Thursday, April 24, 2014

What's in a Name?

One of my big disappointments in life is that I don't have a decent nickname.  I still slightly begrudge my parents for purposely picking my nickname-proof name.  There just isn't any short version of Amy.  I think I became sensitive to this issue because my two best friends when I was little were named Jennifer and Elizabeth.  There must be approximately 42 nicknames for each of those beauties.  But Amy?  Not a one. 

I thought it was cool that someone could morph their given name into something cuter or shorter than the original.  Beth.  Liz.  Lizzie.  Eliza.  I envied the creativity and freedom my friends had with their names.  Somewhere along the line, somebody tried to call me Aim.  Which kind of rhymes with lame.  But I didn't care....I hoped and prayed it would stick just so I could have a slick introduction like, "My name is Amy, but my friends call me Aim." 

Fast forward thirty-odd years and I was busy picking names for my own kids.  I'm not sure how it goes in other households, but selecting names for our children was one of the bigger debates of our marriage.  And it's really such a silly, yet infuriating one because each name holds memories and emotional ties for both the mom and dad.  After a few rounds of negotiations, I came up with a list of "Top 10" names that I liked well enough and presented it to hubby in hopes that he would find at least one that was mutually agreeable. 

He vetoed them ALL. 

Finally we settled on Clara for our daughter.  We both liked the old fashioned names and Clara was a historical family name for both of us.  After all the back and forth discussion, persuading and rolling of eyes that comes with the Great Name Debate, I completely overlooked the fact that Clara really doesn't have any good nicknames.  I inadvertently passed along my horrible nicknameless fate to my daughter! 

When she was younger she referred to herself as "Cara", unable to insert the "L" sound in the middle of her name.  I was constantly clarifying her name when she introduced herself to strangers.  She would say, "Cara."  The poor, unsuspecting stranger would repeat, "Cara."  And my daughter would get frustrated and say, "NO, CA-RA!" 

"Clara" I would quietly advise the confused new friend. 

At some point she finally got the hang of the "L" sound and successfully imbedded it in her name.  It's one of those cute quirks of childhood that you love when your kids are young, and then suddenly you wake up and realize it's gone.  And you don't know when or how it went away.  It just quietly vanishes like those cute, chubby baby cheeks or the gummy, toothless smiles. 

When Clara's little brother came along, he came up with his own version of her name.  To him, she is known as "Ra-ra".  He's been calling her that ever since he started talking and it's sort of catching on with the rest of the family.  I find myself referring to her as Ra-ra when I'm talking to her brother.  My husband and I often refer to her as Ra-ra when we talk about her out of earshot.  But woe to you if you call her Ra-ra to her face.

She's told me more than once that she doesn't want to be called Ra-ra.  I usually try to respect her wishes and use her full name.  But I also secretly coach her brother and discourage his language development so he will call her Ra-ra forever.  I know, I know.  This is not award-winning mom behavior. 

But the truth is, it's so cute.  I love that he is now perfectly capable of pronouncing her name correctly, but continues to call her Ra-ra.  I love that he is the only one that can call her that and not be met with indignant protests.  And mostly I just love shamelessly living out my nickname fantasies through the next generation. 

Aim and Ra-ra.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Lessons Learned at the Altar

Our church has a little ministry for kids at the altar.  Each week a young child gets to go up behind the altar and serve communion to the priest before he serves the rest of the congregation.  The priest generally introduces the child to the congregation when they come up and take their place on the step stool beside him.  He also reminds us that we have children at the altar as a reminder that kids are not just the future of the church, they are the NOW of the church.

I love it because it's a simple way for very small children to learn all sorts of important lessons.  First of all, the priest is not some super holy dude that is separate and apart from us.  He is approachable and human.  Second, it gives kids a place and purpose during the service at a very young age.  There really aren't many opportunities for little people to participate in worship before they can read, or when they are too small to light candles or carry the processional cross.  And finally, it gives kids a chance to practice being up in front of a crowd to see how it feels to have all eyes on them.

My daughter is five and wanted nothing to do with this ministry when it first started.  She watched with interest as the other kids did it, but every time I asked if she wanted to do it, I got a firm "No."

Our kind Sunday school leader talked to her about it, thinking perhaps an outside influence might be able to convince her to give it a try.

She still said, "No."

Finally, one Sunday as we were leaving church the priest himself asked my daughter why she never came up to help him at the altar.  Well, I don't know if it was the robe or the big cross around his neck, or the cowboy boots that impressed her, but she told him she would do it.

Fast forward a few weeks and she took on that altar duty like a pro.  She grinned ear to ear as she stood patiently waiting for her cue to serve the bread and wine to the priest.  As soon as she was done and came back to sit in the pew with us, she wanted to know when she could do it again.

Yay!  Our little girl had faced her fear (of Lord knows what...) and had a good experience.  I was so happy she enjoyed it and so grateful for this intentional opportunity to include little people in worship.

I thought everything would be smooth sailing from then on, but last Sunday when she was the helper, the order of operations took a little detour.  Typically my daughter receives the bread and then has it dipped in the wine when she takes communion.  This is the way she's always done it, even though a sip from the common cup is also an option at our church.  Last Sunday she watched the priest pop the bread into his mouth, and she quickly followed suit.  I panicked just a tad, realizing she would now need to actually take a sip of wine.  I held my breath watching her next move and praying that she wouldn't make a sour face or spit out the wine as soon as it hit her lips. But she carried on like a champ with a professional game face.

As she joined me back in the pew I said, "Wow!  You did such a great job.  Did you have to drink that yucky wine?"

She shook her head. 

"Oh" I said, "You didn't really drink it?"

"No, I drank it." she said.  "But it wasn't yucky."

Well there's a new lesson I didn't expect her to learn at church.  At age five. 

Excuse me while I go lock up our liquor cabinet.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Making Friends - My Messy Beautiful

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If you haven't heard of her, Glennon is a pretty fantastic Blogger.  Her mantra is all about being real, owning our brokenness and being kind to others.  I've been following her for a few months and I appreciate her gift of "letting it all hang out", digging deep into hurts to find the love, and her ability to make me laugh at the madness that is being human/woman/mother/wife/warrior.  

I was excited and a little unnerved by her recent invitation to bloggers everywhere to share their "Messy Beautiful", as she calls it.  I mean, my comfort zone is more in reading about other people's brokenness and sympathizing.  To discuss MY imperfection in a small, public forum like the INTERNET seemed just crazy.  And honestly, I don't feel super broken.  So what do I have to offer?  And how do I fit that into my "find the joy" theme?! 

The more I stewed on the idea, the more I felt compelled to participate.  And so here is a small glimpse of my Messy Beautiful. Still a little shaky on the idea, but trusting the joy will follow.  

I'm not very good at making friends. True story.  In fact, I pretty much suck at it.  My best friends are ones that I've known for over 20 years, both because they are awesome people, and because I'm too lazy/inept/awkward/shy/busy/whatever to make new best friends. 

I think the height of my social career was in high school when I ran with the band geeks, the student council group and a side-bar group of girls that I still call friends today.  As a teenager I never really appreciated how easy it was to find someone to hang out with on a Friday night.  We were SURROUNDED by kids our own age.  We all had lots in common.  If one of my normal girlfriends was busy with work or boyfriends or whatever, it didn't phase me.  I'd just pick up the phone and call someone else.  Because truth was, I had lots and lots of friends to choose from. 

In college, the story was pretty much the same.  Although the social scene was somewhat muddied with "old" people (like those transfer students in their mid-20's), for the most part I was still surrounded by like-minded people my own age.  Living in the dorms meant meeting new people every day while riding the elevator or eating lunch in the dining hall.  Friends aplenty.  Weekend plans were easily made while bumping into an acquaintance in the hallway.  Friends of friends quickly became my friends.  My social circle expanded, seemingly without effort. 

Typical night out in college.  Ten friends gathered with probably two phone calls.

After college is when I came to realize the real world is not padded with gaggles of people exactly my age with my exact same schedule looking to make friends and socialize. The world is a mix of ages, genders, ethnicity's, schedules, priorities, personalities, hobbies and temperaments.  Never again will I be in the midst of a social structure designed for exactly my age and temperament, until I move into a retirement community.  But even then the age span could be 20 years or more.  How's that going to work?  Do I have to be friends with 96-year olds when I'm only 82? 

I spent most of my 20's confused about how and where to make friends in the real world.  My first job right out of college was at a Lutheran summer camp where I latched on to a few friends that I'm still close with today.  Outside of that safe social bubble, I struggled.  I sucked at small talk.  I quickly snubbed those with different political views.  I literally did not know how to move from the "casual acquaintance" phase into the "real friend" phase when I wasn't in this intertwined social web of school life.  I had a hard time trusting new people because they weren't in a circle of established mutual friends.  And just where ARE all the people my age in the real world anyway?  Where did they all go?!  The work people were old.  The church people had kids, or were too Jesus-y.  The neighbors were weird.  I felt like I had been pulled from the Gethsemane garden of friends into the Sahara dessert.  In a drought year. 

During my 30's I came to understand (and begrudgingly accept) that the real world IS different.  It is not a bubble like high school or college.  Growing up and moving out means you're mixing with lots and lots of different kids of people.  Your kind of people are actually not all that common, no matter what kind that might be. Finding decent people that make you laugh, don't offend you, have time for you, share some interests with you and would generally make a good friend are HARD TO FIND.  The social circle of my school days is really gone forever.  My overflowing circle of buddies has been pared down to a small ring of confidants, many scattered across the country and not even directly involved in my day-to-day life. And don't even get me started on the complicated mess of finding suitable "couple friends" that both you and hubby can enjoy.  Ugh.

Now that I'm a seasoned 40-year old, I have come to own the fact that I'm not super great at making new friends.  Part of that I blame on the world.  Life is busy.  Kids suck the life out of you.  Marriage takes time and effort.  Personalities, opinions and schedules are difficult to mesh together successfully.  But part of that blame lies squarely with me.  I forget friends are important until I need one.  I (still) hate small talk.  I judge quickly.  I discount so many different people in some ugly, desperate attempt to find people just like me.

Ha.  So how's that workin' out for ya?!  Well.  Not so great.  

It's not that I don't like people.  Because I do. It is just more relaxing for me to sit quietly rather than keep a conversation going with a stranger or casual acquaintance.  The energy required for the back-and-forth, filling of silence, flow of topics, and inserting appropriate laugh track is WORK for me.  I can do it, but sometimes I get lazy.  Ok, a lot of times I get lazy.  I can talk to a crowd of 100 with no problem.  But small talk with a stranger at the thanks. 

I am that social cliche that has daily conversations with friends over the Internet but doesn't know the names of the neighbors that live across the street.  I am the mom that shuttles the kids to ballet or soccer practice and can't find a comfortable way to get past the "Hi, how are you?" conversation with the other moms on the sidelines.  I busy myself with my kids to avoid having halting, uncomfortable small talk with strangers because they just might annoy me, or we might have different opinions about gun control, or there might be an uncomfortable silence, or we might just not have any fun talking to each other.  So, it's better to just stay busy.  Head down.  Focused.  No time for small talk. 

At least that's what I tell myself.

Truth is I've got time.  But I've also got fear.  Fear of rejection.  Fear of discomfort.  Fear of being needy.  Fear of somebody (God forbid) thinking I'm talking to them because I don't have any friends of my own.   Because that would really be the worst, wouldn't it?  Appearing to actually want or need a friend?  Opening your soul just enough to a perfect stranger to let them know there is a small vacancy in your life.....yikes. 

It has occurred to me that perhaps the rest of the world kind of sucks at making friends too.  Surely I can't be the only one.  And how much easier does it become to try to make friends when we realize that very few among us are winning popularity contests these days?  I guess there are probably those that feel like they don't have the time for one.  more.  friend.  But I don't think I've ever actually met any of them.

So here's my pep talk to myself, and anybody else that might need it.  You're good enough and smart enough and people will like you.  The world IS full of people like you, but you might overlook them if you're too busy scrolling through Facebook on your phone instead of taking a chance talking to a stranger.  The world is also full of people NOT like you, and some of them aren't half bad.  Did you hear that?  Different is OK.  You are cool and all, but you're not the only version of cool in this world.  The older ones, younger ones, more conservative ones, religious ones, free spirit ones, vegan ones, whatever.....they just might have something to offer.  Give them a chance.  Because here's the deal.  Everybody needs a friend.  EVERYBODY.  Every single last one of us. 

Even the ones that suck at small talk.

This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Life Before Kids and After Kids

It's no secret that kids change you.  They change your lifestyle, your family dynamic, your time management, your personal grooming habits, and pretty much every other aspect of life as you know it.  Any parent will tell you that a healthy sense of humor and an abundance of patience are crucial for surviving parenthood.  Some days I have more good humor than others.  Some days my patience stretches past dinner time and some days it's exhausted by the "I don't want to brush my teeth" tantrum first thing in the morning.

I love my kids.  And they drive me crazy.  I am well aware that I will miss these hectic days later in life (At least that's what all the old ladies at the mall tell me).  I can't help but occasionally reminisce about the peace and quiet of my "Before Kids" days.

So, for the future me that is bemoaning my kids leaving for college, here is a brief reminder about the reality of what you think you're missing. 

BK: Pick up shoes.  Vacuum house.
AK: Ask your kids to pick up their shoes.  Eye rolls.  Heavy sighs.  Wait 5 minutes.  Deep breath.  Remind your kids again to pick up shoes.  Create a "game" to get them to help clear toys off the floor.  Over zealously encourage them to play your "game" of cleaning up toys off the floor.  Put dirty clothes in the hamper.  Realize that shirt has a missing button.  Find needle, thread and (semi) matching button.  Remember that you're trying to vacuum.  Leave shirt in the laundry room.  Place couch cushions back on the couch.  Remind kids that you are cleaning off the floor, not putting more things ON the floor.  Re-shelve books.  Return musical shakers found in the living room to the music storage box in the bedroom.  Remind children that we put toys away gently and don't throw them across the room into the toy box.  Heavy sigh.  Kids scream, run around the house and finally take refuge on the couch so the vacuum doesn't eat their toes.  Vacuum house.

Cleaning the dining table
BK: Toss place mats in the laundry.  Wipe table.
AK: Chisel oatmeal cement from the corner of the table.  Peel crusty, milk-stained place mats from the table.  Brush large crumbs onto the floor.  Whistle for the dog.  Remove hair clips and Barbie shoes from the table and return to their proper storage location.  Scrub week-old milk splatter off the leg of the table.  Wipe table.

Going to the grocery store
BK: Make a list.  Drive to store.  Shop.
AK: Make a list.  Announce we are going to the store.  Help put on socks and shoes.  Remind kids to brush their teeth.  Negotiate how many toys are allowed to along for the ride to the store.  Kids ask to go to the park instead.  You say "No."  Listen to children list every last thing they would rather be doing besides going to the grocery store. (Resist the urge to respond with your own list of things you would rather be doing.)  Pants!  Gently remind your 3-year old that it's not socially acceptable to leave the house without pants.  Son asks who's turn it is to push the button to open the garage door.  You tell him (for the 5,046th time) that it is ALWAYS sister's turn to push the button when we leave the house.  It is ALWAYS his turn when we come home. Son pouts.  Ask kids if they need to use the potty.  Nobody has to go.  Get kids buckled up.  Someone has to pee.  Unbuckle.  Wait for restroom break.  Re-buckle.  Deep breath.  Drive to store.  Shop.

Using the restroom
BK: Enter bathroom.  Close door.  Do your business.
AK: Sneak away to the bathroom while kids are distracted with an episode of Sesame Street.  Close door and sit down to do your business.  Small child enters bathroom to ask you what you're doing.  Ask child to leave.  Child asks again what you're doing.  Ask child to please leave.  Child asks again what you're doing.  Through gritted teeth, you tell him you're pooping, and to please just give you 60 seconds of privacy ISTHATTOOMUCHTOASK?!  He comes over to take a look in the toilet and check out your progress.  Child claps and says "Yay mommy.  Good job." as you finish your business.  You reach over to flush and child starts screaming that THEY want to flush.  Child flushes toilet and you make mental note to USE THE LOCK ON THE DOOR next time.

Making dinner
BK: Turn on music, pour a glass of wine, cook dinner.
AK: Turn on some music.  Kids ask for Elmo music.  You find Elmo music on your iPhone.  Kids see the phone and ask to look at pictures.  Or play a game.  Or call China.  Shoo kids out of the kitchen, tell them they have a house full of toys and they don't need to be playing with your phone right now. Kids play peacefully for five minutes before WWIII ensues in the living room.  Separate the kids, take one child back to the kitchen with you to "help".  Get out stepping stool.  Child washes hands, splashing water on the floor.  Send child to get cleanup rag.  Continue cooking.  Forget about child until you hear him crying because he ran into the wall while retrieving  the rag.  Kiss the owie.  Remind child to clean up spilled water.  Reach for glass of wine and realize you haven't poured one and there is no wine in the house.  Curses under your breath.  Stick dinner in the oven.  Melt down ensues because child didn't get to put the dinner in the oven. 

Deep breath.  Remind yourself these are the days you'll miss.  Make a mental note to re-stock the wine rack. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Ready to Run

Not that I'm a total geek, but I'm rarely on the cutting edge of anything.  My phone is not the latest version.  I keep my eyebrows in their un-waxed, natural shape.  My car is 9 years old.  I own exactly one pair of skinny jeans (that I've never worn in public). I didn't see Frozen until it came out on DVD.

But today, I am firmly with the "in" crowd.  I got myself one of the 16,000 available slots to run in the Santa Cruz Wharf to Wharf race.  This is a six-mile road race from Santa Cruz to Capitola that I never even knew existed when I actually lived in Santa Cruz during the late 1990's.  Maybe it wasn't so popular back then.  Or maybe I just didn't notice because I never visited any tourist areas during the summer months.  Or (more likely) it was completely off my radar because I had absolutely NO interest in anything that looked or sounded or smelled remotely related to running.  Those were my Jazzercise and outrigger canoeing days. be 21 in Santa Cruz. 

So I heard about this race years ago, after I turned into a runner, and was immediately intrigued.  First of all, the majority of the race course is pretty flat and meanders along cliffs with sweeping ocean views.  Second, the streets are lined with performers of every kind....magicians, musicians, singers, jugglers, you name it.  It's kind of a Santa-Cruz-Style-Bay-to-Breakers sort of thing.  And third, it's bigger than a 5k but not a half marathon, which means its a bit of a challenge but nothing that's going to completely cripple me (we hope).  It sounded fun, and it seemed like a good excuse to visit my old stomping grounds so I added the race to my Bucket List. 

Somehow I convinced my gaggle of high school girlfriends to join me on this adventure.  It really seems like the kind of race you can't do alone.  It's more of a social, team event (preferably with matching outfits).  And perhaps one that requires an early morning fuel-up with a round of mimosas.  Lest anyone be tempted to train a little too hard for this race, we have made a pact that the winner among us is rewarded with the pleasure of buying a round of drinks for the rest of the group. 

It turns out that this is not the type of race that you can stumble upon when browsing through for races in your neighborhood.  This one requires some planning.  It sells out every year.  According to the local newspaper, it sold out in 12 days in 2012.  In 2013, it took just two days.  Our running crew spent Monday afternoon (the eve of registration opening day) debating if we needed to stay up until midnight to secure a spot, or if we could sleep in.  Some went the midnight route.  Some of us opted to seize the sure thing (a good nights sleep) and gamble on slots still being open in the early morning hours.  I'm happy to report that we all managed to get signed up.  Good thing too, because this is the message I found on the website as I was typing this post...

If you can't read it, that little orange bar below the race countdown says "SOLD OUT" (in just 9 hours for those keeping track at home). You may also notice the photo of  Nelson Oyugi, who was the winner of the event last year with a time of 27:12.  Wow.  Just, wow.  Pretty sure we won't run into him anywhere unless he's at Margaritaville after the race. 

I'm a little amazed, frankly, that there are 15,999 other people in the world that were THAT excited to do the Wharf to Wharf race that they logged on in the very early hours of registration to secure their spot. Apparently it's pretty popular.  Which means it must be a lot of fun, right?

If I know these girls, they will not disappoint on the fun factor.   The run fun will just be icing on the cake.

Monica, here's your reminder.  Feel free to bookmark for reference on race day.