Friday, July 26, 2013

We Were Four

There has never been a time when she wasn't my friend.  

I met her in the nursery at church. We were four. I remember us telling each other that day that we were both four and giggling together about it. Meeting her is one of my first childhood memories.  We were circling the legs of our parents as they talked and introduced us, and from then on we were friends.

We started out our friendship stacking blocks and playing with baby dolls.  We were in the same kindergarten class together and got into trouble a few times for talking during nap-time.  

We had lots of sleepovers and play dates.  

We used to daydream about what we would be when we grew up and who we would marry.  We always played school at her house and played dress-up at mine.  She had the biggest collection of Strawberry Shortcake dolls.  Her room smelled very fruity.   

She was my first best friend.  

Fast forward a few years to the boy-crazy era.  Oh we drove our parents crazy.  Being from a small town, you had the same girls chasing after the same boys (and vice-versa). There was always drama among us girls, but she was always my friend.  Dance recitals, church camps and trips, school functions, and everything else - she was absolutely a constant in my life.  

High school flew by - and through the happy and tough times, she was always my friend. 

Since we both moved away from home to go to college, and then careers and marriage, our actual moments together have been few and far between.  We were bridesmaids in each other's weddings and have stayed in touch through the years.  We both had CRAZY bachelorette parties and I am so thankful this was before the digital era...

We have shared in the joys of motherhood and reached out to each other in tough times.  

And now my friend, my oldest friend, has breast cancer.  

Geography is not my friend and I am so far away and can do so little to help her or be there for her or even hug her.  And in times like this, I really want to DO something.

When we were little, I was always pretty sensitive and would go hide when I got upset.  Silly, huh?  She would always find me.  She always knew where to find me.  And she would hold my hand and hug me and assure me that everything was OK.  I just want to do the same for her.  

As I have matured (yeah, right)... I have quickly realized in life that friendships come and go.  Some friendships are only there for a specific time and some are simply timeless.  I am so thankful to have a handful of friendships that are truly timeless.  Hers is one of them.  We have continued on our own paths of life - literally in two different directions.  I live just about as north as you can live and still be in America  and am blanketed in snow half of the year and she is close to the Gulf and the beach and the sun.  

And yet we can pick up the phone and we're right back where we left off.  

Last month, she had heard that I was having some health issues and I had learned that she was awaiting test results from a biopsy and we just picked up the phone and caught up.  

And while she has been mapping out the plan of attack on her very aggressive cancer and figuring out a course of treatment, she has been checking in on me.  

I'm OK... but she just had a double mastectomy and is facing chemo.   

That is just like her.  Worrying about me when she is facing a giant.  

And I dearly love her.   

When we were little, she always found me and lifted me up when I was lost and sad.  Now I want to be able to do the same for her.  

Please say a little prayer for my friend.  She has breast cancer.  She is only 37.  She has two beautiful children and a husband that has stood by her side through some pretty tough times.  Her family is standing with her and loving her and supporting her. 

I am so blessed to be able to pray for her from where I am... and I covet your prayers from wherever you are, too.  

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Back Away from the iPhone!

It took about 5 days for me to break a habit.

Actually, I still think I am in the "weaning" process.

I've slowly realized that I have a real problem.

I am addicted to my iPhone.

Background Story:

We moved away from our "home" just over 4 years ago.  Leaving behind our friends, family, and everything familiar - I felt that I owed it to our loved ones to remain connected.  I was feeling lonely for friends and family and guilty at the same time.

I felt that it was my "duty" to have some type of connection to everyone and I have done that through the many social channels that are available right at my fingertips.

I felt that it was my "duty" as a mother to help our friends and family "see" our children grow up in some way so that we still had a connection with what was familiar to us.

This has been great in some ways - but the effect on my kids is starting to show.  The effect on me has been a bit more subtle.

The first step is admitting you have a problem.

When people have so much access to your life, they don't call "just to talk" because they feel caught up already. I am guilty of this.  Many of my conversations with friends since we have moved away were about things that they already knew about because it was posted on Facebook.

It is lonely being so very "Social".

When a grandmother hears about some milestone of her grandchildren from 1,500 miles away for the first time on Facebook, feelings get hurt.  I've tried to keep that from happening, but inadvertently it happens.  And sometimes it is a cruel reminder of things missed or moments slipping away.  That goes both ways too.  Seeing holiday celebrations with family when you can't be there or even just something simple like a family cookout - the distance stings when you can see it unfold through the social channels.

When one of the kids does something really amazing or cute and I go scrambling for my phone to capture the moment instead of going in for a hug or giving them my full attention and praise, there is a void left in the life of my children.

This week I finally did the opposite.  I put the phone down.  I played with my kids.  And the results still have me smiling.  And wishing I had done it sooner. 

It was hard at first.  Not just for me, but for my kids, too.

We played on the slip-n-slide and they were so happy that I did it with them instead of sitting on the sidelines snapping pictures or "tweeting" about it.  We sat at the end of the slide and made up a story about a mermaid and a merman who got into some trouble and the Incredible Hulk came in and saved the day.  I didn't "tweet" or post a status update about that, either.  But when my husband got home, they couldn't stop talking about how mommy had played in the water with them.

The next day, we left for a family camping trip.  We finally "scheduled" time to go camping and were able to use the brand new tent that had been sitting on our back porch for nearly a year.  If our friends hadn't invited us to join them and booked the site for us, I am not sure that my husband and I would have ever put a trip like this together.  I am so thankful that they did.

The camp site was on a lake in the North Maine Woods.  We had our own little rocky beach where we could swim.  We were able to canoe and kayak and fish and play.

There was no phone signal.  

I knew this already.  My first thoughts were, oh no - what if something happens to my parents and nobody can reach me?  What if our house burns down while we are gone and we don't find out until we drive home?  What if....???

Next I am thinking about all of the memories that I knew we would be making with our children.  And how I feel so compelled to share every. little. detail. with the world.

And then I felt relieved that I didn't need to.  And that I couldn't even if I tried.   AHHHH what a relief.
Mt. Katahdin is in the middle.
This is the only picture I took on my phone during our trip. 

We swam.  We played.  We had a shadow theater in our tent where an alligator attacked a pirate and the Incredible Hulk saved the day (can you tell my son is obsessed with the Hulk?).

And then there was this.  Our view for the week:

My little girl learned how to float in the water on her back. I was the one that taught her how to breathe and relax.

My son squealed with glee when he fed the ducks out of his hands.  I'm telling you, that little boy has a laugh that is infectious.

We found "special rocks" together and listened to nature sounds at night.

My knees were sunburned from so many trips out on the kayak.

I almost even took a nap in my beach chair listening to the sounds of the lake and loons and giggles.

I watched my husband paddle away in a canoe with our children giggling and pointing and chattering away - and on that adventure our little guy caught a couple of fish and they explored an island.

There were sparklers and toasted marshmallows every night.

My daughter was recapping her "firsts" on the drive home with an excitement that I will cherish and forever hold close to my heart.

Because we were there for them.

Completely there.  

Our children had our complete attention with no distractions.  Except for the *%$# deer flies and mosquitoes.

And on the drive home, the phone signal returned.  

As soon as I had 4 bars on my phone I was scrambling for what I had missed while we were away.  The kids were in the back seat sleeping away, but still - I had to stop myself.

Is being anti-social right for everyone?  Hey, it is a personal choice.  I'm certainly not going to judge any parent for posting pictures and updates and tweets about their kids.   We all have our own reasons.

I'm sure I will go through stages of posting the play-by-play of our lives because I have a habit of it.

I am hoping that I remain mindful of what I may be missing if I do.

I will say that, for me, it was very painful when I realized that my kids weren't used to me playing "with" them but rather documenting their lives.  To them, I was an observer. That is going to change.   They are growing up entirely too fast and my time with them is already all too brief as it is.

I'm already looking forward to our next adventure.  I'm still going to bring my camera, but the phone can stay in my purse.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Letting Go Slowly While Holding On Tight

When they were born, they were held.


They slept best when held close to my chest.

Their tiny little fists, griping my fingers, twirling my hair.  Calming them with music and humming and a mother's touch.

At the time it seemed as though they would never be able to sleep alone or without extra snuggles or a song.  Or even through the night.

I was wrong.

Both still require coaxing and routine at bedtime.  Our daughter with her need for conversation at the end of the day and our son with his need for tickles and back scratches and cuddles.

Both are social little beings, never shy around strangers and are never at a loss for words. Friendly, charming, fun.  

Both smile with their entire face, eyes gleaming and noses crinkled up.

Both are slowly letting go and stepping away and growing and changing into amazing little people.

Somewhere deep in my soul, I knew that the moment our oldest began walking that it was the most amazing and sad thing all at the same time. 

For the first time in her life she was doing something for herself.  She was moving herself along.  Growing stronger with each and every step.  Becoming more secure and more confident each time she tried.  She waited to walk until she knew that she could do it perfectly.   

My son didn't exactly wait until he started walking to show us that he was ready to move.  He was crawling out of his crib months before he took his first steps.  He has been on the go ever since.  Moving and climbing and flipping and now running.  Running everywhere.  

With both children it has happened all to fast and I am powerless to slow it down.  

I still have moments where my youngest clings to my legs as I leave and occasionally my daughter still reaches for my hand when we are walking together.  

She claims that she will never be too old to hold my hand, but I know different.  It is sweet of her to say it anyway.  

And my son is still small enough to carry, although he is a bit squirmy at times.  He still likes to nuzzle his face into my neck and twirl my hair with his fingers. 

But both of my dears are slowly letting go.  

As their mother, I am holding them with my palms open.  I am available for them and I am doing all I can to remain strong and relevant for them.  I am trying to give them room to learn while at the same time assuring them that I'll be there when they need me. 

They are amazing. 

They are two precious gifts that I am blessed to be able to call my own.  But they aren't mine, per say

They are held by God's strong hand... much stronger and far more capable than my own.  Knowing that, I am able to let go. 

And I know that one day it will be me reaching out for their steady hands.  

I just pray that I've held them tightly enough and long enough for them to be within my reach when that time comes.  

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Feeding the Ducks

Each day I drive to work through a pretty busy part of town - the area around the interstate.

About a block from where I work there is an intersection with a truck stop, hotel, gas stations, and Wal-Mart.  In the area  next to the stoplight, there is a small, weedy looking little pond and in the warmer months dozens and dozens of ducks make this their home.  We, along with many, many others - like to stop by from time to time and feed the ducks and ducklings from the parking lot beside it.  When these ducks see a car stop, they swarm and wait for their handout of stale bread and crackers.

Now let's do a Google Earth view of the area that we live in.  Zooming away from this weedy little pond you will see that we are surround by the most beautiful and picturesque lakes and streams.  Miles and miles of pristine forest.  I can't even count the number of lakes and ponds and beautiful nature spaces around this town - some within a 10 minute drive of this little pond next to a busy intersection.  Even closer "as a duck flies".    

We live in a beautiful place.  

And even the ducks are missing out on it because they are coming back, year after year, generation after generation, to a tiny, weedy retention pond surrounded by concrete.  

Isn't life like that?  

I know from personal experience that it is easier to go for convenience and comfort.

It is easier to do the drive-thru some nights or pop in the frozen dinner than to involve my over-tired children in preparing a meal.

It is much less complicated to turn on the cartoons for the kids so that I can get a little housework done than it would be to set them up with an art project or even take the extra time to do my chore by including them and showing them how it is done.

I know many others that come back to the same places because they are receiving something without having to expel any effort.  They are being given something that they haven't even attempted to work for. Like the ducks swarming for stale bread and crackers - yes, their bellies are full but oh how they are missing out.

I know it may seem simple and a bit child-like - but I want more out of life than easy and convenient.

I want to give my children a better experience than the fast food life that is so accessible.  I can't wait until our garden begins producing the veggies that we will eat for dinner.  I look forward to helping them pick the peas and beans and tomatoes in our back yard and enjoying them together.  We have been going fishing lately and I can't wait until we finally catch a "keeper" so that we can enjoy our first real fish fry.

I can't wait to climb that big mountain later this month with my husband.

My two cents for you (and me) today: don't settle for easy and convenient and free.

You may be missing out on unspeakable beauty and settling for stale bread and exhaust fumes.  

The ducks probably won't learn this lesson... and sadly - neither will their cute little ducklings.

Monday, July 1, 2013

To the Mothers

Urgent scream from my three-year-old.  Every single time he wakes up.

Eye-roll and extra long "o" sound from disgruntled seven-year-old.

I wuv you, Mama.
As my three-year-old places a hand on each side of my face and a sloppy wet kiss on my lips.

I love you the whole much, Mama.
Extra long hug from the seven-year-old at bedtime or anytime she wants me to linger just a little bit longer. 

I love being a Mother. But sometimes I do wish I could change my name and hide.  And maybe take a nap.  Oh and potty alone.

Lately I've been thinking about  the various moms in my life.  Yes, there are many.  Aside from the relationship I have with my own wonderful Mother - I am surrounded by mothers!  I am inspired and driven by you.  Encouraged by the way you live and love your children.  I am not going to name any names here but I wanted to tell these ladies in an indirect way how they have inspired and amazed me.

To my Mother:  

My mother loves to garden and has always
encouraged me to "bloom where I'm planted". 
Thank you.  Thank you for the beautiful person that you are, inside and out.  Thank you that you have always spoken your mind to me and shared your views of life with me - even when you didn't realize you were doing it.  Thank you for inspiring me.  Thank you for inspiring others to see and use their natural gifts and talents.  Thank you for pursuing your dreams while we were growing up and teaching us the important lessons of perseverance and education and having goals in life.  Thank you for putting up with me when I was a selfish brat growing up.  Thank you for being involved in my children's lives - no matter the distance.  Thank you for laughing with me and crying with me.  Thank you for loving me and my brother just as we are - and just as we individually need for you to.  I am sorry it took me so long to realize that we both had different needs at different times and needed correction and instruction and love in different forms.  Now that I am a mother, I see that all too clearly.

To the Mothers of my parents: 

These women are both amazing in their own right.  I have written about one of my grandmothers here and have been working on a little bio/essay for my other grandmother that will hopefully be published at a different date.  These women are so unique and different in how they loved me... but both taught me the value of being true to myself and God and the importance of serving others.  And both of my grandmothers were/are VERY good in the kitchen...

To the Mother of my husband:

What an amazing woman.  I miss her so much.  She is one mother that I learned a great deal from and never really had the chance to fully appreciate until it was too late.  She was an amazing mother to her children.  She served others and she prayed for others.  She did this quietly and privately.  She was very smart.  She taught others and never stopped educating herself.  She raised  four children and all are wonderful people in their own way - but I am pretty partial to her youngest son.  She did good.  My husband is thoughtful, sentimental, caring, helpful, and I know that she had a hand in making him the wonderful man that he is.  I know that she was proud of her children and I am certain that she would be proud of all of her grandchildren.  She loved being a grandmother and she is missed each and every day.

To my "other mothers": 

There are a handful of women that I still admire and think of as my "other mothers".  These women were either friends of my mother or mothers of friends (and sometimes both).

I think it is important for children to be raised by loving and wonderful parents certainly, but I think it is equally important for children to know other adults in their life that reinforce what they are learning in their home.  I was blessed as a child in that when I went to stay with a friend, it was in a home in which my parents felt comfortable sending me and they knew that I would have fun and be well cared for.  When I was a teenager, this became even more important as we were usually up to something and would literally crowd around our mothers and sing in chorus, "Have we got a deal for you..."

As I have become a mother, I think fondly on these "other mothers" in my life.  The Sunday School teachers, the grandmothers of friends that I would sit with in church because both of my parents were either singing in the choir or playing an instrument and I needed someone to "keep me in line", the carpoolers and picker-uppers.  The camp counselors and teachers.  As I grew up and moved away from home, I began to appreciate these wise and wonderful women even more.  Now that I am far from home, more of these "other mothers" have been placed into my life for a hug right when I've needed one. You're never too old for a hug from a "mama".

As a mother myself, I am hoping that I am not only providing my children with similar relationships with mothers other than their own, but that I am doing what I can to be a good "other mother" to the friends of my children.

To the moms that never had children of their own:

I was really blessed with a special group of women in my life that were a huge part of raising me.  My great aunts.  My grandmother had three sisters.  Two of these special ladies were never able to have children of their own.  That didn't seem to bother them because their other two sisters shared the love with them.  It was like having 5 grandmothers!  These women, in addition to my grandmothers, taught me so much about caring for others.

Each summer, these brave women would keep my brother and I for a week so that my parents could have a little time away.  Usually during that week we would attend Vacation Bible School at their church.  We would always go swimming at the community pool and we would eat veggies fresh out of their gardens. One summer they took us to an amusement park and one of these great aunts rode with me on my first roller coaster ride.  While we stayed with them, we saw them take food to the sick, bake birthday cakes for friends, place flowers on graves, teach Sunday School at their church, and take vegetables to friends from their gardens.

Thank you!

Thank you to the women that I've mentioned here and to the countless women that have "mothered" me at some point in my life.  I truly believe that people are placed in our life at just the right time and place to help us become more than we ever knew we could be.