Heavy Pretty Trees

I’ve spent hours plowing the snow this weekend. I feel strong and productive when I can hurl, shove, and carry the snow across the driveway. It’s rather hard work, yet mostly calming for me. This snowfall landed hard and heavy. It knocked our power out. My boys got to experience how many of our luxuries require electricity. All. The lights. “The TV?” Yes. “The heater?” Yep.
Looking outside, my old tree loving self had conflicting emotions. It was gorgeous yet sad. The beautiful mature trees in our neighborhood looked exhausted as they held up the weight of the snow on their branches the best that they could. All the neighborhood creatures hid silently below the pure white blanket of snow. Interupting the winter silence, I could hear the tree branches crack, snap, fall and I often heard them land on the hard surfaces below.
After one large tree branch fell, my son asked me,
“Mom, should we go tell (our neighbor) that tree just fell?”
When we embrace the life that surrounds us, we all have the tendencies to snow coat our hardships or dwell on how heavy our branches feel. It’s a difficult balance to hold the beauty and acknowledge the pain. Sometimes, I hide from people because I don’t like faking how I feel. Sometimes, I do my best to show that my branches are purely beautiful not heavy. Just like yours, right? But that’s not the truth. If I can be honest and vulnerable then I put out a welcome mat that allows those around me to do the same.
I wanted to share a picture of myself feeling confident and proud of braving the storm. It’s been a rough couple of weeks. Or maybe longer than that. I’ve got a pocket full of hope though. And we’ve got a shoveled driveway and my boys got the sidewalks. We’ve also got our power back on. Lights and heat and dishwashers and dryers are pretty darn nice things to have.
Hold on, heavy pretty trees, I think you’re going to be alright.

Baby Grass Resuscitation

I feel a bit absurd raking snowy leaves in November. I can think of other more productive things to do with my time. Raking and vacuuming must be best friends. It’s quite breathtaking though, all of the bright colors that I see when I pull the rake back and forth.
I’m resuscitating the new grass my husband planted. I imagine baby gasps when I shove a clump of reddish orange leaves off the fragile green life underneath. This is where my mind goes when I do yard work and house work. Fall grass shenanigans. By the way, Mother Nature may need some sort of autumn intervention. Really. Snowing when the leaves haven’t all fallen? But this is the Midwest. You can expect anything. Or you should. Our weather is truly phenomenal for elevator small talk.
I was counting but now I’ve lost track of how many balls and toys and yard surprises(dog poop) that I’ve discovered hiding under the leaves. I pause and stare at the fully clothed tree above me and wonder what the point of all this raking truly is. The newly planted grass. Oh yeah. I’m saving it’s life. “Hurry. I’m a late first responder.” That motivates me. It makes me feel like I’m back in the emergency department. Temporarily. A little bit. But I never had to resuscitate anybody. I usually sat outside in the inside waiting room with scared siblings and cousins.
Old work stories and thoughts hop in and out of my brain. I grow rather nostalgic. I try to remember it all. The good. And. The bad. The giggles. The cries. But some twelve hour shifts could feel so long. I have forgotten so many beautiful faces. I can always see and hear the feelings though when they decide to resurface.
I shove the leaves up against the back fence. I hear my boys laughing in the front yard, throwing dirt-filled snowballs at each other. It’s one of my absolute favorite sounds, the noises that accompany the three of them playing outside. I’d rather be heaving leafy snow balls with them then resuscitating grass. And thinking so much. Being a grown-up really has a few disadvantages. Less play, more worries and duties. All of those bills to keep track of. And pay. Neon notices. Dishes. Leaking ceilings. It all sounds so boring. I did forget R-rated movies and alcohol. Whoop. Whoop.
I’ll venture to the front yard, after all, since
we’re out of lawn bags. I’m thinking that it’s really not the best leaf collecting form to put sopping beautiful leaves in a brown paper bag. Shouldn’t they get brown and crunchy first?
Nonetheless, I succeeded. The new grass has a strong heartbeat again. Or perhaps I’ve removed its colorful blanket and now it will shiver all night. I don’t know. I suppose I did my job. Maybe.
I’m definitely not a grass life Specialist.

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Namaste, #38

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I still don’t quite exactly know what “namaste” means despite taking many yoga classes this year. But that’s not going to stop me from oversaying it. Or misusing it. I’ve lived thirty eight pretty darn full years. I used to think thirty year olds shouldn’t be in the club. Don’t even get my early-twenty year old self started on those creepy forty year olds sitting at the bar.
Well, things do change, thank goodness. When you start getting older, you realize how young old folks really are. Actually, you realize that your chroniological age doesn’t have much to do with who you are, who you love, and how you live your life. It’s just a number, not a definition. People always think I’m younger than I am. Probably because I act like a big goof or maybe because of my freckles or perhaps it’s a perk of my adult acne. A man told me yesterday, “you don’t look like you should have three kids.” Well, thank you, I guess. Although I do have a few gray hairs.
I thought I should write down thirty eight awesome things I did this year. I think I grew wiser and stronger. And I also recognized I’m weaker and not as smart as I once thought I was. Aging is a humbling process. And confusing. I think I don’t take it as personally having had Crohn’s disease for so many years. Weird things happen to your body when you get older. So what. Weirder things have been happening to my body for a long time. But. “Why, God, why the chin hairs? What is their purpose?” Anyways, my random list of questions for God grows.
I like lists when they don’t have “to do“ on the top. Unless I’ve secretly written the “to do” list after I’ve already done all the things. Those brutal “to do” lists always give me feelings of inadequacy. So, here is my “38 years done” list. I’m pretty grateful and proud and also extremely humbled and sometimes dumbfounded by all of the love that surrounds me, fills me up, holds me up, builds me up and sits right next to me on the floor. I got another year and that’s amazing. I can’t wait to live it up for my 39th year on planet Earth.
Here goes: 38 Years Done
  1. I used my yoga pants and yoga mat to take…..yoga classes. Say what? I love that standing tree pose and happy baby. The end meditation nap is amazing too. Namaste.
  2. My poor knees and I played basketball on a co-ed basketball team. I missed a lot of shots, said cuss words, but I had a lot of fun. My boys asked me if I could dunk. I told them “not in this league, it’s illegal.” That’s all they need to know about that.
  3. Oh man. What a year of stellar concerts. U2 with my big boys and Cory. Amazing. Ani Defranco with my hubs. Diana Krall and her busy tapping stilettos with my hubs. Brandy Carlile with some dear friends.
  4. I coached two of my sons’ basketball teams. I learned that I’m a loud fighter for injustice when a team, um, or Coach breaks the rules by running a zone. And don’t call me “sweetie.” I learned that some egotistical male coaches have a hard time shaking hands at the end of the game after losing to a female coach. Because of the beautiful, kindhearted, never-stopping fighting spirits of my players, we lost a lot of games but we won the sportsmanship award. The biggest win. I said, “chin the ball” about a million times.
  5. I held a fish. With it’s squirming rainbow scales.
  6. I lead a small group, met amazing women who shared their stories, months of life, and helped my family so much during surgery.
  7. We went to Disney world! We shared so many fun memories. Holy smokes, that Avatar ride. I felt like we could all say we rode on a banshee. Except Colby, please don’t talk about it to him. He feared for his life. Rightfully so. It seemed so real.
  8. I taught half-day momergarten which consisted of so many unforgettable moments with my youngest boy. We found deer antlers in the woods. We stalked-in a nice way- bald eagles and even saw one poop. We rode the Adams tag along bike to get lunch. I could go on and on. It was the best year!
  9. I learned that when my body makes something, it makes it strong, difficult to reach, and indestructible. My kidney stones would not be blasted by the lithotripsy semi-truck. $20,000 later.
  10. I learned that if there is a rare complication to be had with kidney stone surgery, my body will teach and humble the most intelligent and experienced of surgeons. I learned (again) that a mom’s instincts last long after the years that your child lives in the same home with you. My right kidney doesn’t have a big ass kidney stone living in it anymore. We’re still paying for the cost of it’s removal. I have a few more scars. I feel incredibly loved.
  11. I touched a stingray, mainly because my boys wanted me to.
  12. I volunteered with hospice. I prayed every time before I entered the doors. I painted nails, held hands, listened, cried, laughed, and also advocated for my patient to meet my boys before she died. So shut your face, HIPPA. If I’m in my nineties and dying, please bring all the children to me.
  13. I accidentally yet magically made eye contact with a hummingbird. It wasn’t a stare contest because I would have won. I had just put the feeders back up and she buzzed right up to get a drink. She looked at me. I froze. Then, she took a drink. Best moment of that day.
  14. My son and I blew up the inflatable kayak, aka “The Banana Boat.” My boys floated down the creek and I could have cried if I wasn’t so focused on making sure a snake wasn’t going to get me. They paddled and our dog swam beside them. It was a heaven on earth moment.
  15. We went to the roller derby! I asked so many questions to a roller derby girl. It was awesome. I decided my derby name would be “ Body Bag”
  16. The boys and I went to “Mother/Son Prom.” It involved lots of soda pop and dancing!
  17. We had a night at The Raphael and a downtown date night. A gift for my husband for ten years of employment.
  18. We took the train to St. Louis. We went up in the St. Loius Arch, not for those with fear of height and claustrophobic tendencies. We also spent a day at The City Museum, where we all got to be kids exploring, climbing and having so much fun!
  19. I dressed up as a unicorn, Skittles, with the help of my mom and sons. One of my son’s was the rear end and he sprayed silly string out because I was a shy unicorn that pooped when I got nervous. Unicorns are real.
  20. I got up on water skis. Water sports can be nerve wracking with an ileostomy. But they’re so much fun. I’m grateful to have patient and generous in-laws. My knees and back wondered what the hell I thought I was doing.
  21. I had acupuncture done to ameliorate my kidney pain. It was a pretty awesome experience. We have the most compassionate and kind-hearted healing chiropractor. She has helped me so much.
  22. My youngest son and I untangled a steel blue dragonfly that was trapped in a spiderweb. It looked hopeless but she sat on me for nearly ten minutes and allowed me to gently pull the sticky web off of her wings. She happily flew away when we got all of the spiderweb off of her. My son said she “peed a lot on me.” It’s not the first time I’ve been peed on.
  23. I have made beautiful life giving, soul-expanding friends who have helped me feel less alone and more comfortable being ever-changing, ever-feeling me. They have walked with me, talked with me, laughed with me, cried with me, sat with me and cared for me in such tender ways you wouldn’t know we weren’t boood sisters.
  24. I have cherished the time with my children and the unwrapped daily gifts they constantly give me. All of the kitchen table moments, playground moments, couch cuddling moments, basketball court moments, treehouse moments, the nighttime conversations, the hugs, the giggles, open mouth laughs, the tears. The questions. The answers. I love being their mother. Somehow as seemingly impossible as it is, I find the space to love them even more so than I did the last year.
  25. We said goodbye to our fourteen year old Gizmo dog. He’s been through so much with our family over the years. He loved us all and entertained the boys for years. We all sat together at the vet. We made slideshows and have cried many tears for him. We planted a tree in his honor.
  26. I got stuck in a dress (or two) in a tiny Nordstrom rack dressing room while my three boys laughed and laughed some of the greatest laughs I’ve ever heard. I ended up borrowing a dress from my mom. The problem with broad shoulders and three little boys as dress shopping mates is that you will probably not find a wedding dress.
  27. We danced and danced at one of the most fun weddings we’ve been to. During “Shout” when I was laying down on the floor, a woman asked me if I was hurt. Nope. Just getting realllllly into the “a little but softer now…” if somebody’s not ready to call 9-1-1, are you really dancing as hard as you can? Probably not.
  28. I read so many books this year. Oh, how I love to read. I should have written all of the titles down. I will try to do that in my 39th year. One of my favorite’s was “The Rabbi’s Heartbeat” because it spoke to my soul.
  29. A dear friend and I accidentally summoned the police for our mom shenanigans. Unbeknownst to us, a walker had called the Overland Park police on our attempts at a “first annual glow in the dark” nighttime Easter egg hunt. Apparently, it looked like we were lighting tiny fires in the woods (as we hid the lit-up eggs) The police didn’t end up coming. Another walker called them back. And our kids loved finding the glowing eggs. The forest looked absolutely magical as the eggs flickered in the night.
  30. We’ve had countless memorable late night dinners, goodbye dinners, birthday dinners, celebratory dinners, just because get-togethers. We have such a diverse group of fun, loving, laughing friends and family.
  31. We survived Cory’s Doctor prescribed vocal rest. I never knew how hard it would be on all of us not being able to talk to Cory for two weeks.
  32. We walked up and down the hill hundreds of times. Back and forth to the school, the playground, the baseball field, the creek. This quote from “UP” resonates with me. “That might sound boring but I think the boring stuff is the stuff I remember the most.”
  33. I’ve looked for lost boys’ shoes countless times. I’ve held too many sticks to count (that’s  what she said.) I’ve been a bar back/sous chef/LEGO assistant specializing in organizing the Legos by color. I’ve played dodge ball, dog monster, knock out, Sandlot baseball, and candy poker, of course.
  34. I, along with my six siblings, surprised my dad to be present for a huge award he received honoring the work and time he has devoted and volunteered for the Nonprofit business alliance. We were all so proud to sit at that table front center. We also laughed a lot. I may have made my sister wet her pantyhose. I won’t say which one.
  35. I feel like I should give myself credit every year for all of the pain, hardships, uncertainty of my physical health, Crohn’s disease and it’s tag-along friends. I’ve changed my ileostomy bag too many times to count. I’ve opened medical bills. So many medical bills. I’ve taken a lot of trips to the ostomy care center. It’s all I know but it’s still hard sometimes. And tricky. And never ending. Day by day. Thanks, Ben Stiller.
  36.  I admired the Kansas sunsets and the cotton candy clouds. The double rainbows. The wild flowers. The birds of all the seasons. The deer. The slap happy butterflies. I fed a baby rabbit. I love and appreciate the complexity and mesmerizing beauty of nature more every year. It’s such a quiet constant whisper of God’s presence and love.
  37. Lots of pressure for my last thing. I loved those around me in the best ways I could. I tried to be present, I prayed to be more. I hoped and dreamed and tried to be grateful even in the midst of the ditchy moments. I’m thankful for those who give me room to grow and patience for all of the ways I fall short. I’m the luckiest.

Human Thorns

IMG_9083We have these crazy fast growing, never-stopping, always-multiplying vines in our yard. They spring up in the front and back and everystinkingwhere. They taunt the pseudo-gardener in me. They seem to snicker and stick their leafy little tongues out at me as I walk out the front door past the bushes.

Some of them are so easy to pull out of the dirt. I reach down quickly in the middle of taking the recycling out. I feel strong. Proud. Accomplished. Other vines are a bit more established and sneaky too. They strategically tangle themselves up in flowers or bushes in difficult to reach places. I want to grab them at their roots so I’m not repeating this process every week or so. But this can be an awkward task and falling-into-the-bushes hard.

Lately, I have had the most challenging time pulling these vines out of our rosebushes. It’s a tedious and painful process, especially for a woman who never wears gloves. Every time I have tried to help the rose bushes, I end up bleeding. Poke. Ouch. Stab. Stab. Ouch. Cuss. Those thorns don’t mess around. They hurt. I suppose they are fulfilling their purpose. They are the aggressive protectors of some of the most brightly colored and fragrant flowers. I investigate and interrogate the thorns but they don’t care that I’m trying to help the beautiful flowers too. Our rose bushes are getting all choked up, literally, by the sneaky vines that wrap up and around their delicate branches and stems.

I sow some of my deepest thoughts outside. While I am bleeding from the thorn attacks, it occurs to me that we, beautiful and complex humans, have our own thorns. We often overprotect ourselves from things that may hinder our growth. We want to keep moving in the direction of light but sometimes our thorns injure those who want to help. Those trying to clean up our vines or prune our branches. Thankfully, if we are lucky, we have those relentless green thumb kind of people who won’t let a little flesh wound stop the weeding.

Those loyal and faithful friend, sister, and mother gardeners don’t give up. They keep after us even while we poke them, sometimes purposely, sometimes unknowingly with our ever-present thorns. Oftentimes, these vine gardeners are the people who know us the very best and still love us the most. They possess the instinctual power to feel the vines choking us. They show up at the times when we are trying our hardest to stop growing through the pain. Or stop growing altogether. Or perhaps we momentarily surrendered to letting our prickly thorns do all the talking.

It’s not so bad to have the thorns. After all, we are each such beautiful complex creatures. But, we have to recognize the potential of our thorns. To hurt. Isolate. And create physical and emotional distance from those who wear gloves and come ready to gently untangle the vines that surround us.

Letting others help us is one of love’s most humbling and delicate tasks. The practice takes root with a wheel barrow full of patience and our willingness to surrender control. I recently read one of Brennan Manning’s books, The Rabbi’s Heartbeat. I nearly copied the entire book since I borrowed it from the library.  I highly recommend it. Among so many others, I love this excerpt,

“The child spontaneously expresses emotions; the Pharisee carefully represses them. To open yourself to another person…is a sign of the Holy Spirit. To ignore, repress, or dismiss our feelings is to fail to listen to the stirrings of the Spirit within our emotional life. Jesus listened, cried, got frustrated, righteously angry, and felt sorrow for people in pain.”

When I untangled the vines creeping up their fragile branches,  the roses didn’t say “thank you.”  They didn’t need to. Their beauty, their fragrance, and their mere existence is enough. Just as giving and surrendering our entire selves for each other is enough. More than enough.

Freckle Constellations

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I may not recognize the constellations in tonight’s sky but I’ve seen the Little Dipper on your cheeks. As you tell me things like, “I really want a rhino to lick my face,” I trace an imaginary line back and forth between each freckle on your nose. I can’t help but soak in the beauty of your eyelashes, your freckles, your oversized grown-up teeth, a sweet new addition to your innocent six-and-a-half year old face. You may not remember these moments forever but I will hold onto them tight enough for the both of us.

I snapped a picture when you weren’t looking. While our brightly colored toenails dried. I’m so grateful and proud to be your mom. I will attempt the monkey bars, see saw, and superman swing with you on any beautiful spring day of the week. I love you a million, bazillion, beyond Pluto and back. I will dot to dot all the stars tonight and think of how grateful I am for your sun-kissed face. Your curious brain. Your welcoming, friendly, kind and inclusive heart. Your inquisitive and complimentary soul. Your strong monkey arms and your “supa fast” legs. Oh, and today, your perfectly mismatched pink, blue and purple toenails. I love every little beautiful thing that makes you special and unique and 100% pure therapeutic grade-Colby. I loved all of today. Every single drop.

Thank you for making me stronger. Thank you for helping me. Thank you for dropping pine cone bases for me so I wouldn’t touch the mulch. Thank you for waiting on me. Thank you for stopping and noticing so many gifts of new people, flowers, trees and the great outdoors. Thank you for loving the simple, wild and free things in life. Thank you for going to school in the morning and unknowingly becoming one of my wisest teachers in the afternoon.

Paralyzed Butterfly

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This morning on my walk, I stumbled upon a Monarch butterfly struggling in the grass. I wondered if she, too, had just dropped her kindergartner off at school. She kept reaching out with one of her legs to find the next piece of grass but she couldn’t quite get there. I pushed the piece of grass closer to her and she moved. She flopped her wings. I looked to see if one of them was broken. I pulled my dog away from her. Perhaps, she was dying. Did you know that Monarch butterflies have hairy backs?

I decided to pick her up without touching her beautiful wings. So delicate and vibrantly patterned. As I held her on my hand, she flew away. I nearly cried. Then, I started thinking about how God is here. In everything. He sees the broken-hearted mamas and he lifts us up. He changes our perspective. He shows us that we weren’t meant to be down in the grass. We are meant to fly.

For nearly twelve years, I worked with hospitalized kids and families enduring horrible traumas, never-ending sicknesses, and unimaginable accidents. I’ve played with orphaned siblings and cried with grieving mothers. I’ve found blankets for lifeless children. I know for a fact that every single one of these families would have given anything to see their children walk into elementary school, middle school, and high school. Growth is a beautiful thing. Growth is an honor. It’s a privilege.

But growth is still hard on a mama’s heart.

Especially this mama’s.

My older sons walked their little brother into his kindergarten classroom today. He didn’t need me, his mama. On day two. I watched their three backpacked bodies walk away. Their little healthy lives flashed before me. Their giggles. Their first steps. The enthusiastic ways that they jump off of the couch onto the pillow forts they have created below. Suddenly, as I walked away, I laughed at the goofy way Patch, our dog, runs through tall grass. I smiled.

Then, I looked down and saw the struggling butterfly.

One of mine and my boys’ favorite memories of my grandma is when she held a flower from my mom’s garden and suddenly, a butterfly landed on that flower. Today, a struggling mother, me, held a struggling butterfly. It’s undeniable proof that God can use the most fragile and tiny creatures of this world to shift our perspective from the dirt to the clouds.

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I have broken into the extra school supplies, especially the boxes of Kirkland kleenex. I have sat in my Grandma’s chair and cried with the dog staring awkwardly at me. Yesterday, I  told my husband that I was not going to share my writings because when you’re vulnerable and raw with your emotions, some people try to proofread your feelings or predict or edit them altogether. This really  hurts and can feel like someone is rubbing alcohol or lemon juice on an open wound. He said that’s not everybody and that’s not fair and that I have to keep writing. He’s right, I suppose. Thank you for those of you who say comforting things like, “I’m sitting beside my mama. The mother/child bond sure is a strong one.” I will keep sharing for those of you who do the hard work of feeling emotions deeply and as a result, sometimes feel like a paralyzed butterfly.

You’re not. You may just need to be gently lifted up. You’re beautiful and capable. You have unique and extraordinary wings and you will be flying again soon.

Spring Break Snowflakes

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I held our new shivering puppy, Patch, tightly as I watched and listened to my boys race up and down the slippery slides at the school playground. They all giggled nonstop as the cold wet slides launched their bodies onto the turf below. Time and time again.

“This is FUN, Mama!” they shouted.

I looked down in amazement and wonder at the beauty of the snowflakes that landed on Patch’s black fur. How can each one be so different? So beautiful. So perfect. The tiny, intricate, unique patterns and designs of the snowflakes that became gently trapped into the hairs on his back. He nuzzled his nose under my arm.

Each of my boys ran over to pet him or attempt to temporarily shield him from the snow. Their pink cheeks, grown-up front teeth and their bright eyes quickly peered into mine from beneath their stocking caps. They each tried to tell me something different. I can’t remember what. They looked so happy, so perfect. And then they each ran off.

I sat there, temporarily stuck in the moment, mesmerized and overwhelmed by their existence and the beauty held in their precious freckled faces. I will never tire of looking into their big brown innocent and smiling eyes, framed by their gigantic snowflake-trapping eyelashes.

“Do you feel the snowflakes trapped in your eyelashes?” I asked one of my boys.

He responded by blinking. The snowflakes melted or disappeared. Gone.

I will always thank God in these outside, overwhelmingly peaceful and joyfilled moments. I will count them. My boys. My blessings. Over and over and over again. I will marvel and wonder and nearly implode with thankfulness for the gifts of their lives. I can’t help but feel a varying combination of being utterly humbled, confused, worried, imperfect and beyond grateful for the privilege, the honor, and the responsibility of being their “mama.”

And then, most likely, later in the day, I may be tired or short-fused, perhaps even close to near-exploding at their fighting or complaining. But I promise myself that I will take a deep breath. I will gently tap myself on the shoulder and whisper in my head,

“Hey, you tired mama. Remember sitting at the picnic table earlier watching your boys like the most proud mom in the universe? With the spring snow flurries drifting down. And a new puppy on your lap as the confused birds sang, the highway traffic buzzed, and the irresistible sounds of those three rosy cheeked, giggling boys bounced around….”

I will tell myself to remember the powerful moments and my prayer of thanks. And I will shape up. I may even need to take an extra deep breath or two to activate my secret stash of patience.

Spring break snowflakes.

Remember their beauty, the quiet power they possess. They disappear too quickly.

I will slow down and remind myself to notice, to pause and to embrace the ever changing, beautiful and raw moments of motherhood.