A Work Dream

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Everybody slept in my house. I snuck into my bed after spying on the brilliant and giant glowing full moon outside of my garage.

Then I had a dream. A work dream.

I was in a room with two girls. We played the board game, “Sorry.” The school aged girl bounced her giggly little toddler sister up and down, on and off of her lap. Her spunky high-ponytailed sister gladly interfered with our game. She grabbed the game pieces and moved them all over the board. Time and time again. I told the older girl how great of a big sister she was. She patiently moved the pieces back each time after her little sister rearranged them.

We played and talked. The little sister playfully pinched me and loved my overreaction. “Owwwww.” It didn’t hurt.

Then, I paused.

I remembered why the big sister, still so little and innocent staring up at me, had come to the hospital.

I needed to tell the big sister something important. Something that was a little hard to say.

I shared with her how I get the chance to work with all sorts of brave kids in the hospital. I told her about some kids that need stitches or others that break their arms and need a cast. I told her that a lot of kids, like her, have to do really hard things in the hospital. Things that hurt or make kids feel uncomfortable. Weird things like peeing in a cup. Or getting a bit of their blood taken from their veins through a tiny tube. She listened intently and nodded as I talked. She paid close attention as she focused her big kind eyes right on mine. 

Then, I exhaled.

I told her that me and my friends that work at the hospital believe that some of the bravest kids we ever meet carry around a kind of hurt that happened but doesn’t show up on the outside of their skin. Hurt that was caused when a grown up did something awful. Things a grown up should never have done. I talked about how it’s really hard and worrisome to carry a secret around. As a grown up and especially as a kid. I talked about how a grown up is supposed to protect, love and take care of kids and keep them safe, not hurt them.

I told her that we were all extremely proud of her for telling that a grown up had hurt her. And then I told her that she was one of the bravest. And I said it with the kind of sincerity that brought tears to my eyes and put a big lump in my throat. The kind that makes it a little hard to talk. I think I said it because I truly meant it. And because it’s true. 

And then I woke up to go to the bathroom.

I looked out the window at the dark after midnight sky. The moon had moved west. It was no longer big, bright and beautiful.

Something had changed since I had fallen asleep.

It seemed sad, angry, frustrated and disappointed. It seemed like it longed to hide underneath a lump of dark grey clouds.

Maybe that was just me.

The dream was too real. If not for the little girl’s beauty and resilience, it would have been a nightmare.

Or the kind of dream you hope to never have again. Ever.

 

The Dog Monster

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I’m not quite sure of the exact day that “the Dog Monster” arrived on my boys’ playtime scene. I do know the general time period and the exact playground where she made her strange, yet dramatic, first appearance. A monster that barked and tried to grab little children as they ran across the unsteady bridge up to the twirly slide. She proved herself to be a ridiculous yet dangerous new breed of monster. Especially for little boys clumsily bouncing across playground equipment. She lurked or sometimes fell asleep under bridges and slides, waiting patiently for a child to venture close enough to be grabbed.

My twin toddler boys and I would stroll up to Pawnee Elementary school to play on one of its three playgrounds. The mama’s main goal was to release some of the “twinenergy” in an atmosphere outside of our house. A half mile away from steps, hardwood floors, wall corners, door hinges, etc. seemed to be a safe enough distance. My boys have always been phenomenal climbers, lifting their seemingly weightless zero percentile bodies up onto higher areas than they should have probably ever climbed. It’s always easier to get up somewhere than down. Most likely because the startling view from up high can rattle even the most confident of climbers. Spoken like a true mother fearful of heights.

The Dog Monster must have made one of those amazingly hard-to-forget first time impressions that imaginative, playful characters sometimes do. Her presence has been requested or demanded on close to every playground we have journeyed to since. Nearly five years later. There have been the many awkward times when I’ve been talking to a mom friend or new park friend and my boys have come running up, trying not to interrupt (sort of) patting my leg incessantly,

“Mom, could you be the Dog Monster? Please, Mom! PLEASE!!!!”

And repeat.

“In just a minute, boys.”

Then, I have to explain what “the Dog Monster” is and ask that parent if their kid will be scared if I run after my boys barking and chasing them like a weird mom monster. I’ve often found myself chasing tons of kids begging for me to get them too. Apparently, the Dog Monster’s bark is a lot scarier than her bite. The thing is kids like for grown-ups to play silly games with them. Grown-ups can be so serious sometimes with the dish loading and the bill paying and the struggles of being an adult. When kids see grown ups playing, something magical happens. Every time.

Having a healthy relationship with kids is just like any healthy adult relationship in a lot of ways. When you meet a person at her level and invest time and energy into her, the outcome tends to be pretty positive and rewarding. We, grown ups, make a lot of grumpy boring demands of kids who just would rather be playing. But they have to learn that they need to complete certain monotonous tasks in life. There’s really no job that I’ve found where there are not some parts that just aren’t as enjoyable as others. As a barista, I would have much rather frothed milk and talk to customers than cleaned those hideous stinky drains or bathrooms. I suffered what seemed like a million paper cuts sorting out insurance enrollment forms. And even when I was the mall Easter bunny, I had to put on the sweaty costume that the guy before me had worn. Never. Again.

I’ve found in parenting my own children (who aren’t perfect) that if I’m willing to meet them on their level, as the Dog Monster or a super hero or be “It” in a game of tag, they’re a lot more willing to meet me on my adult level, doing chores, listening, following directions, etc.

So, yesterday, on an early release day, we snuck away to the park after school. The three boys climbed and played happily together as I stood shivering watching them with a heart so abundantly full. Then, one of them asked me,

“Mom, will you be the monster that puts us in jail?”

I was wearing boots. And jeans. It was muddy. I could have said “not today.” But, I didn’t. I chased the three of them around crazily on a sunny but cold winter’s day. Grabbing them and putting them into jail as they laughed and yelled for a brother to come help. I told them,

“And you better stay in there!”

Knowing they would shortly tag each other out and work together as a brotherly team to not let the mama monster win. I’m thankful for my health and the ability to chase them crazily around although sometimes I do fear tearing my ACL. I should probably always have my phone charged just in case. There have been many times where my boys asked and I couldn’t be the “Dog Monster” because something was hurting too badly on my body. Not yesterday.

The Dog Monster takes her role very seriously. I think she knows that her days are somewhat numbered as now, the oldest boys are no longer toddlers. They often have homework to do when they get back. Homework they are much more willing to complete after a good romp in the park. With the Dog Monster.

Don’t forget to play with your kids or grandkids or nieces and nephews.

Also, watch the movie “Finding Neverland.” It’s one of my favorites. A great book is “Playful Parenting” by Lawrence Cohen.

Twisted Up Newspaper Thoughts

 

 

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I remember sitting by the fire as a scrawny kid listening to it pop and crackle, watching the electric blue, yellowish orange and red hot flames burn. I would sit really close and my back would get hotter and hotter until I couldn’t take it. I had to stand up and walk away. I used to love twisting and wadding up pieces of newspaper, then I would ask my dad if I could throw them into the fire. Carefully, of course. There was something thrilling in that experiment. It never got old. Watching the flames jump higher after I threw my pieces of twisted paper in. Instantly the newspaper ads disappeared into glowing ashes.

Over the past few days, I’ve been throwing crinkled-up, nasty little self-defeating thoughts on the insecure fire that burns from time to time. In my head. Sometimes in my heart. I lost my husband’s passport. I’ve searched for hours upon hours for two days. I’ve found things I wasn’t even looking for. I’ve organized areas. I’ve sifted through all of our drawers, mail piles, shredded papers, our recycling can and through all of our disgusting trash. Because we eat food and we have guinea pigs. And a dog that wears a diaper.

The entire time, despite my efforts to distract myself with positive thoughts or praying to the saint who helps find lost things, I should know his name. He probably knows mine. Or searching while listening to music or drinking tea, I’ve beat myself up. Over and over. Hard enough that I know if it were someone else’s head, and I held the power, I would step in and pull that person out of the ring, doctor their wounds and encourage them with some truths. Unfortunately, in these times, I don’t offer myself this same grace. And the fire burns on.

With a little hindsight, I recognize that I can be a real irrational jerk. To myself. And I don’t like that mean, self-defeating person inside of me.

When other people are jerks or say something rude, hurtful or offensive to us, we can walk away. Or fight back. When we do it to ourselves, we have to let somebody in. Somebody who will take away the stack of newspaper that we were planning on crinkling up. Because well, we tend to know ourselves best. We possess an arsenal of imperfections. We can crinkle up a lot of nasty, devaluing, hurtful pitiful little thoughts. And we can hide more newspapers. For a later time.

I sat at the table silently big tear crying as I filled out the paperwork for my husband to receive a new passport. Not because he made me cry or made me fill out the paperwork. On the contrary, he has been completely forgiving and kind. Saying, “it’s okay.” I cried because I was exhausted. I had failed and I was so sorry. I said the words, they pushed desperately against the inside of my jaws, trying to stay in. I needed to say them. Admit my mistake. The thing is that I think he knows I’ve been up too close, throwing those crinkled up newspapers in, watching the flames temporarily grow in my head. I think he would go buy all of the newspapers from the local good-for-nothing thought store. If he could. Isn’t that what we should do for the people we love? Offer each other forgiveness, understanding, mercy and love. At the times that we need it the very most. The times when we mess up, lose stuff or fail. And then it’s amazing. And completely humbling. We see a tiny, tiny glimpse of God’s love for us. And it’s a beautifully painful feeling to know that we are accepted. Just the way we are.

On top of losing my husband’s passport, I recently turned one of my boys school library books into the county library. He worries too. And he can’t check out as many books as he would like, because of my mistake. He keeps asking me, in a sweet, innocent and kind way, if I could go try and get it back from the library. I also had a doctor’s appointment yesterday that made me worry like some doctor’s appointments do. While I was at it, I have a sensitive son that I decided to extra worry about today too. I’m worried and sad about my Grandma. And I forgot that my windshield is cracked too. When writing, I know I sound a little bit like a pitiful adult version of Peggy Ann McKay. Since I was already throwing shriveled up, twisted little papers into that fire, I decided to just keep on going. Because that’s what we do to ourselves. It’s really awful. That’s why we desperately need people. Kind, loving people who know we stink at some things but who also know that we’re pretty good at some things too. So they remind us of those really good things. They hold our hand. Hug us. Accept us, flaws and all.

My husband showed me this morning and in so many words told me that I needed to just walk away. Stop. Forgive myself. And move on. Afterall, the fire will eventually die out. Especially if we stop adding crinkled up newspaper to it.

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I love this idea of two wolves inside of us. It was first introduced to me through hearing Richard Rohr speak.

An elder Cherokee Native American was teaching his grandchildren about life. He said to them, “A fight is going on inside me…It is a terrible fight, and it is between two wolves. One wolf represents fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, pride and superiority. The other wolf stands for joy, peace, love, hope, sharing, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, friendship, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. This same fight is going on inside of you and every other person too.” They thought about it for a minute and then one child asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?” The old Cherokee simply replied… “The one I feed.

Skate City Angel

 

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I couldn’t leave before I saw him. He’s mysteriously shown up at every skate center I’ve ever gone to. No matter the city or the year. In the eighties, the nineties and today, 2016. I looked towards the center of the crowded rink. There he was. Gliding through and around the masses of Martin Luther King Day traffic. The recreational professional middle-aged male skater angel. So graceful. His skates are his wings. Surely he never falls. He’s the owner of his light-up skates. His mid-length hair sort of whips around in the Skate City breeze. Today, surprisingly enough, must not have been a shampoo day. He’s a natural. A frequent flyer. Perhaps he secretly loves the adoring gazes from the little eyes pulled up behind their “walkers” to watch his skate grooves to “Just Dance.” It’s gonna be alright. Just dance. Dance. Dance. Dance.

He could lead an instructional video of the crossover and backwards skate, if he wanted to. But he wouldn’t have time for that. Uh. Oh. Look out. Please don’t tear your ACL. If you were wondering if the seven clumsy kid pile-up on the east side of the rink would slow him down, think again. He will weave through that amateur traffic jam. He doesn’t have time to stop or rubber neck that scene. He’s got work to do. Afterall, it’s not a holiday for him. He’s headed to a meeting. He’s got some official skate city business to take care of. Smack dab in the center of the rink.

Look out, middle-aged dads trying to skate with a false sense of confidence in hopes of persuading your sweet, inexperienced child gripping onto that germ infested wall. Inching along. Hoping to make it out alive as the teen girls roll past. Don’t feel ashamed when Mr. Skate City Angel sweeps past you. He shifts his torso. And uses that fancy footwork. The kind that puts NFL running backs to shame. Maybe. Don’t worry. He doesn’t see you. He’s staring off into the distance, at the concession stand? Nope. He’s not really here. He was but now he’s gone. Just a figment of your disco ball confused imagination. You better find something else to entertain you in this loud preteen casino. Go wait in line for an Iceee. Or there, look. On the circle carpet bench. Right behind you. The awkward teenage public displays of affection. Oh. It’s. Just. Too. Much. Groping. Yet, such a perfectly romantic setting.

Please come back, Mr. Skate City Angel. Although, I have to warn you. I think there’s a new breakdancing younger guy in town. Check the center circle. Yes. Your center circle. Did he just break his ankles? No. He’s alright. You nod in his direction. It may be the perfect time for a skate center show down.

And imagine that. It’s a packed house.

Just. Skate. Just. Just skate.

Kitchen Table for Two

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Thursday nights are rough. Daddy’s gone all night. It’s the end of the week. Everyone’s tired. Or at least the mama is. And we’ve always got homework to do. We sit at the table before or after dinner. Most Thursday nights, there are gigantic quiet tears that slide down one of my boy’s faces onto his paper below. The dreaded paper that holds the week’s spelling words.

Siblings, with the help of parents, can both intentionally and unintentionally be the earliest and most phenomenal teachers of life’s most important and hardest lessons to one another. They can help teach children and adults about love, loyalty, compassion, empathy, sacrifice, sharing, conflict resolution and so many other valuable life lessons. They can also teach challenging lessons having to do with resentment, jealousy, and competition. Siblings can shine a spotlight on strengths, weaknesses and striking similarities and differences in people raised under the same roof. At this point in our household, sibling rivalry has more to do with one child possessing a skill or personality trait or toy that another sibling does not. Like the ability to spell or read. Or the skill of properly writing the letters that create the words.

I aspire as a mom to work on homework with my twin boys at separate times of the day. It’s one of many of my motherly aspirations. I just need an extra day added between Wednesday and Thursday. I think this setup may reduce some of the frustration and competitiveness that comes with two boys trying to get their homework done. The quickest. However, life happens. Busyness always takes over. And honestly, most times, my boys happen to love each other a whole lot. So that results in all of us playing tag at the playground or hanging out together. Leaving a limited amount of time for working with each boy separately. Time constraints: the struggle is real.

Tonight, I sat next to and rubbed one of my boy’s backs at the kitchen table. I encouraged him and told him that he was almost done. I couldn’t get inside his head but I recognized his expression and the big slow tears that dropped onto his paper were tears of frustration. Frustration that his brother finished and he was still sitting at the table. With me. Frustration that I had him correct his mistakes. Repeatedly. I knew that he had to persevere and finish his work. And it sucked. I would rather be “it” for a never-ending game of tag. Any day of the week. It’s a hard, handcuffed type of a feeling as a mother to watch your child struggle and know that you can’t pave every gravel road for him. Or just pick him up and carry him. My hope is that by sitting next to him at the table I can teach him to push out some of the negative thoughts. Those debilitating thoughts can wreck a person. Especially a young child that has a lot of years left to complete in school.

I hope he will feel less alone too. I hate feeling not good at something. I hate having my mistakes corrected too. But it’s a part of life. For all of us. Maybe spelling will help make him more hopeful and aware that even when something is hard, he can finish it and be proud that he pushed through. I’m also hopeful that this skill will carry over into much bigger and more important things in life than spelling words. Afterall, there is spellcheck. I won’t tell him about this phenomenon yet. It’s just not the right time.

Work Drive Home

imageI walked towards my car parked in the creepy (potentially Zombie hiding) end spot under the garage at work. I briefly watched a coworker try to hack away at his ice-covered truck. Uh. Oh. I quickly realized I couldn’t drive home tired, like I had just worked the entire day. And day before. Inside the thick walls and windowless rooms of the emergency department. Tonight, I would not get to casually listen to music and occasionally stare up at the moon following me home. On this messy winter night, my eyes would be fixed on the road before me. My hands clenching the wheel, my posture hunched over uncomfortably. The whole drive home. I wish I could just fly home. On nights like tonight.

Towards the end of my shift, co-working friends walked past me cleaning toys. A job I happen to take enormous pride in, despite the monotony and the annoyingness of the fumes and the gloves. And the tiny toys. And weird hairs, crumbs and gunk. Nosocomial infection? Not on my watch. Hopefully, one day my autopsy doesn’t reveal that yes, in fact, I died of inhaling too much of the powerful odor that kills most every germ known to human.

In between de-crumbing bins (leftover lunchables) and rearranging toys, I tend to get pretty annoyed with Ken. He’s lost his pants. Again. I’m perplexed. Why is he ALWAYS losing his pants? Where are they? Or why is someone constantly stealing Ken’s pants like they’re something special? Are they? I just can’t put his naked Barbie-loving self back in the clean toy bin. I should probably Sharpie some underwear on him. I feel more like I have a Bacheolor’s in Sani-wiping toys and a minor in alphabetizing movies on days like today. Despite my love for my job and especially the friends I see two days a week, I’m ready to go home.

I pull onto the ramp to enter the highway and notice the enormous Kansas City Fire Department truck reversing into the station. Backing that bad boy up. Now that takes practice. And skills. I could never do that. Reversing, at night, into the narrow open garage. Unfortunately, I think that truck will be out again shortly, before the engine even cools off.

I hate driving home on icy, snowy, rainy or foggy nights. After midnight. I joked with my coworkers earlier about needing to write my name on my body since I have temporarily lost my wallet. I don’t have it for my drive home. One of my friends occasionally tells me to zip up my purse, so they can identify me if I get into a wreck. Kind of a gruesome yet thoughtful gesture which is par for the emergency room nurse.

I’m creeping along on the highway. Not too slow. Not too fast. On nights like this I can hear my mom’s voice in my head saying, “pump the brakes. You’ve got to pump the brakes…” And that freaks me out. I don’t want to have to pump the brakes. I want to just coast my way home, never making a sharp turn and avoiding laying my big right foot on that brake pedal.

Suddenly, I notice several cars lined up, pulled over on the shoulder up ahead. This is uncommon after midnight. It’s too early for Monday morning rush hour traffic. My stomach starts to do a little dance. Not a happy one. The nauseating, freaked out, spinning kind of dance. This is not good. There’s a snow plow truck or salt truck blocking the middle lane. And two cars smashed facing the wrong way and there’s people out on the highway. “Please, God.” I start praying. “Help them. Be okay. Be alive. Please.” I hear the sirens coming. I pray for the first responders. For their speediness and bravery and strength. I want to throw up. I don’t want to keep driving home. I start biting my nails. All off.

How quickly life, even just a routine drive home, can be slammed into perspective. I’m certain I will not be able to sleep for awhile tonight. But I will get to sleep in my own bed. I will get to wake up and see my kids’ sweet faces in the morning. And I truly feel overwhelmed for this gift. That I’ve received every late-night, early morning drive home from work. So often overlooked. And under appreciated. I’m grateful for my job. Even the sani-wiping and half-ass alphabetizing. And I’m grateful I made it back home. Safely.

It’s a lively and stubborn combination: the work adrenaline mixed with the drive-home adrenaline, topped off by the leftover caffeine circulating through me from the coffee I desperately needed hours ago. It will wear off eventually. It has to. Hopefully before the sun peeks into the windows and before three little boys excitedly wake me saying,

“Mama, what day is it? Do you go to work today?”

And I will snuggle them, in a tired yet grateful state,

“Nope. I don’t go to work today.”

In my sleep-deprived state, I will slowly yet excitedly say the words.

I’m consciously grateful to be alive and home, yet so exhausted. It’s a Saturday-kind-of-Monday.

Stolen Time

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There are countless things that you have stolen. Both tangible and intangible. Things you cannot ever give us back. Sentimental gifts. Did you know that the car that you stole formally belonged to my husband’s grandmother? She is no longer alive. The spare key that you took from my purse hung from the very keychain that Grandma Ryan used. A stuffed whale. As silly as that Florida keychain was, it held value. It held meaning. It used to be held in a woman’s hands that no longer walks this earth.

I keep beating myself up. Replaying the night before. I wish I wouldn’t have left my purse in my car. In my driveway. I wish I could change what happened. But, it’s not my fault. It’s actually all yours. I will not allow myself to be an accomplice to the crimes you committed. I have had several imaginary conversations with you. My son surprised me and walked into the room just the other day and asked me what I was talking about. I was talking sternly to you. You can’t imagine how badly I want to look you in the eye and tell you about all of the short-fused moments and interactions you have caused our family over the past week. I want to tell you how many hours I’ve spent canceling credit card accounts, memberships, and bank accounts. You will never be able to give me back my time. Ever. And ironically enough, you may, one day, have all the time in the world. Sitting in prison.

Have you ever worked so hard for something? Maybe to learn how to do something. And you finally figured it out. After hours and hours. Or have you ever had to fill out paperwork for something? Have you ever waited in line for something so painfully long? Have you ever worked for hours and hours without ever getting to take a break to even go to the bathroom? Or eat dinner. Because I have. I have earned my paychecks. I have earned them with constantly running around during a busy twelve hour shift.  And I have continued to earn my paycheck as I have spent countless hours off the clock thinking about the horrendous situations I experience at work. I didn’t need you to help teach me the cruel lesson on how life can be unfair sometimes.

Unexplainable things happen in this world. Unexpected sickness. Fatal accidents. Children dying. Kind decent people have awful, hurtful things happen to them. And you’re making the conscious decision to perpetuate this lesson. You wrongfully steal from others what is not yours. You’re a thief. A robber. A criminal. A black cloud. You provide living proof that bad stuff happens for no explainable reason.

I don’t know you, but I have no respect for you.

I feel sorry for your mom.

You’re a sad, selfish person.

So, here’s what you can do. You know, to make up for all of the time and money that we’ve lost because of your poor choices. I’ll tell you what I care about the most in this world. Kids. I have young children who for the past week keep saying things like,

“I wonder why somebody would do that.”

Or a week after you walked up our driveway and drove away in my husband’s car, my six year old sons say,

“If we find dad’s car, let’s keep it a surprise. Then we will give it to him for his birthday and say, “Surprise! We found your car.”

They have been scared to go to sleep by themselves. Because of you.

Such innocence. Innocence that you corrupted. Yet, another thing you can’t give us back. Fortunately, they haven’t experienced too many people like you in their short lives. Their little minds just can’t grasp why somebody would break the window to our van and steal our stuff. Leaving a broken mess of glass in our driveway and a horrible feeling of violation. Trapped in our minds.

You probably know a few kids. You may just be a big kid yourself. I’m pretty certain that there are some younger kids who may look up to you and may think you are worthy of imitation. They may want to be like you. The way that you can help make right some of the wrong that you’ve caused is to stop. Think about the people you are violating. I think if you worked really, really hard for a paycheck and had it stolen from you, then you may understand the hurt, the pain, the frustration and anger that you cause. The stolen time.

It’s a simple solution. You need to say sorry for all that you’ve done. And you need to mean it. Really mean it. And you need to change. Be better. Stop stealing. Work to change lives for better. Not worse.

Think of all of the pain and unfairness you’ve caused. Think of what you’ve wrongfully stolen from hard-working people. You get to carry this heavy load that you now own as a reminder to be different. Robber. Thief. Criminal. These are titles you’ve sadly earned. But, I believe that you can learn from your mistakes. I believe in forgiving you. I believe you can change. So, do it.

Think about all of the time you’ve stolen from others. And try to give it back. It’s the least you can do. And the most you can do.

I’ll be praying for you and your family by name. Now that I’ve received that.