The Stocking

This Monday marked the beginning of the last week of school before Christmas break.  This means there are still Advent calendars to follow, shelfy elfs to move, business parties to attend, school parties to brave, Christmas cards to send out, sugary things to bake, wintry decor to put up (it was 65 degrees outside today so inside we pretend that this season occurs during non-sweaty temps) and gifts to gather for family, friends, teachers, co-workers, pet fish, and bus drivers.  And since Amazon came out with Prime, we should ALL be doing something for the poor souls that deliver all the cardboard boxes in all the world.  Without a doubt, we are smack dab in the midst of the holiday season.  It brings an energy that is palpable in my family and I do not take it for granted that these are precious years we will not see again.  

I love this time of year.  My kids love it too because their most favorite family tradition happens during the Christmas season.  On the day following Thanksgiving, they start begging to go to the store for their annual ornament.  A long time ago, we started a tradition where they pick an ornament representing something they love.  It could be something as simple as a TV show or movie they enjoyed that year, a sport they played, or just a piece they think is extra pretty.  Then we label the box with their name, year and age and add it to their collection.  So when it comes time to put the tree up each year, they literally jump up and down (ok, my little two do, the middle schooler likes doing it but definitely stays calm, cool and collected at all times) when their stack of ornaments comes out and they get to relive each one they have chosen since they were around 2 years old.  

We look forward to digging out ornaments like this….

Because everyone knows that cowgirl M&M’s holding guns help to make the season bright.

I remember when our tree was full of blank spaces, filler stuff, and reindeer ornaments made from glued wooden sticks adorned with twisted pipe cleaners and red pom-pom noses.  I still have all of those items.  But as this family ages, the tree has become a representation of a life of three little girls growing up into older little ladies.  Sure, I have seen trees prettier than ours because there are two kinds of people in this world. Those that take a regular tree full of sticks and pokey needles, and transform it into a sea of garland and ribbon and ornaments in complementary colors. And then there are people like me. The kind that buy a fake tree pre-wrapped in lights that still work when you bust a few bulbs putting it up.  And my version of fancy means we sprung for the $5 switch thingie that allows you to turn the lights with a tap of your foot. We slap up ornaments that have family pictures on them along with ones that document our travels.  And of course M&M’s holding guns.  Side note:  My mom use to let us put tinsel on the tree growing up and I LOVED IT.  I’d throw that stuff up there by the handful.  I also remember watching her take down all the tinsel after the holidays as I would be darting out the door to play.   And then when I’d be exhausted and come inside for a break, she’d STILL be pulling the silvery strands off the tree.  Therefore, my mother was a saint.  I will never ever be that mom.  To all you mothers who allow their children to do this, I salute you.

And as much as I love this time of year, I also struggle.  When I look at things logically, my brain tells me I should not feel anything but energy, smiles, and the sugar coursing through me from all the whipped cream cheese frosting inside pumpkin rolls and on top of ooey gooey cookies. Plus, we are celebrating the birth of Christ, which is a celebration of hope and joy arriving to our world.  And for many, many years, I only felt the joy of the season.  But starting about 8 years ago, my life went through a major transformation.  I lost my mom to cancer two days after Christmas.  And it was a brutal disease that took my vibrant and devoted mother and left her gasping for air at times.  Watching her physical body deteriorate while her mental spirit stayed strong and wanted to desperately stay on this earth permanently scarred me.  It broke a piece of my heart for my dad, my daughters who lost their grandma way too early, for myself and for the multitude of other friends and family members that loved her too.  And though I truly do love the Christmas season, there’s a darker range of emotions I also experience that go from life feeling heavy, to a sadness in my soul, to an exhaustion that isn’t from a lack of sleep.  Do I feel this every second of every day?  Nope.  Do these emotions control my mental state?  Nope.  But I do recognize that they creep up on me around this time of year and rather than deny that they exist, I’ve learned to live with them.

Once I experienced the death of my mom, my eyes were opened to another level of life.  I know I am not alone in my grief.  I have friends that have lost spouses, parents, friends and even their own precious children.  And at some point, if you are continuing to live and breathe, you will also experience loss and grief.  

There are a few things that I have learned to lean towards for comfort during this season.  First off is my faith.  And I love what Paul has to say in 2 Corinthians:  Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. (2 Cor 1:3-4)  First off, we aren’t alone.  Ever.  God is where compassion and comfort come from and He is there during our struggles.  He knows what you are going through.  He isn’t surprised.  Secondly, He uses our pain.  He comforts us and then allows us to help others.  He forms us into people who can take our own trials and provide hope to others when they go through it.  Even though our lives here on earth will never be problem free, we can provide love and comfort, show compassion and give hope to each other.  For me, this is living out the meaning of Christmas.

The other thing that helps me during this season is being able to look back on the traditions my mom established during my childhood.  On Christmas Eve each year, she would gather all of us in the family room, pour glasses of eggnog, bring out a variety of homemade Christmas cookies on a platter, turn off all the bright overhead lights and TV and we would sit as a family with Christmas music in the background with the tree lit.  She would then start a conversation and ask us purposeful questions .  What was your favorite part of the past year?  What is something you are looking forward to next year?  I counted on having that 30 minutes every year.  It felt peaceful.  And let’s be honest, I loved cookies and eggnog too.  My own family does not continue that same tradition, but it did show me the importance of setting aside time to just BE together.  And I loved the sense of stability it gave me as a child to know that I could count on my family doing the same thing together every single year.

Along with the childhood traditions my mom established, she also left me a lasting Christmas gift.  I did not even realize how precious it would be to me when she began making them.  When I got married, she decided to needlepoint us our own Christmas stocking.  For years, I watched her pull out her bag of yarn and work on them slowly but surely.  I am certain this is where Hailey gets her love of sewing because it did NOT come from her mother.  With every new grand baby, she would select a new stocking to begin so we could add it to our mantle for the following Christmas.  

My sweet Landry was born about 6 weeks after my mom died.  And my mom was sick my entire pregnancy with her.  My mom selected her stocking and started it, but was not able to finish it on her own.  Completing this piece was important to her.  And so she received some earthly help.  Various friends of my mom took the stocking and completed different sections of it until it was done.  When I was given the stocking by my mom’s friend after my mom had died, I became overwhelmed.  Landry received a stocking that was not only made for her with the hands of her grandmother that would never be able to hold her, but also with the loving supportive hands of her grandmother’s friends.  These women lifted her grandmother up and comforted her when she needed it most.  And that is not only a lasting gift my girls have but an ultimate lesson in friendship, compassion and loyalty.

I am not sure how the Christmas season feels to you.  Oftentimes society, social media and commercials put weighty expectations solely on happiness.  It is as if anything less than pure joy means failure.  And I hope the season is a time of joy and celebration.  But please remember the Christmas story itself was full of mixed emotions. The time leading up to the birth of Jesus being born in a manger was complicated. So much that happens in life is out of our control.  I encourage you to take advantage of the abilities God has given you.  Start a new tradition for your family or your friends or for others in need that blesses them.  If you are suffering this season, allow others to come in and comfort you.  For me,  I’ll spend some time looking at all the stockings hanging on my mantel.  And there’s one in particular I’ll look at a little longer.  The one that represents a story of love, joy, comfort, hope, compassion and above all else, grace.  And those are all the emotions I will embrace this Christmas.

I Can Do That. But Just That.

In the past, I worked as an Admissions director for a Catholic high school. Going into the job I was terrified to work with teenagers because have you met one? But I hold such great memories from that job, and I loved those kids. Throughout the years I kept up with a handful of them via social media and have enjoyed watching them grow up. Albeit, their post high school shenanigans in my news feed have more than once morphed me into a fretting grandmother, with all of the wringing of my hands and clutching of my pearls.

But I fought the urge to write comments like, “Let’s leave some room between you two for the Holy Ghost.” And it paid off because I saw their graduations, watched as they maneuvered first real jobs, engagements, and marriages. Some now live in the early phase of marriage and family that I was in when they met me. Which is a little rude given that it points out how much I have aged. But I need to rise above because I am their elder (as they have so rudely pointed out). And I got the favorable end of the deal. In exchange for following me, these kids watched my timeline evolve from “my skin looks like Snow White’s, even though I never wash my face,” to “we will need to borrow against the 401k to keep me in wrinkle cream. And please fetch my wrap as there is a chill.”

One of my students was named Garrett. I remember when Garrett was processing the idea of pursuing a religious vocation after high school, carefully considering what it would mean for his life. He went on to study Theology at Marquette and Social Work at Loyola, and now works as the campus minister for a Catholic high school in South Dakota as part of his formation to become a Jesuit priest.  Garrett’s humble manner and perspective are grounding. He provides peace, humor, insight and clarity in his writing. Post-election when I felt paralyzed by tension and anger surrounding me, he wrote a reflection that centered me. It’s a unique honor to watch someone you knew as an adolescent become an adult with such wisdom.

Recently Garrett posted this article: What I Do Have to Give. When I read it the first time, I thought Garrett was conveying the intentional limitations he puts on himself as an act of self-care. I identified with his words because I try to adopt the same focus during the holiday season. But then I thought about the title, What I Do Have to Give, and realized he was expressing something more meaningful. He asked himself “what DO I have to give?” instead of “what can I not do?” A significant difference lies between those two mindsets. Rather than seeing himself as limited in what he can do, he highlights what he can do well and then gives those acts and beliefs his time and attention. It is an empowering mindset that truly magnifies self-care.

He talked about the extent of his mental exhaustion as this semester winds down before the break. He addressed the situation by making a list of goals for the next two weeks and breaking them down into tasks that fall under three essential categories in his role as the campus minister. And after each category, he wrote “I can do that. But just that.

This time of year explodes with lists and expectations. Gifts to buy, people to see, relationships to balance, finances to blow to hell, things to cook, elves to move (or as I want to do, hurl). And some of those things bring meaning and memories and are well worth the effort. But it will not end well if we do ALL of it.

As we approach Christmas, we would do well to use the same technique. First, identify where we want to put our focus. Family time? Experiences? Continuing particular traditions? Then take those categories and assign actions that will help us do those things well. And do that. But just that.

Saying this feels hypocritical since I will, without a doubt, lose this perspective more than once. But if we aim high and fall short, we are still doing pretty well. Plus, Christmas is not complete without at least one family member having a spectacular Clark Griswold style meltdown.

So this year, I will sit down with my husband, and we can define what we have to give. And do that. But just that.

Pinterest Amnesia

I cannot craft. Everything about crafting trips me up. I bought a glue gun a few years ago and nearly lost an eye, and that doesn’t even make sense. Here is what I have to offer craft wise: I will make a batch of margaritas for your crafting party.

Even after eleventeen thousand disastrous crafting ventures, I keep trying. It reminds me of the phenomenon referred to as labor amnesia where one “forgets” the pain of labor. People believe this occurs so we can muster up enough courage to procreate again. I find this idea alarming. If we can forget that we have expelled an entire human out of our body, we probably don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of keeping track of them afterward. However, I do believe in Pinterest amnesia. Pinterest amnesia is a very real (it’s not real) coping mechanism. One that allows us to bury the trauma associated with past Pinterest fails. The shame and regret experienced when Mod Podge ruins our projects and our lives are swallowed up, erased from memory. Allowing us to continue looking at our Pinterest boards with hope. 

Pinterest amnesia is how my  friend Lori can make something like this and still soldier on to pin another day:

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Her goal was to teach her children the symbolism behind candy canes. And yes, maybe she missed the mark. But if anyone ever needs to know what a tapeworm strangling some licorice looks like, Lori has provided a visual. Thank you, Lori.

Because I have The Pinterest Amnesia, I attempted these three crafts/recipes. Which, by the way, most of you could nail, and I highly recommend. Even though things went wrong during the process, they still ended up kind of cute. Except for that middle one. The way I flubbed that one was to completely forget about it until my 6-year old daughter asked where it was on Thanksgiving. She then teared up after I gave her the news. I gave her a dollar for her therapy jar and sent her on her way.

Edible Thanksgiving Turkey Place Card or Centerpiece from firstyearblog.com
Edible Thanksgiving Turkey Place Card or Centerpiece from firstyearblog.com
Turkey Fruit Platter from The First Year Blog
Turkey Fruit Platter from The First Year Blog
Pilgrim Hat Cookies from Sippycupmom.com
Pilgrim Hat Cookies from Sippycupmom.com

We started with the turkey place card holder made with pears. We hit our first glitch straightaway during the first step. I struggled to get the first pear to submit to me and stand up after being halved. After consulting the directions, it came to light that I had not yet read any of the directions. I was not supposed to cut the pear in half because a halved pear cannot balance. I sacrificed the pear for no reason. So we brought in a green apple to act as runner-up to the pear, who was unable to fulfill his role. But there is always a silver lining. We got to watch G.R. confront his texture issues whilst trying to eat a grainy pear.

Then, we faced a grim reality. None of the pears were capable of balancing. The author of the craft had warned of this dilemma and encouraged checking the pears balance potential before purchase, which tells me Walmart grocery pick up is not yet available in her area. I tend to live on the wild side of suburban life, so I let the grocery pick up associate choose my pears. And you know what? I am not even going to call Walmart to complain about the instability of the pears they sell because it is the holiday season. I choose grace. We are over-comers in this house, so we stoically jammed toothpicks up the pears hindquarters to prop them up.

Things went further south because I had gone rogue, deciding against purchasing candy eyes. We already had google eyes in our craft bin, so I decided to practice frugality and save the 98 cents. That left wiggle room to afford the $4,683 worth of fruit the crafts required. Unfortunately, I had failed to factor in the humongous size of the google eyes we owned.

Our turkeys look like they attended a riot just after being tested for glaucoma.

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Or maybe they are still reeling from taking a toothpick up the badonk. That seems fair.

But you know what? Making them was fun. We laughed. We spent time together. The kids tried the dried fruit and liked it, allowing me to give a moving soliloquy on the merits of just freaking trying things because you might freaking like them. Yes, my daughters bounced between 14 different emotions during the process, but that’s how everyone acts during the holidays, so I just found them to be festive. And I think crafts are nice during the holidays because they bring me to my knees, a convenient position in which to pray, and that keeps my focus on the actual reason for the season. It’s all beautifully connected.

Someday I will say to our girls, “Remember all the fun we had making those turkey pears? Let’s do that with your kids!” And hopefully, my daughters will look back on the experience fondly and agree wholeheartedly, only recalling when it is too late to turn back how our fingers transformed into bloody stumps from sliding dried fruit on sharp toothpicks. But it will be okay. Because they will be in charge and I am going to laugh at them.

The holidays can feel strikingly similar to navigating a Pinterest craft. A lot of emotional highs and lows. Continually jumping back and forth between having perspective and losing sight of it. Attempting perfection and then being humbled when it is not achieved. One day you might step outside and note that all your neighbor’s homes are lit up like a magical winter wonderland, and then turn and look at the Halloween pumpkins that still adorn your porch. That happened to my friend (me). Hopefully, in the end, we will carry the positive snippets away and forget the rest. We can call that holiday amnesia.

Stay tuned for Christmas crafts. I will make stuff like this fancy replica of a Christmas poke cake. Try to guess which one is mine.

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Happy holidays!

 

Charlie. Steps in Glue Traps. The End.

You know how you tell someone a story, and in the moment it is not funny and you don’t know why you are telling them?  Except that you are going nutty inside so you share to get it out? But in spite of your own feelings, that person’s reaction begins to reveal that it might be a bit funny? That is how our first blog post came to light.

Amanda and I had trudged through the mucky process of sorting out blogolicious words like platform, web hosting and domain. Then, WordPress maliciously pushed us harder and demanded we create a sample post. Amanda, being a good friend, naturally thought it would be hysterical to reference a day of Smith chaos.  It was, indeed, an insane one, chock-full of my children’s shenanigans.  Trey was out-of-town and I was busy preparing for house guests when our teeny new kitten stepped in a large glue trap I had left under a bed to catch scorpions. Oh, hey, DID I MENTION WE HAD SCORPIONS WHEN WE MOVED HERE? Also, do you know what it’s like when a kitten is covered in a glue trap?

Amanda responded with a comforting HAHAHAHA. And, soon afterward, when I went to read our first official post, I saw this and started to HAHAHAHA myself.

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This whole debacle started years ago when our children started asking us if they could have a cat. This was an easy answer for us. N-to-the-O. Trey and I are N-to-the-OT cat people. We are d-to-the-og people. Side note:  I have learned that there are varying degrees of dog people and Trey and I represent both ends of the spectrum. Trey thinks our golden retriever, Tucker, is a happy, loyal canine and he enjoys petting him as he walks in the door from work. I tend to be the type of dog person that smushes my face into Tuckie Wuckie’s grill multiple times a day while using a sickeningly sweet saccharine voice to ask him questions about his day. And sometimes I pretend as if he has answered me and I continue conversing with him about his pretend answers. That’s not weird…at all. Look, even Mark Twain said, “Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.” And so, long ago, it was established that Trey and I were officially dog people. The end.

And then we had children.  And the children would see little kittens when we were out and about.  And the children’s eyes would become googly and they would ask if we could have one.  This did not fall in line with what Trey and I had decided for our family.  We are DOG people.  So our answer was firm.  We had it down.  It went like this, “you can get a cat when you’re 30….the same year you can start to think about dating.  We don’t like cats.  We are not getting one.”  I mean, have you ever noticed that they have CLAWS?

But the children persisted.  So we told them our lines over and over and added words like “absolutely not” and “never.”  You know, the serious words that drive the point home and help you stand firm in your beliefs.  I mean, have you ever seen how UNPREDICTABLE cats are?  In fact, they are so bad that they have a bacterial infection with a fever named after them.  

In time we got the children to stop asking about the kitties.  We came to understand that they were wanting a pet they could be responsible for and call their own.  Let’s be honest, Tucker sleeps with me every single night.  He has no desire to pretend as if he’s their best friend.  That boy knows who feeds him, who lets him ride shotgun in the car, and who gets him this sweet hairdo worthy of landing him the coveted January spot in Golden Retrievers of San Antonio calendar.

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Hubba-hubba…

So, we solved the cat controversy by giving the kids….FISH!!!!  First came Lloyd, then came Berry.  Two itty bitty beta fish that were cute, colorful, AND smart.  My trio still insists they have taught them tricks.  Of course, these sweet things are in separate tanks because they are actually Siamese fighting fish named after an ancient clan of warriors.  And if you put them together they’ll peck at each other until one murders the other….but that’s neither here nor there, WE SOLVED THE CAT PROBLEM!  I mean, cats have litter boxes….who has time to clean up a box filled with littered cat thingies?!  Not this family.  We only have time for fish full of such venom and hatred that they must live out their lives in solitary confinement.

And then last summer happened.  Our oldest was turning twelve and entering middle school.  She has a heart of gold and is incredibly responsible.  Her love language is not “stuff,” but she has always treasured meaningful gifts.  She’s our less-is-more gal.  And at the top of her birthday list was….a cat.  She came to me and said, “Mom, is there really no way that we can ever have a cat?  The neighbors all have them live outside during the day and in their garage at night.  They keep all the snakes and critters away.  Do you think that if maybe I put together a Powerpoint presentation for you and daddy about why cats are a good thing, then maybe you would think about it?”  And it happened, my heart started to crack.  I mean, cats are terrible, but are they THAT terrible?  

And honestly, as someone who has personally pledged to help my kids live life to the fullest, I’m pretty sure basing our decisions on the rationale of “because that’s the way we have always been” and “we don’t feel like it, so no,” isn’t the wisest. And so, after talking with multiple friends who we trust and who have all loved having a cat at one time or another, we revamped our thinking. Hailey woke up on her birthday in August and received a letter stating that she was going to get to pick out a kitty to rescue. She’s typically our most reserved child, but on this day there was no doubt from her reaction that we had hit one out of the park for her.

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A few days later we hit the local shelters.  All the girls got to pick out the kitten, but Hailey had final say.  She found a 1 pound ball of love that had been abandoned in a storm drain, but socialized well with humans.  She looked at me, said, “this is the one, Mom!!!  I want her.”  She named her Charlie and we brought our newest girl home.  I had no earthly idea what to do with her and her claws and the engine like noise that she made when someone held her, but my girls naturally began loving the heck out of her.

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You would think this could be the end of this lovely story.  But nope.  Approximately two weeks after having her home, I heard desperate pleas and screams coming from upstairs and for me to come quick because there was an EMERGENCY!!!  I dropped everything in a panic and ran and heard all kinds of wails coming from Hailey’s room.  Two of my kids had their heads buried under covers yelling, “WE CAN’T WATCH!!! HELLLLLLLP!!!”  Hailey was jumping up and down saying, “MOM!!!  MOM!!!!  GET HER!!!  OH NOOOO!!!!” on repeat.  And Charlie, well, Charlie was a hot mess.  She had gone exploring in Hailey’s room, made it under her bed, and had found the long forgotten glue trap.  She wasn’t so happy that she had touched this piece of plastic and it didn’t let go of her.  To remove the trap, she instinctively put her other paw in it, followed by a third, followed by her nose, and she rounded out the misery by twisting her back flat onto the sticky plate.  My girls were not the only ones shrieking either.  I received my introduction to the cat scream.  And the cat scream is deep, serious, and totally freaky scary coming out of a 1 pound body.

In the end, she survived, but I am sure she still has kitty nightmares.  Not only did I quickly learn how to hold her, I realized I truly loved that furry little thing.  We scrubbed vegetable oil over her entire body while pulling long strings of glue out of her fur over and over and over again.  She stopped fighting us and just became this little pathetic, sad, sticky kitty.  We shampooed her and she smelled so yummy.  We toweled her off and she just wanted to cuddle and I’ll be darned if I didn’t assign her a new ridiculous voice that I use only when I am holding her.  I mean, cats are so appreciative of being rescued, who wouldn’t love a cat?

The experience of adding Charlie to our family has taught me some lessons.   First, we all have certain ideas and thoughts drilled into our heads that we have accepted as our personal truths.  Sometimes, it’s healthy to revisit those and ask ourselves why we believe what we believe.  Why do I think this way?  When did I decide I would never own a cat?  And more importantly, WHY?  This also goes so far beyond adding an animal to a family.  

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We’ve got the holidays quickly approaching my friends.  And the holidays can be full of joy…..and stress.  We can quickly revert into old family roles and patterns. It is easy to fall back into, “I do it this way because that’s how it has always been done.” And this can place stress on our marriages and children.  Meaning, the people who were not around when we originally developed these thought patterns.  If your answer is something like “because I said so and that’s that” or “I don’t even KNOW” or “that’s how we have always lived so we have to keep doing it” then it might be time to reevaluate.  Maybe something new could be in the works for you!  Or maybe you’ll find that the answers to your questions are clear and easy to answer.  Oftentimes when my answers are grounded in my faith and are backed up by Scripture that I hold so dearly for my decision-making, I know that I am choosing what is healthy for me and my family.  Taking time to think about our personal opinions and decisions is time well spent.

And, I will admit. It turns out that all the things I thought I would hate about a cat became my favorite. Charlie is moody, odd and she wigs out unpredictably.  She has the ability to make her fur puff straight out and I swear she jumps straight sideways sometimes.  And don’t even get me started on how INSANE she is when the sun goes down and she starts hunting our toes. She can sweetly purr on my lap one second and then chomp down on something random like my earlobe the next.  Turns out, this is the perfect contrast to our Tucker and to our fighting warrior fish. I love Charlie. But Trey…well…Trey still really likes Tucker.

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Day Dating: A Post Preschool Perk

My husband and I went on a day date today, which is like a night date without the alcohol or babysitters. And when I say “without alcohol,” I mean that I drank a Mexican Mule at lunch, so there was absolutely alcohol. The menu included hand-crafted cocktails and I felt convicted in the moment to start intentionally supporting people pursuing the art of being hand-crafty. Since my lunchtime alcohol consumption was done with intention and conviction there is zero room for judgment, only for commendation. Plus, no food with the word “Mexican” in front of it can ever go wrong. Unless it does, and then the results are straight up catastrophic.

We were on this day date because we realize we have to make changes. Our lives have come to revolve around things like work, work travel, elementary school schedules, our children’s activities, daily chores, and paying $300 for a vet to wrap a plastic cone around our dog’s head. I feel at times like we are checking off a list rather than truly living life. And I know if we continue this pattern it will become hard to remember what we loved about each other in the first place. And also hard to remember what we like about ourselves. And what we like about our expensive, cone-sporting dog. Not really, he’s always my favorite. At any rate, we know this pattern cannot continue.

We have reached a place of transition. Our littlest went off to kindergarten this year and our oldest, while still very much a kid, is pretty self-sufficient. Moving into this new place has been exciting, and to be honest, a bit of a relief. So many things can be enjoyed with ease now because everyone goes to the bathroom on their own, everyone gets in and out of the car on their own, everyone knows to sneak snacks out of the pantry on their own, saving me from the dreaded role of Healthy Snack Patrol Officer. But this transition has revealed some cracks within our relationship and has placed some of the spotlight back on ourselves as individuals.

Resurfacing are all the things we put on the back-burner while we learned to stop sleeping and start juggling babies, then toddlers and then preschoolers. We are both coming out of a fog and remembering we are not just parents. Rather we are people with individual preferences and beliefs. Some alike and some that differ and conflict. We are a bit uncertain about what kind of people we will be in this phase of life, and as we navigate this stuff personally, we absolutely must remember we are partners in it all. And I am so thankful for that. Basically, what I am saying is that this is not complicated at all.

We are making little changes. We are carving out time for each other. We are doing crazy things like asking each other questions that don’t involve carpool or the Disney Channel. It felt so good to laugh and be outside of the heaviness of daily responsibilities. When you are in the mundane of everyday life, sometimes you are unable to realize that you need to step out and take time away to simply have fun.

Someday these kids will be gone and off at college, angelically adhering to all rules of social decorum while wearing loose-fitting frocks that cover all their areas.They will be earnestly working towards locking down medical degrees, so they can star in my humble brag Christmas cards. Obviously, we all know that scenario is a little ridiculous. I will never be able to pull off sending Christmas cards. 

When that time comes it will be awkward for G.R. and I to stand in sports complexes watching the volleyball games of random children, so we need to keep building this relationship now. So that as our kids grow up, our relationship does too. I really like these kids living in this hizzle, but when they venture out into the world, so will we.  

The truth is I need my husband. No one else automatically rolls the car window down after someone sneezes knowing I have a 7th grade science movie graphically depicting a sneeze permanently ingrained into my brain. And he’s the kind of heroic soul that can work a french press in the early morning hours, a time in which I can only lay and weep at the feet of our Keurig and the heavy weight of its demands. Does he whistle in the morning? Yes, and it makes me want to die. But he also brings me the good french pressed coffee in bed. And he’s taught our kids to be whistle-y in the morning too. This will serve them better than what I offer which is a front row seat as I eek through the stages of grief, finally landing at acceptance that it is morning.

I share this because I know these struggles are true for all of us. And things like social media damage our perceptions of what is real in even our closest friends’ lives. I am not posting pictures of my kids hating what I cooked for dinner (again), or me loudly loading the dishwasher to assure my family is aware of my righteous indignation. Nor will I post pictures of G.R. scratching his head in frustration (Side note: G.R.’s hair has been falling out steadily for 16 years now, which is weird because I have been the calming presence that has graced his life for the past 16 years). Plus it would be inappropriate for us to do that anyway. The best we can do is keep in mind that everyone has their crap and that news feeds are full of highlight reels and masked dysfunction. Except for you, yours is perfect and I love it.

I cannot tie this up in a pretty little bow because marriage is a work in progress. Just know that as you live real life today, I am too, and it is not all pictures of my kids being cute as social media may suggest. Sometimes it is just plain messy. And sometimes it is Mosby looking like a plastic cone birthed his head.

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Altering Our Technique

Is it appropriate to send flowers to the Walgreens immunization-trained health care professional that saw my youngest two children? I really do hope her hearing returns by 2017.  We experienced a “minor” (MAJOR) freak out there a few days ago.  

The day started off lovely.  My little two slept in a bit because they had doctor appointments that morning and taking them to school for only an hour before having to pick them up seemed, well….like so much effort, especially for this non-morning person Mama.  We high-fived the extra hour of sleep instead.  We went to meet a new pediatrician.  Over a year has passed since moving to a new Texas town, so it was time to officially fill out all the paperwork in all the land and switch over all the doctors.  This also meant that my hand felt the beginning stages of carpal tunnel.  

Anyways, I was a good mom.  I prepared the children.  I set appropriate expectations.  Being that they are 7 and 9 I figured they could handle this.  I told them they would be getting a flu shot.  That went over fine because, you know…..they had always chosen to snort the live virus and forego the eensy teeny tiny needle.  So then I over prepared the children by telling them that the flu mist wasn’t available and that the only option was the shot.  They knew of this information approximately a week before the visit.

Maybe finding Reese in the fetal position in her bed crying the night before the appointment should have been my first clue that my “good momming” was not going to have the outcome I had hoped.  I comforted her.  I assured her that even though so-and-so told her that the shot absolutely is the worst pain EVER and lasted for WEEKS that this was not true and the ear piercings she experienced months before were WAY worse than this shot.  Of course, she replied, “MOM!  IT WAS SO PAINFUL TO PIERCE MY EARS!  THIS DOES NOT HELP!”  Look, I tried.  I am not always the human form of a big bowl of mac-and-cheese comfort food.

But no worries, because Landry the 7-year-old, had been announcing to the entire family as many times as possible, “YOU GUYS….HOW IS IT THAT I AM THE BABY OF THE FAMILY AND I AM THE ONLY ONE NOT FREAKED OUT ABOUT THIS?”  I don’t know, but YOU GO little caboose.

We arrived.  We received the call to go back, they weighed, they measured height, they swiped forehead temperatures, the children were winning this appointment by answering the nurses questions about their ages and where they attended school and then she left the room.  And then, like a storm that comes from out of nowhere, I looked and Reese went down!  Tears flowed freely and her voice exponentially upped some levels.  And then….mmm hmmm…..my youngest folded like a wet napkin and she joined the newly formed Choir of Agony led by Reese.  As you can imagine, I knew at that moment that I was not going to be awarded Mom of the Day by this physician’s practice.

However, hope returned!  The nurse returned to deliver the news that they were totally out of flu shots!  There was NO WAY they would even be getting a shot…..until the shipment arrived and I brought them back after school.  I said, “Girlies!  Great news!  NO SHOTS!!! YAYYY!!!!  You can stop crying because you aren’t getting them now!”  Sweet relief.  Except they started crying harder and let me know that they were going to think about the shot allllll dayyyyyyy because they just knew I’d bring them back for the arm amputation that afternoon.  They finally did simmer down and finish out the appointment like only semi traumatized kids.

So when we left, I dug into my mental mom bag.  I altered my technique.  

Me:  Hey girls, before I drop you off at school, I need to go to Walgreens.  LET’S GO!

Girls:  YAY!!!  NO SCHOOL YET!!!

Landry:  Why are you in the line for the medicine person Mommy?

Me:  I have to ask them a question.  Hey, you two, have a seat over there in that little kind of office section.

Landry:  Why are we still sitting here?  And I heard you tell them my birthday, why were you doing that?

Reese: Can I play Pokemon Go?  ←- much easier child to deal with when oblivious to impending situation.

Me:  Hey look in this magazine, did you see these funky shoes?  AREN’T THOSE CRAZY????

Shot Lady:  Landry….Reese…..come on back!

*******TENSION EXUDING FROM CHILDREN*******

Girls:  WHY ARE WE IN HERE?  MOM…..ARE YOU MAKING US GET THE SHOT NOWWWW???????

I cannot appropriately express with typed words the level of screams, the attempted hiding in corners while assuming the fetal position, the amount of tears and the flashing of future therapy sessions in my mind that occurred over the next 3 minutes.  It was ugly.  There was no reasoning.  There were no words to ease this blaring meltdown.  The technician quickly felt the interior of her brain suddenly go from “happy morning” to “ferocious migraine”….sorry bout that.  And three minutes later…

Reese: MOMMMM!!!!!  IT’S GOING TO BE THE WORRRSTTTT PAINNNNNN EE…

*****shot goes in***

Reese: ver.  (starts laughing) Hey!  That didn’t even hurt.  OH MY GOSH THAT DIDN’T EVEN HURT!  HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!  Cool Bandaid!

Landry:  NOOOO! IT WILLLLL HURRRRTTTT M….

****shot goes in****

Landry: ..e.  HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!  THAT WAS SO EASY AND I BARELY FELT ANYTHING!!! SO FUNNY, RIGHT REESE?!

We exited to an entire line of adults standing at the pharmacy line staring at us.  They were expecting at least 1,000 kids smushed in the room to leave with the noise level we exhibited and were waiting to see painful, gaping, open wounds which would justify the screams.  When they saw the girls, almost all of them started sympathetically chuckling and telling the girls that they did a good job.   

We left.  I took them to an early lunch.  They were so light on their feet as we went for food.  Weights had been lifted off their shoulders and they told me they were SO GLAD they didn’t wait until after school to go back to the doctor because they had been so overcome with worry.  They started giggling so hard they snorted reliving their past hour and half.  Deep belly laughs were heard all throughout that sandwich shop as they felt the sweet relief of their fears not coming to fruition.

It got me to thinking, how many times do we, as adults, mentally freak out over thoughts we build up in our mind?  Fear can be such a jerk.  It can overtake our emotions like a flood and hijack our rational thoughts.  

So often, we assume and prepare for the worst possible impending wound, when in actuality we might have a minor poke coming our way.  Or just maybe that “wound” could even be FOR US….to protect us or end up being a blessing.  

So today I encourage you to think of parts of your life where fear might be holding you back.  Maybe your brain is whispering things like “what if.”  I use to suffer from the “what ifs” quite often.  I’ve gotten better about it through talking with Trey.  He always has the same response to this anxiety and fear filled question.  It goes like this…

Me:  Trey, but WHAT IF this ends up happening?  

Trey:  What if?

Me:  Trey, but WHAT IF people think ____?

Trey:  What if?

Me:  Trey, but WHAT IF I ruin ____?

Trey:  What if?

And he’s right.  His response is so simple, yet always so true.  WHAT IF?  What if we fail?  What if people think blahhhh about us or our choices?  

The Bible has something to say about us and our choices when we make them with intentions and desire to honor and glorify God.  Things like:

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1)

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

Does He promise things will go smoothly?  Nope.  Does He promise everything will work out just how we want?  Nope.  But you will never be alone.  You are infinitely loved.  There is no mental freak out that He cannot handle or behavior that surprises Him.  He is our steady in the chaos.

Sometimes we have to fight our fears.  We have to lean towards the uncomfortable rather than letting fear paralyze us and hold us back.  We have to alter our technique.

My girls did.  Albeit, they did it while sitting on my lap and me so “gently” holding them down and whispering in their ear that it was going to be okay.  They were stuck with me helping them….sorry about that girls.  But we all have God….the ultimate comforter.

And do you know who else should get to experience God being the ultimate comforter to these little ladies next year?  Trey.  As his wife, I am deeply invested in his spiritual life and will not let him miss out on a religious experience. So, next year, it will be flu church for the entire family.

Have a great day everyone.  We can do hard things.  

Back Off Bears

Last June, Katie and I took a trip to Colorado to launch our blog. Our husbands, excited and supportive of us, pushed us to use the time to write and plan while free of children and responsibilities. So we zip lined, ate, drank, hiked, ate, rafted, and drank all week and started our blog 6 months later. These things can’t be rushed we explained.

While we were on the mountain I was absolutely convinced we were going to be eaten by bears. It really seemed likely. Rather, given our collective life experiences and general personality traits it felt entirely unavoidable. And the best advice people have for bear confrontations is to look tall and speak loudly. This is useless, I am always 5’4. On my tiptoes I can aim for a questionable 5’5, but I will never “look tall”. That’s not even a thing. But I am quite loud, and in this situation that becomes a coveted life skill, which is kind of nice and flattering. But flattery was going to get me nowhere, so I just accepted that this was how I was going to die.

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As we walked through the mountains I was on high alert. But time passed and I began thinking: what is this strange feeling? I don’t recognize this sensation. I figured out I was relaxed. Immediately I knew this meant an attack was imminent, probably underway. I had grown complacent. I needed to step it up, scan the periphery. So I scanned and looked for a black bear.. or a grizzly bear.  For all I knew, it could have been a Berenstain Bear, because I had no actual clue what I was looking for, but I was certain that when our eyes locked it would become clear to both of us. All of my senses were heightened while my eyes darted around.

Which was unfortunate, because the exact moment that I realized I had dropped bear duty (I’m not fixing that sentence because it’s just such a glorious happy accident) and decided to buckle down, Katie gasped. Loudly.

She gasped in a way that one should ONLY gasp if one of the following is occurring:

1) You have caught on fire.

2) You just gathered yourself after tripping badonk over noggin on top of a bear cub, only to stand up and find the mother “looking tall” and looming over you while making a Chewbacca noise.

3) You realized the guy you didn’t fully understand in India circa 1999, but said yes to anyway, is now putting a monkey on your head and taking a picture, which is apparently a thing they do to idiot tourists, and then when you’re all “Listen, I do not need a monkey on my head, nor did I ask for one,” they fight you on it. Then you are out money because you know you can’t explain what happened to the Indian police, who have now been alerted, and while you know the police understand what happened, there is a vibe of solidarity amidst the monkey guy and the police forged upon the fact that they both agree you are an idiot. And traveling to foreign countries to help forge common bonds among people is nice, so you pay the money. And your friend does get the picture, so even though you have a monkey disease now, you also have a picture marking the moment you learned that you can get a passport and go on a religion class field trip to India, but it does not make you worldly. And your life is now divided into the part before the monkey was on your head and your new life afterward.

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(Note: Let’s talk about my people pleasing tendencies another time, shown above through my forced smile.)

So, Katie gasped and I swear to you on all that is holy and pure and right in this world, the adrenaline surge that swept through my body could have powered a small city.  During those  seconds I made plans to befriend the bear, and for my funeral and became excited about how I would finally be on the cover of People. When I thought about my funeral I knew exactly which friends would be laughing over how I had died, and I contemplated how much I liked them for that fact alone. I also knew that I wanted The Fray to sing “Be Still”. And I’m not going to lie, it’s a bit of a let down that I didn’t die so The Fray won’t be singing at my funeral, but I take solace in knowing that even had I died, The Fray do not know me and would definitely not have sung at my funeral. Thank God for small favors.

So I looked over at Katie, ready to face my fate. And she was gazing happily at a deer that had frolicked upon us. Or an elk, or a caribou, or a marmot, one can not really know. Here is what I do know, it was not a bear and we did not die.

The End.

Hi. We made a blog. We think. We aren’t totally sure.

Here is the deal. We don’t know what we are doing.

We are both in the midst of sorting out a plethora of things during this phase of life. But also, we have not one clue what we are doing with this blog.

We just spent 20 minutes on FaceTime trying to log on to our own website. A website we created months ago. And during the entirety of that conversation, which was basically us randomly shouting out things we thought might be the password, we could not actually see each other because FaceTime was broken.  And I think we all know that FaceTime was not broken.

But I like to think Maya Angelou was going through something similar when she said, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” That tells me Maya Angelou believes that  one day we will have options for our profile picture, because we will know how to change it.  With the late Maya Angelou being so supportive of our little blog, we know we’ve got this.

So we start this thing today because if we wait until we know what we are doing, it will never ever happen. Hopefully you will join us as we sort out life and this blog. Life can be hard, but based on what we have seen blog wise so far, we may actually figure that out first and that will be exciting and handy for everyone, so there will be no losers.

If you happen to already have life figured out, please know this: We think you are amazing. But please do not follow us because no offense, and we mean this in the very best way, you are a liar. It would be impossible to sit and read our blog anyway with your  pants on fire.

Everyone else hop on. It is either going to go fantastically well or be a spectacular failure, you will not want to miss it either way.
(One thing we have figured out…Insta and Facebook pages. Because sharing ridiculous memes is an absolute priority. Join both by clicking on the buttons to the right. )
 
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