Sunday, February 28, 2016

Kate, Claire and Me

I'm not sure how it happened, but on the last weekend of a February leap year, the heartland received a huge gift...70 degrees and sunshine.

And I received the gift of caring for my two daughters while my better half took our son on an epic Boy Scouts camping trip.

Admittedly, I went into the excursion feeling tired.  Drained from a full week, I was praying that the Vitamin D would give me the extra boost I needed to hold down the fort.  With a steaming cup of coffee in hand, a deep inhale and exhale, pink tulips on my table, I agenda.  No getting the laundry caught up or the groceries bought or the clothes donated or the house picked up.  Instead, we would go where our hearts took us.

Kate (8) and Claire (5) decided that their hearts wanted to paint fairy houses and sew pillows and curtains to go inside.  This lasted a short while before Kate's inner servant kicked in and she decided that it would be a better use of time to paint rocks, sell them, and give the money to the poor.

This took us through a good chunk of the morning, until Claire decided that it was time to blow this boring, altruistic pop stand and set out onto the open road.

Equipped with their bikes and a backpack of supplies, we found our coveted path and traveled to the park. 

While I was pushing them on the swings and they were screaming, "Higher, higher, all the way to the tippy-tops of the trees!!!" I couldn't stop beaming that I almost started crying, until Claire jolted me out of my "What a Wonderful Life" mini-movie because she was afraid to jump.

Because it was an unusually hot day, gelato was a given.  Peanut butter chocolate for Kate, plain chocolate for Claire and Espresso for me.

While eating the yummy goodness, we decided that it wouldn't be the perfect day, until we blew bubbles.

Watching them travel high into the sky, headed on an adventure of their own made everything right with the world.

After a bath, stories and a few songs for good measure, we started to pray and this is what I heard...

"Thank you God for this fun day and the best mama.  Thank you for painting rocks and toe nails and digging in the sand and chocolate.  Thank you for riding bikes and sunshine.  Mostly, thank you for the money that our rocks will bring.  May every child feel loved."

I quietly closed their door and went into the kitchen to work on the dishes. 

This little life of mine is a good one. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A Mockery of Public Service

It's grown to be a joke in our abode.

When there's too much sugar in their blood stream or too little time getting their wiggles out, the kids scream "What starts with D and ends with P?"  And while they laugh hysterically (which is still mind boggling because they've said it countless times), they make up names like "da poop" or "the dope" or "the don pawn."  But always, every time in a way that indicates that the person they are referring to is an idiot or a fool or at best, a silly man.

I contend with the comments for a bit and then, I say, "Okay, alright, enough is enough."

The truth is that I want desperately to provide my young, malleable children with a balanced perspective of this man who is running to earn the highest political office in the land...but I can't.  In fact, I'm thankful that we don't watch the news and that they don't have social media accounts to hear more extensive stories of what a buffoon, at best and a monster, at worst that this man really is.

In the beginning, I thought his tirades were a farce.  I imagined that his racist, sexist and in general, nonsensical commentary were simply a rouse--that truly no one in their right mind would pay homage to a man who has alienated nearly every population subset around him.

But then, I stood in amazement this morning driving the kids to school.  He's now won the primaries in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada (my husband's home state which I like to give him a rash about).  The last state, he scored over 20% points over Rubio and Cruz.  Dear God...this feels like a real deal.

And then I thought, why does this bother me so profusely?

It makes me extraordinarily sad that the notion of earning an opportunity to serve in public office has become either a ridiculously exclusive enterprise, to see how much money one can fund raise, or how obnoxiously offensive one can be in their views, with next to no evidence as to why they believe the way that they do.

I want nothing more than to proudly walk into a voting booth with all three of my children and discuss what an enormous privilege and extraordinary right this is to partake in as an American.  I want them to research candidates and to feel out their own perspectives, values and mindsets about issues that affect not only themselves but their fellow citizens.  I would love to hear that they would want to sacrifice their own time, talents and gifts to become public servants and that they would take that responsibility very seriously.

But the truth is that most of the time, if we walk into a voting booth, we're doing so with the expectation of selecting the lesser of two evils and that was not the intent behind the process.

So as this election cycle plays itself out, you can imagine who I will not be voting for and that I will be extensively researching Canadian citizenship if the people of our country fall into the devastating trap of voting for someone that seems unfathomable to represent us in anyway, shape or form. 

Until then, because I try to be a good mother, I won't let the children denigrate his name...too much.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Messy Miracle of Mothering

A sharpened pencil.

A coffee cup.

Five million multi-colored brick Legos.

A hoodie.

A piece of junk mail.

That damn bag of clothes that has yet to make its way to the Goodwill.

A backpack.  A half eaten apple.  A water bottle.  A ziplock bag with old goldfish.

I pick up each one and clench them in my hands, my arm pit, my mouth and I travel...delivering one by one to a different room or the trash can internally cursing that this is the sad story of my life.

I begin a lecture in my head of how I am not an indentured servant and that these God damn kids are going to start carrying their weight or I'm going to kick their asses out onto the front lawn.

And then tonight happens.  I witness my 11-year old son cross over from a cub scout into a full, fledged boy scout and on the way home I remind him of his orthodontist appointment when he gets braces on his bottom teeth.  A few hours earlier,  I encourage my 8-year old sweet daughter to practice over and over again her presentation on the great state of Maine (side note: did you know that chewing gum was invented in Maine and that they are the producers of more toothpicks per capita than any other state in the union?).   And moments before that, my 5-year old gives me a talking to about taste testing healthy foods and the particulars of dancing the waltz with her preschool classmate.

It's all happening in front of my eyes.  The growing up part.  The changing.  The reaching of milestones.  The becoming their own people thing that children do when you don't even know it.

The hardest part is that it's mixed in with incessant screaming because no one listens and the repeating of the same instructions over and over again until I just want to throw myself off a bridge or drive to Mexico all the while simultaneously taking each other for granted because that's just what happens when you're a part of a family.

So just when you're moments from pulling your hair out and ready to sell your children to the first bidder, you realize that something magical is happening in the mix of the ridiculously tedious, impossibly hard and painfully mundane.  You realize that you're doing it.  You're raising beautiful, miraculous, stunningly imperfect, gorgeous human beings that take your breath away.  And in that one moment, you decide that it's worth it and you can get up again tomorrow and vow to try all over again.

Picking up the

sharpened pencil

coffee cup

half eaten fill in the blank

And that this is all part of the messy miracle you get to witness.  The amazing, ugly, embarrassingly frustrating, more beautiful than you could imagine gift of mothering.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Season of My Soul

We shed our coats.

Traded our mittens for water bottles.

And hit the road in the stroller.

Walking to pick the big kids up from school, we watched a sunshiny 64 degree day melt the last of the dirty snow.  In the midst of soaking up much-needed vitamin D, my five-year old blurted out, "Awwww, maaaannnn.  The snow is leaving us."

To which I replied, "Good riddance."

Not skipping a beat, Claire said, "Snow is awesome!  I like building snowmen and sledding and having hot cocoa and eating ice cycles. It's sad to see it go."

"That's because you were born in the wintertime.  We're all secretly in love with the season of our birthday, " I retorted.

"What season are you, mama?"

"I'm springtime.  I love tulips and green patches emerging from the ground.  Warm rain jumping in puddles makes me happy. I live for the sunshine and the blue sky and laying in the grass reading a book.   My favorite is when it's cool in the early morning and mild during the day...oh and sleeping with the windows open at night...that's the best.  Mostly, I just love that everything is coming back to life again.  I guess, its the season of my soul."

"Well, my season is beating your season, because I still see snow.  It's winter.  I don't think spring is here yet."

"You're probably right.  But maybe, just for today, we can pretend?" I smiled.

“When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest."
Ernest Hemingway

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Sweet Retreat

After a week of puke buckets, fevers, missed school, disinfectant, lack of will to live and lots of tea and lightly buttered toast...I was so grateful that this morning arrived.

For the last five years, my daughter, Kate and I have attended a sacred event that my women's circle at church hosts entitled "The Sweet Retreat."

Scheduled during the Valentine's season, it's an opportunity for mothers, grandmothers, sisters and friends to carve out time and honor their sweet little girls.

Since the beginning, I've facilitated the opening prayer along with my daughter, Kate.  Everything from creating the words to sharing the message brings joy to my heart.

Now that my children are 11, 8 and 5...our lives are very full...subsequently, it's rare to find one-on-one time with each of them.  I'm typically in the throws of shuttling them from here to there while multi-tasking in the process.  So, the chance to carve out the morning alone with Kate to talk about all of the ways that we love each other was really glorious.

We started out with an opening question:  Write down some of the things you love about your special someone.  I laid our respective notes side by side.

My note to Kate says:

I love you SO  much and am very thankful to share this special morning with you!  Thank you for being so creative, colorful, musical and full of life. You make my heart sing.
xoxo, Mama

Kate wrote to me:

Kelly,  I love so many things about you, but here are 3...
1.  I love your passion for jewelry.
2.  I love your beautiful voice.
3.  I love how God made you!
xoxo,  Katherine E. Gering

I'm not even sure where to begin with all of the things that I love about this note.  The first is that she referred to me as Kelly.  Not long ago, she asked what my real name was.  When I told her Kelly, she said, "well then, we should call you that because you're not just a mama."  Since that time, she has decided to go by her God-given name of Katherine because she says that it suits her better and that a letter signature should incorporate your middle initial to honor your whole name.

But probably the best part of her correspondence was that she loves how God made me, which is what everyone yearns to be loved for...just being exactly as they are with no strings attached for improvement. 

And just like that before the brunch and formal program had begun, I was already grateful and in love all over again with my daughter.

It's a remarkable thing to notice the ones you love and to be noticed by them.  It means the world to share why you love someone and what they bring to your life.  It's just that often we get busy, take the moment for granted and choose not to carve out the time.

As the morning continued, I found myself looking at her smiling, remembering when she was little, glancing forward to when she might be presenting in front of large audiences as a young woman...all the while being eternally grateful for this slice of time.

I love you, Kate.  Thanks for making my cold, February morning warm and sweet.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Lenten Pause

I woke up this morning in the pitch black.

At 4:30am in the Midwest, knee-deep in the throws of February winter, it's cold and hard to kick your own ass out of bed.

Half awake, stumbling to the coffee pot, I remembered that today marks Ash Wednesday...the beginning of the Lenten journey.

On this day, believers in Jesus Christ gather to honor the 40 days that he spent in the desert fasting while growing closer to God and seeking to resist the temptation of Satan.  Christians begin this process with a blessing of ashes (derived from palm branches of the previous years' Palm Sunday) and are encouraged to both repent and believe.  The Lenten journey serves as preparation for Jesus' crucifixion on earth, redemption and transcendence into Heaven, Easter.

Every year, I seek to find a meaningful way to make the 40-days matter.  I've vacillated between giving-up certain foods or behaviors to doing something like writing letters of gratitude or focusing my prayer life.  You name it...over the last 40 years of life, I've probably done it.

This year, I was scrambling.

And so, I went for a run at o'dark thirty this morning and thought.

As I was sweating and carrying out the miles, it struck me how extraordinarily hard it is to be in the moment.  When things are going really well, I'm secretly convinced that the other shoe is about to drop.  If things are not going so well, I'm feverishly devising strategies in my mind to make them better.  And frequently, when I can't make something better immediately, I get anxious and fall back on my go-to coping mechanisms which in the end, never solve the dilemma.

This is the nature of life.  The push-pull, distractional tug of living out the journey.  Most everyone I know feels it.  We all struggle with balancing the demands of careers, children, health concerns, aging parents, physical fitness, paying bills and having fun.  We're punished for embracing the moment because the world tells us that successful people are always two steps ahead.  So, we never fully inhabit exactly where we are...the good and the bad.

Three miles into the run, I was in pain...side ache, unbalanced breathing, massive amounts of sweat...I wanted to bag the remainder of the workout and sit on the couch drowning my sorrows in hot coffee.

But for one second, I slowed my pace, breathed in through my nose and out my mouth and started talking to myself, "What are you scared about?  You've been here before.  You can do this.  It may not be fast or graceful or look like it's looked in the past, but it will happen because you are at the helm. Make a choice right now to feel what you're feeling and not to mask it. Own where you are."

After I finished the run, it hit me that most of life is honoring exactly where you are, at any given time.  It may not (and often isn't) what you ordered up or what you'd prefer or what you deserve or where you thought you'd be, but it is the truth.  The truth of the now and it's happening whether you mask it with something so as not to feel will still be here.

In the midst of the noise and the distraction, our most important human job is to own the very moment that we are in for all that it as not to project ugliness, fear, insecurity, anger, entitlement onto those who engage us because we can't honor our own space.

And so for me, the 40-day Lenten journey is about very specifically being in dialogue with myself about my life...when fear emerges about fill-in the blank...parenting, finances, work, my body, my marriage...I sit with it.  I feel it.  I honor it.  I experience it.  I don't mask.  I bring it into the light.

Here's to the beginning...


Monday, February 8, 2016

Ode to Sam on Your 11th Birthday

Dear Sam,

I know I say this every year, but really, how in the world is it possible that you are 11-years old today?

I am 5 feet, 8 inches tall and when you stand next to me, the top of your head hits the bottom of my ear.  Majestic and strong with your bright blue eyes, dark black frames and most recently (although not pictured) super cool blue and green are no longer a boy, but instead a card-carrying deodorant wearing, face washing, size 14 jean wearing young man.

This year marks fifth grade and the advent of piano...which means that I spend many a morning listening to you bang out the theme from Star Wars, Harry Potter and Jurassic Park on the ivories.  And much to your chagrin, you're really good and I think (although I promise not to tell your friends) that you really like it.

When you're not filling the house with music, your nose can be found in a book reading or drawing.  You've read more about dragons, wizards, young boys, quests and far off lands and whether it's "The Hobbit or Harry Potter" my favorite part is that you're always rooting for the under dog.

I know I've told you this time and time before, but never stop being so unbelievably comfortable in your own's truly one of the best things you've got going on.  I adore that you're cool being on your own or engaging a friend or two and that you don't need the acceptance of the world...being liked is super over-rated when it comes to compromising who you are.

My second prayer is that as the years go on and you begin to question who you are and your place in the world that you remember where you came from and who loves you most.  You are a child of God...a beautiful, bright, head-strong, give it all you've got, absolute wonder...let no one try to convince you otherwise.  Your life has purpose and worth and you are destined for greatness.

As you grow into who you are by trying on lots of friendships, musical interests, literary forays, political beliefs, spiritual questions...I want you to know that I am here and while it's not the easiest to share your heart's stirrings with your mom, I promise you that I will always be a soft place to land.

I wish I could beg and plead for you to stop growing because man, it's hard to know that I now have less years with you at home than I've had in the past...but the truth is, you're an incredible gift that I'm so grateful to call my one and only son.

Here's to a year filled with lots of adventure, many moments of love and more amazing memories than you can imagine.

I love you, always...

xoxo, Mama