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.

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.

 

Twenty-One

I’ve been referring to my offspring as young adults for quite some time. They are, after all, in various stages of grown-upness and responsibility. Brad is living on his own, working full-time and engaged to be married. Jake continues to live at home (and I’m grateful that he does,) but works full-time and just purchased his first new vehicle. Kacey just finished her third year of college and is preparing to start her summer job next week.

Yes, my kids have definitely grown up. And it’s official today. My baby is twenty-one years old today! It’s hard to believe how quickly the time has passed. I still remember that day twenty-one years ago, when Mark was driving me to the hospital and based on my two previous experiences, I was preparing myself for another twelve to eighteen hours of labor. Then we arrived at the hospital and thirty minutes later, I was holding a baby girl in my arms.

Having only been a mom to two little boys to that point in my life, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I just knew I was in love with her from the moment she arrived. I dressed her in frilly, pretty dresses just until she was old enough to move around on her own and it became clear she needed durable clothing. She had two brothers to keep up with, sand castles to build, climbing to do and bikes to ride. As she grew up, she grew to love playing sports and she also displayed a thirst for knowledge. She loved school and for many years, she would tell anyone who would listen that she wanted to be an art or phy ed teacher when she grew up.

She has always loved to be involved – in almost any kind of activity. She mentored younger kids in high school, was a youth leader at our church, and babysat the littler kids in the neighborhood. She went to school dances and played volleyball, softball, soccer and basketball. There were hundreds of sleepovers to have and to go to. Her social nature helped form the bonds of strong friendships. She loves her friends and they love her.

And so do I. She’s my best friend and the world’s greatest daughter. And she’s twenty-one today. Of course, there are plans to celebrate with her friends later on this evening, but she gave her family the honor of taking her out for her first celebration – for dinner – and her first legal drink.

Kacey and Me on her birthday

My baby’s all grown up now. And I’m officially old. (Not that it took her twenty-first birthday to make me realize that!) Happy Birthday, Kacey!

When the kids get too old to be intimidated by Dad

There will be four adults living in this house this summer.

Jake, who is twenty-three, hasn’t left yet.

Kacey, who will be twenty-one tomorrow, has returned for the summer after finishing her third year of college.

Mark, Jake and I have settled into somewhat of a groove as far as keeping the house in order when it’s just the three of us. Now with Kacey home, there’s a slightly noticeable difference. There are a few more things that have the potential to be left sitting around. And the laundry room seems a bit more claustrophobic than usual. Girls have a lot of clothes. And Kacey does her own laundry. But a lot of it gets hung up to dry, leaving fewer hangers and less drying space for me. But I’m happy to have her home and have yet to notice or be bothered by any extra mess.

We’ve been down this road a few times before, with both Brad and Kacey leaving and returning again. We’ll figure it out this time too.

Word has it though, that Mark came home from work a little bit crabby today. There was a basket of unfolded laundry sitting on the kitchen table, which, truth be told, I had left there last night. I was doing one too many things and I just pooped out and went to bed. I left the unfolded laundry on the table. And apparently, it bothered Mark.

Kacey hasn’t yet started her summer job so she was home today. She wasn’t being lazy. She just didn’t get to that particular bit of laundry that did not belong to her. Jake came home from work just after Mark and just before me. Mark decided this was a good time to make his annoyance with the unfolded laundry known and to assert his authority. Word has it his speech went and was received a little something like this…

MARK: There’s an extra person now living in this house for the summer, and we are not going to live like pigs. I don’t want to come home and find your messes all over the place. If you guys leave messes, Mom will be ticked off. If Mom is ticked off, then I’m the one who’s going to have to pay. And if I have to pay, you guys are gonna pay!   

JAKE: You’re gonna pay me? To make messes?

MARK: I’m serious.

KACEY: I wanna get paid too! How much will you pay me to be messy?

MARK: (scowling) I’m not kidding. You’re both adults. Clean up behind yourselves.

JAKE and KACEY: (laughing)

MARK: (retreats to his man-cave in defeat)

I don’t believe Mark  is nearly as intimidating to the kids as he was when they were shorter than him. And honestly? I find it pretty funny that he still tries to be. The truth is, we don’t have any hoarding situations. There are no ants in the bedrooms. The kids manage their stuff as well as any other twenty-something adult. If we had any major problems in this area, they might not continue to be welcome to live here. But they are respectful residents of this home and I don’t have a problem with their living habits.

So all is good. The kids got the point. I got a good laugh. And Mark might have learned that since his kids are adults, he can address issues like this in a more adult manner with them. But we’ll probably have to remind him again a few times!

(And for the record, I do not make a habit of blaming Mark for things that are not his doing! Just sayin’.)

Mothers Day

This one's in the kitchen.

This one’s in the kitchen.

Mothers Day, for me, came last weekend when the kids were all home. Just having them all under one roof was enough for me, but they came bearing gifts too – a couple of plug-in scent warmers and a bunch of different wax scents. My sister had one at her house on Easter and I was ooing and ahhing over it. I must have been really excited, since the following weekend, my sister gave me one of my own – a cute ceramic owl just like hers. And then the kids, not knowing about my sister’s gift, gave me two more for Mothers Day. The house is now smelling lovely and fresh as I try out the various fragrances in various rooms.

So today was a quiet day. It started out slowly. I was awake early, when Lucy came bounding up into the bed to let us know she was ready for her peeps rise and shine. But since Mark got up to feed her and let her outside, I decided to allow myself the luxury of going back to sleep. It was, after all, Mothers Day, and I am a mother. Thought I might allow myself a little pampering for the occasion. When I was finally done sleeping an hour later, I allowed myself a leisurely cup of coffee as I read some blogs and played with my new Pinterest account, a form of social media which I have been avoiding to this point but have now been happily sucked into. I’ve been busy pinning recipes!

The sky was a bit overcast today, but the air was warm. Lucy spent all morning roaming the fenced back yard and keeping an eye on the squirrels and birds, not to mention the many people passing by on the neighborhood path. Later on, Mark took her out front with him while he worked on some chores and she took in the activities of the neighbors and neighbor dogs across the street. It was such a beautiful day, I thought I’d go join them and enjoy some time outside too.

On the front step

I recently put a chair out on the front step and I sat down to relax and read a magazine, but Lucy had other ideas. She thought she should sit with me too.

I found time to bake a batch of banana bread in the afternoon and while it was in the oven, we walked over to my parents’ house, bringing my mom a pot of flowers for her front porch. Kacey arrived home from a weekend adventure and later on, she, Jake, Mark and I went to Mark’s parents’ house bearing an identical gift for his mom. We enjoyed a summer dinner of sloppy joes, various salads, fruits, veggies and dips with (almost) the whole fam damily. Before we left, I got a phone call from Brad wishing me a happy Mothers Day and he told me all about his weekend fishing adventures.

And just like that, another weekend comes to a close. All in all, it was a pretty good one!

 

Happy Weekend

The weekend went by too fast, but I knew it would. It’s always like that when the kids are home. And we had a lot to squeeze into just a few days.

Since Connor had fraternity responsibilities and couldn’t come join us for the weekend, and since I still don’t have my new car, therefore Kacey still doesn’t have her “new” car, that left me to go pick her up from school on Thursday afternoon. I didn’t mind the hour and a half drive to and from, since I knew she would entertain me with stories while I drove us back home. I was laughing so hard I was crying over a story involving Kacey’s friend, Laura and free tampon samples at the gym!

While we drove, Kacey also shared her worries over finding employment for the summer. She had applications in at several businesses, but hadn’t yet heard from anyone. Then, as if on cue, her phone rang, and it just happened to be a job offer, the one she really wanted. She accepted and later told me she felt like a huge weight had been lifted. The next day, she heard from two others and had to explain she had accepted a position already. And when she’s not busy working her “real” job, there are two families wanting her nannying services anytime she might be available. When it rains, it pours!

I spent Friday getting the house in order and preparing as much food in advance of the weekend as possible. Brad and Heather arrived around midnight on Friday, but we were all exhausted after a long day and headed to bed not long afterwards. As we said our good nights, I told them all to plan on birthday breakfast in the morning. And before hitting the sack, I put the crock pot on.

Morning greeted us with the aroma of eggs, sausage, peppers and onions. My crock pot breakfast casserole was looking good!

Birthday breakfast 1

And Emjay’s Company French Toast did not disappoint either. This overnight French toast bake was a huge hit with the family and I will definitely make it again. Although I think my teeth actually ached a little when Jake poured maple syrup all over his carmely double portion! It certainly didn’t need any additional sugar. It was delicious as-is.

Birthday breakfast 2

We were all in a bit of a food coma after that big breakfast. The dogs soaked up all the attention they could while the kids let their stomachs settle.

Birthday weekend

Birthday weekend 2The rest of the day was spent doing whatever the kids wanted to do. Mark and Brad took Brad’s shotgun in for repair. We checked out tool boxes for Jake’s new truck at a few places. I took the girls shopping at a few of the favorite girly places. It was fun! On Saturday evening, Mark and I went to our Saturday league’s bowling banquet while the kids took the dogs along on a visit to Grandma and Grandpa’s house.

Sunday morning there was a steady parade to and from the shower. My parents were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary and we were all trying to make sure we were dressed, shaved, made up and had our hair just so in time for brunch at the Lake Elmo Inn. Luckily, some of us are early risers, and we managed to be ready in plenty of time.

The brunch was wonderful. My parents had reserved the sun room for their guests. The day was beautiful and there was plenty of sun and warmth as we enjoyed our time with each other as well with as aunts, uncles and a few cousins. It was so fun catching up with the extended family we don’t seem to see nearly often enough. There was a lot of happy chatter and many hugs were shared. My parents looked so happy to have all of their loved ones around them on such a special day.

So today it was back to the daily grind, for all of us. Too soon. I miss them all already and can’t wait until we can be together again.

Rainfall and Slow Down

I’m making it a long weekend.

All of the kids will be home by tomorrow night and spending the weekend. We’re celebrating birthdays. Brad’s 25th was in March, Jake’s 23rd in April, and Kacey’s 21st  is coming up here in May. Geeze, how can my kids be getting so old when I’m still such a spring chicken?  ;-) Both boys, when asked how and when they wanted to celebrate, seemed embarrassed at the thought we might still celebrate their birthdays! But both were agreeable to celebrating the next time we were all together. So here we are. And while we’re at it, we’ll add Mark’s and my 26th wedding anniversary, which was yesterday, to the reasons to celebrate.

I’m thinking of making it a breakfast party on Saturday morning. I typically eat a responsible breakfast, like oatmeal and a banana, or yogurt and blueberries. But when it’s a kids-at-home weekend, all diets are off. Everyone seems to love when I make a big, old-fashioned breakfast. Waffles, pancakes, eggs, sausage, and/or bacon are all welcomed at these meals. I think I’ll try to find some fun breakfast recipes for Saturday morning’s birthday breakfast.

Oh, and my mom and dad just celebrated fifty years of marriage! We’ll be celebrating that too, on Sunday with a family brunch at a local restaurant.

Besides having a chance to get things done at home, I’m grateful for the break from work. I love my job, but the pace has been frantic lately. I said to one friend/associate that I felt like I hadn’t seen or talked to her in days, even though her desk is only a few yards away from mine. She agreed, saying there has been an uptight atmosphere around the office lately. Good things are happening all around, but there never seems to be enough hours in the day to do all that needs doing. Most recently, my small department was brought in on an important pilot project that has given us the chance to help our parent company. We have a short window of time to do a lot of research, but it’s been fun and has also been extremely educational, giving us some new knowledge that will prove invaluable to the work we do with our own clients. Yesterday, I finished the main part of the work for which I was responsible. It feels good to take a break.

It’s been raining here since last Sunday, almost non-stop, and seriously heavy at times. The lack of sunlight is a little depressing, but at least the grass is greening up and colorful flowers are sure to be popping up around the neighborhood in the very near future. The back yard has become a marsh and I think Lucy is getting tired of squishing around in it, but the birds don’t mind getting wet. Last weekend, I could hear a Finch singing his heart out in the Maple tree out front. He was soon chased off by a pair of House Sparrows who proceeded to destroy a nest that had survived the winter in the tree. Meanies!

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It’s still raining and doesn’t look like it will be quitting before the weekend is over. I guess I don’t mind if it continues while I take a couple of days to prep for all the weekend activity. There’s an old saying, Make hay while the sun shines, but I’d rather play when the sun is around. I do my best work when it’s not.

Justin Part Three

After meeting with Justin, I was feeling somewhat conflicted. I went into it thinking I could make a difference, but after listening to Justin tell the stories of his life to this point, I knew I was way over my head. He had described the downward spiral of his world, and seemingly still doesn’t fully understand why many of his choices were what led him to the place he is today. Even as he insisted that it’s no one’s fault but his own that he’s in the trouble he’s in, he pointed out that he has managed to fly under the radar all these years, until an ex-girlfriend pointed a finger at him. He constantly questioned why his mother couldn’t just accept him for who he is. “She doesn’t have to like what I do, but I’m good at it,” he said. “Why can’t she accept me?”

There’s no way I could make him understand why a mother couldn’t separate who he is from what he does and pretend like it’s okay. I told him that I couldn’t imagine choosing to cut myself off from my own kids. But I told him I also couldn’t just sit back and watch helplessly if one of them willingly chose to live so dangerously.

Still, he had shown me a piece of his heart. I could almost feel the ache he felt for the two children he’s never met. Seven years have passed and his babies have families of their own now. He gave up his parental rights. He seemed to recognize it was the right thing to do. What kind of chance does a child have when the parents are dealers and addicts? Still, every day he questions why someone can’t let him see his kids, just for a little while, or at least let him see pictures.

He’s seen an uglier side of life than many of us ever hope to see. And still, in many ways, his perspective and beliefs remain so juvenile.

He thinks others can only see the hatred and contempt he holds for his mother. I could see that he mourns the loss of her. Everything he talked about circled back to how much he wishes he could see his kids and how much he wishes his mom hadn’t turned her back on him.

And as much as he hurts, he doesn’t seem to make the connection that change needs to begin with him.

I wanted him to know that I was open to him and that I didn’t judge him. And when I learned he was very likely looking at prison time, he had repeatedly said he wasn’t asking me for anything. I knew I was in uncharted waters but thought I was willing to take things as they came. I wanted him to know he had a friend. I stupidly thought that was enough for him.

Two days after our meeting, I sent a message to Justin on Faceb00k. “Just checking on you. Are you doing okay tonight?”

“Can’t complain,” he said. “But I’m running out of money, so that feels weird.”

There it was, I thought. The real reason he had met with me. I got a sickening feeling in my heart, but wondered if I was reading too much into his words. Then the more we talked, the more it became obvious that he was all but outright asking for money. I told him I was in no position to give him money, but if he needed food or transportation, I would do all that I could. I received a curt response and that was the end of our conversation. I haven’t heard from him since and I’m not sure I will reach out to him again either.

I don’t know what was going through my head when I thought that a naive, inexperienced person such as myself could make a difference for someone like him. Maybe someday I can, but today is not that day.

Justin Part 2

We had first planned to get together on Monday and he cancelled at the last minute. A part of me had expected a lack of follow through from him, so I wasn’t all that shocked when he said he couldn’t make it. But I was pleasantly surprised when the very next day, he texted and asked if we could meet that night instead.

He asked if I could pick him up, said he doesn’t drive. He gave me his address and as it turns out, he only lives a few miles from me. As soon as our plans were finalized, a feeling of uncertainty came over me. What was I doing? We didn’t really know each other and I suddenly wondered what we would say. Would we both feel uncomfortable and find ourselves at a loss for words? It didn’t really matter anyway. I had committed to picking him up and having coffee with him. He wasn’t backing down. There’s no way I could at this point either.

I found the house easily and Justin was waiting outside the side door when I pulled up. He sauntered over to the car and slid into the passenger seat casually. “Hi, thanks for coming to get me,” he said. And then he started talking and didn’t stop for the next two hours.

I went into this thinking that Justin needed family or a friend and I could be one or both. I knew he had somewhat of a dark side. But he’d been posting so many things on Faceb00k about turning things around that I hoped I could support him somehow, maybe help him turn his life in a better direction. When I first saw him walking to my car, I saw a tough young man who walked with a casual yet cocky attitude. He wore an oversized Minnesota Wild jersey that hung low over his jeans. He had a ball cap on with a foil sticker still fixed to the bill. Once he was in the car, I really looked at him. It was his eyes that struck me. They were big, brown puppy eyes, and as tough as he tried to appear, I still saw a lost little boy in his eyes.

As he told me his story throughout the evening, I began to understand how little things became bigger things that led to his making the wrong choices at ever turn. Over and over he told me how he doesn’t blame anyone for his circumstances. He takes full responsibility. He didn’t ask me for anything and truly only seemed to want someone to listen to him without shutting him off.

I had approached this meeting with what I now see as a sort of arrogant what-would-Jesus-do kind of attitude. I thought I was going to make some kind of an impact in his life. But his situation is worse than I could have imagined. Throughout the evening, I periodically thought how strange it was that I was sitting having coffee with a person whom, had he been a stranger to me, would have scared me to death. Had he not been my cousin, or my uncle’s step-son, I wouldn’t have stopped to consider how sad it is that his life could have turned out so differently if only one or two or ten events in his life had gone in another direction.

There is nothing I can do for Justin. There is no advice I can give him, no kind of support, nothing that can change the course of his life now. I said to him several times, “I don’t know what to say. There’s nothing I can offer you.”

“I’m not asking you for anything,” he said. “Even if there was something, I’m no good at asking for help.”

He told me he has to appear in court next week and again next month. If he’s convicted, he’s looking at prison time. When he told me that, his eyes welled up with tears and he swallowed hard several times. When he revealed that information, told me what he’d done to end up in this place, it occurred to me that I should be scared. But I wasn’t scared. Maybe it’s because he took care of my uncle during his dying days. Maybe it’s because he assured me he wasn’t violent. Maybe it’s because I’d just learned how much he had wanted his mom to protect him and to love him, but he didn’t know how to be the kind of son she could love and protect. And once he fell into the life he’s led, it became all he knew. I believe there is more to him than the things he’s done wrong. Unfortunately, my desire to help came much too late.

We’d finished our coffee long before Justin finally ran out of words. When at last he’d said all there was to say, he looked at me and shrugged. “I’m ready to go whenever you are,” he said. And so we walked back to the car as the sun was setting. Just before he opened the passenger door, he said, “I’m not a bad person inside.””

“I know you’re not,” I assured him.

As we drove back to his house, he said, “I just wish my mom would have been there for me, in spite of my failures.”

He’s a thirty-something young man, and the biggest thing I learned about him is that he still simply longs for his mother.

“I can’t change anything for you, Justin,” I told him. ” But I can be here for you whenever you need to talk. And you might think this sounds stupid, but I will pray for you”

“Thank you,” he said. We were pulling into his driveway by then and I put the car in park. He leaned over and hugged me. He thanked me for the coffee and for listening. He stepped out of the car and as I backed out into the street again, he took up a stance on the porch with his back to me. He stared off into the dusky sky through the trees and lit a cigarette.