On Marching Band, Second Chances, and Joy

H&L

The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him. Psalm 28:7 

I picked them up after band practice today.

Her smile was noticeable, even from several feet away–braces can’t mask loveliness that comes from the inside. Her hair is stuffed into a bun, and she laughs a bit at the awkwardness of scrambling across the seat. It’s kind of great.

Even better? The smile that my son wears when they tumble in the car, a pile of instrument cases and water jugs. The contrast between his demeanor a year ago and today–it’s remarkable. The fact that two  teens maintained a long-distance relationship for over a year–the fact that anyone can, let along two kids in high school–it boggles the mind. But they did it. They didn’t give up. It was anything but easy. It was heartbreaking.

But she’s here. She’s back. After over a year of a very painful move cross-country, Watergirl’s family is on its way back too–and they sent her first…so she wouldn’t miss band camp.

I know this decision has not been an easy one. I’ve heard bits and pieces of the dilemma as her parents made a very difficult choice to again uproot and come back. Who is ever 100% sure of God’s will–even those who speak to him most intimately? The truth is, we pray and ask for guidance and wait for an answer. Sometimes, heaven is silent and the clock forces us to make our best guess. Sometimes we must make a decision from our gut and trust that God is looking out for us.

I know only a tiny bit of the back-and-forth that Watergirl’s mama and dad faced. They want what most people want–to do the right thing for their family. Add in a congregation they love (and one that loves them back) and the equation is further complicated. They say that moving is one of the most stressful of life events–right up there with divorce and death. When we move from one town (or state!) to another, there is always a bit of divorcing of some sort, isn’t there? It’s separation, it’s saying goodbye. It’s packing and unpacking and loading and unloading and taking furniture apart and putting it back together again. It’s turning off power and turning it on again. It’s tears and stress and we snap from the pressure.

But then–we see the smile of a young girl.

Lance and Becky–I know you can’t see it right now; you are still making your way back to Texas, so I’ll try to describe this smile your daughter wore today. I’ll try to describe the grin my son wore because of your daughter’s smile. It’s a smile of contentment, joy, and a realization of the miracle of unexpected second chances.

Thank you–and I can’t wait to welcome you back to Texas, with a big smile.

On Not So Perfect Holidays in Less Than Perfect Families–and Thankfulness

ice

I love being a professor. I’m still in awe that I actually get time off at the end of each semester. For the longest time, I worked in the medical field where getting Christmas off was never guaranteed.

At the beginning of Christmas break, I am fairly frothing at the mouth to be free of the office. Nothing but tail lights, baby! I have visions of country Christmases with homemade gingerbread house mansions, the family sitting around in the holiday glow of the fireplace, laughing together quietly while listening to Bing Crosby’s silken baritone as exquisite snowflakes brush the squeaky clean window pane in the background.

Here’s what REALLY happens.

The fam is lying around, slug-like, watching sappy Hallmark movies on marathon. It’s less about holiday spirit and more about laziness because nobody knows where the remote(s) is(are) and nobody is ambitious enough to look for it. My husband, The Engineer, bought a TV so complicated I have to use 5 remotes and a NASA launch code to just watch Pioneer Woman cooking shows, and frankly it makes me cranky. If he doesn’t want to simplify it (for Pete’s sake, I have a Master’s Degree in English–why can’t I find my way to My Five Wives without two hours of research?), then I’ll show him by NOT learning another mouth-watering recipe to try out on the family. OH YEAH. It’s ON. (I know this is petty and dumb. Work with me here.)

I realize we’ve been home several days and there is NO decorations of any kind. I mean, we don’t have tiny cherubs anymore so it’s not essential or anything, but come on, we’re not Grinches or anything.

Me: “So, we gonna put up the tree today? It is December 15.”

Family: “Eh.” (No movement from the couches that look like they are memory foam but aren’t). It’s more of a sound than an actual work–it translates to something like “Nah. You can if you want but I’m really busy right now and…”

Me: “Nate, run out to the garage and bring the tree in.”

Nate: “What?” (His hearing is slightly compromised, partially from his noise-cancelling (or mom canceling) earphones and his classical horn music he blares over the speakers.

Me: (louder) “I said, will you run out to the garage and bring the tree in?”

Nate: (siiiiiiigggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhh). Dear Reader: If you don’t know what this sounds like, imagine how you would sigh if you received a speeding ticket or a certified letter from the IRS. Then crank it up about five notches.

“Okay…”he says,with the unbridled enthusiasm of a middle-aged, clinically depressed DMV employee who only works there because his mom said he needed to contribute.

Moving at the speed of glaciers melting, the men of the household reluctantly bring in the Tree That Time Forgot, which is decorated by a family that has experienced the suffocating closeness of forced holiday cheer, using ornaments that may have once been pretty but now look like Goodwill rejects. Bing Crosby? Hardly. More likely, it’s the wisdom of Family Guy–of course set on the most awkward episodes possible to watch in a family environment. But I can’t change it, can I? I mean, I’m no rocket scientist! Do you think I’m gonna ask Hubby to do it? No way. I’m speaking softly as possible so he doesn’t abandon the whole project and leave me there to sort out the paint-coordinated branches that are not guaranteed to actually fit in their appointed slots but are definitely guaranteed to give me a migraine headache. I know it isn’t real pine. I’m allergic to the puffs of dust falling off the branches.

Ever try to decorate a tree and wrap presents with a neurotic, paranoid German Shepard that is equally terrified and seduced by Santa gift wrap? Add in a grouchy, narcissistic chihuahua who finds laps where none exist and a stupid but adorable min-pin mix that loves looking out the window to bark at menacing kids on bikes.

Oh yeah. We’re festive now.

At the end of it I’m like, “Ok you guys! We’re gonna decorate this tree and we’re gonna like it, got it!” I sound like a coach chewing out the losing team in the locker room at half time.

As far as holiday baking goes, I might have pinned a bunch of elaborate gingerbread houses on Pinterest, but the only thing that has remotely translated to actual holiday food is some leftover candy canes I found crushed under a couch cushion and a HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!! card from my dentist, reminding me it’s been too long since my last cleaning. Note to self: pick up floss. Half out of guilt and half from The Ghost of Christmas Pressure, I half-heartedly bake some chocolate chip cookies from a tub that are just the perfect texture–burned on the outside and raw on the inside. Then I dare anyone to say anything. At this point, my inner Sybil has terrorized the family and everyone knows just to take a cookie and avoid eye contact.

I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. WE LOVE CHRISTMAS. I just sometimes fall into the trap of trying to create the Perfect Family Holiday Moment without the actual Perfect Family. None of us are perfect. We are all flawed, sometimes irritable, beautiful humans. And they are my humans. Don’t you say anything about them or I’ll be on you like rednecks at a Dollar General clearance sale. Don’t make me go there.

In the end, we had an awesome Christmas. Not perfect, by any means. Taking down the tree was almost as fun as putting it up but it’s done. I’ll spare you the details but leave you with this cliffhanger: extension cords and missing stockings. We know what it’s about: a tiny baby hosting Immanuel Himself, sent here by choice. An unmistakable sign of perfect love and sacrifice. God in man clothes–coming to take away the sins of the world. The rest? It’s just frosting.

And I have to remember at all times that none of this is promised to happen again. New Year’s Day, with tons of appetizers and messy kitchens and Back to the Future marathons  and loud games of UNO is never guaranteed. Next year, it’s very possible that both my girls will be moving away to begin their careers as they will have graduated. A year after that,  Mancub follows. The more talented your kids are, the more opportunities are presented, and the greater the likelihood that they will have to move far away to make these dreams happen. So for now, I’ll appreciate them in all their grouchy glory, and hope they do the same for me.

Happy New Year you all. Want a chocolate chip cookie?

Great Expectations

jody recital

For you, I have great expectations

I hold hope in my hands, gently, like a bird

I want to let go, yet I’m afraid

For you, I have great expectations

Of dreams unseen and loves unmet

A road untraveled and untrod

For you, I have great expectations

Joy, love, life, peace

This is what I want for you

For you, I have great expectations

You are not unprepared for this wilderness

It’s a wild frontier, but you are ready

For you, I have great expectations

Your beauty, intelligence and heart go before you

Even when I cannot

For you, I have great expectations

This hope I hold onto I finally release

It mounts the sky unhindered

Unafraid

And, I am never far behind

Brewing Tea — And Words

tea

It’s something to do, a way to keep my hands busy
To avoid the conversation I don’t want to have
But tea does not take long to steep
The dark liquid swirls about blending with the clear

I hold my breath for a moment searching for words
The way her eyes search mine
Looking for a hint of my awkwardness
Searching for clues in my mannerisms
This is how well she knows me

I do better with pen and ink;
I can tame my words that way
Before they spill out of me on their own accord
And cannot be replaced.

Sometimes that happens, you know.

My words remain behind the wall with a crack
And some poor kid has his finger there trying to hold it back

The pen does not betray me the way my lips do

It doesn’t quiver and misquote
It doesn’t make my heart beat so quickly in my chest
That I cannot catch my breath

I can choose each word individually, carefully
Like a florist choosing flowers for a bouquet
Each petal has meaning
Each color is on purpose

But sometimes I have to speak without my pen
Sometimes I have to take a chance
Sometimes I have to lose some control
Sometimes it just works that way.

I brew the tea instead of holding my pen
I hand her a cup full of promise
Put a smile on my lips hold my breath and say
“Let’s talk.”

Just for the Moment

sarandme

This pain is excruciating

How am I supposed to breathe through this?

My brow is sweaty, my teeth, gritted

Just one more, they tell me

It will be over soon

It’s just for the moment

A morning hug with my coffee

Her golden brown hair is all messy

As she sits at the table in her Lion King pajamas

She smiles at me, her front teeth are missing

Eating her cereal and humming

It’s just for the moment

She wakes me up early

For a Disney video and hot cocoa

On a frosty winter morning

Nothing to do, nowhere to go

Those days never seem to end

It’s just for the moment

Homework and schedules

Music and mayhem

Endless car pools

And tacos for dinner

Bassoon lessons and boyfriends

It’s just for the moment

A red prom dress and fancy hairdos

A silver locket around her neck

A young man at the door looking nervous

I hold back the tears, she’s just so beautiful

It’s just for the moment

Graduation caps and gowns

Scarlet on white

It must have happened when I closed my eyes

So many emotions all at once

I hug her fiercely, then a teary goodbye

It’s just for the moment

On Plato, Hungry Teens and a Super Easy Roasted Chicken

 

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My son Nathan is momentarily experiencing bliss–all from a chicken. “Mom…this is soooo good,” he says with his mouth full. I giggle. It’s the week of Thanksgiving, and I’m home from class, so I thought I should cook something. It’s kind of my thing. So many times I am not here to do the “mom” things for him (I work 30 hours a week and am a graduate English student, a writing tutor and a writer) so when I’m able, I try to make something he likes.

I sometimes wish I had something else to share with this man-child who has grown six inches in as many months, but I tried playing “Call of Duty” and (it’s just sad) ended up blowing myself up. So, I go with my strengths: cooking. That’s how I get him to turn off the video games and chat with me for a while–or as long as the food lasts. It sometimes bothers me that I have such a connection with cooking. It’s so cliché, right? I guess 50 years of feminist rhetoric have done little to change that part of me that equates feeding with love. Did the works of Gloria Anzaldúa and Julia Kristeva (whom I adore) fall on deaf ears? When I read these women, I learn from them, but I find little of me, my soul, changes. They have done little to alter that part of me, inherited from my grandmother, that takes pride in creating something from nothing. It seems confusing, but it’s not.

I am a liberated, educated, American woman who does not need to lean on archaic ideas of womanhood. Except, maybe it’s the misconception of those ideas that distracts us. Maybe the feminists of past and present wrote and spoke not to take away from my freedom to roast the perfect chicken, but rather to keep that freedom to do what keeps us happy. And writing does make me happy–just like cooking. I don’t have to choose. Good writing is cooking, when you think about it. Taking letters, forming them into words, and stringing those words together in a meaningful way, it’s not for everyone. Plato wrote, “[Rhetoric] seems to me then . . . to be a pursuit that is not a matter of art, but showing a shrewd, gallant spirit which has a natural bent for clever dealing with mankind, and I sum up its substance in the name flattery…Well now, you have heard what I state rhetoric to be–the counterpart of cookery in the soul, acting here as that does on the body.” I guess I see the connection: To take an ugly chicken carcass and to baste it in olive oil and garlic and roast it to perfection (that makes my teenage son ecstatic) or writing a short blog, are not so different. Either way, it sure feels good to see my son, who I don’t always understand, get a second plate.

Mama’s Roasted Chicken

Ingredients

1 whole chicken

1 12-oz bottle of Italian dressing

4 cloves of garlic, minced

salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 350. Remove chicken from wrap, as well as inside package. Rinse thoroughly and place in a roasting pan. Pour dressing over the chicken, coating thoroughly (I use about half a bottle). Top with salt and pepper, as well as garlic. Cover with foil and bake for two hours,then take the foil off. Bake another half hour then check with a meat thermometer to ensure it’s done. It needs to be at least 160 degrees.

This story was originally published in Story Circle Network One Woman’s Day Blog:http://onewomansday.wordpress.com/about/

5 Easy Ways to Reconnect With Your Teen

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I picked up Mancub from school the other day and I’ll just admit it: it was tense. We had an argument that morning before school and it pretty much ruined most of my day. My stomach was in knots about it and my overactive imagination was running away with me. I pictured him never speaking to me again, joining a gang and getting in a rumble downtown. That’s where rumbles happen, people.

If I didn’t nip this in the bud, we were a Lifetime Movie waiting to happen.

I asked myself why we had that conversation. Why did everything go down that way? Why did everything feel so sad, so desperate? Where did my sweet little boy go? And, perhaps more importantly, where did his patient Mama go?

With school, work, band, church–sometimes it feels like the only time we talked with each other is when I’m asking him to wash dishes or checking on his homework. That wasn’t working out so well. We needed to connect positively–to make a deliberate effort to spend time together in a non-nagging environment…STAT. I’ve been watching too much Grey’s Anatomy.

When he got in the car, I didn’t take the normal route home. I was honest–I told him our argument had bothered me all day long.

Get this: he apologized.

Afterward, we stopped by Chipotle and I bought him a giant burrito (you know the kind–it’s roughly the size of a newborn baby). There are few things besides Water Girl and Minecraft that put THAT kind of a smile on Mancub’s face, and I love that smile. It’s sort of my world. I need more of it.

I’ve experimented to find ways to reconnect with Mancub, and I hope you don’t mind if I share it here.

5 Easy Steps to Reconnect With Your Teen

1. Have a weekly lunch or dinner date, just the two of you. Here’s the kicker: let him pick the restaurant. Even if he wants to go to the greasiest hamburuger joint or the most questionable Chinese food in town, let him. His arteries won’t likely clog from this one event. Let him be the boss on this. He has so little control in most areas of his life.

2. Make him breakfast. It doesn’t have to be fancy–you don’t have to make heart-shaped crepes or anything. Rice Crispies are fine, as long as you are there. Take a minute to say hi to your sleepy Mancub–bringing a food offering is a safe way to approach him in his early morning jungle.

3. Take an intererest in his activities. Mancub plays horn in the band and if it’s at all possible, I’m there at every concert and most home ball games. I cheer at a volume that frightens flocks of birds. He knows I’m there.

4. Share your interests with him. I’m an English professor, so I love books. I have little hope of converting Mancub to enjoy love poems written by the British Romantics, but I might be able to engage him with the hottest YA titles. We are currently reading the Divergent series. I put the audiobook on the car stereo when I pick him up from school. It’s sort of the only choice. We talk about the story–try to guess the protagonist’s next move. We make fun of him/her when she screws up. It’s a good time.

Here’s the link if you don’t already have this book series.

http://www.amazon.com/Divergent-Veronica-Roth-ebook/dp/B004CFA9RS/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1397669730&sr=8-1&keywords=divergent

5. If the teen won’t come to you, go to him. Sometimes I just hang out with him in his room while he’s on his computer and chat. When he asks me, “What’s up?” I just say, “Nothing. Just missing you.”

And I DON’T mention that his room resembles an Exxon bathroom. It doesn’t matter today. In the words of Scarlett O’Hara, “I’ll worry about that tomorrow.”

JOIN THE CONVERSATION: What are some easy ways you connect to your teen? Write your suggestions in the comment box below.

5 Reasons Why Raising Kids is Like a Trip to the Amusement Park

5 Reasons Why Raising Kids is Like a Trip to the Amusement Park.

5 Reasons Why Raising Kids is Like a Trip to the Amusement Park

 

SDC

Last summer I took the family to an amusement park for what I mistakenly thought was going to be a carefree day of pleasure and family closeness. By the end of the day, we were sunburned, dehydrated, and broke. It occurred to me: this experience is a LOT like raising kids. Here are 5 reasons why this is true.

1. You pay a lot of bucks to take risky chances with no guarantee of return on your investment. Everything costs about 68 times what you estimated and there’s no (not even remotely implied reassurance) that the Princess Caterpillar Ride is even up and running today! It might be currently out of commission. I can relate to the worn-out Princess Caterpillar. Truly I can. In fact, the only guarantee Fun Town can deliver is the exposure to millions of bacteria from ALL OVER THE WORLD. That’s right. You’re welcome!

Raising kids is also expensive.  Some experts speculate that the average cost of raising a child is $240,080 (http://money.cnn.com/2013/08/14/pf/cost-children/).  Let’s face it: if someone had taken you aside previous to the conception of your first child and demanded money in advance like the hospital does before a surgery, most of us would be (as my mama says) “Up **** creek without a paddle.”  It’s a good thing paying first is not a requirement!

2. You’re always waiting in line for something. Unlike Fun Town, we don’t always have the tantalizing choice of “Do I really want to wait 3 ½ hours to ride a rickety canoe down a 2,000 foot water slide that was just repaired by a bored maintenance man who resembles Gary Busey after a few drinks?” Sometimes, as parents we just have to wait—and it really sucks. Sometimes waiting teaches us something valuable–sometimes not. For example, I learned that Fun Town only employs one guy to fix everything, and I’ll say this for him: he does it really slowly.

Parenthood is all about waiting. We wait at the doctor’s office, in traffic, school registration, the McDonald’s drive-through, in front of the school, the police department — and most of the time waiting ends with a bill of some sort. We just get used to it. Most of the time we pay for the pleasure of waiting! Time moves very slowly on Prom Night when you are waiting for your own Princess to return. But most of the time, the relief we feel when we see the headlights in the driveway is worth it.

Sometimes, however, it seems disappointing after the wait, and nobody can protect you from that. It’s just part of parenting. For example, when you wait 4 hours in the ER (surrounded by people dying of Ebola) just to be told that your kid has a virus and they can’t do anything. That’s $150. Cha ching. Meanwhile, you still have a sick baby, you’re out of money, and you just wasted three hours of your life. Live and learn. There is a tiny ray of hope here, however. Next time, you might remember this mistake and recognize the same symptoms and pour Sprite down your kid until he’s swimming, saving you both some heartache.

3. The map isn’t to scale. The Giant Death-Defying Roller Coaster SEEMS really close to the restroom, but in actuality it’s several miles of hiking on blistering asphalt past deranged costumed cartoon characters. Seeing as your kid waited until she actually FELT her pants getting wet to tell you she needed to go, there’s just no way you could have actually made it to the restroom in time. It’s small compensation that the restroom is a pink castle when you forgot to pack extra Pull-ups and have to take out a small loan to buy a single pack at the Princess Pinkie Gift Shop.

Raising kids is like uncharted territory. There are maps and parenting books aplenty, but until you are in the thick of it without a Pull-up nobody can really prepare you. The distance from toddler to teen is deceptively short, dear parent. So very short.

4. Sometimes it seems like you only stop fighting long enough to take a picture. Vacations that are designed to be fun, relaxing times to reconnect often bring out our inner serial sociopath. After four hours listening to canned music and fishing my iPhone out of the filthy Candy Mountain lake, I become a lot less caring about everyone’s feelings. I’m not proud of this. Being a part of a family is stressful in the best of circumstances, but add an unfamiliar environment (Fun Town, a new house, relatives staying with you, etc) sometimes it’s just enough to push us over the edge. We are only human, after all. Families are stressful entities! As much as we love each other, family members get on one another’s nerves, hurt  feelings, steal one another’s French fries, and call shotgun for the hundredth time. Parenthood is simultaneously messy, irritating, ulcer-inducing, tear-causing…and heart-stoppingly amazing. As much as you sometimes like to leave your kids at the local In-n-Out, you know in your heart of hearts that you’d go to hell and back for them, and God help anyone who tries to hurt them on your watch.

5. Stuff’s always breaking and there’s never enough help. Just when it was our turn to ride the dystopian themed roller coaster that was aptly named something akin to “Death Star,” we were roped off by the ten-year-old employee who held our lives in her hands and told that “tests needed to be done.”  What were we to do? We’d  already invested hours of your time waiting patiently in line, stepping in globs of gum, fighting a migraine headache from the strobe lights and circa  1985 music blaring from the speakers. What you forgot is that there’s only one maintenance man (good old Gary)  in the entire park and he’s still at the log ride. It may seem like you are alone in the parenting amusement park, but you aren’t. Sometimes we just need to hire more help, whether it’s a babysitter or a best friend–the ultimate solution is the babysitter who IS your best friend.

Here’s the thing about parenting (I mean Fun Town). No matter how difficult (and wearing, and sticky, and annoying) it becomes (NO I’M NOT BUYING YOU ANOTHER CORN DOG!), even when we swear that this is IT for Fun Town, there’s the peaceful ride home where everyone is just so exhausted they are crashed out in the backseat for a blessed few moments. And they are stinking adorable.

After a few hours and a bit of rest—it all seems completely magical and you can’t wait to do it again.  You might even buy a season pass–because more times than not, nothing can really beat it.

JOIN THE CONVERSATION: What is your favorite amusement park and why?