Mom Lottery

Sum Total of My Life's Work Thus Far

Some days I am certain I am not qualified enough to be a parent. On those days, I can’t seem to do or say the right thing. And, reminiscent of that scene in the film Parenthood, I half expect that one day one of my sons will climb to the top of a bell tower and open fire on an unsuspecting crowd simply because I messed him up so badly. Who knows? Maybe the other one will be up in the bell tower too, egging him on and cursing me out? Yesterday, however, was not one of those days. Yesterday I got that nanosecond glimpse of how I must be making some sort of positive impact on them after all.

Joe wrote a book report on Sunday. The first one he ever wanted to write without my help. In fact, he wouldn’t even let me in the room while he was working. When he handed me his draft and I read it, I smiled hugely. It’s not that it was the finest piece of literature I’d ever read. It’s that it was complete and well-thought out. It had his own inflection in the words. There were even capitals at the start of sentences and periods (in most cases) at the ends of them. Being an editor, I took a red pencil to his paper and corrected the spelling and punctuation. Then I asked him simply to rewrite it so it would be legible enough for teacher consumption. When he got to the car yesterday, his teacher followed and approached my window. She told me that his rough draft was excellent, so much so that she didn’t need him to do a final copy. If I hadn’t been sitting in my car, I would have executed a perfect, cheerleader-worthy, celebratory jump for joy. Progress. I’ve been working diligently with Joe on his writing, and he’s making progress. Sigh.

As we start to pull out of the school parking lot, Luke makes this announcement:

“I signed up for the school spelling bee.”

I nearly choked on my Coke. “You did what?”

“Signed up for the spelling bee,” he repeated.

I tried to gather my composure. “Can I ask what made you decide to?”

“Well,” he replied, “I thought it would be a good experience. I know I’m not the best speller in class. Jason is. But I’m going to try. If I get out on the first round, I won’t even mind. At least I will have tried.”

Seriously? Where is the camera? I have to be on Punk’d, right?

If there is a Mom Lottery, yesterday I took home the big money. Now I remember why I work so hard at parenting every day, even on the most difficult, depressing ones. It’s because, sometimes, when you least expect it you will get a crumb of positive affirmation that you’re doing a good job. Oddly enough, that crumb can sustain you for a long time.

Hell Week

Ground Zero

In college there is this lovely ritual where new pledges are hazed mercilessly for a full week while under conditional acceptance to the fraternity they are hoping to join. I have to admit that I recall that week of school each year with particular fondness. Nothing like watching college guys strip down to their skivvies and dance around in the University Memorial Center fountain while Madonna’s Like a Virgin plays. The tradition is aptly called Hell Week, and when it’s someone else’s week of hell it’s genuinely amusing and in good fun.

The seven days from December 12-December 19th each year comprise my own personal Hell Week. While I’m not being forced to carry around a baby doll while wearing a giant diaper on the outside of my clothing, it’s still a test of my spirit, my holiday spirit. How far am I willing to go and how much stress can I take? Why is this week my Hell Week? Well, in addition to all my “normal” life activities (cleaning, laundry, cooking, errand running, homework coaching, care of pets and children, etc.), I have the holiday crunch. Christmas cards have to go out, wrapping must be done, gifts for neighbors and teachers made and distributed, boxes must be shipped, and school Christmas parties attended. To top it all off, December 20th is my husband’s birthday, which means I’m also looking for birthday gifts, birthday cake, and preparing to host family for that celebration. My current to-do list, which does not include any of my regularly scheduled responsibilities, is over 20 items long. I’m going cross-eyed looking at it.

In my constant effort to find greater peace in my life, I could just shred the list, pop A Christmas Story in the DVD player, pour some Bailey’s into a mug of hot chocolate, and let it all go. I could do that. But, I know how much all the holiday fanfare means to my hubby and my kids. Just because I would rather pack a suitcase, lock up the house, and spend the entire Christmas holiday on a beach in Hawaii doesn’t mean that’s their holiday fantasy. So, I suck it up.

I know I’m not the only person who does this. I know we are all overburdened this time of year. My method of dealing with Hell Week is simple. I pause occasionally to find stillness and to breathe consciously, even if remembering to find temporary stillness requires setting the alarm on my iPhone. When I stop rushing, remove myself from the chaos, and quiet my life momentarily, I become centered and find the energy to begin again from a better place. To adjust my Grinch attitude, I try my best to do this:

“Learn to become still. And to take your attention away from what you don’t want, and all the emotional charge around it, and place your attention on what you wish to experience” ~ Michael Beckwith

Namaste, friends.

Absolutes

Joe at the regional Science Fair

My oldest son is a deep thinker. When he was 5, he told me this: “God is all-knowing. I’m not all-knowing yet, but I am knowing.” The boy never stops thinking. I honestly don’t know if his attention-defecit is a result of his constant thinking or if his frenetic brain activity is the cause of his attention-defecit.

Lately, Joe has been very conflicted. He goes to Christian school and is taught in absolutes. The problem is that as much as he loves God and his school, he also loves science. He struggles to make peace between the things he’s taught at school and the scientific theories that have taken hold of his imagination. Although he can see in shades of grey, he lives in a black and white world.

It is partially because of Joe’s concern about absolutes that his father and I have kept him in Christian school. We thought it might be best for him to learn young that even within a like-minded community there are dissenting opinions, and that lack of accord is not necessarily a bad thing. Recently, though, Joe told us that he thinks he should go to public school because his scientific beliefs put him at odds with most (probably all) of his classmates and teachers. He longs to fit in but feels he doesn’t because he doesn’t think the Earth is 6,000 years old or that dinosaurs and humans ever coexisted. He feels he is not being a good Christian because of his views on science and, therefore, he should not attend Christian school. I can’t tell you how incredibly sad that makes me because I believe God has room to love us all, creationists and evolutionists alike.

As we struggle with the dilemma of whether to keep him at the school he has attended now for seven years, myriad questions filter through my mind. Why are we humans so insistent on maintaining absolutes? What do we gain by refusing to acknowledge other view points and ostracizing those whose brains see things differently? Why must our beliefs trump someone else’s to be valid?

I hope Joe will come to believe that God loves him even if he believes the fossil record exists in millions of years and not thousands of years. I hope that we’ve given him conviction enough to stand with his faith even if it differs from those around him. If Joe has to focus on an absolute, I hope that it would be that we are all entitled to be loved by God and judged by him alone.

Unexpected Gifts

Lucky Girls

Today is my friend Celeste’s birthday. Last night she called and asked if I would be willing to go for a manicure/pedicure with her today to help her celebrate. Well, what kind of friend would I be if I had denied her birthday request? So, today we sat side by side in Tootsies Nail Shoppe in Wash Park enjoying some pampering. It was heavenly.

Afterward we had just enough time to stop into The Tavern for a quick beer and some long overdue conversation. As we sat there catching up, though, it occurred to me that what made the day special was not the manicure and pedicure that left my winter hands and feet sparkling and soft. It wasn’t the “me” time or the ability to afford it. It wasn’t even the time spent with a good friend musing about life. It’s the friendship itself.

It’s easy to become preoccupied with life’s minutiae and lose sight of what’s truly important. Celeste and I met at the Taste of Colorado. In an act totally out of character, I started a conversation with a stranger who would become one of my dearest friends. With our busy schedules, sometimes we lose sight of each other for weeks at a time. I’m grateful when we can get in a skate or a coffee date or a hike with our boys. I’ve learned a lot from Celeste, like how to bargain at a garage sale and how to t-stop on roller blades. She’s taught me it’s okay to laugh at myself when I do silly things, like showing up at the zoo unintentionally wearing two different flip-flops. We’ve tried new things together (snowboarding) and trekked 50-miles in Southern California for MS. And, if I ever decide to go on the Amazing Race, Celeste would most definitely be my first choice for race partner. I’m a better person today because of the time we’ve spent together.

Although it was her birthday today, I was the one who got a gift…a reminder that it’s not the little things (like manicures) that make life worth living. It’s the intangibles like unexpected friendships that matter most.

Big Brother

Inundation of Baby Information

Ever get the feeling that someone out there knows more about you than you know about yourself? I’ve been getting all these mailings via the US Postal Service (and oodles more in my email inbox too) geared toward expectant mothers and mothers of infants. I am a bit befuddled. I don’t think I am pregnant. I don’t appear to be exhibiting any of the usual symptoms. Furthermore, my husband was fixed 8 years ago and, due to health issues, I take birth control pills. At this point, the only pregnancy at my house would have to occur through immaculate conception. And, anyone who knows me knows that “immaculate” part is questionable.

I’ve gotten information about the best hospitals in Denver for childbirth, photography studios specializing in newborns, and reasons why I should save cord blood. My 8 and 10 year old sons are a tad too old for the three containers of infant formula that have shown up. Flyers for pediatricians’ offices, coupons for Carter’s clothing, and copies of American Baby magazine continue to arrive despite the fact that it is thankfully highly unlikely I am with child.

When the mail onslaught first began, I was troubled. I don’t like junk mail to begin with, but junk mail that isn’t even remotely applicable to me is that much more unwelcome. It’s filled my recycle bin each week. As time has gone on and the mailings have continued, however, I’ve started seeing them in a different light. Now they make me smile. In a time when people are overly concerned about privacy, they simply prove that the Big Brother that everyone worries about, the one that is collecting information about our buying habits and preferences, isn’t always right in his assumptions. It’s wise to be careful with your information, but it’s not sensible to become obsessed with protecting it. Unless you habitually purchase using cash alone, Big Brother will find it out about you and you’ll know when he does. Suddenly you’ll start receiving a plethora of catalogs for fruitcake, just like the one you purchased for your Great Aunt Mildred for Christmas. Don’t worry. I know you don’t like fruitcake. Your secret is safe with me.

Little Lessons

So many DVDs, so little free time

I have a little confession: my family and I have become addicted to Little House on the Prairie. How we got to this point is a long story starting with a lesson in school about Laura Ingalls Wilder and ending with repeated trips to the library to check out DVDs.

Last night after we had cruised through another disc in Season Two, hubby said, “I think every American should have to watch this show.”

I have to agree. Little House is exactly the kind of show this nation needs right now. It’s filled with messages about getting along with others despite differences, facing challenges with bravery and tenacity, appreciating the little things, and giving back as much as you get in this world. Those are appropriate reminders in days when no one can find common ground, the easiest way is the only way, and we have more than ever before and it’s still not enough.

Last night before bed, I asked the boys to list off some of the lessons they’ve learned from the show thus far. Their answers were both insightful and humorous.

  • Never try to keep a raccoon for a pet.
  • Don’t spoil your kids or they will be mean like Nellie.
  • Be grateful for what you have.
  • Don’t blow yourself up with dynamite.
  • If you are good to others, they will be good friends.
  • It’s okay to push a bully if they’re asking for it.
  • Wear your glasses even if other kids call you “Four Eyes.”
  • Never climb a tree to get a kite. It’s not worth it.
  • Once upon a time, Mankato was the big city.

I’m chagrined to admit that I get teary eyed at nearly each episode, but watching the shows again has reminded me of how much I have to appreciate and how little time I spend actually appreciating it. I’m thankful that I don’t have to go outside to pee in the middle of the night in the dead of winter. I’m thankful that I have an ample supply of hot water at my fingertips. I’m thankful that my house is heated and I’m not perpetually doomed to smell like a campfire. And I’m eternally thankful that I don’t have to deal with that bitchy Harriet Oleson.

Mostly, though, what I’m taking away from our addiction to Little House is time with my family, snuggled on the couch, talking about life and love and friendship. I’m happy to have this time with my boys before they become teens and want nothing more to do with me. I’m also thrilled to know that when times get tough for my little guys in the next few years we’ll be able to draw upon the things we’ve observed with the Ingalls. And, if they give me a hard time about their Christmas gifts this year, I’m just going to remind them that Laura received a tin cup, a piece of peppermint candy, and a shiny new penny and said it was the best Christmas ever.

 

 

Whoo Are We Fooling?

A perfectly clear Colorado night

Last Friday night while the boys were downstairs watching the latest and greatest episode of The Clone Wars, hubby and I were confined to our room watching a not-quite-kid-appropriate, Rated R film. About halfway through the movie, I started hearing a low, intermittent noise, like a child trying to impersonate a cartoon ghost. I immediately assumed one of our nutty boys had pulled the cover off the heating vent in the family room and was now “whoo-ing” up the vent at us to be funny. Oddly enough, this was a perfectly logical conclusion on my part. I went back to concentrating on the movie.

The noise continued periodically for about 10 minutes. Finally, my curiosity got the best of me. I crawled out of bed and trudged to the top of the stairs and yelled down to the boys.

 
“Who is hooting?”

“Whaaaaaaat?” came the response of my completely befuddled Joe.

“Is Luke hooting?”  Is Luke hooting? Hahahahahaha. I am one crazy mother.

“Ummmm…no. We’re watching The Clone Wars,” was Joe’s exasperated reply. Then, he said, “But, I do hear something outside. Maybe it’s an owl?”

An owl. That certainly was a more rational explanation for the noise. Steve paused the movie, we grabbed the boys Sonic Sleuth toy (a gift from my friend Rebecca which has granted the boys bionic ears to use for spying on their parents), and headed downstairs. I opened the curtains on the slider and looked up at the top of the tallest tree around our house, a cottonless cottonwood directly behind our yard. Sure enough. At the very top of the tree there was a dark, bird-like shadow. I told the boys they had to be unbelievably quiet and as stealthily as possible I eased the slider open. Luke put the Sonic Sleuth headphones on, aimed the cone at the object, and we listened. We didn’t need the machine. Sure enough. The hooting commenced again, clearly originating from the bird at the top of the tree. It actually was an owl. We were mesmerized.

We stood there listening to it and watching it for a couple minutes before it got restless. It began to flap its large wings.

As it flew off the tree and towards the nature preserve where it most likely lives, Joe said, “Listen….silent flight.”

I was amused at his statement. How cute was that? How are you supposed to listen to something that is silent? But, he was right. As that Great Horned Owl took flight, you could not hear the wings flapping like you would with other large birds. It was amazing. Joe’s innocent reminder about the way an owl’s ragged wing feathers allow it to fly soundlessly was a gift to his father and I who, over the years, have lost some of our childlike wonder at the world and its creatures. Thankfully I never lose my wonder at my children and their view of the world.

All week long I’ve been reflecting on the events of last Friday night, ruminating over what an honor it was to have that bird so close to our house and to have been fortunate enough to share in its existence if even for a few moments. I’ve been thinking too about how much I miss because I’ve become accustomed to the world, and I don’t always use all five of my senses to experience life anymore. The sad truth about growing up is that we learn to block things out. We filter out things we think are not important. We ignore more than we acknowledge, and yet somehow we consider ourselves wiser than our children. I have to wonder who we think we are fooling.

 

The Awakening

“If you have one eye on yesterday, and one eye on tomorrow, you’re going to be cockeyed today.”  ~Author Unknown

Frosted trees on a frigid morning

Today is a perfect day for a new beginning. While driving my kids to school this morning, I noticed that the frigid temperatures combined with the steam from the warm ponds near our house had created the stunning effect of frosted trees. The contrasts, the white, stick-figure trees against the deep blue, cloudless sky, the freezing temps against the glowing heat of the rising sun, were awe inspiring. It’s the kind of morning that can make your whole day…if you stop to pay attention.

I have spent far too much time stressed out and simply getting by and, in the process, life is getting away from me. My boys are growing up, and I’m getting older. There is nothing I can do to stop those things from happening. I can, however, focus on living now and zen (emphasis on the now, hoping for the zen to come eventually). I can take more deep breaths and work to let go of things that are tethering me to negativity. I can slow down enough to relish the current moment rather than racing to the next one. And I can start this adjustment right now, in the midst of the holiday season rush, because the best time to start living now is now, right? Maybe if I put the unrecoverable past behind me and let go of the uncertain future my present won’t escape my notice?

I’m not sure where this journey will take me, but I’m going to post something here every day for the next month. It takes at least three weeks to establish a new habit, and I’m giving myself four. I will try to keep it positive. If I fail at that, I can at least guarantee it will be honest.