"We're all just fragile threads, but what a tapestry we make." – Jerry Ellis

Archive for the ‘kids growing up’ Category

The Shes In Me

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Taking Emily to college a few weeks ago, I couldn’t help but mentally check off all of the life lessons I was sure I’d taught her in her eighteen years of living with us at home.  Did she know not to put a grease fire out with water?  Had I shown her how serious I was about safeguarding your drink at a party?  What about identity theft scams?  Did she know not to mix ammonia and bleach cleaning products?  I couldn’t be certain that we’d covered all the basics of everyday life and I knew that I didn’t have time in our remaining car ride to cover them all, even if I could remember what they all were.

I wasn’t overly worried about not telling her everything—her generation grew up with Google and YouTube, after all.  But it wasn’t until last weekend that it dawned on me that a lot of things I have learned in life didn’t necessarily come from my own mom.  Not to minimize my mom’s influence on my life, but I realized that over the years, many women (and men) have served as teachers in my life.  By absorbing their life lessons, intentionally taught or not, they have all helped develop and shape my outlook on life.  The person I am today is a product of all those “shes” in me.

I’m really hoping that Emily’s life is full of people who step up for some of those practical lessons in a role that parents can’t always fill.  There are times that I think I’ve neglected to teach her some of the most basic of things—like in her first few days at school she asked me where to buy postage stamps.  (Apparently, we never covered that lesson.)  If I skipped the postage stamp lesson, I have most certainly glossed over topics like refilling your windshield washer fluid and choosing produce at the grocery store, so I hope that she is never afraid to reach out and ask others.  I remember several years ago I felt really stupid asking my mother-in-law about hospital corners when making a bed, but I asked her anyway.  Growing up, as long as the bed covers were pulled up and not rumpled, my bed was considered “made”.  But my mother-in-law had been in nursing school, and “official hospital corner bed-making” was part of her curriculum, so I asked her about it, and she patiently showed me.  Now, just about every time I make the bed I think of that lesson, and the non-judgmental kindness of the woman who didn’t mind taking the time to teach me.

Lessons that go above and beyond have stayed with me a lot longer than others could possibly imagine, too.  When I was about six years old, my mom demonstrated to me a tooth brushing lesson that I’ll never forget.  I was the kid that would wet her toothbrush so it looked like I brushed my teeth because I was too lazy to actually brush.  And I had the cavities to show it, too.  I don’t know if Mom was just tired of having to take me to the dentist or listening to me complain about Novocain shots, but one day she took me into their master bathroom and got out an old comb and toothbrush.  She demonstrated in dramatic fashion the best way to brush.  I don’t remember the specifics, but I remember thinking that my teeth brushing habits must really be important to her.   I remember how it made me feel important to her, too.

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Some of the best kind of mentoring can take place when someone lives in such a way people emulate their ways.  People who walk the walk, and don’t just talk the talk.  I know of many women who have been a blessing to me and probably don’t even realize it.  Women who have lived their lives modeling graciousness, reaching out to those in need with a heart for helping others.  Women who aren’t afraid to admit they’ve made mistakes, but use the lessons they learned in making those mistakes as a way to guide others into self-reflective decision making instead of wallowing in self-pity and regret.

Speaking of role models, I need to mention I’ve picked up on some “what not to do” teachings, too.  Generally unintentional, not necessarily pleasant, these lessons in life are passed on by the person who embodies character traits that make others want to turn 180 degrees away from them.   As distasteful as some of those encounters can be, I long for my children to see them for what they are—a valuable lesson on how not to conduct themselves, which can be as powerful of life lesson as a deliberate teaching.  Instead of feeling wronged, I hope they turn those experiences into becoming strong, resilient people who gain the ability to persevere through adversity.

When I think back over my years being around young people as a parent, Girl Scout leader and coach, I have had the opportunity to be someone else’s child’s “she”.  In those roles over the years, I became extremely self-aware of how my attitude and the way I’ve handled situations and people is perceived by the casual and not-so-casual observer.  I’ve always hoped that, even if they don’t remember my name, something I’ve said or done in our time together in some small way will draw up to the surface of who they become in a positive way.  The food coloring in the water to someone’s carnation.  I am forever grateful for those who have been that to my children—their friends’ parents, coaches, youth leaders, and teachers who took the time to be a role model and mentor to them.

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I will always appreciate those in my life who, whether they knew it or not, shared moments and insight with me that helped to shape who I am today.  To the women who shared cookie-baking secrets, demonstrated grace during crisis and lived lives that showed others they truly cared, thank you. I hope to be able to pay your kindness forward to someone else.  And to those whose lessons were not in kindness, I owe you thanks as well.  Without the negative interactions we’ve had, I may not be able to see the balance in life and work through it.

It’s been a little over a month since Emily stepped out from the comforts of living at home with Mom and Dad into college life.  She’s not encountered any grease fires or had cleaning catastrophes that I’ve been told about, so I’m hoping those skipped lessons have been averted or do not become Mission Critical any time soon.  I’m not positive on how she goes about making her bed on the top bunk, but my guess is hospital corners are not a major concern that she has.  Thankfully, it sounds like she’s settling into college with some great shes to help her out.  But now that I think about it, she’s not mailed a letter to dear old Mom and Dad yet, so about those postage stamps…

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Tweaked Traditions

 

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A meal out with my grandparents.  We were at Howard Johnson’s or Sambo’s (I think Howard Johnson’s bought out the Sambo’s chain at some point, but the decor was the same for a while).  We used to go to those two places a lot.  When you would clean your plate,  you would reveal a little picture on the plate, because at that time I needed that kind of incentive to eat everything.  

My family has had certain routines and traditions that go as far back as I can remember, many that began well before I was born and continued long after I became an adult out on my own.  One was my mom getting her hair done every Saturday at the hairdresser (washed, put in rollers and heatset under the dryer for 45 minutes), followed by lunch out with my dad.  As a kid, I was surprised when I learned that other moms actually only went to the salon to get a haircut once in a while and did their own hair every day.  I’d seen my grandma get her hair done this way (pinning it up with little clips and tissues and not sleeping with a pillow during the week to keep it nice) and so I assumed that’s how grown-up ladies managed their hair.  I was greatly relieved to find out as I grew older that the practice was a little old-fashioned and unusual, and I didn’t have to keep up that tradition.  I don’t think I could sit still 45 minutes under a dryer every week, and I know I couldn’t give up my pillow so my hair would look pretty.

Still, there have been other little routines that I grew up with that I cherish, and as an adult, even miss from when I was a kid. Sunday morning was spent going to church, a practice normally preceded by my brother and I trying to find ways to dawdle long enough to be too late for service so we could get out of going.  But after church, well, that was another story.  The reward for going to church was getting to go out to lunch, which was certainly a treat.  We were allowed to drink soda and could order what we wanted to eat, as long as it wasn’t too expensive.

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Often, my grandparents would go out to lunch with us.  I can tell this is a post-church picture, because my dad is wearing a suit…a leisure suit, but a suit nonetheless.  Gotta love those.

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As I became an adult with my own family, we continued this habit of lunch out after church, oftentimes eating with Dad and Mom.  It was a time to connect with them, catch up on what was going on with everyone, and just be a family.  As it always does, over time this became less and less frequent as life got busier with kids’ activities and commitments.  After we started attending a different church, and my aging parents didn’t get out to church as often, those Sunday afternoons with my parents became a thing of the past.

It was such a gradual thing I think I hardly noticed until I realized the little family tradition had ended.  That season of life, for all of us, and a humble routine that I took for granted, had come to a close.

A few days before Halloween last year, my mom suffered another round of strokes that left her very weak and unable to swallow.  She stayed in the hospital until the beginning of December, when they discharged her into a skilled nursing center.  I felt very comfortable with the place we picked for Mom, as my daughter, Erin, and I have volunteered for the last few years helping with our church’s service held there once a month.  It was always clean, the staff friendly and caring towards the residents, and not too far from our house.  But, still, it was placing her in the care of strangers, away from the familiarity of home, family and her beloved dog.

The first few weeks at the nursing home were a new experience for all of us, having never navigated that particular system before.  Admitted under her health insurance plan, she was given daily physical and speech therapy (that worked on her swallowing ability) for about three weeks.  Unfortunately, the health insurance company decided that there was unlikely to be any more progress to be had, and said she was ready to go home, even though her sole nutrition was through a feeding tube, she was unable to dress herself, walk or get out of bed unassisted (thus, use the restroom by herself without major help).  My father’s health is less than ideal—he has mobility issues and cannot get around by himself, either, so sending her home was not an option for us.  We made the decision to keep her there at the home, as a resident versus in a rehabilitation setting.  Anyone who has ever had a loved one in a nursing home understands the range of emotions it brings to the family, as well as the patient.  No matter how much I realized that the level of care needed for Mom was beyond my family’s and my abilities, it felt like we had given up on her.

As she continued to improve slowly, and was able to sit up for longer periods of time, we started bringing her down to the church service held in the main dining room on Sunday mornings.  The first time we took her was the morning of Christmas Eve.  Snow was falling like a scene straight from a movie, and as I listened to the message and watched the snowflakes fall gracefully through the large front windows of the facility, I took in the sight of all the residents in their wheelchairs.  Some were listening intently, others sleeping; my mom was sitting with my husband, Darrell, hunched over a songbook. I quietly sucked in my breath, and realized it was the first time that holiday season that it actually felt like Christmas.  It wasn’t the Christmases of my childhood, and my dad wasn’t there with us, but it felt like it would all be okay.  I felt peace.

Since then, we’ve started to take her to the service every Sunday that we can.  When I visit her during the week, she continues to tell me how much she got out of the service from the previous Sunday.  She’s been getting to know the people that help with the service, as well as the other residents.  She’s known around the facility as the Dog Lady.  I bought her a stuffed dog that looks like her dog at home, and even though she knows it’s not real, it keeps her company.  She says it makes her think of me, and she brings it with her wherever she goes.  During the week, several visitors bring their dogs with them, and they all know to take their canines to go visit Mom.  She will shower them with all the love and praises a little doggy could hope for.

More recently, my dad has been joining us on Sunday mornings.  He loves that we sing the old hymns he enjoys so much and he gets to take communion.  Dad and Mom hold hands during church, and share the songbook together.  There are times I see the two of them like that and my eyes fill with tears I can’t hide.  It is so precious to see a love that has endured.  I will put my arm around my mom and squeeze her thin, bony shoulder during the verses in the songs where I know where she gets emotional.  In that moment, we are a family.

Mom has been slowly weaned from the feeding tube, and we now have lunch in the dining room of the nursing home after church.  Darrell makes a point of going out to get us something from a local restaurant that we will all enjoy and brings it back for us to share a meal together.  Last week we had a video call with our son, Tyler, who is away at college, so he can say hello to his Grandpa and Grandma.  We laugh and catch up on all the things going on and just enjoy being together.

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After the church service before lunch.  Interesting to see we’re back to brightly-colored chairs and carpet.  All things old really are new again, I guess.

I wish I could tell you that we turned a corner and since we re-vitalized this family tradition all is happy and well, but of course, that isn’t true.  The reality of navigating the health issues of the elderly has many twists and concerns, and there are still good days and bad days.  These Sunday mornings often serve as a reminder of where all of us are in this journey of life.  Yet, somehow this comforting routine of church and lunch connects us in a way that no other gathering of our family does.  The familiarity of this simple custom, even under different circumstances with limitations, brings us immeasurable joy.

Some traditions go by the way of hair rollers and overly-long hair-drying sessions.  That’s not such a bad thing!  And sometimes a tradition just needs a tweak to make an old thing new all over again.  A family tradition that focuses on the family part, not all the details of the where and when, or practiced merely for the sake of tradition, is the one that will be remembered, cherished, and celebrated.  Even in the most unexpected places.

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The meals are simple, the ambiance is a little different, but the company can’t be beat.

A Nature-Made Mental Health Day

 

IMAG0761My friend and I had gone to Springfield to spend the day with our college-aged kids, but no definitive plan had been decided. Icy drizzle limited us to an indoor activity for our visit, so we crossed off an outing to the World’s Largest Fork. (Yes, this is an actual attraction in Springfield, and yes, I would love to see what it looks like).  After weighing our options for the Saturday afternoon before us, we decided to visit the Wonders of Wildlife Aquarium at Bass Pro Shops.

The Wildlife Aquarium at the museum has a 1.5-million-gallon aquarium that features 35,000 live fish, but there are also quite a few reptiles and birds sprinkled into the galleries.  Coming out of the swamp exhibit, I saw the above quote displayed on a sign.  The words are attributed to John Muir, known as a Scottish naturalist and preservationist who lived during the late 1800s.  As I wandered with our group throughout the exhibits, this quote stood out to me.  I loved the visual of how all of nature is knitted together, as if connecting everything with a single thread.  Just a little tug, a little awareness, and all things come together into focus.

Who knew puffer fish had such cute little teeth to smile with?

I’d had my phone out the entire visit, and even though it was being used as a camera, it made me realize how even the simple joy of witnessing nature was connected to some kind of technology for me.   There are times I am trying so hard to document an experience that I forget to actually live the experience as it’s happening.  I continued to take pictures for the rest of the galleries, but I made it a point to try to make the photography secondary to what I was seeing and who I was with at the moment.

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IMAG0731It was nice to not have a packed schedule for the day, just a late breakfast with the kids, an aquarium visit done at a leisurely pace and plenty of good conversation.  The weather wasn’t getting any better, and we didn’t want to get back home too late, so after a coffee stop we called it a day, gave the kids hugs and headed home.

I like to believe that the “single tug at nature” process had begun.  I suppose that once Mother Nature decided she had my attention with her beauty, she decided it was time to show me her power.  That Saturday, Nature was the one that had the power to make me quit rushing through things and stop to take a breath.

The freezing drizzle continued for the first part of the trip, but the roads were drivable.  As we continued down I-44, the windshield wipers were having a hard time keeping up with the precipitation.  Even with the temperature and the defroster blower on high, layers of ice began creeping across the windshield.  Then there were a couple of patches on the road that were sketchy.  Tractor trailer trucks either blew past us at normal highway speed or crept slowly along on the hills as the daylight started to fade.

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Any Missourian will tell you that snow is something a driver can reason with; ice is not. With this in mind,  we decided to listen to nature and stopped to spend the night at hotel rather than risk the ice.

Sometimes the To Do List needs to balance with the To Live list.  Instead of a white-knuckled drive home, I was able to spend time with a friend, enjoying a meal and relaxing with a bottle of wine, talking and laughing over YouTube videos and even getting a little work done, too.  (Yes, technology manages to be a part of my nature-scape.)

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This was one of my favorite exhibits of the day.  The jellyfish looked like floating creatures in a lava lamp.  So mesmerizing to watch.

I’m not sure John Muir envisioned the world as a place where getting a glimpse at nature takes as much effort as it does, but surely he saw how appreciating it needed to be intentional.   I doubt he would have guessed how much competition would be out there in our modern-day lives.  On most days I must admit I am guilty of being more dependent on my phone to get me through my day than a spectacular view of mysterious-looking jellyfish.

Thank goodness there are some fantastic nature screen savers out there.

Why Former Stay-At-Home Moms Can Be Rock Star Employees

IMAG0656After “staying home” about twelve years with my three kids when they were younger, I decided to gingerly test the job market about seven years ago.  At that point, my kids were all in school and could manage to look after themselves for a few hours without burning down the house.  My logic was that I could earn a little money for the extras, while getting out of the house and re-developing skill sets that could enhance my resume.  The Mommy Track became very real to me as I looked for something to get myself back into the workplace.

I didn’t expect to jump from “Stay At Home Mom” to CEO or anything, especially with my big girl career background being mostly in a niche industry (I had worked in the very heavily-regulated secondary federal student loan market).  When the kids were little I had done odds and ends paid jobs—Assistant Pre-School Teacher, home-based business cosmetics and skin care, some contract work doing computer work—but nothing that made me a stand-out job candidate.   I had also done a lot of non-paid jobs, mostly kid-oriented—coaching, volunteering at church and knee-deep involvement with two Girl Scout troops.  I loved my volunteer work with the kids’ activities, but I was seeking to spend time with people that I would not have to remind to use their indoor voices or sit “crisscross applesauce”.

I ended up working for a little over a year at a Retirement Home as an Activities Assistant.  It was a very fun job for someone like me who loves talking with people and learning about their lives.  I led exercise classes and discussion groups, helped with our facility’s numerous and magnificent parties, bar tended at Happy Hour and learned how to play Euchre with some wonderful people.  I learned a lot about people at that job—mainly that BINGO could be considered a contact sport at times—but the pay wasn’t that great, and the hours were split up in such a way over the week that I felt like I was working much more than 20 hours a week.  So I went back to what I was comfortable with, and ended up working part-time as an Administrative Assistant, focusing on placing past organization and computer “hard” skills on my resume.  It’s a nice gig, Monday through Friday six hours a day, a flexible boss and a very short commute.

Occasionally I’ll take a look at a job website to get a feel for what’s out there.  I’m amazed at how much job searching and applying has changed, not just since my fresh-out-of-college days, but in the last seven years.  Almost all job applications are online and involve uploading documents.  It drives me crazy to painstakingly fill out detailed employment history on an online application when you’re giving them your resume’ anyway.  I understand how it can make a hiring director’s job much easier to have a computer program pre-screen applications searching for specific keywords, but it certainly takes the human out of Human Resources.  When one hasn’t taken the traditional career path, trying to tie a non-job related life experience skill set to a specific career keyword can be frustrating.

There are a lot of women (and men, too) that have taken similar career paths to mine, and I’ve noticed that most of us overlook some notable character traits that come with the Mommy Track territory.  Sure, career websites and other experts tell us to highlight our past career and volunteer knowledge and not to diminish the roles we’ve played in being our own Household Executive.  My personal experience has been that it is easier said than done.  Calling myself my family’s Chief Operating Officer?  I can’t picture that on a resume that gets taken seriously—especially if the person reading it has juggled full-time employment while being Family COO.  It’s not that the strengths of many stay-at-home Moms are exclusive to just those individuals by any means; they are just often not acknowledged as being experience to easily taut while re-entering the workplace.

Often, potential qualities and strengths I’ve seen in others on the Mommy Track aren’t tied to the hot buzzword of the moment, but that’s not to say they are not resume-worthy, timeless assets.  As time distances me from those days in my own life, it’s easier for me now to identify in others some typical skills honed during those years with the kids.  My goal is that perhaps this short list will help others who need to see themselves with new eyes come up with some translatable terminology. I’ll use the title “Former Stay-At-Home Moms” for simplicity’s sake with apologies to all the Dads and others who may be offended because I find writing she/he/his/her on every point cumbersome; feel free to insert the appropriate title and adapt.

#1.  Former Stay-At-Home Moms possess great leadership skills.  “Because I’m the Mom” aren’t just words to be said when avoiding the “Why?” question.  The parent who is organizing schedules, making sure that some sort of nourishment is given throughout the day and deciding who gets to ride shot gun on the way to the grocery store can’t be a follower.  She has to be able to make a decision, execute it and be willing to re-visit later if necessary.  That’s not to say her authority won’t be questioned, so a strong backbone is required.  Kids like to push limits, especially when they are tired, hungry or miss their favorite Spongebob episode.  The ability to identify every-changing needs in varying situations, as well as coming up with an action plan and following through are all vital skills.

#2.  Former Stay-At-Home Moms must be resourceful and think creatively.  Anybody who has ever tried to keep the younger set occupied day after day in an environment that’s safe and allows for learning opportunities has to be able to be flexible and work with what’s available.  Sometimes that means the Halloween costume might be a simple green shirt with brown pants and drawn on beard-scruff so “Shaggy” can go trick-or-treating at the last minute.  It can also mean making sure Mom’s “It” during Hide and Seek so she can throw a load of laundry in while actively “seeking” the kids in their hiding spots.

#3.  Former Stay-At-Home Moms develop insightful diplomatic and people-skills.  What job can’t use the wisdom of Solomon and the patience of a saint?  The ability to read and understand people’s motives while remaining neutral and calm is part of all parenting.  Some are better at it than others…sometimes I was better at the insight part than the being calm part.  A person who can learn to referee squabbling siblings diplomatically can transfer that ability to clients and fellow employees.

#4.  Former Stay-At-Home Moms know how to research and learn.  Why do dogs circle around their bed before they lie down?  Why is the sky blue?  Who was Genghis Kahn?  Shh…don’t tell the kids, but parents don’t always know EVERYTHING.  Sometimes we need to research an answer (thanks, Wikipedia, YouTube and Google).  What is most fulfilling about this kind of learning is that sometimes it leads to producing lifelong interests for our children, or even ourselves.  The ability to find accurate answers quickly is a job skill that crosses every industry.

#5.  Former Stay-At-Home Moms understand being realistic and “The Big Picture”.  It can be hard for all of us to visualize how the small steps we take today towards our goals really do produce results when those results seem so far in the future.  Anyone who has ever been a Girl Scout Troop Cookie Manager knows that rounding up everything needed to get the troop’s cookie-selling is not for the faint of heart.  It requires patience, the ability to chase down parents for required signatures on documents and orders, and oftentimes a large vehicle for cookie hauling.  In the moment it is hard to see how this does anything but add a mere quarter per box to troop funds.  Big Picture thinking is required to see the true impact of that thankless job—girls who learn how to set financial goals and follow through with them by marketing and selling a product.  Being able to see beyond the here and now towards a goal that’s not guaranteed is certainly an asset in today’s immediate gratification world.

I’m positive that not all of these in my list apply to everyone who has left paid employment to raise a family; however, it’s a good start for those who may have forgotten that what they do can translate into tangible job skills at some point.  While I’m not sure how to best encapsulate these observations into a blanket-statement, bulleted list on an individual’s resume so they make it past the pre-screen, they are definitely points to be made in cover letters and interviews and can be tailored.

If you’re a stay-at-home parent that doesn’t happen to be looking for employment outside the home right now, may it encourage you to know that these years do matter.  Involve yourself with the community and your family—and don’t forget to work in time for your personal pursuits.  The Mommy Track doesn’t have to be a separate path from career building—consider it the scenic route.

Choosing Your Battles

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The young mother cast a weary glance my way over the top of the squirmy toddler’s head.  She moved the bag of chips towards the back of the cart, just out of reach from those stretched-out fingers.  The little boy’s lip stuck out, but he didn’t shriek or cry.  I gave her a sympathetic smile as we passed and we went our separate ways in the grocery store.  I’d been there once.  Another Mom vs. Child battle won!

When the kids were little and I found myself exasperated with them, my husband would remind me to pick my battles.  It was hard.  I wanted them – expected them – to just behave how I wanted them to all the time simply because I was “The Mom”.  When they didn’t listen to my logic (good, sound, Mom-logic!) I felt like minor situations escalated from disagreement to battles to war in the space of a few short minutes.  The problem wasn’t a matter of me picking a battle.  The problem was that I thought three-year-olds would listen to reason.  Ha!

One of the things that I had to learn was that I didn’t have to win every battle to win the war.  Again, it was tough lesson.  I wanted to be right.  I wanted the kids to know I was right.  I wanted the kids to be little grown-ups in those tiny little bodies and see how I only had their best interest at heart.  The most selfish part of that equation was that I also didn’t want others to judge me as being a bad parent.  After all, if my kid had on a horrible, mis-matched outfit at pre-school it was obviously because I was the worst Mom ever, right?

There was a time in my life when I thought I’d just never be able to go in public again—especially restaurants and stores.  I suppose if that were true, I’d have a few more dollars in the bank account right now.  When I found out Erin was on the way, one of the first thoughts I had was, How in the world will I be able to keep track of three kids in the grocery store?  Someone’s gonna lose a finger…or an eye! 

When I look back now, especially when I see people in the store with their kids, I have a completely different take on toddlers and parents. I am quick to NOT judge, because I’ve been in their shoes.  I’ve had my exhausted kid scream about how much he hated me in the parking lot because we had to leave the dance party at the elementary school when it was getting late and his sisters were tired.  I’ve been the mom whispering through clenched teeth about how they were going to really “get it” when we got home if I got any more sass.  I have had to go to the store manager and alert them to the egg on the floor and apologize because my kid grabbed one out of the container and chucked it in two seconds when I opened it to check for cracked eggs.  Been there, done that.

All in all, my kids were actually pretty well-behaved youngsters in public.  It’s just that my memory doesn’t recall the times we peacefully strolled the aisles or sat at a restaurant.  I can even laugh a little bit at those battles won and lost.  Ultimately, we all won a little bit, because with one in college and two now in high school no one is throwing eggs at the grocery store and their clothes match quite well.  They even give me fashion advice.  I sometimes bribe my kids with promises of gum purchases to get them to go to the store with me now.

I can’t say I saw this mother with the chip-loving toddler and eyed her with envy.  Those years were not always easy, but I cherish them now.  We look back on those once-exasperating moments and laugh a little when the kids actually remember certain incidents and tell me what was going through their minds at the time.  Those years were a rite of passage in the journey of Motherhood, and now it’s definitely in a different stage, where our trips to Costco involve me trying to get out of the store without indulging in the frozen yogurt sundaes with the kids at the end of the trip—a battle rarely won.  And that’s a whole new war.

Running the Race: Erin’s First Half Marathon

Erin at me at Finish 4-2016

Erin and I after finishing the GO! Half Marathon in St. Louis

When you tell people who don’t enjoy running that you are training for and running a race, you usually get one of two reactions:  A response of total disdain for running, or someone who thinks it’s great that you do it, even if it’s not their cup of tea.   I did not start running until I was in my late thirties, so to see my daughter, Erin tackling training for a half marathon at her age brings out my Momma Pride.  Before I started running, I couldn’t imagine how people managed to trudge through that first mile, let alone three miles for a 5K.  Erin completed her first half marathon last week at the tender age of 14 at the GO! Half Marathon/Marathon in St. Louis.  She runs faster than I do, so other than being at the starting corral together, I did not get to run the 13.1 miles with her, but as I lagged behind, running those same streets in St. Louis, I couldn’t help but wonder what she was thinking about during those miles.  Personally, besides realizing Left Knee was not happy this run, I was worried we were going to get caught in a nasty thunderstorm.

Running those long training runs, there is a special magic that happens to your body and your mind.  Scientifically, we know there are endorphins, those “feel-good” hormones, released that give us a “runner’s high” and help us cope with stress.  When I run with a friend or running group, the magic factor is boosted even more.  My running partner, who is also one of my best friends, has said we solve all the world’s problems on our long runs.  We also say that we could probably increase our speed if we’d shut up a bit, but then it wouldn’t be as much for us—such a trade-off.  Our training with Erin allowed her to always get a few more miles in than we did, as she’d run ahead at a faster pace and needed to circle back to meet up with us.  Thankfully, she has some friends to run with who challenge her to up her pace on the shorter runs.

Running this half was bittersweet.  My running partner, the one who solves all the world’s problems with me while we run together, had a family tragedy happen the week before the race that shook us all to our very core.  The event is too raw and too personal to share here on a blog, but she was not able to run with us.  We chose to run in honor of her loved one, which made this run very personal for Erin and the other runners in our group, and she was on our mind and in our hearts the entire way.

Erin and I both agreed that when you first start a long race, the excitement and the crowd gets us in the mindset that could keep up the running for hours.  Conversation flows easily, in spite of all that heavy breathing, as you check off the miles.  At The GO! Half Marathon in St. Louis, runners get to run over the bridge into Illinois, and the view of the Arch as you come back into Missouri is stunning.  Many people stop to take selfies with the Arch in the background.  I chose to just lift up my camera and shoot a picture, minus my sweaty face.  I thought it turned out great, considering I didn’t come to a stop to take it.

Scene from bridge at GO 4-2016

Normally it’s around Mile 8 that I start to ask myself, “How much longer?”  This race, it was closer to halfway through Mile 9, which is the part of the race that goes through the Anheuser-Busch brewery area.  We trudged on through past Soulard Market and onto Mile 11, where they were handing out little chocolate candies from Crown Candy Restaurant (another longstanding St. Louis landmark).  As my friend, Tina, and I approached Mile 12, I kept thinking about how the end of the race was so close, and the hills seemed especially steep.  The crowds cheering along the side of the course gave us words of encouragement about the end being “just around the corner”.  It was more like around a corner, and another and another.  Then a really long straight stretch.  In other words, the last mile kind of felt like five miles.  But the finish felt fantastic and miraculously the rain held off until we had walked back to our hotel.

Erin ice cream at Go! 4-2016

There are times when I feel like a snail running these longer races—if a snail had creaky knees—and wonder what keeps me motivated to do another one.  One look at my daughter and I am reminded of our talks during our training runs over toenails, running shoes and how good it feels after you’ve accomplished a goal you’ve set your mind to.  I see her excited about meeting up with her running pals, and her determination to improve and finish what she starts.  So I’m pretty sure I won’t be giving it up any time soon, even if I am riding in her tailwind.

In the Great Battle of Head vs. Heart…

It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad. –C.S. Lewis

Tyler in his hockey days

This past Friday, we dropped off our first born at college four hours away. I’ve been excited for him ever since we first toured the campus, seeing before him a bright future filled with so much opportunity. We shopped for dorm items, we attended all the events related to the upcoming school year—he even declared (tentatively) a major. But a few weeks back, my body betrayed me. Not my whole body, no, not that. My sly little heart. Because while my head knows that this is a normal and natural part of growing up, my heart wants to hold on to that little boy that snuggled deep inside of it and protect and nurture him forever.

Did I mention my heart is nocturnal?

In the nights just before his scheduled move, I would close my eyes and instead of falling asleep, would see a movie-quality montage of the last 18 years of my (his) life. Those sleepless but joyful nights of babyhood, him in his little soccer uniform at the first game. The time he peed on the tree in our front yard in front of God and everyone, because he was “watering it”. Climbing the steep steps of the school bus when he started kindergarten. When he learned to ride a bike without training wheels because our friend’s daughter could do it, and he didn’t want to be outdone. His hockey games. Then football games. His obsession with golf. Playing Rock Band with his sisters. Driving in his first car. Buying his first suit. Little clips of time swirling behind those closed eyes that couldn’t hold back those pesky tears.

I’ve never been on this side of life before. The letting go part. Sure, you are letting them go a little bit every single day of their life with those milestone moments—as well as the sneakier every day ones that creep in. For eighteen years he’s lived under our roof, leaving a trail of empty glasses and Pop Tart wrappers in his wake. We’ve ensured he had food in his belly and a roof over his head, went to school, kept decent hours, grew his faith and knew our unconditional love. It’s such a strange sensation, this mixture of pride because we’ve raised a young man ready to start his life as a young adult, with the realization that since we’ve done a pretty good job at that, our part is well, kind of finished. And it makes me feel nostalgic and yes, a whole lot of sad.

I am smiling through those tears this morning. Because I am proud of our son. And I know that he is going down a path towards being his most awesome self. It’s all just starting for him—this future so full of promise and opportunity. It’s exciting! My head tells me a new normal will settle in over our home, a normal where our adult child is now also a part of our inner circle of friends. While it is true that it’s the end of an era, it’s also the beginning of a new one.

And my heart likes the sound of that.

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