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life, parenting

The Pendulum Swing

Sometimes there are magical, shiny moments where all four of us are sitting together in the same room, either doing the same thing or separate activities in a solidarity of simple togetherness.  In these moments, the house is put together and deep cleaned four times over.  The pets don’t shed a hair and never scoot their behinds on our carpet.  Homework  and workwork is done and we are either doing deeply educational activities or wrapping ourselves in fuzzy, warm quality time.  We are all prepped for the duties to come and the chores have been done with reckless enthusiasm.  All is well in our humble life and the flutters travel from my core to my limbs.  I think I want to live in this moment forever and I want the boys to use this exact moment as the defining cornerstone of their childhood.

Enter the conflicted gremlins.  I panic in my ideology struggle.

These times are real, but so are the messy, falling apart ones.  Times when the house is seeping black goo from its seams and we step over mysterious sticky spots for the 144th day in a row.  Times when we argue, lose patience with each other and spit nasty attitude venom.  There are moments when everyone insists upon slurping their cereal and half-assing their table wipe-downs and laundry detail.  In these times school is hard, extracurriculars pose problems and work is impossible.  Life just plain sucks.  All four of us squint at each other in an effort to wrack our brains to rediscover the good times.  Was it all just a myth?  Our memories betray us.  Instead we wallow in despair and cannot remember any sunshiny days.

In theory, I want the boys to know that this is real life too.  It’s a hard one because I want them to have a realistic view on everyday living, but I don’t want it to be traumatic either.  Maybe I do want them to remember the sticky, gooey times as being the cornerstone of their childhoods.  Then, when they fly out of the coop, they won’t believe they are failures when everything doesn’t go their way.  When failures come or hard times knock, they will remember this isn’t their first experience with the ugly.

When I am clear headed, with both the flutters and gremlins pushed away, I realize that both are equal parts truth.  Both tell the whole story and sing the whole song.  I hope they remember that life is both beautifully easy and disgustingly hard.  I want them to appreciate both and not feel guilty for either.  I want their picture to be whole and unedited.  I hope they remember that there are lessons to be learned in both the ups and the downs.  The life pendulum will not always be stuck in a lopsided position.  When life is hard, I hope my boys sit there a while and realize this is not the end and there may be enlightenment given.  This is only part of it.  When life becomes easy again, I hope they don’t feel guilty for enjoying that other section of living.  Learning may come in those times too, or they can be used as resting periods when it becomes easy to breath again.  The boys don’t have to be looking over their shoulder for tragedy either, instead using these times as a refill station.  Enjoying the moment, learning and taking huge gulps of fresh, bright air.

How the hell do you try to create a beautiful childhood for your children, but still keep them realistic and un-entitled, safe but un-sheltered?  I certainly do not want to be chasing after my boys, putting up fake plastic scaffolding and demanding that magical memories be made.  That’s just childhood trauma waiting to happen.  I also do not want to push them into a pessimistic life view.  The balance and realism is hard to find sometimes because when we are in one stage, good or hard, that’s all I can see.  Of course, I never overgeneralize anything.

I swear to tell my boys the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  I hope they see their childhood in the light of full honesty.  It’s hard though when you are in the moment of either extreme.  Maybe my boys will turn out to be more even keeled than their tipsy mom.  Even if they don’t, I guess I’ll be able to guide them through the swingy seas.


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.


adventures in adulthood, life

Superhero Neighbors

A couple months ago our neighborhood had the unfortunate opportunity to be ransacked.  A group of people came and went through all the cars in order to find some quick cash.  They knew that the people in our town have let their guards down.  When they sneaked into town in the middle of the night, they correctly assumed that they would find unlocked cars and valuables left inside.

Then it happened again a few weeks ago.  This time, the cops got called and a few arrests were made. It was sad on both sides  The kids, making poor choices and my neighbors, being taken advantage of.  Luckily, no one got hurt and everything taken was replaceable.  There was just the headache of cancelling credit cards and making police reports.

The morning after it happened, my neighbor and I were sitting on my front porch discussing the details.  A few more neighbors showed up and it turned into coffee and muffins and chat time on a Friday morning.  Unfortunate circumstances, but it brought us together.

We could have used it sit and blame unknown forces.  We could have gotten all riled up in between sips of coffee and bites of muffin.  There could have been overarching conclusions about the who’s and the why’s.  It could have made us all mad and we could have stomped through the rest of the day.

There was some of that, but we all tried to steer clear of the stuff that doesn’t matter.  Discussing those things won’t help the situation.

My neighbor and I decided to do something about it.  A block party seemed to be the next step.  We spent the rest of the morning planning and notifying the whole neighborhood.  We parted ways with simple grocery lists.  All the neighbors wanted to come and contribute.

The afternoon of the party arrived.  A card table came from one house and table cloths came from another.  Huge bags of chips came from the house over there and utensils came from over here.  A tent showed up, ice was poured into the cooler and somehow capri-suns appeared.  Everybody brought food to share and kids to play.  It wasn’t fancy.  Just hot dogs, homemade food and camp chairs.

Another neighbor invited a local police officer and he stayed the whole two hours.  He educated us on some safety precautions.  Some things I didn’t know, like how easy it is to get into a locked garage.  He also taught us about things we already knew, but needed reminding.  You know, grand ideas like locking cars and taking out keys and purses.

At one point I looked around and smiled.  The sun was shining, the kids had somehow changed into bathing suits and found water guns, neighbors were talking to old friends and meeting new ones.  My heart was warm and squishy.  All our neighbors, not blaming or shaming, just togetherness, communication and safety.  It was amazing.  Unfortunate circumstances, but it brought us together.

Superhero Neighbors

Since then, I’ve learned that my neighbors are superheros.  One lady works all weekend, taking care of victims of sexual assault, then she comes home to feed her family, love her dogs and carpools all her kids’ friends and teammates to practices, games, school and church events.  She also loves my kids and chases after my runaway dog.  Superhero.

Another couple just sent their only son off to college last fall.  Now the empty nesters let our kids play in their yard as they quietly keep an eye on them.  They don’t huff and puff and grumble about our naughty kids.  They just smile and spend their off time organizing a neighborhood block watch.  Superheros.

Another neighbor recently beat cancer.  Pretty much on a weekly basis, he brings us food or drink or a cover for our grill after he saw we neglected it and left it out during a rain storm.  No judgement there, just gifts and neighborly love and sometimes beer.  When he finds out our kids have baseball games, he shows up to cheer them on.  He’s a superhero.

All our other neighbors are superheros too.  One is a hairstylist so on Easter she fancied up another neighbor girl”s hair because that girl’s own mom was working that day.  Another is a retired man, caring for his impeccable yard and ailing mother.  One couple has four children in 15 different activities, all at the same time.  Those two still find time to walk hand in hand and take a date stroll down the block.  Another lady is pregnant and takes care of her toddler first born.  She left the party early for nap time.  Others quietly throw rogue baseballs back into our yard.  Some drive extra slow by our houses because they know kids play here and forget to look both ways.  Still others send gifts of smiles and waves as they walk and drive by.  Superheros, all of them.

The party was very educational.  I learned about togetherness and safety.  I discovered hidden capes on all my neighbor’s backs.  And I learned that there are these new-fangled ways to make your lawn look pretty.  People threw around words like thatching and aerating and fertilizing.

I know nothing of these mysteries.  Their lawns look beautiful compared to our brown and weedy one.  My next book purchase will probably have to be something with green and grass in the title.

I could have let my embarrassing lawn stop me from organizing the party.  Most of the time I panic and quit before I start these events because I don’t want neighbors and friends to see the imperfections in me, my house and my lawn.  I don’t want to admit that I need help in organizing and providing the food.  Also, it’s way easier bitching and moaning about an unfortunate occurrence than doing anything about it.

But then I miss out.

I miss out on the chance to give and I miss out on the chance to receive.  Sometimes giving looks like completely processed hot dogs and sugary juice boxes.  Sometimes receiving looks like forgetting about your ugly lawn so a neighbor can set a camp chair on it.

There is a peace that comes when you set your table and your neighbor’s and friend’s bellies fill up.  They eat your food and you eat theirs.  When you talk, they listen and when their mouths open, your ears and heart open up too.  It becomes holy ground when the give and take occurs.  We share food, conversation and everyday lives.  Conversation and camaraderie happens around the flimsy card table sitting on your uneven driveway.

Both hosts and guests souls fill up when lives are shared.  Hospitality is a two way street.  You can give, give, give all day long, but if you never receive, you miss out.  If you just stick with the giving, you put yourself above the ones receiving.  Every single person needs help sometimes.  If you pretend you don’t, your own gifts are tainted.  They are handed down instead of traded between friends, equals.  And here’s the secret: we are all on the same level.  We always have been, some just don’t know it yet.  We are all in this together, even the ones who decide to make poor choices and open car doors that don’t belong to them.

There are many, many unfortunate circumstances and happenings.  Let’s use them to bind us together.  Let’s use them to get to know each other a little more.  Let’s use them to throw a party.  Then we can all learn about safety, superheros and green grass magic.