Overcomers

Growing up, my family attended mass every weekend. My parents were then, as they remain today, very active in their church. Faith and God were their highest priorities. And they attempted to instill the same values in their children by requiring weekly attendance at mass and encouraging our involvement wherever there were opportunities. They accomplished their goals with varying success, but no one can accuse them of not giving it their all!

Having always been an extremely shy child, I refused to do anything that would make me the center of attention at church. My brothers were altar boys for a few years. My sister, being the oldest and more cooperative offspring, became a lector in her teenage years. I’d watch her walk up on the altar, stand in front of the lectern and recite the weekly readings as I marveled at her confidence. At some point, my dad tried to coerce me volunteer in the same capacity. In words that were slightly more acceptable coming from my youthful mouth to my stern dad’s ears, I basically informed him it would be a cold day in hell.

He couldn’t make me stand up in front of the church and read from the Bible, but he could force my involvement in other ways. The Catholic mass holds much opportunity for communal prayer and response. As I sat in the hard pew amongst my parents and siblings, Dad would silently assert his authority by reaching for a missalette in front of me and placing it in my hands. There was no question what was required of me. Participate. I know Dad hoped for enthusiasm as well, but he’d take what he could get.

I would recite the prayers and respond according to the routine and flow of the mass. Singing, though. That was another story. Those church hymns were so ancient and boring. And the notes were often too high for me. And we Catholics weren’t as openly spiritual as some other faiths. There was no dancing in the aisles, no raising of the hands in praise, no spontaneous shouts of “AMEN!” or “Halleluja!” And as I recall, not a lot of loud singing from the pews. Mr. Teeters always lead us in song at Saturday mass while Mrs. Mrozinski accompanied him on the big church organ. On the rare occasions we went to Sunday mass, there was a choir with a handful of members. And for those of us in the congregation who didn’t sing with confidence, there was no hope of being drowned out among a sea of other voices. There were always a few voices that rose above the others, some in tune, some not. More power to them, I thought. Not me.

I was already a self-conscious teenager. I wasn’t about to add my voice to the few who could be heard. I mouthed the words to the songs. This did not escape Dad’s attention. On more than one occasion, I stood in the kitchen at home after mass, at the other end of one of Dad’s famous lectures. The scene was always the same. Dad insisting that next time, he’d better hear me singing. Me standing stubbornly, angry, refusing. He couldn’t make me sing, I’d say. He’d find a microphone and hold it up to my mouth if I didn’t start, he’d reply in anger.

These stand-offs with Dad only made me feel worse and the poor quality of my voice only magnified in my mind. I knew I was a terrible singer and Dad couldn’t make me sing at church.

Around those same years, I started high school. Somehow I fell in with a group of kids who were involved in theater. I worked as part of the stage crew on many productions and watched in admiration from the wings as my high school friends stood confidently on stage performing. Musical productions were fun and full of energy. And each one needed a bigger cast of performers than the non-musical plays. The star performers could really sing, but they needed a supporting choir for the many musical numbers. Somehow, someone convinced me to try out. I don’t know how that happened, but I’m sure there was something to the fact that one of my peers expressed belief in my ability to sing. My friends carried a lot more weight than my dad at that time. I began to believe I could do it.

With shaking legs and frayed nerves, I found myself up on stage during tryouts and somehow forced myself to sing … in a manner in which everyone could hear me. I was mortified inside, but I think I shut my eyes and just made myself keep going. I hated the sound of my voice, but I carried the tune until finally it was over. A boy I knew from the school bus stop patted me on the back and said, “You did great!” I didn’t believe him, but I now felt as if I’d taken a few steps toward conquering the feeling of self-consciousness that constantly floated around inside of me. I figured it could only get easier from here.

And when the cast list was posted, I saw my name on it! I’d never been so elated in my whole young life!

But when I informed my parents at home that evening of my accomplishment, my pride was crushed. There were many reasons given. None of them seemed fair at the time, but the bottom line was that I would not be performing in the musical. And mostly what I remember from that conversation was, “If you can’t sing in church, how do you think you’re going to sing on a stage in front of an auditorium full of people anyway?”

It didn’t matter that I thought I could do it because I’d be surrounded by friends who would also be singing, loudly, in front of an auditorium full of people. It didn’t matter that this tiny, little part in the school musical might help me grow a little bit and take a few small steps toward overcoming my fears. The conversation was over. I was told to inform the theater director the next day that I would be dropping out of the cast. I never thought I was a good singer. Never had hopes of being great. I just wanted to be part of something at school and this was one way I could do that. But it wasn’t going to happen. I think that was the end of my involvement in the theater group. I was embarrassed at having made a cast only to have to quit the next day. And there also ended any thought that I could be confident enough to put myself out there in front of others, in any way.

That lack of confidence continued to stay with me to some degree for the rest of my life. Of course, I grew up and learned in many ways that if I put my mind to it, I could probably do it. But I never got over that fear of singing in front of others. In all of my church-going years, I quietly refrained from singing. Didn’t sing to my kids unless it was in silliness. My cars have been the only ones to ever hear me belt it out.

2014-10-11bBut I have this sister, and her husband who’s in a bunch of bands. And they love to go out and sing karaoke. And I love to go out with them. And I’ve sung – but always with others. Always letting someone else take the lead. Always holding the microphone a ways away from my mouth. Always embarrassed, though I’ve learned that most people go out to sing karaoke because if they were good enough to be in bands, they’d be doing it there instead. And some people sing well at karaoke, but most people don’t. And no one cares because it just feels good to sing. And usually everyone has at least a good buzz going on anyway. I mean, look at this guy dancing! He didn’t care what anyone else was thinking. He was just living it up!

And so there we were again last night at the karaoke bar, my brother-in-law, my sister and me. My sister suffers a similar feeling of trepidation about getting up there and singing, maybe not quite as much as me, but still. A few people who were there the last time were there again. And they came over and told us all that they remembered us from two weeks ago – mostly because my brother-in-law and his band mates made a pretty good impression then. But they told us all they were glad we were back and hoped we’d all sing again.

My sister and I made a pact. We said we were going to do it. Not as a pair, not hiding behind each other. We were each going to go up there and just sing. Alone. Not because we think we’re fabulous singers. We’re not. But we can carry a tune and it just feels good to sing. And because as many years as have passed, we’re each still letting this feeling of self-consciousness hold us back to some degree.

There was no big challenge to the songs I sang, but I did it! My sister did too! People hooted and cheered and clapped. And my brother-in-law at one point said, “Nice job!” And we knocked knuckles. And I think he summed it up so well when he mused that people just want to do the things they enjoy doing and have someone encourage them for having done it. So simple, but so right.

And you know what? I’m still not going out and singing to the world, but I did sing in front of a bunch of people I don’t know and it was fun. It felt good. And next? Who knows? Maybe I’ll tell everyone I know that I’ve been writing a blog on the internet for the past eight years!

But probably not just yet. :-)

Have you hugged your chiropractor lately?

I did. I saw my chiropractor this afternoon and instead of the usual handshake, we hugged. I have to admit, it felt a little awkward. Usually he just shakes my hand. But I have been seeing him now for over eleven years, (we figured out this afternoon.) And we have socialized outside of our doctor-patient relationship, so we do tend to be a bit comfortable and casual around each other.

Thing is, the hugging took place at a wake I attended for my coworker’s father-in-law, who also happens to be the father-in-law of my chiropractor. So I guess the hugging was appropriate, considering there were sympathies involved and such.

Strange, small little world I live in at times, isn’t it?

So things have been busy, as you might guess from the lack of any posting around here. Kacey came home from school for the weekend, mainly to see the dentist on Friday. (And as far as I know, there was no hugging involved there.) Lucy was thrilled to have her “sister” home. Got herself a little spoiled-rotten pampering, she did.

Can you see how big Lucy's smiling?

Can you see how big Lucy’s smiling?

I was pretty happy too. I sure miss that kid when she’s away. We had a big weekend breakfast together and I let her spend some of my money on a new dress for a wedding she’s attending with Connor this coming weekend. Course, I found a little something(s) for myself too. Retail therapy is much more fun with Kacey!

Since Kacey had plans with friends on Saturday night, I accepted an invitation from my sister to go to karaoke. You remember my sister? The one with the musician husband who is in several bands? Yes, that one. So my brother-in-law hauled along a couple of his band buddies and they awed everyone in the bar with their vocal talents. There may be photographic evidence of my sister and I belting out something by Captain and Tennille, but any and all photographs were declared banned from Faceb00k and the internet in general. Amazing what a few beers can do for your confidence, even while you remain fully aware that your singing abilities are just not that great. Good thing people in karaoke bars tend to be a little drunk. Also, they love when someone sings poorly. Makes it easier to follow and fail just as miserably! I did everyone a service!

OH! And I got to meet Jake’s new girlfriend on Saturday. It’s too early to say much about that but initial impressions are really, really good. She made him buy new jeans. I like her already!

Work is … uh … busy. Over the last couple of weeks, there’ve been a few instances of skipping lunch, arriving early and staying late. I haven’t made my lunchtime trek around the pond in at least a week! I’m not complaining. I love my job as much as always.  At the moment, I’m just juggling multiple big happenings and deadlines demanding attention all at the same time.

I’m sure glad to be surrounded by such great people in the office, though. One of my responsibilities is to monitor several of our websites to ensure the content stays current. Part of that job is to make sure that expiring forms are updated when new versions are issued. But for reasons beyond my control, I’m not always on the receiving end of announcements of new forms. So then I have to remember to go out and look for updates. It’s not the greatest system. I have a techy teammate who’s created a few processes in the past to automate certain aspects of my job and make my work life so much easier. So I had this idea about the forms and thought I’d just give it a shot. I asked him if, in his bag of magic tricks, he had a way to create an alert system to read the expiration dates on the forms and send me a heads-up. It only took him a day or so. He stopped by my desk yesterday, walked me through a few things on my computer and there it was. My own personal alert system. I told him he’s a rock star. Hopefully that makes up for all the times I tell him to speak to me in English (not database, code or some other technology language,) and to stop getting frustrated with me already because I don’t speak geek! Really, though, we make a good team. I tell him he doesn’t communicate well with me. He told me I’m demanding. I said that makes me his work wife, to which he said, “I could do worse.” I’m grateful for him.

Just another couple of days and another weekend rolls around again. I’ll be ready for it!

Weekend with Brad

Every year, from late September through early November, Mark makes some time to go on a few bird hunting weekends. It’s been this way for as long as I’ve known him. When my boys were little guys, they couldn’t wait for the day they could go hunting with Dad. As they grew up, those annual hunting weekends with Dad became tradition.

Now my boys are adults and they still love to hunt. Brad is an avid outdoorsman through and through. This comes as no surprise. I cut out his horoscope from the newspaper on the day he was born. It reported that he would be a lover of the outdoors. He fishes all winter and summer long, but when the middle months start to fade away, it’s hunting that takes over all of his spare time. Brad’s been hunting for weeks already. There was “early goose” season and some dove hunting. Now duck opener is fast approaching.

Mark was checking in with Brad by phone a week or so ago and asked when we were going to see him again. Brad said he thought he could take a break from his huntsman activities to make a little trip home for a couple of days. He and Dacotah came home this past weekend. Of course, Saturday and Sunday went by all too fast.

We try to do too much when he’s home. See the grandparents. Spend time with his friends who still live in the area. Visit with the neighbors. Eat a meal together. Watch a movie. Make time to play race and chase and fetch in the back yard with Dacotah and Lucy. This time, Brad also squeezed in a jaunt to a nearby gun club with a couple of buddies to shoot trap. Or skeet. I forget which. Doesn’t matter. We also included dinner out together before he came along to watch us bowl in our Saturday league.

Before he came home for the weekend, I asked Brad if he wanted to go to the Renaissance Festival on Sunday. I’ve been there a time or two in my life, and really enjoyed it, and a few weeks back, I won tickets at work for this year’s event. Mark and I haven’t been there, probably since before Brad was born, so that’s over 25 years. Our kids have never gone. The Renaissance Festival is kind of a big deal around here so I wonder if I deprived my kids of an important experience by never taking them. I always meant to. Maybe we were just always broke after an annual trip to the state fair, or busy with soccer, football, activities and back to school. Whatever the reason, we never took them.

I always tease Brad that he’s a redneck. If it involves guns, professional sports or fishing equipment, he’s in. So I figured the Renaissance Festival was a little out of his comfort zone. But he willingly agreed to go, and as we drove there on a beautiful Sunday morning, I was describing what I remembered of it. The festival employees dress in costume and speak the language. Many festival visitors will also dress up. As you come through the gates and look around at the shops and attractions, you feel as if you’ve stepped back in time. He was pretty curious by the time we arrived.

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We had a great time. My take on the festival was this. Everyone is a little bit unique, some of us more than others. And if you like to really revel in your uniqueness, the Renaissance Festival is your place. Many of the costumes were elaborate and impressive. Tall, black leather boots, vests, sashes, swords and dresses with revealing bust lines were the norm. A few costumes were just strange, having nothing to do with the Renaissance. (Pretty sure Mexican capes and sombreros, and Dorothy of Kansas/Oz were not typical of the era.) Whatever the case, costumes or not, it was festive and joyful.

The weather was perfect – sunny and just cool enough to be really comfortable. We enjoyed a few different foods, the best by far being the cream puffs. We watched a Tortuga Twins show. Their sign said the performance was rated PG and it was. Lots of thinly veiled references to boobs and body parts and plenty of sexual innuendo. We laughed so hard! It felt really good to laugh like that, to see my boy laugh like that. He’s had a rough few months and I think he might just be starting to turn the corner toward some kind of normal again. Driving home from the festival, I marveled at how quickly the years have passed. Not so long ago, he was just a little boy learning what kind of person he was to become. And now, he’s this caring, kind, amazing man.

I  turned around from my spot in the front passenger seat to smile at him and his head was tipped back into the corner between the back rest and the car door, He had rolled up the fleece jacket I’d tossed into the back seat and was using it for a pillow. By the serene look on his face, I could tell he was asleep and there for just a moment was my little boy again. Just a cat nap later, he was awake again and Brad the man was back.

Early Monday morning was here all too soon and Brad and Dacotah were heading back to North Dakota, Brad needing to get back in time to go to work. If we’re lucky, he’ll be able to come home for Thanksgiving.

I don’t care how grown up they are. It always feels more like home when my kids are home. And it’s always bittersweet when they leave again.

Sling-Shotting and Flying

Fall poked its head in this week. The nights and morning have been downright chilly. Long sleeves and light jackets have reappeared, but I’m refusing to retire my sandals and flip-flops before the end of this month.

I had big plans for my Saturday. After having been on vacation through last weekend, I was looking forward to a day at home to restore order around the house, restock the groceries and get the laundry under control again. And then I was reminded of a saying. If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. I was anything but at home yesterday and my chores weren’t tackled nearly to the degree I’d hoped. My mom is having a rough time and I ended up trekking her to and from a couple of appointments, and made a trip to the pharmacy to pick up her prescription. And then because Mom was feeling so under the weather, I took my dad to his church for five o’clock mass where he was on deck to preach and then went back to pick him up later. It occurred to me that I might have just stayed and spent some time in church, but I didn’t. It’s been years since I regularly attended and I was grateful Dad didn’t ask about it. I’m sure it bothers him greatly, my drifting away from his faith, but I appreciate him respecting my choice by leaving it be.

I ran on the treadmill at the gym last week, finally conceding to the mornings that have grown steadily darker as the summer days wane. But this being Sunday, I was happy for the luxury of sleeping until the sun was already up, with no particular schedule to meet. I could run outside again. Lucy was thrilled, though she about drove me nuts as the hound portion of her mixed breeding kicked into high gear and she stopped to sniff the scents she’d been missing all week. Her four legs have this crazy ability to stop dead in her tracks without her toppling over. My gears need time to gradually slow before stopping. We must have been a sight, the two of us, with her pulling up short to investigate every single ever-loving smell. And me sling-shotting past her time and again. I think it’s time for Lucy to start having daily walks that are separate from my runs. I’m pretty sure this stop-and-start business is impeding any forward progress I hope to make in my running abilities.

Still, I enjoyed my time outside again. It’s funny how much changes even with even the gradual shift in the season. One thing I noticed all summer long is how few people I’d encounter around the neighborhood as I ran along the pedestrian-friendly asphalt paths. This morning we shared space with a surprising number of other runners, walkers and dogs. In summers past, I used to exchange good mornings with a regular stream of people, but not so these past few months. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was the warmth. I can’t say heat because it really didn’t get all that hot here this summer, particularly in the early part of the days before the sun had fully risen. In fact, I was grateful all along for the kind of temperatures and air that made it easier on my lungs and allowed me to keep working toward improvement as a runner.

And there was wind today like I don’t remember feeling in some time. As Lucy and I moved west and then south along our usual route, it seemed fierce and I felt it rushing in my ears, even though I knew this was somewhat of an illusion. Experience told me that when I reached our halfway point and turned back the other direction toward home, it would turn into a gentler breeze. The walkers today sported long pants and fleece jackets. I’d dressed in capris and short sleeves, knowing I’d work up a sweat and I was grateful for the wind that kept me cooler.

Sky 1The sky today held a heavier hue, confirming the transition of seasons that’s beginning to take shape. I do love the fall months and can only hope that signs of winter remain at bay until it’s their turn. Already one morning this week, I awoke to the feeling of cold air on my nose, my arms clutching the blankets in a tight curl around my body. I succumbed to the warmth of my bed and snoozed the alarm clock beyond hope of working in any amount of exercise before getting ready for work. That is a bad habit I really hope to squelch over the winter months.

My back and my inner spirit were glad that I resisted the urge to hibernate this morning. Spending time outside, appreciating the scenery of my neighborhood, and getting my heart rate going always gives me a boost that tends to carry me through the rest of the day. And truth be told, I knew Lucy was revelling in the return to a routine she greatly loves, so I couldn’t be too upset as she stopped me mid-stride once again to investigate a spread of gorgeous purple coneflowers beneath an electrical tower along the way. I stopped to let her sniff to her heart’s content and took the chance to study the prickled brown center of one of the flowers, knowing soon enough they’ll be fading away for the season.

Sky 3Today is shaping up to be a gorgeous day, with a few remnants of summer and a glimpse of fall evenly sprinkled within. A high school acquaintance shared some inspiration on Faceb00k this morning and we exchanged a few comments as a result. He left me with encouragement to go forward and create, to fly, and to enjoy this beautiful day. I’m going to go do my best!

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.

 

Adjusting Our Sails

It was a busy, whole-family kind of weekend. All of our kids were under the same roof again, an occurrence that grows increasingly rare with each passing month as they move further out of childhood and become more settled in their adult lives.

Brad came home on Friday night and it was so good to see him. We learned a while back that plans for his wedding have been put on hold. It was a shock to everyone, and I needed to see for myself that he was still doing okay. We’ve all been pretty sad. I’ve had a particularly hard time knowing my son is dealing with a broken heart and there’s nothing I can do to fix it. And on the flip side of the coin, I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that his fiance, someone I had already considered one of “ours,” may not ever really be one of ours. I miss her.

It’s been a difficult learning experience. I keep reminding myself that no one is immune to the hurts and disappointments of life. My kids, like any of us, will learn and grow from their challenges. Although, as their mom, I’ll never stop wanting to shield them from the truly painful stuff. I keep wishing I could fast-forward my son through the most hurtful times and into easier days. Unfortunately, I can’t. As for me, I just have to keep reminding myself that they are young. He is strong. And everyone has to figure out what they want in life. If this isn’t right, better that they figure it out now than later.

It felt good to wrap my arms around my boy, all six foot whatever of him, and tell him in person that I love him. This weekend was time well spent. Brad is okay and we made the most of our time together. We ate – a lot! Kids at home means I want to cook – a lot! Big breakfasts full of stuff requiring maple syrup and bacon on the side, goodies for snacking, and dinners with more food than we can possibly eat in one sitting.

A wish for ice cream on Saturday afternoon turned into a family trip to the locally famous Nelson’s, where most of us had never been before. At Nelson’s, flavor choices are plentiful and portion sizes are enormous! The line of customers snaked out the door and we soon learned why. It was worth the wait!

Inside Nelsons

Kacey being the only non-first-timer, advised us to order nothing larger than the child size ice cream. Here’s Brad with his child size cone.

Brad Ice Cream

I saw a man with what must have been a regular size cone. There were at least six scoops of ice cream stacked above to top edge of the cone. I don’t think I need to explain why Kacey and I split a child size cup.

While at Nelson’s I realized we were experiencing a rare photo opportunity. “Quick, get all together,” I encouraged the kids. “I want a picture.”

Cooperation was minimal as Kacey desperately tried – and failed – to get Jake to put down his malt and smile. And while she warned me not to put any of the failed photo attempts on the internet, she did admit that this one was kind of funny. I’ll take that as permission to post just this one.

Dang Kids

The weekend included “guy time” at the Game Fair, time with old friends, big dinners, and playing with the dogs. Dacotah and Lucy soaked up every bit of attention they could elicit from their dog-loving people. We watched She’s Out of My League … again. It’s become tradition to watch this movie every time that Brad is home and compete to see who can remember and recite the most lines. We all hung out in the driveway Sunday afternoon, shooting hoops, soaking up the sun and watching Brad wash his truck while neighbors wandered in and out of the driveway to say hello.

The weekend was fun, if not a little bittersweet. Our sense of “normal” has changed a little bit. But if I’ve learned anything over the past few weeks, it’s that we’ll all be okay, as long as we have each other.

Celebration in the Rain

The weather has been fierce this weekend, bringing torrential rains and powerful winds. While we were out of the house, running some errands yesterday, the wind ripped the canvas canopy right off the gazebo on our deck! Oh, well. We needed a new one anyway and I found a replacement online a while ago. I just never ordered it because we didn’t need a new one that desperately.

June is graduation season though, and I was feeling bad yesterday for those whose parties were scheduled for this weekend. Our neighbor, Maria was celebrating her high school graduation yesterday afternoon. Maria’s brother, Luke graduated three years ago with Kacey. His party was the same weekend as Kacey’s. I remember that weekend well. We had a Friday evening celebration at our house and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect. Then came Saturday and it rained steady and heavy for two days straight. Luke and many of Kacey’s friends had to improvise on their outdoor party plans while the rain refused to let up. Maria’s mom reminded me that her oldest son, Charlie’s graduation party five years ago took place in the rain as well.

We lucked out weather-wise with all three of our kids’ graduation parties. But this is Minnesota, and the weather can be unpredictable. Any outdoor celebration has to include shelter, either from the hot sun or in case of rain. That’s why most outdoor graduation parties here are centered in the garage and include a few portable canopies set up around the yard.

The weather didn’t put a stop to Maria’s party, although the wind took out the large canopy that had been set up in her family’s back yard. The rain couldn’t keep guests from coming to celebrate with the guest of honor. We all just squeezed into the garage or house. And we had fun! Graduation parties like Maria’s give us a chance to reconnect with old friends. Many of us in this neighborhood have children of similar ages. We were all so tight when the kids were little, coordinating play dates and keeping in close touch. But as the kids grew up, as they tend to do, they expanded their interests and circles of friends. Our kids sometimes moved in different directions, and without the play dates to keep us in touch, we parents connected less as the years went by.

I love the photo collages at graduation parties and seeing the timeline of a graduate’s life. Maria had photos galore and a digital slide show too. I clearly remember when Maria’s parents and two brothers welcomed the addition of a sweet baby girl to their family. I remember that Brooks and Dunn’s version of My Maria was Maria’s mom’s favorite song back then. And now that “little” girl is heading off to college! Her photo memories were filled with pictures of her with her friends, family and many of the kids from the neighborhood. They made me smile and brought back memories of my own. They made me marvel at how quickly she seems to have grown up and reminded me how fast time passes us by.

And we got to reconnect with old friends. Even though our kids have grown up and gone in different directions, we all remain connected. We all seem to be tied to a larger circle of people in some way. Many of Maria’s friends’ parents have other children who went to school with or played sports with our kids. The weave of relationships grows larger as the years pass by, yet keeps us connected even as we move on to the next phases of our lives.

With the heavy rain and chill in the air, I didn’t think we’d stay at the party long. But we encountered so many old friends and neighbors, we were there for hours. Hugs were exchanged. We listened to each others’ stories and caught up on the goings-on in everyone’s lives. We talked about our kids – their experiences, good and bad with college. We talked about upcoming marriages, and the loss of one of our friends last week at a much too young age. We talked about figuring out how to adjust our lives as our kids move out of childhood and on to lives of their own. We comforted each other with shared experiences as our parents grow older. There was so much conversation inside the three-car garage, it was sometimes hard to hear. But what struck me most was the genuine warmth in the eyes and smiles of our friends and neighbors as we reconnected again. Many of the people we saw have moved out of our daily lives since our kids left grade school, or since their sports teams played their last games, yet we conversed as comfortably as if we saw each other daily. The laughter we shared and the closeness we felt reminded me that even though we no longer see each other on a regular basis, we’ll always have those moments in time to bring us back together when we happen to cross paths again.

The sun eventually peeked out from behind the clouds and the rain subsided long enough for the crowd of guests to find some breathing room, meandering out into the driveway and front yard. Evening was closing in by then. It was time for us to be on our way.

I rarely regret growing older. Times and celebrations like these only further remind me that growing older, though it has some pitfalls, also has so many rewards. Congratulations to Maria. My wish for her and for every graduate is that they’ll enjoy the days and years ahead and feel the same rewards of time as I feel right now. Life is a gift. Make the most of it!