Clothes Pins, Family, and Forty Years

About a year (ish) ago I bought a bag of clothes pins. The plan was to use them for closing bags of things in the pantry and for some never-realized craft for the kids. The clothes pins were plentiful for a while and I happily closed our bags of stuff with ease.

And then they began to disappear.

It happened so gradually that I didn’t even notice at first; they just started to become more and more difficult to find until, finally, they were all gone. Occasionally when I’d go to close bags of things I’d mention the disappearance to Keith or the dog or myself. But I never really fully investigated their vanishing – there are plenty of other mysteries that took precedence in my mind – like why Keith can only read every other item on a shopping list, or why my entire family always wants to talk to me when I reach the last twenty pages of a book.

Today, however, I happened to mention the clothes pin disappearance to Molly:

“Molly, I wish I knew where all those clothes pins went.”

“They’re in the princess piñata.”

(We happen to have a princess piñata that’s been hanging out on the floor of our pantry for the past couple of years. Don’t ask – I’m sure there’s a story there but I can’t remember it.)

Lo and behold, the piñata is filled with clothes pins.

Matter-of-fact Molly just shrugged and told me, “That’s where I keep them.”

Of course it is.

So, I was actually kind of excited a bit later when I had the need to close a bag ‘o something. I went straight for the piñata. But, once again, the clothes pins were all gone. I knew who to go to this time.

“Molly! Where are all the clothes pins?”

“I made a person with them.”

“Oh! Can I have one for this bag of rice?”

“No, Mom. I need all of my clothes pins.”

“YOUR clothes pins? I thought they were mine.”

“No, Mom – they were in my piñata.”Image

This is my life.

I live in a world where a four-year old is in charge of pantry management and piñatas are mainstays in the kitchen. It’s a magical place of stale cereal, spilled rice, and the need to be prepared for impromptu fiestas.

And, to give credit where credit is due, it’s all my parent’s fault.

Because forty years ago today they got married and started something chaotic, enduring, messy, loud, ever-changing, solid, and beautiful. Forty years ago they created my family. And they taught my siblings and me what a family looks like, a lesson that I think we’ve all taken to heart and used when creating our own families. So, my pantry problems (and dare I say my missing socks?) are their fault because they showed us that family is …

A place where pantry organization takes backseat to childhood

A place where humor wins and laughter heals

A place where tempers run hot and forgiveness flows freely

A place where ukulele, or guitar, or banjo, or harmonica music is the background to all family gatherings

A place where children are seen and heard and cherished

A place where dogs are loved (and the occasional cat is tolerated)

A place where the stories of our past are the folklore my children are raised with

A place where our differences are part of our strength

A place where creativity is embraced and love is quilted and strummed and sang and composed and danced

A place that has never been less than home – no matter where it’s located or how far apart we are from each other.

I think it’s such serendipitous timing that my parent’s fortieth anniversary is the same day as our Molly’s last day as a four-year-old. It’s such a cool connection to me. Forty years ago when they stood at that altar there’s no way they could have known what they were creating.

And today I spent the day soaking up my littlest girl’s littleness. I inhaled her twirling and singing and knock-knock jokes and clothes pin people because tomorrow she turns five and that feels like a big deal to me.

And, really, it’s all their fault.Image

Magic Sneakers

It’s two years post tornado and one year after I promised myself I was done writing about the tornado. But I’m fickle and I promise not to write about it again! (Unless I do …)

A while back I registered the kids for the Joplin Memorial Fun Run. Molly is four, so I envisioned that Emily (8) and David (10) would run out ahead and Keith and I would walk/slow run with the Mollster. Ha.

I hadn’t told Molly those plans.

She’s trained for the run for weeks. This mostly involved sprinting the loop in my home from kitchen, to family room, to living room, and back – again and again and again. A couple days before the run we bought her new sneakers. They instantly became magic sneakers. You remember the type – the ones that made you run faster than ever before.

She was ready.

And it wasn’t a walk with her parents that she was ready for. That girl ran the whole mile with a huge smile on her little face. It was awesome. (But far from leisurely.)

The race wasn’t just about running though. It was a memorial to the people who lost their lives in the tornado two years ago. There was a sign hanging at the beginning of the race and it had the name of each of those 161.  When my exuberant racers arrived, Molly saw the sign and, assuming it was a list of the racers, asked, “Mommy, where’s my name!? Am I on there?”  If she hadn’t been so excited about racing she may have wondered why it took me a moment before answering her.

“No, baby girl, those are the people who died in the tornado and we’re running today to remember them.”

And then my mind swirled with the rest of the answer …

BUT …

Had the rotation been slightly different …

Had the walls twisted a bit more …

Had the ceiling been blown away over that closet …

Then the names on that list could have included my Molly and Emily and Keith. So close; they were so close.

In the past two years we’ve made the decision not to live in the land of “what if’s” because that can be life freezing and maybe even disrespectful to the people who did lose someone they love.  But the sign with the names (and the t-shirts that read “Running in memory of my Granny”) spoke of those whose loved ones couldn’t get into a safe place, whose ceilings collapsed and whose walls fell.  And I grieve with them for their loss with awareness that the happy ending to my tornado story could make their grief more powerful.

Because their loved ones were so close too – so close to safety, to shelter, to survival.

None of us will forget the storm that hit Joplin on May 22, 2011. My family and I may have decided that the storm doesn’t define us but we would be kidding ourselves to say it hasn’t changed us.

Because when I remember, it reverberates once again through my soul – life is precious, time is fleeting, and the people we love are so vulnerable and so fragile.

When faced with the memory of that day, we will do what we’re left here to do.

We will savor.

We will strap on our magic sneakers and run.

God bless the people whose story ended differently. Hopefully they have found some peace.

Image

A Joyful Noise

It’s the little things in life that seem to give me the biggest joy. The miracle found in the everyday. Tonight, it was some beauty found in bathtime.
 
My girls (8 and 4) were in the shower and, as usual, being way too loud and taking way too long for me. I went back to give them the riot act and instead was stopped in my impatient tracks by what I heard.
 
These are my babies in the shower reminding me, once again, about joy.
 

I hope your week goes smoothly and you find little, unexpected moments of joy throughout.

Oh, Parenting

I talk a good parenting talk. It goes something like this …

I’ll not be a helicopter mom, bulldozer mom, snowplow mom, or tiger mom.  I’ll not look at my phone while my kids are talking to me or at least won’t talk to my kids while I’m messing around on my phone. I’ll walk that line of involved but not intrusive. I’ll be a fun-loving disciplinarian and practice structured flexibility. I’ll balance the roles of cheerleader, leader, stand-up comedian, mentor, counselor, tutor, confidant, and parental authority. I’ll teach my children about suffering and the need for compassion while sheltering them from some of the harsher realities of our world. I’ll live in the moment while planning for the future. I’ll nurture while challenging, protect while stepping back, and go to battle while letting them fight their own fights. I’ll keep my superhero cape pressed at all times and I will make homemade crackers, organic.

But, regardless of all these good intentions (or sometimes because of them), I’m instead the mom who sometimes forgets to sign the permission slip, who has to carefully select the picture for Facebook that doesn’t show the laundry basket of shame, and who sends the kid to school with clothes that didn’t have time to fully dry in the dryer. Fortunately, I do normally manage to compliment the wet clothes with mismatched socks.

I occasionally bulldoze and frequently text. I sometimes step forward when I need to stand back. I discipline out of anger and give in out of exhaustion. I am human – flawed, tired, and misguided.

But today, in this moment, I’m going to stop.

I’ll stop measuring myself and comparing everything to some elusive, imaginary standard. I’ll face the fear at the root of my expectations – the fear that I’ll leave my babies wanting, leave them less than whole, less than prepared. I’ll acknowledge my fear that I will fail them in ways so much more important than permission slips and laundry.

So, today I’m going to stop, take a deep breath and enjoy them. And tonight, when I fall asleep, I’m not going to evaluate and replay and second guess. I’m going to pray.

“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for the opportunity to love so powerfully in my life. Thank you for the moments to step outside of expectations and fears. Thank you for their growing minds and tender hearts. Thank you for making me, with all my flaws and fears and expectations, their mother. Thank you for making me enough. Thank you.”

One Day

She lies on the bed with her eyes closed, her hair puffed around her like a cloud. She’s not sleeping inside those closed eyes. Her body is still but she laughs along with someone I can’t see. I come closer and tell her I’m there and she says, “Momma?” When I take her hand she giggles and talks to me about candy. Her hand feels so fragile, her skin tissue paper inside my hand. She is 95 years old.

But in that moment she’s a child holding her mother’s hand. And inexplicably I’m reminded of my daughters.

Later that day, when I’m cuddled up with my kids at bedtime, I’m reminded of that woman. It resonates with me deeply that in her last days her mind clings to moments like this one. These moments matter – deeply.

But it’s not that thought that steals my breath away and makes me tremble with new awareness. It’s this:

Someday, if our stories go as I hope, my babies will be old.

Someday their chubby, little hands will be wrinkled and fragile; their skin will be tissue-thin.

I hope that when that day comes my children will be surrounded by family. I have to believe, with every ounce of faith I can muster, that someone will love them as fiercely as I do and care for them and give them words of comfort when they’re scared.

One day my children will be vulnerable, weak, and maybe even call for me – but I won’t be there.

It’s heartbreaking and terrifying. But it’s also, ultimately, okay.

This is how life was designed. There’s an Irish proverb that says, “It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.” Today, it’s my role to be the shelter. I protect my children, nourish them, and teach them. I do these things so that eventually they won’t need me. And then, one day, they will become the shelter – for their children and, perhaps, for me.

This is life.

And it’s beautiful, miraculous, and scary.

It’s also simple. We need to love each other. Protect each other. We need to be the shelter for the people who have no one left to look at them with love and memory.

And the next time I hold the hand of someone on the other end of life, I’ll remember that I’m holding the hand of someone’s child. And I will be their shelter.

“Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant with the weak and the wrong. Sometime in your life you will have been all of these.”
Dr. Robert H. Goddard

My heart goes out to those whose stories didn’t go as hoped, especially to parents who fiercely loved children who did not get the chance to grow old. Life has so many different truths and I hope my words didn’t cause any pain.

The Day The Music Died

Kids are obnoxious.  It’s not their fault, obnoxious is a developmental stage. 

But there is nothing (NOTHING!) that raises their obnoxiousness to new levels like when my kids have a song stuck in their heads.  Repetition does not faze kids.  Things do not stop being funny.  They are relentless. 

 I respond with my parental repertoire of encouragement, redirection, bribes, threat, and (finally) either hysterical laughter or tears. 

Then, once they finally stop, I come face to face with the horrible truth that these songs are now stuck in my head … for forever.

So, in order to share the misery serve as a warning to all parents, I present you with the top two songs my kids have been torturing me with lately.

Peanut butter and jelly anyone?

How about a little circus afro?

The only solution is to fight fire with fire. 

Oh yeah kid?  I see your Circus Afro and I raise you a Mahna Mahna.

What songs have your kids been torturing you with lately? Parents of older kids, does it ever stop?

Rules Are Rules, Keith

Keith – please don’t read this post.  Or at least skip past the beginning part.  Thank you.

I don’t wear socks to bounce houses.  (Can you feel it coming?  That’s right I’m about to hit you with some advanced parenting wisdom.)

I don’t wear socks because you have to wear socks to go on the various bouncy things.  And if a child gets stuck on one of the aforementioned bouncy things then the parent with the socks ends up going to save the child.  On more than one occasion my sock-less self has sadly said:

“Sorry, Keith, I don’t have socks on.  It’s against the rules for me to climb up the 20-foot tall inflatable rock wall, low crawl through the inflatable tunnel filled with children, and plunge down the inflatable slide with our crying child.  Sorry.  Rules are rules.  **sigh** If only I’d worn socks.” 

Yep, it’s not my first rodeo. 

Despite my use of the sock-less technique, I was relieved when my normally fearless three-year-old decided not to climb up the giant tower.  (Sometimes Keith counters my “I have no socks!” technique with his “I’m 6’3!” technique.) Emily, however, plunged her 7-year-old self right into the daunting structure. 

This, my friends, is why you don't wear socks to a bounce house.

She soon realized that it wasn’t just the height of the tower that made it challenging.  There weren’t solid floors at each level – just interwoven belts that you push aside to climb through.  When other kids pushed the belt aside the whole “floor” would wiggle and you could fall through to the level below.  This realization paralyzed her around level two or three. 

As I prepared to show Keith my sock-less feet and he started to stand up as straight as possible to highlight his awkward-for-bounce-house height, a kind child helped Emily down.  (For shame, Keith.  For shame.)

Emily was a bit thrown off her game.  She’s not used to being the child who needs rescuing.  She went off to one of the other bouncy things and bounced reflectively for a couple of minutes.  Then her smile came back, she walked up to me and said:

“Mom, I know what I did wrong.  I looked down and I worried about the wigglers (wigglers = interwoven belts).  This time I’m looking up and I’m going to think about me going down the big slide at the end!”

She marched up to that tower and did exactly that, wiggly floors and all.

That’s my girl.

May the metaphorical wiggly floors of your week end in amazing, metaphorical slides.  May your feet be sock-less and your partner short.  May you find wisdom in unexpected places!