The Day My Father Threw a Doll out the Window

 

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Kids today are spoiled.  They are lacking good solid stories as they get older about how they had to walk home from school while vomiting or had to share one large yellow phone on the wall in the kitchen. They have it a lot better than we did when we were young, our own childhoods akin to a long and tortious drive through Nebraska.  I know this, because I’ve driven through Nebraska. The cornfields, I tell ya.

Once when I was little, I defied my father and hid strawberry shortcake dolls inside my travel bag on a long-distance trip to Kansas. Yes, they did smell like fruity chemicals. But so does lotion named “sun ripened raspberry” and you don’t see anyone complaining.  My favorite was the evil Purple pie man, who stole all of the berries from the innocent girls with a mischievous grin. Needless to say I loved these little dolls, which is why I thought I needed them on the 13 hour drive to nowhere (aka Kansas).

But you don’t know my father. He hated smells.  He could tell if we painted our nails two days prior.  He aired out the house at the whiff of burned toast.  One sniff of cute little Apple Dumplin’ and he was like the Jack and the Beanstalk giant, fo-fumming that he smelled the blood of something that did not actually smell like apples.

“HAND IT TO ME,” he bellowed.  You can imagine the horror on my face, my father’s looming hand reaching into the back seat of the station wagon.  Scared, timid, and feeling small, I handed him one with flaming orange hair.

To my shock, he hand-cranked down the glass, which could only mean one thing.  He wasn’t placing a to-go order.  He wasn’t spitting.  He was about to throw, with all his might, my dolls out the window, somewhere outside of Oklahoma.  There were no apologies.  There was no “daddy lost his temper, sweetheart” moment.  Nothing akin to “we’ll buy you a new one” or “let’s talk about how this makes you feel.” It was swift, painful, and effective. All the dolls. Flump, flump, flump. In a moment, they were gone. My mother sat still and stoic, like this is just what fathers do when daughters bring along dolls that are fragranced with perfumed asbestos.

So maybe I’m overly concerned about how my children are feeling, and whether their emotions are seen as valid and real.  I worry that I’m not providing enough creative opportunity. Scared that they aren’t talking about their feelings. They are watching television instead of making birdhouses from scrap wood and metal screws.

For heaven’s sakes.

When we were kids, we’d get up as early as we could, watch as many shows as we could cram into a five-hour period, and take turns making each other breakfast.  One time my sister just walked in with plates covered in icing and we’d sit shooting sprinkles from the plastic container directly into our mouths.

So when my daughter threw a fit and I took away her allowance, I stopped for a moment and thought.  This is my right as a parent to invoke this discipline.  To enact order.  To make sure she understands that rules are rules.  And when she continued to defy me, I took a toy that she got last year for Christmas and put it in the Goodwill pile. There were no second chances.  I laid down the parameters.  She went past them.

Judging by her screaming, I was the worst mother ever. And that guilt started to creep in – was this too much? But I remembered my childhood, and how completely unaffected or scarred I am from the memories. So I braced myself for her outrage.  I allowed her to get angry. But in the end the toy was gone, and so was the discussion.  The next day was a new day, fresh and clean and happy.

As twangy as this sounds, being that I’m from Texas and all, we need to calm the hell down and firm up our resolve.  Let’s be parents, and be bold, and say that lines that are crossed have real and meaningful consequences. After all, they do in real life, where there are no time-outs or apologies.  There are only cops with little pads writing tickets and accidents that can end in death and despair.

Sometimes I think back about that little doll with orange hair, somewhere on the roadside, smashed by a truck or pecked at by birds, dead now by contaminated plastic, smelling of something other than apples.  And it makes me smile.  My father and his aversion to smells.  The large red station wagon with hand-cranked windows. And the look of my mother.

This is life, kiddo, she said with her eyes.  Get over it.

 

photo:

(three w’s).flickr.com/photos/minhablythe/5158719569/in/photolist-8RRMAR-4fC1mQ-9boJmy-97x4x9-9s6PCK-bH3TSK-bu93H9-8TCvu9-o8xPXN-bu967E-7RXD6R-bH3RJ8-9KWeBn-z6b3Q-bH3U4X-bH3TXX-bH3TVt-8NFexD-8NV9L6-bzwVYQ-c8bP7E-81w25J-8AHVmS-bH3UeZ-bH3UEk-bu94d3-adu3zU-8VjvCv-bH3Uak-bu93P3-bu95FU-ieDzjy-8QeMr3-bu9387-9uwagb-bu93Z7-bu92LW-bu943A-cx9eJb-cK34U9-5gacU9-bu95tJ-8K4wqW-bssM4y-6xsqHJ-4DW1jj-z67zA-8QbPgR-bH3QHi-9a9JCE

Survival skills with children

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The thing we all seem to do as grown people with children is somehow convince ourselves that vacations to remote areas involving mountains and streams will be much appreciated by our kids, who let’s be honest would all rather be at Disney.

“Look at that beautiful naturescape!” I say.

“Do you see how the boulders are jagged and look like they were ripped open like French bread?” I utter.

The kids are ignoring me, partly because they are wearing headphones but also because I said the word “naturescape,” which is a total nerd thing to say, geez.

It all started off well, in the sense that my son threw a fit and there were arguments over where everyone would sit in the minivan. There was my son in a bookstore in Denver, demanding that I buy him a children’s Bible, and when I refused he threw the Bible on the floor screaming I WANT THIS BOOK AND NOTHING ELSE AND YOU ARE SO MEAN! I wanted to point out the irony since it was a Bible and Jesus taught patience and self-control, but I let that one lie and simply said “we aren’t buying that instrument of peace because I have to lug it home in a suitcase but instead I’ll get you this cool and very thin picture book from Pixar.”

But these things happen on vacation. We have to just deal.

We finally decided upon a class on natural survival skills, since we were in Estes Park and there were bears and maybe someday we might be caught alone in the woods.  So led by a dude named Daniel who smoked too much weed, we hiked for so long my daughter thought we had crossed state lines.  Even I was beginning to wonder if we couldn’t just perhaps visit about being stranded in the woods without the actual stranded-in-the-woods part. But he had cool long hair and a YETI hat so who was going to argue? When we finally landed deep into the forest, he informed us that the *most important skill* was for us to make a shelter. I thought it was s ’mores, but no one responded to that, so perhaps I’m wrong? I don’t think I’m wrong. But we sat down on a log, my daughter gasped for air and begged for water, and I was anxiously waiting to learn something valuable to pass on to my grandchildren about water collection or edible sap.

But wait! When Daniel says make a shelter, he really means we need to get into teams and actually make one! Right now! However we want! Take our time! And then he disappears without any further instruction, leaving us all just standing there like teammates on a reality show. So for an hour, me and the kids linked up with some random dude from Ohio and his smallish toddler and laid logs against a boulder.  I was pretty pissed, because I didn’t want to exert mental energy on a fake fortress that we weren’t actually going to use, and I didn’t see any value of rolling up my sleeves and playing grown-up Lincoln logs. If we were really stranded in the wilderness we’d probably eat poison berries and die of dehydration, huddling under some logs because we were woefully undertrained. But I’m the responsible parent so I played along, took pictures, and told the children that their fort-like shelter living room had lots of natural light.

Daniel comes back and says the time’s up folks, time to head back, your shelters look great, and oh-by-the-way you should also make a fire if you’re stuck in the woods for real.  Let’s be honest. Our shelters were terrible, primarily made by children who were distracted by ground squirrels. And we didn’t actually make a fire, because that’s unsafe. Says the man who didn’t mind lighting up earlier, so I found this highly hypocritical.

We headed back and my kids acted like we were forced to singlehandedly scale the Sierra Nevada pass. They drug their feet.  They whined.  They begged for granola bars. My daughter actually ate an apple I had in my backpack “to suck out the juice” with dramatic flair, even though we just ran out of water 2.65 minutes earlier. As a reward for her courage in walking across the mountains, however, I promised my daughter she could take an archery class.  Which was fun for 15 minutes until the lightning warnings shut us down and we had to hitch a ride back to base camp from some old wrinkled woman in a Honda.

So overall we had a great time in the naturescape. But the next time I get an itch and want to take my kids to the mountains, I may instead simply rent a movie about bears, let them make a fort in the living room with blankets, and make s ’mores in the back yard like the hard-core survivalist that I am.

 

Photo:

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My Top Ten Pieces of Parenting Advice

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  • I know all this free-range business is giving you new parents something to stress about, because your instinct is to hold up your precious William’s little bottom on the playscape so he doesn’t fall and free-rangers are all “let-him rip! Skin up those knees! You’re a nerdball-helicopter-control-freak if you watch your child run across the field!” Whatever, ladies. Chill the heck out and watch him as long as it feels comfortable.
  • Over the weekend our neighbors had a party and my children felt like swimming at 7 pm. They begged to return home for swimsuits. Naturally, I said no because I am a responsible parent. Thus, I continued to visit with grown-ups and ate more barbeque tacos. I then saw my children giggling and gathering up more children like they were ring leaders of a pre-school prison gang and they all decided to enter the hot tub in mass in their FULL ON CLOTHING. I stood looking at them like “Well, I could intervene, but I’m sitting here eating tacos.” So strike that on free range. It’s really quite lovely. Embrace disobedience in the name of creative exploration.
  • The other day my son had his 5th birthday party and another mom was like “this is the very first time my son has ever had soda in a can.” I sat there stunned, like “Seriously? The very first time? And this monumental event occurred at my house?” She spent five long years pushing watered-down fruit juice and all of a sudden here’s soda. I didn’t know if I should be proud of her or humiliated that I was letting kids slurp on Country Time Lite. It even had fake sugar, which means all these kids will get cancer and it’s on my head. OMG what have I done. But then I told myself to relax. We hardly ever drink these things. Curb the comparisons. Remember this if you want to have a Dora-the-Exploror party and Pinterest would scoff at your lack of creativity or absence of milk bottles with paper straws or you serve oreo’s instead of peppers with hummus. It’s fine. Little Mackenzie doesn’t even like peppers.
  • It’s raining and flooding here like the days of Noah so my children have had a ball with the cardboard house I let them make in the living room. Which is cool for a day but then the requests are like “can we eat our fried eggs in the little house?” and “can we sleep in the little house?” and “can we make furniture for this stupid little house and haul in all the leftover cans and milk cartons to the complete exhaustion of your sanity?” Kids, unless this little house comes with a housekeeper it’s being torn down on Sunday afternoon.   Then they cry and say you’re a horrible mother and how can they possibly live without this house/fort stuck together with duct tape filled with egg cartons. I’m not sure what advice I have for you on matters like this except that tomorrow they’ll move on to something else, so bake brownies.
  • There’s loads of guilt for not volunteering at school. Stop it with the guilt. I’m working full time so I usually volunteer for things like “napkins” and “games at the holiday party” and leave the lunch helpers to other mothers who really want to sit there with 20 or so loud children. And when I forget to bring snacks I’m that mom that shows up with a bag of carrots and a bottle of dressing, which shows my obvious effort, and when I forget my son’s blanket or pillow I’m like “somehow figure this out, people/surely you guys have a beach towel around this place that will work.” Now this might seem cruel to you, but from one mother to another I’m telling you your kid doesn’t mind eating carrots on a napkin or covering up for one stinking day with a towel. And if he or she minds, you have bigger problems. Come to my house and I’ll give them a soda.
  • Eating vegetables is an age-old battle. They have magical stomachs that can’t possibly stuff down one more green bean and yet there’s a reservoir for ice cream that never overflows. My suggestion is to simply tell them they have to eat their vegetables or no dessert, no matter the fact that sautéed spinach makes them gag or roasted beets taste like the bottom of a shoe or they’d rather starve until September than eat one more asparagus. You simply must never give in or show any emotion and treat dessert like an ex-boyfriend you don’t even give any second of thought to anymore. Then when they get smart and say “well I don’t want that stupid strawberry ice cream anyhow” you can bribe them with leftover Halloween candy. I’ve also heard statements like “EAT THAT STUPID KALE OR I’M TAKING AWAY TV TOMORROW FOR THE LOVE YOU ARE DRIVING ME MAD” may work on a pinch if you’re on your way to basketball practice in ten minutes.
  • Let’s discuss making beds. I think it’s stupid because we just get back into them in a day’s time so I’m the worst person to give advice in this area. My house always looks like it’s been broken into and the burglars took long naps.
  • I will point out, because I’m feeling like a bad mother making my kid eat vegetables and cover up with towels, that one particular year I didn’t bring carrots for snacks but instead followed a very detailed pinterest design. It involved making pencils for the beginning of the year out of cheese sticks, pieces of pepperoni, and bugle chips. I jubilantly hauled them to school to showcase my amazing mothering and my daughter was like “really mom? Do you have to walk these in?” So the lesson here is Pinterest is stupid and your kids care more about a love note written on a day-old napkin and stuffed in their lunch next to a cheese sandwich.
  • Get them all off devices. It robs them of all creativity and imagination. But then again, your house is a wreck, you have forts and books and roly poly collections and worm farms, so maybe limited device time is better than you becoming an alcoholic. So PBS and Little House on the Prairie only. Maybe a few others. Only once a day, maybe twice. Oh what do I know I’m such a pushover.
  • Honestly I don’t know what advice to give, except that reading to your children is never a waste of time, even when you’re bone tired, and never, ever, ever, withhold love. Love until your arms are sore. Love when they throw things and say they hate you. Love when they leave and say they will never come home. Love until your last dying breath. Love like nothing else has any hope of working, and when you feel all worn out just love some more.

We’ll see if it works out in the end, unmade beds and all.

 

photo:

(threew’s).flickr.com/photos/7698062@N04/4077647468/in/photolist-7dk1wG-61AfRy-97TGEf-oHxSZc-6iZzjq-aFhbna-aFkZnE-aFhbzc-aFkZpj-aFhbFB-aFhbsP-aFkZD5-aFkZuj-aFhbui-aFhbKc-aFhbPM-aFkZfL-aFkZcu-aFhbHk-aFhbqx-aFkZB3-aFhbAR-9uUjg8-e6yzFf-4pTBV6-4pH7Ma-9aPAv5-8QQhcr-jkKx1g-7oB56E-7RhbNG-9RYtR4-9RYtXt-aM5Xf6-aM5WV4-btSRsf-9TSUfe-5xnkDh-5xhWcR-5xhVhr-5xhWU4-5xnkwq-5xnjBm-5xnjFQ-5xhXeD-5xhVvD-5xnjU7-5xhVor-aM5ZbF-gDPVrB

Odd and Curious Thoughts [about Thanksgiving]

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(1) It occurred to me that Thanksgiving is an apt description of this important holiday, which is refreshing.  So I’m going to rename the holidays Christaninfantborn and Greenbeerdrinking and CandyHeartsTasteLikePeptoBismolI’lltakechocolate.

(2)  My children took the booster seats out of the car to make “chairs in their boat” which translated to “Hey mom we’re just going to take this wagon and ruin these booster seats real quick by dumping it all into this large puddle after the storm whereby everything will be muddy and ruined, K?” but they were so cute with their little shovels being used like paddles and laughing that I could say nothing.  I watched them ruin things and said nothing.  I’d do it again. So cute with the paddles.

(3) My daughter is making little sticky notes that read “1989” and putting them all over her room, because naturally it’s Taylor Swift’s new album and when the pop singer was born so my daughter thinks that’s super cool.  It makes me realize someday around the Thanksgiving table she’ll remember these days and will someday say 2006 with the same vintage ring to it and I catch myself eating bran cereal.  #lordhelpmeiamgettingold

(4) Speaking of this pop album, it has some objectionable lyrics for 8-year-olds so instead of “handsome as hell” (which makes no sense anyway) we sing “handsome as zell,” a made-up  and very handsome creature, and I make them all say oh-my-gosh and being clean and sober is “that fresh wonderful feeling when you get out of the shower.” 

(5) We were playing the Game of Life and my daughter instructs my son that you will get farther if you skip the fork in the road that reads “college” and there’s a mandatory stop to get married and have kids without a choice involved and “the goal is to win with the most money.” Exactly the lessons we are trying to teach in real life.  What the hell/zell.

(6) I am painting pumpkins a natural cream color to go with my natural décor theme for Thanksgiving.  I don’t want any color aside from natural tones so I’m putting burlap covers over the chairs and hanging a tree limb from the ceiling and using my brown-and-white antique plates. I’m starting to get a little cray-cray with the decorating and when I asked my neighbor for fishing line, wire, and a stud finder he asked me if I needed a drink.

(7) Fall weather is so lovely.  For example, today in Texas we all wore flip flops.  Take that, Wisconsin.

(8) Our Netflix wasn’t working this morning so I found the kids watching “This Old House” and I decided if that’s what they will watch without Netflix we are DONE WITH NETFLIX FOREVER. Let’s go, Norm.  Tear down that wall. These New England homes are handsome as zell.

(9) Regarding said booster seats they are so totally going back in the car.  #thatswhatthehoseisfor #mommahastobuymoreburlapandboostersareexpensive #priorities

(10)               I was talking about my boyfriend the other day and our Fall Foliage Tour of New England and thought the word “boyfriend” sounds so juvenile but “lover” sounds risqué and “friend” sounds like someone I go drink beer with and burp and “main squeeze” sounds like an orange and “significant other” sounds like a person who does my taxes.  I’m remiss for a title. Who is this person that drove me to Lenox, Massachusetts?

(11)                  I told the lover/main squeeze/boyfriend about wanting to hang the tree limb from the ceiling for Thanksgiving and perhaps in a few weeks we could wire it later to the kitchen ceiling covered in lights? I mean I cut it down with an ax and how hard could it be to wire it to the ceiling?? I wondered if I would ever hear from him again or if he might get in his car and move to Miami. But at least he knows what he’s getting into.

(12)               I’m so grateful for my life.  This year more than ever, I am just so thankful for all I have been given without earning it or deserving it. If today was my very last on earth, I would die happy. So we shall toast with wine and make fun of my neurotic decorating and I’ll cry and say long prayers and hug everyone and we’ll listen to Taylor Swift and dance.  This, my friends, is my amazing life, during a holiday worth celebrating, and if leaves fall from the dead tree limb I cut down and into someone’s pie they shall just pluck it out.  Because that’s how we roll round here, flip flops and all.   Happy Turkey Day to everyone. I hope you’re all clean and sober.

21 Things I will Teach my Children

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(1) If something makes you laugh, it just does.  You don’t have to know why.  Just stick with what truly makes your gut seize and you’ll be okay.

(2) Please floss.  It’s boring and awful but so are cavities in-between teeth and then you have to endure awful drilling sounds from the dentist chair like nails on chalkboards so PLEASE FOR THE LOVE JUST FLOSS.

(3) P.S. Your mother does not often floss because she wants to pop out her dentures for her grandkids.  See (1) above. Forgive her.

(4) Sometimes your body has a desire to move to the beat of the music.  Feet are notorious culprits. Please do not resist this urge.  It’s a natural and beautiful thing to allow the beat of song to match the beating of your heart.

(5) Cursing can be fun.  Don’t tell anyone I said this.

(6) I know that right now you hate onions and mushrooms and olives.  But someday try them again.

(7) Travel to New York alone.  Pack walking shoes and drink coffee and explore all the nooks and crannies.  It’s okay if you want to take pictures of signs or storefronts or subways. Sit on the second row of a Musical.

(8) Keep a journal of your thoughts and feelings.  For example, I just tonight looked at your diary and you wrote “sometimes I’m bad at spelling.”  I think this is odd that you can write down anything in the world – made-up worlds about unicorns or glitter hair gel and yet you choose to write down this – but hey.  It’s your diary, kid.

(9) Don’t accept the premise that “it’s just food.” It’s not.  It’s what we put into our precious bodies.  It’s what creates memories.  It’s what makes our eyes roll back and our tongues drip with drool.  Food is energy on all fronts.  Learn to appreciate it.

(10)               Friends are more valuable than jewels.  If I could say it in multiple languages and hang it from banners in the sky, I would.  Because I want you to cherish them.  Love them.  Learn from them.  And keep them.

(11)               True love is elusive.  It’s scarce.  It’s the stuff novels are made of.  But it’s real.  Please don’t give up trying to find it.

(12)               I think by now you should be flossing.

(13)               If you get a poor grade, consider it an opportunity to improve, not a reason to call yourself a failure. I love you regardless of your status in fractions. Someday you’ll be sitting in a boardroom and you will lean to the person to your left, asking “what’s eight times seven again?” I mean hypothetically this might happen. Focus on flossing.

(14)               When you have the opportunity to travel, be on television, or bicycle across America, you should absolutely take it.  Be bold and wild when you are young without doing any drugs of any kind. Do I need to repeat myself.

(15)               Pray this often: “Please Lord, help me maintain a soft heart.  Full of warmth and forgiveness and compassion.”  This helps from building up stones inside that cannot be broken.  Because a hardened heart is a life of misery.

(16)               Don’t waste time on television when there are books.

(17)               Stinky cheese is better with wine.

(18)               If you don’t believe in God, Jesus, the resurrection, or the Holy Spirit, I don’t hate you.  If you don’t want to read Genesis or go to church and want to walk around scowling wearing nothing but black t-shirts, I will still lovingly claim you as my own.   That being said, I’m going to expose you to love as I see it. And I will sit with you in the hard nights when you need me.

(19)               I am your mother.  This means you can always come home.  You can always call.  You can count on me when everyone else fails you.  I am delighted in the mere existence of you.

(20)              Prayer works, even when you can’t see it.  I will sit tonight and pray hard for you.  Because you, my dear and beautiful children, are my fortune.

(21)               Floss.  In case I failed to mention it.

 

photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/robboudon/422350861/sizes/m/in/photolist-DjEcp-ANdgH-dYycQ5-9WDCNU-6PAXic-87s9nX-6fsmxJ-5ZXaNH-8gGrhR-8vXGMG-5eXwEr-6aaP9Y-2RZnQZ-e9NiXg-7kRBmJ-71vwmH-5A8r9w-64WiHX-5mXdMw-71ii5e-e9NhKK-8myhAn-6LrPfT-7fDMvk-6YEqFb/

The Shelling of Prayers

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Right this very minute, I’m inhaling the smell of garlic and bacon simmering and bobbing amidst the peas I shucked last summer, their little black eyes peering at me from the pot.  All last summer I sat and shelled them, long afternoons while the washing machine swished and my brain pulsed hard with thoughts of change and going back to work and whether I’d ever be happy.  Break off the end, pull the string, run my fingers alongside the edges so the peas tumble out with little joyful pops, and then breathe out slow.

I was about to say that I talked to God in times like these, but that sounds all idealistic and cliché, like I have these spiritual moments in the south when I’m in an apron with an armload of peas and later I go into the garden and cut zinnas and make sun tea.  I do those things, but it’s an inaccurate description of reality.

A more accurate version is that I sat there in a t-shirt while the kids were watching cartoons, tired and half-dazed, in the middle of a divorce and an outbox full of emails expressing my “absolute interest in working for your organization,” wondering why the children always threw clean towels in the laundry when they were used one stinkin time, frustrated that it took an hour to pop out damn little peas that would gather in a ziplock for three days until enough of a harvest could fill a bag for the freezer. There was an apron, but it was stained and wrinkled.

But the thing is, I did talk to God in times like these.  It was more of a guttural cry to a Father with whom I worshipped and loved and yet sometimes didn’t honor and barely understood and I just wasn’t sure how my life would possibly work out.   And yet I began talking to God anyway.  I prayed and spoke and sang and wrote and at times just scowled in a general Godly direction.  Sometimes I wanted to take a bucket of peas and throw them across the French country table toward the back door.  But the more I cried out to Him the more I knew – I knew – from deep down inside my veins that pulsed and kept beat with my living heart, that this amazing love was indeed listening.  That redemption was not just a word we hear in biblical circles, but an action.  That somewhere and somehow, beauty was lurking.  Next season, perhaps.  But in time, it was coming.  I didn’t even feel it, but I wrote it on my chalkboard nonetheless.  Trust Him to keep his promises.  It will come.

Last year was long.  It was dark.  It was filled with forgetfulness and compromise and getting buried deep in thought. Break off the end, pull the string, run your fingers through until the little peas pop. And yet here I am.  The peas smell so good bobbing in the chicken broth, hunks of bacon letting the grease flow into their little green shells.  My mother is so excited to eat them, “fresh from the garden,” she says.  “So exciting.”

My tears are now rather different, for they flow with gratitude for my amazing life, and my beautiful children who bless me.  My daughter walked in moments ago wearing my fedora and scarf, and her blue eyes poured love inside of me in a way that she may never understand.  And my son crawls up next to me and settles, breathing in deep as if we together are stronger than apart.  And I weep actual tears at the glory of my mother, who stays with us and bakes cakes and makes dinosaur caves with my son and sews dresses with ribbons for my daughter and is so unselfish and pure in all her ways.  I have friends who allow me to be stitched forever into their lives, forming a tapestry of us, and I have found a man that is so special I can barely speak of him.

Like each pea I popped out of a shell, my prayers were heard. My God.  You are so holy to love us, and powerful to protect us, and glorious to redeem our broken lives.  I am nothing but a shell left on the floor after the words are spent. But in my small role I will play it well, because in another season there will be a purpose, and there is a greater glory, and in the end it will all make sense.

To those who are struggling, hold fast. God does indeed hear every single breathy prayer you may utter.  And in time His brilliant glory will be revealed, even if it’s in a year, or five, or after this mortal life is shunned.  But like the seasons this too shall pass, and we will someday cry a different kind of tear, and I am living proof that a heart can indeed heal.

Last year I shelled a lot of damn peas.  And today, we shall eat them.  With smiles on our faces, bacon grease running down our chins, butter melting into cornbread.  And we shall laugh, and we will play board games, and water the garden, and I will probably roll my eyes at my mother.  Later I have a date, and will wear high heels, and will feel strangely full.

Redemption.  It smells a lot like bacon. And it’s beautiful.

photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/localmilk/12356202194/sizes/m/in/photolist-jPSLqS-jPQx7n-jPSTao-9RQRVD-jPSN5J-5J9xe2-b8TWgT-96AdCU-34Hm93-jPRnve-7CgGGT-9fmQLm-iPxc3z-3GcFnC-6JRrkB-mQoq56-6JVwBL-jPSSmj-kqE9J-3jfKvw-6CyuGS-iW4hsi-6BzpV4-8nAdpu-96Gb7j-8FTqLv-jPRpRB-7G9V6P-7dwKXu-e6jf4N-bJEdde-7CsYkZ-6YzfUC-79ndGW-7dwKWE-7CwNNG-8FWLnb-e6jfej-dsjdn-6Yzg4w-fw6jTC-2Pcaoo-9PXqDH-4LTyF-iP5DHL-9Rvbp8-nzL24-8oViNr-mNi5Wt-fgt6-9PXqoc/

A Morning’s Tale

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This morning, I rose.  Groggy and heavy, I drug myself to the bathroom and tried to convince myself that it was a brilliant day. That I would find something elegant to wear.  That cereal piled high in bowls would suffice. I watched my son curled up next to the indention where my body formally lay.  He had snuck in sometime during the night when I didn’t notice and was soaking up my warmth, his face bearing a similar expression to the moment he was first born.  My heart pulled at the reminder of him rising from my body, shining and screaming.  I was and am ensconced with happiness.

I stepped over the dog and toward my daughter’s room. “Raise your arms, honey,” I whispered. “I’ll help you with your t-shirt.”  I hated to wake her.  This beautiful girl who is growing loves to lounge around on summer mornings reading and staring aimlessly out the window at rabbits and cardinals, poetry in her brain. But it was camp day, and she had just begun the evening before settling into this new experience, singing with wild abandon all the camp songs she’d been taught by happy college kids.  She slumped over and let me dress her, arms dangling with a mass of blond hair in her face.

There are layers of obligations before my day even begins.  Feed the dog, let him out.  Apply make-up, find childrens’ shoes.  I make lunch, look professional, curl hair, take vitamins.  Sometimes I just like to shake it up.  Shampoo last.  Kids eat on the couch.  My hair in a bun. The routine of daily life can drain a soul. But soon things are bagged and packed and the kids are out the door toward the car and I think to myself that I’ve got this. That somehow in the crack of morning I have balanced this precarious rhythm.

But the garage door sticks.  Some stupid light flashes and the button jams so I have to close it from the inside and go through the front.  My children begin bickering in the car so we have a car-time-out despite the fact that my daughter is old enough to know better.  And when I arrive at my son’s day care I remember that it’s water day, and his lunch box is sitting on the kitchen table, and he’s going to be the weird kid wearing a drippy t-shirt in the slip-and-slide.  I bite my lip.  Can’t everyone see that I have already remembered so much since yesterday?  Last night I dreamed of a business deal and contract revisions and woke up afraid I had agreed to a venue clause in Delaware.  We cannot escape our realities.

So I calmly kissed the boy and headed back to the car.  I aimed it back home for a lunch box and bathing suit.  Ten minutes later I loaded up again, but when I turned to talk to my daughter in the car the mug of coffee spilled, drenching my ice-blue pants in medium roast brown.  I had just gotten them out of the cleaner’s bag this morning. I bit my lip again.  I took deep breaths.  And I began the process of negotiating the garage door opener yet again.  Later on the way to work after dropping off my daughter wearing new pants I’m navigating child care for the next week.  Pick-ups and drop offs and swapping weekends and arrangements.  I am wondering what we’ll eat for dinner and breakfast and whether I will have the stamina to make more sandwiches.

I think of how horrible I’ve been as a friend and daughter myself, always taking, never giving. I think somehow this is my selfish season.  There are days I call my mom and just rattle off what’s happening in my life without even stopping to say hello, or wondering what’s happening in her own. And when I call my friends it’s often to just vent about something without reciprocation.  And I’m filled with shame for lacking an even greater capacity to love, until the dings of email remind me that I have more pressing obligations.

It rained on the way to work today, fat pelting drops that gave trucks permission to slow to a turtle crawl.  And I progressed forward in tiny lurches forward toward an office, and a meeting, and executives with agendas.  And when I arrived I made a comment about the traffic, rolled my eyes, and I sat down with a heavy sigh.

Today has finally begun.  It’s a hair past 8:30.  No one really knows the backdrop of a life.

photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/burningimage/2363258975/sizes/m/in/photolist-4AQjyp-4JjXce-4Krva2-4KF9Dj-4STFMz-4Tbgjc-59S5ba-59ZWf8-5akZxM-5fqg2i-5hK1oz-5r3DoA-5tdngD-5tYQkD-5vJGbr-5JMg5o-5RZqd6-676xCX-683poN-6bMwku-6i14P9-6pybJg-6r99Ud-6rVwNA-6vogim-6yLKJH-6VFTEM-789Mm4-78MLKv-7fzA14-mdXYRC-8aiTpA-9w8eWL-nyTdxB-ajL7uF-hFGSyC-8ey5Wr-mfPuYg-87SwfE-7CfbZ4-agYDbQ-bnBkXw-9Brckz-9rPxcR-9qdw4t-9d2zXu-c4Ttfy-cca2eq-7PAweF-fbY3MF-bMZ5LK/

A Lunch Hour Prayer

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I’m writing this on my lunch hour, the phone timer set so my imaginary demons won’t report to the world that I’m spending work time on personal business.  Because I feel such guilt over walking out the door at 4 or when I spend too long in the break room and my heart is always forever pushing back shards of shame.  It’s my former government employee and youth director mentality I’ve never been able to get over, punctual and ethical in all things. Do more, exceed expectations, never lie and always proofread. But guilt is a wrecking ball, and after so many years it chips away at an otherwise stalwart heart.

God has given me an amazing gift of perseverance.  I’ve faced near-death and cancer and divorce and heartbreak and turmoil and yet somehow my internal clock still beats incredibly strong, and my default sensors are always half-full, and I tend to always get back up and start whistling.  But the devil’s found this loophole, you see. An enormous guilt that sweeps over me like a sulfur wind. Because God expects me to do certain things in His image and I’ve gone off and failed him.  And Jesus died for my sins and I can’t manage to carry out the stupid trash or concentrate on a managed care contract.  Seriously, what good am I.

So here goes the rampage of emptiness that fills my heart – a guilt that starts like a small fire I can so totally control.  But let’s be honest: we all know fire jumps protective lines and travels where it should not and thus I allow guilt to creep into my smile and my laugh and my brain and all the various crevices of me. And what remains is a hollowed-out version.

Oh, precious children whom I love.  There are moments I want to hold you so tight you might suffocate and I sit cross-legged in your rooms and watch how you contort your lips like a fish and my whole body is full of you.  I draw little hearts alongside of you on crisp white paper and make up silly songs and for fifteen glorious minutes I build castles out of magnatiles with the pointy ceilings that click together just so. And I hold your hands on our long family walks so we can discuss wildflowers and beetles but then like a flash I simply want to get off the floor and tell you to find your own peace and quit fighting and watch a show because can’t you see I need a minute? Can’t you see I need to sit alone on this front porch and see if he’s texted or if updates have arrived because I have to awkwardly navigate the real world with a broken heart?  I need to be free of you for a little while.

And these beautiful ones say so softly “Put the phone down momma. Why don’t you ever play with us anymore?” Because one moment I’m hot and another I’m cold. And my entire life’s fortune is in front of me blinking and the guilt of knowing this ravages a hole into my heart.

Oh, God whom I gave my life years ago.  My weak, sagging life has always been unequivocally yours, from the moment I gave it to you in that small chapel with dirty stone floors.  My servant-hood has never varied, and you know this.  And yet I do not seize you. I do not throw myself in worship and I am not an example as I wish to be.  You know me. I so love the piercing shrill of a curse word and I like to sip on sparkling champagne on a summer night too often and I’d rather read fiction than Colossians and I don’t want to give up things and not do things and the Bible is sometimes just a wee bit more boring than I’d like.  You know I want to eat broccoli and yet sometimes I have a hangover and I sulk on the garden floor half-heartedly pulling weeds and visit with you behind clenched teeth.  I need to be free of my suffocating expectations. Can’t you just let me feel happiness for once and not rip it out from underneath me?

Oh, relationships that end.  Come on, now. I have blue eyes and I’m funny and bubbly and supportive and smart. I wear a slinky dress one day and cowboy boots the next. Isn’t this something that’s desirable to the hearts of man? And yet when things don’t work out for good solid reasons that are mature and understandable I sulk and stomp because why wouldn’t men want me despite the crushing odds? Can’t we all just walk through life in a blissful state of romance and turn the truck around and you show up on doorsteps with bundles of flowers? Is this really too much to ask? I am so excellent with being alone, but lonely is another issue entirely.  I recoil and spin in all directions and have no willpower.  And because I’m dramatic I then tear up and cast side glances to God and wander around my home and my town and the aisles of Whole Foods and I feel all random and tied up in knots.  Maybe I didn’t try hard enough. Maybe I should have done more.  Maybe it’s me that is the reason for the leaving. The guilt in reaching out too much and playing my hand and being too open with my emotions fills me with dread.  Damn guilt, it crept in again through an open portal.

There are times I am not a writer and not a lawyer and not a mother and not a lover and I’m just a flat-out mess as real life walks over me like a homeless bum, desperate and lacking.  There are days I want to lay flat on my back and just stare at the ceiling for hours upon end and hope the day passes to another sun and another moon and another season and another everything.  And yet we are to use the time given to us and delight in the toil and trust that God will forever be faithful, so guilt creeps upon my eyeglasses and taps though the glass into my one working eyeball.  “Hello in there? You realize how lucky you’ve got it, woman?” And I rise again, crawling to sit and half-rising off the bed to sore feet and a bruised heart and I half-ass my way through another day, another life, another dinner, another weekend.

But slowly a hint of a smile returns.  And quietly a voice starts to hum from inside, where the spirit lives.  It’s barely audible, the prayer that forms. But it’s there, like an imprint God has sewn into the fabric:

Enough. I have done enough and loved hard enough and God is enough and therefore I release you, stupid ugly guilt that has crawled through my veins and is tearing at my spirit.  I will walk down the hallway after eating this protein bar for lunch toward the restroom, since the timer is about to go off.  I will go to a meeting.  I will respond to emails with thoughtfulness and I will refrain from making bad decisions and will not reach back to the past. I will take deep breaths and drink more water. I will hug my children today when I see them.  But if I don’t? If I sulk for a few more days and still do stupid things and drink a soda and tell my children to watch another show and text the dude? That does not define me. That does not make my life less worthy.  And it certainly has nothing to do with how much God delights in me, and desires me, and loves me.  Oh, God, let me refocus my life not for me, but to delight again in you.  To find peace in a love that is calm and replenishing. That is enough.  My dear Father, that has always been enough.

Now, it’s back to work. There are contracts a-waitin, and they ain’t gonna write themselves.

Photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/henry_hemming/13973928195/sizes/m/in/photolist-nhQ31t-asqkJW-gHgTvK-gFJFoz-dQXhXi-8B8NQN-aFBzLR-ciRhGE-dMe84B-adDGg4-bGSkRF-btXzbA-btXxRG-bGSn9i-bGSm9e-btXxK9-btXyz1-bGSkEZ-btXyXf-bGSm3g-bGSmNp-bGSms8-bGSmhR-bxsLJE-asi3Fr-myQQ92-8LwW6j-7KhDa4-dTkTu7-9a4jan-bcpdAP-amPDzV-ajykMp-7AV4qv-8ergxe-eWXpy7-88bgji-8AMeYi-8vGnwi-eyQByk-f8Cf5z-f8QQYE-fUDnNh-dgq518-eWXAcs-eWLbhF-ajzVfZ-asFLxn-f6CkiR-eWXpgw-8UcZjv/

Odd and Curious Thoughts (about a weekend alone)

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(1) Being the environmentally conscious city that it is, Austin has a city ordinance that you have to bring your own recycled bags to the grocery store or else you’re carrying frozen peas in your purse and balancing tri-tip steak between your armpits while hunting for your car keys.  But today, I traveled outside the city’s jurisdiction to Trader Joe’s, which is free of said restriction, and what do I see but some woman lugging in the bags after all.  I had an urge to run up to her and say “But honey! You don’t have to bring them! They not only have chocolate-covered potato chips but they give you bags!” But her assortment of henna tattoos revealed that she was just trying to be environmentally conscious.  Weirdo.

(2) I’ve begun to refer to Diet Coke as chemical water to warn obviously ignorant consumers to the danger of aspartame so when I stopped by people’s offices this past week see if they want anything from the break room I gave them a choice of 30 grams of sugar or chemical water and suddenly people are shutting their doors and I don’t know why.

(3) I planted a pack of wildflowers in my garden this year, but as I was driving today I saw fields of Indian paintbrush along the highway and I felt so guilty for trying to force flowers that were supposed to grow untamed and free into neat little rows and like wild horses these flowers would forever now be caged and I wanted to run out and pluck their little green shoots from the earth to spare them from a life in captivity.  But I didn’t because that’s dumb.

(4) I mentally judged a woman for not wanting to fill landfills with plastic bags and yet I contemplated ripping soul-less seeds from the earth to protect their unrealized ego.  Who is weird in this situation. Pray tell.

(5) So Dude is out of town for a work conference so I’ve spent all glorious weekend cleaning out closets.  I didn’t realize how much mental and physical energy went into getting dressed up, applying make-up, being mentally alert and ready for any required flirtatious banter, and generally being an affable and overall pleasant date on all occasions. From now on I need to stop dating and focus on closets because I never realized how much I can actually accomplish. IT’S AMAZING.

(6) At Trader Joe’s I got a frozen pizza and it turns out my evening is spent curled up in my [extremely] clean closets with wimpy organic flatbread creating grease spots on paper plates PLEASE MY DEAR COME BACK TO TEXAS I CAN’T LIVE LIKE THIS.

(7) When I have free time I make care packages, so fair warning, friends I haven’t had time to call in four months because you’re getting chocolate covered raisins and rainbow washclothes!! So excited, ya’ll!

(8) So in the garden I’ve been growing snow peas.  Every time I go out there I pick about seven of them.  Today at the store I noticed a huge package of them for $2.49 so basically all this freaking hard work is saving me nothing.  NOTHING.

(9) Yesterday I was at the mall and in the Talbots window was a model wearing a green sweater with blue tropical fish on it and I thought perhaps Talbots is running some covert campaign for population control because pretty much anything is sexier than a grown woman wearing fish on her sweater and I mean honestly we need these accountants and HR specialists and upper middle class Talbots couples to have babies so let’s stop with the fish already.

(10) I cleaned out the pantry and found a box of fudge cookies with Santa Claus on the box. Seriously, people.  This is how I live.

(11) At World Market you have to purchase the furniture in a box so Saturday morning in Austin some girl with one eye and no depth perception was trying to figure out how to use a wrench and screwdriver and when certain holes could not be found in the prefab wood despite the stupid instructions perhaps this girl drilled into where she thought it should go but this girl isn’t an engineer and just a lawyer so perhaps someone should come over and re-examine the work done post haste.  And don’t set your coffee on the table just words of wisdom I’m not saying it’s going to fall but PROTECT YOURSELF.

(12) In sum, a weekend alone is glorious and you can sleep until the dog begins to bark at you for a treat and you can make an entire pot of coffee all to yourself and vacuum with wild abandon and eat salad in a mixing bowl while watching another episode of Suits but then Sunday night rolls around and you get lonely for little people who suck all you energy and give you sloppy wet i-wuv-you-momma kisses and suddenly you’re wistfully staring out the window where they used to play and GOOD GRACIOUS IT’S BEEN THREE DAYS YOU CAN DO THIS.  Please, kids, I need you to come home.  I’m utterly lost (and slightly crazy) without you.  See: the wildflower incident mentioned above. Thanks, ya’ll.

Our Wrinkled Lives

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I’ve been busy. 

That’s what I tell myself when I want to write, poetic words about how Jesus rose or balancing a career or the absurdity of car names like Trail Blazer and Expedition but then a Yaris drives by with a missing window and no hubcaps and I’m like “sure those other dudes are jerks and ain’t nobody roaming the range in an eighty-thousand-dollar car but honesty, Yaris.  Have some self respect and get a paint job.”  Then I think about how Yaris sounds like a tropical disease and I flip through the radio but my speaker’s blown so I balance the iphone in my console and blow my nose on an old Starbucks napkin and think TONIGHT FOR SURE I will clean out my car but I’m caught swooning over the sappy love mix on spotify the Dude created amplified only by the walls of the cup holder and I think about how kind and wonderful he is until I suddenly I remember I have three loads of laundry waiting on the bed that I’ve already pushed over into a wad on the non-sleeping side so they’re in piles of “re-dry for critical wrinkle relief” and “who the heck cares/you just sleep in this ratty t-shirt, girl” because I was so tired last night I could barely stumble from my son’s bedtime stories to my own and I’m out of dog food and my car needs gas and I got a warning from the teacher to not pack peanut butter again because the fumes may waft into the air and destroy some kid’s life and I just don’t see how airborne peanuts can kill someone so I pack a cheese sandwich that no kid on planet earth likes and I think about my 7:30 am meeting and how that contract never got sent so I set my alarm extra early to sound like raging bullhorns and I drag out of bed and look at my face that somehow resembles a wrinkled sock and text at a red light and eat a chipotle burrito in my car when suddenly a black bean rolls in between the seats and I’m curled up all contorted in a three-hundred dollar suit searching for a rogue black bean so I laugh at myself and apply lipstick and get home to remember the freaking dog food so I feed the poor thing half a cup and seventeen treats and realize I didn’t clean my car and that laundry will have to wait again and I really, really hope that my poor dog’s extra fat sustains him until morning.

Where were we. Oh yes. Jesus. I wanted to write about Jesus.

There are times I get so busy I can’t even stop long enough to feel. I washed a pair of kid’s underwear in the sink and dried it with a hair dryer at 5:30 am for goodness sakes, and last week I purchased a hamburger at the gas station grill because I was there, and so tired it seemed rational.

I think that perhaps the gift of new life is even for times like these, when we get caught up and distracted. It’s not always a perfect season where we let dough rise and children play in flocked dresses and plumes of dandelion seeds flutter off onto the dewy grass below.  There are seasons for which we simply must hunker down and do our best.  We pray in traffic and forgive a co-worker and bring our positive best to the task in front of us that God has asked us to shoulder.  And we manage between the heated up green beans and leftover macaroni to ask for our children’s hands to be folded long enough to roll through a long and beautiful list of blessings.  We feel our breath again.  We stop and bow and mutter our own set of thanks.

So to you hard-working women out there, I say this – you not only CAN do this, but you WILL. You must.  So throw that hair back in a hair tie and do the dishes.  Fold the laundry.  Get to work early.  Pack a cheese sandwich (he’ll live – seriously he’s only 4).  You smile at adversity and co-workers that derail you and YOU ROCK THIS WRINKLED LIFE.  Not by your own strength, but His. Because you only have a short time, and you don’t have the luxury to half-ass your way through it.

Sometimes life just sucks. But also it doesn’t, because God has asked you to bear it. And to shoulder it for a time. Wait for the calm, and do your best to find it.  Center your own soul, even in the swirling mass of laundry.  Laugh, hire a housekeeper, have ice cream for dinner, let the kids stay up late, make forts, roll on the clean laundry pile, re-wash them, drink wine, eat on paper plates, and be grateful.  Forever and always grateful.  Even in this season. It’s all testing ground for your soul.   Maybe you’ll meet someone amazing, who smiles at your jokes and makes you feel crazy loved and you’ll suddenly begin to see sunrises and opportunities and chances to shine.  Maybe you’ll start to realize how strong you really are.  Maybe your face will still look like a wrinkled sock, but Estee Lauder has a cream for that.

“Waiting time is not wasting time. Waiting patiently in expectation is the foundation of the spiritual life.” ~ Henri Nouwen

Wait for better times.  But also live abundantly and gloriously in the one you’re in. 

 

photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/pearlmatic/5660713161/sizes/m/in/photolist-9CdCNM-cPxMYq-9FL25a-4RYvK2-enikVz-bD96Lc-9dWMph-biy8Le-9jXmAt-71U5AJ-6ea8Av-KQR69-a7hxpk-9QvNRf-dJqU9o-8F2e8d-5ifqXj-61JYN-85MCzD-5ZtZ25-hZfbmj-7MHzTa-6mR4AQ-5aqc-a7kvnN-8Vt7oY-6yZwtH-79JKby-7kWjVd-8tU1Gb-a75pPp-79xH8U-8s34wJ-91zUsq-7yP1hW-LqY3-dUQ9Ni-c6KNY9-9GDfg7-8CPRdi-e1Tykw-8V7Rpa-7i4RXR-8PNX7P-9j3cC1-79xHCG-8EGA5n-muMbmN-6nsY17-7CjSKL-de9aCe/