July already. And busy. And happy. And gratitude.

There’s a little chalkboard in my kitchen. I originally bought it with the idea that it would be the place where we’d leave notes for each other; something to replace our habit of leaving sticky-notes on the kitchen door frame.

But… the sticky notes continue to be the method of communicating such things as, the dog’s been fed or If I’m not awake by 5, please get me up.

One day, not long after the kitchen became home to the chalkboard, I stumbled across an inspirational quote that I really wanted to remember. I wrote it on the chalkboard. And it remained until another quote struck my fancy and replaced it. Kacey joined the movement and periodically adds words of wisdom that she finds along her reading travels.

There’s almost always something on the chalkboard to remind me to have gratitude. Deep, down inside, gratefulness has not often been my focus. I’m focusing on it now, and sometimes it’s an effort. Passing by those dusty, white words each day, and stopping to think about them helps.

Hazy morning sun

Hazy morning sun

This time of year, it’s easier to have gratitude. My daughter is home for the summer and I’m just so thrilled to have her near me every day. Her bubbly attitude about life in general inspires me.

The longer hours of sunlight, warm weather, and the colorful, seasonal landscape give me frequent reasons to stop and feel appreciation. As summertime brings people outside, we often find ourselves spontaneously gathering with the neighbors. I sometimes forget how much good it does me to interact with others and just relax for a while.

The birds have moved out of the house on our deck. I thought I’d be thrilled, but was surprised to find myself feeling a little sad that they’d gone without saying goodbye. Shortly afterwards, I was checking out the growth in our vegetable garden down in the yard and realized as I heard their familiar song, that they were hanging out in the pine trees just outside the back fence. All is right in their world and I was relieved to know they are thriving.

Logan next door is growing up before our eyes. Having firsthand experience with the fact that kids grow up in the blink of an eye, I’m reminded what a privilege it is to be in Logan’s circle. Last night while putting away a few groceries after a visit to Sam’s Club, I heard his voice trailing behind Mark as he helped carry some things up the stairs to the kitchen.

“Here, Terri,” he said in that sweet, little boy voice, as he reached the upper level and handed me a package of lunch meat. While he still calls me “Tee” sometimes, that habit seems to be fading away.

“Thanks, Log,” I said. He proceeded to tell us about how he’d gone fishing earlier in the day. His arms and hands gestured wildly, and his story was sprinkled with lots of wells, as in “Well, I didn’t get any fish. They wouldn’t come out!”

He’s getting talkative, and his words are easier to understand. After the food was put away, he hauled me out to the driveway where we, of course, played chalk. Logan usually tells me what to draw, but now he’s creating more of the artwork himself. He was thrilled when I made one of his shapes into a fish. From this little boy who was previously very shy about expressing affection, I was rewarded with a full-frontal, tackle-hug! Then came a game of hide-and-seek, where Logan would tell me where to hide. He counted while I attempted to hide from his peeking eyes. He helped me water the pots of flowers, and then just before it was time for him to go home to bed, we played “bad guy.” Logan was the bad guy, and he said I was the fire truck. (?) I guess fire trucks chase bad guys until they capture the bad guy and pick him up, swinging him in a circle and make him giggle.

It’s been a busy summer, but mostly in a fun kind of way. We’ve been invited to several graduation parties this year, chances to gather with friends and family, and reasons for my oldest son to come home for a weekend visit. I love to see the way my grown-up kids now appreciate each other so much more than they did when they were younger. They have so much fun together, and truly seem to have become friends. Makes my heart just want to burst.

Last weekend, I tried something I’ve been wanting to do for a while. Cheers Pablo. Have you heard of this? It’s a sort of painting class. You pick a session in which you’ll get to create a specific painting, show up, and everything you need is ready and waiting for you. And if you like, you can purchase drinks to sip on while you paint. Hence the cheers. My niece invited her mom, (my sister,) and Kacey and me to go. We each painted our own barn scene, following the instruction of a fun, young twenty-something girl who kept getting paint in her long dark hair! And while my first impression was that the result was rather elementary, I had so much fun painting it! The more I look at mine, the more I think I’ll hang it up somewhere in the house. And I totally want to do it again. Maybe in another class. Maybe on my own.

Today I’m enjoying a holiday from work. There’s a long weekend ahead in celebration of our country’s independence and nothing too spectacular in my next few days. The kids all have fun plans of their own and Mark has to work on the fourth. So I’ll do a few things around the house, spend a little time with extended family and just savor these summer days before Monday rolls back around again.

Regrouping

I slept in today and it felt SO good! All week long, I looked forward to this three-day weekend. Lucy and I were still up early enough to go for a good long neighborhood walk, and we got it in just in time to enjoy what looks to have been the sunshine’s limited presence for the day. We listened to birds singing along the way, and Lucy spent much time plowing her nose through white, puffy dandelion heads in the grasses along the walking path. No amount of sneezing could convince her to stop. She made me laugh and the whole trek gave me a chance to clear my head some.

I’ve been in a funky mood lately. I blame it on too much togetherness. This move my parents are making, from their house of twenty-six years to a single-level town house, is going to be the death of me. (Not really, but I frequently say so just because somehow it makes me feel better to voice a little self-pity.) I know everyone’s got some level of dysfunction in their family. It’s normal. It’s probably designed to make sure the kids don’t get so comfortable at home that they never move out of their parents’ house.

I dearly love my parents. They have done so many things well in their lives. They raised their kids to be responsible and productive people. We take good care of our own families and we’ve got strong work ethics. They made a lot of sacrifices to make sure we would have good lives. They raised us with love and taught us to have faith in God. They did something right enough that, in spite of the fact that we sometimes drive each other nuts, we still have a need to pull together and be a family. They did things in a way that, as a kid, often made me think, I’ll never do that to my kids. But I see now that they did things the way their generation believed to be best.

My parents are always so happy to see me when I stop by and Mom never fails to express her thanks for anything I do to help them out. Dad seems to expect things, but Mom is appreciative enough for both of them. I am grateful for that. But as often as I’ve spent time with my parents over the past month or so, I’m frequently reminded why I was so ready to become an adult and move out. My dad? He is NEVER wrong. Even when he is most certainly wrong. And he’ll go to great lengths to tell you why he’s not wrong and you are. It’s always been that way. One of the most frequently used adjectives to describe my dad, is stubborn. Opinionated comes in a close second. And I think that stubborn quality in him has gained energy with age.

Growing up, if Dad decided we’d done something wrong, we kids knew we were in for one of his famously long and painful lectures. He’d sit in his chair at the head of the kitchen table while I stood at the far end of the kitchen, wishing I had the guts to just turn and walk out the back door. There were no excuses accepted for bad behavior. No amount of explanation would be considered, even if there was another side to the story Dad hadn’t considered (and likely wouldn’t). And everything he had to say was sure to be repeated at least three times. I was kind of a rebel back then. I’d often play with fire, my body language clearly shouting that I was listening only because I had to and I’d rather be anywhere but standing in front of him. I’d say, You said that already or I heard you the first two times. Dad did not appreciate my sass and I think it only prompted him to continue expressing his disappointment in me even longer. His delivery was heavy on a who-do-you-think-you are sort of sentiment. There was a lot of you’d-better-change-your-ways and very little help-me-understand-why. If you were on the receiving end of one of dad’s lectures, when you were finally free to depart his scrutiny, you felt about this big. (My thumb and forefinger are making a pinchy motion, in case you were wondering.)

I know my dad doesn’t mean to alienate others with his opinions. I just think he’s done things this way for so long that he doesn’t know how to do them any differently. It pains me to watch him instigate arguments with my mom. So often, they’re over silly, inconsequential things. I know he’s fighting for what he believes is right, but his words, to me, feel belittling, even when I’m only watching him engage with someone else. I rarely argue with my dad these days. I don’t have the energy. There’s no winning or compromise with him. And according to Mom, I’m not allowed to speak in defense of her either because it only makes Dad feel that his kids are choosing sides. And he thinks we only ever choose Mom’s side. I guess I usually do, because regardless of who I may think is right or wrong, it’s his tactics that don’t sit well with me. And ultimately, I just hate to be witness to so much unhappiness between my parents. At their age, I just want them to have peace and contentment. I know that quite possibly, my parents have just settled into a long-standing set of behaviors and this doesn’t make them nearly as uncomfortable as it does me. I’m the first to admit that I hate conflict. But it eats away at me that in their twilight years, they don’t seem as happy as I think they should be with one another.

It’s probably wrong on so many levels to put this in writing, but writing it is the best way I know how to purge the kind of weight this puts on my heart. Besides, I wouldn’t do it if I weren’t 99.9% confident that anyone who cares won’t ever read this.

Anyway, I can easily walk away when I need to and stay away for as long as I need. These days, I can control whether or not I end up on the receiving end of one of Dad’s diatribes, so when he’s being unreasonably opinionated, I usually hide a little roll of my eyes and just keep my mouth shut. As an adult, I’ve learned that I can say nothing and choose not to accept his position. Although, a few weeks ago, I thought I made a big statement while walking out without saying goodbye while he was busy once again telling Mom how poorly she had met some need he had. I felt really bad for the rest of the day about the fact that I’d probably made both of them feel really bad. Turns out that no one actually noticed I’d made a big statement and walked out.

A part of me knows that Dad’s behavior is probably due to the fact that he feels less needed, and less respected due to his age and the health issues he’s endured over the years. His vision has diminished enough that he can no longer drive. He is forced to be dependent on others for so many things he’d rather do himself. Maybe he’s trying to find some way to feel less diminished. I know he doesn’t know how hurtful he sometimes makes his family feel when a healthy debate is never allowed. Still, sometimes I wonder if it’s too late to speak up.

My sister was on the receiving end of Dad’s opposition recently. It was over a matter of fact, and the reality is, she was right and she had a point that he might have considered. And even though it was a helpful point that could have made a particular situation so much easier for him and Mom, he wouldn’t consider it because he simply didn’t believe it to be true. He is the father and we are still the children, even though we’re all in our forties and beyond. My dad still seems to think that he can treat his kids the same way he did when he was in charge of our upbringing. If he doesn’t agree with what you have to say, he will put you in your place. And my mom still seems to believe that as difficult as my dad can be at times, it’s best to just let him have his say and let it go.

It’s hard to watch sometimes. I wonder if my dad has been allowed to be right for so long that it’s now impossible to get him to understand that his behavior feels spiteful, arrogant and demeaning. I wonder if he feels good when all is said and done, and he gets to be right again, but someone else just feels like a turd.

Maybe I’m letting this eat away at me way too much. A voice in my head sometimes tells me to just let it go, that I should find a way to rise above it and feel less resentful, else I’ll suffer enormous regret when he’s no longer around. My dad is seventy-four years old and he finds a million ways to let me know he loves me. But he has no idea how bad it feels to watch him put a family member in their place when he’s feeling particularly obstinate.

All normal stuff, I know, in the grand scheme of things. And I remind myself frequently that the knee-jerk resentment I sometimes feel about dealing with my parents? I desperately never want my kids to feel those things about me. So while I know I need to be a little bit more understanding and compassionate, and maybe find ways to gently steer my dad in a better direction, it’s hard. We’ve just never practiced healthy communication. It doesn’t come naturally. As much as I’ve learned over the years about how to do it better, it’s still such a challenge to put it into practice in the heat of the moment. But I also recognize that I can – and should – be learning from all of this. I sometimes see myself doing, saying or thinking in such a way that confirms the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

I don’t have big plans this holiday weekend. Not going up north with the masses or anything. Mark is working all weekend, and other members of his family will fill the cabin at the lake to beyond capacity. I’ve got no desire to squeeze in among them. I’ve got a couple of fun outings planned, but for the most part, I’ll stick close to home where it’s going to be quiet and I can catch up on things. I may voluntarily go do some more packing at Mom and Dad’s, but I’m hoping the phone doesn’t ring, beckoning me to come when I may not be ready. I hope this weekend provides a breather and a chance to regroup. I was in such a good mental place just a few short weeks ago. I need to get back there.

Well, who’d-a-thought?

Last weekend found us hosting yet another family holiday at our house. A couple of years ago, I swore I would never do it again. I did do it again, but not without a lot of stress beforehand and resentment afterwards. And last weekend, we were doing it yet again. I decided not to get crazy about certain things this time around.

Our family gatherings are supposed to be a group effort. The host family always tends to incur the largest share of the expense, cooking the main course, and purchasing beverages and incidentals like condiments and such. Other family members are supposed to contribute side dishes or desserts. Since my parents have stopped being able to do it, my sister and I take turns hosting the family gatherings.

I’ve attempted to orchestrate a nice meal in years past, and this was often met with a lack of commitment from some other family members as to their food contributions, if any. Seems some people don’t take well to suggestions as to what they might contribute. There was that Christmas when one family member showed up with spouse, a bunch of kids, and a 12 pack of Pepsi. (I’m not still bitter! Really.)

This time, I chose to let go. I decided to cook what I was cooking, and if everyone else showed up with pickles, cheese and crackers, then so be it. At least we would all be together. Who knows how much longer we’ll have the luxury of all of us together. I also decided to use flattery when trying to determine who was bringing what. I told one brother that I remembered he made a mean pecan pie. And would he consider baking something for our Easter brunch? I asked the other brother if he was bringing his famous quiches again and he said he might, but if not, something equally tasty.

I’ve come to realize that all those times I allowed myself to stress out over whether others were cooperating with my plans for the family gathering, I was only punishing myself. No one else was tying themselves in knots over whether or not the meal would be well coordinated, or if everyone was contributing equally. Just me.

I decided not to get crazy this time over things like the carpet needing a good cleaning. (There are a few family members who don’t bother to remove their shoes anyway. And food was bound to get spilled.) I refused to worry about whether Mark had really dusted the family room to my satisfaction. Brad and Kacey were home for the holiday weekend and the whole family pitched in with cleaning, shopping and setting up our little house to somehow seat and serve twenty-one people.

I was so relaxed that I happily left the house to go bowling in our league on Saturday night. And I bowled the biggest game of my life!

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Yeah, that was fun!

I woke up early on Easter morning to take care of the finishing touches. When family started showing up, I was blown away. The 12-pack of Pepsi brother brought two big pans of sweet rolls, two coffee cakes, two homemade pecan pies, and a homemade turtle cheesecake. And the quiche brother brought, instead of quiche, two huge, homemade breakfast pizzas. All this accompanied our traditional Easter egg bake, ham, polish sausage, specialty breads, hard-boiled eggs and fresh fruit. We were not lacking for things to eat!

I’d also let myself off the hook with dishes. I’ve spent too much time on previous holidays, in the kitchen with my sister, washing the good china and silver while everyone else gets to kick back and visit with my parents. I bought party plates this year. Instead of washing china, we just threw ’em away. And no one cared.

Dad led a nice Easter prayer before we ate, and I was rather enjoying it, until I heard him add, “… and Lord, may we each reach out to another family member today. Someone maybe we don’t feel so close to or happy with…” I know my Dad had a good point, but … My siblings and I looked around at each other. We think we were getting scolded via the Easter prayer. It wasn’t necessary. We all played nice and Easter brunch was a great success.

I think the biggest reward, for me, came from the 12-pack of Pepsi brother, the one with whom I’ve experienced some incredible lows the past few years. It was early evening, and I was just settling down after being on the move all day long. I was exhausted and had curled up in my favorite living room chair and was channel surfing when I heard my phone buzz. It was a text message from the brother to both my sister and me.

2015-04-05bI was speechless. I think that’s all I ever wanted. To be thanked. If my brothers never host a family holiday, I don’t care. I would just like to feel a little bit appreciated when I do. And with this message, I did.

The Last Spring Break

It’s the last day of what is likely to be the last spring break we acknowledge in our family.

Kacey got a part-time job after Christmas, working for a retailer in the mall near her college. It’s limited her ability to come home any weekend she likes, but it’s been good for her to earn a little spending money. She’s doing very well there and has been praised by her supervisors for her ability to learn quickly and her good work ethic. One might assume that means she’d be scheduled to work as often as her class schedule allows. So I was grateful when she told me she had a stretch of free days during spring break and that she’d be coming home for a few days. As it turned out, she was able to stay for the better part of the week.

It’s always a treat to come home from work to find my daughter waiting here for me, with stories to tell and a willingness to help pull something together that resembles dinner. It’s wonderful to have her at the table with us at meal time! She’s a natural optimist and always brings laughter and fun to the household. I took a day off at her request, so we could have lunch together on Wednesday and she could help me spend some of my money at the new mall which she hadn’t yet had a chance to visit. We had a gorgeous, unseasonably warm day for walking around the outdoor outlet mall. And she came home with some new fashions and footwear to add to her wardrobe.

There is a pile of home improvement tasks to tackle that Mark and I have lately committed to addressing. And Kacey even helped get us started on one of them. The upstairs bedrooms need new carpet and one of them needs to be repainted. We’ll soon be giving some of the “kid” furniture to a niece and her husband who are buying their first home. Then we can begin the chores of ripping out carpet and replacing it, and then the dreaded painting!

Of course, Kacey was highly motivated to help us get the ball rolling on the great bedroom clean-out. She moved her belongings from the smallest bedroom she’s occupied for nearly twenty years to the bigger bedroom which has been serving as the spare bedroom since Brad moved out of the house. We emptied closets, moved beds back and forth, and got rid of stuff! You can’t imagine the amount of stuff that was packed into that littlest bedroom of Kacey’s! We filled up several bags which were later delivered to the Goodwill and there was plenty more which took up a good amount of space in the trash barrel.

I was a little sad to see some things go. There were toys that just a few years ago I had tucked up onto a high shelf in Kacey’s closet. Keepsakes, I’d thought. But with a few more years between, I’ve come to the realization that there’s only so much space in a little house to hold onto the belongings of five family members. Some items will serve a better purpose in the hands of others who can enjoy them rather than gathering dust here.

There were a few photos too, a sweatshirt, and a stuffed toy dog that went into the trash pile. Gifts from her ex, Connor. Kace seemed way less melancholy about letting them go than I felt. But I only had to see how easily she was looking ahead in her life to know that there was no point in dwelling on the past.

And ultimately, it was my daughter who helped me feel good about the major purge that was happening. She was enthusiastically making the bigger room her new “home.” Her college career will come to fruition by the end of this year. And she is planning to come back home, at least for a while, after she graduates. Yesterday as we were driving back from the Goodwill, she talked about a good friend of hers, who has likely job prospects after graduation in the city where she attends school. “But she wants to find something closer to home,” Kacey was saying. “She just wants to be able to come home for dinner whenever she feels like it, and spend time with her mom. You know? She doesn’t want to be hours away and limited to a weekend here and there when she can come visit. She and her mom are close. Not like you and I are, but in their own way.”

That made my heart swell, that my daughter acknowledged feeling the same closeness that I feel with her. She went on to tell me that she’s of the same mind as her friend. She can’t imagine living and working far from this home, our family home. I love that she cherishes the bonds of family and wants to stay close and connected. I see great things ahead for her, and I’m thrilled that whatever waits for her, she wants to experience it in close proximity to her loved ones.

So later today we’ll say goodbye when she hops in her car and drives back to school. I’ll feel a little sad, as always to have to part ways. But only temporarily.

Life with (Imperfect) Human Beings

My boss has a favorite saying. If you’re going to stir the shit pot, you’d better be prepared to lick the spoon.

Having an almost 24 year-old still living at home presents occasional opportunities for the shit pot to be stirred. For the most part, I’m happy to have him still here. Considering the person he is, and his current circumstances, it’s the best thing for him to live at home right now. As far as I’m concerned, he can stay as long as he needs. But it’s not always a bed of roses for him, or for us.

Well-meaning people have their opinions. My oldest son, for example, has been known to say, “Mom, he needs to go live on his own for a while so he can gain some concept of what it’s like to be solely responsible for himself.” (Actually, he says it more like, “Mom, you just need to kick him out.”)

A coworker without kids of her own is always preaching tough love to those of us who make the mistake of admitting to challenges with our kids – adult or not. She’s always spouting off about tough love and how she would so easily do this or that. Teach that kid a lesson. And if he didn’t agree with her position, he could just go away. And stay away until he’s ready to come on board. Easier said than done. A parent’s heart carries a lot of guilt about letting a child suffer, or sitting idly by, when it would be so easy to make everything better. And honestly, when I think about his shortcomings, I frequently wonder how we failed him in those areas.

He still has some growing up to do, although, for the most part, I think he’s pretty typical of a lot of people his age. He’s a little bit impetuous at times with his money. Living under a roof that’s not his, and being constantly reminded that it’s not his, he has little motivation to contribute without being asked. And he has that youthful ability to just tuck certain worries away for another day. Not to completely bash on the kid … he can have a great sense of humor at times. He’s got a good work ethic (at work.) And he comes home every night at a reasonable hour.

Obviously, three adults living under the same roof is not always a bed of roses. Particularly when one of them is at the early end of the spectrum of life, while the rest of us are on the far side with all of  our scars and experience and knowledge of how it should all work.

Admission. Conflict ties me up in knots. I’m not entirely sure from where comes this fear of letting it all out, saying exactly what’s on my mind, to raise my voice, and of letting anger and frustration rise to the surface. There is something in me that believes that’s not okay, that once it comes out, some damage occurs that can’t be undone. I’m guilty of swinging too far to the side of not saying anything at all and just hoping the heat will pass. There’s probably something too about being too much of a fixer, even though I know sometimes the best thing is not to rescue someone from their own devices.

I’m reluctant to express serious anger. But that doesn’t mean I don’t feel it, or that it’s not obvious to others when they stir the shit pot. I just get quiet. And Lord help those who have done the stirring. I know that losing their cool is their way of releasing those pent-up emotions. Unfortunately for them, the aftermath is that they’ve frustrated their wife and mother, the queen grudge-holder, who envisions a household in which differing opinions and life-lessons are discussed rationally, with calm and compassion. And would it be too much to ask for some hugs and I’m-sorries now and then?

I know. Pretty unrealistic. I live with cave men. And most of the time, I’m pretty proud of who they are with all their manly talents. And hugging and feelings don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand with the caveman lifestyle. I know this. Also, they take care of the icky and dirty stuff around here so that I don’t have to. And I can forgive them for the fact that they’re oblivious to the idea that bathrooms need cleaning on a regular basis, or that having food to eat requires advance planning. I’ll gripe about it, but deep-down, I know that domesticity is my arena.

The thing is, Mark’s hair can be on fire and his head can fly off his neck and the next hour, he’ll be like, “Hey, whadda ya wanna do this weekend?”

And I’ll be all, “Are you kidding me? I don’t want to do anything that involves you! You just yelled at everybody and your head’s still rolling around over there in the corner of the living room. You have to suffer for that for a while.”

Yeah, when I see it in writing like that, I realize just how crazy it is. Yet I keep doing it. Today I have some repairs to make – with my son who needs a little honesty mixed with my brand of patience, and with my husband, who doesn’t deserve to be emotionally exiled for making our son hear some things he needs to hear.  We need to work (again) on communicating realistically with each other. I see it as my job to keep working on this. No one else gets tied up in knots over this kind of stuff. They just see it as how we are and they’re okay with that. It’s not the end of the world, in their worlds.

As Mark was leaving for work today, and I was still laying in bed with my eyes closed, I heard him ask, “Are you still mad?”

Without opening my eyes, I said, “No,” while in my head I was saying “Yes.” All I can say is thank God my husband doesn’t take too seriously my need to punish everyone for their unpleasant emotions. I’m also grateful for the changing season, with the warmth it brings and the opportunity to get outside for a walk with Lucy before the sun was fully up. I blew off some steam and am ready to put the shit pot away again for a while.

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Hormotional

There’s a rhythm to life in this house these days, one to which I’ve become fairly accustomed since two of our three chicks have left the nest. Granted, one of those two is likely to return for at least a while after she graduates, but most days, there is only one chick still in the nest and it’s not exactly what he’d choose for himself if he had better options.

Being a young man of almost twenty-four years, Jake is understandably not always happy to still be here. His older and younger siblings are on different paths than his, ones that lead to more frequent independence and adventure. I’m sure it’s often hard being the one who marches to a different drum. But living at home is his best option right now, and I do my best to encourage and support him whenever possible. He holds down a respectable job. He doesn’t drink other than socially and comes home every night. And he always gives us the courtesy of telling us where he’s going. He’s also a slob if left unchecked, and would never do a household chore without first being told. He eats all of the junk food and little of the good food I stock in our cupboards. He worries me when I see just how much Mountain Dew he consumes every day. I do my best to be patient with him. After all, as I mentioned, he is a young man of almost twenty-four years and that patience sometimes requires an extra effort. He’s not exactly all about a tidy house, making his bed, or keeping up on his laundry. I try to give him some leeway while reminding him that living under our roof requires certain contributions on his part.

I can also attest to the fact that being the wife and the mom, and the only female in the house (not counting Lucy,) is sometimes a challenge. I often feel that I’m the only one responsible for thinking ahead, thinking about someone besides myself, planning for anything, or making sure we have the simple comforts in life, such as food, laundry soap, and a supply of toilet paper for the bathrooms. Most of the time, I don’t mind being this person. It’s how I operate. But sometimes I think it would be nice if the other two could occasionally shed their caveman personas and pitch in.

I’m also highly aware that I’m the one most likely to have emotions. I have a lot of emotions, and from my point of view, most situations have many shades of gray.

I don’t want to say that Mark doesn’t have emotions, but I think his supply of them is much smaller and much more clearly defined than mine. And for him, situations are usually very black and white.

We’re not sure if Jake has emotions or opinions on situations. He spends a lot of time not being here and not spending time with us. Therefore, there is not a lot of conversation with him. Again, this is understandable to me. At this point in his life, I’d worry if here was overly willing to hang out with us old fogies. When he’s less than pleasant, I try to understand what’s behind his behavior. For example, there’s this thing Jake and I do every morning while getting ready for our workdays.

First, I should explain that Jake is not a morning person. Jake ranks somewhere in the 1,089th percentile of non-morning persons. He gets up sometime after I do and we go about our business. I might say good morning and he might grunt at me … if I’m lucky. And every morning as he walks out the door, I say, “Have a good day! Love you!”

And if I’m really lucky, Jake might say, “Yeah.” Otherwise, he probably grunts at me. He’s always much more pleasant in the evenings, but I can expect next to nothing from him in the mornings. Still, it bothers me that I wish him a good day, every day and he can barely acknowledge. I know it’s a bit much to expect him to tell me he loves me every day, but a polite reply would be nice. Recently, I decided that whether or not he ever responds courteously to me, I’m still going to wish him a good day and tell him I love him. I’m going to tell him this every day that I have the chance.

And then yesterday? I was crabby. I blamed this on Mark, but in hindsight, I’m willing to admit I was partly to blame. Our gray versus black/white differences on this day were the recipe for our discord. And the whole thing was one of those stupid things, fueled by fatigue and possibly some hormones on my part. Jake grunted at me when I said goodbye, and it just made me feel worse. I worked hard all day on things that drained me and when I came home, Mark was playing the crabby card. Inside my head, I said, “Oh, this is what we’re going to do? Fine then.” And I proceeded to discontinue speaking to Mark.

An hour or so later, Mark wanted to discuss the cloud hovering over us and work through it so that we could play nice again. Except the way he communicated that to me was to ask, “What is your problem?”

I opened my mouth to explain what I was feeling, but what I was feeling in light of his tone and choice of words – was defensive. Before I could begin, I stopped and said instead, “You know what? When you open the conversation with those words, I don’t want to talk to you.” And so I walked away and we proceeded to continue not talking.

In the midst of this, Jake came down the hallway from his bedroom and went down the steps to our entryway, probably oblivious to the tension in the house. He slipped on his boots and called upstairs to anyone listening, “I’m going to Bobby’s.”

Mark didn’t respond, because that’s just Mark sometimes. And since I was crabby, I didn’t respond either. That is just not usually me, but I was at the end of my rope and fed up with everyone and everything.

Poor Jake was confused, so he stood with his hand on the door and said, “Mom? I’m going to Bobby’s?”

“K,” I grunted. And then added under my breath, “I guess I’m expected to respond when you talk to me.”

“What?” Jake asked.

I was already ashamed of my behavior and said, “Nothing.” I’m sure he caught on to the fact that Mom was in a mood and couldn’t make tracks soon enough. Off he went, not to return until long after I was asleep.

This morning I felt like a turd. I was swimming in guilt over my childish behavior. Mark and I had both cooled down and he left for work with a silent hug between us. But as I continued getting ready for work, I kept thinking I needed to apologize to Jake. You’d have to really know Jake to believe this, but the reality is, he probably thought way less of the whole thing than I did. And even though he usually just seems to take me for granted, and I go along with it, I had just the slightest inkling last night that he knew exactly how he and I usually worked, but that I had messed with the system and thrown him off. I couldn’t let him out the door today without setting things right again. I was on alert so I’d be sure to hear Jake when put his boots on in the entryway. Soon enough I heard him trudging down the steps with his usual air of morning drudgery.

I was in the lower level and so I moved to the stairway as he was bending over, slipping on his work boots.

“Hey,” I called up.

His eyes met mine, with no expectation in them and I said, “I’m sorry for being crabby and rude to you last night.”

“Huh?” he asked. (See? Told ya.)

“When you told me you were going to Bobby’s and I didn’t answer you,” I reminded him. “That was rude of me and it had nothing to do with you. I’m sorry.”

“S’Okay,” he mumbled.

“Okay,” I said. “Have a good day. I love you.”

I didn’t wait for the non-response, but just turned and began walking the few steps back to my bathroom. And that’s when I heard him reply, “Love you too.”

Made. My. Day.

Old Pictures, New Pictures, Glimpses of Our Lives

In our foyer, above the front door, there’s a decorative collage frame full of photos. Surrounding the photo frames are words like live, laugh, love and family. And until just now, it held a couple of photos that were long overdue for replacing, considering events of last year and people who have stepped out of our lives. While those people might always have a little spot in my heart, they no longer hold a place our family’s photo frame about love and family.

Luckily, this particular piece of decor is so familiar to those of us who live here that we rarely notice it or give the photos much thought any longer. Occasionally, I’ll glance above the door and really see those pictures. I wonder if the fact that they haven’t been replaced means that deep down, I’m having trouble letting go. A little wave of sadness sweeps over me sometimes when I look at them and I ask myself what I’m waiting for. And every once in a while, someone will ask if I’m planning to swap out two particular pictures anytime soon. I guess it’s just one of those things that I keep meaning to do, but never quite get around to. Changing them requires just enough effort that the task keeps falling to the wayside.

Brad came home for a visit this weekend. On Friday night, he casually mentioned that he’d taken a girl out for drinks recently… and that he planned to ask her out again. While my heart did cartwheels of happiness  at the realization that he’s picked himself up and is most surely moving on from a broken relationship, I tried to act casual and not ask too many questions. But the conversation reminded me once again that there were pictures that didn’t belong on our walls.

Technology is a beautiful thing sometimes. While Mark and Brad were off running a couple of errands yesterday, I opened my laptop and browsed through picture folders, picking out the ones I wanted to frame. I uploaded them to the Target photo website and received confirmation before my boys were even back home again that my prints were ready for pick-up at my local store around the corner.

I had taken the opportunity to find and print recent pictures, ones that will remind my kids of happier moments than the photos that were being replaced. There were some of Brad from recent fishing trips, looking like a champ holding trophy-worthy catches.

And there was a great picture of Kacey with her cousin and my mom. I don’t have enough recent pictures of my mom looking as happy as she does in the picture from this past Christmas. And the smile on my daughter’s face tells me that she is just fine, right here at this place in her life today. A particular door closed for her last year too, but her face shows the certainty that her life’s road holds good things ahead.

002And as long as I was printing pictures to display around the house, I took the chance to print a few oldies too. After my father-in-law’s funeral in December, one of Mark’s siblings scanned all of the photos that had been collected and displayed at his wake. A CD of the scans was burned for each sibling to keep. What an amazing gift! I’d never seen most of these pictures because, as I’d long ago learned, most of my in-laws’ old family photos were on slides. There were never any on display around their home. I’d never seen the slides, so the photos that surfaced when Bob passed provided a window to a past to which I’d never before been privy. The story of Bob’s life came alive through the pictures displayed in memory of him. And I was fascinated to learn another side of this man, one that I’d never known before.

Mark’s parents’ wedding photo, showing a young, beautiful, hopeful couple is now displayed alongside those of my own parents and grandparents in our living room. And there are some military photos of my father-in-law from when he served in France during the Korean War. One was a formal portrait of Bob in full uniform. Another was more casual, but so handsome. Bob didn’t trust the internet, but I think he would forgive me for displaying just one old photo of him here. Everyone who saw this picture at the wake agreed he looked rather “Hollywood” in it. I can’t resist sharing.

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And then there was that one snapshot of Brad and his grandpa, taken when Brad was just a baby. I’m not sure who took the picture or contributed it to the collection for the wake. I don’t recall it being in any of my photo albums. It’s one of those poorly framed shots with a messy background, the kind that until just recently, I may have dismissed and tossed in a storage box, deeming it unworthy of framing. But when Brad saw it, he decided he had to have a copy of it. My father-in-law wasn’t much for posing and smiling in photos. Many of the pictures we found were taken spontaneously, where someone was lucky to catch a glimpse of Bob laughing or smiling. This particular picture caught him in a rare moment of playfulness with my son, with Mark driving the riding mower, and Bob riding with Brad in the trailer behind it. It’s one of those moments we probably thought little of at the time, but now seems so precious. I printed it for Brad and picked up a frame so he could display it in his own home.

scan0081 with BradI’m relieved and happy to have finally refreshed the photos in the house. The sad memories will be tucked away.  They’ve been replaced with happier visions of the past and present, showing where we come from, and what’s really important. And the common thread, we’ll be reminded, is love.