Progress

Me:  (snoring)
Goo:  Mom!  Mom, wake up!
Me:  Hmmmm?
Goo:  Mom, can I have a snack?
Me:  (silence)
Goo:  Wait, don’t answer that.  I know what you’re going to say.  “No, but   you can have breakfast!”  Alright, I’ll have breakfast.  (Walks away.)

Me:  (washing dishes)
Goo:  Mom!  Mom, can I go play with my Army guys?
Me:  (silent, thinking through my answer)
Goo:  Wait, I know what you’re going to say.  “Okay but everything you take out you’re going to have to put away!”  Don’t worry…I will.  (Walks away.)

Me: (on the phone)
Blondie:  Mom!  Mom, can I go outside and play with Molly?
Me:  (holding up my finger for her to wait a moment)
Blondie:  I know, I know.  You’re on the phone and if I can’t stop interrupting I’ll have to go to my room.  (Walks away.)

Me:  (waiting by the side door with my purse so we can go to Spike’s baseball game.)
Spike: (yelling from his room)  Mom!  Mom!  Have you seen my baseball glove?
Me:   (thinking)
Spike:  I know, I know.  My baseball glove is not your responsibility.  I’ll keep looking.

Wow, it’s only taken 4,973, 503, 426 times.  But I think they might be getting it!

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Six

Today it has been six months since my big sister Donna lost her long fight with breast cancer.  It has been an emotional day for me, and a day that has been full of many different thoughts.  Thoughts of disbelief, as I still don’t completely “get it” that my sister is gone.  Thoughts of anger, as I just don’t understand why God took her.  And underneath it all, always a deep, deep sadness.

But Donna, while she would understand my questioning and anger and sadness, because she had it all at times, she would also want me to just remember our closeness, and our friendship, and our sisterhood.  So today, I’m just going to remember six of the many, many things that I learned from my big sister.  In no particular order:

1.  Donna taught me how to be generous.  More than anyone I’ve ever known, Donna was always giving of herself.  She was giving her time, her talents, her energy, her advice, her gifts, her smile.  Whatever she had to give, she would give it.  I will always remember her generosity.

2.  Donna taught me how to make some of my favorite foods.  Her cream scones are to die for, and her pecan sticky cake is unbeatable.  The one that sticks out, though, is her chicken chili.  Not only is it easy and really delicious, but I still make it from the printed copy of  the email she sent me when I asked her for the recipe.  This way, whenever I make it, I will be able to read her words at the bottom of the page: “Love You, Donna.”

3.  Donna taught me how to really listen to people.  When you spoke to her, she gave you her full attention.  She made eye contact, and paid attention, and you knew that she was totally invested in you at that moment.  As someone who sometimes tends to talk more than I listen, I hope to get better at this.

4.  She taught me to entertain.  When Donna had people over for a party or a holiday, everything was always beautiful.  Even if it was simple–just some fruit and cookies–it was obvious that she had gone to some effort and that she wanted you to feel welcome and special.  And if you were blessed enough to ever be invited to her home, you did feel welcome and special and comfortable and full of yummy food!  Every time.

5.  Donna taught me to take care of my body.  I’m not there yet.  I still have quite a few pounds to lose and lots of changes to make.  But I’m making the effort.  Donna took such good care of herself and of her family.  They ate organic, they ate balanced meals, they watched the amount of artificial “stuff” that they put into their bodies.  She studied and learned what was best for all of them.  She did what she could to take care of her body.  It still betrayed her.  It still fought her until the bitter end.  But she did her part.  And here I am, blessed with a healthy body, and I haven’t done my best.  I’m trying to change that, slowly but surely.

6.  Perhaps more than anything else, Donna taught me how to keep going.  Through the diagnoses and medications and surgeries and exhaustion, she always kept going.  She was still kind.  She was still generous.  She was still fighting.  She had faith and trust and joy.  Up until the very last day, she was teaching her daughters.  She was teaching me.  She kept going.

I miss her so much.  I mean, really….I miss her so, so much.  But I will keep going.  Because she did.  And she wants us to.  I can’t wait to see her again.

Growing Up

Yesterday my kids and I were invited to my friend R’s house to swim in his fabulous pool, complete with diving board, slide, and changing rooms.  Seeing as it was in the 90’s and I don’t have air conditioning, we were quick to accept the invitation, and I brought my famous cheesy potatoes and a batch of cookies to contribute to the event.  When we arrived, we were told that R’s 15 year old daughter S was having a birthday sleepover that evening, and many of the girls sleeping over would be swimming with us.  No problem!  The more, the merrier.

So there we were.  Me, my 6 year old son, my 10 year old daughter, and last but not least my 14 year old son Spike.  And about six 15 year old girls.  Did you catch that?  My 14 year old son, and six 15 year old girls.  In their swimsuits.  They swam in the pool and jumped off the diving board.  Then they went over to the volleyball net and played a quick game of volleyball, and then they went swimming again.  Hours of fun in the hot, hot sun.

As everyone was lining up to get our dinner, I was standing next to Spike, and nudged him with my elbow.  He looked at me, and I looked pointedly around me.  “Boy, you sure are lucky.”  I said.  I expected my sweet, innocent son to look at me questioningly, cock his head to the side, and say, “Why?”  I expected him to be clueless about why I, as his mother, would smile teasingly at him and tell him that he’s a lucky boy.  I was preparing to explain myself. 

But Spike didn’t ask why.  He didn’t look confused.  Instead, he just smiled mischievously, and shrugged, and walked off to join the girls at the picnic table.

Ug.

The Big Reveal

I am a Christian.  I go to church every Sunday (actually, I’m on the staff at my church, too!), I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, I pray, I read my Bible, I sing praise songs, and I am a Christian. 

I’ve never said this to you, my blog audience, before.  I may have hinted at it.  I may have said things here or there about my church or my faith, or said things that made you wonder where I was coming from. But I don’t write a blog that could be defined as “Christian”.   And that’s not because I’m ashamed of my beliefs.  I’m not.  I’m not ashamed of my God or of my belief in Him.  But I hesitated.  I hesitated because we, as Christians, have a bad reputation.  We are known for being  judgemental and  hypocritical and unfeeling.  We are seen by many as an extreme right-wing group of political moralists who hate anyone who believes differently than we do.  Lots of people think we hate gays, abortionists, and Muslims. 

Jesus would be appalled.

Today, I want to tell you that I am a Christian.  I want to tell you that I believe very strongly that every one of you can be changed in a hugely positive way because of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  But I also want you to know that I do not hate gay people.  I do not hate the people who have an abortion or the people who perform abortions.  I do not despise Muslims or Buddhists or atheists.  I’m friends with many, many people who fit those exact descriptions.  I do not claim to be free from sin, or to be better than you, or to have all the answers.  I just want you to know.  And I want to promise you that despite this single blog post, I don’t plan to change the way I write, or the way or I act, or the kind of friend I’ve always been. 

But I’m writing this because I want you to give us a chance.  I want you to change the way you think about us as a group.  My goal as a Christian is to stand FOR more than I stand AGAINST.  I want to stand for eliminating world hunger and I want to stand for annihilating racism.  I want to make the world safer for our children and more hospitable to future generations.  Iwant to be about love and not hate.  I want to have a diverse circle of friends and an obvious moral compass.  And there are many, many Christians who feel the same.

So I’m asking you this:  when you hear the word “Christian”, don’t immediately think of those hypocritical, judgemental, holier-than-thou types that you may have met.  Don’t judge my faith or my God in the same column with those people.  I hope instead that you can think of someone like me:  a reasonable, down-to-earth girl that is a loyal friend, a good mom, and a decent writer.  I lead with my heart more than my head, I hate politics, and I’m often way too sensitive.  I drive too fast, I like alternative rock, and I’ll travel for an hour to get my favorite Sangria.  I’m just a normal girl, who happens to have a strong belief in God.

I just wanted you to know.

Oh Happy Day!

Today is, officially, the first day of Spring.  For those of you who live in sunny Florida or mild Arkansas or desert-y Arizona, this may not mean much to you.  I read some of your blogs and you have pictures from yesterday of your kids in shorts and sandals playing on the playground, or you are describing the baseball games your son played, or wondering what kind of flowers are popping up in the front yard of your new home.  For those of you up here in the North, like me, however…the first day of Spring is all about hope and renewal.

Hope that my children might once again be able to go outside and play and get the heck out of my hair while I’m trying to make dinner or sweep the kitchen floor.  A renewal of determination to actually Spring clean this year.  A hope that I might once again see the laundry room floor, since spring and summer mean less laundry.  (They do!!  Shorts and t-shirts are much smaller than jeans and sweaters!  And in summer, we eliminate pajamas altogether as my kids just sleep in their underwear!)  A renewal of health as I can finally get back outside and walk with my friend B without stepping in snow up to my knees or worrying about slipping on ice and cracking my noggin.  A  hope that my teenager’s brain won’t shrivel up and die from the video games he plays all winter long, as he’ll be back outside  playing baseball and basketball with his friends.  A renewal of the color in my skin, which during the winter just turns a ghastly, pasty white. 

See?  Hope and renewal.  And don’t tell me that it’s only 21 degrees outside.  I KNOW it’s only 21 degrees outside.  Trust me.  I sent my children to school in their bulky down jackets and winter hats and gloves.  I know it’s 21 degrees.  But it’s a signal that winter really WON’T last forever.  It will come to an end.  Someday.  I think.

Until then, I’ll be doing laundry.

I AM NOT OLD!

I am 35.  And despite what I thought of 35 when I was 18, I now know that 35 is not even remotely old.  I’m young to have a 14 year old, I know that.  And I still act young, at least most of the time.  I like to go out dancing with my friends.  I can usually almost  keep up with Spike in a game of basketball in the driveway.  I love roller coasters and I’d go bungee jumping or skydiving in a heartbeat if given the chance.  And most of the time, I look around at my husband and three kids and job and mortgage, and wonder how they all got here when I still feel like I’m about 21.  See?  Not old.

But then every once in a while, I have a day when I feel incredibly ancient.  When I look around at the way we’re talking and the things we’re doing and I think…Oh no!!  We’re old!!  Sometimes it’s when Sarge and I get caught up in talking about his retirement fund and how to best save for those years.  Sometimes it’s when I’m sitting on the floor for a long time and I have to make grunting noises to hoist myself back up onto my feet.  It’s not often, but there are days when I stop and think Yikes!  Yesterday was one of those days.  Or evenings, actually. 

The day started off as usual.  I dragged myself out of bed, went to work, and then went to my parents’ house to see our extended family and to celebrate some family birthdays.  No problem, right?  Typical stuff.    We came home, put the two youngest kids to bed early after a busy weekend, and turned on The Amazing Race.  Still fine.  It’s after that that it gets scary.  Once The Amazing Race was over, there was nothing really on television.  And it was only 9:00.  After flipping the channels for a while, we finally turned on a show on the Travel channel…some show about Alaskan wildlife.  And we watched it.  With interest!! 

Now don’t get me wrong.  I think documentaries are wonderful.  They have great educational value and I’m glad they exist.  In fact, I would be thrilled to walk into the family room and find my children glued to the tv screen watching a documentary about Alaskan wildlife, or rainforests, or sandstorms in the Middle East, or African insects, or whatever.  Especially in place of the Hannah Montana or iCarly or Spongebob (please!! no more Spongebob!!) -type shows that they usually turn to.  And I would not be surprised at all to walk into my parents’ family room to find them watching a documentary on World War II or America’s National Parks or The Seven Wonders of the World or Earthquakes.  See?  I like documentaries!  They’re wonderful for children!  And old people! 

But here’s the problem.  In the last couple of months, Sarge and I have watched two other shows that I see as “old people” shows.  First there was the time we were flipping through the channels and stopped for several long moments paused on The Celtic Woman on PBS.  Now again…lovely show.  Lovely women with lovely voices.  And being primarily Irish myself, I value Celtic music and all that it embodies.  And yet….I am not quite prepared to watch The Celtic Woman on TV.   It’s for old people, right??

Another time, there was a show on PBS that was just comprised of a whole lot of violinists.  Like, orchestra violinists.  And there was one young man…I think it said he was 18 or something…that was outstanding on that violin.  It really was something to watch.  The orchestra would play something leading up to his solo, and then he would go to town on those strings and make some pretty remarkable sounds from his violin.  It was amazing.  Really.  But again, PBS airs it primarily for other violinists…and old people.  NOT for young and hip couples in their 30’s.

So back to my story…and on to the REALLY frightening part.  We finished watching the Alaskan wildlife channel at 10:00, and then…wait for it…we went to bed.  At 10.  Seriously…we really are old.  We barely had the teenager in bed at that point!  And yet, we were both ready for bed, practically falling asleep in our recliners.  Ug.

Now again, I have a little bit of an excuse.  Since my sister passed away a month ago, I have been almost constantly exhausted.  I think it’s my body making me take time to grieve in a busy life.  And admittedly, in an already busy life, I have taken on more responsibility (happily so!) since she’s gone.  I am more active in the lives of her two little girls…caring for them on Wednesdays and helping my brother-in-law when I can.  And this means that my time at home is limited as well, so that when I am home, I am always cleaning or doing laundry or whatever.  It’s also been an incredibly busy few weeks, with a couple more busy weeks ahead.  I get that…I get it that I SHOULD be tired and that it’s okay.  But that doesn’t make me feel better when I climb into bed at 10:00 and fall immediately to sleep.  It just makes me feel, well, old. 

I just never want to be one of those women, you know?  Someone who loses herself in the caring for her children.  Someone who stops wearing makeup or stylish clothes that fit well and making herself look pretty because she just doesn’t have time, or because she’s exhausted.  I want to go out with my friends and stay out until 2am.  (or later!)  I want to travel the world and run from subway station to subway station in London without getting out of breath or complaining about my aching knees.  I want to be able to have a real conversation about my life without needing to talk about my children because there’s nothing left of me.  Especially since seeing the deaths of two people in my life in the last month, both who were under the age of 45, I want to live as much as I can. 

I know, I know.  Watching a documentary about Alaskan wildlife (or even the Celtic Woman!) and going to bed at 10 does not mean I can’t do all those things.  That doesn’t mean I can’t live life to the fullest.  I get that.  It just made me stop and think…wait a minute!  is this how I want to be spending my time?  What else can I be doing with my life right now?  That’s my point.  That’s all I mean.  I just don’t want to act old yet.  I’m still so young. 

So the moral of the story is….(and I mean this!!)  if you ever catch me watching old Laurence Welk reruns, you officially have permission to slap me.

The Gift

One thing I’ve been contemplating a lot lately is how much unhappiness and anger is in the world.  I’m constantly amazed at how many people are so quick to flip me the bird as I “get in their way” on the road, or give me a dirty look if I’m taking too long at the checkout counter, or look the other way if I smile as I pass a stranger on the street.  Just this morning I read an article about a television show, and the number of people who took the time to read the article and then badmouth the tv show was staggering!  The negative comments about the show far outnumbered the positive comments.  I just don’t understand this.  Why would you even bother to read the article, if it was a show that you hated?  I don’t get it.

Two weeks ago today I was standing vigil at the bedside of my big sister in the ICU of a nearby hospital.  I had been there all night and, as it would turn out, would stay all day.  She had been fighting breast cancer off and on for ten years, and it was finally winning.  My sister wasn’t giving up…she was still fighting despite the pain, the exhaustion, and the news from the doctor that she only had a couple of days left to live.  She had hugged her little girls, aged 12 and 9, and held the hand of her amazing husband who she loved so much.  She had said the words we all needed to hear from her, and we had said the words we needed to say.  But she still didn’t give up.  She was still fighting.

In the midst of that fight, during the last two days of my sweet sister’s life, she was smiling.  She was bald and thin and her body was covered in rashes that meant her blood was betraying her, but still she was smiling.  The nurses (they were wonderful nurses!!) came to gently give her medication or change her bedding or check her wounds, and she smiled at them and said thank you.  She was too weak to reach out for her own cup of water or ice chips and would ask me for some, and she would say please.  She was dying, and she was leaving behind a wonderful husband and two amazing little girls, but she was still smiling. 

We all do our share of complaining.  I whine that there aren’t enough hours in the day to complete things at work or at home.  I get frustrated when my kids don’t help out enough or when they fight with each other constantly.  Let’s face it:  life is rarely easy and it’s so easy to complain about the little stuff as well as the big stuff.  And I understand…I really do.  Just because one person is dying from breast cancer doesn’t mean that it hurts less when you stub your toe. 

And yet.  Today I will smile at strangers more.  Today I will not complain about my work load or my messy house or my children fighting.  Today I will say thank you to even the smallest acts of kindness and I will try my best to perform a few acts of kindness myself.  I will hug my children, I will tell my friends and family how much they mean to me, I will work hard, I will play hard, I will live my life, and I will be happy.

I miss my sister more than I can say.  And the fact that she’s no longer here leaves a chunk of my heart missing that nothing else can fill.  But I am so blessed.  I had a sister that was an example to me of who I want to be.  I spent my sister’s last full night with her, smiling with her, and talking with her, and holding her hand, and watching the way she still moved in the world, even though she could barely move at all.  I will never forget those last days, or the thirty-five years of days I had with my sister leading up to that point.  They were a gift.

I will treasure that gift for the rest of my life, and even though it will sometimes be with tears in my eyes, still I will smile.

Introducing Blondie

The talent in this family is unbelievable!!

Saying Goodbye

I’ve never been one of those people that treats my dog like one of my children.  My dog is just my dog.  That being said, we are definitely dog people.  We got Casey when Spike was a year old, so all of our kids have grown up having a dog in their lives.  They have never known life without a dog.

Until now.  Last Monday, Casey started bleeding.  From several places.  And she didn’t stop.  I took her to the vet, and they did some blood tests, and determined that she had a bleeding disorder that caused her blood not to clot.  She would “ooze blood” for the rest of her life, which wouldn’t be long anyway.  She would lose more and more blood until she became so anemic and so weak that she would just pass away.  The best bet would be to put her down, so she wouldn’t suffer. 

It wasn’t a hard decision.  Casey, while she was 13 years old, had never been sick.  She still acted like a puppy most of the time.  She loved to camp with us, chasing mice in the fields and sniffing all the new smells along the riverbanks.  She went to Christmas at both families’ homes with us, and was playful and happy.  When we had a big snow a couple of weeks ago, she was out tromping around with us in it.  She was a great dog.  We didn’t want her to suffer.  We didn’t want our kids to watch her bleed, and get weak, and be sick.  We wanted her to be able to just go to sleep peacefully, and for us to be able to remember that playful, frisky dog we’d always known.  I made an appointment for the next morning, so that I could bring her home first and we could all say our goodbyes.

The kids were, of course, a mess when I told them.  Spike, almost 14,  was the most upset…almost inconsolable for a while.  Casey was, after all, officially his dog.  Blondie, who is 9, cried and was sad, but asked when we could get another dog, because she just “doesn’t feel right” having no dog at home.  Goo, who is only five, understood and cried, and said that he didn’t want Casey to die.  And Sarge and I had our moments of tears as well.  I felt almost silly, crying over a dog.  But she was part of our family.  She loved us unconditionally and asked for very little in return.  She made us feel safe in our home at night, especially when Sarge was away on TDY.  So yeah, we cried.

It’s been a week now, and we all miss her.  Sarge and I miss hearing her snore as she sleeps on our bedroom floor at night.  We miss having her come up and put her head in our laps in the evenings while we watch TV, wanting a little attention.  We miss watching her chase squirrels in the front yard and seeing her fall asleep with her head on her favorite toy, a stuffed monkey.  We even miss her begging for food while we’re eating dinner.  We just miss her.

It took a little longer for the kids.  They cried when they found out that she was going to die.  They cried as they said their goodbyes.  And then, they were okay.  They would forget sometimes.  They would ask if they could give the last bite of their hot dogs to her, and then they would remember.  But they seemed okay.  And then last night, I put Goo to bed and he called me a few minutes later, which is unusual for him.  When I went in, he was crying hard and asked if I would sit with him for a few minutes, because he was “really, really sad right now.”  When I asked what he was sad about, he said that he didn’t want Casey to die.  It hit him that she was really gone, and he lost it.  Poor baby.

Sometimes it feels like there’s a little ghost around here.  I’ll hear a noise and think it must be the dog scratching at the door to come in.  Or I’ll see something out of the corner of my eye and think it’s her, until I remember that she’s not around anymore. 

Someday, we’ll get a new puppy.  Maybe in a few months.  But Casey will always be my kids’ “childhood dog” and she will always be part of our family.  And I think there will be a part of us that will always miss her.
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It Must Be Genetic

My nine-year-old daughter is a packrat.  She saves everything from old shoe boxes to school papers from first grade to the tags that we take off her new clothes.  Every nook and cranny of her bedroom is filled with stuff that she’s buried away like a squirrel in the fall.  I’ve wondered for a long time why she is like that.  After all, I am probably the complete opposite of a packrat…throwing stuff away if I can’t find a good place to keep it.  But today, I found a clue to her behavior.

I was lying on the bed, chatting with my husband about our plans for the day as he cleaned off his closet shelf and cleaned out his top dresser drawer.  As I watched the items that he pulled out and sorted, I came to the realization that packrat-ness runs in the family.  And the more he pulled out, the more I laughed.

From his closet shelf, Sarge took a bayonette for an AK-47, a large roll of glow-in-the-dark tape, and a gun-cleaning kit.  He found an 18-year-old Army cap for his dress greens, a couple of military medals, a pair of red suspenders, and some ear protection for when he practices shooting.  He also pulled out a magnetic tool picker-upper-thingie and, strangely enough, an antique clay thrower. 

Then he moved on to his top dresser drawer.  It has not been deemed a “junk drawer” officially…it is supposed to hold his socks and underwear.  However, after seeing what he pulled out of it, I may need to relocate the socks and underwear.  The top drawer collection included two maps of Michigan, two armbands that were worn in Iraq, two exercise bands given to him by his physical therapist (which have never been used, by the way), and some paperwork on how to control your cholesterol.  He also pulled out a padlock, a deck of “All American Dad” playing cards that one of the kids got him for Christmas a couple of years ago, an old pair of glasses, two old cell phones, and a “make your own office stamp” kit, which in all fairness he gave to me and I just haven’t used yet.  The more he pulled from that drawer, the more I laughed.  He tried to defend himself, saying that he isn’t a packrat at all, but by the end, I think even he was amused.  I told him it would make a great post, and he tried to act mad at me about using him as fodder for my blog.  But I think he saw the value in such an array of objects being pulled from such unlikely places. 

So it seems that Blondie comes by her packrat habits naturally.  She’s just a chip off the old Sarge.  Mystery solved.

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