Happy Mothers Day – 2013

It’s hard to believe that my “babies” are all grown up now. The boys are taller than me and Kacey is nearly as tall. It doesn’t seem all that long ago that they were so little and cuddly. Now they’re living on their own, working full-time jobs and going to college.

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Brad, Jake and Kacey when they were little bundles of joy – and other things.

We celebrated Mother’s Day last weekend when they were all home for a few days. Having them all under one roof was a wonderful enough gift. But the kids couldn’t let the holiday pass without presents. They know me well and honored me with a new dog!

015bCute, isn’t he? He’s pretty low maintenance compared to Lucy Pie. He doesn’t bark at all, doesn’t eat much and doesn’t shed all over the furniture! He stands guard on the front step at all times just waiting to welcome visitors. He soaks up the sun and glows brightly at night when the sun has gone down.

My  gift also included a lovely, hanging solar sun which I placed out in the “tiki lounge” on the deck. I’m looking forward to warm summer nights, relaxing on the deck and basking in the light of my special sun!

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I can’t imagine a life in which I wasn’t a mom now . We’ve had our ups and downs throughout the years, but the highs far outweigh the lows. I look at my sons and daughter and see bits of their dad or pieces of me in their personalities and I am proud. I see all the ways they’ve tackled life’s challenges better than we did and I am even more proud. Each of them is special in their own unique way and they have taught me about love that is deeper and more profound than anything I have ever known.

And if it weren’t for the example of my own wonderful mother, I wouldn’t have had half a clue about how to be a mom to my own children.

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Me, Mom and Cori

Happy Mother’s Day to all women – moms, grandmas, aunties or otherwise – who are so important in the life of a child. The world is a better place because of you!

This Ugly and Beautiful World

I remember one particular day long ago. I was sitting on the love seat in our living room with my firstborn baby in my arms. It was the first time I was left alone with him and I suddenly became overwhelmed with sadness and guilt. I looked at the perfect little person in my arms and cried. All I could think was that I had brought him into an imperfect, ugly world. I was responsible for bringing him into a place that would scare him and hurt him, a place that would make him doubt himself and feel sad. The fog of those painful emotions burned off quickly enough and I chalked it up to a bit of postpartum depression, but sometimes I wonder if I had more clarity at that time than I have most days since.

There’s been a black cloud over my head the past few days. The older I get, the more I tend to sometimes think that I have the world figured out. That is, only until something happens to make me realize I still have very naive expectations of the world. I think most of us venture into our adult lives with a somewhat idealized view of the future. Children come along and we picture them being happy, talented, intelligent and competent. And as for all those other people in our circle of family and friends? I don’t expect that life will be perfect every day for each and every one of them. But I do tend to hope that their pitfalls will be manageable. Jobs may be lost, but new ones found. Illnesses can be treated with surgery or medication and then it’s right back on to the normal path of life. Kids may not follow the dreams their parents envisioned for them, but they will still find some measure of success in life anyway. Death is inevitable, but hopefully it comes after a long and well-lived life, one in which the person was able live most of life’s best experiences.

Doubt crosses my mind when I learn things like a cancer diagnosis in a friend. Or when I hear that a coworker’s child is suffering from depression. It comes when I see deep unhappiness where contentment seems rightfully earned. It’s there when I receive news of a random attack that leaves the son of dear friends laying in a hospital with brain injuries, our friends sick with worry for a child’s future.

What an ugly, ugly world this can be.

I finished taming my corner garden this weekend. It was a good outlet; a good distraction. I sat on the deck last night, on a perfectly beautiful summer evening. The air was comfortable, the sky clear. All around was green grass and colorful flowers and the sounds of summer. I sat under the canopy with the Sunday evening sun just beginning to set and stared out at my little garden trying to reconcile the beauty of this world against the ugliness that surfaces day in and day out.

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I had an appointment this morning, a follow-up to the mammogram I had just over a week ago. I got the call last Friday informing me that they wanted to take a closer look. (“And, oh, by the way, try not to spend the weekend worrying.”) One mammogram, one ultrasound, one view of “the spot” and one explanation of the findings in which “non-cancerous” was the last bit of information revealed, I realized I’d been holding my breath. Afterwards, since Mark and I were already at the hospital, we went to find our friends whose son is just beginning to find his way back to normal. We wanted, if nothing more, to offer hugs and love and to let them know they could call us and ask for anything. Tears were shed. There wasn’t much we could do to lift their burden other than provide a shoulder to lean on.

I left the hospital today with a new perspective. This is an ugly world, just as much as it is a beautiful one. And sometimes my expectations are too high. I worry about a child who maybe hasn’t spread his wings as much as I think one of his age should. And so what? If he’s forty years old and still living with me, so be it. (Not that I really think he’d let that happen.) If my kids don’t grow up to be neurosurgeons or billionaires, so what? I hope that they can find what it is that makes them happy in life, in spite of what the world says should make them happy.

Maybe the ugly part of the world serves to remind me that I have it pretty good. My life is comfortable and without a lot of real difficulties. My family is safe, thriving and here with me. There’s no guarantee that tomorrow these things will still hold true. But for today, that’s a lot for which to be grateful.

New Rooms, Old Rooms

Signs of summer are emerging. The little patch of Hyacinth in the back yard and the Flowering Crab Apple tree in the front have bloomed and dropped their blossoms already. The Irises by the shed have sprouted and the Hostas under the deck are beginning to stretch up and outward.

Kacey sends text messages from school to work out plans to come home over Mother’s Day weekend. It will be her birthday and she wants to spend time with friends who will be going to prom that weekend. She won’t be done quite yet but wants to move some of the bigger stuff out of her dorm and spend a few days at home before going back mid-week to take her finals and finish up her freshman year of college. When she goes back that last week, she’ll be saying goodbye to friends she’s made during her first year of school, a more permanent goodbye than you might expect. She’s transferring to a new school next fall. It’s only slightly farther away from home than she is now, and she’ll be happier there. I can already tell. Story for another time, maybe.

Brad isn’t coming home this summer. It will be the first summer since he started college that he won’t be back home. He’s got a good job where he is, and summer classes to tackle so he can graduate by this fall. He has a new apartment, and a girlfriend and dog who love him and who make him very happy. That makes it easier for me to accept that his life becomes more his own every day. But it’s a bittersweet feeling.

Of course, Jake is still home, not that I see him very often. I sometimes go entire days without seeing him. And even when he’s not working, he’s gone, usually off somewhere with his buddies, playing football or working on cars.

We’re at a strange phase in life, not quite past the parenting phase but far from fully immersed in it. I enjoy the freedom of this stage of life, but still find myself quite often reminiscing wistfully about the past. I wonder if that wistful feeling will pass someday and I’ll fully embrace the empty nest.

Regardless, we’re going to take advantage of our extra space and freedom this summer. I have a shoulder that’s screaming out for a new memory-foam mattress. Our new bed will be the catalyst for improvements in the kids’ bedrooms. Jake will move to Brad’s bedroom, which is smaller than his, but in better shape. He’s perfectly willing to make the switch and will get a new bed out of the deal. His six-foot-something frame has rather outgrown his twin bed.

Jake’s current room needs an overhaul – new flooring, new window coverings and new paint. I’ve always decorated the kids rooms in colors of their choosing. The last time we painted Jake’s room, he was in an orange phase. It’s time to cover up the orange with something a little more subtle, I think. Our queen size bed will move to that room, which will now become the guest/Brad’s room.

Kacey’s room – now that’s another story. Her walls were painted several years ago in a patchwork of oranges, deep pinks and reds. I dread the thought of painting over it all. I’m sure it’s going to take several coats of primer to cover it up.

With so much new in the works, I think we’ll just leave Kacey’s room alone for the time being. Besides, I like the fact that the “crazy” room reminds me that my baby girl will continue to come home to me, at least for another summer or two. I like the fact that there is something so full of life with her personality written all over it, something that fills me with smiles and anticipation, something to welcome her home as long as she wants to come back.

No, I really don’t want to change that room at all. Not yet.

I Love this Messy House

Ugh, I had to go back to work today. It’s so hard to go back to work after a four-day weekend and celebrating Christmas and eating sweets and all that fun stuff. And the hardest part of going back to work between Christmas and New Years is how quiet it is. All those other smart people thought to schedule vacation time between the two holidays and all I can think is how much I wish I were at home, sleeping late and lazing around in my pajamas too!

Okay, it really wasn’t all that bad. I sort of thrive on routine, and as much as I hated the sound of the alarm clock this morning, I knew it would be good for me to get back at it.

These last few days have been great though. I just love having my kids home. Yes, so technically, Jake is always home because he lives here. But he’s not actually around much. And that really hasn’t changed just because the holidays came through. So we’ll have to work on having some quality time soon.

But Brad and Heather have been here. They arrived on Friday with Dacotah dog and it has been so fun having them home. We’re all battling for shower time and the house is rather untidy with all the extra activity, but I don’t care! We talk and hang out. We eat together. They made an awesome vegetable-tortellini soup for all of us for dinner tonight. We played Words with Friends and cracked up when I played the word pubes over a triple word score. Brad yelled at me for use of a dirty word. I said if the game lets me play it and gives me sixty points for doing so, I’m going for it.

Lucy has fallen in love with Heather and also thinks that Dacotah is her sister and new best friend. Poor Lucy is going to be so sad when these guys leave tomorrow!

He loves her too!

"Can my friend and I go outside???"

And Kacey is home too. I get to keep her until January 22nd! I love seeing her face when I come home. Love the random text messages and phone calls I got from her during the day today. Love the fact that we can lounge around on Saturday mornings drinking coffee while I listen to her stories.

And Kacey being home means Connor comes around much more often. I am not complaining!

The fun-loving duo!

A few years ago, you couldn’t have convinced me I’d be happy to walk through my living room and see it cluttered with laptops and iPods, phones and discarded pairs of socks, half-drank water bottles and television remotes. The thought of two dogs shedding all over my furniture and floors and slobbering all over the patio door would not have been met with enthusiasm. And yet, here I am, sitting in the midst of a messy house, the kitchen cluttered, with kids and friends coming and going, and so much going on there’s no hope of keeping up with it all.

And I love it. I’m going to miss this when life goes back to “normal.”

Brad is home

Brad came home from school Sunday night and along with him came Heather and Dacotah. Brad is home for the summer. Heather and Dacotah are just here until this afternoon when Heather needs to head back to North Dakota so she can be to work on time. I’m sure there will be many more visits from the two of them over the summer, though.

It’s so good having Brad home again. And Heather and Dacotah’s presence brings a calming effect, reminding me to enjoy these times with all of them. I love when Heather is here. We all seem to notice each other more and actually take the time to eat together, to have conversations and laugh. She’s such a great girl. Did I mention that she just graduated from college? Did I mention she got into grad school? Did I mention her tuition was waived and they’re paying her a stipend? Brad is one lucky boy to have her in his life. She’s smart, beautiful and sweet as can be.

Brad slept on the living room floor Sunday night so that Heather could have his bed. Dacotah chose to stay with Brad and when I tiptoed past the living room Monday morning as I was getting ready for work, she was all curled up on the living room chair. Now, she’s not allowed on furniture – not just my furniture, but any furniture. Those are Brad and Heather’s rules. But Dacotah just looked so cute and comfy there, and I am a big, sappy sucker, so I let her be. Later, when I passed by again on my way to the kitchen to grab some breakfast and lunch food to bring to work, I saw that Dacotah had vacated the chair and was curled up against Brad. His arm was wrapped around her. Her head was tucked under his chin. Her body was molded inside the curve of his. Lord, he loves that dog. And she loves him.

As I headed back to work yesterday morning, an unwelcome tense feeling returned and I wondered why I was letting a few unpleasant events of the past week keep dragging me down. I tried hard to shed the anxiety I was feeling, and eventually I did. I was pretty busy throughout the day and that helped a lot. I love to be busy and especially to feel challenged.  Once I remembered all the things I love about my job, those unpleasant things seemed to melt away. I ended up getting stuck in the office long after almost everyone else had gone home. (Our office is like the quarry where Fred Flintstone works. When the 5:00 whistle blows, look out. Mass exodus!) Anyway, I realized how much I loved working in the quiet, without a million questions and distractions all vying for my attention. I finally wrapped up what I was doing and headed out the door around 5:40.

There is road construction going on everywhere in Minnesota right now, and I do mean everywhere! Don’t plan on getting anywhere easily and don’t plan on getting there on time. Due to all this construction, I’ve been taking the side streets home and avoiding the freeway. For some stupid reason, I thought I’d take the freeway yesterday evening and “just zip on over” to the exit just beyond my normal exit where I knew there would be major delays due to construction.

Except there was no zipping. And there was a whole lot of being stopped at a dead standstill. I felt my frustration trying to return as my car creeped along until I could finally get off the freeway. It only took me forty minutes to get home, which is only twice as long as normal.

Thankfully, when I finally pulled into the driveway, there were Brad and Heather at the grill, cooking dinner. The table was set and all I had to do was sit down and enjoy a meal with (almost) the entire family (minus Jake, who was already gone to work). My frustrations were quickly forgotten. What a wonderful way to come home! My oldest boy is home and I am a happy mom!

Important life skills?

I love the way Kacey shares snippets of her days with me. Sometimes it seems as if there is nothing in particular that has triggered her thoughts and some of her best stories simply come forth very randomly.

Saturday was a mellow day at our house. There were no volleyball tournaments to attend. No errands that absolutely had to be run. The kids helped with the weekly cleaning. Then while I chipped away at a mountain of laundry, they played the new Wii Sports Resort game.

I think it was while we were cooking dinner that one such random story made its way to the forefront of Kacey’s thoughts and she felt compelled to share with me. She was mixing up some green bean casserole to go along with our main dish of seasoned tilapia when the story began…

It was SO cold in Chemistry class on Friday.

Mmmm-hmmm…

Miss Hei let us light the bunsen burners to stay warm.

Really!

People kept asking if they could light stuff on fire. Someone asked if they could light a piece of paper on fire. I think it was Brandon V.  Miss Hei wouldn’t let him. Someone else asked if they could light a pen on fire, but she said no to that too.

What’s with these kids? Do they seriously think the teacher would let them light things on fire just for the heck of it?

Well, sometimes she does let us light things on fire, if we have a legitimate reason.

Such as?

Like if we wanted to know what would happen if you light a pencil eraser on fire. Sometimes she’ll let us do it so we can see the effect.

I don’t remember learning such things when I was in high school. The most fascinating thing I got to do was look at a cremated body through a thick, clear plastic bag in my Death and Dying class. (It was a required religion course. I went to a Catholic high school.) I remember seeing a zipper. I guess when they cremate you, they keep your clothes on! I’m not sure what value this knowledge holds in my day-to-day life, but it was intriguing at the time. And it leads me to wonder…

Is knowing what happens when a pencil eraser goes up in flames an important life skill for kids today?

Let your kids be just who they are

Shannon asked me for kid advice today. She sometimes does that, even though we both have three kids. Her oldest is thirteen. My youngest is sixteen. So I guess between the two of us, that makes me the more seasoned veteran.

I guess she was feeling a little uncertain about the way she deals with her thirteen year old daughter, Emily. One of our co-workers knows Shannon and her husband and kids on a more personal level, and has spent much time with them outside of the office. (This coworker happens to be the same one who likes to coach me on how I should dress.) She can be generous and means well most of the time, but has a habit of overstepping her bounds when it comes to giving advice.

Shannon is a GREAT mom. I admire her patient and loving approach with her kids. She didn’t really need me to tell her she’s a great mom, but I guess today she just needed some reassurance.

The coworker came to Shannon and wanted to know if Emily would be attending the upcoming middle-school dance. Shannon wasn’t even aware of the dance. Emily wasn’t planning to go. She has never been much for attending school social events. And Shannon doesn’t push her to. Why make her do something she doesn’t want to do?

The coworker made Shannon feel that if she knew what was best for her daughter, she would encourage her to attend the dance. She felt as if Shannon were doing Emily a great disservice by not forcing her to be more social with her peers and that down the road, Emily might lack very important social skills because she didn’t attend a middle school dance.

Shannon shares a lot of the same worries and frustrations, and questions her parenting at times in the same way I have been known to do with my Jake. Emily and Jake are both unique people, marching to the beat of their own drums at times. Great kids, but they keep their parents guessing!

The thing is, it always amazes me when Shannon seeks my parenting advice. Yes, my son struggles with academics and has never had the least bit of interest in anything school related. I’ve spent my share of time in teachers’ faces, in meetings with a case-worker, just trying to make sure my son graduated high school. And he did and I was SO proud of him! I’ve often wondered what goes through that head of his, and I’ve often worried if he’ll be okay in life. He will, I know. At eighteen, I am finally starting to see him break out of his shell and begin to embrace life. He’s going to be fine, but he’ll keep me worrying all along the way. I know it.

Emily is much like Jake in many ways and yet, she is amazing in completely different ways. Emily was born with Spina-Bifida. (Spina Bifida is a birth defect that involves the incomplete development of the spinal cord. There are two types of Spina Bifida, and from what I have read, I believe Emily has the most severe form.) I’ve met Emily on two occasions. The first time was at a friend’s son’s high school graduation party. Emily would have been about ten years old and the time and she and I clicked right away.  We talked and talked. It was chilly that evening and rainy. We sat out in the yard in an enclosed canopy with the rain falling steadily outside. Emily wore my jean jacket because she was cold. Shannon tells me Emily has always remembered that. I saw her again recently when Shannon brought all three of her kids to watch us bowl. Again, Emily and I talked with ease. She’s a great kid.

Emily does not have a normal life in the way that most of us know normalcy. She can walk, with braces on her legs, but it is difficult for her, especially when she’s trying to navigate a middle school hallway filled with throngs of teenagers racing from one place to the next. Emily has chosen to use a wheelchair at school and when the family goes on outings involving extensive walking. Many times, she has to enjoy life in a different way than her friends and siblings. Recently, Shannon fought with the city to allow Emily to have her wheelchair on a public ice skating rink. She wanted to enjoy the ice rink with her siblings. Shannon won that fight!

Emily has difficulties with her studies. She’s a homebody and is content to hang out at home with her parents and siblings, watching t.v. and playing video games. These are the similarities she shares with Jake.

Shannon expressed her frustration to me about the advice offered by our coworker. She said she could force Emily to attend school social events, or she could allow her to skip them if that were her choice. “In the end,” she said, “She’s going to be the person she’s going to be. I can force her to go to a dance and there will be cliques of kids each hanging out in their own corners. And the kids who feel like outcasts are still going to feel like outcasts. Why should I subject her to that?”

I agreed with her. She seemed to need that affirmation. I told her how Brad had a very tight circle of friends in his high school years, as well as a huge crowd of fringe friends. He was always going to someone’s house, to a dance, to a game. I then explained how Jake literally had two best friends during his high school years. He rarely attended dances or other social events and spent many evenings, content at home. Kacey, however, has several very good friends as well as a wide circle of friends, both at her own school and at another neighboring school. Rare is the evening when she stays home doing nothing. (At least not willingly.)

Three kids, raised in the same home, with the same parents and the same set of rules and the same encouragement all turned out so differently from one another. I assured Shannon that there were many times I worried that Jake was too much of a loner, but as the years passed by, I accepted that he was happy with the way things were. He wasn’t depressed, didn’t seem to feel excluded. It’s not that he didn’t get invited to parties or events. He’s just an introvert, content in his own company a lot of the time.

Shannon wanted to know if I worry more about Jake than I do about my other two kids. I admitted that I do, at times. I think because he was so much of an introvert, he was exposed to less during his high school years. He was never in a situation where other kids were making poor choices about drinking or drugs. He wasn’t exposed to situations where his peers might have had to face consequences for their bad decisions. I do worry that now that he’s spreading his wings, he’s going to come across stuff like this much later than most and I worry because I don’t know how he’ll handle it. Will he follow the crowd or think for himself? I can only continue to talk to him, and all my kids, and hope for the best. Everyone makes mistakes. I just hope that the ones my kids make aren’t life altering mistakes.

I think all parents worry about their kids in one way or another. No matter how much they grow up, no matter how many successes they realize, there will still be times that we as parents worry about our babies. In trying to assure Shannon that she was doing the right thing by allowing Emily to be who she is, I reminded myself that it’s okay that my own kids aren’t carbon copies of one another. They are each their own, unique, individual wonderful selves. Just like Emily. She doesn’t have to go to a school dance just because attending dances is somebody else’s idea of normal.

I don’t know for sure, but I have a strong suspicion that Shannon went home, and it was business as usual. Shannon makes a habit of telling all of her kids that they are special and wonderful people. And I know they are going to grow up to be amazing adults because their mom never lets them forget for a minute that they are a gift to her. They don’t have to fit into some “perfect kid” mold. They are perfect just as they are. Even if eleven year old Dylan had a bad day because he didn’t get to ask that special girl to be his girlfriend and some kid called him fat, I’m pretty sure his mom will make sure he falls asleep tonight knowing that he is just right the way he is.

All kids should be so lucky. Maybe the well-meaning coworker wasn’t one of the lucky ones.