#BeforeGettingMarried

This hashtag took the prize in twitter-land today. Careful who may be peeking over your shoulder if you pull it up because some of the wisdom that folks are sharing about what you should check off of your bucket list before shackling yourself to another person for eternity…is…well…you can guess what it’s like. Nothing like the internet to bring out the inner thoughts that you may have preferred to not know.

2 hours ago
  1. #BeforeGettingMarried
  2. #TwinPeaks
  3. #LawEnforcementAppreciationDay
  4. Doug Marrone
  5. #WhyGiveUpWhen
  6. Jared Kushner
  7. #PaulRyanMovies
  8. Scalebound
  9. Altaba
  10. Chuck Johnson

This was the top-tweet list from 2 hours ago. I have to admit that I didn’t know anything about 4,7,8,9 or 10. I should have known about 9. I wish I could go back to not knowing about 10. 8 is outside of my scope of understanding. 7 was really funny…if you want a laugh, check that one out. 4 is about sports.

I was trying to guess why the marriage one was so big today and wondered if it comes up because lots of folks get engaged over the holidays or might be about to propose for Valentine’s Day. I am not sure how it floated to the tops of the collective minds of tweeters but it got me thinking.

The first time I married, I was 21. There was nothing that I wanted to do #beforegettingmarried. That was the thing I wanted to do. I could not wait to be a whole grown up, a mom, someone’s wife. Dreams. Plans. Fantasies. Drive. Blissful ignorance.

The second time I married, I was 31. Boy do 10 years make a difference. I did still want to be someone’s wife. I already was a mom. I felt as grown up as I think that I ever will. Mostly, I knew the things that I had done before getting married this time and I hoped that  it would not doom me to failure. Disney movies don’t usually show a pregnant bride with four kids hanging onto her in their happily-ever-after movies. I never saw one bride’s magazine that had 10 guaranteed remedies for honeymoon-morning-sickness. Arranging for your ex to watch the kids while you go to the justice of the peace is not something you hire a wedding planner for. Marriage was no longer mysterious and a tapestry of fantasies built by hollywood. I had done it. Here I was heading into it again but with way-more stacked against me. Baggage. Complications. History. Scars. Fears. But what a powerful hope…that’s what I brought to the table.

Before getting married, I hoped. I trusted. I tried again. I took a risk. He did too….not the trying-again part because he had not been married before…but he hoped. He trusted. He took a risk.

The first time, I thought my rough parts could be kept quiet. My waist could be sucked in. My smells could be covered up. My persistent-chin-hair could be secretly plucked.

The second time, rough was loud and clear. 4 babies had their way with my body. Butt paste, wet wipes, poop, sour milk and smashed cheerios covered any of my own smells and the chin hair had  grown friends. Nothing was hide-able. That’s really the best way to prep for marriage. #beforegettingmarried, get real. Pull out all you are and lay it on the table.

The first Christmas that we spent as Mr and Mrs was the year that children 1-4 got the stomach flu. It was as bad as you might imagine. We lived in a two-flat in Chicago with one coin-washer in the grungy basement. He didn’t get sick. I did. He got a front row seat to the real. I remember thinking…he isn’t going to run away…..he really meant all that in-sickness stuff. He was dragged into the muck-of-what-real-marriage is and he pushed up his sleeves to dig right in. It is one of my favorite holiday memories. There was no doubt that this man loved me. We had done enough of the honest #beforegettingmarried stuff so none of this shocked him or scared him off.

Another decade and a half have passed and two more kids left their mark on my flesh. Our smells have mingled and become familiar. I shave my face now. Being the Mrs to his Mr looks nothing like anything I imagined when being a grown-up-wife was a dream.

It is sweeter. It is harder. It is more lovely. It is uglier. It is better. It is the happily-ever-after that I did not even know to wish for. It is grace-filled and bumpy all at once.

I may not know much about 50% of the hot tweets of today but I know that most of the suggestions for what you must do or must have or must squeeze in #beforegettingmarried are baloney.  Find a way to be real together. Real sorry. Real grateful. Real scared. Real patient. Real tired. Real happy. Real sad. Real. Forever. There you go.

seniors-holding-hands

 

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2017 – 8 pounds heavier

images-8This holiday season was overflowing with hugs, kisses, stories at bedtime, balanced meals, laughter, acts of kindness, daily baths, tooth-brushing twice a day, plenty of sleep, warm blankets, extra adults, surrogate-siblings, soft pillows, christmas carols, prayers, consistent boundaries and unconditional love. Such a diet is far richer than in any of Matvei’s years prior. Any dietician will tell you that more in-than-out adds the pounds. No calories were shed to cope with stress, fear, uncertainty or disappointment. The fridge was always full, the food was always (or mostly) wholesome, the mouth was no longer full of pain and the schedule was consistent….

The result….8 pounds.

For this six-year-old boy to have gained 8 pounds in a little more than a month, grace had to have been flowing like a river. We can see the extra pockets of flesh filling out in his cheeks. His PJ pants creep up past his ankle bones which are a little less jagged.  His coat barely meets his wrists. Holding his hand feels different. When he jumps into your lap, he lands a little heavier. It is the most amazing feeling in the world.

I see my screen filled with ads, promises, advice, shame, programs all geared toward getting the number on the scale to be smaller. The irony of being surrounded an industry fueled by this seemingly virtuous pursuit as well as all of the money piling into already pretty-full pockets is too much to not notice.  Our sweet six-year-old is not the only child who has felt dire hunger…not only a hunger for nutrition but a hunger for a home and a family and access and enough of everything that you need to flourish. To see how easy it is to fill his tummy, his heart, his mind and his sense of security stops me short. If we can do this for him…how many could do this for others?

Our situation is not typical, I get that. I just know that all of us can do a little bit better. We can spend a little less time focussed on our waistlines and channel our excess in a direction that will really feed someone. Maybe that means that you keep your closet a little less full by buying those new jeans for someone else, or you stop in and visit that lady on your block who never really gets out of her house. What if you skip Starbucks for a while and fill a bag for the foodshelf instead? Free your schedule by taking a break from binge-watching and offer to tutor at your local library a couple of hours per week. Take your workout buddies to serve meals at a shelter one evening instead of spinning or lifting or yoga-ing or whatever you typically do. Hug someone who needs a hug. Smile at a stranger.

If we all add some love-weight to the emptiness that keeps so many hungry, we could really tip the scale (yep…using that imagery to the death). We got 8 pounds into this kid and we are not any different from any of you.

All of it really started with smiling at a stranger….anyone can do that….

the-smile-of-a-stranger

Gemilut Chasadim -Bestowing Kindness…even to myself

There is a jewish saying “Charity awaits the cry of distress. Benevolence anticipates the cry of distress.” Gemilut Chasadim is a mitzvoth…a commandment… in the Jewish tradition. It is a call to act with benevolence toward any and everyone. A call to kindness.

Here are some great images of folks anticipating cries of distress and doing what they can to be kind:

Giving drink to the thirsty, shelter to weary, comfort to the stranger, companionship to the lonely, safety to the endangered. This is just the sort of phrase that I love. All the great religious traditions call on their communities to something similar. Lots of us work on the call to gemilut chasadim…even thought we don’t use those words.

Parenting pulls out lots and lots of opportunities for bestowing kindness. Anticipating cries of distress and meeting them with benevolance is the name of the game for years and years of guiding little beings safely through their stages of development.

My kids here me say to ‘Err on the side of kindness and then you will never make a mistake’ more often than they would like. This is subjective, of course. From my perspective, enforcing bedtimes, limiting screen-time, requiring chores,  brokering peace, teaching manners, etc are all acts of kindness. I am anticipating the cries of distress which would come from young adults who don’t know how to share, can’t get along with others, who have not been set up for success in life.  My kids’ perspective can easily pin these same acts as acts of unkindness. Usually, the line between kindness and unkindness is pretty clear to me. Today was not one of those days.

Two of my kids are technically adults. They can dip in and out of my world as they please. They are self sufficient, responsible, full-functioning members of society and that affords them the freedom to live out of their own perspective. I have spent 22 years honing my philosophy of parenting and raising my kids in that. My perspective (and my hubby’s even though he doesn’t always think he has as much influence as he might want) dictates rules, privileges, responsibilities…all the in’s and out’s of my kids’ world. My-way is the highway, so to speak. That can’t go on forever.

It is an interesting process that I am going through now, as I unhook from always driving things with these two adult women that I birthed. I have to shift into a passenger-seat. 22 years of habits and reflexes and gut-reactions have to be slowed down and examined. I have to remind myself that I am not the only adult in the room when I am with them. My-way was rooted in kindness (in its best moments) but it really is not so kind any more. I don’t necessarily know if they are thirsty, tired, in danger,  making the right choice, doing the right thing…I can’t anticipate with as much certainty.

It is hard. It is wonderful. It is gratifying. It is challenging. Some days, I really suck at it.

Today, I hit all the marks of a newbie-mom-0f-adult-chilren.

  • Spent money I shouldn’t have to try to please
  • Put aside things I needed to be doing which would bite me in the butt later
  • Tried too hard
  • Stuffed my feelings instead of unhooking from them
  • Felt really sure that I was doing all the wrong things
  • Felt really sure that I was doing all the right things
  • Got resentful
  • Fell apart in the end because of all the straining and stuffing and trying and resenting…

Poor child #2 did not know what hit her. She apologized…and yeah, she was a little snappy and less-than-effusive and a little self-focused…but my meltdown was definitely not her fault.

Someone needs to have mommy-and-me classes for the 20-somethings and us middle-aged mamas. I remember learning about startle-responses, tongue-thrusts, swaddling, burping….all the quirky things that infants bring as a part of their being that young-mamas and dads don’t always expect.

Where is the class that will clue me into the doings of a typical well-launched-kid? How can I balance wanting to help and support them without telling them what to do and prying more than I really should into their choices? How can I name that I miss seeing them in the every-day without making them feel guilty for having their own life?  Where is the line between respect for me as an elder and squashing their rights to their own opinions? How do I keep them safe and give them room to make their own mistakes?

I guess that this is a spot in life where I need to offer some benevolence to myself. I need to anticipate my own distress as I have some growing pains and treat myself kindly. I want to do this at the same time as anticipating where they (the new adults in my life) may encounter some distress and offering them kindnesses along the way. Erring on the side of kindness needs to go both ways.

Whew! This growing up thing is hard at 45….its a different kind of hard than it was when I was 20…still, it is hard to teach an old dog new tricks…not that I am old…just sort of set in some of my ways.  I need buckets of grace!

Here is a shot of those amazing women that are helping me to grow up. They are pretty fabulous. Maybe I am biased….no…they just are….

palmerfamily024

 

 

Undivided attention…kinda

Child # 5 somehow slipped herself right between us as we had finally plopped down to sleep. How do they do that? It’s like they have a superpower for undetectable-bed-entry but once they are in there, they make their presence know with their signature moves of taking-all-the-blankets, placing-cold-feet-on-your-warmest-parts, breathing-dragon-breath-right-in-your-face and anything else that can reek havoc on your plan for peaceful slumber. The smallest child can command a sleeping space in such a way that full-adults are banished to the edges. Someone should find a way to channel that energy and use it for good…That’s not really what this is about…

We have six kids. Each of them see themselves as one, not as one-of-six. They crave undivided attention or at least a pretty good chunk of your focus. They find lots of ways to place themselves in the middle of whatever you may have planned on doing so that you have to notice them. Sometimes they do that by being cute and snuggly. Sometimes they grab you with a great story about their day. If you have been particularly absent, they break things or rules to get noticed. Whatever the tactic, the end-goal is the same. They want to be seen by you. We all want that.

I am not one of those people that says you have to build some contrived ritual to have one-on-one time with your offspring…that sells books and keeps capitalism rolling along. Doing the dishes together is perfect. Walking the dog, folding laundry, raking leaves, cooking dinner…anything can provide some time to just hear one little voice for a while. They will keep looking over at you to see if you are paying attention to their recounting of who said what to whom at recess and what happened next. Luckily, listening is all they are looking for. They want to be listened to. We all want that.

So, child #5 had both of us. She knew we were not going anywhere and if she could keep talking quickly enough, we would probably stay awake for most of what she wanted to share. She started a new school recently and really misses her friends. She likes the kids she is meeting but they just aren’t the same…they don’t know what is guaranteed to make her laugh, they don’t know that she loves tiny things and doesn’t like edamame, they don’t have jokes that they have told one another forever. She needed us to shut-up and sit-still long enough to hear her. Getting to what is really bugging her takes a little time and she had been working up to talking through this for a while. She didn’t want us to solve this…just to listen. She didn’t need us to change anything…just to care. She needed us to lay there and give her the stage for as long as she needed to get all the feelings out. Then she needed us to hold her and walk the careful line between it’s-ok-to-feel-sad and you-will-definitely-feel-better-soon (that is a tricky maneuver). She wanted empathy. We all want that.

Somehow, none of the other kids burst into the room and we were able to keep our eyes open long enough and I didn’t say anything too stupid and neither of us slipped off the edges of the bed….her needs were met. Undivided-attention happened, sardine-style. That one grace-filled moment was perfect.

One of our family’s favorite books was The Biggest Bed in the World

If you run across it, its a fun one. If y51nxrq3kf5lou have little ones, I promise that they will like it. If you ever had little ones, I promise that it will remind you of those nights of bedtime rituals and all the shenanigans that come as you try to find your perfect balance between getting sleep and parenting…HA…there is no perfect balance:)

This really is not far off what our bed looked like some nights…except that I never wore rollers in my hair and they have one more kid than we do…and one more cat…I am far enough from this stage of life to look at this fondly and see all the grace-growing that happened in tightly-squeezed nights. This is attachment. We all want that.

Grace

I listened to @kerriMPR speak with neuroscientist and a dance critic the other day. They tried to flesh out this word that moves through conversations of spirituality, art, dance, athletics, hospitality…Grace.

Approaching its meaning appropriately requires looking at the physical, spiritual and mental realms. I am a feeler. Well, a feeler and a smeller. My experience of grace is mostly sensual.

Sometimes it is, as the program guests mentioned, a feeling of ease that comes from being in the presence of certain someones. You know those people who just always seem happy to see you, ready to linger to hear your latest news. They remember the last time they saw you and what you shared with them then, being with them feels easy.

Places can be filled with grace as well. Today, I went to a friend’s house where she and another friend set up a holiday shop, @RedDoorStore, and that place is nailing the grace-vibe. The lighting is soft, spaces are cosy, displays all pull on memories of happy holidays, smells are straight out of grandma’s kitchen and each guest is greeted like family.  It is just nice to be there.

The idea of being gracegrown comes mostly from experiences which mix place, person and  the intangible. The moments in life where you know you have been gifted with ease where you might have felt strain. Walks that take you deep into spaces of pure beauty. Pieces of music which give you chills. Stories you read that tug on the back of your throat. Random acts of kindness that turn your day around. Times you catch a glimpse of tenderness between strangers. Each and every one of these experiences grow us a bit. Coming out of ourselves enough to take them in is profound. The more of these glimpses of grace that we can take note of, the more we can settle into the truth that we are recipients of so very much lovely which we did not earn, ask for, or even know to seek out. That shapes us. That softens us. That grace-grows us.

Faith is a grace-filled place for me as well. It grounds me in an experience of being relentlessly loved. It turns me outward and fuels my resolve to er on the side of kindness. It catches me short when I loose my footing. It frames my thinking about neighbor. Leaning into the model of Jesus hanging out with the people that no one wanted to be near and doing it in such a way that they felt comfortable…felt cared about….felt seen…      grows me in grace.

This is advent. I love this season. For me, it is the most grace-filled season. Our house is dimly lit with blues, whites and silvers peppering shelves and tables. The fire is usually going. We snuggle under cosy blankets and watch old christmas movies. Hubby is making cookies with child #6 as I type. Music is playing. We are leaning into an experience of anticipation and growing joy. We made advent wreaths with friends last night and greenery was spread all over the table and floor as if the forest had come to dinner. All my senses got to be flooded with grace. Sounds of friends laughing. Smells of dinner for all. Feeling the snuggle of a sleeping baby in my arms. Seeing beauty as folks took trimmings and shaped them into wreaths. Grace. Grace. Grace.

Don’t get the wrong idea…this does not imply that everything was perfect. We ran out of food. I burnt a pan. The kids found spiders all over toys in the basement. The cats kept jumping on the table. Stella barked so loudly she made babies cry as they were carried into our house. At least one toilet was clogged. Toddlers fussed. Our kids stayed up too late. All the awkward/real things happened and yet…grace won the night. People felt happy to see one another. Hugs happened. Tummies were filled. Fears were shared and calmed by caring friends. That easy-being-together feeling was there in the midst of the chaos. Grace is there too…in fact, it is usually there in the space between what you planned for or thought you were in control of and what really ends up happening. What a gift!

Just to make sure to keep things real…a crash just came out from the kitchen where a bowl slipped to the floor. The child that I have shaped….turned directly at herself with words of blame, “I should have been paying better attention”. Guess where she learned that line…yep, from me. I don’t even have to make her feel badly about a mistake because I have done such a good job of it for her 11 years that she is now ready to do it to herself. No grace there. What irony that I am writing this at this moment.

Her dad, her loving and patient dad, doesn’t miss a beat. He pulls her to him and kisses her on the top of her head and says “don’t be silly. that was not your fault”. He does it quickly enough that she doesn’t have time to doubt him. She feels his ease and that stops her shame dead in its tracks. Grace!

Honestly, I am sitting here trying to guess which bowl it is to manage my level of disappointment….yep…that’s the truth. Thankfully, she can’t see my thoughts or my face which would probably give away my thoughts.  Maybe I should play the Kerri Miller story again…I need some grace-gowing for sure!screen-shot-2012-06-13-at-9-02-13-am

7 steps to ensure that you win the chore battle with your kids every time.

7 steps to ensure that you win the chore battle with your kids every time.

Wondering if you are alone in feelings of helplessness when it comes to getting your kids to pitch in around the house? You’re not.

Just look at the parenting section of any bookstore and you will see that this is a prime topic for all the experts. Skip putting another book on your shelf and follow these doable steps at home…

  1. Stop calling them “chores.”

First things first. Rebrand.

Every marketing executive knows that naming your product is the most important step for attracting buyers (well…that along with packaging, market research, etc…). Nobody wants to buy colon-scrubbing pellets but Grape Nuts sound pretty good!  

So let’s talk about our terms first and foremost. I have never met the adult, let alone the child, who is itching to do a chore.This word is heavy with negative connotations. The mere saying of it is laborious!

So if not “chores,” what do we call them?

Think of your audience — what are the ages and interests of the demographic you’re trying to “sell” chores to? — and find a name for their participation that is more palatable. We used to call them random acts of kindness in our house, when we were being especially communally-focused. 

Maybe you call them tasks, opportunities, contributions, responsibilities, to-do’s… whatever strikes your fancy. Take some time to think of a term that encompasses the spirit that you hope these duties will be done in and the message that you want to communicate to your offspring.

OK, do you have your name picked out? Then let’s move on to choosing the jobs.

  1. What should this “not-chore” be?

Close your eyes. Imagine the job that you dread the most at home. What if I told you that it is the perfect one to outsource to the next generation? I know, it sounds too good to be true, but trust me, it works.

You will be ultra-motivated to teach your kids invaluable life lessons if your load is truly being lightened.

I shudder at piles of laundry. Hate this job. So this is the “not-chore” for my kids, because I will love passing this one on…forever.

You can outsource and offer life-training in one fell swoop. It is a win-win! Now how to make it actually work, that is the question…

3. Set them up for success

Remember the how-to speech that you had to write in grade school? This is what you need to do here. Make the task at hand as simple, straightforward, and systematic as possible.

Let’s stick with laundry as a good example. Every job can be broken into small, approachable mini-tasks. So dissect the overarching job into chunks…  

    • Gather the dirty laundry and bring it to the laundry room.
    • Separate the clothes into lights and darks.
    • Load the clothes into the washing machine.
    • Move the load from the washer to the dryer.
    • Fold the clean laundry.
    • Put it all away.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Once you’ve divided the chore into mini-chores, they need to be clearly explained. You can use pictorial instructions for the younger set. And even though it may not seem necessary, written instructions are a good idea even for the older child so that there is a clear understanding of what’s expected.

You want to set them up for success by teaching them carefully and by making even a multi-step job that might feel overwhelming at first seem like something they can accomplish. In the end, this gives them a real sense of self satisfaction and makes it possible for you to hold them accountable when steps are inevitably skipped. (They are only human, after all.)  

But even though they’re going to make mistakes, don’t think for a moment they can’t live up to your expectations…

  1. Don’t underestimate your kids’ abilities.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking little kids are incapable. Don’t let this happen to you!

Let’s keep looking at laundry as an example. Children as young as toddlers can gather dirty clothes and separate them into light and dark. And running the machines? That’s a perfect grade-school job.

Now, folding. Um…I’m not even good at this myself so I opt for hangers. But, again, it’s a perfect job for kids pre-school and older. And finally, putting it all away. You may have to join in on this with younger kids, but it’s something everyone can help with.  

The point is: Don’t overburden yourself because you’re unwilling to test your children’s ability to rise to the task. Test them. See what they’re capable of. You’ll be surprised…and maybe even more relaxed.

Now you are ready to set the tone…

  1. Have a catchphrase.

It’s impossible to keep kids constantly upbeat about working around the house, but it is possible to keep the reason we’re all doing this in mind as a motivator and a reminder. What phrase can you say over and over again to let them know why they are doing what they are doing?

If you came up with “Because I told you so,” stop and start over. It may be a tempting retort to their complaints, but it’s almost as distasteful to hear as it was when you were their age. Don’t go there.

Here’s a better example. My husband has a phrase that he says so often that it is certain to elicit eye-rolls and recitation in unison: “Families cooperate.”  

You will undoubtedly run into resistance — repeatedly — from your in-house workforce. The key is to have an answer to every argument that they throw at you. Keep it short. Sweet. And to the point.

Ok. Have your line ready? Let’s talk about compensation…

  1. Reward a job well done…carefully.

Of course your kids want to be paid. So now you have to choose a currency. Pick your dangling-carrot wisely.

For younger kids, marbles in a jar work well for marking completed tasks and working toward some sort of prize after a week of consistent effort. Even just stickers can be plenty of motivation for some eager beavers.

As you move into the school-aged set, you may want to offer something more tangible like an outing at the end of a productive week or even a modest allowance to  recognize their efforts. Middle school children will work best for some sort of extra privilege that reflects the level of responsibility that they are taking on.

Finally, high-schoolers. Kids at this age should be able to see that they are expected to contribute as the adults they nearly are and that the reward is the benefits that they gain by being a part of the family. Don’t get me started…

Whatever you pick, it is imperative that your carrot is clearly named and possible to take away if necessary without any sort of lecturing, voice-raising, or guilt-tripping. Keep it calm, people.

And when you do find yourself having to be the strict parent, taking a potential reward off the table, this does not mean that your child no longer has to complete the assigned task. Quite the contrary!

Finishing the job they were given is an absolute. The reward is the only variable — it’s only given if their attitude is good and the responsibility is taken on fully. The reward is an extra.

Ready for the closer?

  1. Live up to your own standards.

The last step is all about you.

To make this whole “not-chore” go well, your kids need to see you working with the same spirit that you want them to exhibit. Maybe whistling while you work is too much to ask, but keeping a positive attitude is essential. If you want to see it in them, they have to learn it from you.

Some of the best memories in a family are occasions when dishes are done side by side or the lawn is mowed and raked together or veggies are chopped by an assembly line of children at the kitchen counter.

Kids are eager to be a part of your world in any way that they can. Chores — or “not-chores” — are a great way to give them that and to give yourself a little help at the same time.  

You just need a strategy that works and some internal conviction. Remind yourself, you are the adult. This is winnable folks!

Monday quarterbacking via Facebook

To be completely transparent, my television was turned to Downton Abby for the latter part of the big game so i can not really comment much on that. The game that i was mostly tracking was the back and forth banter on Facebook. I’m calling it a game on purpose. Status updates are fairly strategic. i know that i use them. Sometimes, i am hoping for a team of yes-ers, other times i want to share a moment that i am proud of or i think will elicit a collective laugh from the Facebook audience. There are the days that i post to connect out of a desperate need to know that i am not alone in a feeling or an experience. Each post has a purpose, a strategy, and plays into the role that hope to flesh out on others’ news feeds.

Most of us arbanska02e probably doing pretty much the same thing. Is this bad? i don’t know. i hope not. i hear about the levels of depression that are raised by our Facebook-infused culture. That makes me sad. i don’t want to be a part of making anyone feel lesser because of the very-filtered items of my day to day that i choose to share. i can vividly remember the loneliness that i felt when i was home with three kids under the age of 5 and i think that something like Facebook would have been a Godsend. it is so important to know that other people are out there going through some of the same trials that you are…or at least that is important to me. The side-splitting posts that parents put up about junior refusing to wear pants or painting the bathroom floor with lotion feel like gifts.

Sunday night, there were a lot of posts about folks watching the game. Some of them had pictures of the food that they served. Others rated commercials and the Katie-perry-dancing-with-sharks-and-beach-balls number. There were even a few football comments in my female-dominated feed. Mostly, it felt like we were having a collective moment. It felt good to me. i may be naive, but it was nice to know that so many of the people that i have crossed paths with throughout the years were so easily reachable in that moment…like we were all hanging out together.

Today, Monday, there will be lots of back and forth about the ins and outs of the game and the motives of the advertisers and who was alienated by the experience and who resonated with it and who has heartburn from eating too many wings and who did or did not make the right calls on the play and, and, and…. it will be Monday quarterbacking at it’s finest.  i won’t enjoy that as much. i prefer the live moment when we are all together (so to speak) in time and are sharing an experience. That, i think, is when Facebook is at it’s best.

It can happen during an event or as a reminder of a stage of life with equal impact. Suzie Q talking about the first time her little one smiles brings me right back to that moment in my life with my own babies…as if we were going through it together. Johnny sharing that his mom’s just been diagnosed with a disease does the same thing…he is not alone….i am with him. Maybe it feels false or contrived as a source for community for some people…but for me, it is real.

i do hope i am not causing anyone harm when i am posting (except for the occasional discomfort that my kids feel when i put up photos of them..i’m ok with that so-called pain). i hope that folks are enjoying feeling connected to me as much as i enjoy feeling connected to them.

The road less travelled…post-divorce happiness

Child number six is memorizing Robert Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken for school and i am typically her spotter as she recites it. This has always been a personal favorite and revisiting it through her eyes is a nice reminder of how its meaning changes as one ages. If you are not familiar with it, or even if you are, i would like to share it because it is well worth sharing.

The Road Not Taken  by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, 
And sorry I could not travel both 
And be one traveler, long I stood 
And looked down one as far as I could 
To where it bent in the undergrowth; 
Then took the other, as just as fair, 
And having perhaps the better claim, 
Because it was grassy and wanted wear; 
Though as for that the passing there 
Had worn them really about the same, 
And both that morning equally lay 
In leaves no step had trodden black. 
Oh, I kept the first for another day! 
Yet knowing how way leads on to way, 
I doubted if I should ever come back. 
I shall be telling this with a sigh 
Somewhere ages and ages hence: 
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— 
I took the one less traveled by, 
And that has made all the difference.
At different stages of my life, this has borne different meaning. As a child, it was all about adventure. Finding a secret path or hidden door was deeply planted in my imagination from The Secret Garden and the Narnia series. As a young adult, i remember stumbling across it and was struck by the expanse of choices in life and how they were all in front of me sort of like the choose your own adventure novels. Now, i smile to myself and think of the last stanza and how true that has been as i scroll back through the past forty years of full-throttle living.  Taking the road less traveled has been a tremendous blessing. i see this as i look at my divorce in particular.
Somehow, divorce has a script attached to it where you are positioned in an adversarial role with each other, then friends and family are cast as supporters of you or him, depending where their loyalty falls. It is kind of drawn along the same lines that seating at a wedding happens: you are either a guest of the groom or the bride for the we-are-so-mad-at him-or-her ride for the foreseeable future. It is easy to find people to be on your team if you want to bash your ex or complain about him. it is harder, i have found, for people to be comfortable with you remaining friends with him, much less entwined in his life. The less-travelled road that i have been fortunate enough to be on is one of new relationship with my ex-spouce that is rooted in our friendship and fueled by our commitment to each other as co-parents. We are further gifted with my husband’s support of our relationship and commitment to parent with both of us. This is not a path which has gotten as much space in the movies or TV shows or novels (that i know of), and catches people very much by surprise when they encounter it in us.
It has, however, made all the difference. 
You know the phrase that states that it takes far more muscles to frown than it does to smile, right? i don’t know if it is true or not, but the message is one that i resonate with. i know that it feels better when i am happy and definitely feels nicer to be at peace than to be angry. To a small degree, at least, one can choose to travel down the angry road and get wrapped up in negativity instead or moving toward forgiveness and contentedness which promotes positivity. For me, i have found veering away from the all-too-familiar path of marinating in negativity post-divorce has been the gift that just keeps on giving. i get to have another adult who has my back, can be trusted with my kids, shares my load, has known me forever, calls me on my crap, and wishes me well. i know that this is not possible for all but suspect that it is possible for far more than are taking advantage of it.
If you see, ahead in your journey, two roads diverged in a wood, i highly recommend taking the one that moves you toward compassion, reconciliation, and peacefulness even though it is not the popular route…it’s just nicer…i promise…

Dear, Walnut Grove….can we be friends? neighbors?

Child  #4 (number coding has been my posting practice for my offspring on Facebook..i’ll continue it here) unearthed a long-lost and forgotten copy of  Little House on the Prairie. i have a warm spot in my heart for this show and wanted to share it with the kids. Children #s 2, 3 and 4 were not enthusiastic about starting the series (#s 5 and 6 are still pretty malleable and #1 would have hated it but she’s away at college) so i reached deeply into the-trusty-mom-bag-o-tricks and bribed them with Ajiaco soup (if you have not had this soup, here is a recipe. If you are a parent and have never bribed…i don’t believe you).

The far-from-insignificant other, who happens to be a licensed psychotherapist, told me once that bribery can be re-framed as positive reinforcement…i LOVE a re-frame that works in my favor. As they sat and slurped their soup, i entered into the show with an adult lens for the first time. think that i wanted to share this because there was something that felt so good about watching this family highlight what is best about our human nature. i probably want the not-so-subtle messaging to rub off onto our offspring or to at least echo some of the better things we have tried to teach them. The show is sort of corny and has lots of historical holes, but it served its purpose this evening, and i like it…so stop rolling your eyes….

harvest1

i forgot how Laura shared a gem of wisdom at the end of the show…this one was perfect… “That day, Pa harvested a crop he didn’t know he had planted…a harvest of friends.”

i can see where the seeds of relationships have been planted throughout my life. Most have been tested by all sorts of conditions, varied levels of attention, and have been transplanted over and over again as i have moved and grown. Some friendships have withered and died…The ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ messaging has been loud and clear ever since i was very little and that was often tied to lessons about being a good friend.

i am graced with an abundance of true-rooted-strong-healthy friendships and a long list of fantastic neighbors from the many places i have lived. This is not because i have been a perfect friend or neighbor. Truthfully, there have been many times when i was a terrible friend, two-faced, gossipy, manipulative, dishonest, selfish, fake, weak, unreliable, insensitive, and on and on… most of my friendships have been afforded to me because of the luxury of a naturally outgoing personality, a privileged position in society, and many more circumstances that were beyond my control.

i want to remind my kids to think of the un-friended or the under-friended as well as the ways to nurture friendships and to think of everyone as a neighbor. In this episode, Pa is a stranger in his community with no money, no position, no references. He struggles. He barely escapes ruin. His salvation is, as Scarlett O’Hara would say, the kindness of strangers. The men-folk of Walnut Grove live in a nice little packaged town where they see into the windows of each other’s lives and can see each other’s virtues closely enough to want to jump in and involve themselves during times of struggle. Planting friendships and being neighborly is far easier in this make-believe world.

Back here,

     in real-life,

          we are kept at a distance from each other by our cars, our culture, our garages, our houses, our affiliations, our fences, our fears, our prejudices, our insecurities…Mostly, our personal struggles go unnoticed and we are encouraged to keep them to ourselves so that we don’t appear weak or vulnerable.

i can promise you that the deepest friendships and greatest neighborly-relations were grown the most when i was brave enough to share my weakness. They grew when i left my door open, set aside my preconceived notions, took risks.

My capacity to be friend and neighbor has also swelled up in the grace-filled moments when i stopped for a stranger who seemed to be struggling, reminded myself that we all have far more in common than not, and tried to love my neighbor well. Since i will never really live in Walnut Grove with the Ingalls clan, i need to be intentional about planting seeds of friendship-neighborship right here, right now. i hope my kids will too…

Let’s do it together!

Epiphanies

Yesterday was January 6, 2015. It is was 12th day of Christmas, as the song goes. This means something unique to me through my roman-catholic-New Orleans-infused lens. It means it is time for eating the first king cake of the season, taking down the Christmas decorations, planning parties, Twelfth Night beans,  the song We Three Kings, and that Mardi Gras season officially begins. Yeah Epiphany!  Today, I want to think about another definition of the word epiphany
e·piph·a·ny əˈpifənē/
noun: Epiphany; noun: epiphany; plural noun: epiphanies
  • a moment of sudden revelation or insight

I have had my fair share of epiphanies. I want to share the single-most-grace-filled event (or series of events) in my life thus-far and certainly the epiphany which has helped me to grow the most. Let me give a shorthand version of the facts and then dig into some of the gracegrown nuggets which I hope can be a gift to you in your own life. boy meets girl. they marry at 21. they busily live life and have three children. boy discovers that he can no longer be authentically married to girl. they get pregnant again. girl despairs. girl goes to church a lot. girl has an epiphany. girl is gracegrown. Yep…this is going to sound a little crazy to some of you. I did warn y’all that I am rooted in a faith and I was first introduced to that faith as a catholic. The nice thing about that was that I had clearly defined rituals to move through when I was looking for some comfort. When I learned that I was pregnant with my fourth child, I was so, so sad. I knew that my marriage was in it’s final stage and I already had three kids under the age of five…saying that I was overwhelmed really is the understatement of the year. I was shaken. I was shaken to my core. Going to daily mass in the morning with all of the retired folks felt like a good idea at the time. The pace was predictable. I could cry quietly and not be noticed. I knew when to stand and sit and speak and listen…everything was scripted…it was just the place for me to be when I had no idea what to do or how to behave. It was lent. Those of you who have a catholic background will understand my reference, those of you who don’t…google it.  I was pretty numb through most of these services but one day, I tuned into the reading with such focus that it felt as if everything else just melted away and the story was the only thing that I could hear or think about. So, the gist is that Jesus is wiped out from carrying this cross for so long and he is probably about to pass out. The guards tag a random guy from the crowd and make him take a turn to give Jesus a chance to catch his breath. This random guy is named Simon. This was mind-blowing for me!  The idea that he could need help struck me in a way that it never had before. If there was anything that I was able to relate to in that moment, it was feeling broken and weak and unable to continue…I needed help!  I needed a Simon! I can’t remember exactly how it came to me but in that moment, I knew that the baby I was carrying was my Simon and that he was going to help me to carry my cross…so to speak…It did not come to me in some loud way. It was more of a comforting whisper without specific words that let me know that I could lean into loving this child that I was dreading and that he was not only not going to be a burden to me but he was going to be a gift. I have never felt so loved in my entire life. This is how my son got his name, my dear Simon. I am sure that there are events that you can look back on that carried you through a really rough patch. I invite you to think about those a bit. I invite you to be thankful for them and to see how they were grace-filled times which helped to grow you into whom you are today. They don’t have to be pretty or clear or big or in anyway religious to be gracegrown experiences. They are just a part of your story and we all have them. Speaking of babies…New Orleans king cakes have a plastic baby inside and whoever gets the piece with the baby in it gets to be king, or queen, for the next week.  They also have to host the next party. If you have not had a king cake yet, please do. Here’s what they look like: kingcake