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

Jesus in the Bathroom

My religious knowledge failed me.  I went to Baylor University, for goodness sakes … surely my stint in the land of the Baptists would give me the right words.  Nope.  Nada.  I had nothing.

It started with three-year-old Molly on the toilet yelling, “MOM!!! CLOSE THE DOOR SO JESUS DOESN’T SEE ME!”

I closed the door and walked away tickled by her precociousness and the hilarious Facebook status this would make.

But she wasn’t done.

“MOM!!!”

I walked back into the bathroom.  She was still sitting on the toilet (obviously physically uncomfortable at this point) and said with a tinge of panic, “But MOM … he’s INBISIBLE!!!” She then looked up to the sky with wide eyes that conveyed her discomfort at this situation. 

I went for the easy answer, “That just means you can’t see him right now but the door will still work.”

 “MOM. He is EVERYWHERE.”

I tried to go with creationism, “Sweetie, God made your bottom … he’s allowed to see it.”

She responded with an answer I’d been drilling in her head for the past three years, “The bathroom is a place for PRIVACY!!!”

I replied with a comment that I’m fairly sure has no Biblical backing, “Baby, Jesus respects your privacy.”

“Can you ask him?”

“Ask him what?

“TO RESPECT MY PRIVACY!!!”

So we said a prayer … in the bathroom … while Molly sat on the toilet. 

“God, we ask that you respect Molly’s privacy while she goes to the bathroom.  Amen.”

**********

The faith of a child, even when coupled with a bathroom emergency, is refreshing.

As adults we complicate things by either over-thinking or, ironically, under-examining. 

For four-year-old Molly it was a no-brainer; the presence of God is as real to her as the laptop I’m typing on is to me. 

In fact, her belief is so solid that she instantly felt uncomfortable when her belief in privacy (can I get an “Amen!” on that one?) came head-to-head with her belief in an ever-present God.

There’s something awesome about that.

I want that.  I want to feel uncomfortable at times because my faith is so powerful that it comes in conflict with my day-to-day life.  There’s quite a bit going on in our complicated, adult world that should hit a discordant note when it comes head-to-head with a belief in divine love. 

We should cringe when we force truth to fit our own agenda.  We should feel embarrassed when we desperately attempt to strengthen our faith by weakening the faith of others.  We should experience shame when we ignore our duty to stand by our neighbor in the face of prejudice, poverty, or hardship. We should grieve when we let judgment replace love. 

The faith of a child is so simple but so difficult for an over-thinker like me.  I don’t have all the answers.  I don’t know all the whys.  I don’t even fully understand where this story is going to end.  And while there’s definitely a time for seeking and questioning, there’s also a time to just stop and take a moment to believe. 

May you all find moments to sit in the certainty of love and, of course, find privacy in your bathrooms. 

 

One Year Later in Joplin, Missouri

Almost a year ago, on May 22, 2011 a tornado hit my hometown of Joplin, Missouri.  The year since the storm was filled with joy, sorrow, tragedy, and miracle – sprinkled with refreshing moments of ordinary.  Most of you have heard the story:

On May 22 David turned nine years old.  The day started as a day of celebration. At 5:30 that evening, David, two of his friends, and I were in a movie theater watching pirates duke it out for the fountain of youth.  After the movie, we planned to meet Keith and the girls for pizza.  As we watched, I received a text from one of the boy’s mom saying “Stay put, Amy, the storm is bad and the tornado sirens are going off.”  The movie stopped in the middle of a scene, the lights turned on, and we were all instructed to go sit on the floor underneath the screen.  I called Keith to tell him to stay home with the girls and wait out the storm.  At the time, Keith and the girls were getting shoes on to head out the door and meet us for dinner.  Meanwhile, the theater crowd was laughing, talking, and in good spirits.  This is Missouri; we’re used to sirens and tornado warnings.  We were all sitting on the floor sharing any weather tidbits we could get on our phones.  Someone asked a manager why the movie was still playing in the theater next door.  The manager replied, “That’s not a movie.  That’s the storm.  Maybe a tornado …”

The mood changed.

I couldn’t reach Keith and the girls on the phone.  When the storm finally ended, people started to walk up the stairs to leave the theater as texts and calls began to come in.  It was terrifying to see people check their phones and start running, or crying, or saying “Oh my God …” The first text I received was from David’s friend’s mom.  It said, “Are you okay? Where are you? Tell M I love him.”  The next text was from Keith.  It said, “Our house was hit.” 

Across town, shortly after my initial call to Keith, he watched it turn black outside – he didn’t hear any sirens.  When his ears suddenly popped, Keith grabbed the girls and ran to the closest “safe” place – our closet.  He laid over Emily and Molly on the floor of the closet and listened as a tornado went over our house.  The tornado took our garage, trees, fence, roof, two cars, boat, and bent our walls as he and our little girls huddled together – fragile and exposed.   

That was our tragedy.

Here’s our miracle:  Keith, Emily, and Molly walked out of that closet untouched and unharmed.  In our family room, all the windows blew in, parts of our neighbor’s home came into ours, and the furniture was destroyed.  Our two dogs were kenneled in the only corner of that room without glass and debris.  They were also untouched and unharmed.  Our home, unlike the homes of most of our neighbors, stood.  It was fixable.  My parents came that night and took the kids to their home in Kansas City while Keith and I began the work of sorting through belongings trying to salvage what we could as the rain poured in.  We moved into a rental house.

And life went on.  David started the third grade, Emily the second, and Molly went back to her wonderful preschool program.  Keith continued his work at a manufacturing plant in Joplin.  I began a new job as a hospice social worker.  The kids’ usual flurry of activities continued. And, while all this beautiful ordinary went on, our home was slowly rebuilt.

Seven months after the tornado we moved back home!  Our neighborhood is still empty: the trees are gone, homes are missing, our view is a path of destruction instead of homes and trees, and many of our neighbors have moved away.  However, there is construction and progress every day.  We have new neighbors on our right and old neighbors have returned across the street.  Joplin is rebuilding and healing.  The community is a supportive place for those whose stories were more tragedy than miracle.  In fact, this city feels more like home to us now than it ever has in the five years we’ve lived here. 

Life is good and the ordinary is more beautiful than ever.

Good neighbors don’t flash each other.

We don’t have blinds on some of our windows yet.  The reasons for this blaring, privacy-prohibiting oversight are things like indecision and blinds on back-order.  (Of course, personally, I blame Keith.) 

Our new next-door neighbors are also somewhat blindless, which only seems fair.  I’ve become used to scenarios like David pronouncing from our dinner table that the next-door neighbors are watching basketball again. 

It’s a great way to get to know the new neighbors.

However, it’s also like performing nightly on an open stage.  I’m fairly certain that the neighbors are not overly concerned about any of the activities in our family room.  (And by “fairly certain” I mean I know they’re not.  I never see them watching us when I’m watching them.  Scared yet?)

However, it does make those oops the shirt I need to wear is in the laundry room moments a bit awkward. So, I’ve mastered the crouch walk that keeps me below line of sight (at least in my head).  I’ve learned to sprint through the family room when wrapped in a towel.  And I’m getting fairly good at making it look like I’m lovingly correcting the children when I’m, in fact, yelling at them.  (Thank God they don’t have a sound feed into our family room!)

I feel like making these efforts is just plain neighborly.  Good neighbors don’t flash each other.

I was tempted to make this blog post about feeling exposed.   I thought I could explore how we expose ourselves every day through social media and that we should be more aware – apply some filters, hang some blinds.

But I’ve decided not to do that.  This post is just about my efforts to not flash my new neighbors.   Because I think we need a bit more of that in the world.  And I know I’m not the only crouching, sprinter out there.  Just know you are not alone.  And, one day, you and I will both have blinds and we’ll remember these days.

One day.

Beautiful Ordinary

The wall calendar hanging on the inside of my pantry door is open to May 2011. Today is March 4, 2012 but I’m not taking the calendar down – not yet.

The weekend of May 21-22, 2011 was a busy weekend – slightly stressful. I was throwing a Parisian pool party (yes, you read that correctly) for Emily on Saturday and taking David and his two best buddies to a movie and pizza for his birthday on Sunday.

I was worried about things like decorations, cakes, balloons, party favors, and the timing of the movie. I remember actually thinking:

“If I can just survive this weekend …”

Most of you reading this know that in the middle of David’s birthday party the tornado hit Joplin.

Before the tornado
David and his friends less than an hour before the tornado

I keep that calendar to remind me that I never know when my world is about to change.

I go about my day-to-day and so often feel stuck on the treadmill of work, kids’ activities, bath time, bedtime, cooking, cleaning, shopping, laundry, and on and on and on. I forget. I forget that in a split second something can happen and the very things that cause me stress and distraction and frustration can become the things that I grieve over.

I keep that calendar to remind me of the beauty to be found in the ordinary.

“If I can just survive this weekend,” pops into my head each time I look at that calendar. I can remember wanting to be done with the parties and the birthdays. I wasn’t just going through the motions, I was steamrolling through them. I didn’t completely miss the moments of fun, joy, and delight from that weekend. But, more than anything, I wanted those two days to be behind me.

Then a storm rolled in.

“If I can just survive this weekend,” took on a completely different meaning.

All of a sudden, everything else fell away and I just wanted to hold my babies. I just wanted to get to them and see them alive and breathing. I wanted to kiss their tears and not let go of them. I just wanted to get them to a safe place. And, as the days went on, I just wanted us back together again. I wanted to recapture our feeling of home. I wanted my neighbors and friends to be okay. I just wanted our ordinary back.

There is something so beautiful about the ordinary when it’s viewed after the storm.

So, for now, I’m going to keep that calendar hanging up. It’s a reminder that I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know when my world is going to change. It’s my reason to live boldly and fully. It’s my reason to embrace the beautiful ordinary of my life.

My thoughts and prayers go out to those affected by the tornadoes that rolled through the Midwest recently.

TGIF

Top Five Signs It’s Been A Rough Week

5.  You find yourself humming “Gonna Fly Now” as you triumphantly proclaim the workday over.  (Eat your heart out Rocky.  Your steps had nothing on my week.)

4.  You had to choke back tears a couple of times when saying to a coworker/friend, “Thank God it’s Friday.”

3.  Your three-year old just asked you where the purple nail polish is – and you told her.

2.  You frightened the pizza delivery guy with your vehement and emotional gratitude.  “Thank you so, so much.  You have no idea what this means to me.”

1.  You’re about to eat dinner on a picnic blanket on the family room floor and it sounds more appealing than any five-star, dining experience on the entire planet.

Hello Friday night.  It’s been too long.