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.

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.

(NOT) FUNdraising

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My poor dad. My poor mom. Our poor neighbors. There were seven of us kids. We were not all in school or  at the same school or playing the same sport at the same time, but one of us must have always been fundraising for something. I vividly remember boxes and boxes of M&M’s going missing. And yet, the fundraising envelope remained empty. My parents paid for every last box of those expensive fundraiser M&M’s. Good one, soccer league. I also remember that crazy, overly enthusiastic sales guy showcasing all of the prizes elementary students could win if and only if you sold enough random crap to your neighbors and family members. They can’t say no, right? Wrong. We would beg our dad to take the sign-up form to his break room at work. He eventually would. Surely his co-workers would go nutso about the wrapping paper and gummi bears. Fancy gummi bears, that is. You can imagine the disappointment when the order form finally would return home with only a few names on it. Maybe the ones who just couldn’t resist the deals? Or felt sorry for that lonely ordering form hanging on the bulletin board. I do think I “won” a plastic Nerds candy container one time for my lame fundraising attempts. Never the Mickey mouse phone. Or the gumball machine. Or the walkman. Oh, the walkman. Maybe I did win a walkman. Or it may have been a present. I drove my sisters crazy singing the “Bodyguard” soundtrack every night. AND I will always love you. And so on.

It’s just not really practical or effective or safe or well-received to go door-to-door fundraising anymore. I will never forget my sister and I walking door to door in our tartan plaid Catholic skirts as highschoolers. We would alternate who would talk and do the spiel for whatever we were selling. Probably magazines. It was getting old fast, the failure, the unanswered doors. The quandary, “should we ring the doorbell or not?” We walked up a long secluded driveway. That should have been our first clue. It was unfortunately my turn to talk at this house. As we made it to the front of the house, we noticed a man outside gardening. Naked. Instead of turning and running the opposite direction, my sister nudged me, it was my turn to talk. I began awkwardly fumbling over my words stating that we were selling magazines or whatever. I should have just stated the obvious, “We’re selling magazines. And you’re naked. Completely naked.” Maybe he felt sorry for us. He grabbed a garbage bag and covered up his junk. I gave him the order form. And I remember his bare butt walking towards the front door. We quickly speed walked away. I never, ever, ever have wanted to be a door-to-door saleswoman. I learned the hard way that there are too many unknowns. Will the person be creepy, pissed, overly talkative, or naked? You just never really can know.

Unfortunately, my kids now have my negative fundraising history to unknowingly combat. Tonight when I remembered that the walk-a-thon was tomorrow and we had done NO fundraising, I forced my boys to call their grandparents and ask if they would like to support them in their walk-a-thon. “What are you walking for?” I don’t know, they answered. “How long are you walking?” I don’t know…again. I’m pretty sure raising money for the PTA will never go down as one of my strengths as a parent. Hopefully, my kids won’t hold it against me. Similar to the stories shared of walking miles in the freezing cold snow to school, I will pull a fundraising story from my stash.  At least you don’t have to walk door to door with a rehearsed speech, only to get turned down or wish that you had been turned down. Nervously waiting at the door, wondering if you are going to get chewed out or denied. Or worse, asked to come inside for some marzipan. Or even worse, stumble upon a naked gardener. Yep. Naked. The thought of him gardening naked still weirds me out to this day. Even if he was in his own yard, his very secluded hidden from the road yard. So, tonight, I repeated history. I did what my parents must have done time and time again. Times seven kids. I wrote a check to the school. So, walk your little hearts out, boys. Your grandparents and parents fully support you.

The Hurt Yarn

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When you’re busy knitting your life, you should remember that there are many different spools of yarn. And you really have to include them all. No matter how much they may be a bother. Or how much they may hurt. You can’t cut out certain ones or it may eventually cause the entire work of art to unravel. That’s you. Sometimes, we’re so busy trying to get some place else or be somebody different that we fail to see the beauty and the power that encompasses all of the different colors and textures that venture into our life.

My mom can knit beautifully, like no other person that I know. Pro status. She’s got mad knitting skills. She will talk to you, watch basketball games, and even play with your kids, all the while knitting the most gorgeous and difficult creation. Her relaxed hands move the needles flawlessly as she gently tugs on the yarn that may very well be strung across the room from a kid or dog playing with it. She’s not phased. She just keeps on knitting.

She once taught me how to knit when I was stuck in my dad’s borrowed leather chair by our front window. Modified bed rest. I couldn’t keep reading and watching TV all day long, going stir crazy waiting for two little boys to grow in my giant, nervous uterus. My mom would come over and teach me how to knit scarves and how to pearl. She also brought me delicious food. Probably because all I thought about and talked about was food. And more food. I could have been categorized as a tight knitter. A person wouldn’t watch me and feel pressed to learn the “relaxing art.” I made several imperfect scarves on my bedrest. Then, I delivered twins. The end. Of my amateur knitting career.

Watching my mom knit from the beginning stage of choosing her yarns and finding a pattern, to the “it’s coming along” stage to the gorgeous finished products helps me understand the process. It’s a powerful thought to envision that we were fearfully and wonderfully made, knit together in our mother’s womb(Psalms 139:13-14) and that we continue this beautiful work of art by how we live our lives. We are all the same in some powerful ways. We all receive a first breath and a last breath.  We are all so unique though in how we use the breaths in between. What we do. Who we become. The many strands of yarn that define us, change us, and help us relate to one another and love each other differently. More deeply. All the changing patterns our lives follow or stray away from differentiate us from one another. How we weave the many different colors and textures of yarn into our lives makes us each different, beautiful, and unique. It’s quite fascinating to think that no two of us are exactly the same.

I have witnessed some of the most remarkable, influential and compassionate people who have learned the delicate art of weaving “the hurt yarn” into their lives. The yarn of this world that represents pain, hard times, loss, brokenness, unfairness. The scars, the unanswered questions, the feeling of not belonging. I believe that this yarn carries the power to strengthen, help, heal and teach others. And love others on a whole different level. If and only if we consciously use it, not try to camouflage it. Or tuck the hurt yarn away in some cabinet only to then wonder why we’re suddenly falling apart. It takes time, patience, even practice to figure out how to best incorporate the hurt yarn into our lives. It’s difficult. It takes people recognizing it. And gently helping hand it to you. Then, helping pick it back up. It can be tricky, slipping out of your hands, give you callouses kind of yarn.

The greatest hidden, yet liberating gift of the hurt yarn is it’s power to open your eyes to a beauty and appreciation in other creatures like you’ve never noticed before. Beauty that others may not recognize. Yet. There is a tremendous amount of beauty in pain, fragility, struggles, vulnerabilities, honesty, imperfections, weakness, and forgiveness. They all hold the ability to unite us, humanize us, and relate us to each other in a way that’s more powerful than blood. That’s the beauty in the hurt yarn. If we incorporate the hurt yarn into our lives, it doesn’t take away from us. It stabilizes us. It humbles us. And strangely enough, it delicately holds the power to make us stronger in the most unexpected, unpredictable ways.

Permanent Teeth

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Earlier today, one of my sweet first grade boys started talking to me after school. We were hanging out up in the treehouse. In between talking, he would take a lick from his popsicle. Oh my goodness, I thought. I interrupted him, “Did you lose a tooth????” I had been gone at work all weekend. And he had been at school all day. A part of me experienced a huge flood of relief when he began to wiggle one of his bottom baby teeth back and forth with his fingers. Then, he creepily pushed it all the way forward and all the way back with his tongue. It gave me the heeby jeebies. I knew that wiggly tooth was just barely hanging on and that our first tooth fairy visit would be within days. I felt a sudden urge to take a couple of pictures of him with his baby teeth smile. The smile that soon would be different. Older.

Oh, man, here come the permanent teeth.

Permanent. That word. I’ve never been the greatest about holding onto physical, tangible reminders of my children’s youth. Like clippings from their first hair cuts. Or even writing down the exact day, time, and place where they first walked. Or said their first words. I do tend to remember moments. Emotions. Feelings. When my boy ran out of his room tonight shouting,
“MOM! DAD! I lost my tooth!” we quickly ran up the stairs.

And I will always hold tightly onto this memory. The look on his face of pure excitement and also disbelief as he held up the tiny tooth. While looking for a container to store his tooth, he dropped his baby tooth on the front porch. At 8:45 at night. I began desperately picking up odd white looking dirt specks. And tiny rocks. Seriously. We couldn’t find his tooth. We HAD to find that missing tooth. I had all three boys step inside so I could look around. Sometimes, I think these crazy unexpected things happen to put one of those neon, sticky page markers on my memory. Memory triggers. There I was down on my hands and knees looking for the first lost tooth. Literally, a lost tooth.

When I found it, I held tightly onto the tooth until we secured it into a tiny tooth container to await the tooth fairy’s visit. Ironically enough, the plastic tooth holder my son so proudly placed his tiny tooth in previously held my fancy expensive crown. For one of my “permanent teeth.” Later that night, after my husband filled his tiny tooth container with a few bucks, he handed me the tooth. I held it up in my big hands careful not to drop it. I looked at it. And I just couldn’t throw it away. So, I taped it inside of a jewelry box. I guess I needed the physical reminder. A reminder of one of the sweet little first white baby teeth that poked through when he was a bright pink-gummed, grinning, drooling baby. His baby tooth represents a touchable, physical reminder that my boys are getting bigger. Losing their baby teeth. Growing up.

Their body is pushing out those tiny “baby” teeth that have served their purpose. They’ve chewed their first bites of food, bitten my fingers, shoulders, legs repeatedly and their dad, bitten each other, Nerf Gun bullets, foam balls, nickels, quarters, and SO many other toys. But most importantly, those perfectly tiny teeth have helped communicate a million different kinds of smiles, giant open-mouthed giggles and laughter. I’m hopeful that his permanent teeth will continue to do the same. Only bigger teeth should amount to even bigger smiles, right? Smiles that will be contagious, life-changing, genuine, helpful, and representative of his passion and joy for life. A joy ignited at a very young age. And a joy that I hope will continue to shine through those teeth. Those permanent teeth.

Drunk Hummingbirds

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Low expectations Thursday. I set out to do two things today, besides the obvious goal of keeping my kids alive. Just two things.

1. Change the hummingbird juice
2. Put the clean sheets from the dryer on my bed

That’s it. That’s all. I could have thrown ‘take a shower” onto the list, but really, I don’t want to get cocky or be overly successful. We will just deem that an extraordinary bonus, if it happens. A gigantic pat on the back. Sometimes, towards the end of the week, when I’m getting a little disappointed in my lack of accomplishments, I do this: I set two small easily and totally doable goals. I can’t let the hummingbirds down again today. I know I may be hypersensitive but it seems like they’re giving me a crazy intoxicated look when they buzz by. We have two specific birds the boys have named “Green Lantern” and “Batman.” They are our “regulars.”

“Change the juice, big lady, ” Green Lantern says, in a high-pitched fast-paced tone of hummingbird voice.

Acckkk. I don’t want drunk hummingbirds. And I really don’t want to sleep on a naked bed again tonight. It’s too hot. And not in the sexy way. Though the three boys that invaded at some point in the night didn’t seem to mind. So many unexpected things happen in a day. It’s usually okay for a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants sort of self. Like when the dog decides to totally delve into the trash that only made it to the laundry room. Oh, commence swearing at the dog. Ughhh. Maybe I should feed him some dog food. He’s so needy sometimes. He probably wants me to pet him too. Then, there’s the totally unplanned for calls like you know, the one from a detective in Wichita. Another detective to talk to. “Quiet down, kids. Really. IT’S A POLICE OFFICER ON THE PHONE.” He told me they arrested a woman who fancied stealing people’s identities. She was driving around, stealing mail and had MY license and credit card. My costco card. She wouldn’t dare! I’ve never even been to Wichita. The kind detective let me unload a little on the situation. I told him that the worst part is how much time these crooks have stolen. You know, time that I could have been changing the hummingbird juice. Or putting some stinking sheets on the bed. Visiting my grandma. Or taking a shower.

For now,  I would rather just write about it. Because sometimes that’s the most helpful thing. Releasing it. Sometimes time just flies by. Other times, it quickly slips through the cracks in our cupped hands as we attempt to hold it still. No matter how hard we try to hold onto it, it’s fluid. Moving. On the quarrelsome evenings, time stands completely s….t….i….l….l. It really never seems to do what we would like it to do. Slow down. Speed up. JUST STOP already. Can’t we ever make up our minds.  I’m trying to be more aware of the time and place I am presently. Today. This moment. What I am capable of. As a human being. It seems like a sneaky way of forgetting about time altogether.

It’s not such a bad thing to lower expectations in certain areas of life. It feels good sometimes to feed the hummingbirds. And finish putting sheets on the bed. And quite honestly, when the hot water from the shower you didn’t expect to take hits your face, you feel like you must be dreaming. Low expectations Thursday….I think I love you.

The Helpers

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I’m sure you weren’t thinking about how hard we work to pay bills in our household. Maybe you noticed the three booster seats in the back of the van when you broke the glass. That shattered everywhere. You probably didn’t care that I just vacuumed my van out yesterday. You probably didn’t think that when you grabbed our wallets and stole our car, you took something more meaningful. You stole a tiny bit of our children’s innocence. And you threatened their sense of safety. In their own home.

“Why would somebody do that?” One of my boys asked.

I wish I could find you and ask you the question, so that I could give my children an honest answer. A better answer than, “I don’t know.” I really don’t know. They heard me say cuss words. Because of you. They watched me cry and bang the counters with my fists this morning. Because of you. I’m sure you didn’t think about how today you taught my kids a cruel, sad lesson about life. People steal. Complete strangers can take important stuff from you. In your very own driveway. I’m sure you didn’t care much about our family. I’m sure you thought we have plenty. We can replace a car, right? I hope the smokes were good. Really good.

You sneak onto people’s property and take stuff that’s not yours. Big stuff. You have no idea what happens to families as a result of your behavior. You probably don’t care. The people who you rob can’t drive to their jobs. To make money to pay for what you’ve broken or stolen. You instill fear and hopelessness.  I hate that you made me an emotional see-saw today. Alternating between feeling really, really pissed, like I want-to-hunt-you-down-so-you-can-look-at-my-face pissed, to feeling really, really sad for you. And your life. Maybe you feel remorse. Maybe you stole the car and our wallets to buy the smokes to sell them for some cash to buy some food for your family. Maybe. I would have rather you knocked on my door. And just asked me. I don’t want your kids to be hungry. Or even you.

I’m sorry for the choices that you’re making. I’m sorry for all the heartbreak you’ve caused. I’m sorry if you had a rough childhood. That made it hard. And lead you down a track with no outlet. I’m sorry if you face obstacles and feel like the way to tackle them is to steal from others. I’m sorry that it seems like we have more than you. And that you feel justified or entitled to our belongings. I’m sorry that we may see you in court one day. And that you may go to jail for this.

I want you to know that although you took a piece of my children’s innocence, you did not win today. The helpers taught my boys something much more meaningful than your cruel lessons. The encouragers surrounded us today. They are the ones who we will teach our boys to remember. Like the police officer who showed us great kindness and compassion. One of my sons recognized this. He said, “Mommy, he’s like a real super hero.” It’s true. Friends and family offered to drive us, to provide food for us, to care for us and to sympathize with us. They helped tame our outrage, anger and powerlessness into strength and courage. And even peace.

I think my boys will remember today. The broken glass. The missing car. Wallets. Stolen. What I believe and hope that they will remember most are the people who reached out, listened and wanted to turn something bad into something better. Giant love-filled bear hugs. They instilled hope. Encouraged strength. I pray that when my boys remember today that they will remember the helpers. Not you.