Just Thinking

Driving home from work the other day, I deviated from my usual route to pick up man-child Jack from football practice. (His twin and co-driver, Charlie, is currently in an immobilizer after shoulder surgery last week. He’d already driven himself and Sam home from school, so he was done driving for the day.) I’ll admit, it’s been a small slice of heaven since the boys acquired their own car last spring. My daily Uber-ing was cut in half, having to only pull a pick-up from the elementary school. As delightful as it’s been to let them shuttle themselves, there are times I miss our car time together. We had a lot of good conversations over the years, as I schlepped them to school, practices, games, friends’ houses, etc. Of course, there were also a fair amount of disagreements, flat-out arguments, nit-picking, and other vocal unrest that would leave me shouting, “Not. One. More. Word. From. Anyone. Until. We. Get. Home.” I’ve mostly blocked those instances, opting to recall high-spirits and hilarity that often filled my car. So, having to swing by the high school on my way home made me smile more than eye-roll and sigh.

Taking an alternate route led me past the hospital where the twins were born, a little over 18 years ago. Eighteen years?! As many wise mothers had warned me, those years did, in fact, pass quickly. Lightning-fast, really. I glanced up and saw the window of our hospital room, located just over the entrance. When the kids were younger, and we’d drive by, I’d always point it out and say, “Look! There’s our room!” I’m sure it lost its charm on them as they grew older, but it’s always a sentimental reminder for me. It also makes me recall the exact second I heard first-born Jack belt out his freedom cry, and the split-second of sheer panic I had, thinking, “I am so not ready for these babies.” I remember being back in the room after my C-Section, lying flat on my back, and having a nurse place two, blanket-wrapped newborns on my chest. And then, the next morning when a nurse brought me Jack, while Charlie stayed in the nursery until he could regulate his temperature. He was freshly bathed, smelling of baby soap, and his dark hair was slicked into an adorable comb-over. He looked like a tiny little gentleman, all spruced up to go visit his Mama. Thinking of them as babies, led me to remembering them as toddlers, then pre-schoolers, then school-aged, middle school… and somewhere along the line, they got man-voices, grew facial hair, and shot up to 6-ft. tall. When they were 3 or 4 and I could pick up each one and perch him on a hip — there was a time when I bent over to put them down,… and it was the last time I’d do that. For each of the kids, there was a last time I’d pick them up and hold them in my arms. Of course it never occurred to me at the time, but now? Oh, man… what I’d give to have them be that young again. Young enough to hold and cuddle one more time. Small enough to have them nuzzled under my chin, kissing their duck-fuzz baby hair as they drift off to sleep. If I think about it long enough, I come to understand when people say that their arms “ache” to hold someone.

And it isn’t just for Jack and Charlie; it goes for all our kids. While we are so incredibly proud of each one, for what they’re doing and where they are in life — there’s always going to be a little part of me that wishes back the days when they were holdable. (Yes, it’s a word. At least now anyway.)

When I reached the school and waited for practice to finish, I had more time to think. It isn’t a luxury I have very often, so I turned off the car, enjoyed the late afternoon sun and let each memory lead to the next. Thinking “in the now” almost 100 percent of the time is crazy and chaotic. What needs done today? Where do we need to be? What do I need to do for tomorrow? Next week? Next month? And while my brain is buzzing with all these “thinks,” all the memories get pushed aside, boxed up and, eventually, stacked neatly somewhere in mental storage. Then, all it takes is a few minutes of peace, or the visual prompt of a hospital room window, to tip over those boxes, spilling memories all over the place. And unlike dealing with spills in real life, I’m happy to go slow about the clean-up… and sit… just thinking.

 

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Quiet Day Reboot

A morning when I can sit and write, dog curled up on my left and coffee cup on my right, is usually something I only daydream about. Yet here I am, having this morning today.

Amazing.

The day won’t be all relaxation and leisure — there are always things to do and places to be. But for now? I’ll take this bliss. When I opened my writing file, the title of the following piece caught my eye. I kind of remembered the content, but not specifically, so I opened it. Written a year and a half ago, the piece focused on our often chaotic everyday life, and how I recognized “slowing down” as something to pursue.

Looking back now, I’m satisfied with my efforts to simplify things in my life. Granted, there are still times when I’m in maximum overdrive mode, but for the most part, things have calmed down. The one thing that had fallen off my radar was the concept of scheduling down time, so even if a day is spiraling out of control, I know there will be a set time to stop for a while. Stop moving. Stop stressing. Stop worrying. Stop planning for tomorrow and days ahead… Just. Stop.

I decided to reprint the essay here, because reminding ourselves to just stop is often a constant battle, even though things have gotten easier. Our current status is three high-schoolers and one in elementary. BUT, two high schoolers have their own transportation now, so I’ve been relieved of shuttling duties for the most part. I do feel like an Uber driver some days, but they’re fewer and farther between. Regardless, scheduling a quiet day (or even a quiet hour) would be welcomed. And let’s face it… a few minutes’ respite is always a good thing.

 

A Good Thing

While I’m not a full-throttle Martha Stewart devotee, I do love me some Living magazine throughout the year. I generally take her ideas, tips, recipes, etc. with a grain of rosemary-infused sea salt, integrating those that fall in line with my abilities, pantry inventory and required effort. (Although she almost lost me as a follower the day I received an email titled, “Life-Changing Laundry Tips.” Seriously. Want to give me a life-changing laundry tip? Tell me someone’s coming over to my house to do all the laundry.)

One of the magazine features that never fails to catch my eye is Martha’s calendar, in which the gentle reader gets a glimpse of what I’m sure is a scaled-down version of M’s monthly To Do list. In my most recent issue, the calendar spanned December and January. I’ll admit — I did enjoy a little wistful daydream as I read of her pre-holiday prep, which included decorating her tree and taking a horseback ride the same day. Imagine! We were lucky to have gotten our tree completely decorated in one day, with rearranging the living room to accommodate said tree, weeding out the strands of lights that decided to crap out on us this year, and tasking the kids with selecting only a few of their personal ornaments to hang among the wide array of family ornaments that needed branch real estate.

And then I saw it.

There is was, on January 10 — nestled between “make lemon curd” (and a horseback ride!) on the 9th, and “prune topiaries in greenhouse” on the 11th:

“Quiet day: plan garden for spring.”

Of all the daily agendas I’ve read over the years, I don’t remember seeing anything like this. Let me be clear — it wasn’t the garden planning that stopped me in my tracks.

Quiet. Day.

Leave it to Martha to reach into her hand-knitted bag-o-tricks and pull out a show-stopper like that, which, as she would say, is a “good thing.”

My own inclination toward slowing the pace in 2016 was instantly reinforced. I mean, if Martha’s going to stitch in a quiet day every once in a while, why shouldn’t I? The truth is, I’ve been really needing one. Or two. Or twenty. Here’s a sampling of what could be considered a “busy” day for me so far this school year:

5:20a   Wake and go for a 30 minute run

6:00     Home, coffee, shower

6:20     Wake middle-schooler

6:25     Wake middle-schooler

6:45     Threaten middle-schooler

6:50     Drive middle-schooler to school

7:20     Home, wake 1st grader

7:40     Walk 1st grader to bus

7:45     Home, wake high-schoolers

7:50     Wake high-schoolers

8:00     Threaten high-schoolers

8:15     Drive high-schoolers to school

8:45     Arrive at work

1:45p   Leave work

2:15     Pick up middle-schooler

3:00     Home, fetch 1st grader from bus, work at home remainder of afternoon

4:15     Pick up high-schoolers, transport to off-site sport practice

5:00     Home, begin dinner, begin laundry

6:30     Pick up high-schoolers from practice

7:00     Home, dinner

7:30     Help 1st grader with homework, clean up kitchen, continue laundry

8:00     Start 1st grader pre-bed routine

8:30     1st grader to bed, tell middle- and high-schoolers to shower

9:00     Remind middle- and high-schoolers to shower, continue laundry

9:15     Threaten middle- and high-schoolers

10:00   Lights out for kids, continue laundry

11:00   Tell myself to get to bed

11:15   Remind myself to get to bed, finish laundry

11:30   Threaten myself

11:45+ Bed

 

This is just an average sampling. Some days are less busy, some are even more chaotic. My husband is a firefighter, and works a 24-on/48-off schedule, so the days he’s on duty, I’m the Alpha Parent. (Those are the truly chaotic days!) On his off days, he totally picks up on critical items like cooking dinner, which is awesome. So, you can see how the idea of scheduling a Quiet Day is more than just a little appealing to me — and after 2015, it’s a requirement. Looking back over the past 12 months, a high-level glance would show a roller coaster that lurched to incredible highs and devastating lows. In between the peaks and valleys, the ride was rickety, bumping along at breakneck speed. Sure, there were enjoyable parts, but the feeling of constant busy-ness kept me from ever really relaxing enough to fully recharge and restore myself.

I had already planned some changes for the new year — not so much solid resolutions, but rather a general change of lifestyle. I need to slow down, place my focus where it should be — on my family, close friends,… even myself. I’ve grown tired of reaching each weekend feeling like the preceding week had chewed me up and spit me out. I was spending weekends feeling like I was treading water, and before I knew it, the week began and I was pounded with waves again. Yet despite doing this week after week, I still felt like taking time to relax and recharge was selfish. How could I possibly justify sitting down to write, read a book, or cruise HGTV with unfinished projects, clutter and laundry waiting in the wings?! I know a lot of other moms feel the same way. How did we get to this point? How many times have we forfeited what we “want” to do, for what we feel we “should” do? Cue the Mommy Guilt.

If all it takes is actually inking in a Quiet Day into our schedules, then let’s get on that train. Pick up those calendars, planners and smart phones. Pick a day, any day. Write it down. Make it official. We owe it to ourselves to set aside one day a week, or month, and regroup. Recharge. Rejuvenate.

My first Quiet Day is scheduled for Sunday, January 17, 2016.

Whose mans are these?

If you have teenagers, or peruse social media enough, you may have heard the phrase, “Whose mans is this?” I first heard it several months ago, from my 15-yr old. when we arrived home to see Stella (our Vizsla) standing like a sentry at a front window. Her physique — standing up with paws on the window ledge — can sometimes look eerily humanish.

Whose mans is this?!” Sam said, as we laughed at Stella. Hearing him utter this phrase made me laugh even harder. Sam’s verbal delivery is everything.

I figured it was pretty much self-explanatory, something along the lines of, “Who IS this person?” and/or “What is this person even doing?” Even so, I double-checked my resources (me and Urban Dictionary are like this *crosses fingers.*) which supported my assumed definition. Since that day, I’ve thrown the phrase around a few times, when appropriate. I like to think subtle references to current slang gives my street cred a li’l boost — at least in my sons’ eyes. (They tolerate me so kindly.)

This particular phrase has been rolling around my head lately, because I’ve noticed in the month or so since school let out, I’m seeing the four still-at-home-kids in new and different light. Glimpses of more maturity and responsibility,… and I swear Bobby’s had a five-inch growth spurt. (Eight-year-olds can often grow like weeds, am I right?!)

Whose mans are these?!

Perhaps the catalyst for this shift my perception came the last day of school. I was in the car, heading out somewhere with Bobby, while the two almost-18 ManChildren were leaving as well. They both stopped to say goodbye, and give their little brother hugs and high-fives. Charlie appeared at the passenger side window, and motioned for me to lower the window. When I did, he leaned in with his trademark smirk.

How does it feel to have two SENIORS now?

There was a certain amount of glee/excitement in his voice at his and Jack’s newly-acquired status, while his words pierced my heart. Seniors. SENIORS.

Ten weeks (actually seven weeks at this point) and the twin-babies will begin their senior year of high school. We’re officially on the clock. This should come as no surprise, as we’ve already had two kids graduate from both high school and college (one of whom has even relocated to NYC). It’s been several years though, so time has blurred the emotions, much like a mother will “forget” the pain of labor after delivering a baby. It hadn’t resurfaced until Charlie said those words.

WHOSE MANS ARE THESE?!

The three older boys arrived home last night after a friend’s graduation party, and it was a genuine pleasure to see them. Don’t get me wrong — I’m always glad to see the kids — but they’ve become so fun/funny and entertaining as they’ve grown older, that I enjoy our time together on a completely different level now. Rather than immediately retreating to their bedrooms, they stayed downstairs in the kitchen with me and Bobby. We talked and laughed… a lot.

Later, after saying good night to each of them, my emotions ran bittersweet. While I’m sad to realize their time at home is dwindling, I’m overjoyed to send smart, funny and kind young adults out into the world, much like we did with Tyler and Kate. And I know that who they are now has been shaped by both family and friends. I hope and pray for equally smart, funny and kind friends to merge paths with them in the future, enhancing who they’ll become — to mutually broaden each other’s horizons, and introduce them to a world bigger than their high school campus.

Whose mans are these?

These are my mans.

 

 

 

 

Adaptability

It’s been a full four weeks since last posting. Admittedly, that’s a long time. In my world, however, it’s passed in the blink of an eye.

Beginning one day after that last post, the following events passed our radar:

  • Hand surgery to correct a painfully arthritic basal thumb joint in my left hand. (And the right hand is next!)
  • Our daughter’s graduation from Purdue — after which, we’ve enjoyed having her home for three weeks prior to beginning her professional career in NYC.
  • Mother’s Day, including a day-trip with the kids to visit my mom
  • Work, home upkeep, grocery-getting, laundry, etc.
  • Dog to vet appointments
  • Kids to dental appointments
  • Post-op follow-ups, physical therapy sessions
  • End-of-year school functions
  • Varsity baseball games for the two man-children

This holiday weekend alone, there have been three sectional round baseball games for the man-children (resulting in being crowned Sectional Champions this afternoon!), various household projects and an extended family cook-out dinner tonight before we move Kate to NYC in three days.

Through it all, in the craziness of the month, my key, go-to phrase has been ADAPTABILITY — the quality of being able to adjust to new conditions. ADAPTABILITY, because even when you’re functioning one-handed, there are still showers to take, meals to make and bras to be hooked. ADAPTABILITY, when someone is moving from the sweet, down-home Midwest to the hustle and flow of The Big Apple. ADAPTABILITY, when I feel that aching twinge in my heart, seeing my mom deal with day-to-day life almost two years since my dad’s been gone. ADAPTABILITY, as I see a group of talented young men prepare, pull together and perform on the playing field. ADAPTABILITY, as the remaining kids at home prepare to finish one school year, and begin the next as a 3rd grader, sophomore and [gasp] TWO seniors.

There’s always a new situation to overcome, whether it’s a huge life-changing event, or a tiny concern, like what to make for dinner. ADAPTABILITY is going to get me through — because whether we like it or not, we’re all nowhere near being done. We’re still learning, growing, ADAPTING. And through my faith, I know that whatever comes my way, I’ll either have the strength to get through it, or I’ll find a new measure of grace shine down on me, providing the surge of “I can do this” necessary to pull through.

It’s been raining for days. Six days, to be exact, and I’m rained out.

I know it’s necessary, and I do enjoy the occasional rainy day — even a good, cleansing storm. But six days? Please.

Misery hit it’s apex Friday evening, when our two 17-year old “man children” came home from their baseball game soaked and cold. I’d be straight-up lying if I said I was devastated to hear their double-header and our 8-year old’s flag football game were canceled Saturday. Sitting outside in 40-something degrees and rain? No thank you.

But the silver lining to living under continual rain clouds is that we’ve been forced had the opportunity to spend a lot of time together this weekend as a family. Not that we necessarily did things all together, but just having everyone home and under one roof for a while has been nice. Our usual hectic pace drew to halt. Or at the very least, a slow crawl.

This morning I’m squeezing in this writing time between school-drop off and Stella’s vet appointment. Usually I’d be running around doing who-knows-what, and already throwing weight on my own shoulders. My ability to heap pressure and expectations on myself is professional level, and the resulting stress markers (shallow breathing, tight shoulders, irritability) feel normal to me.

Until today.

Today, I begin teaching myself to throw down the worry and stress, and just enjoy everything, especially my family. A friend lost her husband yesterday quite unexpectedly, which (naturally) makes one stop and take stock of life around themselves. Something I caught on the radio this morning related to how worrying about things will never change them. I’ve heard it before, but for some reason it struck me differently this time. Maybe it’s my age catching up with me, but I’m beginning to see that taking everything in stride and really seeing the joy in every situation is so, SO what I need.

So, while the storms will continue to swirl around us, I’m going to stand in the calm.

Slow the pace.

Worry less.

Enjoy.

 

6×8

It’s 12:19am on December 31. Nineteen minutes past my 48th birthday, and I’m thrilled to say (based on my last post) that I definitely re-established my faith in the past month, as well as finding peace & joy. It didn’t happen by reading a book, making drastic changes or going on a pilgrimage — rather, I opened my eyes to the world around me, and made a conscious effort to notice that blessings come in every shape and size. I realized that my faith hadn’t been lost; it was hidden under a lot of junk. I cleared the junk, and gave my faith room to stretch out and grow. I know my path is already laid out before me; I just have to focus on enjoying the walk, rather than straying and trying to create a path on my own.

Peace & joy came one night as my family and I were all together, watching a movie. At one point, I looked away from the television and looked at the individuals around me: husband, children, friends. That snippet of time spent watching a movie brought me more peace and joy than any holiday special, Christmas music or gift I could have ever received. In the time since that night, I’ve had several occasions to repeat that exercise — stop, take note of my surroundings and be truly fulfilled. Truly happy.

So, it’s with a happy heart that I begin 2017 in about 23 and-a-half hours. I’m walking into the new year fresh off my 48th birthday. And despite that number, our youngest child declared several times today that I look far younger than that… “maybe even 39,” he said. HELLO, FAVORITE CHILD.

A long time ago, I came up with the description for this blog as, “Celebrating the overlap of chaos and hilarity.” Many things have changed in the past seven years, but those words still ring true. Our family will never be perfect, nor will my house, my marriage, or myself. We are our own best hot mess. It’s taken me the latter of the last 48 years to wrap my mind around the concept of embracing imperfection, even though moms everywhere have been staging this revolution for a few years now.

The New Year tempts many of us to create resolutions, and I’m no exception. I want to become a work-in-progress in 2017, being a person who will…

  • Be kind to others
  • Be kind to myself
  • Read/write more
  • Finally submit a 15-year-old manuscript, in hopes of finding an agent and get published
  • Hurry less; stop and appreciate more often

I’m sure there will be other goals I create as I go along, because that’s how works-in-progress do it. New Year’s Day isn’t always ground zero for self-improvement. As my niece, Shelby, said so well on a Facebook post earlier this evening, “I wonder if people understand they can stop bad trends in their lives at any point, not just January 1st…”

Happy New Year!

 

 

Juxtaposition

Thanksgiving was two days ago, and I’m sitting here on a Saturday night feeling grumpy, out of sorts and snappish. As the season of peace, love and good will kicks off, I’m feeling more inclined to stomp around and feel sorry for myself. In all honesty, stomping around would take much more energy than I even want to expend — I’d much rather sit slumped on the sofa, brooding.

The fact that almost every radio station is now playing holiday music 24/7 isn’t helping. Somehow in the past several years, I’ve become highly susceptible to blatant displays of emotion when hearing a majority of Christmas songs. Translation: I completely lose my shit and become a hot mess of tears.

Awesome.

So, yes… while everyone’s all “peace & joy,” I’m over here all “could you just not?”

The catalysts of this funk in which I find myself aren’t as important as my reactions. I can’t control the events around me, but I sure thought I had a better handle on my responses. I can talk big about having faith that things happen for a reason, when things are going my way. When it seems like the odds are stacked against me, for whatever reason, my faith crumbles. This is a problem. When you factor “wavering faith” into the other factors in this equation, it sets up a perfect storm: a + b + c = nothing good can come of this.

I decided tonight, post-pity party, that the thing I want most for Christmas (besides, maybe, a new pair of running shoes) is a restoration of faith in … well, just about everything. As I put together lists of errands and things to do for other people, I’m going to do something for myself as well:  rebuild my faith. And, if all goes as I hope, I’ll find true peace & joy. There has been so much to be unsettled about lately, I’m probably not the only one who feels like the ground is slipping out from under their feet, am I right? The best I, or anyone else, can do is just start shoring up our foundations, getting back to solid ground. I think occasionally stumbling in one’s faith offers a chance for building up and strengthening our relationship with God, so that’s what I’m going to do. After a good, solid cry to release all the pent-up stress and frustration, I’ll pick myself up and start building faith again. Maybe then I won’t feel so “out of season,” with a preference for brooding on the sofa or snapping at people.

I’m still going to cry at Christmas music though.

“We are all broken, that’s how the light gets in.” — Ernest Hemingway