Catching Up

I feel like the days are just whizzing by. It seems like it was just Thanksgiving a few days ago and now it’s almost March. How is that even possible?

I try to make time for myself, time for my friends, time for my husband, time for God, time for my family, and special time for each one of my children but someone always gets left out. And I try not to beat myself up about it, but it’s hard to keep from feeling guilty. There’s always something to feel guilty about, isn’t there? The past few days I’ve been feeling guilty about not writing things down, so here we are.

Today it was very quiet in my house. My two older girls stayed upstairs for hours, getting extremely creative with hot glue guns, sequins, and construction paper. My two littler ones barricaded themselves in the toy room with a menagerie of little plastic animals, Slinkies, matchbox cars, and dinosaur habitats.

And so I did what most of us probably do… lost and reheated my coffee 3 times, tried to read the same thing twice before I gave up, loaded the dishwasher, played a word game on my phone, and read my email.

What a waste of time. Time keeps going faster and I somehow just keep on wasting more of it. I don’t really know where my days go. Reading, math, library trips, cleaning, laundry, cooking, grocery store, gym. That’s basically my life right now. And it seems like there should be more.

I don’t know, though. Now that I have time to sit and think for a minute, maybe life is just a lot of little moments.

walkPiggy-back rides down the driveway to the mailbox. Crazy outfits concocted from every pattern available in an 8-year-old’s closet. Strawberry muffins and homemade guacamole made by a girl with a faded pink blanket around her neck like a scarf. A million sequins and sparkles on the bedroom floor and the millionth “I’ll be down in a minute!” from an almost teenager.

Dinosaurs scattered on the floor. Dirty socks balled up under the couch. Popcorn in the microwave. A purple hairbrush everywhere except where it belongs. Handprints on the windows of the van. Laughter from the living room. Dance parties in the family room. Binge-watching of The Dukes of Hazzard and The Andy Griffith Show. Car Picnics. Sliding on the hardwood floor in sock feet. A constant pile of shoes by the door. “Mo-ommm!” at least 200 times a day.

“Breft-tast,” lunch, and dinner, day in and day out. Fights over whose day it is to unload the dishwasher. Candyland, Monopoly, War, Go Fish, Pass the Pigs and Pepper. Games and giggles and squabbles and pinches and stubbed toes and skinned knees and upset tummies. Shampoo in eyes and making giant soap bubbles in the kitchen sink. Searching for lost ______ (insert any noun here.) Hurt feelings, apologies, inside jokes (“I must confess, Mom. I ate Skittles off the floor today.”)

Building Robotics. Checking the Weather Channel and the Star Wars app. Studio C. “But have you ever KILT anyone?” Trying to wash the dog in the shower. Going on walks. Reaching back to hold a little hand while driving home. Fixing the outside pump in the pond, putting away laundry, writing funny songs, making videos, going to the park, helping Dad, reading out loud, playing hide and go seek in the dark, building burrows through blankets, putting on Thieves’ Oil and saying prayers. “Can I snuggle with you?” and “I had a bad dream” in the middle of the night.

I just have to remember to grab a one-on-one trip to the hardware store here, a special “You can ride in the front seat!” trip to the post office or grocery store there, a special night at the movies once in a while. Because there’s no doubt about it – they are growing up. And it’s happening fast. It’s happening right before my very eyes.

And they are amazing. They are the best, most wonderful things I’ve ever been a part of.

Maybe I’m wasting less time than I thought.

Piece of Peace

Today was a good day to go to a deserted beach. To breathe. To think. To pray.

Luckily, we just happen to have one 10 minutes away.

My oldest daughter had the great idea of heading to the beach – on a windy, fairly cold day. For no reason at all. My first instinct was to say no… but then I thought, “why not?”

We were the ONLY ones there. The only car in the parking lot. The only humans as far as the eye could see. It was good to be alone.

The smell of fall in the air mixed with the smell of the beach – sand, water, trees… my lungs were hungrier to breathe that in than I’d even realized.

My kids took off, excited to have the entire expanse to themselves. Theirs were the only footprints in sight.

15027909_10154797699523933_1973148621075045243_nI followed along but found myself sinking down to sit on a random driftwood log facing the uncharacteristically giant waves in our Great Lake.

And then I thought.

A seagull dodging the waves caught my eye and so I watched him. How he worked so hard, pumping his wings to get up to a certain height but then once he made it, he just spread out his wings and soared. Effortlessly. Peacefully. Until he came down and had to work once again to get up to where he wanted to be. He did this over and over. He didn’t give up. He didn’t curse the water or throw himself down or even fly away. He just dealt with it.

This might sound crazy, but that bird made me think: how sometimes waves flatten out just like glass, but other times they rise up like the ocean in a storm. And we are powerless to stop them. We are mere spectators as the waves just keep on coming. Sometimes it takes a LOT of work to get to a point where you can look around and soar.

Isn’t that the same as the storms that come through our lives? Through our families? Through our country? The only thing – and I mean the ONLY thing – we have complete control over is how we choose to deal with the storms.

A shriek of laughter floated back to me on the wind and I turned to see my children as they ran down the beach. Healthy. Tall. Strong legs dodging the spray, sturdy arms tossing rocks and dragging sticks to make “tail trails” in the sand.

Without warning, my eyes filled with tears.

How will I teach them to deal with things that shouldn’t happen? How will I teach them to love when it’s undeserved? How will I teach them the value of hard work? The importance of just letting some things go? To do the right thing, even when it’s hard? To treat people with respect even when you don’t understand their choices?

And I’m not sure about all of that. I didn’t have an epiphany. I still don’t know how to teach them, other than by example and a whole lot of praying.

But as I sat there with the sun on my back and the wind in my face, I realized that sometimes, you just have grab onto a tiny piece of peace wherever and whenever you can. And you have to tuck it into your heart to save for the rough days that are bound to come. And when you have to work – really work – to climb back up to where you want to be (and you better believe it’s going to happen again and again) you just have to bring that peace out and hold onto it.

Hold it tight. Love your children. Love your country. Love your neighbor.

Date Night with my Daughter

Last night my oldest daughter and I had an impromptu “date night.”

Over the past month, she read all of The Hunger Games Books (she’s 11, almost 12.) I waffled back and forth over whether or not she was “old enough” to read them, but I finally decided to let her go ahead. I read them and loved all them – I think it took me about a week to finish all three (the first one I devoured in about 24 hours.)

Anyway, her dad got the first 3 movies for her and they had a little movie marathon over the weekend, much to the dismay of my other children – I’m somewhat adamant concerning my “read the book before you watch the movie” stance.

So last night, he took over dinner and bedtime duties and sent the two of us out on a Mockingjay Date. As we drove to the theater, I explained to her that this was a big honor for her, since usually if a movie is one I really want to see, I go by myself. That way I don’t have to worry about anyone talking, asking questions or ahem, or making fun of (I’m talking to you, dear husband) the story lines, plots, special effects, etc.

She replied with, “Tell me about it! Dad talked through all three movies because he didn’t know what was going on! I had to explain everything!” I cast a sidelong glance her way. “You know why?” Simultaneously, we said, “Because HE didn’t read the books!” Then we laughed. It’s nice to share a love of reading with my girl, who is growing up at a somewhat exponential rate of speed.

Sometimes I feel like I don’t know how to talk to her anymore and it scares me. I know she’s my same little girl in there, but she looks (and acts) so mature. She “gets” things – jokes and puns and metaphors – that a couple of years ago I would’ve had to explain to her. Heck, she “gets” more things than I do these days.

We only whispered necessary information to each other (like “What happened when I was gone to the bathroom?”) and she was a perfect “important movie” companion.

My favorite moviespart of the entire night was when she reached over to hold my hand during one of the scary parts (she knew it was coming – I’d forgotten all about it.) Later she put her head on my shoulder. Snuggling with this one is a rare occurrence… she’s got it in her head that she’s a loner, but I suspect otherwise.

On the way home, we stopped for a milkshake. She’s a Mint Chocolate Chip and Oreo kind of girl. We talked about the movie and the story line in general. We talked about possible meanings and themes and applications in our lives today. I tried to listen more than I talked. She’s such an interesting little person.

Well, not so little. She’s almost as tall as me. She’s strong, she’s thoughtful, she’s helpful, she’s kind, she’s so smart and reflective. I’m so proud that she’s mine… and that she’s her own person, too.

I have to remind myself to enjoy these moments more instead of worrying that they are going by too fast. Sometimes I ruin them by overthinking it. Live in the moment, right? Seize the day!

And also, when your almost-teenage daughter offers to hold your hand and snuggle with you, especially in public, seize that too.

Falling Again

IMG_3506I’m ready to hibernate.

Our entire summer was a blur: sleepaway camps, day camps, Bible School, Volleyball Camp, Art Camp, fishing, swimming, the beach, the lake, trips to NC to visit family and the Outer Banks, Niagara Falls….

I don’t even remember everything that we did. Just that it was a LOT. As the mom, this involved a lot of sorting, cleaning, planning (not my strong suit), logistics (also not my strong suit), HOURS of driving (that either), and laundry (ah yes, there it is: laundry is my strong suit.)

But now the trips are done. The boogie boards are back in the attic where they belong. The car is vacuumed. The laundry is all done (not all put away, mind you, but it’s washed and dried, at least).

And now? Now I just want to stay home.

So we’ve finally traded in the beach bag and the flip-flops for hoodies and boots. We’ve tracked down some matching gloves and a couple of hats – just in case. The leaves and acorns are getting tracked into the kitchen, right on schedule. The mums look like they are lighting fires in yards all over the neighborhood.

I love the smell of a bonfire and the crunch of dry, crackly leaves. I love blazing oranges and reds and golden yellow with neon green edged leaves. I love watching the fat gray squirrels chuck acorns at us from high in our giant oak tree. I love the chill in the early morning and how, after the sun goes down, the breeze brings that little whispery message that winter is thinking about us and might just pay us a visit sometime soon. I love falling asleep to the sounds of football on TV. I love how the kids run in and out, trying to decide if they’re too hot or too cold – and sometimes capturing wooly-boogers (their term for those brown and black fuzzy caterpillars.)

We’ve done the Family Fun Fest, gone to a couple of pumpkin patches, attended a build-your-own-scarecrow party (there are now 4 big scarecrows holding a creepy vigil in my front yard), and guzzled down the mandatory 2 gallons or so of local apple cider. We went creek-stomping, explored the woods, and picked some apples.

My fall to-do list is just about done!
The only thing left is to hunker down, light a fire in the fireplace, and do absolutely nothing for the next few months.

Or maybe four.

Big Boy – My Baby is Four!

-from my 11/6/14 article for Lake County Today.

My baby boy turns four this week.
FOUR.
I’m not quite ready for it. Four doesn’t seem very much like a baby, does it? And I’m not ready to not have a “baby.”
He’s my youngest child, and though I don’t think he’s a big boy, he insists that he is.
When he’s sleepy, he still sucks on his two fingers and rolls his “fuzzy” (a little piece of fuzz he pulled off from his blue blanket) back and forth between his fingers, looking like the baby he is – to me, anyway. When he’s asleep (usually on the couch), his long eyelashes seem to almost touch his little cherub-cheeks. He throws his arms up over his head or curls up in a ball on his side, one arm around Dino or Mousie. His blankets are always tangled and one little foot is always sticking out.
He’s an early riser. Nearly every morning, he pads into my bedroom on bare feet and stage whispers, “Hey Mom! Can I snuggle wif you?” Then he climbs in and sticks his cold feet on my legs and scooches down next to me. He pats my cheek and plays with my hair, I rub his little head and say, “You’re my favorite little boy in the whole world.” “Uh-uh,” he says, pulling his fingers from his mouth with a soft pop. “Uh-uh, I am not a widdle boy. I am a BIG boy.”
Well. He’s still my little boy – for now, anyway. Here is a compilation of some of his wonderful-ness as he begins his 4th year.
If you ask him something that he thinks is obvious, he responds with “Why wouldya say so?” e.g.,“Jed, would you like a popsicle?” “Uh, YEAH! Why wouldya say so?”

He likes to play with his “golfing cwubs.” He says, “Hey, do you wanna watch me pway golfing?” He loves going to play Putt-Putt and he’s a great encourager: “Dat was so close, Dad! You almost got it, Dad!”

He likes playing basketball. He shoots and tries to get it in what he calls his “basketball hook.” “Hey, Dad! Hey, watch dis! I got it in da basketball hook! Dat was a good hook! Good score! Boo ya!” Sometimes he plays basketball with his sister Adelaide. She throws it as hard as her little 6-year-old arms can and it bounces off the rim and hits her in the face. Jed says, “Owie! Gimme a dang it five!”

He likes throwing footballs, playing catch with his “baseball mitten,” running full speed wherever he goes, and constantly hitting things with sticks. He likes dirt, worms, dinosaurs, and cows. He loves playing with his three older sisters, which he refers to collectively as The Sisters, e.g., “Whure are Da Sisters?”

He likes to work on stuff. One day he was in his room for the longest time, just working away at the little tool bench his grandma got him for Christmas. As he walked into the kitchen, I said, “Whatcha been doing?” With his little thumb, he motioned behind him toward his room, then hitched up his pants and sauntered over to get a drink. He said, in a low, “manly” voice: “Oh, I was in dere doing some work. Working on stuff. You know, just finishing up some stuff.”

He doesn’t understand time yet. He thinks that anything in the future is going to happen on Tuesday. “Can we go on Tuesday? How about on Tuesday? Are we going to the park? Maybe you can tink about it? You know, on Tuesday?”

Anything in the past, however, is on Monday. Jed told his papaw: “It was on Monday dat I caught a fish. And we went to da zoo on Monday. And also to da beach on Monday.” Then Jed asked Papaw, “When can I swim in da pool at your house? Maybe on Tuesday?”

In his own words: “I wike twactors. I wike pickup twucks and I want a pink one when I gwow up. I wuv worgurt. And going at da Flo-Yo. My favowite is vee-nella.”

He informed his grammie that he is less than impressed with my cooking skills. She asked him, “What does your mom cook that you like to eat?” He said, “Nuffin’! It is dee-scusting. But my dad cooks and dat is dee-wicious.”

He points at things with his middle finger (much to my dismay) and he answers the phone “Who it is?” When he has a bad day he groans and says: “Uuuuuurh! I don’t like ANYBODY!”

After I tucked him into bed tonight while I was typing this up, I heard his little voice outside my bedroom door:

“Mom? I wuv you.
“And Mom? I will be your little boy for a long, long time.”

Me: “Are you sure?”

“Uh, YEAH, Mom! Why wouldya say so?”

A (Great) Great-Grandma

-from my 5/13/15 article for Lake County Today.

My 82-year-old grandmother is a world-traveler.

Well, not exactly a world-traveler, but she’s traveled farther (from the mountains of North Carolina all the way to Northeast Ohio) in her 8th decade of life than she ever has before.

She has 3 children (including my mom), 5 grandchildren, 9 great-grandchildren, and a multitude of people who think of her as their mom or grandma. (Most of my friends grew up calling her Grandma, too.)

She’s here in Ohio for the time being, and over Mother’s Day weekend it suddenly hit me: I am so very blessed that my children not only were able to meet their great-grandmother, but that they have actually gotten to know her.

Not many children have that opportunity.

My grandma has been a constant fixture in my life. Until I was an adult, she never lived more than 5 minutes away. I used to stop by her house after school for a glass of cornbread and milk and to chat with her and my grandpa, her husband of 53 years.

There are so many things I love about that woman: her little hands, wrinkled with the wear of living for 82 years, yet still so soft and smooth. She’s always quick to mend a tear with her needle and thread (kept conveniently in a blue cookie tin along with her aqua-colored “clips,” as she calls her scissors.) She’s always made do with whatever she had and though she’s never had much money, she’s always been content with her modest possessions. She’s a pro at peeling apples for any waiting child (using a dull knife that has to be at LEAST 38 years old, since it’s been in her kitchen drawer since before I was born.)

She fusses about:

  • Kids’ hair (“Honey, get that hair out of your eyes! I can’t see your pretty face!”)
  • Lack of slips – the only proper undergarment for a southern church-going young lady (“Gracious sakes, where is your slip? I can see straight through that skirt!”)
  • Incompetence at dish-washing (“Well, I might as well just do it myself.”)
  • Clutter placed just so (“There’s a place for everything and a thing forevery place, you know.”)
  • Half-hearted dusting of furniture (“If you don’t do it right the first time, you’ll just have to do it again!”)

But any time I can’t sleep because I’m anxious or nervous, other words of hers somehow always pop into my head. It’s been 12 years since my grandpa died and she recently told me that for a long time, it’s just been her and the Lord. She said that He’s always been there for her and that He’s always been her best friend.

And even when she’s far away, I can close my eyes and see her sitting there in her chair with her glass of water (no ice), her cup of coffee (black, please) and her big Bible on her lap. She says, “Dear child, in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.” I’ve never known her to be worried or hopeless. Even when my grandpa died, she was one of those people who said, “Trust in the good Lord, and lean not on your own understanding.”

She’s lived through so much. The Great Depression (I’m pretty sure this is why she saves EVERYTHING – she has a collection of Tupperware that would blow your mind), World War II, growing up poor, floods, raising 7 younger siblings when her mama died… more than 8 decades of changes and births and deaths and happiness and heartache and life.

She’s the kind of grandma who invites strangers over for Sunday dinner after church and feeds them copious amounts of pinto beans, biscuits, and chicken and dumplings. Who, when you’re trying to leave, chases you out to your car with a paper bag full of fried squash and barbeque chicken in case you might need a snack later. Who says, “Y’all come on in here and gitcha somethin’ to eat. And here’s some bread. Can’t eat without bread, you know!”

She’s the kind of grandma who makes you go outside and break your own switch for her to swat you with when you’ve been sassy. The kind who – horror of horrors! – makes you sit on the couch holding hands with the cousin you’ve just had a fight with until you hug and make up.

Oh, and she’s also the kind of grandma who always buys you and your cousins underwear for Christmas.

She’s the kind of grandma who can’t sit down, can’t be still, and she always has to be busy doing something: picking up dirt off the floor (dirt that’s invisible to the naked eye), messing with her plants, cooking, writing, watering her flowers, reading, looking at pictures of her grandchildren, rearranging things, re-washing dishes, re-making beds (because you didn’t do it exactly right the first time).

Between what she taught me – and what she taught my mom – I’ve learned so much:

Have a good work ethic. Be faithful. Go to church. “Do” for your family. Love your sweetheart. Don’t let anyone go hungry. Trust. Do things right the first time, but give second chances. Be kind to everyone – even invite them over for dinner.

She trusts in the Lord with all her heart – and I so hope that one day I’ll be able to say that I’ve followed in her footsteps.

No, she’s never had much money – but the legacy she’ll leave behind her one day is worth more than gold.