Sixty Five Year Old Watch

The first time I met you, you sat there a little frustrated trying to get the doors open. They wouldn’t work. You asked my son if he would open the door for you. And then you gently asked me if I would push your wheelchair outside to the curb. I asked where you were going. To pick up your watch, you said. Then, you told me all about your watch. How the battery finally died after sixty-five years. They had to find a part for it in Europe. You bought it as a college graduation present from the bookstore at Georgetown University. I was impressed with both your ability to keep a watch for sixty-five years and the watch’s ability to keep working. My four-year old anxiously waited for me as I listened to you tell me a few more stories. You told me about watching Joe DiMaggio play baseball. How you and your wealthy friend chose to sit out in the outfield just to be near Joe. Then, your ride pulled up to the curb. You looked up at me and said, “thanks for talking with me.” And I could have cried because I felt the sincerity and appreciation in your voice. I also felt the loneliness. I could tell that you have a lot of pent-up stories. Really great stories. Waiting to be told. I couldn’t stop thinking about you. I wanted to buy you a Royals shirt. And visit with you again next time I came to see my grandma.

Yesterday, as I walked up with my three boys dressed in their Halloween costumes, I recognized you. You sat there in your wheelchair, again, waiting at the curb for your ride. I remembered and looked down at your wrist. You were wearing your Georgetown University watch. How could a sixty-five year old watch still look so good? I reached down. You touched my hand. And I felt the loneliness again. You took your watch off for me to hold. I admired it as my three boys bounced around in their costumes. I handed it back to you and touched your hands again. On purpose. You were going out for Italian food. You asked me if I knew you were Italian. Nope, I said. I told you that I liked Italian food too. You told me your favorite pasta to order. I needed to get my busy boys inside to go see their great Grandma. Your ride pulled up. Perfect timing. You told me I should come have a drink with you guys sometime. I said that sounded good. I should probably let my husband know.

I hope if I live long enough to need help getting out to the curb in my wheelchair or need someone to talk to that somebody will be there. And stop. And listen. And touch my hand. I began overthinking and feeling so spoiled by all of the touch I receive. On a daily basis. From my three little dependents. One four-year old boy constantly wanting to be held. Bear hugging me. Climbing on me. Grabbing my hair, my face, everything. And two nearly seven-year old boys who will ask regularly to sit next to me or will reach up and say, “Mommy, could you hold my hand?” I got to thinking that I have enough touch that I could probably share some of it. Or at the very least, try to cherish and appreciate this fleeting over-touching phase of motherhood. I have felt the enormous power in gentle, loving, and meaningful touch. I feel it every time I hug my grandma before I leave. I see it as my grandma and other residents reach out to touch my boys’ hair or hands. It’s hard to imagine a day where I won’t reach down a hundred times and touch my sons’ hair or hands or where they won’t climb on my lap or jump onto my back. Over and over again. The reality is that it’s a short stage in my life and theirs comparitively speaking. And as hard as it may be on some long and exhausting days, I’m going to try harder to appreciate and remember the feeling of a full lap, a held hand, and the abundance of touch in this phase of my life. I was reminded of the gift as I placed a sixty five year old watch on a new friend’s wrist.

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The Blood Drive

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There was a time last September when the cold lake water combined with my junked up lungs proved to be a near deadly combination. My three year old son wore a life jacket in the water, holding onto me. In hindsight, I realize I should have worn a life jacket too that day. As we waited in the water and the boat circled around, I began having an increasingly more difficult time treading water. And breathing got so hard. I felt like all of the air was gone every time I desperately tried to suck some of it in. It was a horribly scary feeling. Suffocating somehow yet out in the middle of a lake. I knew I could not go under water. For fear of not coming back up. In a short amount of time, I began feeling desperate. My three year old knew I was scared. I started pushing him off of me. I could not take the added weight of him holding onto me. Onto my lungs. My oldest sister, Anna, watched nervously from the boat. She knew my capabilities, my strength, and my ability to persevere. But she saw me struggling. She knew the kind of mother I am. She knew I would never push my child away from me. Unless I had to.

It’s a painful moment to remember and write about. I can still see his face. And feel him desperately grabbing for me and crying in the freezing September water. Scared. Cold. Sensing my fear. My older sister’s instinct kicked in, as it has so many times before. She jumped from the boat and swam out to me. She’s strong. Fierce. A protector. A mother to her own five children. And she also mothers the world. And that day, she mothered me and my son. I will never know for sure, but she may have saved my life.

Anna quickly swam out to my son and I. She took my son which helped me focus on getting to the boat that pulled up along side of us. I swam, rather doggy paddled to the boat. I held on to the side and did not, would not let go. I vividly remember stretching both arms towards the boat. Holding onto it. So relieved, breathing the hardest and best I could, yet I just could not catch my breath. I felt like I had never been so exhausted. And scared for my life. In my life.

Fast forward to today. I anxiously sat across from a community blood drive employee and pleaded with him to let me give blood. My lungs are doing great or else I wouldn’t be here attempting to give blood, I told him. They’re not flared up. I’m not having to do treatments. He called his supervisor. He has never met someone with “bronchiectasis.” My four year old son sat on my lap. The same son who was in the water with me that day. I wanted him to witness me being strong, healthy and humbly giving blood that may help save somebody’s life. Like the blood that somebody gave years ago that helped save my life when I was dying as an eighteen year old. I knew the employee was going to say I couldn’t give blood. And he did. It hurt. I carried my son as we walked to the car.

When you want so badly to do something and you can’t, that hurts. When you have a reason, a really meaningful reason why you want to do something, but you can’t because of a disease you have, it’s really difficult to accept. I will anxiously wait to hear back from New York to learn if I ever will be able to give blood. If you can give blood, even if you don’t want to, would you consider doing it for me? Or more importantly, would you do it for all the kids and adults who are too sick to ask you to give blood for them? Because you can. Because you won’t be denied. Because you’re healthy enough. Because you possess an abundance of life pumping through your beating heart, healthy lungs and body. Somebody else just needs a little. And like I tell kids every weekend when we do a blood draw, “the awesome and cool thing about your body is that it will make more blood.” Please donate.❤️

Invisible Burdens

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I’m sorry. I couldn’t tell you this the other night. I couldn’t be responsible for your feelings. Not that night. I sat at the kitchen table in the dark. Paralysed. Consumed. Affected. Hurting. Decompressing after a horribly long and painful day at work. You wanted to help me. I knew I was hungry. And that I needed to eat something. I just didn’t know what. I felt like I was going to throw up. Or was my stomach in knots. I was just so sad. Eating seemed like such a trivial thing to do. I was short. I was rude. I was broken. And you stood there as long as you could. I’m sorry again.

I didn’t know what I needed from you. I didn’t want to expose you to the painful reality of life. Inside of those hospital walls. I wanted to protect you but I needed to tell you. I needed to say the words. I needed to cry. Hard. I needed to feel like you would hold me. I needed you to say that as much as I hurt, I helped in some small way today. I needed you to say that as hard as my job is sometimes, I have to keep on doing it. Because of how much it hurts. Because of how much I care. Because of how much I love people that I just met. I needed you to tell me that you love me. That you love my broken heart. I needed you to say, “I’m so sorry. So very sorry for what you saw. What you heard. What you had to do.” Even if you couldn’t begin to know how awful it was. Because I didn’t want you to know.

I’m sorry that you often witness me carrying the heavy, seemingly invisible burdens of a helping profession. The burdens that you know are not invisible. You witness my dark eyes stained with the mascara that has run all over the place. And also somehow lingered underneath my eyes. You witness me struggling, hurting, and questioning. I’m sorry that you get ignored or mistreated sometimes because I just can’t help one more person. And so you temporarily get the short end of the stick. Until I have cried. Until I have tried to make sense of it. Until I have come to peace with my small role.

Thank you for loving me through the hard stuff. Thank you for not wanting me to quit. Thank you for holding my shaking body. Thank you for waiting up for me. Even though it may have seemed pointless. Thank you for encouraging me. Even when I seemed distant. Thank you for the burdens that you gracefully carry as a result of the work that I do. I couldn’t do it without your support. Without you stepping up when I don’t know how to ask for help. I couldn’t do it without your strength. Thank you for helping me and always building me back up. So that I can help others. Others that you will never meet.

Noise Withdrawal

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Silence is not golden. It’s boring. Yeah. Yeah. I said it. I like it every once in a while. For about three minutes or so during the day. And it’s alright at night when I’m trying to go to sleep. But the rest of the time, I like noise. Hustle. Bustle. Voices. Laughter. Even the screams, when everybody is not hurt. Just not the quiet. Especially when it’s too quiet. How am I supposed to get anything accomplished without noise? I should turn on some music. Or go eat lunch at a pizza joint. That should help.

Sometimes I guess I’m a bit of an avoider. Avoiding the laundry. Avoiding confrontation. Avoiding long lines. Anywhere. And today, I’m avoiding a quiet house. It’s weird because there are many times when all I want is a little peace and quiet. Wrapped in a giant, pretty easy-to-open box. I guess I don’t like to keep that gift for too long. Or else I feel alone. Just me and my thoughts. I would rather bounce my thoughts off of people, all over the place, outside of my head. I would like to return the quiet, and have the noise back. Maybe I’m a bit of a noise hoarder. I like to pile it up in the forms of conversations, lots of kids running around, loud music playing and my favorite, laughing.

I’m starting to recognize that I may occasionally suffer from the made-up symptoms associated with noise withdrawal. An extrovert’s nightmare. I love the sounds of people, especially the little people running around my house. So, strategically, I often avoid my house when there will be no little people there to distract me. Tug on me. Or ask me to be the “Robot Mother” or the infamous “Dog Monster.” I love the chaos and noise, especially when it’s absent. Gone. Silence is boring.

To delay my noise withdrawal symptoms, I do my best to find noise in other places. Coffee shops. Restaurants. Or sometimes, I do the opposite. I try to find quiet in places where quiet should hang out. The library. Shhhhhh! Be. Quiet. Even the quietness of biking or walking outside on a calm fall afternoon. Those places can be quiet all day long. My house should not be so quiet. So, I will do my best to avoid it for a few hours. Leave that strange, unfamiliar quiet place alone. Until the noise returns. With boys. Constant. Present. Alive. How odd that I can be so fickle. How strange that I love the loudness the most when it’s so silent. Too quiet.

I guess I’m a lover of loud. A little crazy. Or a lot. A little messy and chaotic. I suppose a noiseless house scares me a little. Makes me feel like something’s wrong. Like a lot of people are missing. I should stop sitting in the driveway. And go inside. Enjoy the quiet. For a few minutes or so. I probably should do some laundry. But I get bored just thinking about it. Afterall, being a self-diagnosed person affected by noise withdrawal symptoms, I know certain things. Like that the number one symptom of noise withdrawal is boredom. I will turn on some music. Ugh and fold some laundry. And I will look forward to the return of the little, yet loud voices that will soon fill this boring house with excitement again. And noise. Glorious noises.

Heart Safe

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You carry a permanently locked safe in the depths of your heart. It’s filled with unspoken lessons that you’ve learned. The ones that normal people don’t want to hear about. You know that there’s a key but it might as well be hidden or lost. You can’t freely open this bulging safe. You fear all that will spill out. It’s filled with moments, hours, and lessons learned in the hardest ways. The unspoken kind. The most impressionable. The lessons you’ve learned through watching others suffer the unimaginable, disturbing, sad, cruel and pain filled.

Quick. Close the safe. Lock it up. You won’t dare speak of the babysitters. The Internet. Sleepovers. Neighbors. Fires. Swimming pools. Lakes. Dogs. Frozen ponds. School buses. Streets. Open windows. Seat belts. Lawnmowers. Guns. Teenagers. Mental illness. Headaches. Belts. Strange bumps. Drugs. Closets. Bathrooms. Alcohol. And on. And on. And. On.

You now look at life differently. You can’t help it. You have to. Not necessarily the dirt, candy or monkey bars, but the great and infinite unknowns. You’re a lot less worried about the wounds that kids can recover from. Not the stitches. Or the broken bones. You’re in overprotective mode, hyper aware to the wounds that may break a child’s spirit. Extinguish trust. The innocence stolen. The stranger smiling at the park. Or the man alone in Toys R Us, subtly following you and your kids around the store.

You’re unsure of when you will let your kids cross the street by themselves. Maybe never. Will they ever get to go to a sleepover? Perhaps no. They will always ride in the car seat that they’re supposed to be in. Wearing a helmet is non-negotiable. Life jackets are on. You know the ways they will be most protected. And you try your best to protect yourself too. You will wear your seat belt. Always. You try and control what you can control. Yet, you still feel weak, powerless and scared at times. You silently suffer from the vicarious trauma and grief that you’ve experienced. The unforeseen, imaginable pain. You’re strangely over aware that you can only control a tiny portion of the lives you so enormously love.

Because of this awareness, you passionately do what you have the power to do. You live without regrets. You play unabashedly with your kids. When they ask, “Mommy, will you be the dog monster?” A million times, yes, you answer, especially on a Monday. You laugh loud and often with them. You hold them harder, tighter. You hug them closer, longer. You still let them crawl up into your lap with their long skinny, nearly seven year old legs dangling towards the ground. You pray honestly, fiercely. You tell them that you love them all the time. You apologize and forgive readily.

And on some rough nights, you tiptoe into their rooms and press your sobbing face next to theirs as they sleep. You’re overwhelmingly comforted and thankful that you hear and feel them breathe deeply. You touch their warm skin. You stare at their long eyelashes in the moonlight. You savor in their sleeping beauty, their innocence. And as much as you love their pouncing, giggling wide-awake bodies, you hold tightly onto these moments. The hours when they’re safely dreaming in their beds. And yet, you always leave a place in your bed for a little snuggler that had a bad dream. And needs some extra cuddling. Because you may just need it too.

Sadly, you know all of the overused sayings to be true…our days are not guaranteed. We should live life to the fullest. Cherish every day. You understand too painfully well that we will not all live to be old and dependent again. You know about the unexpected and unpredictable, yet you’re overly conscious of the things that may be preventable. Or avoidable. Because of this, most days you wake up holding onto the hope that you will be the best protector and most unconditional lover. You’re ever grateful. You quietly soak up the mundane. Like the times that you get to hold your sweet children at both the beginning and the end of the day. The long uninterrupted hugs in the kitchen.

You naturally worry about the day that they will leave your nest. No longer living under your roof constantly available for you to check on, touch, smell, hold, and see their chests rise with each deep sleeping breath. You know deep in your heart that you will sleep better always knowing they’re safe. Protected. Alive. Unhurt.

You will always hold a safe locked in your heart. Even if you never open it, you will always remember. Always.

October 11

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His passion and genuine love for people wherever he goes is inspiring. And humbling. His generosity and willingness to always include others, no matter what the circumstances are, baffles me. To know him or to have met him is to have been excitedly told, “We gotta have you over for dinner.” And he truly means it. We have a constantly growing list of future dinner guests.

His energy and enthusiasm for life rivals that of the three young boys who call him, “Daddy!” as they greet him at the door or happily pile on top of him. His sense of humor and eagerness to laugh makes life more bearable a lot of days. His creativity is limitless, whether he’s in the kitchen, in the studio, or in the backyard. If you’ve ever heard him sing, you’ve experienced the pure beauty and power in his voice. He makes you want to sing too.

He never does anything without investing his whole heart into it. Like how hard he tries to beat me in basketball. It hasn’t happened yet. Although his mad skills on the tennis court repeatedly frustrate me. And silence me.

He has a knack for noticing people who are hurting. He recognizes their eyes or other subtleties. He helps people feel valued in unique small hidden ways and life altering ways. Whether you’re a complete stranger or a close friend, he will go to great lengths to show you that you matter. That you really matter. And because of his passion  for others, he readily loves in a way that can sometimes lead people to use him, hurt him, and not appreciate him. But that doesn’t stop him. And it never will. He forgives others in a way that sometimes, quite frankly, pisses me off because I’m a little protective of him. Except when he’s forgiving me, which he does often, thankfully.

To know him and love him is to hold and joyfully unwrap an intangible gift of the greatest kind. It is to somehow grasp and hold a glimpse of God’s all-encompassing, inclusive, forgiving love, beauty and sacrifice. All in a gentle, humble hat-wearing, constantly moving, singing, beer drinking, genuinely caring human form. To walk away from him is to feel a rare sense. To be pulled away like a magnet. It’s the sense of feeling and knowing that you’ve just been with one of the best people this world has to offer. And you want to be near him again.

Today, October 11, it’s his birthday. He was so excited to get here thirty-eight years ago that he scared the heck out of his parents and arrived several months early. Only a few pounds big. He loves telling a good story. So, I assume that’s why he just couldn’t wait until his due date, you know to be a full term big baby. If you know him, you should take a minute and tell him something meaningful today. Or some day soon. Maybe why you’re happy he was born today or how he has impacted your life for the better. It’s the best gift you could give him. That is, unless you have a four pack of Tank 7 with his name on it. Or you could always bring it when we have you over for dinner. Which will be very soon.

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Expired Tags

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As I was drowning in a sea of paperwork in my kitchen, I looked up to see my favorite tiniest friend outside of my kitchen window. My eyes immediately filled up with tears, the overwhelmed kind of tears. Not the super sad ones. The relieved but tired and shy ones. I felt overwhelmed because of the perfect timing of the sweetest bright green feathered hummingbird there to remind me not to fret. Not to feel trapped beneath the rough apathetic waters of bills, insurance, Jury duty notices and expired tags. Yes. And NO!!!!! I learned today that I failed to renew our car tags in September. They don’t renew on their own. Worthless tags. I make a horrible responsible adult. I should dress up as one for Halloween. That would be funny. Not to make excuses, but it was a bit of an unknown as to whether or not we “owned” one of our cars since it had been stolen. For a week. Apparently, you don’t get a “freebie” when it comes to renewing tags if your car was temporarily in someone else’s possession. Who wants to take a trip to the DMV….again? Not. Me.

Some days, I feel like I’ve done a cannonball into some pretty unpredictable territory. Like out in the middle of papers never going away land. You can’t begin to fathom as a child the tsunami of paperwork that you will encounter as an adult. I really want to do a public service announcement for kids. Listen up. Maybe I could have some cheesy irresistible toy in the background to get their attention. No, Snackeez. No.

“Slow down. Don’t grow up so fast. You’ve got it good. Really good. Be the age you are right now. Really soak it up. As it turns out, you may not want to grow up after all.”

Yeah. Yeah. Losing teeth is a pretty awesome feeling. And meeting the height requirement to ride a “big kid” roller coaster feels like a million bucks….but doing taxes and repeatedly getting summoned to jury duty? Shut the front door.

I think that’s part of the reason I love hanging out and working with kids. They don’t even know about “delinquent” notices. I’m not gonna talk to them about all my late bills. That would be so lame. I get to play Barbies or tea party or argue about if Marvel is superior to DC. I can’t make up my mind on that one. It really depends on which male actor is playing the super hero. Kids don’t worry about renewing their car tags on time. They’re caught up in the now. The present. They excitedly and happily live to experience the world happening right in front of their eyes. They jump off walls. Roll down hills. Splash in that gigantic puddle. Poop in the woods. And run a lot of places because they’re stoked. And that’s a pretty awesome trait to possess. Passion for life.

I strategically create stacks of papers in my house. It makes me feel organized. For a moment. I arrange the medical bills, utility bills, and random others. Then, something crazy happens. Those stacks of crap don’t ever talk or grab me when I’m walking by. So I forget about them. Sort of. I guess it’s a pretty inefficient system considering every company has sent us a neon notice at some point or another. I guess I’m a better kid than grown up a lot of times. It’s unfortunate I wanted to grow up so badly…that I did. I lost all my teeth. I can ride any roller coaster I want. I can drink beer legally. And I get to pay bills. Lots of bills.

One of the best things about having kids is that you can use them to help you escape from the deep waters of boredom. They’re like the perfect life boat that pops up out of the blue. Right before a shark attack. In the sweetest voices, they say,

“Hello there. Would you like a ride? Maybe a Popsicle? We’re playing Pirates lost at sea.”

That’s all it takes. And there’s no such thing as expired tags on a pirate ship. So, the arrangement works out wonderfully. I can always be a grown up tomorrow.