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

Archive for the ‘kids growing up’ Category

Choosing Your Battles

cracked egg

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.

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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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Let the Next Chapter Begin

Tyler (right) and one of his good friends at the Graduation ceremony.

Tyler (right) and one of his good friends, Jeff, at the Graduation ceremony.

At the end of May, Tyler graduated from high school and we celebrated with a party a few weekends ago.  Thankfully, after a week of continuous rain, we dodged a bullet and had a dry day for it.  We needed to put down a couple of bales of straw purchased at the last minute so the backyard volleyball court didn’t turn into mud volleyball.  Other than being the typical Midwest hot and humid, it was a great day for an outside party.

This past weekend, we visited his college campus for Freshman First Day; a day to meet Academic advisors, finalize schedules and explore campus.  As we settled in at the hotel the night before, I realized that it was at Freshman Orientation at the University of Missouri that Darrell and I first met almost 26 years ago.  I tried to remember what my parents had been like back then, but honestly I couldn’t remember very much other than they came with me.  The main thing I remember from that day was the reality that I was going to have a heavy course load that first semester and I thought that blonde guy who sat next to me at the Orientation was really cute.  I had a boyfriend from high school at the time, and had no idea that cute boy would eventually become my husband. (Let me tell ya about it sometime—it’s a great story.)

I’m not sure why it came as a surprise to me when I was reminded that our firstborn is the same age that we were when we met.  With everything going on these days, I hadn’t had time to process that our little boy was on the brink of adulthood.  Yes, the kid who can’t keep track of where his car keys and shoes are most of the time is moving four hours away where he will be in charge of himself completely.  While I know that we will miss him doing Tyler-esque things like walking around the house, strumming his guitar and bugging his sisters with impromptu songs about whatever it is they’re doing, I can’t help but be excited for him as he starts this new chapter in life.  Where he has trepidation about making all the right decisions, I see nothing but a blank slate of potential.  I’m not so old that I don’t remember the uncertainty of being 18, but I wish he knew that when it’s all said and done, he’ll look back at this time and wish he’d savored it more instead of wishing it away to be an adult in the working world.

When you’re 18, your family, high school and the people you’ve been in school with over the past few years are truly your realm of experience.  For many, college is the first point in life where you step into your own.  It’s a time for learning more about yourself and how you fit into this big, wide world.  You meet people with personalities and ideas that you may have never been exposed to before.  It can be a little intimidating, but ultimately shapes you into the person you were meant to be.

I am convinced that the timing for a child’s (ahem, I mean young adult’s) departure for college correlates perfectly with his parents’ patience (aka tolerance) level for having another almost-adult present in the home.  Little things Tyler does, like leaving shoes all over the kitchen—nothing new—seem to get under my skin a little more than they used to.  I think it goes both ways, because I feel like Tyler gets annoyed with us about things, too.  In these waning days before he heads off to school across the state, I look at my son with a little more tenderness.  I overlook the empty Pop Tart wrappers he leaves around the house and grumble a little less when he forgets to put his dishes in the dishwasher.  (I said a LITTLE!)  I find myself giving in a little more often when he asks if we can do breakfast for dinner.

At the heart of it all, I’m proud of all he’s accomplished, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for him.

The happy graduate with me and his dad, that cute blonde boy from Freshman Orientation all those years ago.

The happy graduate with me and his dad, that cute blonde boy from Freshman Orientation all those years ago.

Wanted: Antacids and Patience Please

Last Monday, the first day of Spring Break, I took Emily to take the written part of her driving test to get her learner’s permit.  Somehow this snuck up on me.  Even though she turned fifteen a few weeks ago, has had the book to study and has talked quite often about getting her driving permit, the reality of what this actually means hadn’t hit me.  Until that afternoon.

Driving from the testing location to the license office, it occurred to me all that comes with teaching a child to drive:  trying to keep gasps quietly to myself, death grips on the handrest, and questioning my judgment on where and when to not let her drive.  Target’s parking lot is not for the faint of heart!  Then there’s all that comes with when they have their full license and are driving when you’re NOT in the car.  And here I thought I was done giving up sleep when they started sleeping through the night!

I like to think of myself as a laid back person—but I’ll be the first to admit that does not hold true when it comes to riding as a passenger in the car with the kids.  That is where I become the Control Freak from Hell.  Tyler’s been driving on his own for nearly two years now, and I still grab the handrest, even though he drives just fine.  Maybe it’s the memories of how they drove playing Mario Cart when they were little.  Or the times they ran into mailboxes, parked cars and sometimes each other on their bikes.  I know, I shouldn’t hold that against them, but those visions must lie dormant somewhere in my sub-conscious.

It doesn’t seem like that long ago that Tyler was behind the wheel for the first time.  He had two vehicles to choose from to learn on—a 6-speed manual transmission or a full-sized Ford Expedition.  Neither one were very easy to start with, but he began driving with my huge truck.  I can’t remember exactly how I learned to drive, but at least I had a small car.  It seemed like I knew the basics before I actually had a permit.  When we were kids my dad would let us sit on his lap and “drive” on the gravel roads surrounding the sand plant.  I don’t remember having to ask how to put the car in drive, or how the gas pedal worked.

I do remember taking my driver’s test.  I had the lady with the shocking red-orange hair and matching bright orange lipstick.  The one the older kids at school warned us younger ones you didn’t want to give you your test.  I had my mom’s ’86 Mercury.  The steering column had the turn signal, horn and high beams all on the same “blinker stick”.  Up and down for the blinkers, push in for the horn, and pull forward for the brights.  Before we started, I was asked to demonstrate various functions of the car.  The instructor asked me to put on the high beams.  I’d never used them before, but I saw “PULL” on the stick, so I did.  I pulled the turn signal right out of the steering wheel!  Flustered, I tried to put it back on, resulting in my honking the horn long and loud several times.  I’m surprised I didn’t fail right then, but she allowed me to drive off the lot into traffic.  About the third or fourth turn, the blinker stick fell off onto the floorboard, leaving me with a little nub about two inches long to use for the turn signal.  To this day, I think I passed only due to this woman’s pity.  I’m sure that my test made her top ten of hilarious idiot driving test stories to tell.

So now you know I really have no business judging my kids’ lack of driving knowledge.  I had some humble beginnings.  Learning to drive a manual transmission threw me a curveball.  And any passengers almost through the windshield.  My dad probably has more gray hair having taught me to drive a stick, but we survived.

So yes, I’m a hypocrite.  I still can’t help but be a little nervous giving up control of the wheel to someone who describes putting the car in drive as “putting the line on the ‘D’”.  Luckily I’m married to someone who has nerves of steel and a lot more patience as the parent Driver Instructor than I do.  I remind myself to keep a sense of humor about it all, because in the end, having another driver to run errands does come in handy.  I just hope that by the time she’s driving solo, it will be for milk, bread and eggs, not antacids.

The Jokes on Me: Advice to My Younger Self

Do you remember when you were a kid—or even later when you thought you were no longer a kid—when you told yourself you were never going to do something the same way your parents did? Or have you ever declared the laughable, “I’ll never do such and such!”?

There’s a commercial for State Farm insurance out right now where the guy says “I’m never getting married,” and the next scene shows him getting hitched. The commercial continues along those same lines of “I’ll never” followed by a scene of him doing the very thing he was never going to do. It ends very sweetly with him snuggling with his wife and kids and admitting how he’ll “never let it go”. I laugh every time I see that commercial, because I think of some of the ideas and opinions I had when I was younger and how they’ve changed over the years.

While I can’t pinpoint all the reasons the when and why those opinions and “nevers” changed, I do think both life experience and maturity play a large role. If I were my 43-year-old self back when I was in my teens and early twenties, well, I just wouldn’t be the me I was meant to be today. So I’m glad I took the path I did, and I don’t have any huge regrets. But there are a few times when I wish I would have had more common sense back then, or at least been able to know a few things I know now. Although I probably wouldn’t have listened to my older self anyway, if there were a magical way to tell Young Amy a few things, I would have to at least give myself this list:

  • Wear sunscreen on your face, even if you don’t get sunburn. Yes, I know there was even a song out a few years back encouraging this, but I really wish I would have listened. I have spent a TON of money on dermatologists and skin care products to fade several huge patches on my face that have hyperpigmentation (dark spots).
  • Quit worrying about when your kids will ever sleep through the night or in their own room. It may seem like they’ll never do either one, but they will. Who ever heard of twenty-year olds that still sneak in bed with their parents when they have a bad dream? You can save your worrying for when they start driving. (Yikes!)
  • Don’t be afraid to take classes in school that are outside your major or what you think you like. Use that time in college to discover your interests and talents. Grown up life will be waiting for you soon enough—no need to rush those years.
  • Buy term life insurance when you’re young and healthy. Darrell and I did not do this when we were first married and instead bought mortgage insurance when we purchased our first house. What we paid for that insurance would have bought us at least a year or two of term life insurance. As it happened, we didn’t buy life insurance until after Darrell had a health condition, which makes the rates higher. Argh!
  • Take a tape measure with you to the furniture store. It never looks as big in the store as it does in your home. I also might add never furniture shop on a whim after having a margarita with dinner at the little Mexican place down the road from the furniture store.
  • Pay attention when your parents and grandparents tell you stories. You may think you’ve heard them a thousand times, but when they are no longer around for you to ask, it’ll make you sad when you don’t remember all the details or how the story went.
  • Practice for your piano lessons! Even if you don’t feel like it or you’re sick of playing scales.
  • Never utter the words, “My kids will never…” It is the quickest way to ensure their DNA will contain the exact genetic code to be a picky eater, nose picker, thumb sucker, etc.
  • Pay your credit card off each month. If you can’t afford to do so, you’re living beyond your means. Don’t get into credit card debt.
  • Choose to be around people that build you up, not make you be untrue to who you are. Being negative and having a bad attitude do not make you cool. Don’t be afraid to move on.
  • Leave the perms for the professional stylists to do. The same came be said for messing around with hair dye colors when you don’t know what you’re doing.
  • Take every opportunity to travel and explore new places.
  • Blame your hormones, not your loved ones. When something irrationally upsets you, realize it’s probably just PMS, shut your mouth and go to bed early. Emphasis on shut your mouth. You’ll feel better in the morning. Trust me.

It’s definitely not an all-inclusive list; after all some things have to be experienced first-hand for us to learn and grow—a pair of oh-so-stylish Sally Jesse Raphael-style eyeglasses comes to mind. The funny thing is, this list is far from being unique to just me. (Well, maybe the hair dye incident of 1985.) Regrets serve no good purpose, but what would YOU tell your young self? How would it affect the YOU of today?

PS Today is my blog’s one year anniversary!

Home is Where Your Story Begins

Dear Tyler, Emily and Erin,

In the entryway, we have a sign that says “Home Is Where Your Story Begins”. As your Mom, I hope you know that’s true, and I hope you live what that means as your life story unfolds.

At dinner last night, Dad, who is not overly sentimental like me, told you that he realized that life would be changing over the next few years, as each of you pursues his and her dreams post-high school. What surprised me more was that he said he hoped that your memories here at home would be filled with all the good times that we’ve shared as a family. The way he said this declaration made me smile, mostly because it’s usually me that says things like that.

I barely remember married life before you came into the world, but the only life you know up to this point is in this family, in this home, with these people you call Dad, Mom and brother or sister. Even though Tyler’s four years older than Erin, I’m sure his memories before she was his little sister are vague. The romantic in me loves the fact that when you all are old and gray (or at least early 40s), the stories you will tell YOUR children about growing up started right here, in our home, with our little bunch. Dog stories. Lake stories. Funny stories. Sad stories. Lesson-learned stories. They all started here, with us. And I hope you tell them.

These stories are part of your make up, so you will always remember them. Maybe not every detail, but the general feel of an experience or how you felt in the moment. Which may or may not be the same as what your siblings or Dad or I remember about the same exact event. The shaving cream war in the backyard. The first year we put up a real Christmas tree (I forget what you named it…was it Chloe?). The day we got our dog, Grendel. When you read that first Harry Potter book. Sometimes what you tell me you remember about something we did surprises me. Usually it’s a detail I’ve forgotten until you mention it, so it makes me happy to know that you remember those little things. I hope you always remember the little things.

The three of you have so much potential to take out into that big world out there, and I know you will bless it with your individual talents and skillsets. Dad and I look forward to seeing just how you make your unique mark on this world, though we hope you don’t grow up too fast. Even if you don’t realize it yet, we hope we’re preparing you for life outside this home by giving you a firm foundation built out of love.

Home is where your story begins. Let’s make some great stories.

Love, Mom

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