Embracing the bittersweet

Fridays are ‘mommy days’. The other days are Omie and Ena days, the grandmas’ days. Fridays are the days that mommy picks D up from preschool because I don’t work on Fridays…this year.

IMG_1443Most Friday afternoons involve play dough creations, art sessions, baby doll mothering, bubble blowing, or marathon book readings. But this afternoon, we were both tired. Between allergies and some unexpected emotional upheavals this week, Friday was going to be a ‘napternoon’.

We cuddled in bed and I read two hilarious books (reviews forthcoming) and we almost decided not to nap. But I yawned, and she rubbed her eyes and we knew. She cuddled into her pink cat quilt, and I rolled into the other bed in her room, and we closed our eyes.IMG_4421

I opened my eyes a few minutes later to see if she was truly asleep, and she was. Two middle fingers in her mouth, little line of drool starting to form, breathing softly and rhythmically. The pristine blue spring sky and the soft green leaves celebrated new life outside her window. But inside, something was ending. ‘Mommy days’ on Fridays were almost over.

In four weeks, she’ll graduate from preschool, and  (hopefully) I’ll be employed with a full time job for next year. I try not to get weepy about things like this with my kids. I spent most of my youth weeping about my own transitions. But this one gets to me. The bittersweetness of it. And i let myself wallow.

Times are a-changing. She is no longer a baby. She loves school. She’s a little knowledge sponge. She’s so ready for the next thing. I’m so ready for my next thing. I’m restless and ready and admittedly, I’ve just been biding my time this year. IMG_3016

But can’t we come back to this? The endingness of it hurts. The finality. Friday afternoons will be spent in school. For her, eagerly gluing her last pieces of colorful craft in place to bring home to show me. For me, grasping at the reigns of control over my impatient adolescent students. No more play dough and dolls before a refreshing nap. No more laughter until hiccuping at amusing nap time stories. (*sigh*) Maybe she could just come to work with me…

I have no regrets. I spent as much time with her as I could during these years. I would not change any of it.

Now we move into a new phase, with new excitement, new ideas, new exploration…for both of us.

IMG_4187And when we come home from our long days of learning and instructing, we will still have each other. We’ll still have our afternoon routines, just later in the afternoon…and maybe alternating days of play dough and dolls and tea parties and games. We’ll still read books before bed. And we’ll always snuggle. Because truthfully, everyday is a mommy day…and everyday she is mine.      IMG_4299

Top Ten: Life lessons from sandcastles

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10.  The obvious, it’s free! All that’s needed is sand and hands. Buckets and spades are bonuses!

9. The other obvious: imagination stimulation!

8. Unchanging physical properties– The force of water v. the strength of sand; construction qualities of wet sand v. dry sand; incline v. recline; condensation v. evaporation…the list is somewhat endless…

7. When to stop— There are limits to how much sand can be built up, how deep a shovel can effectively slice without causing a collapse, how much water can be added to make the correct ‘paste’. Observing such limits and working within them builds structural and personal integrity.

6. Where to start–Start too close to the tide line and the masterpiece will be washed away before it’s even built; start too far away from the water source and water will be distantly inaccessible. High tide? Low tide? Research and reconnoiter before beginning the task.

5. Use what you have–Hands are all that’s really needed, but shovels and pails are great too. Need a new angle or a deeper scoop? Manipulate what is available…squeeze the bucket, turn the shovel…make it work! Adaptation is a crucial life skill.

4. Get more–If the sand is too wet and slippery, add dry to soak up the water. If it’s too dry to stay in place, add a bit of water. Want decor? Go find shells and sea grass. Want a different dig? Might be time to spring for a new spade. Sometimes is best to seek other options.

3. Networking–If you begin to build it, they will come. Little boys, big boys, curious onlookers of every age. Helpful advisors, eager engineers, passing critics. Listen to the advice, accept the outstretched hand, ignore the scoffers. The sandbox of the world is filled with diverse friendships waiting to start.

2.Dealing with loss–Inevitably, the sandcastle will become part of the shoreline again. But crying over a flattened sand structure is as useless is crying because there is sand. Millions of architects have knelt in those tiny grains and constructed greatness only to have it washed away with the timeless tide. Beginning this job is knowing that this is a temporary investment but the memory of it will be long-lasting.

1. Beginning again–Survey the scene, take stock of materials, and plan for the future. Yesterday’s masterpiece was colossal…for yesterday. What’s next? Breathe the salty air, admire all the expansive greatness and have a seat. Start anew, start renewed…but don’t let the ocean keep you from your sandcastle.

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Top Ten: Summer Solstice Activities

Unlike previous top ten lists, this one is not in ranked order. Our family ignores the pagan origins of Summer Solstice, and we celebrate the beginning of summer just as that…the beginning of summer!!!!!!!!!!! We hang out with friends and let our kids stay up until the sun goes down, which is so far past their bedtime, it’s practically the next morning to them!!! Here are some of our ideas… do any or all of them to celebrate the beginning of summer! Share some of your own as well!

Top Ten: Summer Solstice Activities

10. Sunny Sun Cookies — Make a batch of these happy sunshines…and share some with neighbors! http://lets-explore.net/blog/2011/06/welcoming-summer/sun_cookies

9. Sharing the Shine — Another gift to share…a whole cookie mix! Spend the extra sunny hours mixing up these tasty concoctions to give away throughout the summer when someone needs a ray of sunshine! http://eatatallies.com/2011/06/cookie-mix-in-jar/

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8. Tie Dying Summer Shirts  — Got friends? Wear shirts? What a fun way to spend this sunny evening together…making bright shirts to wear the rest of the summer! http://spoonful.com/crafts/tie-dyed-t-shirts

rainbow-tees-craft-photo-420-FF0603DYEA11 (Photo from Family Fun magazine via spoonful.com)

7. Bike Ride through the neighborhood— Enjoy the late evening sunshine and you may make some new friends who will share summer fun with you! Make up silly bike races or relays…ride through obstacle courses or yard mazes. Find a new way to enjoy the ol’ familiar bike…you’ll have lots of summer time to enjoy it!

6. A new summer drink— Sangria for you, seltzer and juice for the kids…mix up a little refreshing beverage fun. Set out ice, fruit juices, fresh fruit, seltzer, mint leaves, and some little umbrellas for the kids to create their own summer blend. Give it a special name and it may become a family tradition! Peruse Pinterest for scores of yummy summer treats for mom and dad’s sipping pleasures!

5. Save some sun for a gray day— Take the kids outside and let them splatter paint some blank paper/notecards. Save this ‘stationary’ for notes to someone another day! http://angelaandersonart.blogspot.com/2011/11/fun-splatter-floral-paintings-kids-art.htmlsplatter paint

4. Just add water!!— Most places are in the thick of summer heat by the time summer even begins. Water activities are always a winner for summer fun! Sprinklers, squirters, wading pools…the ol’ standards. But what about water balloon tee ball, water balloon pinatas, sponge balls…and the scores of ideas found on (again!) Pinterest?? So many new ideas, you’ll be set for the whole summer!

3. Scavenger Hunt— choose a theme: summer fun, colors, beat the heat, numbers…and then choose your objects within that theme. Plan it ahead of time…or tell the kids to count to 20 and throw the items randomly around. Then, turn ’em loose to find them. This activity can be as easy or as complicated as you want it to be…

2.  Dance in the Street!!–the neighborhood may rejoice at the ice-cream truck’s jingle, but you can keep on dancing with your own playlist. Let the sun shine and the music play on this long sunny day! Here’s a sample playlist, with some kid-friendly songs…http://thoughtcatalog.com/stephanie-georgopulos/2012/06/a-150-song-summer-playlist/

1. Plant Sunflowers— Start the summer by starting a sunflower patch. Pick a place with lots of sun and room for these tall soldiers of the season to stand. Start a tradition of enjoying nature on this night and you’ll see it’s beauty throughout summer! http://www.almanac.com/plant/sunflowers

Sunflower_from_Silesia

 

Family pile

I rarely sew, but today I was attempting a simple construction that involved 4 straight seams. While I was attempting this, my daughter was playing in the room with me and my son announced that he was going to ‘mop your floor, mommy, since you cleaned up all the clothes and stuff.’

So we were doing the ‘Leave it to Beaver’-perfect-Americana thing, until my daughter pulled a piece of fabric off the sewing table and dumped about 500 straight pins on the floor. I stopped my sewing and got on the floor to help her pick them up, hoping that we would get them all before she or my son stepped on any of them. Meanwhile, he came in and announced that my room was closed while the floor dried, and then he went back to his ‘job’.

When the pins were cleaned up, she went in to join him and I went back to seam construction. And then, the sewing machine broke. Just broke. The bobbin holder just popped loose. I fiddled with it, cursed a bit, tried a screwdriver to unhook the plate…but all with no success. Sighing, I went in my room to get my phone to call a friend, hoping I could borrow her machine to finish my simple project.

And that’s when I smelled it…opened the door and saw it. All over the floor. My beloveds had used a homemade salt/ olive oil body scrub and a family heirloom shoe brush to clean the bedroom floor. A pint of it. There were blobs of salt and slime everywhere. And two smiling children in the midst of it.

I could see the streaks on the floor, not permanent but drying stickily. I could imagine the length of time it was going to take to clean an oil based product from the floor. I could feel the chunks of salt under my bare toes and wondered how long I would be tracking them around.  I could hear the slippity-clunk as the kids tried to walk across the floor and fall down. And I could see two bright brown eyes and a gap from two missing teeth beaming at me. ‘Do you like it, mommy?’

No, no I didn’t like it. I didn’t like the mess, the clean up, the frustration. I didn’t like the talk that we were going to have to have. I didn’t like the long evening that was shaping up in front of me. I didn’t like the anger that was boiling up inside of me, when all they wanted to do was help. I didn’t like any of it.

But his little brown eyes are so much like my own, that through them I could see back in time thirty years when I wanted to clean my mom’s car really thoroughly, so I used Pine Sol. I can still see the swirls of stripped wax on the dark gray surface. I can still see the flames of anger in my dad’s eyes. I can still hear my mom’s preparatory explanation to him. I can still feel the imbalance of doing a good surprise deed and asking for permission to help.

So I said, through tears of my own, ‘It was a really nice thing for you to do, buddy. It was really kind of you to want to clean my floor. Next time, let’s just stick with water, though.’

Because my husband had come home, I sent the kids downstairs with him so that I could clean up the mess and have a little decompression time. And when I finished and went downstairs, they were all cuddled up on the couch looking at a book about boats. My son asked my daughter, ‘Which boat do you want to be in?’ My daughter squeezed her dad’s arm and said, ‘Whichever one daddy’s in.’ When my son realized I was standing there, he exclaimed,  ‘Look, mom, we’re a family pile!’

‘Family pile’ is a term we use when we’re all piled up together on the couch. And I realized that the evening could’ve turned out a whole lot differently. There could have been yelling and crying and taking away of privileges. There could’ve been impulsive reactions instead of slow, thoughtful ones. Rather than wanting to be on the same boat together, we could’ve all wanted to sail far away from each other…and the pain that we had caused.

I am not a great parent. I know that. But tonight, I’m a happy parent. We will have to discuss some boundaries within the coming days. We will talk about what is acceptable to do when mom’s not around and when permission is needed. And even those rules will get broken. I will yell and I will make my children cry another day. I know that. But tonight, I didn’t. Tonight, we are a sloppy, messy, sticky, loving family pile.

Knee pits and belly slops

“Mom! Daddy’s been lying to you! He is ticklish in his armpits!!” An eager, out-of-breath smile met me when I got to the top of the steps. The little guy was reaching with all his kryptonite might to reach dad’s armpits, which were still about twelve inches too high. “Mom, get ‘im! Get  ‘im!”

 

I set the clothes basket down, and just watched for a minute, but I noticed that my husband’s peripheral vision was cutting in my direction frequently. I asked, “Whatcha ‘fraid of?” He was fending off the two little people, who were doing their best Lilliputian act, to get take him down. Grabbing his tummy, his arms, lifting up his feet…anything they could reach was fair game.

 

This turned into all-out tickle war. On our bed, arms and legs were flailing, feet and hands were flopping. Giggles turned into guffaws, snickers became snorts. Tickle spots were being sought and found. New names were given to unidentified flying body parts…”That’s my knee pit! My knee pit is ticklish!” “Under her chin…her gooly-gooly…get it!” The fearless family leader squealed like his three year old daughter as his fatherly suit of armor was penetrated by tiny tickling fingers. The little gal was demonstrating her “belly slops” and attempting to do jumping jacks while gaily shrieking…she looked like a drunken jackrabbit. Then the screams of “possum” pain, “Oh my butt cheek…my butt cheek…I can’t feel it. Take me to the hospital!” “Mommy, is my belly gonna fall off from laughing?”

 

The squeals turned to sighs, the flailing and flopping ceased. Deep breaths. Giggle remnants when a tickled memory flitted by. Sapped children. Satisfied smiles.

 

This war has been won.

 

 

Birdsong

We had a woodstove when I was a kid. This method of home heating developed several skill sets in my life…wood stacking, fire starting, splinter removal, morning cold feet tolerance.  In retrospect, I was a lucky gal. I learned a lot of things that other chicks didn’t. I built muscles. I had the power of fire at my fingertips. I had a lot of thick socks.

I remember being small and sitting in front of an open wood stove, mesmerized by the flames. They flickered and danced around a dry, cracked log settled on a comfy bed of ashes. I was settled on a not-so-comfy thin turquoise carpet remnant watching the fire while mom ironed nearby. I noticed the whistling sound coming out of the log in the fire and asked mom what made the sound.

She told me that when the log was still an upstanding tree, birds would sit in its branches and sing. The tree kept the songs that the birds trilled and that was what I was hearing- the birdsong. The birdsong was saved and we were able to enjoy it, months, probably years, after the birds had shared their tunes.

Obviously, that whimsical story stayed with me. When I heard the cracking and popping of bonfires as a teen, I secretly listened for the birdsong. On ski trips with friends, I smiled when I heard it in the warming fires. And when we started our first fires in our new home’s rustic fireplace, I remembered the tale and hoped to share it with our children someday. This winter, I have. As my son has begun to learn the tips of starting a fire, we have sat many an evening with twigs and crumpled paper, blowing onto the tiny blazes. I’ve heard the whistling of the logs as the fire starts roaring. One evening, I told him the story of birdsong. I hope that the story stays with him as a happy little memory, as it did with me.

Telling him the story of the birds’ songs started my thinking about the little things that get trapped inside people and come out later. Along with the happy little stories that mom told me were plenty of unhappy little taunts from siblings or disappointing little betrayals from friends. When I’m ‘in the fire’ of life’s complex situations, I really want the happy little birdsongs to come out…or the wise songs…or the just and true songs. And the only way that I can ensure that those are the things that I emit is to be sure that the birdsong that is trapped inside is uplifting.

Philippians 4:6-9 (www.biblegateway.com)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

“Don’t change me!!!!!!”

The spring breezes were too tempting for us to stay inside. The daffodils and crocuses were waving for us to come out and join them in their frolic. So, we had to gear up…a shirt for my Tarzan son, shoes for both kids, and …sniff, sniff… apparently a clean diaper for the wee one.
Oh, she fought it tooth and nail as we climbed the steps. “Wanna go outSIDE! Wanna go outSIDE!!!!!  I want to go outSIIIIIIDE!!!!” she explained in no uncertain terms, just in case I had forgotten what was on the agenda for the rest of the afternoon.
I sat her on the changing table and picked up the necessities. I looked at her pink pouty face, sweaty bangs, and wet eyes and gave her my own pouty face. “Come on, honey…” I coaxed with mock pity. She looked squarely in my face and said, “Don’t change me.” No longer a plea, no longer a redirect, but a command. No wavering ‘mommmyyyy’ attached, nothing sweet anymore. Just a clear statement.
“Don’t change me.”
Hmmm…how often have I begged that of my Father? Don’t change me, God…change him. Don’t change me, change the situation. I want to do what I want to do, God. Please don’t change me. Sometimes pleadingly I say it. Sometimes defiantly.
Realization: God knows when I’m covered with filth. God can sense my stench and my need for a change. Better than I can. God knows that whatever lies on the other side of the change will be more enjoyable after the change.

We did go outside. We frolicked with the flowers and ran with the breezes…and we had both been changed.

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