Sunday, December 21, 2014

Christmas Memories

Here's what I remember about the Christmases of my childhood...

Baking cookies with my mom using generous, heaping doses of decorator sugars, sprinkles and cinnamon red-hot candies.

Begging my dad to call Santa on our antique phone to relay our wish list messages.

Visiting the big department stores in downtown Cincinnati to see their elaborate holiday window displays.

The gravely voice of my grandmother singing Christmas carols at church on Christmas eve, the one time each year she would sing along at church, forgetting any insecurities about her less-than-perfect singing voice.

Driving around town after dark to admire the holiday lights.

Eating cinnamon rolls for breakfast on Christmas morning.

Reading The Sweet Smell of Christmas.  Over and over and over.  Every.  Year. 

Going to bed on Christmas eve, nearly bursting with excitement and convinced I would NEVER fall asleep. 

Here's what I don't remember about the Christmases of my childhood...

What gifts I got.

As I scroll back through the memories of Christmases past, I have a hard time identifying any gift that I received.  My brother and I were the only two grandchildren on both sides of our family, so I'm certain there was some excessive spoiling going on around Christmas time.  But I recall almost none of it.  I remember mounds of presents under the tree.  I remember none of the specifics of what was actually in those boxes.

This is what keeps me sane this holiday season.  As I ponder and begin to stress about the prefect gifts for each of our children, my own foggy memory is a poignant reminder.  It's not what is in those packages that our kids will remember years from now.  They will remember the mood of the season.  They will recall the abundance.  The baking.  The wrapping.  The giving.  The singing.  The anticipation.  The magic.

My gift to my children this year is to enjoy the season.  Don't fret...we will still have actual gifts on Christmas morning.  But I've learned that is not the important part.  Shopping, counting gifts and trolling mail-order catalogs doesn't need to be my only focus between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I'm making a conscious effort to focus my heart and my time on the spirit, not the spending, of the season.  Memories are made of time and traditions, not the latest, greatest toy under the tree.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Photo-A-Day: A Tutorial for Gen-X and Older

If you're somewhat familiar with social media, you've probably seen the "Photo-a-day" thing.  They are all over blog sites, Instagram, Facebook, etc.  Essentially you get one word or prompt for each day and you are charged with taking a photo that relates to the word.  And then you hash tag the heck out of it and post it far and wide for everyone to see. 

I've seen friends participate in these things and it seemed cute and (maybe) fun.  It also seemed like a lot of work to remember to take a photo every single day.  I wasn't sure it was really for me since I'm over 40 and I really don't need any more excuses to look at my phone.  But I was looking for some way to mark time during Advent, so I thought I would give this photo-a-day business a try.

My first order of business was to hit up Google for some help finding some kind of Advent photo thing.  Google rarely disappoints.  The first image I found was this:

Perfect!  It's Advent-y, straightforward, and started on December 1....which happened to be the day I got this great idea.  Technically it was really day two of Advent, but when we're dealing with cheesy Internet photo prompts, we're not too strict on the details. 

Lesson #1
Check the dates on your photo-a-day challenge lest you be embarrassed (as I was) to learn somewhere around Day 3 that you are operating off of LAST YEAR'S photo prompts.  Oops.  Oh well.  So much for searching for all those other kindred souls hash tagging the same thing as me every day.  Sigh.

So Day 1 was fun.  The word was "Go" so I posted a photo of all the tacky smashed pennies I have collected as souvenirs from places I've gone.  Easy.

Bring on Day 2: Bound

These books are #Bound for the Adopt a Family program at NVCSS.
Lesson #2
Hash tagging is a dangerous business.  I suppose during Advent the word "Bound" should lead us to ponder the the journey of Mary and Joseph, bound for Bethlehem.  Or perhaps the word suggests that we reflect on how we are all bound together by the love of God.  Turns out that there are people on the Internet (LOTS of people....) that have a completely different meditation on this word and the images that are #bound might make you a little #uncomfortable.

Somewhere around Day 10, I felt like I was getting into a pretty good rhythm.  I would look at my word in the morning and ponder it all day until something struck me.  Then I would dutifully take my photo and slap it all over the Internet.  Day 10 is also where it all started to fall apart.

Lesson #3
The devil is in the details.  Read and re-read your word.  Proof-read your post before going live with your daily stroke of genius.

Each day is numbered and is assigned one word.  You'd think it would be easy.  You would be wrong.  Here is my post for Day 10:

Day 11: #Sacred. Recalling the promise of the rainbow as we anticipate a humdinger of a winter storm.
Did anybody catch that?  Duh.  It's Day 10 and the word is Holy.  Oops. #photoadayfail

Lesson #4
Even though there are billions of people on the Internet that could potentially witness your failures if you mess up a word or post the wrong day, there are precious few that will actually see your blunder.  (Unless you happen to be a 17-year old YouTube that case you'll probably have a larger audience for your mistakes.)  As for me, my audience is a small, loyal group of friends and family and guess what?  They won't care.  Holy, sacred, whatever.  Let it all hang out. That's what the Internet is all about.


Monday, December 1, 2014

Parenting Gems.

As a mom, I find that there are ample opportunities in my life to be reminded that I'm not perfect.  Not that I thought I was perfect before having kids.  Far from it.  But when you're a parent it's like having a neon billboard, in the shape of a squirmy child, boldly announcing your imperfections to the world. 

I was having one of those weeks last week.  You know type.  The week where nothing seems to go right.  Kids are melting down into raging hissy fits at an alarming rate.  Your temper gets the best of you.  Nobody likes the dinner you cooked.  You find yourself raising your voice more than you would like.  You spend all your time picking up toys and nagging your kids to put their laundry in the hamper and your house STILL looks like a tornado hit it.  Doors get slammed.  Somewhere around Thursday afternoon, you slowly begin to believe you're a crappy mom and there is no hope for anyone in your house.

Can I get a witness??  Perhaps an Amen?

We are all imperfect.  We all have "off" weeks.  But for some reason when  things are off with my kids I take it personally.  It's as if I alone am to blame for each and every imperfection that shows up in my child.  As much as I try to be an easy-going mom, the doubt and uncertainty that fester when the kids stray off course can be toxic. 

Never mind the fact that my youngest is three and hasn't yet mastered impulse control and social graces.  Forget the fact that my sweet, young daughter is hard-wired as a sensitive type and will cry at things that make me roll my eyes.  I get that teenagers can be sassy, withdrawn and occasionally infuriating without even lifting a finger.  It's normal stuff.

But sometimes I forget that they are human and I am too.  I expect perfection from them and from myself.  I become so absorbed in teaching them to cooperate and be good citizens that I forget they are individual humans with their very own unique traits, quirks, and personalities.

This is a dangerous road, friends.  Because when we forget that we are raising humans, not robots, we expect too much of our kids and ourselves.  We forget to be graceful and forgiving.  We overlook the diamonds in the rough that God has sprinkled in our life.

This is exactly where I was last week.  I had ENOUGH of the complaining, the temper tantrums and the children that were exercising their age-appropriate behaviors.  I wanted perfect little soldiers that fell in line when I said it was time to go.  Instead I had a preschooler that was banging dents into my candles with his spoon, pulling the water tank off the humidifier, and refusing to leave the house. 

I picked him up, hauled him out to the car and strapped him into his car seat.  I got into the drivers seat, breathed a sigh of relief that he was strapped down and not able to do any further damage aside from his screaming and crying. And then I felt the pressure of my own tears, threatening to make an appearance.  As I listened to his wails, I wanted to join in.  I felt like sitting in that car and letting him see my frustration boil over into hot tears.  With my voice wavering and one tear escaping, in spite of my attempt to hold everything together, I turned around and looked at this angry child and said (probably louder than necessary), "I'm so TIRED of you not cooperating!"

Truth is I was just plain tired.  This perfect storm of the morning rush to get out the door, interrupted by a kid that needed some attention and didn't want to wear a coat was, in that moment, inexplicably exhausting.  I had held it together and remained civil with my kids in the midst of numerous similar scenarios.  But that day, I just couldn't muster my super-mom gene.  I felt hopeless, ineffective and frustrated.

And as we all sat together in silence, letting that little moment of ugly sink in, I heard the small voice of my daughter from the back seat.

"Mommy, do you need a hug?"

Yes.  Thank you, my sensitive, observant child.  A hug would be great.

And there it was.  In the middle of our ugly morning....a diamond in the rough.  Compassion from a small child.  Hugs given freely.  A quiet voice of reason in the midst of a stressful morning.  Lessons that she learned in my home, in spite of my imperfections. 

Thank Jesus for these small gems.  They are the lifeblood of motherhood.

Today's Lesson: Hug freely.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veterans Day. The Story of my Life.

I wrote this story 10 years ago as I dealt with the frustration and anxiety of sending my man off to war.  Keep in mind, these were the early days of the war in Iraq...before cell phone signals were reliable or Wi-fi was readily available.  This story has never seen the light of day, mostly because I could never figure out how to write a clean, happy ending.  I've come back to it a few times over the years, attempting to find the right angle to wrap it all up, but always came up short.  I'm learning that you'll never finish anything if you wait for perfection so I'm blogging ahead and posting this!  If you've ever wondered what it's really like to send someone off to war, here is one woman's story.

April 15, 2003 wasn’t a big day in history, at least not in American or world history. The president held a press conference in the Rose Garden for small business owners.  NASA announced its carefully selected landing sites for the Mars Exploration Rover mission.  The world remembered another anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.  But in the history of my life, it was a day that won’t be forgotten.  This was the day my loved one shipped out for his deployment to Iraq. 

I can’t say that it was a big surprise.  Anybody who read a newspaper or listened to a televised news program during the early part of 2003 should have known a reservist would be called upon to do his part for the war in Iraq sooner or later.  But prior to the official call, one thing overshadowed logic, news stories and statistical probability.  Hope.  Hope that perhaps somebody else could be called upon to do the dirty work.  Hope that maybe the need for extra troops was somehow being exaggerated every morning on the news.  Hope that the nagging sense of doom in the back of your mind was going to be proven wrong.  Dead wrong. 

No such luck.

When the Army comes calling to collect on old promises, it doesn’t wait patiently at the door to be invited in.  It barges right in with the confident swagger of an obnoxious relative, seemingly oblivious to the dismay of the rest of the family.  The Army talks loud, carries a big stick, and bowls over anything in its path.  A one-year anniversary coming up next week?  You’ll get over it.  A 6-year old daughter that needs her dad?  She’s tough, she’ll live. Vacation plans?  A job?  A mortgage? A seriously ill relative?  All of no concern to the Army.  Pack your bags and get here.  In a week. 

Oh yeah, and no complaining.  It’s unpatriotic.

To have your life interrupted by a military deployment during a time of war is an experience I never dreamed I would live through.  As a single woman, my mental checklist of “Men to Avoid” had “Military Men” listed in big, red letters.  It wasn’t that I didn’t respect or admire those who were willing to serve their country in such an intimate and selfless way.  I just didn’t want to be intimately tied to that service myself.  Sending a man that you love off to war, hearing about his fallen comrades on the daily news, and coming home at the end of the day to find only the four walls of your house standing to greet you didn’t seem like the makings of a great relationship.  “Why put up with that?!” I thought to myself, when there are so many perfectly good, non-military men out in the world who don’t volunteer to get shot at when there is a dictator to expel? 

The language of love knows no logic.  And so Nick and I began a relationship, but our relationship wasn’t exactly new.  We had dated off and on through high school ten years earlier.  He was my first love.  After I left town to go to college, our noble promises to be true and stay together forever quickly faded as the hopes and vows of idealistic 17-year-olds often do.  Time passed, we lost touch and moved on with our lives. 

The same high school that brought us together 10 years earlier served as the catalyst for our reintroduction.  Nick found my email address listed on the alumni website and sent a brief message.  I remember my finger hovering over the delete key while viewing the “Note from an old friend” email subject line.  Not recognizing the return address, my first instinct was to delete and move on to the next message.  But, for some unknown reason, I took a chance.  Viruses and junk mail be damned, I decided to open the message.  And that was the beginning of a flurry of email correspondence that quickly evolved into nightly telephone conversations, and finally weekend visits. 

Tentatively at first, we traveled long-distance on weekends to visit and explore the possibilities of “us”.  As our relationship progressed we looked for a way to cut our two-hour commute and turn our part-time, weekend romance into something more accessible on a daily basis.  The answer came in the form of a job offer for me, and I moved south, back to my hometown (the same place I had promptly abandoned after high school, swearing I would never return).

So when the call to active duty came, a short five months after I had relocated to pursue a relationship with this Army Man, I couldn’t help but kick myself and say “See, I told you so.”  During the brief preparation period before Nick left, we experienced a cornucopia of emotions.  Disbelief and anger were quickly replaced by a reluctant acceptance and panic.  The periods of sheer enjoyment as we savored our few precious moments together were quickly overshadowed by the anxiety of the unspeakable “what if” questions.  His safety and our future together were both, quite literally, being placed in the line of fire. 

After Nick’s departure I returned to my apartment, my job, my life, and found a void. Where there had once been a man who listened and supported me, there was now an empty space.  His hearty laughter and infectious smile that filled the room were replaced with silence.  I was on my own, at least in theory.

Being on my own was not foreign to me.  I prided myself on being an independent, modern woman.  I was fully capable of being happy with or without a man in my life. But, when you’re in a relationship you don’t expect to be on your own.  Togetherness is part of the deal.  This whole “together but apart” deal was a whole new experience.  How do you exist within a relationship when your partner is thousands of miles away?  You’re not single, you’re committed to another person, but you aren’t reaping any of the rewards of being in a relationship.  Your “built-in date” for Saturday night is suddenly missing.  The person you look forward to seeing after a hard day at work is nowhere to be found.  For all intents and purposes you operate as a single person.  Oh, except you’re not.

The first few months of the deployment were, in hindsight, perhaps the easiest.  I adapted.  Instead of looking forward to seeing Nick at the end of the day, I learned to look forward to curling up on the couch, pen and paper in hand, to write out a letter to him.  I immersed myself in activities that occupied my time and stretched my mind and body.  I ran three times a week.  I took golf lessons so Nick and I could play together when he came home in the fall.  When the weekend came around, I went to the video store alone and relished in the movie selection process that considered nobody’s interests but my own.    

I became a regular at the post office.  Every other week or so, a carefully packaged box would be sealed, addressed and sent half way around the world.  I began to think of those boxes as my way of sending a piece of home straight to Nick in Iraq.  The items in the box would vary each time.  Sometimes it was books, sometimes snacks and candy.  Sometimes the box was practical with bug spray and sunscreen, other times whimsical with squirt guns and Frisbees.  Unable to physically hug him, I used the boxes as my way showing affection. The time and effort I had previously poured into maintaining our relationship went into the careful selection of items to fill the biweekly boxes. 

For a while, it worked.  The boxes gave me hope that our relationship was being maintained, we were still a couple, and things between us were still within the realm of what could be considered “normal.”  But as time wore on, the novelty wore off and the boxes were no longer enough.  I wanted connection.  I wanted dinner dates and hour-long conversations about the funny thing that happened on the way to the grocery store.  I wanted shared experiences and personal interaction.

Nick's Squad.  341st MPCO.
The sporadic phone calls also offered little solace.  I didn’t have any way to call him, so moments of my life that would warrant a quick phone call to share good news or get a second opinion quickly passed without Nick’s input or response.  I was forced to sit and wait for his calls that didn’t come nearly often enough.  Times when he did call often came at awkward moments in the middle of the grocery store, during a meeting at work, or while I was cooking dinner. 

It is a struggle to stop your day on a moments notice and attempt to have a “meaningful” conversation.  Suddenly everything important kind of slips your mind and the only thing you can think to talk about is the weather.  During our phone calls, I found myself censoring the news I discussed, political or personal, for fear of upsetting him.   Even good news like a family birthday party seemed like a difficult topic of discussion because it only drew attention the life he was missing back home.  

And then it hit me.  Somewhere around month nine of the deployment, after the golf lessons were long over, summer had come and gone, and my life had dramatically changed as I purchased a home of my own, I realized that during an extended deployment you do not maintain a relationship. You can’t.  There is no humanly possible way to feel as though you are engaged in an intimate relationship when the one you love is thousands of miles away, you talk once a week (if you’re lucky), you don’t see each other for over a year, and they are absent for each and every important moment of your life.  You simply decide if you want to be around when he comes home to pick things up where you left off.  Or not. 

The realization came not as a harsh wake-up call, but more as a relief.  The effort and time put into each letter, each care package, each oh-so-precious phone call, always left me feeling inadequate.  It was never enough.  No matter how many pages I wrote on a particular evening, the letter never really brought me the true feeling of connection that I craved.  To finally come to the conclusion that I was attempting the impossible somehow put me at ease.  By realizing the impossibility of my task, I came to accept my defeat rather than continuing to aspire to an unachievable goal. 

The obvious question after this epiphany was, “Now what?”  Knowing that I couldn’t properly maintain our relationship, but also aware that I wanted to pick things up when he finally got home, left me in a difficult position. There were no rules for this game that I was now playing, well into triple overtime.  I knew there had to be other military partners who had come to a similar realization.  But I never heard or read about anybody acknowledging it out loud. 

There is a code of secrecy that is rarely broken among military families and significant others.  No matter how unbearable the situation gets, you persevere, you support your country, and above all, you do whatever you can to prop up that soldier of yours so he can do his job without having to worry about any kind of problems back home. It is not socially acceptable for someone associated with the military to express weakness, doubt or criticism. To do otherwise is to risk being labeled as un-American.

Throughout this deployment experience, I never really knew about the rules and codes that dominated proper military culture until I had broken most of them.  Nick and I openly discussed our frustrations, acknowledged the difficulty of our situation, and didn’t hold back to save the feelings or spare the worry of the other.  He knew from day one of his deployment that I was worried.  More than I worried about him not coming home at all, I worried that he would come back changed somehow.  I worried that the dirty, inexpressible experience of war would transform him into someone I didn’t know, or couldn’t love. 

The advice on military support websites will tell you things like, “Keep your letters peppy.  Don’t worry your soldier with bad news from home.  Don’t disparage the cause for which they are fighting and claim to support the troops.”  Had I followed that advice, and withheld my difficulties from him, I myself would have turned into someone Nick didn’t know.  And so he got an earful.  He listened and acknowledged and confirmed my right to be angry.  He permitted and even encouraged my venting and my questions.  It was through this process that we found a way to connect.  Together we shared the burden of our individual deployment experiences.  Rather than building a wall around our struggles so they wouldn’t splatter on the other person, we brought them into the open, messy details and all.  There were times when I couldn’t pretend to be the ever-supportive Military girlfriend.  And there were times when he was not the model, “Anything for America” soldier.  There were countless times when we were not the politically-correct, proud Americans.  And that was OK. 

The months of Nick’s deployment drug on.  And on.  What began as a six-month tour of duty turned into nine, and then 14 months. Homecoming day had been postponed so many times, I lost count. I told Nick that I didn’t even want to know when he got orders to come home.  I just wanted him to call me when his boots hit the ground.  There was no chance for another disappointment that way. 

This story is not unique.  There are at least 130,000 other girlfriends, wives, husbands or lovers who could no doubt share a similar one with you.  But they probably won’t. Most likely they will just smile and tell you how proud they are of their soldier.  They will say that their family is happy to have the opportunity to serve our country.  Perhaps they’ll admit to a little worry for their soldier’s safety, but rarely utter a word of criticism.  It’s a quiet world waiting for a deployed soldier to come home.  A silent, pray-every-night, hold-your-head-high-by-day, kind of world. 

Epilogue, November 2014.

Nick and his unit made it safely home in June, 2004, welcomed by fanfare fit for kings.  The appropriately named “Champion Air” charter plane that carried them home could barely be heard over the roar of anxious family members as it touched down at Moffett Field.  I gave Nick clear instructions when I spoke with him before their flight home.  “Don’t take any carry-on baggage onto that plane”, I told him.  I wanted to be sure he wouldn’t have anything blocking my way as I went in for my welcome home hug. 

After the deployment, life returned to normal.  We had a great homecoming party for Nick.  He went back to work.  We fine-tuned our golf game.  We got married, bought a new house, and had a couple kids.  Our wedding brought me into the Cavalleri family and his Army family as well.  The motley crew of guys and girls that shared 14 months of desert hell with my husband continue to be a tight-knit group that provides support, love and understanding in a way that nobody else can. 

What I’ve come to understand during the past 10 years is that my man put on a good show when he first came home.  But he didn’t just bring home Iraqi coins and desert sand as souvenirs of his time at war.  He brought home nightmares, anger, hyper-vigilance, survivor guilt and trouble reconciling his time in combat and his relationship with God.  He brought home a sense of loneliness over this deployment experience because nobody else can fully understand what he went through.  This is the stuff I worried about during the deployment.  This is the war he still fights today.

And after years of cycling through my own confusion, denial, anger, and acceptance, another thing I’ve come to understand is, of course.  Of course, after 14 months of operating in survival mode on high-alert, he came home a little amped up.  Of course he ran into trouble re-assimilating into civilian life with embarrassingly minimal support from the Army.  Of course, nobody can endure chronic, long-term stressors without some lingering, PTSD side effects.  Of course hours of therapy were bound to be in our future.   

Of course. 

And so as we move forward, we have good days and bad.  Being a Veteran on Veteran’s Day is fun.  Other days, sometimes not so fun.  Much like you don't feel less of a mom the day after Mother's Day, you're a Veteran every day of the year.  

And perhaps that is the true difficulty in finding the perfect ending for this story.  It goes on, still today.  For better or worse.  In sickness and in health.  It's the story of our life.

Click here for the cutest Veteran appreciation song ever, sung by the sweetest, smartest, and most talented Kindergarteners in the country.  

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Selifes at Six

My girls and I took a little day trip last weekend.  We had big plans to go see the "bubbly mud" at Lassen Volcanic National Park, but a early winter storm closed the road through the park.  Undeterred, we rerouted our plans and headed west to Trinity County.

We had a great day touring the Joss House, picnicking at One Maple Winery, visiting the Weaverville history museum and hiking at Whiskeytown.  Our day ended with dinner at Red Lobster where my six year old considered her kid menu options and actually chose crab legs over chicken nuggets.  I'm not sure what inspired her to try something new....must have been the spirit of adventure in our day.

Our adventures were interspersed with long(ish) car rides to get from here to there.  As typically happens when we venture beyond the city limits, my daughter wanted an electronic device to keep her entertained.  I handed over my iPhone for approximately 20 minutes, during which she diligently practiced an important life skill....The Selfie.

Here is my tongue.

The toothless smile
Here is the bottom view of my nose.
Can't...quite...touch the nose.
Yes.  There it is.  Tongue is still there.
Just pretending.  I swear. 
How do those eyebrow freaks do that trick?

Are we there yet?
Yep.  Still there. 

Extreme close up.

Pucker face.  

Gosh, I hope my mom plasters this all over the Internet.

We had a good laugh when we went back to review the photos of our day.  I found the Selfies to be even more hilarious when compared to the photos that our 92-year old tour guide captured at the Joss House....

Oh wait.  That's just the feet.

OK.  Got the knees.  Getting closer.

Fuzzy.  (Followed by at least 8 more fuzzy)


Thankfully the tour guide's knowledge of Trinity county history far surpassed her iPhone photography skills.  Next time we'll leave the technology to the six year old expert. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Finish Line

Insightful readers might notice a recurring theme on the blog these days.  (Or maybe it's hard to sense a theme since the posts are more infrequent!)  Increasingly it has become apparent to me that I'm in it up to my eyeballs.  "It" meaning life.  I'm in it.  It's good.  It's fun.  And it's crazy busy.  I won't bore you with the can read through the archives for that.  Suffice it to say that the time has come to prioritize, shift gears and, as our favorite movie theme song reminds us, "Let it Go." 

Last week I announced my resignation from the Board of Directors for our local chapter of Girls on the Run.  It wasn't something I let go lightly because I feel like GOTR is a part of me.  I actually decided almost a year ago that it was time to let something go.  But since I'm a planner and I like to make sure I think everything through, I gave myself a year to actually follow through on that.  And have I mentioned that I really love GOTR? 

My first season coaching was Fall, 2009 when my daughter (now a kindergartner) was about a year old.  I had been laid off from my job which serendipitously gave me the free afternoon time necessary to volunteer as a coach.  Idealistically I imagined myself carrying out my coaching duties while my daughter napped in the stroller.  In reality, she was always hungry as soon as our lesson started and we had to allow for 10 minutes of "padding" in our schedule for the girls to coo at the baby.  After a few weeks, I recruited the grandmas to provide childcare so I could spend more time coaching and less time worrying about the girls sneaking lollipops to my daughter. 

I enjoyed that first season, but as with any long-term commitment, the excitement began to fade as we approached the end of our 10 weeks together.  The happy, enthusiastic crowd of girls that started the season often became a mob of whiney walkers toward the end. The bright smiles good manners were occasionally replaced with eye rolling or heavy sighs when it was time to clean up.  You know how it goes.  The spark was still there, but the shiny, new-car magic had faded just a bit. 

And then came the 5k.

Each season ends with all the girls in the county coming together on a Saturday morning to run a 5k.  I wasn't quite sure what to expect.  We had some speedy girls on our team and we also had some lethargic ones that would run at a slow shuffle pace.  On a good day.  "It's Girls on the RUN!  Run!" we would remind them as they strolled around the track during practice.  But really it was more about building character than developing elite athletes.  So we praised the victories for all of the girls, no matter how that win was defined.  For some, victory meant running 10 laps in 15 minutes.  For others it meant getting in 5 laps but doing it without whining. 

Anyway, back to the 5k.

When the 5k day came around I was honestly a little tired and ready to take a break from this whole coaching gig. I was designated as the course runner while the other coach waited at the finish to give the girls their medals.  Our team started as a group, but the serious runners quickly broke away and left us in the dust.  As I ran and walked and talked with my girls, I was slowly re-awakened to the power of GOTR.  I watched my mediocre runners push their limits and perform as serious contenders.  I listened to them cheer on other girls, even complete strangers from other schools.  Amazingly, the lessons that we taught for the past ten weeks CAME TO LIFE on that running path.  Even the stuff we thought they slept through.

As any runner will tell you, the best part of a run is coming across the finish line.  At my first GOTR 5k, I got to do that over and over again.  After I cheered one girl on to the finish, I would turn around, run back along the course until I found another one of our teammates, and then run with her to the finish.  I did it probably six times that morning and every time I got choked up as I ran up the final hill with our girls toward a wild, cheering crowd of parents and coaches.  The first girl and the last girl across the finish line that day were both from the team that I coached.  And I was equally proud of the victory for each of them.

I went on to coach two more seasons after that.  When my son was born, it became more difficult to fit coaching into my schedule so I took a seat on the Board of Directors. Working behind the scenes was almost as fun as coaching the girls because I got to hang out with a bunch of women that get it. They get that GOTR is empowering and life changing.  They get that everybody has to roll up their sleeves and help out.  They get that hard choices and growing pains and sweat equity are all part of the process.  They get it all. 

So my farewell to GOTR is bittersweet.  More bitter than sweet, honestly.  But I know this is not the end of me.  Or my love for Girls on the Run.  I feel like I'm taking away just about as many lessons as I taught during my many years of volunteering.  Most importantly.....

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Piercing Debate


There is a six-year old girl in our house with her heart SET on getting her ears pierced.  She's been mentioning this desire off and on for a few months.  I've been doing my best to politely acknowledge and quickly sweep her request under the carpet. 

Not that pierced ears are a bad thing.  I know...I've got seven holes in my ears.  It's just a little unnerving when your young child comes up with her own ideas about her body and wants to assert her rights to mutilate her tiny little earlobes.

So, we've been talking it through.  I remind her that it will hurt.  Not only will it hurt when they jam that little earring through her ear, it will hurt for weeks afterwards.  She'll have trouble sleeping because every time she rolls over her tender earlobe will bump the pillow and send a little jolt through her body.  She'll have to clean the piercings twice each day and twist those little studs in her ears even if they are swollen and sore. 

She remains committed.

This week one of her little school friends got HER ears pierced and now the ear piercing desire has gone into high gear.  "I want heart earrings just like Kiera!!" she pleaded at dinner last night. 

In my mind I'm frantically flashing forward 10 years when she wants to dye her hair purple, or stay out until 2am or smoke a little weed "Because Kiera's doing it".  No offense to Kiera.  I'm sure she's a lovely girl.  I'm just feeling a little unprepared for how to handle this peer pressure at age SIX! 

And then my mind regresses to my own childhood when I wanted pierced ears SO BADLY I thought I would die.  I begged and pleaded and did all the annoying things that kids do to try to get their way, and still the rule in our house didn't budge.  No pierced ears until your 10th birthday.  It was torture.  I'm pretty sure I was the last girl in the entire elementary school (or maybe the whole city of Oakland) to get her ears pierced.  It pains me, still to this day. 

So here we are at the parenting crossroads.  Do I teach my child a lesson about thinking for herself and not doing anything just because everyone else is doing it?  Or do I heal my own childhood trauma, make a better life for my kid and allow her to get those dainty little lobes pierced??

Well, as I said we've been talking about it...discussing the pros and cons, describing the care routine and the pinching pain that goes along with getting a piercing.  Today we visited the jewelry store in the mall and spoke with the highly trained, 15-year old piercing "professional" about how the whole thing goes, how much it costs and what earring options are available.

Tonight we turned her piggy bank inside out, scraped all the quarters together and discovered that she indeed has enough money to finance this venture herself.  So we have tentatively agreed to give it a go, after a brief "Cooling Off" period. During the next two weeks we will wait and see if this passion fades. We have marked a date on the calendar and IF her desire still exists (even after the excitement of Keira's piercing fades...), and IF her piggy bank still contains sufficient funds, we will march on over to the mall and participate in this youthful right of passage. 

Still struggling with how to handle her little brother, who has already requested to pierce his ears, too. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

I Do!

As a married woman, I think the world's best date night is attending someone else's wedding. There is romance, you're surrounded by good mutual friends of the bride or groom, you get fed, and you can dance the night away.  You don't have to stress about the color of the table linens or worry about the seating chart.  All you have to do is show up.

I'm not saying that being a bride wasn't fun.  Because it was.  But it was also a load of stress.  The ridiculous details that cause you to lose sleep while planning a wedding can be overwhelming.  Being a wedding guest is like re-living your own wedding day and leaving the planning to someone else.  So maybe it's actually like being a groom.  Because when you're a groom, the wedding plans itself.  HA!

Hubby and I attended a wedding of an old Army friend this weekend.  The bride served 14 months in Iraq with my husband and their Military Police unit.  Whenever this squad gets together, it's always a good time and this wedding was no exception.  The venue was lovely, the bride was beautiful, the guests were fun and enthusiastic about their love for the happy couple.  There was an adorable flower girl, a precious ring bearer, and wedding colors to match the couple's favorite MLB team, the Oakland A's.  There were tears and laughter and sappy speeches and hours of dancing and sake bombs.  All the makings of a good wedding. 

As we get older, our wedding date-nights have become more infrequent.  Most of our friends are married off now, so we don't often have the opportunity to spend the evening basking in the glow of a couple's new beginning.  So each wedding we attend feels a little more special.  A little bit sacred.  A small moment for us to pause and reflect on the happy union of our friends and our own marriage. 

I savored the quiet moment when the bride and groom exchanged their vows, taking the opportunity to remind myself that we too were once that couple.  We too stood in front of family and friends and boldly pledged to make this union work.  We put on our best clothes, threw a big party and celebrated all that was good in our life together. Sometimes it's easy to forget that. 

As we watched the bride and groom share their first dance together, there was a notable pause in the room.  The conversations quieted.  People stopped to watch.  Couples took a deep breath and leaned in closer to their significant other. I wanted to bottle the magic in that room and take it home with me so I could open it up and breathe it in on the hard days.

Much like you can't fully explain childbirth to someone who has never experienced it, it's difficult to describe marriage to someone who hasn't lived it. To understand something in your head is so different from knowing it through your own experiences.  How do you describe the process of molding two lives together into one family?  It's such an awesome, unexpected, frustrating, joyful, exhausting experience that there is no way to know it without living it. 

When we attend a wedding now I feel a greater appreciation for my own marriage and the road we have traveled.  I am reminded that married life is not all piles of laundry and bickering over the thermostat. There is always a little bit of fairy tale magic in each happily ever after. 

Congratulations, Josh and Shannon!  And thanks for throwing a great party. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

On the (Park) Bench

Life is a juggling act.  I realize this is true for many of us, but at this point in my life I truly understand this concept of juggling.  And feeling like a circus clown.  I've got two part-time jobs, three kids at three different schools, a husband, a little blog, and some volunteer commitments.  I'm not sure were the tipping point is between balanced life and crazy life but I fear I may have gone over the edge.

I think some of it is temporary. Only 8.5 more months of shuttling our high school senior to and from school.  After a few more months, I should have a better handle on my new PT gig, all its moving parts and how they operate.  After careful consideration I'm giving up a big volunteer commitment at the end of this year.  It will get better.  I'll master this routine in time.  But for now it really is a circus. 

In the midst of this madness, I realized I have reached a pretty awesome milestone as a mom, and I almost didn't even notice. 

For years, one of my favorite things to do with the kids has been going to the park.  I love being outside.  They love running and exploring new places.  We all enjoy the change of scenery, new friends we might meet and snacks on the picnic benches.  Sometimes we meet up with other friends and the moms/dads chat, cuddle little babies or run after errant toddlers while the older kids go off to conquer the big slide.  Truth be told, these play dates were anything but relaxing for me.  I always seemed to arrive at the park with high hopes of carrying on an adult conversation with another mom, only to be disappointed because I had to run off mid-sentence to catch my young one before he fell off the monkey bars.  I never got to be the mom relaxing at the park.  I was always on high-alert as the spotter/referee. I enjoyed it, but it was action-packed fun as opposed to sitting-on-the-sidelines kind of fun.

Last weekend I hit the park with the kids and found a shady bench to sit and watch them play.  As I sat on the bench, I realized I WAS SITTING!!  AT THE PARK!!  There are benches there specifically for that purpose!  I had never spent more than a few fleeting moments on those benches because I was always spotting little ones as they climbed the ladders, or catching someone on the slide, or kissing boo-boos, or changing diapers, or reminding the kids not to throw rocks or poke each other with sticks. 

And now.  I have arrived.

I blinked and suddenly my kids can conquer every part of the park without my assistance. They are old enough to know their limits, wait for their turn on the slide, and navigate a game of chase without getting kicked in the head near the swing set.  I can take them to the park and simply enjoy being a spectator.  At ages three and six, these kids are creative and adventurous together. The big one likes to make plans and create elaborate story lines or games.  The little one likes to follow along and stretch the limits on where he can go or what he can do to be like his big sister.  They take turns doing silly stunts screaming, "Look at me!" while the other one pauses to be an appreciative audience.  They laugh.  They "cook" elaborate meals out of wood chips and leaves.  They race down the slide and run back to the top to do it again.  Over and over and over. 

Vista Ridge Park.  Redding, CA

They tend to get along with each other better at the park than anywhere else on the planet.  I think they could probably stay there all day long and be perfectly content. 

Which would be just fine by me, actually.  I'll be right over there....enjoying the bench.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

An Open Letter to Helpful Strangers

Dear Stranger,

I know you see my son in the midst of a melt-down and your heart bleeds for him.  You see his sweet, red face, his big, crocodile tears and you hear his blood-curdling screams.   You scan the crowd frantically for me, his mother, and without words you ask me to "fix" it. 

As I turn around and realize that it is my child creating this scene, I help my son pick up the pieces of his damaged little craft project and try to keep him moving in the direction of our car so we can escape.  He is three.  He is tired.  And he just broke his precious little foam bumble bee.  What this kid needs is some lunch and a nap.  What this mom needs is a sympathetic audience that understands kids sometimes scream.  Occasionally their outbursts seem out of proportion to whatever "wrong" they are experiencing.  That's what being three is all about. 

What this mom doesn't need is a stranger kindly suggesting that I just take him back to the craft area so he can make another one.  Bringing my kid (mid-meltdown) back to the craft area would extend our time in the hot sun, further frustrate mom and child alike, and postpone nap time at least another 20 minutes.  Bad news all around. Luckily my son didn't hear your suggestion, because then I would have had to tell him, "No, sorry honey.  We are going home."  And then you would have seen what a REAL tantrum looks like. 

I know you mean well, kind strangers of the world. But please don't assume the scene of a melt-down is the perfect opportunity to dole out some friendly advice.  When the melt-down starts, kid and mom are in survival mode.  Unless you're shaking a martini for the mom, or quickly twisting an animal balloon for the kid, your intervention is probably not helpful. 

He's going to be fine.  We've got glue at home. 

Moms Everywhere