Nature is 17

September 9, 2017

Today is one of the 3 days in the year when all bad thoughts leave me.  In almost 50 years of living, I have naturally accumulated a fair amount of bitterness and regret, but on this day I am always awash with joy.  On this day, I get to enjoy the fruits of my labor; literally.  Our not-so-little boy turns 17 today, and celebrating birthdays is one of my favorite parts of this job. It’s the time of year that gives me the fuel to zoom through the year ahead.

You hear it all the time, “Parenting is a thankless job.”  When they are young, you will follow one kid to pick up the mess, and have another kid following you, making even more of a mess behind you. When they are potty training, you find yourself asking every 15 minutes “Do you need to pee? How about now? How about now?  Ah shit, you already peed in your pants, eh?” And you wash the wet sheets, pants, undies, chair, carseat, etc., over and over and over… When they start Kindergarten, you let them go with your heart in your throat, frantically wondering if they will remember what you taught them; to listen to the teacher, to play nicely with others, and to try not to pee in their pants. You pick them up after school, and then you begin the many years of Homework Hell.  “Do you have homework?” “Don’t forget to do your homework.”  “Do your homework before you go out with your friends.” “I don’t care what time it is now; you need to finish your homework!” “You say you forgot your homework on the kitchen table?  I’ll bring it to school for you…*sigh*” And there will never be enough food in the world to fill their bottomless stomachs. The Hungry Caterpillar ain’t got nuthin’ on growing children.  At least the caterpillar couldn’t whine, “I’m HUNNGGRRRYYYY!” all day long. In between meals, there are life lessons you try to teach every day; you try to teach them about honesty, integrity, loyalty; you encourage them to do their best, to be creative, to have fun, to not give up. You hope these things stick, but you don’t have x-ray vision, so you don’t know.

Then, seemingly overnight, they spin a Teenage Chrysalis, waking up with dark moods and melancholy, filtering the world through the walls of their hormone-filled cocoon.  There are times when no amount of logic will penetrate, everything you do is wrong, and it seems as if all the love you offer is unwanted. You look in the mirror and wonder why you chose to stay at home to endlessly cook and clean for kids who seem not to care. You feel like you are talking to zombies when you do your best to teach them how to make good choices, how to be responsible, and how to be kind.  Even after you send them off to college, you occasionally hear news of crazy times and behavior that makes you cringe and wonder if they ever listened to you at all.

As a full-time Stay-at-Home Mom, there are still many days when I hiss to myself, “And I do this to myself…FOR FREEEEE?!” Where are our paychecks? Where is my 401K and who will match it for me?  Every two weeks, most of you get some cold hard cash for your efforts in the workplace. Over the past 24 years, I have been given pee on the floor, vomit in my hands, chunks of self-cut hair, bubblegum stuck under tables, and dried boogers stuck on walls.  Try buying a nice pair of shoes with that.

But this job does have great benefits.  When they were young and I threw up my hands, fed up with the never-ending need for cleaning, only then did I notice that the kids were playing together, laughing great big belly laughs that made me grin. When little Simon was potty training, he ran around naked all day, stuttering and lisping, “NO C-C-C-C-CLOTHETH!  I AM NATURE! Nature d-dd-doethn’t need no clotheth!”  And when I woke up in the middle of every night to carry him to the bathroom so his little bladder wouldn’t wet the sheets, his head would lay heavily on my shoulder and he would sleepily whisper, “I luh-yoo Mama.” In Kindergarten, I had extra fear and anxiety – would the other kids tease him about his special (Ectrodactyly) hand? Would he be sad because he could never swing on the monkey bars like the other kids?  Instead, ever-sunny Simon came home and crowed, “BEST FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL EVER!” And Homework Hell?  Ok, I admit it –  I’m still suffering in it.  Nobody is perfect, eh? But this year, he seems to have a new resolve to try harder and hasn’t repeated his usual lines from the last year (“school is boring – what am I going to need the memorized Table of Elements for in my real life?!”). He is still my Hungry Caterpillar – never NOT hungry – very Hobbit-like with his second breakfasts, and suppers following dinners. He keeps track of his macronutrients and avoids trans fats and sugar like a mature adult, but his weakness for Nutella betrays the little kid inside. He is a body-building machine, but isn’t such a fanatic that he would say no to a spam musubi. Simon couldn’t avoid spinning and living in the dreaded Teen Chrysalis for the past couple of years, with its dark package of moodiness and short temper; but he wouldn’t be human otherwise. It’s part of his differentiating and it is the actual Pain in Growing Pains. Having survived 2 other teens, we know the light at the end of the tunnel is fast approaching so we will indulge him every now and then. Even now, he is already more thoughtful and self-reflective…quicker to apologize and slower to anger.

We’ve tried to teach him everything he needs to become what we have always wished for our children: to be a kind person who stands up for those who cannot do for themselves, and a thoughtful person who tries his best to contribute Good to the world.  Lofty goals for a little boy. I still don’t have x-ray vision, so I still don’t know if all of our lessons truly stuck.  But when he came home to tell us about a bully hitting another boy last year, and how he pulled that bully off of the boy and stuck up for the boy, I thought, “Loyalty-CHECK. Kindness-CHECK” When we spent this summer trying to tempt him to come away and vacation in fun places with us, and he responded with, “Aw, I wish, but I don’t want to let the coaches down. They want us to go to workouts every day – I can’t be a slacker” I thought, “Honesty-CHECK. Integrity-CHECK. Trying his best-CHECK.” When Simon loves, he loves big.  He loves being a linebacker, he loves throwing the javelin, he loves anything that makes him laugh, he loves his friends, and he loves his family.  He’s a hulking 6 feet tall and never hesitates to stoop down and give his short little parents hugs and kisses, no matter where we are.  His voice is an octave lower now, but he is still not afraid to holler, “I LOVE YOU!” even if he’s on a busy street or surrounded by other kids at school.

So there you have it. The pay sucks, there’s no health insurance, and the last of the benefits is 2 years away from heading off to college. Sniff.  Today, however, the fruit of my labor woke up with a big smile on his face from helping his team win the varsity football game last night.  He will sit at the Birthday Breakfast Table, inhale his requested Eggs Benedict breakfast, and be thankful to open his birthday gifts. Since it is just the 2 of us for this birthday this year, he will be sad without the rest of the family to celebrate with him; but because he is my sunny Simon, he will make the best of it and try to make me laugh.  Did I actually complain about no paycheck in this career of mine?  PAYcheck?!  I don’t need no stinkin’ Paycheck! I also don’t really need x-ray vision – I have 3 loving, grown children, who are living proof that I did my job well.  Happy 17thBirthday, Nature!  And don’t forget that I luh-yoo too, Simon.

 

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Emmy’s Glue

December 13, 2018

You know Elmer’s Glue? We have Emmy’s Glue. When our family gets fractured, when we struggle to like each other, Emily reminds us that we are one. She is the only person I know who truly loves unconditionally.  If you have a heart, she has room in her heart for you.

Most kids grow up and escape to college, relieved to have the freedom that comes with living away from home. Emily left home with great reluctance, so terribly homesick. Maybe it was because the five of us had to pick up and move every few years of our lives, but the kids grew up best friends. Even though Emily is six years older than Hanna and eight years older than Simon, they are bound fast together. Emily wished so desperately for a sister and brothers when she was in preschool. She would beg every day, telling us that she met her two brothers and one sister as they all stood in line up in Heaven, waiting to come down to become our family.  She would tell us, “Hurry up, they’ve been waiting a long time!” When we finally had Hanna and Simon, it was like Christmas had come early for her. They couldn’t have asked for a better big sister. I like to think that even though we may have had children without the nudging of our cute little kindergartener, they may not have been these particular ones. After all, these ones were hand-picked by Emily up in Heaven. We didn’t know we needed it, but she gave our family new life.

Life has been tough at times, teaching Emmy strength while she struggled. She has had her heart broken by a boy, she has lost pieces of her heart when good friends have died, and she has had to tackle things in her twenties that most people won’t face until their sixties. How many of you got a call in the summer of your 22ndyear, telling you to drop your job and leave your boyfriend behind, so you could move home and help your mom recover from cancer? How many of you, facing the first Easter with your little brother and sister alone, worrying about your mom having surgery, managed to arrange the most amazing Easter egg hunt ever? Before the kids woke up, she had tied an end of yarn to each of them and they had to follow their lengths of yarn allllll over the house and garden to finally come upon their Easter baskets. They all described it to me later in the week, and I can just picture the spiderweb of colored yarn, crisscrossing through the house. She kept them busy and entertained, so there was no time to worry about me – pure genius.

When Emily went back to school that Fall, she realized that she really had enjoyed living at home.  Unfortunately, we moved to the Seattle area shortly after that, leaving her to finish university in Canada. We tried to fly her home or go out to visit her as often as we could, but goodbyes just got harder for her. Her birthday mornings boiled down to Facetime calls from us, singing Happy Birthday to her, and gifts and flowers sent via Amazon.com. When it was time for our birthdays, we would Facetime her into our breakfast celebrations and she would look on with longing. Whenever she visited, I could see that every moment was precious to her. Things as simple as walking the dog or having a family dinner were special events for her that she experienced and stored in her heart to remember on a lonely day in Calgary. When she was home, we all laughed more, loved more, and were reminded of how we shouldn’t take each other for granted. Every time we brought her to the airport to fly back to Calgary, she melted into tears to have to say goodbye again. We started telling her to stay.

Finally, when the flights home started becoming a monthly appointment, we started nagging her to move to Seattle the way she nagged us to have babies…” You’re gonna LOVE it!” “I promise to help!” “This is going to be so much FUN!” She finally gave in, transferred to Gonzaga University graduate school, and Markus drove her home to us with her two cats in tow on September 29th. She found a full-time job using her compassion and communication skills at the family-owned funeral home across the street and is acing her master’s program at Gonzaga. She walks home every day for lunch, and I love hearing her cheerful voice sing out, “I’m home!” when she walks in the door.

This morning, our whole family woke her up by singing Happy Birthday in-person. We brought her down to the breakfast celebration table and she ate homemade carrot cake decorated by Hanna. She unwrapped all her presents, ate Germany eggs, and drank lots of coffee to try to wake up. Then, she had to run to work. It was a hard day at work because she helped to conduct a viewing for a local boy who was Hanna’s age. Her compassion and empathy provide comfort to many, and the one thing that keeps her strong is her knowledge that she has us. She can afford to give away love, because she knows she will come home and be replenished.

Her Master’s thesis is shaping up to be something along the lines of the extent our society denies death and subsequently fears death. She believes death is a normal part of our journey and that it should be approached with peace, not fear. Using proper communication and leaning away from the sensationalized images of death from the media, we should be able to lift the stigma of death and change its taboo status. At the end of every work day, she comes into my office to sit down and share stories of what she experienced. Seeing dead people in-person is a shock and takes time to adjust to. She is doing an admirable job. It is such a pleasure to have lovely long conversations with this well-spoken, thoughtful young woman.

Finally, tonight, we all sat down to a delicious fondue feast prepared by Hanna and Markus and listened to Simon’s shocking work story. Forget dead people. He works at Gold’s Gym and today he helped thwart a robbery by a small group of young guys who have been committing a string of robberies at other Gold’s Gyms in the surrounding area. As we all exclaimed our shock and we broke out into chatter about how brave Simon was, I looked around and was struck by how brave we all are. There was a threat of a school shooting in our neighborhood just yesterday. There was an emailed threat at Hanna’s university today. There was a young man in a casket at Emily’s work, who died from fentanyl-laced drugs, leaving his family to grieve forever.

The world is fracturing. While we aren’t paying attention, we are growing more distant, it is becoming easier to say harsh things to one-another without empathy, and groups of people are shutting out others just because they are different. We all could use some Emmy’s Glue. Smile at a stranger, say hello when you walk into a room, hug the people you love and tell them you love them before you say goodbye.

Happy Birthday to our sweet Emily – we thank you for keeping our family stuck together. I’m so sorry I’m a few hours late. I l-o-v-e-y-o-u, my E-m-i-l-y!

 

Emily’s 25th Birthday

Every year on each person’s birthday other than my own, I write an essay of thoughts from my heart. I thought I would start posting them here so I don’t forget and also so you can have a little peek at who I love.  Emily is my oldest. I wrote this in 2017 when she turned 25.

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She’s my precious Guinea pig; she bore the brunt of my parenting growing pains. At the tender age of 25 when I gave birth to her, I had only just finished raising myself with little to no guidance in my own childhood. Slightly terrified, I worried that I would harm her because I grew up in a home full of verbal and physical violence and I thought the chain would continue through me.  How was I supposed to know what to say to a baby- how to treat a baby, when my own father told us that all children were cabbages until able to carry on an intelligent conversation?  I obviously had no lullabies sung to me; no bedtime stories; no “I love you, sweet dreams.” What was I to do?  Well, I formed a plan: for every parenting dilemma, I would ask myself, “what would my parents do?” and I would then proceed to do the opposite. As crazy as it sounded, it worked most of the time. Before she was even born, we spoke to her. From birth, I read hundreds and hundreds of nursery rhymes and bedtime stories, gave thousands upon thousands of kisses and hugs, and even made up an entire lullaby just for her. We could both sing it to you today, in an instant. We slept nose-to-nose and I love her like I was never able to love any another before her. Today my Emily turns 25 herself.  Evidently, my fears were unfounded. She is gentle, loving, patient, and wise.  Even though we chose not to hammer her with ambitious career goals and ungodly academic pressures, she blossomed in university and came to love learning. She possesses none of the fears I had at her age. She is secure in knowing she is smart, funny, and good-hearted.  This year, Emily finally found the love of her life, and because all of her actions have always been borne of love, she is completely surrounded by friends and family who feel blessed to have her in their lives.  The 25 years since her birth were years well spent with memories I will always cherish. The world is truly a better place with Emily in it. You are welcome, World.  Happy Birthday Emily Pemily!  I l-o-v-e y-o-u, my E-m-i-l-y.

An Ode to my Precioussssssss

I have survived turning 45.  Normally, age is not an issue for me.  The days leading up to the grand event did not portend impending doom, or even anything that mattered.  Growing up in my family, birthdays for children were of no consequence.  Actually, anything having to do with children was considered of no consequence.  My father used to think he was so witty, saying “Children are cabbages.  They’re not worth speaking to until they are educated and old enough to carry a reasonably intelligent conversation.” Such lovely sentiments that no level of brain-fog can erase from my aging brain, unfortunately.  On the plus side, the family I have been lucky enough to choose for myself, believes in Love and more Love, and my husband and I pull off some amazing family birthday celebrations.  That said, I still have a difficult time getting excited while anticipating my own birthday; I focus on our family tradition of the Birthday Boy or Girl giving a gift to each member of the family.  It makes for a very fun round of opening gifts at the breakfast table. And the rest of my birthday energy is spent preparing for the others’ birthdays during the year.  

So the days leading up to my big day were uneventful – only peppered by my silly husband grabbing my face in his hands and declaring, “I can’t BELIEVE you are going to be 45!!!  45!!!  So Old!!!” several times a day.  He’s two years younger than me, so he likes to think of me as a cougar.  Puh-leeze.  Between the face-grabbing and his jumping up and down with glee over some secret surprise, it was hard to ignore the looming date.  My oldest daughter, Emmy, was also home from university.  She must have been in on the secret too, because they would occasionally make eye contact, then giggle and clap their hands. Silly people.  

All I wanted for my birthday was something so enormously extravagant that I knew we couldn’t afford it. It was something so over-the-top I couldn’t even mention it out loud. Since I am a practical person, if I want something I know I can’t have, I try to put it out of my mind. Why think about it, if it isn’t going to happen, right?  Window shopping?  I hate it.  Why go into a store to look at stuff if you don’t have the money to buy it?  Some women love diamonds, some love shoes.  I like those things, but I LURVE technology.  Nothing puts a gleam in my eye like reading about processor speeds and RAM…sigh.  Over the years, I have been slowly seduced to the Dark Side by Apple.  It started with my first iPod Shuffle, and led to my iPad and my iPhone5.  Occasionally, I would surf the Apple Store site and illicitly drool over the Mac Books, closing the windows if someone were to walk by—feeling like I’d been surfing for porn.  But instead of splurging on big tech toys, we decided to help our children with university, and I had to settle for my old Dell laptop, keys sticky from my husband’s honey-bread mishap and his spilled latte.  First World problems, right?  Just close that window and move on, Sue. If asked what I wanted for my birthday, I replied, “plants!”

6:30am on the morning of February 22nd (yes, we get up for birthday celebrations BEFORE breakfast on school days) and I am gently kissed awake.  I open my eyes to the family singing Happy Birthday in the dark.  Quietly, my little boy puts his hands on my eyes and leads me through the dark to the kitchen, where pink and red streamers float from every surface, with pink and red hearts dangling all around.  The dining table is covered with gifts on one end, and our traditional German birthday candle ring on the other.  The birthday candle ring is a wooden circle, with holes to hold candles and little wooden pixies with felt clothes and hats (we call them our mannschgerl).  Instead of the number of candles needed to celebrate my birthday, the family made the smart move to light a “4” and a “5” candle.  More singing, and a very strong cup of espresso, had me sitting very happily for a few minutes, while my husband made me breakfast.  Then, the gifting began.

This was the year of scarves for me.  I am not a very fashionable person, but my good friend, my daughter,  and my big sister have unwittingly put an end to that!  I now have silk scarves, pashmina shawls, and floaty concoctions to drape for every occasion.  Look out, Jasper, I am changing the dress code… 

In between my lovely gifts, I handed out tickets to my family’s favorite hockey team’s game in Calgary, some love cups (the only kind of coffee cups we like in this house), and a iPad Mini to my oldest daughter (another addition from the cult of Apple).  I smiled because they smiled, and my heart grew bigger and bigger.

Then my husband made me cry by giving me a coffee cup that he had decorated himself.  A homemade love cup.  On it, he’d painted hearts and a love poem.  That was that, I thought.  The perfect ending to my perfect birthday.  I should have noticed the children holding their breath…and my husband’s suppressed smile.

Opening the wrapper on the box they handed me, I saw the words, “MacBook Pro.” No.  That couldn’t be right.  Blinkblinkblink.  The box still read “MacBook Pro.”  I thought maybe a pair of shoes wrapped up in MacBook Pro box?  A HaHa gift?  Lifting the top of the box, I saw the glow of brushed aluminum, and the apple…that yummy yummy apple…Christmas in February!!!!  

I am still in awe.  The touch pad, alone, is a wonder.  The retina display should come with a choir of angels that sings “Hallelujah!” every time I open the laptop.  This is all very bad.  I think Tolkien was mistaken.  Gollum wasn’t corrupted by a stinking ring.  He was given a 15″ MacBook Pro with Retina Display on his 45th birthday.  And soon he forgot about his Love.   He forgot to make dinners and pick up kids from school.  And he shriveled up and moved into the underground caves of the dwarves.  I’ll make sure to leave my forwarding address to his spare room…jussst don’t give it to that filthy Bagginsesssssss.  What.  Did you think Ode to my Preciousss was about my husband?  What husband?  All I can see issss my Precioussss with the 2.7 GHz processor and the lurvely retina dissssplay…

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