Parenting

Keeping The Christmas Card Real

 

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You guys! I love getting Christmas cards in the mail. Over the years, the number of cards that our family receives has dwindled. I get it. I haven’t sent a card out in over ten years. So, consider this my huge THANKS for those of you that still send us some love even though you know it won’t ever be reciprocated in the form of envelope, stamp, paper, or photostock. With all the posting I do here and on my social media accounts, and with my limited funds going towards playing Santa for six kids, I just can never seem to justify spending another $50-100 on this out-dated tradition.

Please consider this my most sincere apology. I want to make your pantry door look as festive as mine (and let’s face it, my kids would look really good up there), but I just never do it. I’m sorry for being the epitomy of The Christmas Card Scrooge. Always receiving, never giving. My guilt is as unpleasant as the grinch’s termited smile.

Over the years, Christmas cards have got a bad rap — that they are only for the prideful braggers. A family member and I chuckled the other day as I mentioned how lovely their Christmas cards were on their wall. They mentioned that they were all the cards from the spouse’s side of the family because they were the only ones still playing the game of having it all together. I laughed because LG and I had the exact conversation the day before; we wondered why a large majority of our cards come from his side. This year there is literally not a single Christmas card up from my family. Is it really because my family can’t keep up? Is his family just more traditional? Do they have more money to throw around? I have a few pretty well-to-do family members. Do they have more to brag about? Surely it can’t just be that certain people buy into the picture perfection more than others. Doesn’t everyone buy into that? I got some pretty real cards this year from the hubby’s side that made me chuckle and even breathe a sigh of relief. (I’m talking to you Julie and Newell -thanks for the wandering children stories.)  I felt solidarity in the insanity we call parenting. My sister-in-law whose husband is in the Air Force has literally hundreds of cards on her wall every year. LG and I always laugh because we don’t have friends. “Is it just a military thing?” we always wonder. Or is our bare wall just evidence of our social ineptitude. Probably a little of both. Probably also, her wall is the result of her consistent Christmas card tradition.

Well, as in everything in life, I am learning to accept it is what it is. Whatever that is, I don’t really know, but I need to let the Christmas card mystery die. It’s most definitely monopolizing a little too much of my mental capacities…and let’s face it, those are already a little limited.

As I was doing the dishes last night, I constructed our real Christmas card in my mind. I thought you all might like to hear it.

LG had a midlife crisis in May. He quit his job which was promptly followed by 5 months of grueling unemployment. As least it wasn’t with a mistress. Ha. He’s finally employed again, and 2017 was the year we discovered that it only takes exactly 5 months of unemployment to make it okay that he now lives two hours away during the week. In the good news, he’s mentally healthier than he ever has been. Some therapy and anti-anxiety meds have made him happier than ever, and he’s really enjoying his work and the challenge of being a .net programmer.  He is the primary pianist at church which has been an awesome reprieve from scouting, which we aren’t really sure we want to support anymore unless they let our hetero daughters in.

AG got a great compliment from her literary theory professor. The fifteen-page paper she turned in about postcolonialism in collegiate humanitarian travel may be publish-worthy with just exactly eighty more hours of work. Yahoo! But really, I survived this year which is major bragging rights. It was a doozie. Thanks to all my friends who chipped in one-week post LG’s mid-life crisis, so that I could travel to Nicaragua on a once-in-a-lifetime collegiate humanitarian trip that I would later write about. My consensus was I loved the trip, but I definitely was guilty along with the rest of my group of postcolonialist oppression. I’ll send the paper your way if you offer up some free editing! This year I got my first passport, and I also was hired by UVU’s Art and Design Program as an administrative assistant. I can’t wait to work for my beloved university while I finish my degree. Just 40 credit hours left. My running is still hanging out in the wings waiting to be reclaimed. One of these days, I’ll wake up at 5 am to do it. Or not.

Abigail got married! Yes, you read that correctly. My first married kid did it exactly how I I didn’t want her to….at EIGHTEEN years old. However, we do love Kaleb, and after about two and a half years of courtship, it was time for them to make it facebook official. Their wedding was all the brainchild of Abigail and it was perfection from top to bottom, except for the bridal bouquet that we had to start late for. We all have ADHD, I consider only one small glitch a major victory. For my Mormon friends still waiting for their kids to go to the temple, know you aren’t alone, but learning to accept others’ choices seems to be a trend of this Christmas card, eh? Kaleb is our family body-guard and personal trainer. He’s a sensitive and loving and generous soul, and treats Abigail so well. Abigail has been working at a local vintage toystore called Blickenstaffs, and she has generously offered to provide daycare for Max twice a week when I go back to work. She may never go to college, and I am working on being okay with that. They have the cutest new puppy named Kita who is the proud owner of her own Instagram account.

Sophia is the amazing eclectic fun-loving care-free girl that she always has been. Her spirit animal is a rainbow cat that pees diet coke. After losing our cat, Kit, to a random accident where she got stuck in our fence that needs to be replaced, Sophia begged me for another. I refused. We still had Rufus and our dog, Olive, which I felt was plenty. It took only exactly 24 hours of me being out of the country for her to convince her dad to adopt the desperate cat in a box at Walmart. They wanted to name him Nic, after the place that made his adoption possible, but we settled on Charles Barkley, the best rebound cat of all time. Sophia continues to pursue her art and occasionally cares about her grades when she isn’t wasting her time on her iphone playing Sudoku or Sandbox. She is a music and technology aficionado, like her dad. She worked at her Uncle Bubba’s restaurant for five months until he fired her. True story. She didn’t deserve it, so I guess we’ll just call it being laid off. But she got an even better job the day after being fired. She now works at Utah Idaho Supply Map World. (Funny story: one hour after posting this, we read this article online. I guess Sophia will be looking for another job!) She’s enjoying dating, driving, and kissing. I asked Sophia what she would have me say about her, and her reply was, “She’s smokin’ hot and ready to mingle.” She’s only partially joking. She really is pure and meek and mild. When LG and I had a really rough summer and quit going to church for awhile (don’t judge until your marriage is in shambles and you are 43 with an above-average-energetic 3-year-old), her and Bella would go all by themselves.

Bella woke up one morning in a model’s body. We aren’t sure what exactly happened, but we blame her friends, the Lawrences, who only eat organic food. Bella is a mini-Alice, but much more gorgeous and taller. She also has way bigger feet. She gets that from her dad. She wants to be an astrophysicist — also gets her science smarts from her dad. She’s obsessed with Wonder Woman — she gets that from her feminist mother. Bella has managed to secure exactly a 4.0 for her first two terms of high-school, and she promises me she will graduate from college, so that I can feel like I actually taught one of my kids something.  A school teacher has to have at least one of her own five children graduate from college. Bella is hilarious, and she often gets roped into helping Sophia with cleaning her room as payment for free rides wherever she wants to go. Bella rocked it onto the sophomore volleyball B team, and she’s only a freshman. She rarely got playing time, but she loved making new friends. We think her new coach didn’t quite see all of her talent that her recreation coach Alice had instilled in her. She wants to play club volleyball, but she can’t afford it with her babysitting funds. Bella is a great kid. She often begs LG and I to take her and her friends to the temple at 5 am before school. She might need some sanity meds, too, like both her mom and dad. Who voluntarily goes to the temple at 5 am?

Caroline is an eighteen-year-old stuck in an eight-year-old body. She is obsessed with YouTube, probably because her parents don’t monitor her screen time as well as they should. She prefers videos about scavenger hunting, get-out-games, kid-toy-reviews, and The Pearl Dude. All of her dreams came true this summer when I found out a neighbor was selling and opening live pearls at a local street market. She became the proud owner of exactly two pearls — twins! Because of all her YouTube watching, she knew exactly which oyster to pick. She is still learning Mandarin at her Chinese-Immersion school, and she has gained a lot of independence this year walking home from school with her friends. She was baptized in July. She starts playing basketball for the first time next week. LG is so excited. She has taken a liking to reading with mom every night because we are working on the whole Battle-of-the-Books list, and she got glasses this month which have helped her significantly with her reading skills.

Maximus is a walking hurricane. He tried to tackle a complete stranger at a restaurant last week, and almost succeeded against the 6-foot-man. He was so close. Just a few years away from his NFL goals. Max loves throwing, hitting, jumping, shooting, climbing, and pretty much every other action verb. He is killing us. We get ten years older every day. We are convinced God waited to send us a boy until we were too old to hurt him. It’s true what they say: Boys are the little devils that can melt their moms hearts. One minute he smacks me across the face with a toy gun, and the next he is kissing my cheek telling me how much he loves me. I feel like I’m in an abusive relationship. He is a sweetheart that doesn’t sit still and refuses to go to nursery. Next week, he’ll be a Sunbeam at church, so I’m really looking forward to LG taking him to primary and watching him run back and forth from his class to the piano instead of clinging to my skirt while I’m trapped in a tiny room with 30 toddlers. Max really is exactly what we always wanted, but we often wonder why we wanted a boy so badly? He is more challenging than all four of his sisters put together, but he brings us all a lot of joy each time he wrestles one of our cats.

So, there you have it. Our real Christmas card. We really don’t have much to brag about, except for a new awesome son-in-law and Bella’s 4.0, but we do love each other, and like it beautifully showcases in the newest Pixar movie, Coco: family is a pretty great thing to have.

We hope you all had a Merry Christmas because so many of you made our Christmas the most remarkable we’ve ever had. Who knew 5 months of unemployment would end up with so many Christmas presents from generous friends? It almost makes us tempted to try that again next year…or not. Here’s to 2018 being the best year ever. We’re hoping that by next Christmas, Max will be able to sit through a whole movie.

Here’s a photo, in case you forgot what we look like.

gold family

 

 

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The Best Compliment

, tIt wasn’t the place I expected any kind of good news. It was at my dad’s funeral. We had all gathered at the church after the burial for a luncheon with the crack-infused food (Oops – I mean the love-infused food. Crack just seems more affectionate). Nothing tastes better than ham and funeral potatoes freely made and donated with loving hands for the grieving. If you’ve never been able to eat church ham and potatoes as part of the 10% tithing package, you’ve never had the best food mankind has to offer.

Anyhow, I had run out in the hall to find my wandering 2-year-old. And there it was…the best compliment ever. As I was heading back to the cultural hall empty–handed wondering where in the world that little devil Max had disappeared to, the compliment came in the form of Brother and Sister Atkin. Okay, okay. Their names are Roy and Pat, but we have this brotherhood thing in the Mormon church. I’ve called them Brother and Sister Atkin my whole life, which is kind of weird because they are like second parents to me.
mom and dad

Brother and Sister Atkin were heading back home to California. We exchanged hugs. I told them how much we appreciated them being there. They had traveled ten hours. They insisted they would never miss it. Then, Brother Atkin hit me with it.

“Alice, you really are the best of both of your parents!”

Sister Atkin then agreed.

I did my best to hold back my tears, but I probably failed. I thanked them, and I’ve continued to think on that compliment for the last year and a half.

The best of both my parents.

Wow.

There isn’t a better compliment than that. If you don’t believe me, it’s only because you’ve never met my parents.

Let me tell you about my parents.

My dad was (as I am sure he still is in some spirit form waiting to be reunited with his body) the strongest man I know. I’m pretty sure he could lift a car all by himself. We affectionately called him Superman sometimes and McGyver others. Yes, it takes a superhero who can fly and throw planets around with x-ray vision as well as a man who can fix anything with a piece of bubble gum and duct-tape to describe my dad. I could count on my dad to do anything and everything he promised. He even seemed to be able to time-travel: working a full day 45-145 minutes (depending on the traffic) away in downtown San Diego, while driving a commuter bus there and back as his second job and still making it to my volleyball and softball games often. He would leave us donuts and $3 for lunch on the kitchen table every school day. He would always have pink bubble gum sticks in his briefcase for each of us every day he arrived home from work. He went to the convenient store on the bottom floor of his building every day on his way home. He knew the worker by name and she knew that he was looking for that pack of gum to take home to his 7 kids. He would need a new pack tomorrow because they may or may not sneak an extra piece or two.

My dad was also a gentle giant. He was an animal whisperer. Dogs took to him as if he was a combo of Cesar and Bert from Mary Poppins. It’s like he danced through life singing “Feed the Animals.” He had a huge soft spot for others. His hard abusive upbringing made him extra aware of everyone around him. One time I woke up to find that he had taken my best friend Kristen’s car and put four new tires on it. When I complained that I needed new tires and he got her some first, he reminded me that he was never far away to rescue me when I got a flat, but Kristen’s mom worked full-time and her dad lived 2,000 miles away. Wise and kind: my dad. He was a combination of Joseph, the father of Jesus, King Solomon, the wise judge, and Sampson, who could move mountains. My dad would wake up early every Saturday (after working a 60 hour week) and do 6 loads of dishes by hand and then make a buffet-style breakfast for his family + whichever kids happened to be spending the night. My dad built on three bedrooms and a bathroom with his own two hands to accommodate anyone and everyone who needed a home. One time he let some immigrant workers sleep in our shed in the backyard. My dad was the adventurer extraordinaire. When I was terrified, he insisted that I climb on top of the floating iceberg in the Prince William Sound because it was a once-in-a-lifetime and a great way to die if we were going to die, and he always took a bucket to the beach so we could take it underwater like an antique diving helmet. He would always use his last $5 to buy us ice-cream on the way home from the beach.

My dad’s the greatest guy. When I sang this song as a kid, I knew it was written about my dad. No other dad was as amazing as mine.

That’s my dad. Compliment enough already, right?

So, let’s move on to my mom.

I’m not sure my cheeks can handle the tears that the rest of this post is going to require. I’m all cried out.

My mom.

Just those two words will have a lot of my friends shaking their heads in laughter. There is no one in the world quite like my mom. She’s that crazy lady you saw at the wrestling match waving her sweater around her head in circles while whooping it up as if she wasn’t actually Caucasion. She would cheer for our team as much as she would cheer for the opponents. My mom is as beautiful as my dad is handsome. Look at them on their wedding day. They were high-school sweethearts, and never quit being in love like they were 16.

m and d wedding

My mom’s best meal was something she made up on the fly one night. It’s called Porkchops and Noodles. She was always making do in the kitchen. Feeding seven kids is not cheap! One night, while cooking, she found that she didn’t have any canned soup to make a sauce for the noodles. She threw a little butter in the pan and then the noodles and wha-la, the most delectable pork-flavored butter noodles were born. They live on to their fullest potential in my kitchen. My mom single-highhandedly (with a crew she organized) did all the make-up and hair for the Buena Vista Elementary School play called Rainbow Connection. She had 5 kids in it, so of course she wanted to help. There were about 300 of our classmates in that play. As we were leaving the cafeteria and walking to our car after she provided three hours of the finest Broadway-inspired gussying, I was terrified because she passed out in from of the school office from exhaustion. Somehow she picked herself right back up, went home and cooked dinner, got her own kids ready, took pictures, and showed up with a smile on her face to the auditorium where my brother Adam starred as Mr. Coleco. I was an old lady. Shannon was a dancer. I can’t remember what Sarah and David did. To top it all off, Mom makes friends wherever she goes. She talks to everyone! She tells them they are important and they are loved. She always has a word of advice, whether you want it or not.

My mom can find anything at a thrift-store. I mean ANYTHING! I have a fancy portrait on my living room wall. People always compliment me on it. I tell them with pride that my mom found it at a thrift store. This woman knows how to get it done. She took great care of her kids with a husband who was almost never home and very limited resources. She loves books and knowledge. When we were kids, we had this train with the circus alphabet peeking out from the twenty-six separate train-cars hanging like fancy crown-molding all around where the dining-room walls met with the ceiling. She would take out the old family Bible and point to a verse just so we could see how we could apply it to our current position. She made a literary analyst out of me. My mom made Christmas a big deal. I really big deal. We would spy on Santa every year. Oh what fun! Like my dad, she taught us to take care of all the people around us. I can’t tell you how many times I would find my mom making a meal that looked exquisite only to be told that it was going to a neighbor. Something in my heart knew my mom had it all figured out as I reached for the mac-n-cheese or cereal for the umpteenth time. As animals took to my dad, plants took to my mom. Not that the animals didn’t love my mom too, but her real secret lied in our whole house smelling like fish food at least one day a week. My mom taught all of her kids to sing. Car rides were never complete without at least two songs: On Moonlight Bay and 100 Bottles of ________________ (fill in the blank, we always did). My mom is the reason, I always sing to my kids one of my favorite songs from Sesame Street.

I don’t have enough internet to write all that my parents are to me. I appreciate them more every day. What a lucky girl I was to be born Alice Elaine Wills.

Being the best of both my parents is too high a compliment. In fact, it’s impossible to live up to. I would have to be double super-human. But, it’s a compliment I’ll never forget. And, I’ll gladly keep striving to live up to it.

Just Like Their Dad

At the center of the universe.
There is family on the left that
equals the family on the right.
They go before.
They come behind.

Together, they get the job done.
And make their father proud.
Telling His story is their task.

It’s not the attendees,
but their father,
who was listening,
still very much alive,
that should give pause
at the enormity of task.

Be honest.
Be kind.
Be faithful.
Be brave.
Be super-human.
We should all want to be
just like him.
No pressure.
Whatsoever.

The nights might be slumber-less.
What story to tell?
The scaling of buildings?
The flying through skies?
The magic better than duct tape?
The smile of his eyes?

Our Father,
is a man full
of great power
and even greater love.

He will tell us what to say.
Brother one is a leader: faithful and wise.
Brother two: generous and kind.
Sister one: loyal and capable.
Sister two: organized and creative.
Brother three: handy and humble.
Sister three: enduring and strong.

All of them are
JUST LIKE MY DAD.
All, flawed by earth,
yet still,
perfect inside
seeking the right,
and
a remarkable force for good.
Our favorite people are
family.

Jolting our hearts
and paralyzing our tongues
is often one pathetic truth
that we dare not say.
No matter how remarkable we are,
It takes all of us
to make one of him.

Dad is a superhero.
A mortal and a God.

When people question Him.
Why doesn’t he alleviate
all the war?
all the suffering?
all the pain?

I think of Superman.
Who always did.
But, sometimes,
just like Dad,
maybe Superman is busy,
not dead.
He’s waiting.
On us.
To do His job.

Perhaps
it’s up to
His formative children,
to fill his shoes.

When one child suffers,
maybe
his brothers and sisters bury their heads
instead of praying for the strength necessary.
To be just like their dad.

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*Dedicated to my dad and my Father: the best Superman who ever lived. And, to the God of the Universe who also calls me His daughter.

Dear Mom [Week 6]

Hi mom,

Wow, it amazes me at how much your voice has become a healing balm for my soul. I wish I would have recognized that more for dad before he was gone. Thanks for my pep talk on Wednesday night. Oh, how validating it is to just talk with someone over the phone who can see straight through the cellular airwaves. “Alice, you sound so tired. I hope you can get to bed  early tonight.” Even if I didn’t, just hearing that you wished it for me gave me greater strength to endure. Thank you, mom. For Wednesday and all the thousands of other times just like it. How fortunate I am to have you in my corner.

I was out walking Olive last night at 10:30 PM and a truck hauling a trailer full of stuff drove by. I had to sit down on the curb for a bit because my heart and mind felt like dad had just passed by showing me that he is still hard at work and happy. Then, I had a dream last night. It is my first I’ve had of dad since he passed away. I was showing a friend a video of my dad of how healthy he was on the day he died. He reached out from the cell phone screen jumping and hopping, waving and smiling. He was laughing. I never recognized the  full value of his smile until he was gone. While I dreamt, his smile filled my whole soul with light. It illuminated from his eyes and mouth to his face and everything beyond.  I woke up so happy. I felt like dad was telling me not to worry because he is right back to his old healthy happy ways. How much fun we always had with you and dad! Compared to our neighbors’ possessions, we had next to nothing, but we sure did have everything. I felt like we really got the best of both worlds. A third-world country carefree closeness combined with so many first-world conveniences.

I’m sorry these letters are getting harder to decipher.  I am so tired all of the time, and it is hard to write. I can’t even seem to think straight. When you called last Friday from the DI crying, it truly broke my heart. I wish I could take away your pain, mom. I hated (and still hate) that you were (and still are) lonely, but then when you said, “I feel better, just hearing your voice,” it made me so humbled and grateful that even though I can’t take it away, I could provide a little comfort in the moment. I am so glad Adam could come visit. I am partially jealous that he has the kind of freedom to do that, but I am more grateful than anything. I need to make it a priority to come visit very soon, no matter how crazy busy I am. Adam is just as busy, if not more so.

It’s Friday, therefore I should be getting homework done. It’s 1:13 PM, and I have yet to even start. I’ve had a great day. I woke up and listened to President Uchtdorf’s talk from Women’s Conference, and consequently I just wanted more. I then listened to Elder Holland’s talk from the Priesthood Session. In between my new visiting teacher came over. God has been with me today. He answered my prayers. He never answers in the way that I want Him to, but He does answer. I’ve been really preoccupied with LG and Abigail lately. One of my questions going into conference was how I could help both LG and Abigail with their individual struggles. I get so impatient, and I know a majority of the time I just exacerbate stuff. When I asked the question, I hoped God would tell me exactly how I could MAKE them do what I know is best. Ha. God has never answered me one time, in all my almost 43 years, to tell me anything about anyone else. Today, has been true to God’s pattern.

Between Sunny (my visiting teacher), Holland, and Ucthdorf I got three witnesses all telling me that same thing. I need to have more faith, I need to love better and deeper, and I need to be patient and kind. They all sounded just like you, mom. Maybe someday Abigail will actually write me a letter that says, “Hey, mom, thanks for telling me what I didn’t want to hear. I know you love me. And, you were right. My entire life.” Well, there you go, mom. There is everything you ever wanted to hear. You know me well. I know that you love me. And, I hope I can learn to love like you do, more devoutly and patiently. Why does it have to be so hard? I wish I could just make everyone else change to my liking, instead of having to work on making myself more like-able.

As I sat pondering how I could make the changes I needed to make, I saw a video a friend of mine posted on facebook. It was a song by Andrea Bocelli and Katherine McFee called “The Prayer”. As I watched and listened to the beautiful lyrics, I started praying along.

I pray you’ll be our eyes
And watch us where we go
And help us to be wise
In times when we don’t know

Let this be our prayer
As we go our way
Lead us to a place
Guide us with your grace
To a place where we’ll be safe

I pray we’ll find your light
And hold it in our hearts
When stars go out each night
Remind us where you are

Let this be our prayer
When shadows fill our day
Lead us to a place
Guide us with your grace
Give us faith so we’ll be safe

We ask that life be kind
And watch us from above
We hope each soul will find
Another soul to love

Let this be our prayer
Just like every child
Needs to find a place
Guide us with your grace
Give us faith so we’ll be safe

Need to find a place
Guide us with your grace
Give us faith so we’ll be safe

I almost felt like I was praying to both God and dad. I hope that doesn’t come across sacrilegious. When I got to the part where it says, “Let this be our prayer, just like every child, needs to find a place” I got a fourth witness. It was an answer from God, about me, about you, and about dad. It was jetted straight through my skin and brain and arrived straightway to my heart. “Create a place for every child, just like your mom and dad. Be their place. Be their safe place.” That means, I have to do that for everyone. Not just my kids, but my husband, too. It’s a daunting message. How can I ever do that when I am still such a child needing such a place? But, I will try, mom. I will try. How I love you and dad. You both have issues, but you both keep trying. You are children who need a safe place, but despite your own needs being met or not, you always created that place for others. You know how to love. Thank you for showing me what that looks like. I will try to be like you, mom. And like dad. Because ultimately I know I will end up looking like God.
Two more songs followed as I typed to you just now while listening to “The Prayer” again trying to muster my strength to get up from my laptop. I don’t want to. I just want to stay here where it is safe, and I won’t mess anything up with my controlling, impatience, criticism, or aggressiveness. The songs were “Time to say Goodbye” and then “Hero.” I could hear dad’s voice singing. He told me we will go together again in a ship, and that even though he knows he’s my hero, he was just an ordinary dude who kept trying and loving. I could hear him say, “Alice, you can keep trying. You can keep loving.”
It’s not Wednesday night. You aren’t on the phone. It’s Friday morning, and for the second time this week I got a pep-talk from my parents. My dad called all the way from heaven. How about that? I didn’t even have to ask you to talk to him. He just knew I needed him.
I love you, mom. Until next week… here are the lyrics. I hope you get to hear dad telling you about the ship you will sail again, too.

 

Excerpted from “Time to say Goodbye”
When I’m alone
I dream on the horizon
and words fail;
yes, I know there is no light
in a room where the sun is absent,
if you are not with me, with me.
At the windows
show everyone my heart
which you set alight;
enclose within me
the light you
encountered on the street.
Time to say goodbye
To countries I never
Saw and shared with you,
now, yes, I shall experience them.
I’ll go with you
On ships across seas
which, I know,
no, no, exist no longer,
with you I shall experience them again.
I’ll go with you
On ships across seas
Which, I know,
No, no, exist no longer;
with you I shall experience them again.
I’ll go with you,
I with you.

“Hero”

There’s a hero
If you look inside your heart
You don’t have to be afraid
Of what you are
There’s an answer
If you reach into your soul
And the sorrow that you know
Will melt away

And then a hero comes along
With the strength to carry on
And you cast your fears aside
And you know you can survive
So when you feel like hope is gone
Look inside you and be strong
And you’ll finally see the truth
That a hero lies in you

It’s a long road
When you face the world alone
No one reaches out a hand
For you to hold
You can find love
If you search within yourself
And the emptiness you felt
Will disappear

And then a hero comes along
With the strength to carry on
And you cast your fears aside
And you know you can survive
So when you feel like hope is gone
Look inside you and be strong
And you’ll finally see the truth
That a hero lies in you

Lord knows
Dreams are hard to follow
But don’t let anyone
Tear them away
Hold on
There will be tomorrow
In time
You’ll find the way

And then a hero comes along
With the strength to carry on
And you cast your fears aside
And you know you can survive
So when you feel like hope is gone
Look inside you and be strong
And you’ll finally see the truth
That a hero lies in you
That a hero lies in you
That a hero lies in you

A Simply Marvelous Life

caroline-harpWhile going through old class notes for my current paper, I found this story I wrote last spring. I remember how it made the student that presented after me cry. I felt so bad as she approached the podium upset. She explained that my story was especially tender to her because her dad had passed away recently. How was I to know that within months I’d be in the same “dad gone” boat?

I remember telling my dad of our plan to take a gift to the orphan boys and how he loved it. He wholeheartedly sanctioned it to my kids and he shared an inspiring story of his own. He cried. What a tender memory. He believed in the art of compassion. He lived the art. How grateful I am for him and his  example. He inherently knew that the true joy of life was within our relationships with others.

I am grateful to have come across this story today. I’ve been in a school slump, not feeling up to the writing task. Today’s discovery reminded me of the importance of storytelling. Even if I am not the most eloquent storyteller.

A Simply Marvelous Life

“Those poor, poor boys,” Mother said loud enough for the room to hear as she read the newspaper. I asked her, “What boys?” She explained. Twenty years before she used to work with this guy. They were nothing more than acquaintances. “But still, it’s just so tragic.” He was dead now among the remains of his personal jet. It crashed on take-off in Colorado. The crash also killed his wife, and two of his five children.

Mother seemed obsessed over the three children left. It was hard to understand how complete strangers to her sabotaged her heart for months. She talked about them to everyone. Her friends. Her kids. Sometimes she would even talk to random strangers about how grateful she was to be alive. “Shopping with a toddler is hard, but it makes it easier when I think about how blessed I am to be alive.” When the family knelt in the family room every night, mother would sometimes pray out loud for the family. “Bless those boys.”  When I complained about chores or homework or getting my phone taken away, she would remind me to be grateful. “You have both your parents, and all of your siblings. Remember, life is marvelous.” When Christmas neared mother told us that in the quiet of one morning she heard a voice in her mind. It was a woman begging, “They must have a gift from us under the tree.” Asking our forgiveness mother said she hoped we’d understand her stealing from us. She had withdrawn from her Christmas account, upsetting her carefully budgeted plan, to buy something for the orphans. She apologized and explained that we might have a little less this year. “But, I just feel it my duty to provide a gift for them from their dead mother. I can hear her voice as clear as day. I can’t ignore it.”

As Father drove us to the next town over, Mother watched her five elves stretch and giggle among the large sack of gifts in the back. The wrapped gifts would be left anonymously. “Because that is the best kind of giving,” mother said. The boys’ names, the ones their mother gave them, were monogrammed on their blankets. A note was included reminding them of their mother’s love, all the way from heaven. “She had found a way to hug them, through the mind of a stranger.”

Mother had done some serious sleuthing to get the names and address of the boys, but could hardly believe her eyes as they pulled up. When they verified the house number to the information on the paper in mother’s hand, everyone voiced their utter shock. A chorus of “no way” echoed the yelps of surprise as the vehicle reached the top of the mountain. The boys lived in a literal mansion. Mother laughed. “What in the world?” We all told her we should take the gifts back home, but she directed her elves to drop the gifts on the doorstep. “Be quiet. Don’t let anyone see you. Hurry up before someone calls the police.” As we sprinted our way back to the modest minivan that cowered under the massive gate, my little sister spared a glance for a golden harp glowing through the windowed fortress. We jumped in. The tires peeled. My baby sister described the harp’s shine to her amused mother. How badly Caroline wanted a harp. She had even written to Santa for one. She didn’t know what I knew.  Santa had already bought her a harpsichord. It was the last Christmas purchase she had made right after the wrapping for the boys’ blankets.

We never knew it, but in those first few moments driving home, mother deeply questioned the meaning of helping where help didn’t seem to be needed. Those boys had more than she or hers ever would. The answer came quick, at the traffic light on the way home. Flashing behind her eyes, red and green, it spelled one word. C-o-m-p-a-s-s-i-o-n. Mother turned to dad and said, “I guess tonight we got to help meet an emotional need, not a physical one.”  Yes, compassion knows no class structure. Or biases. Only pure love. And that night both mothers had managed, from separate realms, to teach their children the true meaning of Christmas.

The next day mother listened as her baby girl, surrounded by her parents and four siblings, transformed our family’s condo into a two-bedroom castle with music from her harpsichord. As Mother closed her eyes to enjoy the marvelous moment, a familiar angel voice spoke to her mind one last time, “It sounds just like my harp.”

 

The moment we dread. And after.

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My oldest daughter will be a senior in high-school next year. Look at her. Isn’t she just every mother’s joy!? I find myself in the middle of the day just rummaging through her things, trying to learn more about her. (I hope she doesn’t read this or that might kind of freak her out.) When she is zoned in on her phone, I sneak in more peeks just because I can. I think of her, and mentally check to see if I have her memorized. I think about the cans of Spaghetti O’s she forages. I mentally replay her body in motion racing around a track. I trace every line of her hairdos. At homecoming. That choir concert. That morning when she just got out of bed.

Favorite candy=hot tamales. Check. Most proud moment=hmmm. I’m not sure. I better ask her. Favorite color=green. Check. Biggest fear=birds. Bigger fear=being judged as less than. Talents=soccer, design, hair, fashion, math, anaylzing, singing. There are too many. I think about her voice and how it sounds when she sings next to me at church. I smile. I think about her voice when she was 10, 5, 2. Then I have to stop because it hurts too much.It makes me cry, knowing that she will never sound like a two-year-old ever again. She will never give me sloppy kisses again. She will never come crying because she just scraped a knee and she believes my kisses will make it all better. She will never navigate a new high-school or be at the wheel for a first time or learn to walk.

I don’t want her to leave. I don’t ever want her to go because part of me will go with her, and I am not sure how I will manage having part of me wherever she ends up. I know from observing others that I will figure it out. I just don’t want to. Not at all. I want to keep her all for myself. But, there is a world that needs her. A world I’ve prepared her for. A world that she needs. There are things she can’t learn from me. It has to be someone else to teach her physics and quantum life. I don’t know that stuff. There are jobs just for her. There are people waiting to know her and love her. There are people she is meant to love. There are little monkies of her own that she gets to recycle this  life experience with. All I can hope for is that she lets me visit once in awhile. Maybe she will even come home when she can,  and give me a hug. I will like that.

But honestly, every time we part ways, I will feel a little like Jane Goodall. Appreciated. Happy. Proud. And in excrutiating torment to see her go. She will take a part of my heart with her. And the day I die, after giving her one small piece at a time for decades, I will leave the last piece of it with her, so she will have more heart to give to her own monkies.  And I will wait in heaven to hug her on the other side when she comes stumbling through the veil with her own empty heart. And when we hug, in the touch, somehow, our hearts will miraculously ressurect. And the torment will be no longer. All that will remain will be the Pride. And the Joy.

They Coached the Coach

“What better way is there for me to spend quality time with my kids than to be their coach? I have to take them to practice anyhow.” That was my reasoning at the beginning of this season when as a  mother of five and a part-time college student I was already feeling stretched. Little did I know that my kids didn’t need me to be their coach as much as I needed them and their team to be my trainers.

volleyball head

I’ve loved volleyball since I can remember. I played on the JV team in high-school, and quit before I had the chance to reach any braggable level of competetive skill. But for a recreational league I knew I would be “good enough”. When I showed up to coach training they didn’t even warn me that coaching has very little to do with skill and a whole lot to do with modeling and mentoring.  They let me learn the hard way. Best gig ever.  Learning the hard way is my super power.

Let me just start by confessing our season record. 1-7. Yes, that’s one win and seven losses. And, yes, you can stop reading now if you are anything like I was eight weeks ago in believing that the wins are all that’s important.

You see, my lesson #1 was this:
Winners are not those who never fail but those who never quit.

I started with a really inexperienced team. We got our butts kicked over and over again, but I taught them the basics and told them to master them. I promised them if they could just get down their bumping and serving we would be good for the tournament.

These girls never quit. They kept working. And on Saturday we have our last tournament game. We go into it 3-0. Yes, three wins. Zero losses. If we win tomorrow, we will be the league champions. They never quit. And I’m so glad I never did either.

winners

Lesson #2: Actions speak louder than words. Actions are determined by thoughts and beliefs.

One time when we were losing badly, I hurriedly sent the team back on the court without the traditional team cheer. I was distracted, frustrated and worried about how as a coach I was letting my team down. I had just ran on about mechanics and with the impatience of the official raining down on me, I pushed the team along without any encouragment, a sweep of the hands and a, “Just go.” My daughters informed me on the way home that Olivia had looked at them both with anxiety all over her face. She felt bad. Coach was mad and disappointed. My lack of positivity brought the whole team down.

what you say

That brings me nicely to my third lesson:
You can only teach someone who wants to learn. You can only learn when you want to be taught.

My daughter Bella has been struggling with her serving the entire season. Last night before the game I was determined to get her serving perfected before the game started. I took her aside and dug in. “You need to keep your arm straight. Hold the ball steady. Don’t start so far back.” She refused to move up six inches. The more I tried to explain how her balls were falling short that exact length, the more she shut down. She ended up in tears. It’s not a proud moment.  Thankfully my husband came over and asked me, “Alice, is it really worth it?” She didn’t want to learn what I had to offer, yet I still wanted to stuff it down her throat. Both she and I had really fragile feelings for the whole first set. It wasn’t worth it. Unless you call her first two perfect serves from too far back worth it. Like her mama, she is out to prove a point. For the record, I know now I was wrong. I’ll never forget the horrible sinking feeling I had while watching her sit on the bleacher and cry.

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Lesson 4: Change is progression.

I’m the kind of person that holds my ideas and opinions tightly. I feel like if I need change I failed. Volleyball has reminded me that the only thing that defines failure is being too rigid to progress. At the beginning of the season I was using a lot of practice time on cardio and strength building. I realized early on that my team needed more time on the ball. I had to completely change our practice outline.

change

And last:
Always, always, always focus on the positive.

It took me six losses to figure this out, but on a positive note, I guess there are slower coaches to be found somewhere. In the beginning of the season, I kept harping on the girls about what they were doing wrong. They couldn’t  bump the ball for the life of them, and so I determined to force competancy on them.

Meanwhile, the other teams were not just mastering bumping, but also learning new skills too.  Or so it seemed to me. I decided that I had to change my approach. I started finding ways to compliment each player. I dished out praise like Halloween candy. I demonstrated and allowed time for practice and encouragment. I continuously repeated how much I believed in them. I told them the could win. They started to believe it.

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I can’t really explain the beautiful experience it is to jump around a court like a crazy kid with a team full of girls that you know you helped to learn the lessons of champions.  Last night, as I watched them high-give and congratulate each other with joy written in each smile line, my heart swelled. I was so grateful that they coached me way more than I could have ever coached them.

Update (next day)

We won. My favorite part was when we all sang “We are the Champions” in celebration.

champs

 

For the athletes on the bench

abigail one

My dearest Benchwarmer,

I hope you know how truly proud you should be of yourself.
We are extremely proud of you.
You have given your team all of your effort this year.
It has required a lot out of you.
Even though you received very little in return (as far as playing time is concerned)
you never quit fighting, and practicing, and learning.
You have had an amazing attitude.
Much better than any of us, that’s for sure.
Your parents whined about everything.
The two games every game day about killed us, and we weren’t even dressed out.
You only got to play on junior varsity,
but still had to commit an enermous amount of time to varsity, too.
And you did it gladly.
You have stayed positive.
Every day. Every second. Every grueling minute of game day.
This year’s goal was that you could hopefully improve.
And improve you did.
And miraculously, you were also our teacher while doing it.
Because in athleticism and life the improvement is what matters most.
Not the score, or the other players, or any glory.
Your glory came every time you knew you were better than yesterday.
Your victory came in the form of perfected humility
while just being there to give the starters someone to play against.
Day after day.
Week after week.
You have been there to cheer on your teammates.
You have been genuinely happy for them and proud of them.
You have gone above and beyond to follow the directions of your coach.
And honestly, all of those things are what the test of life is really about.
I wish that as your parents we could have given you more.
I wish we could have afforded all the fancy gear and coaching
that all the other girls on your team have had.
But, the way in which you outshine them in your heart makes me almost
glad that we weren’t able to give you more.
Because you, with no advantages at all, with just pure love of the game
and committed effort over ten years, made your dream of making varsity come true.
It doesn’t matter that you may never get to play in a game.
It doesn’t matter to me if your team takes that state title tomorrow.
What matters to me is that you are the best that you can be.
What matters to me is that you are happy and healthy.
What matters to me is that you are my most amazing kid.
If we leave the game tomorrow with victorious smiles,
or we (your dad and I) leave with just small ones that the season is finally over,
what you need to know is that YOU always make us smile.
YOU are the best thing that has ever happened to us.
And you are also an amazing athlete with incredible character.
Stand tall and proud, my child.
You make us so proud.

Love,
Your biggest fans

start here

startMy hubby and I have interviews with our kids once a month. We take about an half an hour to meet with each child privately and talk to them about their personal and family concerns. We take time to express our love, remind them of their strengths, and set goals for improvement.

It’s really just our way of implementing “therapy” into their lives. We hope by working with our kids on emotional well-being now, we can give them the tools that we’ve paid a generous amount of money to professionals to teach us as adults. Hopefully this habit will also save them from repeating a lot of our heartaches. Doing this also helps us as parents to know how we need to improve. Each time the kids leave with one goal and we do too.

Besides teaching them the importace of faith and how to do their own laundry, I think this little practice is the most effective thing I’m doing as a mother. I highly recommend its implementation. I wonder if so many senseless tragedies could be avoided if all parents would invest just a little time to talk to their kids about emotional, physical, spiritual, and psychological nitty-gritties. We have noticed a huge difference in our relationship with our kids after our consistent first Sunday of the month interviews.

If anything it gives the kids the chance to be acountable to themselves for self-improvement.

So, yesterday we had a pretty intense interview with one of our girls. She does not want to discuss a sensitive subject that is causing her a lot of heartache. She just totally shuts off and tunes the whole experience out. Her tender little heart can’t deal with its vulnerabilities and broken parts. After trying repeatedly to coax her out unsuccesfully we ended up just cutting the session early and encouraging her to think about things on her own so we can readdress next month.

As she exited and closed the door behind her, with discouragement and feelings of utter parent failure, I turned to my husband and said, “I think that we might have to do this every time until she realizes what closing herself off is depriving her of.” He agreed, but more than anything, we wish we could help her be strong and face herself because we know it’s essential for her peace and happiness.

This morning I read this and was reminded of my own journey in self-awareness. It’s a lot easier to address our weaknesses if we first start with the foundation that we are divine beings with divine potential.

“Satan uses our weaknesses to the point that we are discouraged from even trying…We don’t need to be “more” of anything to start to become the person God intended us to become. God will take you as you are at this very moment and begin to work with you…If we look at ourselves only through our mortal eyes, we may not see ourselves as good enough but our Heavenly Father sees us as who we truly are and who we can become.”

The moral of the story, kick those fear-based lies in the butt, and start where you are. Don’t be afraid. You are not supposed to  be perfect. Yet. But, if you aren’t willing to take a honest look, you never will be.

Royal Teenagers (And I’m not talking about their pain in my @$%)

Just the other day, one of my girls said to me, “Mom, your blog used to be cool. Now it’s all boring. You never tell any good funny stories anymore.” I laughed. Agreed. And then threatened her to go public with her latest shenanigan. She immediately understood what I meant when I said, “I can’t tell everything about you guys anymore and you guys are all my funny stories.”

I thought I was the only one who had quit telling stories about my kids.Then it was brought to my attention that there is a lack of material about what it is like to parent teenagers on this here web. I can’t find the first article I read, but here is another one. It’s a legitimate concern. As a veteran blogger I get the very real struggle. As your kids get older, you can’t just air their dirty laundry. I mean, really, now their dirty laundry is actually bras and underwear. And boys. And other people’s kids. And raging hormones. Bad decisions. The list goes on. Any good parent should be careful. (Unless their kid is making millions in the movie industry, of course. JOKING)

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My two teenage daughters and the one coming right up on 12 would NOT appreciate me being totally honest. I can’t tell you everything. I can only tell you the good things. This is a problem for me because I am all about making the internet an honest place.

I can tell you that this meme

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is not exaggerating.

When it comes to raising teenage girls, a hurricane does hit the bathroom every single morning without fail.

Raising teenagers is hard.  Personally, I think taking care of babies is harder. I should know, I have both right now. Ha! Babies are physically exhausting, but teenagers are engaged in emotional warfare at all given times. It’s not that they want to be bad, it’s just that they need so much reassurance. You know the saying, “Those that need love will ask for it in the most unloving ways.” Well, it’s true. Teenagers are some of the worst culprits.

Teenagers ask for love with eye rolls, insults, self-depracation, rebellion, etc. They make stupid decisions because of their overriding programming for belonging. They are desperate to know that they matter. They want to be told everything is going to be o.k. They just need to feel safe. (Kind of like us adults but add in lethal doses of hormones, acne, and bullies.) Makes me think of this skit.

Yet, when teenagers act like they do, they make everyone around them want to run for the hills instead of giving them hugs. I actually like the mental challenge that they present. Call me crazy, but I’d take the mental marathon over the monotony of diapers and feedings any day….except yesterday. Yesterday was really bad. Sometimes your teenagers will make you wonder if they have any brains at all….that was yesterday. As a parent who is left screaming, “Have you heard anything I have told you for the past 15 years?” I can assure you that like with all phases of parenting some days are way better than others.

Getting to the point of the post in 3,   2,   1.

In all my three years of teenage experience, I have actually figured something out. My job is to OVERLOVE my kids. I need to love them to the point that they won’t need to ask for it in the most UNLOVING of ways. It’s so hard to do. It requires a lot of sucking it up on a parent’s part. A lot. It feels good to have figured out my job: to train my teenagers out of asking for love ineffectively, but it is also a daunting task…especially when they “hate me.” (That was yesterday.) I am supposed to 1- help them inherently know that they are worthy and loved. No matter what. And 2- If and when they are feeling unlovable, downtrodden, and like a screw-up, they need to know how to effectively ask for and *receive the love that they need and it is my job to teach them. (*We all know those people who need way too much love. I think this is a result of them not learning how to receive what is given to them.)

[You should read that last paragraph again because I honestly think it’s the secret to a happy life. Not just for teenagers.]

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When all else fails, and I am ready to ring my kids’ necks, I remind myself. They are royalty. They are princesses. Even if they are acting like evil stepchildren, I remember that I am going to have to answer to the King when I get home. He is going to ask for a play by play. If I pass, I will earn a place in the royal family. Not just any old place. I will be adopted in and be made a queen. I don’t know about you, but I desperately need to be royalty.

wpid-photogrid_14248156443752.jpg.jpegOne way I give myself this daily reminder is when I play taxi. Every time I pull up to the school, the field, the kids’ friends’ houses, the church…wherever I am picking them up, I text them an acronym.

YCA

Your carriage awaits.

They are royalty.

wpid-wp-1424969976432.jpegYesterday, I employed a new tactic. It’s called the special dinner. I thought, “If she is acting this bad, she must be really desperate,” so I pulled out the linens, the glassware, and flowers. I made a nice dinner. We all toasted her. We wrote down what we loved about her. Just because she is grounded for five weeks it doesn’t mean that we should quit loving her. If I’ve learned anything I’ve learned that they need the most love when they are in trouble….which is often as a teenager.

I guess we’ll be having a lot of special dinners.

When I explained the reason for the new tradition of a special dinner, one of my kids declared, “So, when we are slamming doors, crying, breaking rules etc…we are going to get a special dinner….l guess I am getting a special dinner every night.”

Teenagers!children of god