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Saturday, April 26, 2014

Mystery Solved: I Figured Out What's Wrong With Kids These Days

A beautiful sunny warm Saturday afternoon.  Nearly perfect really.  The only thing that would have improved the day at all is if I was in my own yard instead of out running the few errands that this day required.  Everyone is smiling and happy, this weather has been well earned after a long Midwest winter.

I pull into a crowded parking lot with other smiling happy white legged Midwesterners doing their Saturday shopping.  It's spring in the Hoosier Heartland. I stop behind another vehicle that I think is letting a lady and her granddaughter cross the street.  The lady leans down and puts her arms around her little girl smiling and then waves the truck in front of me to go on.  I assume she's waiting on her husband to pull the Oldsmobile around to pick them both up.  I smile thinking how sweet that grandma and her granddaughter are out buying some new spring gear and probably going out for a nice lunch.  I creep past them as the truck in front of me starts to move forward.

Then I realize the truck in front of me has been sitting over the top of one of those Stop signs that are painted on the pavement.  Just as I realize this I hear from behind me, "Nice stop, lady!"  In the bullying voice of a Midwestern grandma.  What!  I look in my rear view mirror to see sweet little grandma with her arms still wrapped around the young girl as she's giving me a piece of her mind!

My first thought is to pull around and pull next to her and get out of my truck to say, "I'm so sorry.  I honestly didn't see that stop sign.  Are you two okay?"  and then I would lean down and give this young impressionable child a genuine smile of concern. Someone has got to model better behavior for this child!  I try to get turned around and traffic won't permit it and I've lost the site of them both.

So there you have it.

Mystery solved.

The reason we have bullies in our schools is because we have bullies in our homes, in our grandparent's homes and in the parking lot of our favorite stores.  I should have been a detective.

Look people, if you want to know what's wrong with the world, look inside your own heart first.  You may not have to join a task force or go on a mission trip, you may just have to be kinder, gentler and more patient and then pass it on to your kids and your grandkids.  That's a start.

Monday, April 21, 2014

I Let My Daughter Fail ........ On Purpose

The book was to be read by today.  She's known since before Spring Break.  She left it in her locker,  quite possibly on purpose.  She told her teacher she left it in her locker over Spring Break hoping she'd get more time.  She didn't.

She loves to read.  She didn't want to read this book.

Procrastination and bad choices eating away at her.

It's down to the last weekend.  The weather is warm and sunny for the first time in months. Spring Fever takes over her heart and her head.  She goes to her friend's on Friday night, they laugh, they play all day on Saturday.  Warm, sunny, wonderful days of play.

Saturday night the hangover of procrastination station is throbbing in her head.  She says, "I have to read this book by Monday."  I glance over, remind her that Sunday is Easter and we will be with family all day.

Easter comes, He is Risen, it is warm and beautiful. Church is good, the candy from the bunny is good, the dress looks good with the shoes.  Lunch comes with Grandma and Grandad in tow. We eat, we laugh, we enjoy.

Evening comes still warm and sunny. The bike and the skateboard and the sidewalk chalk call us out to play.

She states her intentions, "I'm going in at 8pm to shower and read until bedtime."  Sounds good, I reply, reminding her that it is Spring and 8pm will be as bright as day.  She sighs.

It's 8:30 with wet hair and jammies she climbs the stairs to pay her dues.  I braid her hair and watch her settle in.

I leave her to her work.

At 9:45 I tell her 15 more minutes and she's going to have to give it up for the night.  She's crying, crying for me to come and save her or comfort her or just share in her angst.

I climb the stairs and there she is, my small girl clutching the book with far more pages to read then minutes left in her world.  And there on her cheeks are the tears, big balloons splashing down her cheeks.

The remorse spills from her lips with excuses she knows are untruths but she says them anyway trying to comfort her pain.  I listen and tell her I'm sorry she's in such a bad spot.  She smells my "told you so" even though it's not been spoken.  It reeks and fills the room.  I wave it away and earnestly tell her I'm sorry she's in this place.  I help her decipher the magnitude.  How many pages, how much time?  There's the car ride to school, the first prep period before she must meet her judgement day.  She swallows hard.   I swallow hard.

I wanted to try and save her so many times.  I mentioned the book, she fought back.  I chose not to take on the battle with her and for her. I decided it's time to learn a different way.  The harder way, the kind that sticks.

This transition for my baby girl to young woman, what a beautiful mess.  Her trying to navigate the ways of the world, me trying to decide when to drive and when to ride along.  We stumble, we fall, her messes and lessons leaving matching scars in me.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

My First Day of Forty-Eight

Woke up this morning on the first day of my 48th year.  Blessing number one, I woke up.  My jaw aching from the problems that churn there while I sleep and stepping on the scale revealed that my extra pounds of pneumonia weight had chosen to stick around another day. I wake the girl and find that her morning crankiness has decided not to celebrate my birthday through its absence but is also alive and well today.

I feed all the fur babies and smile and tell them it's my birthday.  I look out to find a perfect moon still shining and sunshine on the horizon.  I'm alive.  Not perfect, not without problems or extra pounds but I'm alive.

My daughter has begun to count my birthdays as a count down.  "Two more years til your Golden Age birthday"  She's also now grounded until then. 

It's these middle of life birthdays that have me counting more backwards then forwards.  When we were 9 we couldn't wait to get to the next one and even added the half mid year, "Yes, I'm 9 and a half and I'll be 10 in 6 months".  Now I look ahead and I think, "I've got a lot to do, I better pick up the pace."  I've got books to write, schools to start, kids to raise, and travel to do. 

I want to live fully alive.  I'm not afraid of aging and the wrinkles and gravity taking over, that's a battle you can't win easily or cheaply.  I'm afraid I won't get it all done.  I'm a dreamer and a doer and there's so much more I want to do and see and know and be. 

In the words of my favorite humor author, Erma

When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, 'I used everything you gave me.”
Erma Bombeck

So if you'll excuse me, I've got to get back to living, dreaming, doing and using up more of what God has given me.  No resting on my laurels, I think He's still got big plans for me and I don't want to miss it.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Why Don't We Ask?

A beautiful spring run.  Elated, strong, happy.........and thirsty.

I come back into my hotel room after a nice run. I remember that I drank my last bottle of water before I started out on my run.  As I come up the elevator my mind is thinking about the water that's in my car, and then I'd have to go to my room, get my car keys, then go back up - blah blah blah - I'm thirsty but not sure I want to go through all of that.

Then I come down my hall and there is the maid's cart.  I think, "maybe I'll just ask her for another bottle of water."

Immediately my 7th grade inner voice says, "but I'm not sure you're allowed to have another bottle of water, and what if they're supposed to charge you for it."  And then I argue back to my 7th grade inner voice. "But I'm a Marriott Platinum Elite member, doesn't that qualify me for more water?"

Then I smile to myself thinking, "this is the most ridiculous inner dialogue for a beautiful Sunday morning, geez, it's water for crying out loud."  So with an apologetic smile, I say to the nice young lady with her maid cart, "Could I have another bottle of water?"  Of course I say "another" because I don't want to appear ungrateful for the 1st bottle of water that I've been given.  I think I've been on this Catholic College Campus too long, the guilt seems to be seeping into my pores.

She smiles back and needs more clarification, words are not going to be our best form of communication and I hold my hand up like I'm drinking a glass of water and smile again.  She smiles back with her eyes that she understands and goes into the closet for the water.  She comes back with a pack of water and asks me how many.  "Oh just one" I hold up my finger and smile again apologetically wondering how she could ever find me so presumptuous to ask for more than one extra bottle of water.  She smiles a sweet smile and hands me not one but two bottles of water.

How often do we do this?  We want something, maybe something we won't die without but we want it and we sort of need it but we're afraid to ask. We go about figuring out how we can handle it ourselves.  Often it is the lack of courage that holds us back. And if we do in fact get the courage to actually ask for help, we're often surprised by the generosity we receive.  We get more than we asked for.  And isn't this because most of the human spirit, in spite of our often vast differences, wants to help us.  We just need the courage to ask.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Erma Bound! 4 Reasons I'm Stupid Excited!

I'm packing again.  Honestly I just dumped the Spring Break bathing suits and sunscreen in the middle of my closet floor so I can re-pack for another trip.  This one I've been looking forward to for over a year.  I'm attending the Erma Bombeck Writing Workshop in scenic Dayton Ohio starting tomorrow through the weekend.  I'm stupid excited.  Here's why.

1. I'm a writer. I should invest in my craft. I just started owning this about myself a few years ago.  I spent several years waiting for someone to grant me the title officially and since my certificate never showed up in the mail I decided to just own it.  I can't NOT write.  I've tried.  It wells up inside of me and threatens to explode my heart.  I'd like to blame the stuff that hangs over my jeans as writer's bloat too but that's pushing it.

2. My writing needs it's own space and time. When you are a writer the entire world is seen through descriptions and feelings and words.  Everything.  The odd character in front of you at Starbucks, the way your cat is curled up in the sun, the seething anger at your loved one that you can only process through your journal.  Writing is not my full time occupation which I used to think was what needed to happen before I could call myself a writer.  But I've let that go because writing is my entertainment, my therapy, my passion, my heart and my soul.  When I'm standing in the kitchen putting away the dishes, my brain is processing how I would write about this simple activity and what's on my heart in that moment.  I can't NOT write.  Not all of my words make it to paper or screen and there are days that threatens to send me over the edge trying to find the space in the chaos of life to let the words out.  You don't get to see all of the words here, some are just to release the pressure and heal my own heart.

3. I will be among my people this weekend.  I've not met them yet but I know they're my kind, my tribe, my kindred spirits.  Those lovers of words and the human spirit that can't NOT write.  I'm not even concerned about who's a better writer, it's the thrill of the year to be in their presence feeding off their spirit and passion.

4. We will laugh from the depths of our guts and into the far corners of our hearts.  Real laughter.  We've already begun the laughter from our social media introductions and comments. Erma Bombeck celebrated every day life in her writing.  She found the humor in the mundane and raised us all up.  I'm hoping for a killer ab workout from all the laughter and a few days to soothe the soul and heal some of the wounds that have built up over a long hard winter.  We will laugh not just because we're at a "humor writer's" conference.  I believe we will laugh because we all share the same passion. As writer's we've learned to see what others don't always see, the story behind the story and the absurd tucked beside the ordinary.

See you all next week when I'll be filled up and inspired into greatness or recovering from an abdominal tear.  Maybe I should do some quick research on the Dayton hospital. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

3 Things I Learned About Love from Sybil and Paul

Still living it up on Spring Break 2014 with my girl and a group of girl friends.  Still meeting people and loving their stories.

Yesterday my lessons on love came from Sybil and Paul.  Sybil and Paul have been married for 18 years, a second marriage for both.  They have 6 kids between them and 10 grandchildren.

Sybil met Paul in a bar but he didn't contact her for a month after they met, guess that's a new twist on the 48 hour rule!  When she agreed to go out with him, all of her kids were there to check out this guy that was taking her mother out!

Here are the 3 things I learned about love and relationships from Sybil and Paul.

1. Dating is a family affair if you have children.  They should be involved with you and your dating. Sybil felt loved and protected by her children and wanted to find someone that honored them too.

2. When I asked Sybil what the secret was to their marriage she said, "You know what?  He brings me coffee and breakfast every single day."  It really is the little things and the consistency isn't it?  Most women don't really want the big presents and elaborate trips and dates we just want men that are sweet and kind and consistent.  I could see Sybil's eyes light up when she talked about this simple yet daily act of kindness from Paul.  To know that every day he will show up with coffee and breakfast is comforting and kind, a true act of love.

3. When I asked Paul what the secret was to their happy marriage, he said, "I just really like her.  I like to be with her."  Single men and ladies, are you out looking for someone that you just like to be with?  Or are you over complicating it?  Are you investing in being the kind of person that someone likes to be with?

I love the message of simplicity and kindness that I got loud and clear from Sybil and Paul.  It's a sweet and simple message, one we all need to remember.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

7 Things You Need to Know This Vacation When Traveling with Moms of Young Kids

I'm on Spring Break this week and one of my observations every year is the "moms".  As the mom of a pre-teen and a teen my heart aches for the moms that are hauling a truckload of gear from the beach to the condo every day ....... twice.  Once in the morning before nap.  Again in the afternoon after the nap.   It's exhausting and while I say a little prayer for them, my heart says, "thank God that's over".  Now I point to my kids stuff and say, "Better grab your stuff."

So today I want to have a little chat with you dads, granddads, grandmas, anyone that's traveling with these moms of the wee ones.  Here's the real truth.

These moms desperately wanted to come on this vacation but there is nothing restful about it.  Nothing.  Traveling with young children is like a game of survivor and there is no million bucks at the end.  In fact, there's a hole where your savings used to be.

If you look around at the moms in a group on vacation, the moms aren't smiling all that often.  There are short bursts of smiles and laughter squeezed in between exhaustion, negotiation, anger, and frustration.  There are screaming toddlers with sand in their butt and sand in their ear and sand in their nose and sand in their eyes.  These kids are over stimulated, not getting enough rest, probably a little sun burned and have you ever spent much time with sand in your butt?  There are consequences.  Yes, the term "That chaps my a$$"  came from a toddler on the beach.

And yet, we moms are a resilient bunch, we will endure the hours of frustration and exhaustion for the handful of cute pics of that toddler with their sand castle or splashing the waves, or riding around the pool in their pink dinosaur floaty ring.  We will endure.  There will be fun, no matter the cost.

So if you're the one traveling with them here's what I want you to know.

1. They need some rest.  They will insist they're fine and don't need it and we lie, we all lie because we're afraid that we're the only one that needs the rest and no one wants to be the mom that couldn't hack it.

2. Help them get some rest but you've got to be really careful how you play this one.  Never say, "honey, you look tired, why don't you go up and get some rest."  Nothing evokes the rally of a mom shamed like that statement.  No matter how tired she is, she will book a dolphin excursion on the spot, or order the cabana boy to bring a round of Mai Tais to prove that she's still got it.  Partly because we don't want to admit defeat, partly because we're afraid we'll miss something and partly because we're afraid we must be doing it wrong if we're so dang tired.

3. Because of #2, you've got to sneak it in. Make it about you, not her.  Ask if you can take the kids for some one on one souvenir shopping if you're the grandparent, if you're the dad, ask if you can take them to see _______ enter whatever she cares nothing about into that space.   Or ask them if you can take them to the store to pick out their favorite snacks, or walk them down to the pier.  Use your imagination.  Offer to take them somewhere that doesn't sound like something she'll miss out on.

4. Stick to some routines if you're taking the kids off for some fun.  If little Suzi and Johnny usually eat all organic, don't take them to the Golden Arches and the ice cream shop for your little treat, and then drop them back off for hours of freak show poop and raging screams of sugar buzz.  And if they nap around 2, then take them to your place and let them nap or drive around in the car for 2 hours while they sleep, don't take them back exhausted and scary.  That's why we don't ask for help, we've lulled ourselves into believing it's easier to just do it ourselves.

5.  Know what she likes.  If she's a Sun Loving Goddess from the days of her teens, then take the kids during the best part of the day and hand her a People Mag and order her the Mai Tai and then cart those kids away before her ice starts to melt.  If she's a sleeper, cover those kids mouths and sneak them out to waffle house at the break of dawn and keep them out til lunch with a note that says, "Lounge Away Baby, you deserve it because you're the best mom this side of the Atlantic"  With lots of hugs and kisses (those are X's and O's for the note writing challenged).

6. DO NOT come back from your adventure with how cute and fabulous it was.  Buffer all that down a bit.  She wanted the break but will be devastated if something amazing happened without her.  Wait and show her the cute pics when you get home.  Or don't tell her that little Suzi took her first steps with the waitress at the Waffle House.  You won't be the first parent to do a first step "fake out".

7. And most of all, take pics of her and the kids when she's not paying attention.  Lots of them.  Don't ask her to pose because she will refuse and try to suck in her gut and stage the whole thing for Facebook.  This isn't about Facebook.  This is about capturing the love of a mother for her children.  There are too many scrapbooks and shoeboxes of pictures without mom in the scene.  Don't let that happen to your beautiful wife or daughter or friend.  She'll love you a thousand times over someday when she's no longer obsessed about the baby weight that most of us never lose but just learn to accommodate.

Happy Traveling.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

It's Never Too Late. Until It Is.

I'm on a Spring Break girls trip this week.  Not exactly Girls Gone Wild of my younger years but a sand truck full of fun and a couple of coolers of libations for the beach. This is a group that ranges from me the oldest at 47 to the cutest 3 year old on the beach.  (I'm trying not to obsess over being the oldest, but, you know)

The best part of this trip for me is, I have never met most of these girls.  It's kind of like being on The Bachelorette without an annoying guy and weekly rose ceremonies.  I've always thought the best part of being on that show would be living in the mansion with the girls and hanging out at the pool every day.  Luckily there are no TV cameras so I don't need to do my hair or suck it in all day.  That's a bonus.

 I get the week to explore these beautiful people, a baby, pre-teens, teens, 30's and 40's and their stories.  I love to hear people's stories.  I love to watch them be moms and friends and the young ones figuring their way in the world.  And there is nothing better than seeing the beach through the eyes of a 3 year old.

Last night we were invited to dinner with another friend of theirs from back home that is also here on Spring Break.  This man has the most compelling story of all.  Just 6 months ago he lost the love of his life for 28 years to his worst enemy, cancer.  Leaving him with their 3 children from 10 to 16.  I sat across from him at dinner last night and was amazed at this man and how he's handling his story.  The story that didn't have the happy ending that he wanted for him and his family.  He talked openly with his friend about the pain of losing his wife and lovingly about the circle of friends that lifted him up and continues to carry him some days through the trials.  The trials of raising teenage girls without their mother and finding his own way through the grief.

I only sat with this man for a few hours but in that time I learned a few things about his story.  One is, he's now acutely aware that he needs to take care of himself.  He feels the weight of the world on his shoulders to care for these children.  He's exercising and making some changes.  We do that don't we?  We think everything is going to be all right .....until it isn't.  And then everything comes into crisp clear focus about what is important.

I wish we could learn to do this without tragedy.

He also learned about his circle of true friends, their care and compassion.  We don't always know who those people will be that will drop their own needs and wants and care for you when you are unable to make it through the day and weeks ahead.  We should really look at our circle of friends and be sure we've got a couple that we can point to and say, "I think they'd be the ones."  The ones that would rally when the bottom falls out. And ask ourselves, "who needs me today?"

During the conversation, I can't even really remember the specifics, I think it was about quitting smoking and I said, "It's never too late."   To which he calmly and without judgement, but with kind eyes said to me, "sometimes it is."

I just smiled back, not embarrassed by my remark that suddenly felt off center, but receiving the gentle reminder from this kind man living in grief, that in fact sometimes it is too late and today is really all we have.