09 August 2014

Of Changed Plans

I wake up earlier than I want on a Saturday morning (but that's nothing new, is it?). The plans for today aren't what I had looked forward to. I had anticipated a lazy day, where we had no plans, because sometimes no plan at all is just the plan you need to re-charge and reconnect as a family - particularly when the last time you had that no-plan, a mere week ago, Mommy spent the morning raging at kids who didn't deserve it, slamming cabinets until their frames fell apart, and finally leaving the mess for her husband to deal with, because something inside her just couldn't take it all - all of this thing called life.

Yet, on this same Saturday morning, another woman awakes - if she slept at all, because who can sleep when the warmth beside her is gone? When there were sounds through the night and your protector is missing - and won't ever return? She awakes, if she even caught those forty winks, through the night-sounds and the nightmares, to find she is still in the nightmare.

How had she planned, just a week ago, to spend this day? Was there a birthday party to attend? A gathering of friends, family? Was he finally going to get to that project she'd been bothering him to finish? Or just mow the yard so it could be clean cut for another week? Had she planned to snuggle in just a little longer next to that man of hers, pretending they couldn't hear the kids down the hall, for just a few minutes? Or do their boys toddle in to crawl into bed, asking where's Daddy? At work? No, not at work, because he never made it to work on Tuesday morning, when he slipped quietly out of the house in the early morning hours to go earn a paycheck and take care of his family.

I grieve for her. I grieve for the third time in less than a year and a half for a woman too young to be widowed. A woman now left alone with two little boys who don't understand why they can't wrestle with Daddy - one of whom may be too young to even remember his face a year from now. And then there's the one in her womb - the one they announced to the world only a few weeks ago - the one who will never meet this man called "Daddy."

And she'll have to do it all alone. Or at the very least without the one who is half of the life inside of her - who was all of her life on the outside. The ultrasounds, the first kicks, the first contractions, the first push, the first cry - all without him who helped her create this miracle (though, thankfully, she has Him Who is the creator of all miracles).

And I thought my life was too much?

So I awake on this Saturday morning, the same one where she will be saying final good-byes to a man with whom she had planned to spend her entire life, not realizing his would end at twenty-four, to serve her. A minuscule gesture of love to someone who is hurting more than I can imagine. In a world that is too much pain.

And it's not what I planned, but then, it's not what she planned, either.

01 August 2014

Of Losing Her Teeth (Literally)

Way back in January (which feels like yesterday), I took Micaiah for her regular dental check-up, where she received exciting news: she had her first loose tooth! Now, of course, as we all know, if it took a dentist to tell you your tooth was loose, it's probably not on the precipice of falling out just yet. But Micaiah, who has been waiting for this moment ever since she first watched The Berenstain Bears Visit the Dentist at the tender age of three, was ecstatic.

And for months we got to hear her tell everyone she met, "I have a looth tooth!" performing her best mimicry of Sister Bear's loose-tooth-lisp (try to say that without lisping). So, the day before Easter, on a Saturday morning visit to the donut shop, we smiled and nodded while she, once again, told us about her precious tooth. Until I got finished paying and joined my family at the table, where my husband said, "You need to see this"

Lo and behold, that tooth was loose! More than dentist-tapping-on-it loose, but tongue-wiggling-it-prominently loose. "That's going to come out in the next couple days," he declared.

He may have over-estimated.

That very afternoon, Micaiah came from her room after nap time to tell me a sad story, "I was playing with my tooth and fell out and now I can't find it!"

Wait. Back up. It what? "Wait, is your tooth in your mouth?!"

"No! I don't know where it is!"

Still processing. "It came out?"

"Yes, and then I lost it!"

You're telling me! She lost a tooth! Her first tooth! And she was more upset at the literal losing of the tooth than at the fact that she now had a distinct hole in her bite. No worries, though, Daddy came to the rescue and found that tooth in the thick pile of her new carpet (we had just moved in a few weeks before and the texture, thick enough to lose something in, was still new to her). And our baby girl got to leave her first tooth under her pillow. And the Tooth Fairy almost forgot for the first time to give her a dollar.


And of course, our precious planner, put that dollar right in her future-car fund. She has much more restraint than her mother.

Fast forward a couple of months. She had started it again, insisting the tooth right next to the half-filled hole, where her new chomper is pushing it's way into place, was loose. And sure enough, it was a little wiggly. And by two nights ago, as we prayed for her before bed time, her smile showed a distinctly crooked tooth - it was barely hanging on.

Thus, after breakfast yesterday morning, when she came to me with the same story, "I lost my tooth. I don't know where it is!" I was a little less surprised, but no less excited. We were able to narrow the time down to realize she probably lost it while she ate, but the little guy is still missing.

Thus, she wrote a note and left it dutifully under her pillow, hoping the Fairy would understand. Unfortunately, the Tooth Fairy's response must have fallen out from under the pillow while she slept, so the poor girl woke up thinking the Fairy had taken the note, been utterly disappointed in her and left nothing in return. I can only imagine the shame she bore for the hour or so until Momma found the new note and read it to her.


No worries, she found the dollar the Tooth Fairy dropped under her bed - and this one isn't going in the car money - it went straight into the money purse. This one is getting spent.


As for me, I'm ready for this little girl to stop taking the phrase "losing a tooth" quite so literally.

(Side Note: She's totally wearing the same skirt in those pictures. Considering she doesn't wear that skirt every day or anything, I find that humorous. Could just be me.)

28 July 2014

Of Continuing the Tradition

Once upon a time there was a little girl - a princess in her own right. And every month, as a part of the routine school day, she would receive a precious white sheet of paper containing the key to the realm holding her some of her family's most precious memories. For on that paper were coupons . . . to a magical place called . . . Skateland.

And just about once a month, the family would load up the car on Friday night, head to the edge of the kingdom of La Vista, Nebraska, and pull into the parking lot of the white brick building with bold black lettering spanning the length of the wall, declaring its name to the world. They would find a secluded table, lace up their tan rentals with orange wheels and hit the polished wood rink. The lights were always too dark to make out much, unless you were there, in the center of the action, or you donned your very own glow stick.

And when the announcer would declare a couples skate, the princess would push herself off the floor, except for that magical time of night when it was her turn with the king - her daddy. And they would hold hands as they floated around the rink to the tune of Billy Ray Cyrus crying about his Achy Breaky Heart.

They were fond memories, indeed.

That same princess grew up. And though it had been years, the day she married her very own prince, they celebrated on a rink of blue. They danced their first dance and skated their first skate in their beautiful wedding attire. And her mother and father, who had spent months joining awkward pre-teens at their local rink, preparing their bodies for the task at hand, were there, too.



And it was a fond memory, indeed.

Thus, the princess found herself, eight years later - having not donned skates since that magical day she joined her life with her prince - at the same skating rink with her very own little princess.

The little one's legs were shaky and unsure. The orange wheels pulled themselves from under her more than once and she eventually needed a brace - patched together from PVC pipe and a little duct tape - to even stay upright without her mother using every muscle to keep her on her feet. The little princess was scared - terrified, even - but she pushed through. She would take a lap and take a break, but each time, she would muster up her resolve and declare, "I want to go back out there." She fell and let her mommy pick her up. She teased her mommy when she, too, took a couple of stumbles. She wore a brave smile and let loose cautious giggles. She was vulnerable and courageous. And they skated the couple skate (though no Billy Ray Cyrus was to be heard) and watched the glow-skate. The older princess was proud, heart overflowing.

And it was a fond memory, indeed.

Lacing her up (this task is SO much harder than it looks!)

Ready to roll!

This face, her expression after her first go-around, sans brace, sums up how she felt about the experience in the beginning.

Stretching her skating legs.


*Many thanks to the dear friends who invited Micaiah to her first-ever skating party and for letting me join in the fun!

19 July 2014

Of Vacation Bible School

I wasn't going to help with VBS. I mean, I really wasn't going to. Because, while I love my own kids, working with little kids has never really been my thing. I didn't baby-sit much when I was younger, and when I did, well, let's just say I never had repeat customers. Once upon a time I thought I'd actually teach elementary school, but an experience as a camp counselor with a crying fourth-grader taught me I'd much rather deal with older kids - the ones who could understand and appreciate my sarcasm and bump their heads without being sent to the nurse.

So Vacation Bible School? No. Not for me.

As the signs were going up, I was getting my excuses ready. I'd just had a baby - I should stay home with her. I was looking forward to the time with my boys, while older sister was learning about Jesus. We'd go to the library, maybe even go to the movies. It was going to be nice. And it wasn't going to involve me wrangling a bunch of other peoples' kids.

But God has a funny way of talking us into things. And He was real subtle about it, too.

Because first, it was that our church was taking a mission trip to my in-laws' church to do - guess what - VBS. And I wasn't necessarily going to participate in that, but wouldn't it be nice to at least visit Gram and Grandy while our church was there? But then we could just ride with the church, right? But I guess if we're going to ride with the church we should actually help. Darn it.

And so we did. I actually taught crafts (ok, I assisted someone else who put a great deal of time and effort into planning and then teaching - I mostly just manned the hot glue gun, a task I hate, but it was a mission trip after all, it's all about expanding the comfort zone, even if that means burnt fingers and strings of glue) while my littles, led by Gram, made the rounds.

And it was so darn cute watching little two-year-old Joseph, proudly holding his Bible Story paper, huge grin on his face, as he went from one class to another. And hearing him sing the songs on the way home each evening? Be still my heart.

Then it hit me. My boys love this. I mean, they really enjoy VBS. And now they know what VBS is. So, darn it, if I'm taking their big sister to VBS at our church and we're dropping her off together, they'll know what they're missing. And a trip to the library isn't going to cut it.

I was in a quandary. Until someone suggested I volunteer. Because the children of volunteers, particularly those in Emmett's age bracket, would get to participate in VBS.

So for the sake of not hearing a tantrum every morning for a week, I sacrificed my excuses and signed myself up. But maybe I'd just help with snacks. Because if there's one thing I can do, it's feed people.

But God had other plans. I wasn't just working with the kids - I was going to work with the littlest ones - the ones who just graduated from Pre-K and Kindergarten - the ones most apt to cry and be incapable of standing in a line. But who would have guessed? By the middle of the week, I was actually having fun. I had the privilege of watching my big girl answer questions in Bible School and make new friends. I hugged and loved on little ones who weren't my own, but gave me the sweetest grins. I held little hands and supervised bathroom visits. And I wasn't really hating any of it.

And this morning? On the last day? God showed me the purpose of all of it.

My big little boy, the one I did all this for - just so he could go to Bible School - told me he wanted to take "a lot" of money to church, so I took his monster bank down from the shelf. I pulled out bills from past birthday money. The first I pulled out was a twenty, which seemed like maybe too much, so I dug around until I found a five. And I explained to him which was which. He had been completely satisfied with the 17 cents he'd taken earlier in the week and I'd wondered if he might change his mind, after all, and opt for the handful of coins that had come out, as well. He chose the twenty.

I wasn't sure he understood what he was doing, so, just to check, I asked, "Why do you want to take so much money to church?"

I thought he would mention the balloon he would get to put in the big representative drinking glass, the visual reminder of why they were collecting money anyway. Or he might mention just getting to put the money in the green bucket.

Instead, he said, "So that lots of kids in India can have clean water!"

Oh my goodness. And a little child led me.

This VBS thing? The thing I fought so hard? It's changing the hearts of my children.

And to be honest? It's changing the heart of their mother.

I'm thinking God knows what He's doing. And my name just might be the first on that volunteer list next year.

12 July 2014

Of Raising Cowboys

The beauty of living in a smallish/biggish town is that it's the best of both worlds. We've got what this "city"(ish) girl calls civilization (because as soul-sucking as it is, I used to believe you couldn't call it a town if it didn't have a Wal-Mart - Oklahoma has well proven me wrong by now), but we've also got a little bit country going on over here. Which means we can take an afternoon drive through the back roads to see horses and cattle (and squirrels - which we didn't have much of in our old house, so Micaiah called them "wild animals" when we saw them on the outskirts).

It also means every summer . . . the rodeo comes to town! And this isn't your average small-town rodeo. I mean, it's a big-time deal, with participants from all over the nation converging on our streets and grocery stores for a week every July.

And I used to not really care. I'd notice the signs in town welcoming the visitors, and I'd notice the increase in traffic, but that was about it. The hullabaloo didn't have much to do with me (I was still clinging to the city in me, I suppose).

And then I had kids. Kids who, like all little ones, love animals and cowboys. And I saw the yearly rodeo with new eyes - an experience our children would adore. So, this year, we piled in and headed out.

I didn't tell them before-hand where we were headed (which can be a hit-or-miss strategy - sometimes it leads to squeals of excitement when they figure it out, other times it leads to, "But where's the surprise?"), but as we traversed the parking lot, spying teenagers in wide-brimmed hats grooming their steed, they started the squealing. Cowboys! Cowgirls!

And as we entered the arena, with a sea of real cowboys and girls atop their horses, waiting for their turn to compete, they were in awe. And so was I.

Here was this crowd of teenagers, mostly, who had the discipline and drive to devote themselves to the animals in their care - training them to move with precision and speed. They had trained their own bodies to endure the trials of being bucked from animals weighing hundreds of pounds. They had learned to wrestle cattle, throw an effective lasso and avoid the stomping hooves of angry bulls.

I want my kids to be cowboys. And if they can't manage to procure their own beasts of burden, perhaps they can find some way to at least rein in the spirit of perseverance and hard work that comes with the territory. I want them to own the courage and tenacity it takes to pick yourself up, dust off your pants, and get right back in the ring. I want them to tackle their problems with focus and determination, prepared to wrangle the issue to the ground and lift their hands in triumph upon completion (even if victory was more difficult and harder coming than anticipated).

And it wouldn't hurt if they'd don a cowboy hat every now then - because everyone looks good in a cowboy hat.

Suckers instantly make any experience that much better.

Look at all those cowboys back there!

It was a rainy day, so here she is, middle of July, cuddling from the cold. As she snuggled, I taught her to count the seconds during the bull riding, to judge how good the ride was. She got just as excited as we did when a couple riders stayed on for the full eight-count.


16 June 2014

Of My Twenties

In less than two weeks I will turn thirty years old.

I have less than two weeks left as a twenty-something.

I recognize aging as a symptom of being alive, but I still find myself aching as I grasp the truth. Less than two weeks left of a decade I could never have predicted.

2004

In the summer of 2004 I crossed the threshold of this era of my life. I was working as a counselor at a girls camp in Maine and marked the occasion with a bouquet of roses from my best friend and a movie with fellow counselors. At the time I had no reason to believe I would ever travel to Russia or even have any interest in its language, culture or people - I definitely would not have believed that before I turned 21 I would have fallen in love with all three while riding marshrutkas beside the Volga River. I didn't even know where that was.

2005

The summer of 2005 found me fresh off the high of my unexpected international experience and working at McDonald's  -yet another unexpected twist. I had just heard of something called Facebook for the first time, but was busy with a new blog, so I wasn't really interested in signing up for something else. A serial single, I might have laughed (while secretly hoping you were right) if you'd told me I would be a married woman before I was 22 - to a boy I had yet to meet.

2006

By summer 2006 I was a newlywed and a college graduate about to embark on my first (and would I have believed?) only year teaching Spanish in a public school. I was waiting for my husband and new best friend to graduate and then who knew where life would take us. But by the next summer I would be a homeowner, planting tender roots in a town where I had never intended to stay.

2007

Summer 2007 - settling into my new home, making it ours. I still had a job and had no clue I would be packing up my classroom in about a month, especially not by choice.  And my husband? The one who was starting a new job just after my birthday? He would be working a different job than that, even, by next year, and that would be the one to settle us into this town for good. That husband of mine and I were going to Ecuador with our church soon and did I know that would be the last time for five years (after seven years of various expeditions) that I would be boarding an international flight - and the next time I did would be with my four-year-old daughter? Did I know that daughter would begin filling my womb that very winter?

2008

And that's how it went, as that whirlwind of a decade went on - summer in and summer out for six more years. Every summer either pregnant or with a new baby.

2009

2010

2011

2012

In fact, it was one year ago on my birthday we made the trip to tell our families, Joey wearing his new shirt declaring him a "Big Brother," that we were expanding again. And did I know that would also be the last time I would tell my grandmother I love her?

2013

Ten years, one wedding, four babies, two houses, six jobs (between two people), two dogs (come and gone) and three cats.

The one constant? My little silver Chevy that has seen it all.

And God. He has carried me here, to the threshold of yet another new beginning. Another decade.
And while I mourn the loss of my twenties, I eagerly anticipate the future.


My new future as a thirty-something.

14 June 2014

Of My Backwards Dad


I can see it now, the maroon trucker’s hat (though in those days they were just called ball caps, back when hard nylon netting and a cheap polyester wrapped around a foam core was what all baseball hats looked like) with the bold white lettering spelling out “SPUD.” I don’t know why he owned that hat, but I know when I realized “SPUD” backward was “DUPS” Dad decided that would be my nickname. It wasn’t a long-lasting name, but it came out every time he wore the hat.

And I can see it on his head as we finished one of our many camping trips along the Platte River, the ones where we had our perfect spot, backed right up in the alcove bordered by a thin strip of woods before we met a small stream deviating from the larger river – the stream Dad fell in once, when we visited for a day in the winter and he didn’t realize he was heavier than the icy barrier could handle. He wore that hat as he and I competed in the ritual egg toss that signaled the end of our camping adventures. He always saved at least three eggs from those he cooked every morning on the Coleman camp stove – because he couldn’t go a morning without his sunny-side-ups - so each of us could have a shot at besting the others, seeing who was really the best at tossing an egg with Dad.

And that name, “DUPS,” isn’t the only time he took the “backwards” approach. Maybe I was so fascinated by reading backwards because my dad taught me the alphabet backward before I learned it forward – a fact I’m still a little proud of to this day, because it makes me unique. And I can still rattle it off, starting at “Z,” just as fast as I can forward. Thanks, Dad.

So, for all those times he seemed to be doing it a little backwards, a little unconventionally, I still appreciate the Dad my father was. He wasn’t always perfect, and he still isn’t, but he has never given up, on himself or on us, and has only improved with age.  Happy Father’s Day to the reason I’m here.