December 8th – Matinee Movies

My son’s current developmental stage includes an emerging concept of fairness. He and I often have differing opinions of what that concept looks like. I think everyone living in a house participates in chores. He thinks a parent telling him to do a chore represents a breakdown in democracy deserving an immediate protest. He did try to write a letter to Congress to change the voting age to four. I admire his passion and his persistence though sometimes I feel very tired.

Prior to having children, my husband and I watched movies at movie theatres that sometimes did not start until 10pm on a Friday night. We ate dinner out spontaneously without first viewing the menu online to ensure the availability of “kid friendly” food. We talked to each other often with time for pauses and deeply staring into each other’s eyes. We questioned whether we could have children, and the lack of certainty left me crying about life not being fair.

In our present season of life with young children, we watch a rare movie in fragments over the course of multiple nights on Netflix. We only eat at restaurants before 5pm so that we do not have to wait for a table because the bag of distractions will not get us through both waiting for a table and dinner. We communicate with each other with a combination of speech, spelled words, gestures, and an occasional phrase in pig Latin. Sometimes, in moments of exhaustion one or both of us whines that life is not fair.

So, my dear son, I want you to know that contrary to your foot stomping demonstrations, I do understand. I, too, whine about the fairness of life though in front of you I project calm acceptance. I, too, cry when I feel overwhelmed. I, too, want all the things I want right now though I try to teach you patience that I often lack myself. Unfairness exists in life, and grownups often do not cope with this fact any better than children. Watch a group of adults try to stand in line at the post office a week before Christmas. Today, I went to a movie with a friend at 1:30pm on a Sunday. We watched Tom Hanks excellently portray Mister Rogers, and received a parental pep talk from our childhood hero.

In this season of my life, I am unlikely to get to watch a movie at 10pm on a Friday night. You cannot swim in an outdoor swimming pool in December. We both have chores, and neither of us likes them. Are these things unfair or do we simply have misplaced assumptions that all people should exist in the same season of life at the same time? Either way, I do understand. I remember your season, and from your perspective, I must agree. Life is just not fair. From my perspective, I still agree. Life is just not fair. However, I have a new love of matinee movies because a momentarily escape from chores and responsibilities offers a special magic, different from the late night magic of Friday night, but magic just the same. All seasons present challenges, but all seasons also leave their own traces of magic. See the unfairnesses and the injustices. Keep speaking up, but remember to also find the magic.

December 4th – Summer S’mores vs. Winter S’mores

I could argue both sides of an argument about whether s’mores taste better in a summer campfire or a winter campfire. I could tell you stories about standing sweaty, swatting mosquitos, and singing Girl Scout songs around summer campfires of my youth. The fires danced in the dusky twilight of days that lasted so long they seemed to never sleep. I would smile as I recounted them and probably get so engrossed in the fond memories that I might absentmindedly scratch imaginary bites on my legs. I might smell the lake, the grass, and all the green, growing things that give summer a smell like no other especially when mixed with the scent of burning marshmallow. The warm breeze, welcome relief after the day’s oppressive heat, might make me reach for a pony tail holder to keep the sticky goo from my hair. The campfires blazed past my bedtime, each one a miniature celebration of summer.

Tonight, we had a group of my son’s friends and their parents over for s’mores. Mosquitos did not annoy us, and the scent of leftover November, layers of brown smashed in lingering leaf piles that never fully dry, blew in with the north wind. Twinkling lights on the roof danced to the retro “Christmas with The Chipmunks” album playing in the background. The sun went to bed so early that the campfire easily started by 6:30pm with everyone bundled in layers leaning into the fire’s warmth. Marshmallow torches lit the sky before melting squares of chocolate snuggled between two graham cracker halves.

In a month full of songs and ideals about joy and peace, I find that doing so many of the things that are supposed to be festive and relaxing one after another leave me feeling run down and worn out. Yet, when I took a bite of that s’more, I smiled, and I felt cozy and warm despite my shivering. I had no agenda and no traditions to be upheld. We simply ate s’mores while the kids ran around playing by Christmas lights. Though I love holiday traditions, I sometimes forget the most important things while trying to check off my holiday to-do lists like simply sharing time, kindness, and love with others.

So, which s’more tastes better, a summer s’more or a winter s’more? The answer depends on what you are looking for – a celebration or a hug. On December 4th, I needed a hug and a pause from the celebration. The small winter campfire with friends filled not only my stomach, but also my soul. I am grateful winter provides these moments of pause if I just look around and find them.

December 3rd

I did not feel like super woman today. I felt like I needed my mom, and I called her. I would have accepted advice, a plan, and an itemized to-do list, but what I needed most and what I got was the reassurance that she will answer the phone and listen on days when I struggle.

Parenting gets messy even without all the bodily fluids and leftover food goop. My six year-old nonchalantly told me today that he needed my sister for a project because she listens to him, follows kid rules, and is like a kid. That is the second time this week he has told me something similar.

My toddler is recovering from a virus and multiple sleepless nights. The tantrum count mounted early in the day and continued all the way to bedtime when she decided she did not want to brush her teeth.

My mom listened to me today. She did not offer suggestions or ways to fix anything. She simply said she is always on the other end of the phone.

So, I did not offer my son all the reasons he should cut me some slack because this mom thing is no joke, and I feel completely overwhelmed. Instead, I turned and listened to him without working on a grocery list or some other attempt at multitasking. In the midst of his story about building a pretend fire pit that he had no way to go to the store to buy things for s’mores, I asked him to wait a minute. I went inside, broke off two tiny candy canes and stuck marshmallows on the ends. He flipped a five gallon bucket upside down as a seat for me, and he grinned as we “toasted” our marshmallows.

My toddler positioned herself screaming and kicking on the floor of her room in protest of teeth brushing tonight. After a while, I crawled down on the floor, laid my head next to hers, and whispered that I love her. She crawled into my arms, I sang her a song, and she opened her mouth up for the toothbrush.

Thank you for reminding me, mom, that the most important thing I can do is simply pick up when one of my children calls for me. I do not need all the answers. I need to listen. I also might relate listening to winter’s quiet stillness, but I have not quite figured that lesson out. Perhaps another day. After all, winter will still be waiting for me tomorrow.

December 2nd – I Envy Bears

I envy bears that hibernate. They go to sleep at the end of fall and wake up in time for spring. I do wonder if this system applies to mama bears. The “Is it time to get up yet?” questions could go on for weeks. We have bad mornings at our house when I lose an hour or more of sleep to such questions, but the idea of waking up three weeks early sounds especially brutal. Next time we go camping, I am securing the food, but I am leaving out the coffee pot. Moms stick together.

Despite human DNA not granting me an extended nap through winter, I do feel like I can participate in things in cold weather that would seem bizarre in the middle of July. Today, I snuggled up on the couch next to my kids at 10am and read stories to them until we got hungry for lunch. We had chores to do outside, but instead of trying to beat the heat of summer racing outside at first light we waited for a few degree warm-up that would allow us to shed a layer. My toddler and I both appreciate not having to battle putting on mittens repeatedly every few minutes for the duration of our outdoor stay. Maybe mama bears spend all winter sweeping loose fur out the cave repeating, “I told you no shedding until spring! Do you want your paws to fall off?” I am leaving a Roomba with the coffee pot.

If I had a hibernation cave, I probably would not spend a season sleeping, but I would spend mornings, afternoons, and evenings wrapped in blankets enjoying book after book. The chore lists of parenthood grow faster than my children, but winter seems to find moments of pause that summer cannot spare. The chores step aside for cups of cocoa sipped slow enough for marshmallows to melt and library book stacks read unplanned for an entire morning. Sleep may not happen for me or the bears, but the book stack offers itself anytime night or day, alone or with the cozy, company of others. Mama bear, if the cubs get up early, I’ll leave a book as well. No need to rush spring; the sweeping can wait.

December 1st

I find the next 100 (give or take) days challenging. The sun sets before dinner. The grass crunches beneath my boots in muted shades of yellow and brown. The temperature rarely climbs to a number I enjoy, and the sky stays blanketed in gray clouds as if the planet itself cannot find a good reason to get out of bed. Each year I try something different to combat my doldrums. Some things, like exercise, help. This year I would like to try spending the next three months on a tropical island, but since that is not possible, I am writing. Each day, I will attempt to find something positive about this season.

We turned on our outside Christmas lights this evening. I love everything about them – the sounds of the lights banging against the gutter when the wind blows, the multiple colors, and the safe, cozy warmth I feel when I look at them. Sometimes, I think the lights must hold memories. When I look at them, I feel like I am seven again excitedly watching my mom unbox a set of ceramic Christmas mice that slide onto taper candles, holding the cover of the “Sesame Street Christmas Sing-Along” album fully convinced Bert and Ernie are at that moment singing in the snow, and smelling the turkey baking when I walk through my grandparents’ front door on Christmas afternoon.

I look forward to the dark in December because the lights shining in, around, and through it hold so much beauty and give me so much joy. So, to my husband who gets on the ladder every year, to our son who helps with this crazy project, and to our daughter who endures putting up lights with minimal protest, and to all of our neighbors who add lights to their homes, thank you. Thank you for the smile on my face, and the hope in my heart.

If Boats Could Talk

“I am so proud of you girls for just popping out of the water on those skis at your ages.”

Prior to my dad’s comment, I had never considered pushing him off a dock.

“Did you just call me old!”

My parents bought their boat not too long after they married each other and made us four girls, sisters. Despite the challenges that plagued blended families, we all loved the lake. My parents, my sisters, and I spent countless Saturdays water skiing. We left with a cooler of turkey sandwiches, a sand box pail of sunblock, and a roll of hot pink flagging to tie in our french braided hair to increase our visibility after a wipe out. Dad could, and still can, teach anyone to ski, and we often brought friends. We stayed out until we could ski no more or ran out of food, and no one had a cell phone. Every once in a while, someone brought a film camera along, but mostly our wipeouts lived on through stories that grew like fish with each retelling.

This past week, we found ourselves twenty-six years later sitting on the same boat. We still have a favorite blue ski, and the same favorite wide-v ski rope. My older sister’s ski gloves, now a bit crispy, live in the glove box. Pink flagging still makes us visible in the water, and we all still have hair long enough to braid. I laughed to myself as I listened to conversations about reapplying sunblock, sharing knee braces, and the need for adequate hydration.

When we were younger, we obsessed about tans; now we obsess about skin cancer. Sometimes, we still talk about boys though they have grown into their own rights as men, flirting by washing dishes instead of driving fast, sporty cars. Conversations over the years have, for the most part, lost sisterly bickering and the need to one-up each other. Though life gradually humbled us and wiped away our youthful views of invincibility, we gained trust in and love for each other. We learned to cheer for one another and ask if someone was okay. We adjusted ski sizes, rolled up ropes, and tried not to admit when we peed in the lake. We put sunblock on each other’s backs and braided each other’s hair.

Perhaps, I had been in the sun too long while ignoring my older sister’s insistence that I should drink more water, but I wondered what the boat might say to us now if it could talk. I think it would say we are welcome when the water is perfect and smooth as glass and when the waves white cap. We have a place here. We belong. The old boat may sputter to start every now and again, but so do we. We need knee braces to ski, obsess about drinking enough water in the heat, and have conversations that address the hard parts of life like fear, illness, and loss. It’s funny to call a boat home since we never lived there, but it’s where we learned to live together. Perhaps, it is fitting that home for our family is not a place on a concrete foundation but rather floating together in a little less certainty. In lake water, we found what blood didn’t give us – each other.

So, yes, Dad, twenty-six years later, we can still pop up on skis, but more importantly we still have each other’s backs with more than just sunblock. We may not have always listened to what you said to us, but we learned to love by the life you lived in front of us. You taught us about so much more than skiing.

Happy Father’s Day.

100 Days of Summer

Despite not having an official summer vacation in many years, my brain still feels last day of school excitement around the end of May. I dream of playing with friends in a swimming pool floating aimlessly on rafts and eating too many of those flavored ice popsicles we had to squeeze up from plastic bags. My inner nerd thinks of the endless hours I spent happily buried in a stack of library books so engrossed that I often forgot meals. I looked forward to the week of Girl Scout camp and the annual family vacation to the lake, but I most loved the possibility and potential of each day. The day could be anything – a bike ride, roller blading, playing board games, or a slumber party with popcorn and movies.

Now, as an adult and a mom of the five and under crowd, my days lack the carefree feeling of my memories. In fact, the only thing that really changes with the seasons is which environmental challenge I must conquer in order to get us all from one place to another. Cold and snow? We all need coats, but the car seat straps cannot buckle over the coats. So, we either deal with getting coats off and on repeatedly, or we make mad dashes in and out of stores with me drowning in mom guilt wanting to yell at innocent bystanders, “They would have gotten colder standing outside the car waiting for me to help with coats.” Rain? We need raincoats, boots, and maybe even rain pants because let’s face it, my children view puddles as a mandate from God for them to attempt to splash so hard that the water returns to the clouds. Sunshine and heat? We need water bottles that say leakproof though my one year old can conquer any non leakable engineering, and sunblock. Oh, sunblock. We enjoy being outside but have fair enough skin that our son got a mild sunburn in our backyard in March. So, especially in the summer sunblock is a part of our daily routine though, when it comes to our toddler, applying sunblock is more of an event than a routine.

In my wave of summer nostalgia, I realized I wanted to experience summer (and the rest of the seasons for that matter) rather than each season just serving as a signpost for which outdoor gear to haul out of the closet. As a dedicated type A person, I immediately came up with a plan which quickly turned into a project I called “100 Days of Summer with Five and Under”. I would have an epic summer with kids by planning everything. I pictured myself doing some social media post worthy summer activity each day and spending leisurely time blogging about it. My mind started racing. What if my blog posts went viral? What if the posts turned into a book? A movie? I could inspire parents all over the world. Then, two things happened. First, both of my kids caught a virus that resulted in several non photo worthy, sleep deprived nights for all involved. No problem. I thought, I can simply double up on fun summer activities for a few days and still get to one hundred. Second, I looked at my kids who sometimes answer my large life questions by just being themselves. As I was packing bags for an upcoming throwback family trip to the lake, my daughter repeatedly asked to go outside, and my son asked if we could set a day each week to go to the park. We never made it outside that day because I was too busy trying to make sure we had enough board games for rainy days and outdoor lawn games to have a good time on the next week. But, my children do not care about perfect or tomorrow. They are not counting one hundred days of summer or analyzing how many amazing things we do or do not do. They want to go outside, and when they get too hot, they will ask to add water which they will find delightful coming straight from the garden hose.

They do not need me to teach them how to have a carefree summer; they need me to remember what summer feels like to a child. The hot days meander along sometimes leading toward a goal and sometimes leading nowhere at all, but it does not matter because summer is not a countdown timer or a checklist. It is today, outside, a game of freeze tag, and a garden hose…handfuls of little, everyday moments bathed in unrushed sunshine.

So, maybe we will float on pool noodles in a backyard kiddie pool. Maybe we will read so many books that we forget lunch. Maybe one hot July day, when the sidewalk fries eggs, we will eat ice cream for breakfast. Maybe we will barrel roll down hills. Maybe we will run through the sprinkler where the grass gave up and make mud pies out of the pooling puddles. Maybe….possibly….potentially…  It is summer after all.