On Mother’s Day…

I’m sitting next to my early riser who is literally licking her plate clean after consuming a monkey bun from my sister’s bakery. My big girl and I get up and sit on the couch while everyone else is sleeping. She watches early morning PBS and I journal, read my Bible, and read my favorite blogs. She drinks milk, I drink coffee. Really without this part of my day, I’m a monster.  At first, I’d sneak out of my room, jumping from board to board in our little bungalow, avoiding creeks. Now, her circadian is set to mine. And she meets me in the hall. What was a frustration at first, her interrupting my “me time,” is now “our time.” And it’s the time she sees me loving Jesus, reading from his word, learning from him, praying. It reminds me of my mom…

DD, Mom, KT, Me

I love my mom daily, but Mother’s Day does lend itself to think, pause, and appreciate all the ways my mom gave and gives.

I can’t even look around my living room in my home, without seeing her influence:

Piles of books on the shelf. It was mom who taught me to love reading. It was mom who made me read the classics and wouldn’t allow me to amass a huge library of Babysitter’s Club, but instead Little House and Anne of Green Gables. It was mom who had us reading every day during the summer. Mom who bought us children’s books even as adults. Books I read to my own children. It was mom who nurtured my own love of story telling. She wrote down my narrations even as a 4-year-old, when I couldn’t write.

The Cityscapes and Photography hung on the wall. The way I hang pictures, influenced by mom. ‘Hang them at eye level, not too high, not too low.’ Her quiet sense of style and her way of making a home HOMEY and lived in, yet cute, (hopefully) transferred to us. Playing with color, playing with design, playing with room lay out. I’m never quite satisfied with a piece of furniture from a store. It must have a story. It must be a deal. That’s from my mom.

I can’t go through a day, without attributing much of it to mom:

Keeping life simple and fun. My mom didn’t force us to do sports or music or dance.  My youngest sister and I took piano. My middle sister took art. We all played softball briefly and lost every game (save one forfeit). And we took free tennis lessons one summer. But we weren’t a family going from here to there chasing college scholarships. We did what we liked. We were happy. We weren’t dictated by schedule or culture. We had people over for dinner and sat around the table for hours, laughing and eating. Life was simple. Life was fun.

Ordinary life was special.  In the summers we had popsicles every day at 3pm on the porch. On the first day of every season, we got little presents to celebrate the new Season, pjs’ on Christmas eve, travel presents for long car rides, tea parties, homemade cherry limeades, the list goes on and on.  Mom made life special.

Tea Party (mom and CB)

When the world criticized, mom esteemed. My mom (and dad) swear to this day that I was cute in 7th grade, even when I show them proof that I was NOT. But back then, I thought I was beautiful…because of them.

She loved dad and God first. My mom let me in on a secret over a cup of coffee, when I was about 17, “I always put dad first.” WHAT? Over us? I was offended…until my selfish little teenage soul understood. My mom and dad’s relationship gave us stability and confidence. It was good and healthy for us to see THEM love one another. It took me into my late 20s to find my own one and only. I think often, it’s because mom and dad set the bar so high in their love, that I could not settle. Now as a mom, I get it. She also loved God above all else, even dad. Every morning, mom and dad could and can be found, on the couch, coffee in hand, reading God’s word and praying. Perhaps that is the biggest gift they gave me.

The most important job in the world is shaping little souls, raising little people. Thank you mom, for how you raised us. I am endlessly grateful. I love you!

An Unsolicited Opinion about Frozen

Have you ever been a part of something and it felt like your heart was on the outside of your body? For me-it’s usually music or really good theatre.

The day to day swarms around me and my time is filled with goldfish, grilled cheese, and Daniel Tiger, so it’s been a while since I’ve been felt this way, until…

On Valentines Day, we took our big girl to her first movie in a theatre. And I felt it: the rush of awe and appreciation, the reminder that there are great story tellers and artists, and thoughtful and funny composers still out there-still making magic in our culture.

There are a lot of posts out there about this movie and I’ve not read any of them, because this post has been swirling in my head since February 14th.

Here are major themes and points that I took away from Frozen:

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1. Sometimes gifts can be our worst enemies. Elsa’s talent for snow making was innate within her.  BUT, gifts have to be used in the right context. They need to be humbly developed and nurtured by parents and loved ones. Just think about our personalities. We are who we are…but sometimes out of fear, we squash that, we hold it in, we pretend. Elsa had an amazing gift that she didn’t know how to use, and no one taught her what to do with it. Encouraged by her parents, she hid it. When she was true to herself and learned purpose in her gift…who she really was…only then was she beautiful and free (and sexy, for that matter-it’s true and it’s ok).

2. Anna and Elsa were products of parents who thought they were doing the right thing but were actually screwing up. As a mom-this is terrifying. But here’s the thing…Elsa and Anna could have blamed their parents for their predicament. They could have dwelled on it. We all could and can. But if we have loving parents, it’s a FACT that they did their best. They intended the best. So, the next time you feel tempted to blame your parents for something, remember that they love(d) you and were likely trying to do the right thing. And I am trying now, to parent the best I know how. I’m sure when my kids grow up, they will point to ways I’ve messed them up. Heaven help me as I try to be a good mom!

3. For a million reasons, Elsa was hurt, so to protect herself she built ice around her heart and refused to let anyone in-even those who loved her most. Are you doing this today? Am I? Pain often drives us away from intimacy. We were meant for community. Living outside of it IS the biggest tragedy.

4. Elsa was different and when people found out, they were scared.  Now you can be all PC and say “Differences don’t scare me!” But they probably do, and no one will know if you just admit it in your head. And different things scare different people. It is what it is. But at some point, we have to stop being afraid, and get to know people for who they are, different or not. That’s hard and it may take an entire lifetime.

5. For once, “true love” wasn’t the conventional boy meets girl and boy saves the day. First off, the GIRL saved the day. And secondly, the perfect love in this movie, was messy, gritty, enduring, painful, and beautiful-as only love in real life can be. Not only that, it was familial. And familial love rarely looks like it did on Full House or I love Lucy. It’s hard. It. Just. Is.

I’m so glad that this was also a story about sisters.  And if you have sisters…you know that there is no one on Earth who can be your best friend and soul mate like a sister, and almost no one you’ll fight for more than a sister.

6. Reconciliation is worth it…even if it’s hard and takes a long time. I believe that reconciliation wants to be the plot line of every story. Yours and mine.

7. The good guy won the girl. Maybe you’d say the underdog…but he was NOT the prince. He was not the guy she thought she wanted, but instead, the guy she needed and the guy who wasn’t too prideful to win her. He was also her friend, first. I loved this! I want that guy to date my daughters some day. That guy dated and married me. What a lucky girl I am.

My little girl is too little to see movies this way. All she wants to do is sing “do you wanna build a snowman?” over and over again. And my husband (because he’s a guy) prefers The Incredibles. But I’m grateful for what I consider to be the best Disney movie of all time for themes of redemption and strength and love in an age of cheaply made movies with weak and boring plots. When my girls are bigger…I hope we can chew on these themes whilst sipping coffee and eating dark chocolate!

 

Birthday Thoughts…

***I wrote this post on my birthday…but was too busy partying to post it.

Today is my birthday.

My wonderful husband has gone to great lengths planning out the most perfect day(s) for me. So far, he has succeeded. It even started yesterday.

Short recap:

After a morning workout and coffee playdate (code for mom date), we dropped the babies off with my in laws and took off for a day of shopping and coffee. I picked out a present. We headed to my favorite downtown on Earth, checked in to a hotel, enjoyed the view, ate steak at my favorite local joint, sipped coffee, licked a dessert plate clean from the ganache that spelled out Happy Birthday, walked among the city dwellers enjoying our town, and conversation (a novelty when you have littles).IMG_7961

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This morning, we strolled in the fog to get breakfast…me pretending amidst the sky scrapers that I lived in NYC (a weird Felicity-like daydream I always go back to), and now here I am, basking in my thoughts and coffee, awaiting a massage in one hour. My husband knows how to pamper me on my big day.

(UPDATE: I later returned home to the smells of my favorite comfort food and a carefully crafted surprise party…a la the best husband ever!)

I joked with a friend last week that although I love my birthday, that it’s had a history of leaving me wanting.

On the day before my 30th, in an attempt to not be driving on my birthday, we set off in a snow storm to see my parents in the Midwest. Somewhere in the hills of Northwestern Arkansas, after sitting on stalemated bridges for too long, we gave up and got a hotel room for the night. While grabbing dog food at a Walmart, my Beagle FREAKED out in the car. It went like this:

Us: Toby, come on. Shut up.

Toby: Pant pant, cry cry…

Us: Toby, you can’t ride in the front…get back. Toby…stop.

Toby: Pant pant freak out freak out….FARRRRRRRRTTTTTTTT. SQUIIIIIRRRRRRRTTTTTT.

And like that, hours before my 30th, there I was in the snow, wrangling two dogs, laughter to the point of breathlessness, while my Tall guy cleaned up Beagle diarrhea from the crevises of the car door. (I told Toby that entire pan of Chocolate Chip Oatmeal cookies he stole off my counter the day before would eventually bite him in the butt…).

On my 23rd birthday, I was new in town…and just my mama and dad and aunt even remembered my birthday. I watched Mystic Pizza alone in my apartment.

There have been good and bad birthdays…and people always will say, “It’s just a day.”

To that I say, NO!

Having labored for my babies now, it is never just a day. Ever.

I think so many of us have forgotten to celebrate. Life is a miracle and it is fleeting.

35 years ago, right in this very moment (as I’m looking at my clock) my mom birthed me into the world. And from that point on, she sacrificed all of her pre-kid freedom…for me. Because she loved me so.

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In our family, we do birthdays big. They are tailor made. Some of us like birthdays loud and raucous, with lots of family and even more food. Some like them quiet and simple, with coffee and chocolate, some family, and then some private contemplation. My little girl likes her birthday to be bouncy and full of pizza. Regardless-we CELEBRATE birth days.

Birthdays are the day we say THANK YOU…thanks to moms and dads for choosing to extend themselves in parenthood. Thanks to God for giving us a chance to make a mark on the world…hopefully a good one, hopefully one that makes others say, “I want to know God, too.” Thanks to friends and family for trudging through it with us…good and bad.

It’s a day to celebrate friendship, growth, another year, tears, triumphs, set backs, FOOD, all of it….

It’s a good day for a birthday.

On Motherhood

Long before I had children of my own, I dreamed of becoming a mom.

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When I ask my little girl what she wants to be when she grows up, she always says, “I’m going to get married and be a mommy.” And I often find myself resisting the urge to say, “Oh, but you can go to college first and get a job and this or that?” As if getting married and being a mommy is something less than.  As if there is a just in front of the words wife and mom. 

There isn’t.

My mom is one of the reasons I am who I am today (and my dad is, too-but this is a post about moms). Her influence and presence in my life is incomparable: diligently teaching me to study God’s word, reading to me for hours and hours of my childhood, teaching me the value of pretend, crying with me when I thought my boobs were too big in middle school (they were), rejoicing with me when I got an A+ on a test in college, thrilled beyond words when I became pregnant with my own girls.

Moms have more power in shaping the future than anyone else on Earth.

To this day, the moments that my babies were born were the most phenomenal snapshots of my life-redeeming work, tears, exhaustion, and pain into the cries of new life, beautiful new life.  Even now, I am desperately aware that ushering them through life is a tremendous responsibility.

But the thing is…we don’t have to be biological mothers to be moms.

Before I had my own children, I was a surrogate mom for a week in Venezuela nurturing a little girl named Roxanna-hugging her, loving her, meeting her friends, praying for her. I was a spiritual mom to a dear friend during her adolescent years, praying with her every morning, struggling with her as she sought her own identity. I was a mom to friends, and roommates, and sisters-listening, drinking coffee, laughing, making food…and they were moms to me. Along the way-older women nurtured me over coca colas at the student union, when my own mom was hours away.  Others cried with me and counseled me when my heart was broken in my mid 20s, rejoicing later with me when my real Prince Charming finally swept me off my feet. And when my mama was miles away, she was nurturing other people’s babies, too. Sipping coffee, providing nurture, feet tucked up underneath them.

We are all mothers deep down. It is distinctly female…to be Mother, whether it is biological, surrogate, adoptive, or spiritual.

My baby girl is four and we have no idea what her life will hold. She may grow old and serve the world without marriage and without children of her own. And she may have a million degrees and focus on her career and that is fine. Or she may decide to marry right out of high school and start a quiver. Regardless, I pray that she becomes someone’s mama.

Because relationships are the only glue that hold the world together…stronger than any man made technology.

And degree or no degree…when my little girl says she wants to be a mommy, I will esteem that desire in her because mothering is a beautiful and worthy job-the most important job. To be in the presence of a good Mom, is to see the face of God.

 “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.” 

Proverbs 31:29

The VERY Back Seat

I wrote this post in September of 2000 for a writing class my senior year of college. In honor of throw back Thursday, I am FINALLY typing it up (with a few, but minimal edits).

Up until the fall of 1999, my parents drove a 1990 Chevrolet Celebrity Station Wagon. We named him Tom Cruise.* Tom has a very back seat and upon buying this car, that particular seat was deemed the coveted seat. The lucky sister who got to sit on that gray and black fuzzy seat was a lucky soul. It meant that she could get away from two pestering sisters who would inevitably touch her during some part of the ride AND she could enjoy upcoming traffic from a completely different and exciting vantage point.** Sometimes we would solicit close friends to join us in the back seat adventure. Once, on the way home from a puppet rehearsal at church, my best friend and I crouched down at every stop light and performed puppet shows for unsuspecting audiences in cars behind us.

Yes, times in the rear seat were fun…until we rather spontaneously realized that maybe cool people didn’t and/or shouldn’t gain (and give) pleasure from making faces at cars behind us. We were also increasingly aware of the awkwardness that settled between us and victims during those moments after the funny face was made and before the light turned green. At this point, the fights between my sisters and I were more focused on who had to sit in the rear seat instead of who got to sit there.

Many moments of grief and embarrassment were realized in that seat, most of which occurred on family vacations. You know when you have a really fat PE teacher in junior high and they are making you do 100*** push ups in front of the whole class because your form is wrong and the whole time you are wondering why they aren’t doing push ups, too? Well, the same sort of resentment can arise against your parents when you are stuck in the back and it is sweltering because of the windows all around and your parents are up front with the air conditioner blasting directly on them and they are asking the impossible, “Will you just have a good attitude?” Ha! Some good attitude, you think, YOU try doing that in a 180 degree atmosphere, Mom and Dad!****

For some reason during these long car rides to the South in the summer, one of us was always required to sit back there. I think my parents didn’t want us all 3 crammed in the middle seat because we might get claustrophobic? I don’t know. The summer after my sophomore year of college, I was assigned the 8 hour stretch between Memphis and Atlanta. This stretch turned into 11 hours when we hit a traffic jam that was 2.5 CDs long, outside of Nashville. I know this, because in the way back, music is your only consolation. Without it, you have nothing. It’s too hot to fall asleep and there is too vast a distance between you and the rest of the car to carry on a normal conversation-everything is yelled. Anyway, by the end of this grueling trek across Tennessee, I was silently crying to myself.

That seat can make you crazy. You think when you are in the normal part of the car, that the person in the back seat is overreacting until there you are, facing the same guy for 2 1/2 CDs, crying like a baby when you are 20!! On the next leg of that trip my sister Katie, was stuck back there, and she turned into a blubbering fool-offering us money to let her sit with us and when that failed, trying to physically force her way into the middle seat. Of course there was room for her but of course we weren’t letting her climb over. The whole scenario reminds me of Jack Nicholson’s character in The Shining. He thinks he’ll be just fine in that big hotel, all locked up, and then he tries to kill his whole family.

Luckily, though, I am writing this a free woman. I have been liberated, along with my sisters, from the prison that is the rear seat. My sisters and I breathed a collective sigh of relief when Papa bought Parker, the Park Avenue. I am now the primary driver and care taker of the beautiful long white station wagon. He sits in my alley way, is littered with my sandals, tee shirts, church bulletins, and the like. No one needs to sit in the back anymore because Tom is the college kid car. He drives my friends and me around the town of Cedar Falls, IA. And when he’s feeling up to it, he does journey South, but only 3 hours away to see my parents.

The only unlucky souls that grace the back back seat are inanimate objects and I guess they aren’t even real “souls,” at all.

Epilogue December 2013

*There was a time, dear children, when Tom Cruise was worthy of having namesakes.

**This vantage point is likely no longer legal in newer cars.

***Obviously, this is a gross exaggeration.

****When my dad was a child and travelled with his 4 sisters and parents on vacation in a sedan, his “seat” was the little shelf behind the back seat. Obviously, he’d earned the right to the AC, I know that now.

Tom Cruise Chevrolet Celebrity lived a long life. Topping 100,000+ miles, he drove his final days in 2003 and has gone to car Heaven. His glorious/annoying memory will live vibrantly in our hearts forevermore.

Clothes for Ken

IMG_2449Having kids at Christmastime gets me thinking…thinking about gifts I got, gifts I wanted, and gifts I wanted and never got.

When you’re a grown-up you still pine, but it’s different. It’s when you open the baking cabinet for flour and sugar for cookies but half eaten bags of Kettle chips topple out onto your face and you curse the idiots who sometime in the 1970’s thought it was a good idea to drop the ceiling in your 1920’s bungalow kitchen, install fluorescent lights and leave it with absolutely no storage space. How I long for a pantry. It’s when you put your husband’s undershirts away and you can’t open his chest of drawers and you’re like, “I wish for 2 more inches of drawer space.” Pining grownups are different than pining children.

My little girl wants literally everything she sees. I can remember feeling that way-if I didn’t get those purple cat sunglasses with the loop that held them around my neck, then I just, might, die. It’s a helpless feeling. When you’re a grown-up you just throw away the old bag of crumbly chips or toss the holey undershirts that impede the drawer from opening…but when you’re a kid, there’s really nothing you can do.

There wasn’t anything I wanted more and longer as a kid, than some men in my doll collection.

You see, from a very young age…I was a romantic (this is obviously secret code for pervy).

Initially, as little girls, my mom bought us dolls. Big beautiful baby dolls, called Sasha dolls. They were made in England and they were all female and their clothing was mid 1940s. When my sisters and I played with them…there were boys and there was love, but like the Greeks who performed all of the gory stuff off stage, so it was with us. Our imaginations filled in the gaps of what happened when they went to the dance and met Prince Charming or Gilbert Blythe or Almanzo or whoever.

But then someone gave me my first Barbie. I haven’t asked my mom-but I doubt she was thrilled about this development. The Barbie was blonde and had the characteristic disfigured female body that moms of little girls love to loathe. Shortly after that, we received a “Hawaiian Ken” doll. He was 90% naked (pronounced ne-ked because he caused nothing but trouble in our house) and wore nothing but swim shorts. Over the years, we added several more Barbie dolls and Skipper dolls to our collection, but no other male dolls. There was just neked Ken. And man was he neked. He got all those girl dolls to form a nudist colony and to have sex (they always got married and the sex act between them was an uneducated 11 year old’s version of sex, but still-Barbie immorality was rampant). And after years of promiscuity, he got his butt, along with the other dolls (ie. mere victims of chauvinism), taken away by my mom. Good call, mom.

After this development, I had to go to my friends’ houses to play wedding night Barbie. Not only that, their Barbies had houses that were not repurposed desk chairs and cars that weren’t shoe boxes. And I’m embarrassed to say…when my youngest sister got a Jason Preistly doll WITH a full outfit and who’s arms bent at a 90 degree angle (important for smooching), I maybe played with him and a female doll when I was 14…and there was definitely making out.

Now that I’m a mom, I cringe at the thought that someday my little girls will ask for Barbies and Ken dolls. I see now, why Ken dolls and Ken doll accessory requests were just simply ignored by my parents. And perhaps, I will do the same. I will smother my little girls with baby dolls and stuffed bears and tennis rackets and Little House on the Prairie books and pray hard that Ken dolls and Barbie dolls with their disgusting disfigured tanned bodies never ever make their way into our cramped little Bungalow. But if they infiltrate, somehow…I guarantee you-I will be watching that pervert Ken doll like a hawk, and if he takes his clothes off for one minute…it’s off with his head!

This post was inspired by The Daily Prompt: Out of Your Reach.

Dead Squirrel

In case you’ve missed the nightly news, or in case Texas hasn’t even made it to the national news level (likely because we’re too Republican), we’ve been muddling through Ice-Capades 2013. In a turn of unlikely events, it’s December 8th, and we’ve already experienced TWO winter storm warnings! This is not normal.  There are always some native Texans who claim, “oh this is normal, this is Texas-anything goes,” to you I say-WRONG! Yesterday the highest temperature measured was 27 degrees. The lowest high on record here…ever.

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Now, I am a Midwestern girl by blood and have several Midwestern friends…so I know you are all like “whoa…27….brrrrr” (sarcastically whilst shoveling your snow in short sleeves and flip-flops). And as I watched my rude neighbors attempt to remove the ice from their hybrids with their bare hands, without turning their cars on, I laughed to myself and sipped my pumpkin coffee…recalling the good old days I spent in Iowa where…

1. I once climbed all the way through my Chevrolet Celebrity station wagon in a mall parking lot, because all of the locks were frozen.

2. I endured and lived to tell about a 360 turn on the highway, while riding with a friend home from college. To top it off-said friend may or may not have done drugs before that drive home-a fact naive 21-year-old me was oblivious to until much later. (Moral of that story-don’t do drugs and/or drive on icy highways).

3. The sheer force of bitterly cold Northern Iowa wind trapped me in many a wind tunnel on my college campus…while on lookers laughed and smoked their cigs (yes, that used to be allowed on the grounds of state schools). I’m not exaggerating. Me in the wind, JanSport on, trying to move, but unable to. And once, I was completely turned around by a wind gust. I was either 20 pounds lighter, or it was the full JanSport’s fault, or both!

4.  I have walked to school and back in blowing snow up to my knees. True story.

5. I returned from Christmas break one year, to find my CC station wagon LITERALLY covered in 2 feet of snow. It looked like someone built a snowcar.

6.  My college cancelled class twice in the whole time I went there. Once during my freshman year and once in my Senior year.

That was the year our city ran out of salt in mid-Spring.  The year that we didn’t see the Earth from November until late April. The year it snowed right before Spring finals…and I cried. The year of the dead squirrel. The year I moved to Texas.

College students are all busy….too busy and stressed and poor to do anything but be busy and stressed and poor. (Now, as adults, we all know that, that really means their lives are carefree and joyous and filled with faux busyness and stressfulness, but they don’t know that yet). College students are waaaaay too busy to do things like change their oil or buy shovels for the impending winter. So when you live in a Midwestern college town and it happens to be an extra snowy winter, it will also be a winter fraught icy sidewalks. The winter of 2000, was just this. We ice skated and shuffled the two blocks to campus every day for 5 months. Sometimes you’d see someone walking, but they would immediately end up on the ground.

On my walk to school, right past the little red bricked church, immortalized in the ice, was a squirrel. Dead. Tummy up. Claws out, as if it had been about to pounce on something right when it died. He lived on the sidewalk that entire winter…with the ice that we overly busy, poor, and stressed out pre-Facebook college students simply could not shovel.

That was also the winter of practical jokes.

So a few weeks later, I discovered that same dead squirrel, fangs out, teeth bared, glaring at me glassy eyed from a Walmart bag stuffed precariously in our mailbox. After a good laugh from my roommates and me, his royal deadness was then thrown by the chief joke player, into our bushes to be discovered later that Spring by an unfortunate gang of do-gooder youth, cleaning up our neighborhood. We wrote a song, we sang it at parties, and we will always remember Dead Squirrel.

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So, Ice-Capades 2013, has been fun (?) and it’s been real, and for the stranded motorists (i.e. crazies who thought Texas ice was passable) it’s been an ordeal. And if climate change is legit (which I’m beginning to believe it is), Texans might get to tell more stories of lost power and being snowed in and salt-rotted underbodies of cars and small frozen rodents. But for now, it’s all in a Midwesterner’s day’s work.