional. This was no small task in a kitchen with five doorways.  After months of polling friends who visited, J was the one who insisted we needed help.  He called one design firm and set up a meeting.  When that one didn't work out, he encouraged me to meet with someone else and try to find the right fit.  I did and I am so thankful that he persisted in this.  We needed a full blown plan.  We needed a blueprint to work from.  And my analytical husband knew this from the start. 

3) Crisis - No renovation goes exactly according to plan, no matter how much help you have in crafting the plan.  In our case, we found the unpleasant surprise on Day 2 that an HVAC vent was running through the wall that we planned to cut for a pass through.  This revelation came close on the heels of other bad news regarding the stove (more on that later), but J didn't let the HVAC crisis get to him.  He's good in a crisis, whether it's a crisis with our home, our children or something else.  As we head into the teenage years, I'm sure I'll come to value this trait even more.



4) The Process - There are thousands of big and small decisions that go into a kitchen renovation.  I don't think it's possible to make this many decisions without some conflict.  I remember my frustration boiling over at one point when J wanted to cross examine me on a choice I'd made (I have no idea what the choice actually was - I just remember my frustration) and I told him that I felt like our kitchen renovation was somewhat analogous to our process for buying a flat screen TV.  With the TV, J was the one who cared the most.  So I deferred.  I told him that I wanted the 42" but I didn't complain when he bought the 46."  I wanted the same deference on the kitchen.  J didn't cease to have an opinion after that conversation, but he did defer to me on many, many decisions.  Such as...

5) The Colors - We're several days (a week?) into the renovation when I realize that I haven't picked a color for the hallway.  B has picked the color for her room and we've agreed to a shade of blue for the kitchen.  So what is the perfect color to transition one from Secure Blue to Poseidon Turquoise?  I called J as I stood with the ring of Sherwin Williams colors in my hand.  "Do you care what color I paint the back hallway?"  "What? No.  Just pick one.  Whatever you think is fine."  "OK!  Thanks!"  In case you're wondering, Lily Yellow is the perfect transition color.


 6) Trust - I found out a few things about J over the course of this renovation.  One important thing:  he can't visualize anything.  So every time I suggested something, he would ask, "Can you show me a picture?"  Well, no, I can't show you a photograph of the image I have in my head.  So at some point, he just had to trust me.  One such case was the desk area.  I really wanted a different countertop material to distinguish this area from the main kitchen area.  J couldn't visualize it, but he let me go with the New Venetian that I wanted.  And it looks great:


7) Encouragement - While J is the numbers guy in the family, he has encouraged me throughout this renovation to not compromise solely for the sake of cost.  The sink in our old kitchen was a divided sink that wouldn't hold a soaking 9 x 13 pan in any configuration.  I wanted to replace it with an apron front sink.  Then I priced them.  Have you?  Well, they cost about ten times the cost of a regular stainless steel sink (I am not exaggerating - ten times!).  I came home from the store resigned to getting a plain divided sink.  But I really didn't want a stainless steel sink.  J wasn't willing to give up so quickly.  He looked online and found the perfect compromise:  a large basin sink that wasn't apron front and was half the cost of the apron front.  And every time I use this huge, beautiful sink, I am thankful that he encouraged me to get it.



8) Honed - While J encouraged me not to compromise on the choices we made solely for the sake of cost, there were certainly times when we needed to compromise with each other.  I'm not a fan of granite countertops.  The high sheen makes me feel like I'm in a cold, formal and uninviting place - pretty much the exact opposite of how I want my kitchen to feel.  J wanted granite.  I wanted soapstone.  He could care less about how shiny the counters are.  He just wanted granite.  The compromise here?  Honed granite countertops instead of polished ones. 

9) Appliances - And then there were the decisions that J made so that I wouldn't have to make them.  He cared more about the appliances than I did, so he offered to take the lead on this.  Unfortunately, the first round didn't go well.  We agreed on a stove he'd found and only after it arrived did we realize it was the wrong kind.  We debated whether to just use it anyway or get the kind the kitchen was designed to have.  The clincher in our decision to ignore the budget and correct our mistake was when J asked me, "If we keep this stove, will you cringe a little every time you look at it?"  Me, hesitantly, "Yeah, probably."  J:  "Me, too.  Let's just get another stove."



10) Splurges - We have a pot filler in our kitchen.  Until a few months ago, when I was trapped on the sofa recovering from surgery and watching lots of HGTV, I had no idea what a pot filler even was.  Now I own one.  This was purely J's idea and I must admit that I love it.  It uses the space behind the stove nicely and I love not having to carry a pot of sloshing water from the sink to the stove.  Instead, I can fill it right on the burner.  This definitely didn't fall into the necessity category and I love that J wants to shower me with gifts, even during a kitchen renovation.

11) Side Project - In the midst of a kitchen renovation, we decided to finish B's room a bit more as well by painting it the colors she wanted and getting her a loft bed.  The bed had to be assembled and I have the spatial concept skills of a newborn.  That pretty much left the task to him.  I was his assistant, handing him screws, pieces of wood, etc.  And then it came time to turn the bed over.  Ummm.... the ceiling was too low.  I'm still not sure exactly how we managed it, but I followed J's instructions, we maneuvered the bed around and B now has her very own loft - complete with sleeping and reading areas, much to her delight.


12) Contractors - As we neared the end of the renovation, it was increasingly tiring to have contractors in and out of our house.  The pantry was up, the shelves were in, but the walls had not been painted.  At this point, I didn't care.  It's a pantry, who's going to see it?  But he really thought it needed to be done.  So I called in the final set of contractors...


 K and I spent the morning painting it.  J was right.  It looks far more finished.  And K loved helping me.

13) Surprise - For our wedding, J and I received a hand made ceramic tile from my pottery teacher at Vanderbilt.  When she gave it to us, she said, "Maybe one day you'll have your own home and can install it in your kitchen."  Fourteen years ago, that seemed a long way away.  But here we are, years later, renovating our kitchen.  I knew I wanted our kitchen to have blue walls and the colors in the tile fit perfectly.  Then, eight days before our renovation started, J broke the tile.  It was a complete accident and he felt terrible.  A friend suggested we install the tile anyway.  I talked it over with our contractor and we decided to break the tile in a few more places and install it with grout in the cracks.  I dare say I love it more than I would have whole.  It's the perfect reminder that life - and marriage - never go the way you plan.  There will be breaks, cracks, fissures along the way.  And you can choose to mend and celebrate them or you can try to hide them.  I'm thankful to Jason for the surprise gift of brokenness that adorns our kitchen, the very heart of our home.


14) Anniversary - I'm thankful to be celebrating another year married to J.  He's not perfect, but neither am I, so that works out well.  He compensates for my weaknesses, listens to my desires, meets my needs both spoken and unspoken.  And he'll get to spend many more years eating the food I prepare in this kitchen...

J, thanks for living with me, loving me and caring for me - through a kitchen renovation and for the last fourteen years.

Friday, July 23, 2010

TEAM

4 : a number of persons associated together in work or activity

Yesterday on our drive back from the lake, we were listening to a song from Glee.  It was a song from the second half of the season and as I sang along with it, I started thinking about one thing that made me enjoy this show:  its use of all cast members, not just the stars.  At the start of the season, there was a lot of focus on Finn, Rachel and Mr. Schuester.  But those characters simply laid the foundation for what was to come during the second half of the season:  solos by Quinn, Artie, Mercedes, Puck and other cast members that we had come to know.

The girls were talking in the back of the van and munching on snacks to satisfy their post-lake swimming, so I had some time to think about this.  I love that Glee isn't just about showcasing the great vocal talents of one or two actors.  Instead, it uses the strengths of the entire cast.  In fact, this was a key part of the plot from the first season: making a group of misfits more than a collection of individuals.  Making them into a team.

Great, but how can I apply this to my own life?  The most obvious "team" that I am a part of is my family and listening to Kurt hit the high notes in a Madonna song made me wonder how to help our family function better as a team.  For good or ill, my daughters are growing up.  They are developing their own preferences, their own interests, their own strengths.  So how do I help them use the skills, interest and gifts that they have to make our family work better as a team?

J and I are already a pretty good team.  There are things he's good at (managing the family finances) and things I'm good at (feeding our family), so we split those tasks according to our gifts.  Then there are things that neither of us are very good at (housecleaning, yard work), so we try to split those undesirable tasks fairly evenly.  We've done a good job of fulfilling the first half of the season:  we've laid the ground work for a family that works together, supports each other and has fun reaching a common goal.  But we don't want to be the stars who hog the spotlight in our family.

The second half of the season is fast approaching - and in some ways is already here.  What specific gifts do A, B and K have that can and should be used in the running of our family?  What gifts do they want to use in our family and what gifts are more appropriately used to serve those outside our family?  What family chores are J and I carrying that should be handed over to one of the girls - maybe not a chore that they will love to do, but one that needs to be done?  Because part of being on a team is doing not just what you're best at, but what needs most to be done.

Difficult questions.  I'm not sure I have a lot of answers.  I think homeschooling A next year will help me see and identify a few of her gifts that can be used within our family unit.  We plan to do a lot of cooking and baking together (practical math, my friends), so we may find this is something she wants more ownership of.  B is a great problem solver.  She's not bound by conventional thinking, so she can see new ways to get to a desired outcome.  What decisions does our family need to make where it might be helpful to hear B's ideas?  And K?  She's the youngest, at just six years old.  But her excitement about finishing our kitchen in order to have a party has made it clear that she is a natural hostess.  So I'll definitely incorporate her ideas and give her jobs relating to the "We Have a Kitchen!" Party (tentatively planned for Labor Day weekend, mark your calendars).

These are just my initial ideas, but I do want my daughters to begin to use their gifts in the safety of our family, so that they know how to best use their gifts.  I want them to use their voices in our family, so that they see the difference their voices can make.  I want them to feel equipped to excel in their positions on teams.  I want them to leave our home and enter the world seeing themselves not just as a part of the team that is our family, but the team that is the community, the church, the world at large.  No small task.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

CAMP

d : a place usually in the country for recreation or instruction often during the summer



Yesterday, I drove A to her very first sleepover camp.  I've known about this camp for years because our former church supports it.  Each year, I would see videos of footage from camp and think, "I can't wait to send my daughters there!"  And then the years flew by.  Last year, I realized A was old enough for this camp.  We discussed sending her, but I decided she just wasn't independent enough to be gone from us for four nights and five days.  She's certainly been gone from home that long (many times), but only at the home of a relative.  I wasn't convinced she could handle sunscreen application and other mundane daily activities without our assistance and reminders.  So we set a few goals to get her ready to attend this year.  She gladly complied (she's willing to be independent if there's a large enough incentive) and we signed her up a few months ago.

A was excited to sign up to attend camp, but has been nervous for the last few weeks as camp drew nearer.  One night, she tearfully shared some of her fears:  "How will I know where the cafeteria is?"  "What about restrooms?"  "What if I'm late for something?"  My little rule follower wanted to know and understand in advance exactly what was expected of her.  J and I patiently explained that none of the campers would know these things, so everyone would be told when they arrived.  And we reminded her that one of her friends from school would be in her cabin with her.  They had intentionally signed up for the same session so that they would each have a friend there.  That calmed her a bit, but she continued to be nervous leading up to camp.

Then, the night before camp, the mom of A's friend mentioned in an e-mail that she'd had a call the week prior from a camp staff person.  I received no such call.  This ignited all of my own fears: "What if they don't have her registration? (Never mind that they gladly accepted our payment.)"  "What time am I supposed to arrive?  I can't find it anywhere on the website!"  "What if she has a horrible time?"  So I did what any sane person would do: I stayed awake until well after midnight reading a book to distract myself.  This seemed like a good coping mechanism at the time, but certainly contributed to my fatigue yesterday after driving three hours to camp and back.

On the drive through scenic Kentucky, I admitted to A that I was nervous, too.  B had been telling A that it was clear she was nervous because she kept laughing.  (Aren't sisters great?)  So I wanted A to know she wasn't alone.  Interestingly, once I admitted my own nervousness, A started comforting me.  She reminded me that she's been away from home before.  She reminded me that this is a camp we can trust.  Things that I needed to hear, even if I stayed nervous for the remainder of the ride.

Drop off at camp went fine.  When we pulled up, an acquaintance was arriving with his daughters and two campers from the ministry where he works.  Turns out he's the pastor for the week.  He introduced his daughter to mine.  A's friend arrived almost exactly when we did.  We got them checked in.  A counselor walked us to their cabin.  And A was fine.  We got her settled in.  B got jealous and wanted to stay.  K didn't want to leave A's upper bunk.  A said it was OK for us to go.  I snapped two quick pics of her and we were off.




Our family wrote letters to A for her to open each day while she's at camp.  In one my letters to her, I told her how proud I am of her.  I am proud of her, but also in awe that she is old enough to go to camp all alone for five days.  I hope she's having a great time.  Our family misses her: K said tonight, "Poor A.  She's not living with our family this week."  But I suppose it's just a foretaste of many moments to come:  future camps, college, marriage.  I'm not ready for any of those things.  But I suppose that's why God gives us grace for the moment.  Because A will be ready for all of those things in due time.  And she'll pull me along with her, proud of her, awed by her, sad to watch her go.

Monday, July 19, 2010

HAPPY

3 a : enjoying or characterized by well-being and contentment

Today, a friend sent me and several other women a link to an article in New York Magazine about parenting.  This friend doesn't have children, but said in her e-mail that she was interested to hear what we thought since the article seemed to be the opposite of how most of her friends feel about parenting.  It's a fairly lengthy article, but it's worth reading if you have a few moments.  I think I've read excerpts of this article elsewhere (maybe I heard about it on NPR?), so its content wasn't particularly shocking.  Essentially it shares the results from various studies that show parenting doesn't make you happier.  As someone who swore in high school that I would never have children, it made me stop and think about why I chose to have not one, but three, children and how I feel like they've affected my life - and quality of life.



Am I happier now than I was eleven years ago (pre-parenthood)?  For WordGirl, the easiest way to answer this question is to define "happy:" Merriam Webster's first definition of happy is "favored by luck or fortune."  Um, OK.  Not inspiring me.  Definition #2?  "Nobly fitting, effective or well adapted?"  That certainly doesn't define my parenting.  Third time's a charm?  "Enjoying or characterized by well-being and contentment."  There's something I can work with.

Am I more content than before?  Is my life characterized by a more general state of well-being?  The answers are yes, but the reasons behind those answers are far more complex.  Am I happier because I am a mother?  While my daughters have changed my life in many ways, I'm not sure that parenting has brought about a state of well-being.  If anything, I constantly question my choices as a mother, I frequently lament the ways I fail them, I strive to be a better role model and guide for them.  So I wouldn't say that parenting itself has brought about well-being for my soul.  On the surface, I was probably more content before children, if more empty.

Am I happier instead because of what I've experienced over the past decade?  Without children, I wouldn't have been forced to quit work for a while, mourn its absence in my life, find a hitherto unknown love of writing and cease to even desire a traditional career.  Who knows what my career path might have looked like without children?  I had a well-established, well-paying job where I excelled before having children.  I never loved my job, but I felt competent and confident doing it.  That might have been enough to keep me going in that direction had I not needed to stay home with A and B when J was working 60-70 hours/week.  I wouldn't trade those experiences and the self-awareness I've gained for a life free of dirty diapers, potty training and strong, independent minded daughters.

Am I happier now because I am a person of faith and wasn't before?  I think this is highly likely.  I'm definitely a different person than I was before.  I'm kinder, gentler, more thoughtful, less selfish.  (Aren't you glad you didn't know me then?)  I'm more apt to think of others than I used to, though I still fail often.  I don't like to ponder who I would be had I not taken a step of faith ten years ago, had I not taken many steps since to better understand my faith, my God, myself.  My faith has anchored me and freed me at the same time.

Am I happier because I have a deeper knowledge of myself than I did before children?  This might be the greatest gift my daughters have given me - to help me, push me and inspire me to understand myself better and be more truly who I am meant to be.  Seeing them use their innate gifts so effortlessly makes me want to jettison the toxic cargo I've carried for much of my life.  Cargo that tells me who I can and can't be.  Cargo that tells me who I should and shouldn't be.  They make me want to simply be me.  This is a worthy goal:  last week, my counselor encouraged me to not see our purpose together as me "getting better" but to instead see it as an effort to gain more of myself.  Because when I have more of myself, I can give more of myself - to God, to others, to my daughters.

Are my daughters work?  Definitely.  Do they push me beyond what I think are my limits?  Every day.  Do I feel constantly, persistently happy?  Not really.  But I am learning to be more content.  They are teaching me things worth knowing, like how to be more authentically the person I am meant to be.  And that does make me happy.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

LUGE

: a small sled that is ridden in a supine position and used especially in competition; also : the competition itself

A scene from our lives:  It's been a long day. Our plans for the day fell through, so when the girls asked for a day at the lake, I agreed.  It was steamy hot outside with temps in the high 90s and high humidity.  A day near the water sounded like a great idea.  I packed lunch, brought along my book and while they played, I read.  After a few hours, we dried off, packed up and headed to a friend's house for dinner.  She'd offered to have us over for dinner in the final days of our kitchen renovation. 

Dinner was lovely: marinated chicken, grilled to perfection, fresh corn on the cob, broccoli, sliced homegrown tomatoes.  All of this followed by my friend's excellent berry cobbler.  But I was tired.  It was time to pack up and get home while I still had the energy to drive us.
Me: "Girls, we're leaving in about ten minutes."
A, B and K: "Awww. OK."
E: "OK.  Hey!  Have you guys heard of the luge?"

I hear E's response from the kitchen and think I must have heard wrong.  It's Nashville.  In the summer.  It's nearly 7 pm and the temperatures outside are still well above 90.  Luge?  What could have prompted her to suddenly ask about a sport that is raced in the dead of winter?  Maybe she said something else?

I continue to help my friend clean up her kitchen, chatting as we clear plates and wipe down the table.  Roughly the allotted ten minutes later, I walk to the bottom of the stairs, intending to call for my girls.  To my surprise, I see E and A sliding down the stairs in a sleeping bag, laughing the whole way.  "She did say luge," I think to myself with surprise.

B: "Mom... we haven't all had a turn.  Can we all have a turn before we go?"  She says this from near the top of the stairs as she waits with jittering excitement for E to drag the sleeping bag back up the stairs.
Me: "Sure."  I say from my vantage point just to the right of the bottom of the stairs.  I'm not heading back to the kitchen now.  Not when I can watch this instead.

From this spot, I see a purple sleeping bag with a princess on it populated first with an experienced stair luger:  She climbs in, puts her arms inside the sleeping bag, lays her head down like an Olympic athlete and takes off down the stairs.  My daughters watch in amazement, fascination and anticipation.

B follows, then A.  Neither are as experienced as E, but B is fearless and still flies down the stairs with as much speed as she can muster.

Then, a cute sight:  close your eyes (OK, I realize you can't read with your eyes closed - read this and then close your eyes to picture it).  Two tiny girls - six and nearly six, both small for their age - climb together into the sleeping bag.  Even when they are both inside, you could fit another child or so in their with them.  With wide eyes, smiles that split open their faces and giggles galore, they head down the stairs, laughing all the way down as they are jostled to and fro.

The very picture of summer: a lazy day in the water, time with friends and unexpected surprises.  It just doesn't get any better than this. 

Friday, July 16, 2010

TRY

: to make an attempt

How long do you try to form a friendship with someone before just writing them off completely?   Is when you quit determined by how the other person rebuffs you, the vehemence with which they rebuff you or your desire to know them better?  What if the other person is someone you will encounter every now and then do to circumstances beyond your control?

These aren't hypothetical questions.  There's this woman.  I've tried - multiple times - to strike up conversations around subject of common interest.  The first time I met her, I found out she homeschools.  It was right around the time we had decided firmly that we would homeschool A next year.  So I was excited to hear meet someone who homeschools a daughter A's age.  I remember saying, "Oh!  Really?!  We're going to homeschool A next year.  We're excited about it."  I don't recall whether she didn't respond at all or whether the response was simply lukewarm.  I made a few other halting attempts that day and finally abated into silence.

I tried again the next time or two I ran into this mom, but ended up feeling worse about myself after.  I asked whether her daughter might be interested in dance classes during the school day along with A.  I asked for advice on science curriculum.  I essentially got no response other than polite acknowledgment that I had spoken to her.  I'm not sure whether she just thinks I am too stupid to homeschool my daughter and therefore unworthy of her advice or whether she just doesn't like me.

Look! I have loads of library books - I can homeschool!  Some of them are even classics...

After being left alone with her in a room yesterday for nearly an hour, she started a conversation with me.  It didn't go much better.  She asked me about my planning for homeschooling and listened as I shared a few of my concerns. She listened, but didn't offer any advice she might have after six years of homeschooling.  Instead, she told me about her plans for this year: they started school this week so that they can end before Easter, they are going to do four day weeks, etc.

At one point, she informed me that her daughter had taught herself to read at age three, which was why she was a grade level ahead of my daughter the same age.  As my husband pointed out, there were several possible responses to this offhanded arrogance:  "Yes, so did A." (which is true, by the way, but I don't go throwing that around to near strangers)  "Really?  Wow!  That's great."  Or a small smile and nod of acknowledgment.  I chose the latter, but I left feeling bad about myself.  Should I have been homeschooling A from the beginning so that she wasn't "behind"?  (Even though she is the same age as her peers.)  Should I push her more?  Or should I just relax and let her be a kid, like my heart tells me?

Thankfully, some of my friends homeschool their children and I've met some other homeschool moms from my neighborhood in recent weeks.  Otherwise, I would be even more terrified to embark on this journey than I already am. But instead of deciding this woman typifies moms who homeschool, I've decided to just stop trying with her.  I can't completely avoid her, but I think I can try to protect myself as much as possible around her.  Because it's amazing how bad she can make me feel about myself.

So instead of attempting to forge some small connection, if not friendship, I'll just try to keep to myself, know myself, trust myself.  Easier said than done, right?

Additional Thoughts:

Sometimes I write - and post - before thinking.  Sort of surprising for someone like me, isn't it?  But I wrote this post and then headed out shortly thereafter.  While in the van, I started thinking about my words here on this post.  And, even more importantly, my attitude while writing them.  There are quite a few things missing here:  humility, compassion, a lack of judgment.  I don't want to be the person who wrote these words.  I could remove this post altogether, but I think it's probably better to leave the original words here and offer an apology.

An apology for being insecure.  Why should it bother me that this woman doesn't want to be my friend?  We don't all have to be friends.

An apology for being unkind.  Just because I felt bad doesn't mean I should vent on my blog.  I have no idea whether she intended to make me feel bad or not - and I should certainly give her the benefit of the doubt.

An apology for being judgmental.  Who am I to criticize someone for being proud of their child?

An apology for lacking humility and a loving attitude.  Regardless of how this person intends to make me feel, I should be trying to find a way to accept her for who she is, be kind to her and eventually love her, as God would have me do.

I'm so sorry if this post offended you.  My deepest apologies for my black heart.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

VOICE

4 a: wish, choice, or opinion openly or formally expressed b: right of expression; also: influential power

Just yesterday, I was pondering why I write this blog.  Do people need to read my questions about things large and small?  Do people care how I am parenting a child through a crisis, failing another child unintentionally or getting some small parenting thing a tiny bit right?  Do I need to think though things in writing to properly process them?  Is it obnoxious to post my inner thoughts and feelings on a blog for the world (OK, let's be realistic - a few dozen people) to read?  Why bother?  Couldn't I get most of these benefits from just writing privately in a journal?

This isn't the first time I've had these thoughts.  I've gotten discouraged about my blog before - whether it's my low reader stats, a lack of comments being left and my own inability to properly articulate my thoughts.  But God always seems to send someone to encourage me when I get close to thinking I should just pull the plug.  This morning, the encouragement came in the form of a facebook message from a friend.  Her message said, in part, "Thank you so much for your blog posts. I can't tell you how deeply they touch me & inspire me to be a better person, wife, and mom. You are truly blessed with a gift from God my friend"  This is not someone I'm close friends with, which made her encouragement all the more touching.



I got my friend's message right before I got on the treadmill this morning and while I walked I reminded myself of one important reason for this blog:  to help me find my voice.  To help me say in writing the things that lay on my heart, that percolate in my mind, that tingle in my fingertips - things I would otherwise leave unvoiced.  Writing - and my writing on this blog in particular - helps me find that inner voice, helps me probe my heart and mind for the good, the bad and the ugly.  Writing here helps me begin to know and understand who I really am and who I want to be.

In writing this post, I've realized another important reason to write here. Without this blog as a writing venue, I would cease to compose posts in my mind about cute kids doing the luge down the stairs or how much I'm learning from my daughters.  And maybe if I ceased to compose those posts (either mentally or on the keyboard), I would also cease to notice those things in the same way.  Maybe if I didn't take time to exercise this writing voice, I would lose my voice altogether.  Because a voice that's not used is not so different from not having a voice at all.


So I'll keep writing.  Not to make you uncomfortable, but to make myself uncomfortable.  Because if I stay in my comfort zone, I'll never change.  And isn't change the whole point of 2010?

Art: Barbara Kruger

Monday, July 12, 2010

COMPROMISE

1 a : settlement of differences by arbitration or by consent reached by mutual concessions

It's funny sometimes the way we learn lessons.  My daughter B is bold, strong and creative.  She's also not too keen on ever compromising.  The thought of making a concession, even when someone else is also conceding something, is anathema to B.  So I'm working to help her understand that life always requires compromise, even when doing something fun.

Last Friday, we went to the Chihuly exhibit at Cheekwood.  It was lovely to see glass art that mimics nature installed at a botanical garden.  It enhanced both the gardens and the glass to see them together.  My girls had so much fun - fun playing with friends, fun taking pictures of the glass art, fun running around the gardens. 


But visiting Cheekwood with a larger group is a different experience than bringing just my daughters or my daughters plus a friend or two.  Walking through the gardens with a larger group requires more coordination, more patience, more compromise.  All of this is fine with me, but challenging for my 8 year old, B.  The very things that I love most about her - her bold spirit, her curiosity, her independence - make it difficult for her to navigate group dynamics.



Actually, it makes it difficult for me to navigate group dynamics with her along.  She just does things the way she always does them, regardless of who is with her.  Therein lies the problem.  While I don't mind letting B walk along the edge of the pond, leap from one side to the other or dip her fingers and toes into to water, she's not the ideal role model for a two year old.  So the size and makeup of our group in some ways dictates what boundaries I set for B.  I learned long ago that it's better to let her skirt the edges of established boundaries and simply take life's natural consequences when they come.  If she tries to climb on a set of monkey bars at a playground and falls because they are too difficult for her, she adapts her style of play the next time around. 


When we're at Cheekwood with a smaller group, it's easier to manage B's desire to leap from one thing to the next.  But with a larger group, it's tough to keep up with her.  She wants to catch frogs, investigate the part of the pond just out of our sight, check out the fountain by the mansion that is not on our way to the next exhibit installation.  She's not being bad.  She's not being disobedient.  She's just curious at a faster pace than most of us.


But B has to learn to be more flexible.  I hope in time she will see that following the path another chooses lets you learn and see things you'd miss out on otherwise.  And learning to navigate group dynamics is a benefit of the Fun Jar.  It helps a strong and curious child like B begin to understand that sometimes in order to be around others, you have to let someone else lead once in a while.  B would tell you that she doesn't want to be a leader and I've told her that's too bad because she is one anyway.  The difference is that she leads because she knows exactly what she wants, not because she cares whether anyone else follows.  There's value in that, without a doubt.  I love that she knows her heart and follows it.  But I want her to be comfortable in a group.  I want those in a group with her to be comfortable.  So it's wise to spend part of our summer with new and old friends learning the art of compromise while admiring the art around us.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

ROSA

:rose

If you missed my earlier post, I’ll briefly fill you in: read The Book Thief. It’s the best book I’ve ever read and one reason is the characters that fill its pages:

Liesel, the Book Thief
Rudy, the Book Thief’s best friend
Hans, Liesel’s foster father
Rosa, Liesel’s foster mother
Max, author of The Stand Over Man and The Word Shaker; Liesel’s friend
Hitler, creator of the hellish world that provides the backdrop for The Book Thief
Death, guy normally portrayed with the black robe and sickle, narrator of The Book Thief and a much more likable narrator than you could ever anticipate


I recently wrote about Rudy, a boy I’ve never met but love deeply. Today I’ll introduce you to Rosa, who is not all that she seems and yet is more than she seems.

Rosa could easily have been a caricature. In the hands of a writer less skilled than Markus Zusak, Rosa would be two-dimensional, sketched in to fill the space or trite. Instead, she’s a reminder to not judge someone by a tough fa├žade. Rosa spends a good portion of The Book Thief swearing. Luckily, her swearing is done in German, so it wasn’t too off putting for me as the reader. But it still comes through loud and clear that she’s not a warm and fuzzy kind of foster mom. She’s not the stereotypical foster parent who just loves kids and misses having a young one around the house. Instead, she’s closer to the stereotype of the foster parent who takes in foster children for the paycheck. But as I said, Rosa’s not what she seems. We actually don’t ever find out exactly why Rosa and Hans take Liesel in, but we do come to know a bit of the real Rosa who hides behind the mask of the tough lady.

Rosa washes laundry for several other families and is married to Hans, a painter and accordion player. Her two children are grown and we see little of them over the course of the book. But we see a fair amount of Rosa. We see her trudge up and down the street to collect and deliver laundry. We see her lose one customer, then another, as the realities of the war set in. We see her stretch one pot of soup to feed three mouths, then four for an entire week. And we begin to see that Rosa is playing a role – not just for the reader, but for herself.

My favorite image of Rosa (who I imagine being roughly as wide as she is tall) is of her sitting on her bed in the middle of the night, holding an accordion on her lap. The room is dark and the accordion far too big to fit easily on her lap. But she holds it there and breathes with it and into it. She breathes into that accordion all of the tenderness that she pushes deep inside in order to keep the mask in place. She breathes into that accordion her dreams, her fears, her hopes. And while this is the mental picture of Rosa that I hold tight in my mind, when daylight breaks, she would not hold the accordion any longer, but a wooden spoon. Because that’s what women do – whether we’re named Rosa or Shannon – we breathe out our heart’s desires in the middle of the night and set them aside when daylight breaks. After all, there is work to be done.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

SHAPE

1 : form, create; especially : to give a particular form or shape to
3 : to adapt in shape so as to fit neatly and closely

A friend was sharing with me last night that she believes the key to parenting is really knowing who your children are.  She's managed to raise four children to adulthood and I've read her children write about how much they still enjoy each other, which is one thing I hope my own girls will experience.  So I listened up as she shared.  According to her experience, parenting is not about getting your children to do what you want them to do or making them into who you want them to be, but understanding who they are and helping them become more of who they are meant to be.  As I was pondering this today, I realized that I not only want to know and understand my daughters, but I want to be shaped by knowing them. 

I don't want this parenting thing to be a one-way street.  It's not like they're the clay and I'm the mold.  Goodness knows, I'm not out to create three mini-me's.  One of me is quite enough, thank you very much.  Instead, I'd prefer to think of all of us as malleable and shaped by and to each other.  Not in a way that makes us "fit neatly," but in a way that leaves us all better people for having lived life together as a family.

I've already learned a great deal from each of my daughters.  A has a quiet confidence (something I long for) that is oddly juxtaposed with moments of insecurity (this I know all about).  She has known from a very young age what she wants - mainly, to dance.  She started asking to take dance lessons when she was three.  Given her gene pool, I thought there was no way this child was a dancer.  (If you've ever witnessed J or I attempt to dance, you'll understand my initial mindset.)  So I signed her up for a six week session, thinking that would take care of that.  She wanted more.  I delayed.  She wanted to dance.  I signed her up for a week of dance camp at age five, reasoning that if she still wanted to dance after doing it every day for a full week, then we could commit to school lessons.  Needless to say, she had the requisite desire to merit after school lessons.  This fall, she'll be taking 9-10 hours of dance weekly.  A has shaped me to be a mom who listens to what my daughters say they want.  If I had ignored her pleas for dance, I would have squashed a crucial part of who A is and that would have been tragic.


B has shaped me to be a mom who never knows what's coming.  I learned very early on that if it worked with A, it would not work with B.  When she was two, B simply thought I was stupid.  If she asked for a cookie and I said no, she would ask again, slower and louder.  I learned to say, "I know you want a cookie, but you can't have one right now."  She gradually learned that I wasn't hard of hearing, I just didn't cave in to her every whim.  And I learned to clearly articulate what was going on.  B is still a child who wants to know why.  Some may disagree, but I've found I parent her best when I do take time to answer her questions.  She doesn't have a hard heart, but she has a curious one and she is far more likely to accept correction when she understands what she has done wrong.  This isn't always easy for me.  There are certainly times when I wish B - or any of my children - would simply do what I'm asking without requiring explanation.  But I need to be shaped in this.  I need to do a better job of articulating what I am thinking and feeling instead of assuming that my family and friends can read my mind.



And K?  K has shaped me into a mom who listens, sometimes when I don't want to.  Sometimes I just want quiet and K wants to tell a story.  So I listen more than I otherwise would.  K has also taught me how differently we are all gifted.  Even at age 6 K is great with people.  She is gentle, nurturing and sensitive.  If I have a headache, she rubs my forehead with her tiny little hands and is solicitous in bringing me a drink or whatever else I may need.  And she picks up on body language far better than her 10 year old sister.  Seeing these gifts appear so effortlessly in K has made me value these traits more and I've worked harder to cultivate them in myself, since many of them do not come naturally to me.



I hope when my daughters are adults, they will get glimpses of how they have influenced and shaped me. Because I'm certainly a different person for having been their mother.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

RECUPERATION

1 : to get back : regain
2 : to bring back into use or currency : revive

It's been a busy few days.  We left Milwaukee Monday morning and stopped at IKEA in Schaumburg to get a loft bed for B and some kitchen items.  To say that it was busy is an understatement.  I don't have the words to convey the chaos that was IKEA.  Here's one indication: they were out of carts.  Here's another: we waited for ten minutes or more in a checkout line, only to find out it was a self checkout line for those with 15 items or less (we did not fit that bill).  Luckily, no one was able to read the sign in advance, so there were no complaints as we checked out.  After that exhausting shopping experience, we headed for our hotel in Indianapolis - four hours away.

Our initial plan had been to visit the Indianapolis Children's Museum before heading home.  But upon waking up Tuesday morning, K's first words were, "Are we going home now?"  All of us were more than a bit tired and J was feeling pressure to get some work projects completed.  So instead of going to the museum, we loaded up and headed home.  While I had mentioned the children's museum to the girls at some point during our trip, not one of them asked about it as we drove south.  We were all ready to be home.



Thankfully, today has been a day of recuperation.  K was invited to join a friend at a movie and no one was working in the kitchen (a mixed blessing), so the house was quiet.  B and A read, read and then read some more.  I know B finished at least one book today and A was in her pajamas until lunchtime.  There was no sisterly bickering, no asking for TV time, no begging for more computer time, only resting and recuperating.  While I watched the Spain/Germany World Cup match, A and B retreated to the basement to watch a movie.  Even that brought no arguing as the girls agreed to watch the movie I'd selected from the library while they were out of town.

I can't say my day was quite as restful as the day A and B had.  It was populated with laundry and a grocery shopping trip.  But it also allowed time for the treadmill, a few quiet moments spent reading the best book ever and children who were agreeable and undemanding.  It left me thankful for the break on the work in our kitchen, even if that means more time scrabbling together crazy lunches like apples with peanut butter and cheese or dinners of hot dogs.  It made me thankful for life's ebb and flow, even if the tides don't always run to my schedule.  It left me thankful that my daughters (or two of them, at least) recover in the same way I do - with quiet and a good book.



The laundry?  It's not finished.  The kitchen?  Not finished, either.  The house?  A mess.  Our hearts?  Better.  Revived.  Recuperated.  Ready for more of summer, more of life lived together.

Monday, July 5, 2010

RUDY

derivative of Rudolph: a famous wolf


I’ve read a lot of books in my life. A few because I was required to read them, many more because I wanted to. It’s hard to choose a favorite book of all time, in part because I continue to read. How can I say this or that book is my favorite when I’m constantly adding new data to the pool? But if I am honest with myself, I do have a favorite book. I came to realize that I could admit this book was my favorite after mentioning it to two people recently and having them say, "I didn't just like it.  It's the best book I've ever read."

I'm not jumping on a best book bandwagon here.  I can tell it’s my favorite because I’ve read it three times (the only book I have ever read that many times), have suggested it to countless people and my eyes tear up just thinking about it. If you haven’t read The Book Thief, I think you should.

There are many, many things I love about this book, but foremost are the characters that populate its pages. They live and breathe on the page and in my mind. So in an effort to pay homage to the beauty that is The Book Thief, I’d like to use this post (and possibly a few subsequent ones) to introduce you to these characters.

The second time I read The Book Thief, I told my husband, “It’s a good thing Rudy Steiner is fictional because if he wasn’t, I might have to marry him.” Rudy is easy to fall in love with. He’s a German teenager who wants nothing so much as to be Jesse Owens. He’s a foul mouthed boy who stands up for his friends when it costs him everything. He has a kind heart and hair the color of lemons.

Here is what I love about Rudy most of all: he falls in love with Liesel, the titular Book Thief, the moment he meets her. But he is content to be her friend. Even at the young age of twelve, Liesel’s had a rough life. She’s ended up on Himmel Street with her foster parents Max and Rosa after a tortuous train ride that left her more alone than a person has a right to be. So when Rudy falls in love with Liesel, she can’t love him back. She’s far too broken for that.  Love requires vulnerability and Liesel is fresh out of that.

Rudy, wise beyond his years or just the kind of boy so good at heart that we only find them in novels, knows this about Liesel. So he plays soccer with her. He covers for her at school, even if it means taking a lashing from a nun. He walks with her, talks with her, lives life with her. He accepts what she can offer him, even if it’s not what he wants most: her heart. That will, of course, come to him in due time.

As I write this, I am sitting on the bathroom floor of a hotel room – victim of insomnia and an unhealthy love of books in general and The Book Thief in particular. There are tears streaking down my face as I think about Rudy. If that’s not enough to convince you to read The Book Thief, check back in a few days and I’ll introduce you to another character who might be more to your liking. There are plenty of good ones to choose from.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

MATURITY

1 : the quality or state of being mature (based on slow careful consideration or having completed natural growth and development); especially : full development

I think I may finally be maturing as a mother.  I've always enjoyed the time my daughters spend with their grandparents: for years it has provided a much needed break from day-to-day parenting and a good splash of time for J and I to have alone together.  We've spent that time traveling together (Springfield, IL and St. Louis come to mind), cooking for each other (fond memories of roasting eggplant together and pureeing hummus for a lovely indoor picnic) and going out to dinner (dressed up for a night at Germantown Cafe last year).  This year was the same on that front - we got to take in a movie, try the newest, coolest burger joint and chill at an awesome new neighborhood restaurant.  But I must admit that while I enjoyed my husband, I missed my daughters.  And I missed them differently than I have in the past.

In years past, I've missed them, but not necessarily missed their company.  This time around, I actually noticed that my days were a bit dull without them around.  I went to a fabulous used book store - and of course got some great books for pleasure and next year's homeschooling - but thought about how much more fun it would have been to peruse the aisles with A and B as we trade off books that we each think the other would enjoy while K sits down in the aisle and looks through books. 

I see this as a sign of maturing as a mother.  Those toddler days?  Not easy for me.  Sure, the girls were cute and fun back then, but it was far more exhausting and I was more out of my element than parenting a 10 year old, 8 year old and 6 year old.  It's not necessarily that I know what I'm doing now any more than I did back then, but at least I can see hints of who my daughters are and can actively try to nurture the parts of them that seem to come from the core of who they are.  Perhaps if I'm not "fully developed" I'm at least trying to put "careful consideration" into the way I parent my daughters.  I'm sure I'll never be able to put together the full puzzle of who each daughter is, but I love seeing them develop and grow into who they are meant to be.

I recently finished reading a coming of age book about a teenager who discovers she possesses a unique and powerful gift.  As a fan of young adult fiction for its strong plots, intriguing characters and interesting themes, I've read many such books, but this time in particular, it struck me as odd that every "coming of age" book I've read has been about a teenager.  Why is that?  I had no idea who I was as a teenager.  I've done much more coming of age in my thirties than I did in my teens.

I suppose this idea of coming of age has its origins in the part of the definition of mature that relates to having completed natural growth and development.  For most of us, bodies are mature by late teens.  But emotionally?  mentally?  spiritually?  Maybe I'm a late bloomer.  Maybe you were fully mature - able to exercise slow, careful consideration and fully developed - in your late teens.  But not me.  I was so busy trying to be who other people thought I should be - or who I thought other people thought I should be - or some combination of the two - that I had no idea who I really was.

Then in my twenties, I was far too busy doing to worry about being.  J and I enjoyed the early days of our marriage, when we poured time and energy into our careers.  But life was too fast-paced for me to actually contemplate who I was.  I could tell you what I did, but I don't think I could have told you who I was.

My thirties have brought a different pace of life - much of my choosing, though the change of pace wasn't always easy.  For many years after I quit full time work to stay at home with my daughters, I missed work.  I missed using and challenging my mind.  I missed completing a task - and it actually staying completed, as opposed to the two steps forward, one step back routine of running a household and raising daughters.  But as I persisted, I found that I was able to snatch a few moments here and there to contemplate who I am and where I'm going.  I found, to my surprise, a desire to write a bit, both here on this blog and hopefully elsewhere some day.  I also found a willingness to do the previously unthinkable: homeschool.

It's somewhat amazing to find I am a mom who is willingly entering into the adventure of homeschooling my eldest daughter.  (Had a fortune teller warned me three years hence, I never would have believed her.)  Equally surprising has been the turn of events that left me finally content to not work the year K started kindergarten.  As much as I enjoyed my career, I thought I would surely be gearing up to work once all of my children were in full time school.  But I've found as I spend more time listening to my own heart - and less time guessing what others might want or expect of me - I am surprised to find unexpected desires, aptitudes and delights.  I do still think it would be fun and exciting to start a retail artists' co-op.  I do have skills that would benefit a non-profit or two.  I do have a non-fiction book I'd like to write.  And I'd love to be able to craft some fiction worth reading.  But part of maturity for me has been to accept that there is a time for everything - and it can not be rushed.

So while my body is fully matured and fully my own (no more bearing children, no more nursing, no more osteochondroma), I am just beginning to claim myself as my own. I am just beginning to listen to the quiet still voice that tells me what my heart desires.  And I am no longer trying to shush that voice out of fear.  I think I may finally be coming of age.  And wouldn't that make a beautiful novel?

Friday, July 2, 2010

MEMORY

1 a : the power or process of reproducing or recalling what has been learned and retained especially through associative mechanisms b : the store of things learned and retained from an organism's activity or experience as evidenced by modification of structure or behavior or by recall and recognition

I just finished a really good book. Near the end of the book, the main character, Maerad, encounters someone who conjures powerful memories long suppressed.  And while I really enjoyed The Naming and eagerly anticipate reading the second book in the series, it left me a little sad because it forced me to confront my own reluctance, resistance and/or outright refusal to remember.  I find myself arguing internally about the value of memory.  Do I really have to remember or can I just leave my memories buried?  Can I be who I am now if I repudiate and/or forget who I've been?

I think I know the answers to these questions, but they aren't the answers I want.  The definition of memory makes it pretty clear that it's nearly impossible to simply leave memory behind.  If memory is the "store of things learned and retained from experience," do I really want to leave that behind?  Even if I want to, it seems unlikely that it's possible to leave behind what is learned and experienced.  If that's the case, why is memory so slippery?  Why do some thing stick while others slip away, slink into our subconscious or bury themselves only to eventually peek through the scorched earth of our minds?

My husband posits that he doesn't remember things because he doesn't spend time going back to the well of his memory often enough to keep it fresh, but I have found myself actively pushing away memories that appear in my mind.  I don't want to go back to the Shannon I was.  I didn't like her much then and I don't care to voluntarily spend time with her now.  I like who I am better than who I was, but I fear until I make peace with both - the then and the now - I won't ever fully be who I'm meant to be.

As I explained through tears to J that I enjoyed this book even though it made me sad, he remarked that we read books so differently.  I invariably apply the book I'm reading - fiction or non-fiction - to my life.  J, on the other hand, says he only does this when someone else tells him to for the purposes of a study or a group discussion.  Perhaps it would be easier his way...