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family, life, parenting

The Grace Umbrella

I hit the jackpot with Tim and the boys as my family.  Even when we have gone through our hard times it has been relatively easy.  When outside forces come knocking, or even the inside ones, threatening to make a mess on our living room floor, we have gotten through.  We all made it out alive.  I got lucky with them.  They are my people; my small little circle is tight.

Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had our fair share of issues.  Marriage stuff, parenting ordeals, relationship crap.  Everybody has it,  just like us.  It’s different of course, because it involves different people, different situations, different everything.  But then again, it’s all the same.  We all have our “stuff” just the details and characters have other names.

Tim and the boys have always been a safe warm place for me.  They are my home.  My sanity.  Our zip code has changed, some have come and gone from our outer circle, some have stayed the same.  We’ve weathered a lot and grown up immeasurably, but it’s always been the four of us and for that I’m grateful.

When I say I got lucky with them, I guess it’s really not luck at all.  It’s been an enormous amount of hard work and many a time being crumpled up on the floor, teary and red faced.  Tim and my boys are my safe place, not because it’s been easy and the world has been kind to us, but because we all practice grace.  Emphasis on the practice part.  Mess-ups happen, hurtful words spewed, bad decisions made by all parties.  But here’s the funny thing about grace and forgiveness, even when you screw up those very concepts, you can still move on to higher ground.  Even un-grace-filled times can be covered over later.  Each day the sun rises and we begin anew, some days its each and every minute we have to begin again and move on, but the fact remains, restarts are a way of life when grace is your umbrella.

Last week, Tim and I were sitting in each of the boys’ classrooms.  Their teachers raved about what good boys we had.  I waved their comments away with, “Oh, yeah, we got lucky with our boys.”  I don’t know why I said that.  That is even my usual response to compliments like that.  “Pshaw, yeah, we got lucky.”

It’s not luck though and our good fortune didn’t just fall into our laps.  We put a huge amount of thought and effort into our family relationships, but that doesn’t fully explain it all.  Tim and I fully know we are going to make mistakes in how we parent the boys.  We don’t know it all, but that won’t stop us from trying to learn how to improve.  We will always be in search of creating closeness and trust and love with our boys.  As their needs grow and evolve, so will our love and support.

We also have a goal to make sure they don’t grow up to be total assholes.  Yes, they’ll probably end up sitting on their therapists’ couches talking about their abundance of issues, but I sure hope assholeism won’t be one of the diagnoses.

Our hard work and parenting effort does not produce “good” boys.  I don’t agree with that because the adverse is also not true.  If our kids were “bad” it would not be because we are “bad” parents.  They make mistakes as kids, so do we as parents, but the mistakes do not define us.  The successes are not our trademark either.  The new beginnings, the restarts, the grace and forgiveness, that is what I hope is our calling card.

When our boys step out into the world, I hope they can use this relational practice.  We don’t even have to create synthetic scenarios, all four of us make enough mistakes as it is.  By the time they become adults, I’m sure the list of authentic situations will be too large to count.

This is not to say I want them to stay in damaging or abusive relationships.  That is a whole different bag.  Critical thinking and emotional intelligence will come in handy if they ever encounter something like that.  I just want them to know that people are messy and that it is normal.  They themselves are allowed to be messy too, as long as they show grace to themselves and to others in the process.

I think that is what the teachers see in our boys.  When they say they are “good,” they aren’t talking about merits or the fact that they checked off boxes of rules followed.  I know this because I’m pretty sure “good” boys don’t end up in the principal’s office.  My boys are not strangers to getting in trouble at recess, but again, those mistakes don’t pigeon hole them.  They have their ugly moments and their beautiful, standing in glory moments.  Isn’t that what life is all about, embracing both kinds of moments?  And never being defined by one or the other.  That is what is real.

It takes a lot of guts to be okay with the face down in the mud times AND the head held high moments.  I hope my boys will be brave and real and not let either singularly represent them.  I hope they learn from both the highs and lows.  Mostly I hope grace and love will be their ultimate goals.  I want them to be mine too.


deep down, faith, family, friends

The Next Step

Today is a one step in front of the other kind of day.  Yesterday was a struggle to get off the couch day.  There is progress being made, I know, but it still doesn’t feel like it.

Things have snowballed lately.  The good mixed with the hard.  We went along with Tim on his European business trip.  Then some of our besties came up to visit.  We buried my grandmother.  The woman who I always saw as our quiet matriarch.  As we ended another successful baseball season, I got asked to coach the summer All-Star team.  Then vacation ended, our friends flew home and we went back to normal life, knowing they would be states away and months would go by before we saw them again.  Summer is looming and our daily life will look different.  Jack’s birthday was a month ago and I haven’t even planned his party yet.  We need another car and I hate car shopping.

When the positive stuff gets mixed in with the hard situations, it all seems overwhelming.  I have a hard time compartmentalizing and I tend to overgeneralize so much so that I cannot pick out and appreciate the good.  The responsibilities and to-do lists pile up for even the positive happenings and those begin to turn negative in my mind.

The other day I was thinking of how magical it would be to go live off the grid, on some farm by a lake or river.  But then I realized that I would get so tired of wearing my hippy clothes after a few weeks and would begin to salivate at the thought of ordering a pizza.  There would be gardens to weed and grass to mow and my simple chic cabin to repair.  I threw my magical dream aside and consoled myself with the ease of online shopping.  Off-trail hippy dreams are so exhausting.

Yesterday I tried to do some of the things I know help in times like these.  I sent off some one liner prayers and meditations that St. Annie likes.  Help, please.  Thanks.  Then I opened up my bible and read about how we are all in this together.  There is no us and them, it’s just us.

But today I did the same thing and read about how there is us and them.  I got mad and sent off some more simple prayers.  Why?  I don’t get it.  I thought we are all in the same family.  The whole, us versus them thing hasn’t quite worked out in all of history.  So contradictory and off-message.

I took more baby steps, in hopes of jumping out of the hole.  I folded some laundry and made breakfast.  I went for a run, following the boys as they rode their bikes to school.  I waved and yelled,  “I love you!” as they waved back and pretended they didn’t hear that last part in front of their friends.  They’ve got to keep up appearances, I know that.

Today I am going to keep moving.  Keep breathing and putting one foot in front of the other.  It won’t always be like this.  I won’t always feel like this.  Tomorrow might be better or worse, but all I can accomplish is that next step.

For now, that next step will be to hit publish.  I might try to edit this a bit, but that will probably be too much for today, just a heads up.

family, life bumps, memories

For My Mama Addie

My Mama Addie is gone.

A few years back she started to slowly slip away.  The glimmer in her eyes faded gradually.  I think she’s been gone for a while now but her body hung on.  She was ready to go but I have a feeling she stayed for us, her beloved ones.  She knew we needed a little piece of her to cling onto for a little while longer.  She lingered here because we weren’t quite ready for her to go.  But who is ever ready to say goodbye to someone like her, with her quiet grace and her stubborn beauty.

There’s never a good time to say goodbye.  It hurts, no matter how long or short the life.  Her’s was a long life, but it still feels too short.

Now, all that’s left here with us are the memories and the love she spread.  All my thoughts lately begin with, “I remember…”  And that is her gift.  She is gone now, but her love is not.  Love never dies and it never fails, as long as we continue to pour it out as she poured it into us.

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The memories pile up and for that I’m grateful.  The grief is hard but those snapshots of the past help the loss and the wallowing feel productive.  They make the waiting in this deep dark expanse a little more colorful, especially when it feels so bleak.

I remember a cupboard in her kitchen she left empty for Ryna, Mickey and I.  As she worked her culinary magic, we would play inside that tiny spot.  Sometimes we would chat, other times the quiet bound us together.  Both were good, both were needed.  There is holiness in the verbal back and forth just as the quiet is sacred.  One working, three playing, no need for the words to muddle the space between.

I remember the summer before my sixth grade year.  I had already spent my school clothes budget when I saw the-coolest-shirt-that-ever-was at The Bon Marche.  Somehow Mama Addie found out that I desperately wanted, needed, that shirt.  You see, grandmas don’t have to stick to school clothes budgets like parents do.  They’ve put in their budget years.  They’ve earned their spoiling rights and get to do whatever the heck they want with their checkbooks.

Mama Addie asked me to show her this glorious shirt.  I made sure to explain how practical it was, with it’s light-weight, versatile fabric.  Blue and gray stripes that would match absolutely everything currently hanging in my closet.  Also, even though it wasn’t a coat or a sweatshirt, IT HAD A HOOD. I am not even lying, this fashion miracle was real, and I wanted it bad. Ingenious design, super cool, it was everything a sixth grader wanted in an article of clothing.  This was THE shirt for me.

After hearing me plead my case, she grabbed that shirt off the rack and marched up to the register. She didn’t mess around, a business transaction needed to be completed and nothing could distract her.  Her eyes smiled as she passed that purchased gem into my hands.  She always appreciated good fashion.  It didn’t matter if she couldn’t understand the younger generation’s style, she took my word for it.  Shopping isn’t for the weak-hearted.  And neither is grandmothering tweenage girls.  She rocked both; she was a brave woman.

She may or may not have bought me that shirt so I would finally shut up about it.  Most likely though, she purchased that gift because she knew I loved it and she loved me.  That was her kind of logic.  Love logic.

Please note: I wore that shirt the first day of sixth grade and for picture day.  I put it into the weekly rotation as many times as I my mother would let me.  Also, my friends and teachers may have been worried that I only had one shirt that school year.  Even though that striped beauty was a frequent flyer, I never, ever, wore it out to play.  As soon as I got home from school, I changed into a lesser play shirt because there was no way I was ruining it.  That shirt was valuable, priceless actually, my Mama Addie bought it for me.

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I remember her always being classy, always put together.  Perfect make-up, perfect curls, perfect outfit.  All of that on the outside though, was just a reflection of the beauty on the inside.  Her true beauty shone out through her eyes.  Bright blue and sparkly with the skin wrinkling around them, evidence of her creaking, contagious giggle.  The outfits, the make-up, the hair, all these were just accessories to the real Mama Addie.  She was an in-the-background kind of lady.  A get-things-done-without-complaining person.  A you-need-something?-here-you-go woman.  She had big ideas and beliefs, but she would only share those within the small circle.  She was like the coffee she used to drink, strong, fragrant and bold.

She loved to fill bellies and give gifts.  Her love came in fresh baked bread and strawberry freezer jam.  Her love was spread through homemade fateman and krumkake.  I learned to count through Skip-Bo games at her table.  Later her handwritten numbers on shipyard ledgers taught me the ins and outs of budgeting and bookkeeping.  We spent hours playing Hand and Foot and other card games her friends had taught her.  Her table was always open to us.  Whether it was filled with food, cards or conversation, she never turned us away.

I remember she used to rock me to sleep on her voluptuous “pillows” in that creaky old glider.  I drifted off to sleep in the comfort of her lap and to the sound of the waves crashing outside onto the beach.  Later on, when I was older, I still occasionally stayed over at her house. I was a little too old and too big to be rocked to sleep so she tucked me in after a story and crept back downstairs to clean up and retire to her bedroom.  One of those nights, I woke up scared in the black of night, so I tip-toed downstairs into her bedroom to tell her.  Part of me still knew that, although her lap had shrunk and I didn’t fit on it anymore, I still needed the comfort she always provided.  I had grown, but I still needed her.  I slowly opened her bedroom door, but the excruciatingly loud snores coming from her side of the bed frightened me even more so I scampered out quickly and ran back into bed without waking her.

She would hate that I called her out on the snoring.  She wouldn’t have said anything verbally, instead, she would have spoke with her eyes.  Her brow furrowed, her chin set.  That stubborn scowl spoke volumes.  It would let me know that I was in trouble now.  Then a few seconds would go by, the shiny eyes would return, the corners of her lips would curl back up and all would be forgiven.

Even though she was quiet lady, she was bold.  One time she went shopping and bought a really fancy dress.  Next, she proceeded to tell my cousin that she bought it to wear to his wedding.  Granted, he hadn’t even proposed yet, but she was antsy for things to move along.  She wasn’t always direct, but you got her message anyway.

It was the same way with her love.  It wasn’t always spelled out but you got the message anyway.

In her lifetime she didn’t receive world-renown attention.  Her name won’t be written in any history books.  She would have hated that spotlight anyway.  Instead, she quietly, stubbornly, and sometimes sternly, loved her family and friends.  She loved her husband, raised her two boys, welcomed their two wives and spoiled her three granddaughters.  She loved Tim from the start and got to have flashbacks of her own early mothering years while watching our two boys toddle and wrestle around.  She loved us all fiercely and for that she will always be in the spotlight of our hearts.  Her name, forever recorded in our own personal history books.  She left her mark on us, that is her legacy.

Her brave love was not for the faint of heart.

She was spunky and quirky and classy in the best way.  I like to humor myself in thinking she passed some of that down to me.  When I grow up, I want to be like her.  Humbly giving, selflessly serving and relishing in the joy that is found in family and friends.

Good thing she taught me to love by her strong example.  Good thing she still gives her gifts and teaches me lessons in the form of memories.  Good thing she passed down her stubborn heart, or else I would crumble underneath the weight of her loss.

There is no conclusion to her life because we are still here.  Her love is still here.  Her spunk and stubbornness live on.  I just wish she was still sitting at the table with us, dealing out those cards or piling food onto our plates.

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