Dancing in the Grass

Labor Day weekend … a time to celebrate the culmination of days of hot sun and rain showers, t-shirts and shorts, barefooting and cooling off in the lake. Yeah, we still have a few weeks to enjoy full leafy trees and colorful flower gardens, ice cream and cold drinks outside on the deck, but it will all soon come to an end. School days have begun. The sun goes down earlier in the evening. The skies stay dark until later in the morning and the sun sinks below the horizon earlier in the evening.

Summer is winding down. I’ll surely miss it, but I took the chance to throw it a party this weekend and tell it to hurry back soon!

Actually, I didn’t throw the party. My sister and brother-in-law did. I just contributed some food and helped bid the passing season a bon voyage.

My brother-in-law, Kevin is a talented bass player. At 23 years old, he picked up a bass and said to himself, “I think I’ll learn to play this thing.” And then he did. Not too many years later, he found himself in a band, called Unsung Heroes. They were good. (You might think I’m prejudiced in that statement, being related to Kevin and all, but they really were good!) My sister, Cori took notice of them while out with some coworkers after work one day and that’s how she met Kevin. Eventually, she married him and the rest is history!

I’m sorry to say that Unsung Heroes are no longer together. Marriage, growing families, and life took precedence over playing in bars every weekend. But Kevin continued to play his bass. His passion for music didn’t fade away. He and Cori passed on their appreciation and talents to their two boys. Over the past few years, as their kids grew older, Kevin got back in the band scene. He plays at church. He plays in a rock cover band. He plays in a Christian rock band and he plays in an Elvis tribute band. His music keeps him very busy, but it’s what he loves to do.

Kevin’s musical connections made for a great party this weekend. He invited all of his musician friends along with all of his non-musician friends and family for an afternoon of fun and food in the back yard. The various bands played their own stuff and also mixed it up and played with each other for a great afternoon and evening of tunes.

Here’s Tom, a talented lead singer, with his Unsung Heroes drummer, Gordy, Kevin on bass and Mike of Millie and the Misfits on guitar.

And here’s Art a.k.a. Elvis with some of his band mates and Tom.

As the sun (and a few more drinks) went down, the guests began to dance. Neighbors strolled over and joined the party in the back yard. A bunch of us ‘girls’ formed a circle on the ‘dance floor’ and shook our groove thangs! The lawn was taking a beating in ways that my husband would never allow to happen in his yard. But no one seemed to mind here. The condition of the grass was the furthest thing from anyone’s thoughts.

I requested My Sharonaa throwback to the Unsung Heroes days and the band belted it out loud and proud. As happy energy flowed through my veins, I could feel the dewy grass beneath my bare feet and the cool, damp brush of the nighttime air on my skin. I had that rare sense of throwing caution to the wind and just living in the moment. My niece, sister and I laughed at and with each other as we danced and jumped around until we were breathless, not caring what we looked like. We were having so.much.fun! 

We’d given summer a proper send-off and the party ended with promises to do it again soon.

 

Peaceful Independence Day

Sometimes I dwell on things I can’t control. Sometimes to the point of making myself absolutely miserable. I think I’ve taught myself to believe that if I don’t worry enough – about my loved ones, or particular situations – that I’m not doing something right, and that I’m being selfish. And often, the end result is a BIG failure to live in the moment or appreciate anything else that might be right or good in my world.

I think this is a pattern of behavior that I’ve really honed over the years. And I guess I’ve just continued to do what I know.

I recently began reading a book that a coworker mentioned. She felt moved to share it with a former coworker of ours and came to me because she thought I might know how to reach him. After she described the book, I was intrigued. I said I might pick up a copy myself. She enthusiastically invited me to take her copy. She said, “I’m reading it for the second time. I can read it again later. You take it.”

My desire to read the book had nothing at all to do with the worrying habit I’ve just described. I wanted to read it because I thought it offered promise of easing some guilt over my withdrawal in recent years from the religion of my upbringing. Though I couldn’t easily sum it up here, the book’s been amazing in opening my eyes to an interesting perspective where ‘religion’ and God are concerned. Though I didn’t anticipate the book would help at all with my problem of dwelling and worrying,  it has played an unexpected part. And coincidentally, my arsenal of daily positivity messages that I receive via email and Faceb00k have come together to support a burgeoning idea that I can shift my pattern of behavior to something healthier.

Two specific ideas moved into my head over the past few days and they’ve stayed very present there.

1.  ‘Happiness’ was never meant to be a constant state of mind. It’s not something that exists outside of me and it’s not something that can be attained and held on to if I just check all the right things off of a happiness checklist. It’s out there amongst all of the other feelings and emotions I experience as a human. It takes its turn in the cycle of reality that is everyday life.

And not being happy every moment of every day? Is okay. It’s normal. Feeling down, worried, upset, angry, bored, mellow or merely content at various times? It’s normal too and I can stop beating myself up because I happen to feel those things now and then.

2. All of that worrying and obsessing I do about things that are out of my control is not going to change a thing. The world continues spinning even if I get myself stuck in some worrisome place in my head. So much is just out of my hands. A moderate level of worrying is okay. Beyond that, all I can do is keep doing what I can and keep loving and supporting my people to the best of my ability. I don’t always and can’t possibly know – how every situation is going to end. And while it all plays out, I’m still here. In my life. With opportunities and moments to grab on to. If I let too many of them pass me by because I’m dwelling in dark places that serve me little purpose, then it’s going to be pretty hard to notice anything else.

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Yesterday was Independence Day. I decided from the start to just be there, staying present in the day. I set my alarm for early and Lucy and I went out for a run. Temps were in the fifties at 5:00 am and it felt good. Lucy is a great running partner and she encourages me to keep it up when I might otherwise think I don’t have it in me. I felt stronger than ever as we ran while the sun came up.

After our run, I cleaned up quickly. Mark, Kacey, Connor and I then headed out for a day at the cabin with some of Mark’s family. We arrived in time for a big family breakfast and then everyone dispersed for various activities. Connor wanted to go fishing on the dock. Some of the nieces and a little nephew joined him. Mark and the bigger nephews got started on a building project outside the cabin while sister-in-law, niece-in-law, brother-in-law and I cleaned up the kitchen and did dishes. Funny how even something like drying the dishes of fourteen people, in a setting like that, can be fun. We bantered back and forth and made jokes until the cabin was tidy again.

Soon we were outside with the others. The building project provided some entertainment for a while. I spent some time on the dock with the kids and later, alone, just listening to the breeze in the trees and the sound of the water lapping against a boat as it sat in the boat lift. The sun disappeared behind a wall of clouds just as I’d changed into my swim suit. Then came some rain. The rain was disappointing, but it provided a chance to watch ‘The Lego Movie’ with both big and little kids. The movie was surprisingly enjoyable for all ages. Later, there was more eating as we all enjoyed a simple summer dinner together.

A few times over the course of the day, my mind wanted to wander away to things that will play themselves out, with or without me.  I’d remind myself to come back, to just “be here.” I don’t want to ignore life’s problems, but I want to get better at not letting them overshadow everything else. Yesterday was a day to be with family, to enjoy a simple place and some simple fun. I think this is something I really need to keep working on, to handle life and to support my loved ones in a more healthy and productive way. And I find myself anticipating the hours and days ahead a little more enthusiastically than usual.

This is a path I want to keep traveling.

In which I learn that what I want is not always what I need

We are now smack dab in the middle of our three-day weekend and I am loving it. And I have to say this because I didn’t expect to love it.

My husband is working this holiday weekend. And this is not all that unusual. If you know us at all, you know it’s not uncommon for Mark to work weekends. His job requires it of him, every other weekend, holiday or not. This is our norm and for the most part, I am just grateful that he is gainfully employed and able to help keep a roof over our heads, put food on the table, and help the last of the three kids get through college.

Obviously, I would prefer if Mark could enjoy every holiday at home with his family. I don’t feel quite whole when he’s not with us on these special occasions. I tend to feel a bit sorry for myself when it seems like most everyone I know is with their families, celebrating, or relaxing, or escaping everyday life … and we’re not.

I expected to feel let down this weekend. I expected to feel alone and a little bit bitter. Because my husband didn’t have to work this weekend. He chose to work.

Yes, there was a slight lack of communication in which he forgot to discuss this choice with me until it was too late to undo it. And I didn’t have the chance to tell him how much I would hate him making that choice.

I hate to admit this, but I … tend to … maybe be a little bit of a …

grudge-holder.

There. I said it. I’m a grudge-holder. (Hey. Everyone has a fault or two that needs continuous work. This is mine.) And if this weekend ended up being miserable for me, it would have been my own doing. But I made a pivotal choice yesterday morning when Mark’s alarm clock went off at 5:45 am.

As I lay there in bed, trying to go back to sleep, feeling disgruntled about being awakened on my day off, on my holiday weekend, I realized that returning to dreamland was not going to happen. It’s not in my early rising make-up to go back to sleep once I’m awake. Still, I thought I should have at least had the chance to continue sleeping past my norm.

Go out for a run, I said to myself.

I don’t run anymore, I reminded myself.

Well, since you agreed to run the Color Run with your daughter in seven short weeks, it might not be a bad idea to start again, my damn self said to me.

Fine! I’ll get up and go outside, I replied to myself. But I’m not running. I’ll just take Lucy for a walk.

But actually? I did run. Lucy wanted to run. Actually, Lucy always wants to run. And if there’s anyone who can melt my stubborn tendencies, (besides my daughter,) it’s my dog. So we ran. And it was good.

The sun was ablaze and the sky was a gorgeous blue. Flowering Crab Apple trees were in various stages of bloom all along the way and I breathed in deep, enjoying their floral fragrance. My legs weren’t in as bad of shape as I thought they would be and neither were my lungs. And Lucy was my motivation to keep going when I thought I couldn’t. By the time we came back home, I had a new attitude.

After our run and a good drink of water for both Lucy and me, I enjoyed a big cup of coffee with creamer and sat down to write. More therapy for my now significantly less bitter self.

Both Jake and Kacey were up early, and when Jake said, I’m going to make us some Belgian waffles, that sealed it. There’s nothing I love more than a hot, unhealthy breakfast with my kids on a lazy morning. Jake mixed up the waffle mix and I started some bacon in a frying pan. I ate too much bacon and the waffles didn’t come out of the iron in one piece, but it was all delicious.

Later, Kacey helped me do the minimum of cleaning we felt obligated to get done around the house. We watered our new vegetable plants out in the gardens, (we’re hoping to grow our own salads this summer,) and pulled Lucy’s pool out of the shed and filled ‘er up. Then we played with our crazy, adorable dog and laughed as she splashed in and out of her pool and ran circles in the yard under the warm, spring sun. Dogs really know how to revel. I could learn a thing or two from Lucy.

20140524Lucy

When Lucy pooped out after so much activity, we marveled at how cute she was, all curled up and sound asleep on the family room loveseat. Kacey and I headed back out to the patio table on the deck and  “did” our finger and toe nails with some bright pink polish. My coworker, Nick was getting married in the afternoon and Mark and I were going to the reception after he got off work. Thought I might give my fingernails a rare coat of polish to go along with the dressing up I’d be doing for the occasion.

As we sat outside soaking up as much enjoyment of  the day as we could, me polishing Kacey’s nails, she said, I just love this weather. It makes me so happy.

I said, Me too, and I thought, I really am happy. And here I had been all ready to be a pouty mess.

What a gift the day, and my kids had turned out to be. I was all prepared to be in a funk for the weekend, but instead had followed my instincts to make the best of what I had. And it did turn out to be the best. I think every day about how fast the timeline of my life is moving and I realize that I can’t afford to let the precious moments slip away while I dwell on things that aren’t all that important in the grand scheme of things. Even the wedding reception turned out to be more fun than either Mark or I expected. There was one of those photo booth type of set-ups, and my coworkers and I got in on the fun.

NickWeddingThe rest of this weekend promises to bring more picture-perfect weather. Our good friends, Paul and Megan have invited us out for a night of walking and dining in downtown Stillwater tonight, (historic and fun place). And Mark and I have had a long-overdue conversation about his choice to work. We both agree we should have had a more solid discussion about his plans. And I can now see that he was only trying to do what he thought was best for his employer, his work life and for the family. (After all, there is some serious holiday and overtime pay involved.) I can’t fault him for being a dedicated employee and trying to take care of us. He thought he was doing a good thing. And as a compromise, he will not be working on Monday, Memorial Day after all.

I really couldn’t have asked for anything more. This weekend didn’t turn out like I thought it should, but still, somehow, it has been everything I needed. Sometimes I’m my own worst enemy. But sometimes, I win the battle against myself. Perspective. It’s all about perspective. And choosing the right one. It’s a lesson I have to keep on learning.

 

Still in a holiday-lazy groove

I had to go back to work today after having the past two days off in honor of the New Year. This morning felt like Monday all over again. And it wasn’t easy getting out of bed. It’s been so cold for the past couple of weeks! I have a blanket, a heavy comforter and a quilt on the bed. Last night I threw a fleece blanket on top for good measure. Mark was gone to work for the night, so I tried to convince one of the dogs to curl up and share some body heat, but when Brad and Heather are home, which they are right now, Lucy forgets I exist and attaches herself like velcro to Heather’s side for the duration of their stay. Dacotah, sick of fighting for attention against Lucy, hung out with me for a while, but soon wandered off to find her own people again.

cold-weather-winter-outdoors-indoors-seasonal-ecards-someecards

Can you tell I’m one of those people who can never get warm? Now I remember why I was in an exercise slump around this time last year. Just the thought of making even the short jaunt from the gym parking lot into the gym in this kind of cold is almost painful. Of course now that Jillian Michaels lives in my DVD player, I can’t use that excuse anymore.

I didn’t exercise this morning, though. I had the best of intentions of going to the gym, but … it was  seriously cold out. Also, I didn’t really sleep much last night. The combination of “kids” home on break from school and work, coming and going, the dogs romping around as long as someone was awake, and Dacotah periodically wandering back in to stick her nose in my face and make sure I was still in my bed, all kept me from getting a solid night of sleep.

I was kind of cranky as I drove to work today. In weather this cold, the roads can be icy even when they don’t look it. But some drivers drive stupid anyway and it annoys me. And then I was thinking about how once I arrived at work, how much I didn’t want to have to deal with an annoying coworker who constantly comes across as such a phony and always manages to push my buttons. I literally prayed as I drove that she would call in sick. No such luck. She showed up to work not long after I arrived.

But I was busy after a couple of days away. There was plenty of catching up to do, several month-end processes to complete and a couple of client “fires” to put out. I barely had a free moment to spare and thankfully, my coworker kept her distance. It also helps that I’ve finally learned to refuse to respond when she initiates conversation over the cubicle wall. If she can’t come address me directly, I’m going to pretend I can’t hear her. It helps.

The day was full enough that it passed quickly. I got everything caught up and under control, enough for me to have one more day off tomorrow. I figured that since the kids are home, I might as well make use of all that PTO time I accumulated over the past year and stretch out the holidays just one more day. So by afternoon, that Monday feeling had passed and the Friday feeling took over.

Sure is going to feel strange to have to work all five days next week. But I think it’ll do me good to get back into a normal routine again.

Not Quite Perfect Christmas

In the hours before company started arriving on Christmas Eve, while I was puttering around doing last-minute cleaning and putting food together, I told my kids, “I think this is going to be my favorite part of Christmas. This time right now, when you are all here, helping me out, relaxing, and having fun with each other.” I’m glad I thought to tell them that.

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A quick nap for Dacotah and Kacey

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Brad and Jake having a friendly war

I had all weekend and Monday to get things ready for a house full of extended family on Christmas Eve. I was on top of things. Brad was supposed to work a half day on Tuesday, Christmas Eve. He and Heather were then going to drive home and arrive here in the late afternoon, just ahead of our company. But on Monday came reports of a big snowstorm in their area, beginning Tuesday in the early morning hours. Brad’s boss generously gave him Tuesday off and told him to get a head start on his drive home. He and Heather arrived home at midnight on Monday.  I was relieved to have them home safe and sound. During the day on Tuesday, while we prepared for the big night, my boys moved furniture in the living room to play Call of Duty on the X-Box. Kacey and Heather helped me in the kitchen. Connor passed through a time or two while taking care of his own last-minute Christmas preparations. They all laughed and joked and seemed to enjoy each other. It was a joy to be in the midst of it all.

I worried about other stuff, though. I’m sorry to say that I worried my way through Christmas. I wanted to pull off a nice Christmas for my parents. My dad had made it a point to say how happy he was to be home for Christmas this year and how much he was looking forward to spending it with all of his kids and grandkids.

Bu every family has its tensions at one time or another. I’ve had my share of family tension this year. I thought I could put it all aside for Christmas and particularly for my parents. The brother who had hurt me and my kids so much this past summer with his cruel, alcohol-induced words really seemed not to get that what he had done was so hurtful. I told myself that he had no idea how hurt I was and I should just let it go. I was ready. I wanted to let it go. But it wasn’t to be. Some people are just unhappy in life and the only thing that seems to help is making other people feel small so that they can feel bigger. I’m a non-confrontational person. When someone gets out of line with me, I seem to be physically incapable of speaking up. I do not sling hurtful words back in anger, as much as I sometimes wish I could. (Believe me, those words are inside of me. I just can’t make them come out.) In particular, with this brother, biting my tongue means keeping my parents happy. They don’t want their kids fighting and disliking each other. But I think I’ve hit the end of my rope with always having to say, “That’s just how he is. Let it go. Walk away. Be the bigger person.” A string of passive-aggressive communications from my brother and his wife during the days leading up to Christmas had frayed every last nerve in my body. It was stupid, juvenile, unprovoked stuff, like a text message conversation. “What food can we bring for Christmas? How about a veggie tray? We don’t want to bring a veggie tray.” … and then no further commitment to what, if any food they might bring to what is traditionally a somewhat pot-luck type of event. Their family of six showed up at the door with a 12-pack of Pepsi instead. There was the annoyed-sounding phone message left after I’d missed a call to my cell phone. “Yeah, I wanted to talk to you about something, but apparently you don’t want to answer my call. CRAZY!” And then when I picked up the land line, “Oh. Nice of you to answer the house phone at least.” I tried to brush it off, not take it personally, and did my best to appease them, the end result being a knot of anxiety in my chest that would not go away. Still hasn’t.

I think I managed to pull off something resembling a decent holiday for the rest of the family, but I came out of it…. scratch that… I went through it and came out of it feeling defeated and angry. I know that Mark and the kids were not the least bit oblivious to my stress. I clearly have not really let go of the old hurts and now every new hurt, no matter how small, seems monumental. I told Mark that I’m done… really done with the extended family gatherings. It’s just not worth it to make myself and my own family miserable before, during and after every event, just because one person can’t manage to treat other people with respect. Or maybe because I take things so personally. Either way, Mark says in another year’s time, I will have forgotten how passionate I feel about this right now and I will change my mind. Not that he disagrees that I have a right to feel hurt after opening up our home and spending hundreds of dollars to entertain twenty plus people. He just doesn’t feel as fiery inside as I seem to. Maybe I will change my mind. I don’t know. But it wouldn’t be so abnormal for us to start “doing our own thing” on the holidays. Our kids are adults. Not long from now, they’ll be getting married and having children of their own. It’s normal for the holidays to become more fragmented as families grow. I want to create good holiday memories with my kids, not leave them with a string of dysfunctional scenarios to mark the years.

I want to love my brother, but right now, I need to love him from afar.

After the big, loud, chaotic family party, Mark and I settled in the living room with our kids and Heather and Connor to open our family gifts. And it was wonderful. Wonderful. My kids are grown ups now, and I love to see how much more joy they now feel in the giving, rather than receiving. We laughed. I smiled. It was such a happy, relaxed time. I no longer felt as if I were walking a tight-rope.

Even Lucy got into the spirit!

Even Lucy got into the spirit!

We hit the sack well after midnight and Christmas Day arrived with a repeat of the extended family gathering with Mark’s relatives. I was physically exhausted, but much more relaxed not having to play hostess. There were family tensions there too, but at least they weren’t mine. And the day provided some of the most heart-warming moments and biggest smiles I’d felt in days.

My kids really seem to have grown up to like each other and enjoy one another’s company.

Christmas 2013 1We are all so excited that Heather will soon be our daughter- and sister-in law.

Christmas 2013 2And my kids are proving that they will someday be fabulous parents, aunts and uncles.

Christmas 2013 3

Ryan knows you are never too old to race Matchbox cars.

Christmas 2013 4

And Jake knows how to get a belly-laugh out of a kid.

I’m always sad that Christmas is over so soon. This year I have mixed feelings. There is too much I want to put behind me. I’m not proud of the way I let things eat away at me and the person I became as a result. I complained too much and couldn’t seem to let things go. This Christmas brought me many reason to feel blessed, but instead, I chose to dwell on the hurts. I need to move past this and move on.

New Year’s Eve, I’ll have another chance to spend time with all of the kids and Mark. I’m so looking forward to it. We’ve decided that we don’t want to go out, don’t want to have people over either. We’re going to get into our comfy clothes, eat appetizers, maybe play some games and watch movies until we fall asleep. I owe this to them.

A new year is just around the corner. A fresh start. A chance to learn how to deal with life better. I’m ready.

Frenzy

I have just been a crazy woman lately. The holiday panic really set in last weekend when I didn’t manage to finish the Christmas shopping and hadn’t yet decided on a menu for the Christmas Eve festivities happening at my house.  I know I’ll get things under control. I always do. Every day after work, I tackle one or two things on the holiday to-do list or find one more gift to put under the tree, so I’m getting stuff done.  I just seem to feel more edgy about it all than usual.

Just so you know, if you were wondering when my weekly goals progress report would show up, it ain’t happening this week.

I don’t know. I guess I just thought that we were going to simplify a little bit this year. And we have. Some. It just doesn’t seem to be simplified enough. We have a good amount of family, all in close proximity. Over the course of two days, we will entertain or visit them all. We are not familiar with the “quiet” holiday.

I  want all the gifts to be just perfect. There are some homemade gifts in the works, something simple and inexpensive, but I need time to make them. WHY didn’t I start sooner? Seriously. When I’m waking up at three in the morning and my mind races with thoughts of what if and did I and what am I forgetting, there is clearly a problem. And I know I’m doing this to myself. As much as I hate to admit it, I know this is all due to my need to do it all, make it all perfect, and manage it without asking for any major help.

Thankfully, Kacey has been home from school for almost a week already. She’s done all the gift wrapping so far and helped me slap mailing labels and stamps on Christmas cards. She was home before most of her friends and she was bored, without a job, and totally in the holiday spirit. I don’t know what I would do without her!

Don’t get me wrong. Part of me loves the craze and welcomes the challenge. And I always have fun getting ready for Christmas, even if every day I’m kicking myself for not starting to get my ducks in a row sooner. But Christmas always seems to come and go in a flash and I always find myself wondering how it passed us by so quickly. And the reality is, I can work my butt off trying to get the house perfect, make the food perfect, and make sure everyone is beyond happy. But Christmas Eve will come and the house will be bursting at the seams with my family and it will quickly look like a bomb went off in here anyway. And no one will care. Really.

One of these years, I’ll figure out how to enjoy the Christmas season with a better sense of peace and calm.

Still part of their lives

Having a husband who has worked rotating shifts for all of our married life, I’ve learned to deal with managing on my own. His work schedule pays no mind to weekends, evenings, special occasions or holidays. We consider it a bonus when he gets to be around for these things. Our family and friends know the routine. When he’s not there, the question is always the same. “Mark working?”

His “weekends” often happen during the week. His off-time can happen during the day, when most of the rest of us are at work. We spend so much time dealing with life without each other, that when we retire someday, we’ll have to relearn how to deal with each other.

I remember when the kids were little, trying to manage the house on my own while also being solely responsible for diaper changes and feedings. A few years later, I was trying to navigate play dates and game schedules for the three kids while trying to figure out how to get the grocery shopping done. I remember wondering if I’d ever experience quiet again or have time to sit down and read a book to my heart’s content. Of course there were perks to his crazy schedule, like having him around during the days when I ran a home daycare. It was nice to have the support of another adult while living amongst all those little ones!

Now I sometimes wonder why I was in such a hurry to have life all to myself again. Sure, it’s nice to wake up on the weekends and have the luxury of sitting with a cup of coffee, reading, or having time to write. But more often than not, I find myself missing each moment when I’d hear the sound of a bedroom door opening and a sleepy-headed, pajama-attired little body would come greet me with a morning hug. I miss making hot breakfasts and watching them eat together at the table. I miss hearing the dialogue of The Sandlot as it played on the living room television for the hundredth time. I miss having a little one cuddle on my lap and twirl my hair in a little finger. I miss being needed.

Brads big fishThey’re off living their own lives now. Two of them are out on their own, a couple of hours or more from “home.” One of them is still under the same roof, but living his own life just the same. The moments of pride that were once about an impressive play on the baseball diamond, are now focused on things like Brad’s job promotion that was earned only months after starting his first “real” job after college graduation. It’s knowing that he’s building a life that allows him to balance responsibility with the things he loves to do in his free time.

Jakes FishI used to marvel over the fact that eight year-old Jake could tell you the name of every NASCAR driver and the number and sponsor of his car. I used to beam when others would comment on how fast he could run from one end of a soccer field to the other. Now I find happiness in the fact that he’s found a job that he loves, one that fits his personality and makes him proud. He works with his hands and gets to drive to different job sites from one week to the next and he loves it. And I guess I don’t mind too much that he still “lets” me wash his dirty, smelly work clothes.

Kacey Vikings CampKacey was a little girl with what seemed like a million baby dolls and Barbie dolls. She was constantly invited to sleepovers with her little girlfriends. She loved making art projects and had a personality that was a combination of athlete, social butterfly and scholar, making her just a really well-rounded kid. Now she’s in her third year of college already, and not surprisingly, embracing it to the fullest.

Now, another holiday weekend is upon us. Mark is at work for this one. The “away” kids didn’t come home this time. The quiet feels strange. Years ago, even if Mark was working, the kids and I would find something to do; whether it was a gathering with extended family, or a trip to our favorite beach and park. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself this weekend. My sister, my friends… they all have spouses with “normal” work schedules or still have younger kids at home. I wasn’t up for hosting a party with extended family without help from Mark or the kids. Besides, our extended family get-togethers have kind of fizzled out recently, unless it’s a major holiday. And I’m okay with that.

I had all this time on my hands and no obligations. So when Kacey said, “You should come visit me,” I readily agreed. The drive is less than two hours. There were still a few things here at home that she decided she needed for her new apartment near school. I could bring those to her. I could bring her some of the leftover kebabs I’d made on Friday night. I could bring her some fresh garden tomatoes and cucumbers, and the favorite tank-top that somehow ended up in my stack of clean laundry before she left.

So I took her up on the offer. I woke up early on Saturday morning and packed the car with things to bring to her. I tossed in a case of bottled water that I’d bought for her. She’s a college kid without a car and as yet, still without a job. As her mom, I love to help her with the little things like that. I arrived just before 11:00 and took her and a hungry Connor out for breakfast/lunch. Then we went to the mall where they introduced me to Scheels, a store with a huge variety of athletic clothing, fan gear, shoes and outdoor equipment. We browsed around and found things that caught our attention but didn’t buy anything. Then we went to Target to pick up a few things, including some light-blocking curtains to hang over the window and mini-blinds in Kacey’s bedroom. Apparently, this was one of her most pressing needs so far.

The domestic activities were too boring for Connor. He went back to his house while Kacey and I got creative with some Command hooks and a tension rod back at the apartment. She’s not sure her lease allows her to screw things into the walls, so we played it safe. And I have to say, the end result was aesthetically appealing as well as highly functional. “Now I can sleep in past sunrise,” Kacey happily announced.

Afterwards, I treated my girl to groceries and some kitchen supplies. She and her roommates have realized how difficult it is to function in the kitchen without a liquid measuring cup, measuring spoons and a colander.

Kacey was so gracious and grateful for the purchases. She’s so responsible and careful with her money, but I remember living on a shoestring budget. It wasn’t fun. As her mom, I was the one who was grateful that I could do these small things for her.

They’re all growing up. They need me less and less, which ultimately, was the real goal. But I’ll always want to do things for them when I can. It helps me to feel that I’m still part of their lives, even as they learn to fly on their own.

My day with my daughter went by too fast, but I’m happy we had it. The remainder of the weekend stretches ahead and I’ll fill it with chores of my own, and some relaxing activities too. Maybe I’ll finally paint that old water pump and milk can I’ve been wanting to put out in one of the gardens. Yep, this stage in life has its perks too!