Messy Mamahood


September 2, 2010

Back to work...finally

After six months of being unemployed, I'm finally going back to work. I'm the new Public Relations Specialist for Kansas City Hospice and Palliative Care. Of course, for monetary reasons, I'm excited to be back in the work force. However, I'll miss the freedom I've come to know in these last few months.

And I'm a bit worried that I'll be a little rusty after so long out of the professional world. Sure, there have been freelance opportunities here and there, but nothing like a full-time gig. It sure doesn't seem like six months could make that much of a difference, but since my brain's been wired for full-time mommy duty (which I've thoroughly enjoyed), it's going to take some time to get back in the swing of things.

Like a lot of people in this economy, I also took a TREMENDOUS pay cut. So, we're going to be cutting corners a LOT more than usual now, which sucks. One benefit of this job is that I'll only be working 8:30 to 3 p.m. in the office and the rest from home, so I'll be with the kids before and after school. A big plus for me. And no daycare bill!

And, of course, there's the fact that I'm working for a company which provides an invaluable service to those in need. No more working just to put money in "the man's" pocket. What I do will be making a difference in people's lives. And that feels amazing!

August 18, 2010

Back to school


Yes, it's that time of year again. We're all asking the same questions - Where did the summer go? Back to school already? This year, my kids are at three different school - 2nd, 7th and 10th grades. It's going to be a whirlwind of activity. But I'm looking forward to it.

They all came home from the first day of school excited about the year. Keile said, "Mom, I LOVE middle school!" I know she'll continue in her enthusiasm. No question. Taege thought the first day was a blast. I hope that feeling lasts throughout the year. You know teenagers. And Blane absolutely loves second grade.

Taege and Keile were teasing her about loving a certain boy who's in her class, to which she cried, "No, I don't! I'm going to find love when I'm 39." I think that's an appropriate age, don't you?

Keile told me about a new friend she made. She said the girl was looking for a place to sit during lunch, and Keile invited to her sit with her and her friends. That's my girl.

Taege isn't excited about homework, but he digs seeing his friends every day and is looking forward to wrestling season. And he's really happy about his schedule of classes.

All in all, a great start to the year. Now, if only I could find a job so I'm not sitting here lonely at home.

August 10, 2010

What a blessing!

This will be short and sweet, but what a blessing to talk with my son Matt for the first time. I placed him for adoption in 1985, when I was 16. We spent about two hours asking questions and sharing stories back and forth. I'm so impressed with the man he's grown to be and so thankful for his parents and the amazing home they've created for him. His life turned out exactly as I had hoped. For his privacy, I'm not going to share details here, but I wanted to keep you all updated on this most wonderful experience. It continues to be a huge blessing in my life. Thanks for your prayers!

July 23, 2010

Did they like me?

If you've ever been laid off, you know how golden each interview becomes. Especially when it's a job you really, really want. That's how I'm feeling right now. I'm in the process of interviewing for a senior writer position at a wonderful company. A company that is all about helping people, which was my goal when I started looking for positions.

I first had a phone interview, followed by a face-to-face with the hiring manager. That went very well. I really liked her and believe we'd have a great working relationship. That was followed by a writing "test" in which I was required to write an article for the company's internal publication. Apparently I did well on that because I made it to the top three for second and final interviews with four different people, including the director of the department. Those interviews were yesterday and I feel pretty confident about them. And I even found out that I'm being considered for two different positions.

But you know how you feel after an interview - anxious, nervous, impatient and those self-doubts start creeping in. Did I make a good impression? Did I answer their questions sufficiently? Did they find me engaging? Were they impressed with my experience? And, most important at times, did they like me?

That question takes me all the way back to grade school - waiting to be picked for kickball teams. I always longed to be picked first, but those lucky spaces were reserved for the popular kids. I dreaded being picked last, but thankfully I had some skill and was liked by the popular kids, so that wasn't a real worry. So that left me in the middle. Which was okay for kickball, but not for a job.

So, I sit and wait. Hoping I'll be picked first. Hoping they'll see I'm the perfect candidate for one of the positions. And, like in kickball, hoping they liked me.

July 7, 2010

Firefly


Sugar cookies with gumdrop middles
Hot from the old gas stove.

Smothering hugs,
Cuddled up in her bosom,
Watching Sylvester chase Tweetie
On the ancient black & white.

Simple dresses made by her own tender hands, checkered plaids and ginghams.

Mason jars stowed away for winter
The green beans and okra we picked by hand.

Laura Ingalls’ bonnets with scarlet bows
Kept away the scorching sun.

Silver triangle struck for six o’clock supper.
"What’s for dinner?" I asked.
"S.O.S." she replied.
I giggled.

Swinging on the porch at twilight,
My feet couldn’t touch the wooden slats.

Catching fireflies in the same jars
We used for canning

A voice whispers in the dark,
"Set them free so they can
Return another night."

Great-Grandma – she returned to me tonight.

***

I was catching fireflies with Blane last night and was reminded of this poem I wrote about my Great-Grandma Lathen one summer evening a few years ago. Isn't it amazing how the mind works through memories so dear to us? And how the simplest activities live on through generations?

July 4, 2010

The power of words


You know how there are some things you just hang on to forever? Some little trinket that reminds you of a special someone, or a photo that takes you back to a special time or place. I have my share of each but, in my case, it's words that have made a huge impact in my life. Words of encouragement, words of praise, words of love, words of comfort. And I've saved countless cards, letters and notes over the years. As I was sitting here at my desk this morning, I looked over to where I keep a few of these items and one stood out to me.

This letter was written to me by my dear Gran on July 4, 1976, when I was seven years old. Appropriate for today.

***

Dear Suzy (the name my grandparents' called me),

Today is the 200th birthday of our country, and we have so many blessings to count.

It is so wonderful to live in a free country where we can go do what we want and worship as we please.

I thank God for such a wonderful granddaughter.

I hope there will never be any wars to mar your growing up and, after you have finished your education, maybe the right man will come along and you will fall in love and be married. Then maybe your home will be blessed with children.

I hope you will always have a happy life and a rewarding life.

May God always bless you and keep you. Because I love you very much.

Love always,

Granny

***

I can't tell you how much that letter has meant to me over the years. It speaks so strongly to my relationship with my Gran, and has always made me feel so loved. Even at times when I didn't feel very lovable. Most important, it taught me the strength of words, and how they can change your life.

It also led me to write the same kinds of letters for my own children - letters of thanks for them each Thanksgiving, memoirs of each year on their birthdays, notes of love and encouragement in their lunch boxes, diaries sharing daily happenings and funny little things they say, cards for special occasions or "just because," and a letter to each of them on our annual vacation to the Ozarks every summer.

They save these letters and notes, so I know they mean a great deal to them. And I hope that, 30-some years from now, they'll still mean as much as they do today. Try it with your kids, or someone else you love. You never know how powerful words can be in someone's life.

June 23, 2010

Always in his heart


On Tuesday, I took my kids to see Toy Story 3. Great movie! As I was sitting next to my son, who just turned 15, it felt bittersweet. There's a scene at the end of the movie where Andy and his mom are standing in his empty room as Andy is getting ready to head off to college. His mom chokes up and throws her arms around him saying, "I just wish I could always be with you." And I was reminded that, in only three short years, Taege will be headed off to college as well. Andy says to his mom, "You will be, Mom." And I guess that's true.

Everything we have taught our children, said to our children, experienced with our children will follow them into their adult lives. And we can only hope the positive impressions will outweigh the stupid mistakes we've made as parents. (Yes, we've all made them.) This hope is what's getting me through these teenage years.

As I do every year, I spent an hour on Taege's birthday looking through old photo albums with him - the baby and toddler years, grade school, sports, the births of his sisters, all his "firsts." It's a wonderful way to keep those memories alive. My favorite photo is one of Taege at three years old holding his "Sunshine" puppy and a "Poo-Boo" and jelly sandwich. His taste buds have matured a little since then. Saturday, his birthday dinner of choice was sushi, with unagi (eel) being his favorite.

He's matured a lot in other ways, too. As I've mentioned before, he's learning to drive (and doing a lot better since running over my lamp post a couple months ago!). He's almost as tall as me now and is shaving. I tease him about his tiny mustache. We've been through the s-e-x talk many times now and, of course, he thinks he knows everything. He committed his life to Christ last year and is very involved with his youth group. He even went on his first mission trip last spring break and is now working at youth camp. He can be found hanging with his friends a lot and, most of the time, they pick him up in their cars. And he has begun moving into that "friend" relationship with me, as older kids do, at times forgetting that I'm still his mom (who makes the rules) and not one of his peers.

Blane just came upstairs with Taege's giant stuffed cat in her arms. "Look what brother gave me!" she shouted. Of course, his stuffed animals have been shoved into a corner of his room for a few years now. But still, another sign that he's leaving his childhood behind. If you've seen Toy Story 3, I'm sure you'll understand the significance of this moment. Like Andy, Taege is a little ambivalent about moving into the next phase of his life. But in the end, the possibilities are enticing. And yes, I'm excited for him because, like Andy's mother, I've realized that I'll always be in my son's heart.

June 13, 2010

Face time with God


One piece of advice I always hear is not to talk about religion or politics if you want to keep your readers. And, for some reason, I've listened to that advice...up to this point. Sitting in church service this morning, however, I realized how ridiculous that is because it's my faith that makes me who I am - as a mother, daughter, sister, friend, co-worker. It's my relationship with Christ that keeps me afloat in the often tumultuous waters of single parenting, and life in general.

This morning, our pastor challenged us to give up (for a week) the first source of information we routinely turn to each day and, instead, devote that time to God, praying and studying his Word. The first thing I thought of was Facebook. I would say, quite honestly, that this has become one of my addictions. Every morning I get on to check out what's happening in the lives of my friends, view photos posted, share what's going on in my life and see the latest updates on the pages I "like." It's like my morning coffee; I can't start my day without it. So, I'm giving up Facebook this week for face time with God.

When I told my kids about this, the two youngest looked at me funny. But it gave me the opportunity to teach them more about our faith and it set an example for them, planting another seed that I'll continue to water as the years go by. This, I believe, is my most important job as a mother - one I take very seriously. And one I won't be talked into hiding - here or anywhere else.

June 9, 2010

Tiny dancer


Sunday was Blane's first-ever dance recital. We painted her nails a bright yellow to match her costume. I put her baby fine hair up in little pigtails with bright blue bows. And, of course, we applied the obligatory stage make-up - I stayed on the light side to avoid that garish pageant girl look. As I was putting on her mascara, I asked Blane if she was nervous. "A little," she said, "The lights are really bright and everyone is watching." Reminded me of my first time on stage - the excitement and the butterflies all at the same time.

I helped her into her tights, booty shorts and costume. SO cute! She smiled big as I took her picture in front of the mantel and on the front porch just before we left. Then we picked up Brother Bear and Sissy from their dad's house. Blane was SO excited they were coming to watch her.

When we got to the high school, I walked her to the backstage area to drop her off with her group. She wouldn't be going on stage until about halfway through the program. I wondered if those butterflies would keep fluttering that whole time. She looked a little nervous. I told her to "break a leg" and she looked a me funny, so I had to explain that one. She gave me a big hug and kiss as I was leaving.

We took our seats and waited for the show to begin. I enjoyed the other performances, I really did, but I couldn't wait to see my baby girl. Finally, her group took the stage as the audience "ooohed" and "awwed" at their cuteness. They started the dance with their backs to us. As the Jackson 5's "ABC" started playing, they all turned around and, well, I couldn't take my eyes off Blane. She came to life, shaking her groove thing and smiling every time she looked at me.

I was so proud of her. So proud that I started tearing up as they finished and took their little bows. I mean, I was seriously on the verge of a full-out cry. This happens to me any time my kids perform, receive awards, get a goal, etc. I don't know how to explain it other than it's this feeling that grabs me by the heart, wells up in my chest and makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Yeah, kind of like that. I guess that's what happens when someone you love so incredibly much makes you so proud.

Anyway, Blane was amazing. Afterward, we fought through the crowd to find her backstage. She threw her arms around me and I handed her the flowers I had bought for her. We all told her how wonderfully she had danced, and my baby girl was on cloud nine for the rest of the night.

June 3, 2010

Cinderella


So, my girls asked me to come outside and turn the jump rope for them yesterday. No problem. What fun to see them chanting rhymes from my childhood - "Cinderella, dressed in yella, went upstairs to kiss her fella, made a mistake, kissed a snake, how many doctors did it take? 1-2-3..." Of course, there were new ones I hadn't heard - Strawberry Shortcake and Ice Cream Social. They took turns holding the other end of the rope and jumping.

The simple joy they got from such a simple activity took me back to my childhood - back to a time when my most difficult decision was what game to play on a summer afternoon. The days of waking up late to the sunshine peeking through my curtains. A lazy breakfast with my brothers. Jumping on our bikes and heading out to explore the neighborhood. Playing in the woods behind our subdivision. Riding to QuikTrip for a Slushie and Sweet Tarts. Chasing each other through the sprinkler. Swinging and sliding on the playground. Racing around the block. Playing kickball in the culdesac. Ah, the freedom. The freedom of being a child with no responsibilities, no worries, a time before I knew heartache.

"Mommy, it's your turn," my girls said. My youngest took the rope from me. I hesitated for a second, then started jumping at their coaxing. As they chanted the Cinderella rhyme, that freedom filled me up again. Their laughter was contagious. It was that pure and simple joy. I felt like Cinderella at the ball - young and beautiful and full of life.

I finally had to stop. I was out of breath from the jumping and giggling. I took the rope back from my youngest...and then my coach turned back into a pumpkin. Someone forgot to remind me that I'm over 40. A sharp pain shot through my lower back and wouldn't go away. I doubled over as I was turning the rope. "I'm too old to be doing this," I told my girls. They laughed. But I sucked it up and kept playing.

They say you're only as old as you feel. Well, I didn't feel so hot physically after jumping rope, but I felt a million times younger in spirit. And that little glass slipper I now carry in my pocket is a constant reminder to revisit my childhood on a regular basis. It not only keeps me young, but also keeps me closer to my kids. And that's so worth it.

May 30, 2010

Remembering my baby brother


Corb,

I'm flying to San Antonio and I wonder...are you up here somewhere? Can you hear me when I say I miss you?

As the clouds clear, I can see a lake with its many coves and it reminds me of the day we scattered you at the lake you so loved. I see crops for miles – squares, rectangles, even a triangle – all pieced together like a puzzle. This reminds me of how you always loved architecture.

There’s an enormous winding river with a boat speeding across the water, but from my vantage point it moves in slow motion. God, how you loved the lake! There is a smaller river feeding into what could be the “Muddy Mo” and it reminds me of your little girl – the one you can’t watch grow. The pilot just clarified for me – it’s the Mississippi. I wish there was a way to help Dae know her Daddy. But how when she’s so far away?

I don’t talk to you as much anymore, I know. I knew you were near when I heard “Good Riddance” in the wee hours of the morning. I felt a peace and glancing at your picture brought a smile to my face. How I miss you – your smartass comments and your crooked smile – the same as Dad’s. You know, he did always love you – the only way he knew how.

My two favorite pictures of you and me together – the one on Mo & Po’s deck when we were little (your curly blonde self!) and the shot taken at my wedding when you grabbed me and hugged me as we laughed. I love your face in that photo and how you’re nuzzled over me. I always felt you’d do anything to protect me, even though you sometimes acted like a complete jackass to me. Your smile in that photo reminds me of early Christmas mornings when you’d tiptoe into my room and whisper to me that Santa had come. The three of us would tiptoe together out to the living room to see what he’d left for us. Remember how we’d just sit there staring like kids in a toy store window? We didn’t dare touch anything until Mom and Dad woke up or they would...what would they have done? I don’t think we were ever brave enough to find out.

Do you remember swimming lessons in Albia, Royals games, Worlds of Fun (Dad and Dale puking – never drink and ride the barrel, a life-long lesson!). Remember how you used to crawl into the recliner next to Mom? I was always envious because that was your spot. Teddy – poor, poor Winnie the Pooh, stripped of his identity and forced to live the life of an imposter. Did you ever figure that one out? We thought you’d carry Teddy forever. Mom made sure you didn’t leave this world without him. I remember holding your ashes – the ashes of you and your Teddy – and sprinkling them into the lake. As always, we joked – about how you were becoming fish food. But I knew better – you’d kick their fins before they could get their mouths opened.

There are now acres of red dirt below. Remember spending summers with Granny and Papa and how, every time we visited our Okie relatives, we just had to bring home a plastic milk carton full of red dirt? Remember getting so mad at me and Dedrick that you chased us around the house with a table knife? And the day I decided to pack my stuff and run away from home...I remember thinking you’d be the only one I’d miss.

Remember using our "Matrix" moves on the gumball machine and that damned noisy glass cookie jar? Mom and Dad did bust us on those. That gumball machine now sits in my kitchen – but I’ve already taught my kids how to open the top with a coin and use a teaspoon to fish out their favorite colors. Yours was yellow. Maybe because Teddy was yellow. Blane got her hand caught in there once and I remember thinking I saw you in her face that day.

I loved the conversations you and I had toward what we now call "the end." I hated what you were going through, but I’m thankful it brought us closer and that you turned to your big sis in your time of need. We talked about God, you giving your life to Christ, your struggles, your baby girl...come to think of it, I believe one of those late night conversations was the last one I had with you. Can that be true? What would I have said or done differently that night had I known it would be the last time I’d hear your voice? I’ll never know. But I do know that our last words to one another were "I love you" because we always hung up that way. For that, I’m grateful.

Remember Anderson family Christmases, the Albia Country Club and driving Po’s golf cart? What about trips to Melrose? We didn’t wear seat belts then. Heck, Po let us sit on his lap and drive the car!

This morning at the airport Papa recalled the time you "learned" to like oysters. What are you – nuts? I KNOW they don’t have oysters in heaven. Nasty!

Whenever I wear that old flannel jacket I gave you for your birthday, it’s like a hug from you. Ugly as it is, I’ll never get rid of it. You know, I never knew you were such an awesome soldier but I should have because you were great at everything you did...as long as you liked to do it (Hmmm...maybe that’s where Taege gets it). Keile loves remembering you – especially sending balloons up to you. She said "sorry" about the one that got stuck in the tree. I told her you’d come down to get it later. She cherishes you as her godfather. She’s my sentimental one. And oh, how I wish you were here to see Blane. She’s you through and through! Living up to her namesake’s attitude, my friend. Thanks for that because I know you had something to do with it...talk to the Big Guy about that one, did you? "Let's give her a challenging one." :)

So, what do you think about this iPod craze? I bet you would have one – the best one, I’m sure. Well, we’re getting ready to land. So, I’ll close for now and catch you later, okay?

I miss you and love you, Little Bro.
xo Sis

May 27, 2010

A new beginning


I just returned from watching my 6th grader's graduation and ceremonial walk down Belinder's school halls for the last time. I remember her first day of kindergarten and the little bit of trepidation she felt that morning as I kissed her good-bye and walked out, leaving her in her new classroom. And I remember her running out after school with open arms and a huge smile on her face. Confidence and joy.

I remember choir concerts, fall festivals, carnivals, poetry readings, the plethora of homework and papers coming home each day, parent/teacher conferences, report cards, awards, trophies, play dates, sleepovers, soccer, gymnastics, tennis, Brownies and Girl Scouts, violin, hero speeches, holidays and spring/summer breaks, the tooth fairy, Santa Claus, field trips, reading to her class, surprise lunches and being a room mom.

I know some of these things will continue during her middle school and high school years, but some of them are, sadly, left behind. And most of them will be forever different as she enters her teenage years. But as one poem from her graduation ceremony stated - this is a new beginning. A new start for Keile. And the start of a new kind of relationship for us. I have a little trepidation about that, knowing my relationship as a teen with my own mother. But I'm excited, too. And excited for my daughter and all the possibilities that await her.

I was so proud as she accepted her Presidential Award for academic excellence today, as well as her certificate of graduation. And, yes, I cried as she walked down the halls of Belinder, in her cap, for the last time. I couldn't help fast-forwarding to the day I'll see her walk across the stage at her high school graduation and again at college. But for now, I'll cherish the times to come and her new beginning.

May 24, 2010

Get your "bum-bum" on

I've recently lost 35 pounds and have rekindled an old love affair with my size 8's, moving closer to my size 6's every day. My dilemma now is two-fold: 1) that I need to tone and 2) that I've been watching late night TV. You know what I'm talking about - those infomercials selling everything from Proactiv to Heel-tastic (which, yes, I've tried). I'm just a sucker.

I don't get it. I'm not one of those people who falls for the internet "get rich quick" schemes or the "send us $50 and we'll send you a check for $5,000" nonsense. So why do I fall like a gazelle to the ravenous lion for these TV ads?

Recently, they've been running one for a contraption called the ShakeWeight, which is supposed to take you from granny flabby arms to toned and tightened guns in just six minutes a day. So, my kids and I are in Dick's Sporting Goods one day and my 12-year-old spots a ShakeWeight display. "Mom, you should get this," she says. "Yeah, Mommy," says my 6-year-old. "You can get rid of your flabby arms and I can, too." Right, Skinny Minny doesn't have an ounce of flab on her.

They keep hounding me until I finally relent. It's $19.99 - what's the big deal? And you know what, I've been using it and can actually feel a difference. I'm not ripped like the sexy blondes in the infomercial, but I'm actually getting a little more toned. Chalk one up for the ShakeWeight.

Flash forward a few weeks. I'm late night surfing again. This time I land on...wait for it...Leandro Carvalho's Brazilian Butt Lift. I'm not kidding - that's really their marketing strategy. Nothing like getting right to the point. I chuckle at the name and start to flip the channel but something sucks me in. In hindsight, I know what it was. Butt envy. These girls had butts you could bounce a penny off of - tight, round, firm butts. And I wanted one!

The Brazilian Butt Lift could be mine for just three payments of $19.95, plus shipping and handling. I debated and berated myself for being so stupid. But I eventually succumbed to the pressure of my butt envy. I secretly (so my kids wouldn't catch me and check me in to the loony bin) went online and ordered my coveted Brazilian Butt Lift.

It arrived five days later. As soon as the kids were off to school the next day, I popped in the first DVD. To my horror, I watched as Leandro led the girls through a workout that bordered on soft porn. They gyrated through the moves with these "come hither" looks on their faces. I tried to exercise along with the DVD but kept cracking myself up trying to stick my "bum-bum" (Leandro's word for butt) out with every move. It didn't help that his accent made him sound like he was lisping. I finally collapsed in a fit of giggles. There's no way I'll ever get through this workout. Back to Brazil it goes. Besides, I know I'll never get a butt like that. What was I thinking??

Have I learned my lesson about late night shopping? I hope so, but I doubt it. I'm now waiting for the Bombay Boob Lift DVD.

May 20, 2010

Love story


One of my favorite stories Papa ever told me was about the time he first met Gran. What was supposed to be a "blind" date – set up by a couple who were mutual friends of theirs – turned out not to be so "blind" on Papa’s part. He just happened to be peeking when Gran boarded his ship. He told me he had to make sure she was good-lookin’!

When I asked him his first impression of Gran, he declared (in no uncertain terms) "She was a beauty!" And the rest, as they say, is history. They were married there in Long Beach just over a year later. Theirs was a love story that defies description, but I believe I Corinthians says it best – "Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful and endures every circumstance. Three things will endure – faith, hope and love – and the greatest of these is love."

I found this so true during Gran’s courageous battle with Alzheimer’s. Even when faith and hope seemed to wane, love never once failed with these two. Faithfully and endearingly my grandfather was by his sweetie’s side each and every day. And in the end, even when Gran no longer recognized the rest of us, his was the one face, the one voice, the one touch she always knew without a shadow of a doubt.

Just minutes before Gran passed away, I was reading to her from Proverbs 31, which tells the story of the good wife. It goes like this: "A virtuous and capable wife is worth more than precious rubies. Her husband can trust her and she will greatly enrich his life. She is energetic and strong. She extends a helping hand to the poor and opens her arms to the needy. She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs with no fear of the future. Her children stand and bless her. Her husband praises her saying – 'There are many virtuous and capable women in the world, but you surpass them all!'" You Gran, I said to her, THIS IS YOU!

And I told her what a wonderful wife, mother and grandmother she had been and that her work here on Earth was done. I told her that Jesus was waiting for her with open arms and not to be afraid. She closed her mouth which had been opened with labored breathing all day. Then she closed her eyes, which had been staring vacantly all day, and sort of smiled. She stopped breathing for minute or two and, as I looked up at her, she took one final gasp of air...and she was gone. More peaceful than anything I’d ever seen. It was such an incredibly beautiful gift to be with her as she took her final breath.

Recently, Papa shared with me that he felt so guilty for having left that night. (She died just minutes after he had gone.) Tears welled up as he insisted he should have been with her when she passed. But I reassured him and told him I believe she held on until he left because she didn't want him to suffer the pain of seeing her go. "Maybe so," he said, "Maybe so."

Both my grandparents were richly rewarded with the gifts they found in each other throughout their almost 44 years of marriage. Below is a short conversation they had just two years before she died, when the Alzheimer's had really taken its hold. They were sitting side by side, holding hands as they always did.

Papa: We’ve sure had some good times, haven’t we?
Gran: Yep, sure have.
Papa: I’d do it all over again, wouldn’t you?
Gran: Yep, I sure would.

How simply said, but how deeply felt. It's sometimes sad now to watch my grandfather without his "sunshine," but theirs is a love story that has inspired generations. One that will live on in all of us for years to come.

May 14, 2010

Focus on what's right


The poem below was published in 2001 following my appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show. I wrote it to sum up my parents' relationship as I was growing up.



Wallflower
Dad always dances with me
But I never see my mother dancing

"I don't like this song," he says
Even though he hummed it
As we drove to the mall last week

She sits, a flower by the wall
Mesmerized with dancing couples
Or wondering why she hadn't married
That nice guy, Bob

"Dance with Mom," I plead
"Wanna dance?" he yawns

Her eyes brighten -
A school girl's first dance smile

They brush the dance floor together
With empty arms

Although this pretty much sums up the loneliness and emptiness between my mom and dad throughout their 23-year marriage, it doesn't include the anger, bitterness and lack of respect. But hey, they stayed together for the sake of the kids. That's something, right?

As a divorced, single mom I've often wondered which situation is preferable for kids. Two parents constantly at each other or living in a single-parent household. When I asked my son, he quickly said the single-parent household. Having come from the former myself, I'd have to agree.

Yet many times, we single moms beat ourselves up for not having worked harder on our marriages, as if we could have saved it all by ourselves. Why do we do that? It all goes back to that "mother guilt." We take the world on our shoulders. No matter what the reason for our divorce (or even if we weren't married to the father of our children) we sometimes think "If only I had loved him more" or "If I had just put up with _________" or "If only I had been better at _________" we would still be together and our children would be better off.

Let's face it, it takes two to make a marriage work and it takes vigilance to make it work well. But sometimes it just doesn't work and you have to cut your losses. That doesn't mean our children have to suffer. Living with a single mom is so much more beneficial to them than living in a household where they're constantly walking on eggshells. And when dad is co-parenting, even better. Sometimes it's just easier to get along when you're not together on a daily basis.

I've found that my days are better spent focusing on the things I'm doing right for my kids than on wishing for what should have been. And as a solo mama, I'm doing a lot right.

May 12, 2010

Loose Change


After being laid off from my job seven years ago, I was so worried about not being able to play Santa for my children, one of my greatest joys. I’d been fairly honest with my kids, letting them know money was extremely scarce. Initially, I wanted to protect them from the realities of living in a single parent, no income family, but what a gift my disclosure ended up being for all of us.

Just before Thanksgiving, our church hosted a family turkey feast and brought in handmade trinkets for a holiday shop called "Gifts from Around the World." Most of the one-of-a-kind items were made by the hands of women in third-world countries trying to provide for their own families. I learned I could drop off my children (and whatever amount of money I chose to give them) in the gift shop to do their own private Christmas shopping. The "elves" would help them choose and wrap appropriate gifts for me and/or other family members. About a week before the feast, I shared this information with my son (then 8) and my daughter (then 5) and they were so excited to shop for their baby sister and me.

The night of the dinner arrived and, after paying bills, I didn't have a dime to my name. On our way to church, I shared with my children that I didn't have the money to give them after all. They looked at each other and started crying quietly. I told them not to worry – that I absolutely cherished the pictures and “letters” they’d always made for me. I assured them I didn’t need a store-bought gift to know how much they loved me.

Their tears didn't stop until my son leaned over to his little sister and whispered in her ear. They excitedly begged me to "Please, please, pretty please, turn around and go back to the house" because they had forgotten something. I said we'd be late for the dinner, but they insisted. So, I turned around and drove home, watching them in my rearview mirror eagerly whispering to one another all the way. When I pulled into the driveway, they asked me to wait in the car while they ran into the house, giggling with excitement.

After about five minutes I got worried, so I took the baby into the house to find them. I grabbed the mail on the way inside and, as I was flipping through yet more bills, my children came running back out laughing and shouting that they were ready to leave. They each held in their hands a Ziploc baggie filled with every cent they had in their piggy banks. They were ecstatic, jumping up and down and chanting, "We can get you a present now, Mommy! Look at all the money we found!"

I didn't have the heart to tell them their mountains of pennies still may not be enough to buy anything in the church gift shop. I hadn't seen any prices, but I knew how beautiful the gifts were and I was so afraid they’d be disappointed again. So, I began digging through my own dresser drawers, coat pockets, purses, pencil holders, the junk drawer in the kitchen, under the sofa cushions – everywhere in our house I could think to look for loose change. And we kept finding more - a penny here, a dime there. We all squealed with joy when we came across the mother lode - a quarter!

I have no idea how much we ended up with, but when we’d turned the house inside out we stopped, looked at one another and laughed out loud the most blissful laughter we’d ever shared as a family. My children were so thrilled with our finds and I felt like the richest woman in the world, not because of the coins jingling in the plastic bags, but because of the richness and happiness we found in one another that day.

Both children were full of pride on Christmas Eve when they handed me their gifts. As I opened the beautifully handcrafted ornaments, we fondly recollected that day of digging for loose change. There are no words beautiful enough to describe the love I felt from and for my children at that moment.

As I hung each of their ornaments in prominent spots on our tree, I realized these items were more than just decorations. They were gifts from and to the heart -- made by struggling mothers in foreign countries and given to me by my wonderful children, who wanted nothing more than to show their own struggling Mommy their deep and profound love for her.

May 11, 2010

Toilette Connoisseur


That's my 6-year-old. The toilette connoisseur. I'm not kidding. The girl has an affinity for public restrooms. Restaurants, department stores, you name it. About the only public restroom she won't use is a port-a-potty. Hey, at least she has some discriminating taste, right?

It started when she was first potty training. We'd go to a restaurant and, inevitably, as soon as the food hit the table I'd hear, "Mommy, I go potty!" Now, I don't share her affinity for public restrooms. In fact, I detest them. And I have a bladder like a steel trap, so I never had to worry about it until Princess-Poops-A-Lot came along.

Oh, did I mention that's what she does in public restrooms? No, it's not just tinkle and get the heck out of Dodge. It's me being trapped in a stinky, tile-laden prison while Ms. Truck Driver curls up with a magazine to do her daily duty.

At least now I know to make her go before the food is delivered, even if she says she doesn't have to...because I know as soon as the food gets there...but even then, sometimes everyone else is half-way through the meal before she's through exploring the great tile walls.

I started thinking maybe she should start a ratings system of public restrooms in the Kansas City area. God knows she's visited nearly every one. I can see it now -

Target: 3 stars (a little on the stale side)
Macy's: 3.5 stars (scratchy toilet paper)
Blue Moose: 3.5 stars (nice ambiance)
BRGR: 2 stars (co-ed, REALLY???)
Jose Peppers: 4 stars (my favorite!)

I guess everyone has their little quirks. Hers has become a running joke in our family, and one I'm certain she'll never live down. I can see her first date meeting the family. Poor guy! And poor Blane. Let's hope she outgrows this before that time comes. I'd hate to see the boy left at the table for half the date. :0)

May 8, 2010

24 Days


I’m the mother of four incredible children – Matthew, Taege, Keile and Blane. I’ve talked a lot here about my youngest three, but today – after being through 24 of these days, 24 Mother’s Days – I wanted to share the story of my oldest, Matthew.

In late 1984, when I was 16 years old, I got pregnant by my boyfriend at the time – and my world pretty much came crashing down around me. I stayed silent about and hid my condition until I finally had to confess the truth. I was scared and didn’t know where to turn.

I first visited a local abortion clinic, with plans to terminate my pregnancy – only to have the sonogram show I was too far along for the procedure. That was my first clue that I wasn’t in charge of my life or my baby’s. That someone far more powerful was looking out for both of us.

A few weeks later, another doctor informed me that my tests had been miscalculated and I actually had not been too far along for the abortion at the time. By God’s grace, my unborn child’s life had been saved and I was so incredibly thankful.

During the last couple months of my pregnancy, I was determined to place my baby for adoption, and I don’t recall ever wavering in my decision. At the time, I felt I had a whole life ahead of me and trying to raise a baby was nowhere in my plans at that point. But all that changed when my son was placed in my arms the morning of August 5, 1985, following 24 hours of labor.

As he nuzzled up close to me, there was something in his big, blue eyes that struck me as familiar. They were the same eyes I’d been watching in the mirror for the past 16 years. I can’t even begin to describe the feelings this amazingly beautiful baby moved within me those first few hours of his life. I felt I’d aged and matured 10 years – and everything that had mattered to me before no longer mattered at all.

I held him, fed him, touched him and just stared at him, drinking in each and every detail of my tiny son. I wanted to remember everything about him. He never cried the entire time he was with me, until the morning the nurse came to take him away.

For days after that, I wrestled with my decision to place my son for adoption. I didn’t want to let go him because my future no longer meant anything to me if he wasn’t a part of it. I contacted numerous agencies that provided aid to unwed mothers; I talked with friends, pleaded with family members and, of course, prayed, a lot. But I failed to hear God’s response because it wasn’t the answer I wanted.

Ultimately, when he was 10 days old, I had to resign myself to the fact that I couldn’t give my baby everything he needed and deserved. In those 10 days, I had been through the most joyous and most painful times of my life – the joy of my son’s birth and the pain of letting him go. God knew how difficult it would be for me, but He also knew the strength I had within me – that which I could not yet see.

I was allowed to see him one last time before going to court to sign the final papers. And as I held him that morning he just cried and cried. At the time, I remember wondering if he knew I was saying "good-bye" and was feeling abandoned. Nothing I did could calm him. I remember feeling helpless – not having a clue how to comfort my own son.

My tears soaked the blanket he was wrapped in that day, as he once again was taken from my arms. I remember wanting to die as I watched the car drive off, carrying him out of my life.

I had surrendered and relinquished any rights I had to my son, placing my trust in God’s promise to me – to provide him a loving Christian family, which He did. My son’s adoptive parents gave him the name "Matthew" which means "a gift from God," and what an amazing gift he ended up being to so many people whose lives he’s touched. And I did move on with my life – never forgetting Matthew, but learning how to live again, despite the emptiness his absence left in my life.

About 18 months later, I was volunteering on the production crew at a Youth for Christ event. I remember walking downstairs to the vending machines, and as I opened my soda and turned the corner to head back upstairs, this sweet little boy toddled over to me with his arms up saying, "Coke? Coke? Coke!" I kneeled down and when I reached eye-level with him, something in his eyes struck me as…familiar…they were the same eyes I had kissed good-bye not two years before. It was my son, Matthew.

To be honest, I couldn’t have stopped myself from following him to the child care area if my life had depended on it. I was stunned and amazed that my son was standing there in front of me. As I sat down on the floor beside him, he crawled into my lap and just sat there, playing with Matchbox cars. The touch of him, the way he felt in my arms, the smell of his hair, his sweet little voice – all rekindled in me the intense feelings I had for him the day he was born – the feelings I’d been fighting to forget every day since.

When I share that story with others, I’m often asked if I considered sneaking away with Matthew in my arms. Strangely enough, the thought never even crossed my mind, for in those moments I spent with him, I felt more at peace than I’d ever felt in my life. I knew then that my decision had been the right one.

In fact, a few minutes later, Matthew looked up at me and started saying "Mama." Over and over, he said the word – "Mama? Mama? Mama!" I quickly realized he was asking for his one and only "Mama" – the woman who had received my gift, this beautiful child, and was raising him with the love and nurturing of a real mother. Because I had trusted God with Matthew’s life and had completely surrendered to Him, I believe that unforgettable moment was His way of gently telling me, "I told you so."

As I mentioned earlier, I was blessed with three children of my own – Taege, Keile and Blane. They are living proof that surrendering to God does bless you; He has blessed me three-fold.

My children have as much desire to meet Matthew as I do. To them, he is simply their brother and we pray for him regularly. A couple of years ago, my 12-year-old daughter Keile told me she had prayed about Matthew the night before. When I asked her what she had prayed about him, she looked up at me with tears in her eyes and said, "That he’ll decide to come find us." I asked her why she was crying and she said, "Because I miss him." Having never even met Matthew, she already has this incredible love and longing for him. That is how much he has touched our lives, without even knowing it. As his name implies, Matthew truly has been "a gift from God."

There have been 24 days – 24 Mother’s Days – since Matthew’s birth. And, although my first few Mother’s Days were very lonely, ever since my three youngest were born this day has been incredibly special for me. And this morning, as I do every year on this day, I said a prayer for Matthew and his Mama – that wherever they are, they’re enjoying a wonderful Mother’s Day together.

May 7, 2010

Letting go


It's almost time to say good-bye to another school year. The kids are itching for summer break - swimming pools, camps, vacations. But the thing I'm thinking about is that it's another year down and only 3, 6 and 11 more years to go with each of my children, respectively. The years are fleeing. When did I get so old? And how did they grow up so fast?

It seems like only yesterday I was holding them in my arms, rocking them to sleep, listening to their first words and teaching them how to walk. Now, my high school son is driving. My 6th grade daughter is graduating to middle school. And my baby is "bridging" from Daisies to Brownies. Three different schools next year; three completely different stages of life.

Don't get me wrong - I love watching them grow and experience new things. It's just that as they gain independence, their "need" for me seems to dissipate more each day. And that's a difficult thing for a mama to take.

How do we do this as parents? How do we learn to let go a little more each year when all we want to do is hang on?

Share your thoughts in the pink "comments" link below.

May 5, 2010

25 random things about me

Remember doing this on Facebook? Thought I'd share it here since a lot have to do with parenting or how I became the parent I am today.

1. I rocked the soccer field in high school but haven't played since.

2. I was also a cheerleader for two years in high school...yes, me, a cheerleader.

3. I was on a theater scholarship and was a dance minor my first two years of college. Then decided I eventually wanted to make a living, so switched to a communication arts major.

4. When stressed out or upset, I clean obsessively.

5. My heroes are my baby brother, Corbett, who was killed in the Air Force in 2002, and my 92-year-old Papa.

6. I admire my son's sense of humor, my oldest daughter's tender heart and my youngest daughter's independence. (Don't tell the youngest that!)

7. I was a featured guest on "Oprah" in April of 2001 for a show titled "Pursuing Your Passions." I'm also a published poet. (My 15 minutes of fame)

8. I could clean up all the kid poop in the world, but vomit puts me over the edge. Can't do it. No way. Nope. Forget it.

9. I can't help but watch shows like "I Shouldn't Be Alive." They scare the hell out of me, but I can never...seem...to...turn...the...channel.

10. My favorite vacation spot is Tan-Tara at the Lake of the Ozarks - our annual family vacation.

11. I have four older sisters (and six nieces) I never knew until I was in my 30s. And a little brother, sister-in-law, niece and nephew I just met last year. (Didn't meet my biological father until I was in my 20s)

12. Being with my Gran as she walked into the arms of Christ was one of the most powerful and beautiful experiences of my life.

13. I placed my first son, Matthew, for adoption when I was just 16 years old (probably the reason for #14). He's 24 now.

14. I'm scared to death of my kids growing up and leaving home. I'm scared of them driving. I'm scared every time they walk out the door. I'm paralyzed with fear at the thought of something bad happening to one of them. I'm scared that I can't always be there to protect them.

15. I never knew motherhood would be the most rewarding and most exhausting job in my life. I never knew I could love so strongly and unconditionally.

16. The most beautiful sound in the world is my children's laughter. The greatest smell in the world is their hair after a shower. The greatest sight is their peaceful sleeping faces at night. And the greatest touch is their arms around me.

17. I went to the same college as Jesse Borrego from "Fame" (worked on a show with him and became really good friends) and Ricardo Antonio Chavira (Carlos) from "Desperate Housewives."

18. I love having slumber parties in the family room with my kids, then waking up and having a pancake breakfast and staying in our PJs all day.

19. I've been a Cub Scout leader, a Brownie leader, a soccer coach, a room mom (all three kids), a drama teacher, a teaching assistant, a PTA executive member and a youth group storyteller/actor.

20. I've been acting on stage and in TV commercials since I was about 14 years old, and I've been with my current agent for 12 years.

21. I hate white milk, carrots, sweet potatoes, coconut, pecans and walnuts.

22. I didn't start drinking coffee until my 30th birthday and now can't live without it. Okay, I'm a "fancy" coffee drinker...I like the vanilla and pumpkin spice lattes at Starbucks.

23. My biggest pet peeves: ignorance, narcissism and hypocrisy

24. When I grow up I want to be a novelist and also manage my daughter's restaurant (that's what she tells me I'm going to do). :)

25. I truly believe God will never give me more than I can handle...sometimes I just wish He didn't trust me so much!

May 4, 2010

Solo Mother's Day

Mother's Day for a single mom can be very difficult emotionally. I've been very fortunate. The kids' day cares and schools have always been great about helping the kids make gifts or cards. But some single moms aren't as lucky. Here are some ideas to make your own Mother's Day extra-special with your children.

1. Show the kids how to make breakfast in bed. We've been doing this for years for birthdays and my kids love surprising me on Mother's Day morning.

2. Make sure they have plenty of art supplies, then leave them alone to create their masterpieces. Or go to a ceramics class together and make it a memorable project.

3. If the kids are old enough, let them help you around the house to earn money. My kids love having their own money to spend on gifts for special holidays. I then take them to the store of their choice and ask the sales associate to help them while I wait outside.

4. Get together with another single mom and swap kids for an afternoon to take them shopping for their respective mom.

5. Go to the park for a picnic and games. Let the kids pack the picnic basket.

If you're not a single mom, but know one, reach out to her and her kids on this special day. Invite the family to join yours for lunch or help the kids with one of the suggestions above. Just knowing someone remembered her will make her feel special and less alone.

Most of all, if you're a solo mama, remember that our greatest gift is that of our beautiful children and the love we share with them every day.

May 3, 2010

Got guilt?


We all know the legal definition of guilt, but have you ever looked up the medical dictionary's definition? "Guilt - feelings of culpability especially for imagined offenses or from a sense of inadequacy; morbid self-reproach often manifest in marked preoccupation with the moral correctness of one's behavior."

Now, how often do we share with other moms about the guilt we feel as mothers? I do, all the time. Whether its guilt over discipline, not spending enough time with the kids, working full-time, something I've said that I wish I hadn't, you name it. Heck, I even felt guilty after I posted what I wrote yesterday, even though it's a valid part of my life and feelings as a mom. But I'm not supposed to have those kind of feelings, right?

Until I read the medical definition of guilt, I had no idea of the damage we're doing to ourselves. Is a little bit of guilt okay? Maybe - it helps us strive to be stronger parents. But what stood out to me were the words "sense of inadequacy" which is sad because I believe we try to live up to this giant, pie in the sky ideal of MOM. Who wouldn't feel inadequate to that? We need to give ourselves a break and realize that we're doing the best we can with what we have. Especially as single moms.

Do I wish I didn't have to work? Yes. But can I change that? Short of winning the lottery, no. So, it's up to me to find a way to make life great regardless. And sometimes that means asking for help. There's nothing inadequate in that. I look for moments to spend one-on-one time with each of my kids by asking my mom to hang out with the other two for an evening. Or how about combining "to do" tasks with something fun - play a board game while you eat dinner or work on spelling words while you take a walk around the block. But remember, you're not inadequate. Being a solo mama is one of the toughest jobs in the world and you're doing it. That should count for something.

Now, the thing that really hit me the hardest in that definition was "morbid self-reproach." No more. We need to be our own biggest cheerleaders. (And if you know a single mom or dad, cheer for them.) Enough feeling sorry for ourselves and enough wishing things were different. We've been blessed with these beautiful children to raise. No, not every day is going to be easy. In fact, a lot of days are going to be pretty hard. But we can do it. If we believe in ourselves. After all, what are we teaching our children with "morbid self-reproach"? That nothing we do is ever good enough? Which trickles down to nothing they do will ever be good enough. Think about it.

May 2, 2010

Silence, please!


Honestly, I am so tired of listening to my three kids bicker, argue, fight, whatever you want to call it. It's exhausting. And it's constant. Today it was over what movie to see. "No, I'm not going to see that one!" "That one looks stupid." "Boring!" I finally made the decision myself and two of them had to suck it up and watch something they weren't thrilled about seeing. They both liked it. Imagine that.

But seriously, did God take them aside before they came to Earth and say, "Okay, now the game plan is you're to argue as much as possible and irritate your mother to the point that she'd see the nuthouse as a welcome vacation." I just don't get it. Don't they get tired of hearing themselves? It reminds me of growing up - listening to my parents' constantly at each other. Always trying to prove to the other that they're right. The thing is, after listening to my kids carry on, I don't really care who's right. I just want them to shut up! There, I said it. And I know I'm not the only mother who feels this way.

Taege and Keile are sitting behind me on the sofa right now arguing over their Nintendo games. Are you kidding me? "Stop!" Keile bellows over and over. Taege keeps irritating her. I swear they actually like to see me ticked off. "Look what he did!" "Go downstairs!" "Stop!" "You go upstairs!" "Taege! Stop!" "Mind your own business!" "Why don't you grow up?" "Stop touching me!" "Move your foot!" "Stop it!" This is the exact conversation I've just listened to. I didn't even bother to turn around and see what the issue was because it's never over anything remotely worthwhile. And I'm so tired of trying to break it up that I just let it play itself out most of the time, unless it escalates physically. Maybe if I act like it doesn't bother me, they'll just quit. A girl can dream, can't she?

The only thing better than listening to this is hearing all three of them harp at each other. A few of my older friends have told me to cherish this time because once you reach the empty nest, the silence nearly kills you. At this point, I'll take my chances. :0)

April 30, 2010

What if?


"The screams of the 4-year-olds inside the kindergarten could be heard out in the street. When people ran in to investigate, they found what one witness said was a scene 'too horrible to imagine' — blood everywhere as a knife-wielding man slashed 29 children, two teachers and a security guard." (MSNBC)

This story sweeping the Internet from Beijing, China is horrific, but it's not the only of its kind if you read the article. Mentally unstable people are prevalent in China. And there's no shortage of them in the United States. Something like this could happen anywhere. And it does. This is what scares me most being a mom. That I won't be able to protect my children from the "what if's" in life.

Have you ever sat down as a family and created a plan of escape in the event of a house fire? We have. But I still obsess over it. How would I get all the kids to safety when their rooms are spread across the house? Who would I grab first? What would I do if one were trapped? I lie awake some nights running this over in my mind.

And that's not all. Every horrible scenario you could imagine has run through my head at one time or another - kidnapping, molestation, drowning, robbery, carjacking, hostage situations or one like the China incident. How would I protect my children in each of these events? What if our car went off the road into a lake, how would I get all three of them out before we drowned? What would I do if the ice cream man took off with my daughter (first of all, I never let her near those creepy trucks). I mean, I could go on and on about the frightening situations my brain conjures up.

It's a scary world we live in and we are fighting to protect our children and keep our sanity at the same time. And trying to do all this without terrifying our kids. It's a fine line we walk between preparing them and scaring them. And one thing I'm trying to pound into my own brain is that I can only protect my kids so much. And I can teach them to protect themselves as much as possible. After that, I have to let go and trust that the Big Man upstairs is watching over them. Otherwise, I'll drive myself insane.

What are some of your fears? How do you handle preparing your kids for the "what if's" in life?

April 29, 2010

Time to Make the Donuts

Working forty hours a week is difficult, at best, when you don't have another adult in the household to share the responsibility of pick-ups, extra-curricular activities, making dinner, homework, baths, quality time, bed time, chores, etc. And those are just normal day-to-day activities. Taking time off work for doctor's appointments, field trips, parent-teacher conferences, early dismissals, late starts, President's Day, MLK Day, and such makes it near impossible unless you have a very understanding and cooperative boss. Remember this commercial? Doesn't single parenting sometimes, scratch that, most of the time feel this way?

I was a stay-at-home mom until my divorce in 1998, when I was shoved back into the professional world. My son was three and my daughter was just eight months old. It was devastating for me at the time. I couldn't imagine my kids in daycare 40+ hours a week. But you roll with the punches. And I did until 2003, when I was laid off from my job just a few days after I found out I was pregnant with my second daughter. As a single mom, being laid off is possibly one of the suckiest situations. One income to no income. But it ended up being a hidden blessing. I was able to drum up enough clients to freelance for the first two years of Blane's life. It wasn't a picnic, but we scraped by. In 2005, I went back to work full-time until two months ago, when I was laid off again. Are you kidding me?!?!

So, I'm on the hunt again for full-time work with a couple of freelance clients to tide me over. And, thankfully, I have enough savings to get me through the summer, if necessary. It stinks to be in this position again. But you know what I've learned? To treasure this time I have with my children. It's a gift that was given to me, for some reason, and I plan to take advantage of it. The things that were so difficult when I was working full-time - field trips, extra-curricular, early dismissals, cooking dinner and even homework - are now things I can't wait to experience each day because I have the time to enjoy them.

But you know what else I've discovered? That even when I go back to work, I have to find a way to make these times just as special as they are now. Because I want my kids to remember all of it, not just the fun they had when Mom was out of work.

I don't have any answers as to how to do that without feeling like Fred the Baker, but I'm searching. How do you all do it?

April 28, 2010

Noel, Noel...



Clara and Lucy came to us about two years apart. Clara's mama was rescued by another family from our school and Santa surprised the kids with a tiny kitten on Christmas Eve. Hence, the name Clara, from The Nutcracker. Clara, our Christmas kitty. She's four now and definitely my cat. She'll tolerate the kids, but she's my girl. Wherever I am, she's there. Even if it's sleeping on my head at night.

Lucy's sister was adopted by Keile's friend. So, of course, Keile insisted that we adopt Lucy. Did I ever mention that my daughter is a sucker for, I mean has a heart for, ALL stray animals. She tells me that she's going to live with me forever and that we're going to be cat ladies together. Over my dead body. I love my cats, but c'mon. Anyway, Lucy is a tortoise shell with one bright red spot in the middle of her forehead. Lucille Ball. She's everyone's cat and no one's cat, very independent.

Last Christmas, Keile wanted, as one of her gifts, to buy items from PetSmart and donate them to Wayside Waifs, a local pet shelter. I found her request so incredibly unselfish and I was happy to comply. This girl understood the true meaning of Christmas. So, the Monday before Christmas, I took Keile out of school and the two of us headed to PetSmart. A hundred dollars later, she felt she had what she needed to make enough puppies' and kitties' wishes come true. Then we made the trek out to Wayside Waifs. I had specifically scheduled our visit on a Monday because I knew that was the one day they didn't do pet adoptions. I was no idiot. I was not about to be coerced into another mouth to feed.

We were met by the community relations director of the shelter who gratefully took our donations, then led us on a tour through the facility. We stopped first in the cat house where some were roaming and some were separated in little rooms with screen doors. Keile went into one of the rooms and sat down on the floor. This sweet little thing named Ashley immediately started rubbing up against her and crawled into her lap. The kitten wasn't about to move and looked up at me with eyes that said, "I dare you." The director lady was brave enough to break up that little party and led us into the dog area. Welcome to the Jungle! Wow, I had never heard so much noise. I don't know how they ever got any sleep. We saw the rest of the building and, before we left, Keile wanted to say goodbye to Ashley.

She sat back down in the little room and I could hear Ashley purring from inside the screen. "Whew, it's a good thing we came on a Monday," I whispered to the director. I was so proud of myself. "You know what," she might as well have blasted over the loud speaker, "We can make an exception for you!" My daughter's head popped up from nuzzling Ashley's fur. Ashley's eyes said, "I've got you now." And that's how we ended up with Noel (Ashley), our second Christmas kitty.

Who did I say was a sucker?

April 27, 2010

Run-in with the lamp post

It was bound to happen sooner or later. I just didn't expect it to be "sooner." My 14-year-old had his first wreck. Yep, took out the lamp post in front of our house and cracked the bumper on my Jeep Liberty. $450 to replace the bumper and no idea what to do about the lamp post which is bent to hell with electrical wires exposed to the elements. Anyone know a good electrician?

Well, I let Taege drive home from his friend's house and he was doing really well. Didn't even hug the curb like he usually does. The girls were in the backseat and thought it was awesome that big brother was behind the wheel. He turned left onto our street. I told him to slow down and turn into our driveway, forgetting he hadn't done this before. He over-turned the wheel to avoid the huge sycamore tree to the left of the driveway (good move), but turned too much to the right and forgot to brake (bad move) and ran right over the lamp post. Thankfully, he missed the garage door or the front of the house. "Oh, God!" he shouted. "Taege!!!" the girls yelled. I just kept saying, "It's okay, it's okay." At least no one was hurt.

We got out of the car and I got in to back it up. Taege looked at me through the windshield after he saw what he had done. Fear. "What is Mom going to do to me?" I could tell he was thinking. Then Blane started hollering at him, "Look at Mommy's car! Look what you did! That was horrible! You're a horrible driver! Horrible!" She sounded like an angry little mother, so I calmly kept telling Taege it was okay, that accidents happen. I think Keile was in shock. Blane continued her tirade, which became rather humorous, so I started laughing. I couldn't stop. Yes, my bumper was cracked, yes, the lamp post was ruined, but those are just material things. And again, no one was hurt. The neighbor across the street saw the whole thing. He just smiled and shook his head. He probably thought I had lost it because I was laughing so hard.

As we walked into the house, I asked Taege if it had scared him. He replied, "No, it's just that I did so much damage. More than just the two plates I broke at Dad's house." Ya think?

April 26, 2010

My princess, the pre-teen


My 12-year-old daughter, Keile, and I have always been very close. She has some wonderful qualities I really admire. One thing I've always cherished about her is her tender heart for young children, animals and those less fortunate than her. She's also extremely loyal, deeply sensitive, dependable, generous, encouraging, funny and very loving. She has always written me little notes of her love for me. I treasure these. And I love the fact that she, to this day, says she's going to live with me forever. She has our future together all planned out.

As she's starting to enter her teen years, I've explained to her that our relationship will go through a lot of strain as she's trying to find herself and assert her independence. I've told her that there may be times when she feels like she hates me, but that I will always love her and be there for her, no matter what. I want her to be prepared when those feelings start hitting her. She replies, "I could never hate you, Mommy."

I hope she's right because I'm not ready for that. Even though I know it's just a stage teenagers go through, the thought of my sweet princess becoming someone I don't recognize frightens me. Already, she's gone from talking to me about everything to shutting down completely when I try to talk to her about puberty and the changes her body's about to go through. She vehemently wants nothing to do with these conversations.

On the other hand, her friends talk to me a lot about the changes they're going through, and especially about boys. Keile just looks mortified when they bring up these topics. I know she's not interested in boys yet. I know why. And I know why she doesn't want to talk about any of this. My little girl is simply not ready to grow up. She's not ready to leave her childhood behind. She revels in being my princess and doesn't want to lose that.

I remember when Blane was a baby, Keile came to me in tears one day and said, "Mommy, I miss being a baby." Why? I asked her. "Because I was so little and cute, and I could cuddle up in your arms while you rocked me." I immediately took her in my arms and started rocking her. "You'll always be my baby girl," I whispered in her ear.

So, as frustrating as it may be when our teens start shutting us out, we have to remember that (whether they admit it or not) they're afraid, too. They're afraid of losing their childhoods, much like we're afraid of losing our youth when we turn 30, 40, 50, etc. And they're terrified of losing their place in our hearts as that little girl or boy we treasure so much. Our job is to make sure that never happens. To ensure they know we'll always see them that way. The best things we can do are continue to treasure them, support them, encourage them, hug them, tell them we love them and thank God for them each day.

April 25, 2010

Santa, sex and a frog?

It was the Christmas season of my 14-year-old son's 4th grade year. We had finished decorating the tree and my daughter had fallen asleep beneath it. Taege sat on the sofa next to me writing his list for Santa. I was writing in my journal when he looked at me and asked, "Mom, is Santa real?" Oh, crap! I was not prepared for this conversation. But I'd sworn I would never lie to my kids when this question inevitably arose. So I asked, "Well, what do you think, baby?" Pretty good psychology, huh? He would answer "yes" and I'd say "Then if you believe he's real, that's wonderful." See, no lie involved and I'd be able to avoid the talk for another year or so. Christmas magic would continue.

But no. Instead, he looked down at his lap and said, "I think it's either some really nice man or..." and he looked me square in the eyes, "...it's you." Double crap! I was trapped. "Which of those do you think it is, honey?" I asked. With tears in his eyes, he said, "You?" My heart broke. I felt like I had betrayed him in some way. I explained the concept behind Santa and let him know that "playing" Santa was one of my greatest joys as a parent. That I reveled in seeing the excitement on his face Christmas morning. We talked more about it and about the true meaning of Christmas. I swore him to secrecy with his sister. Then all of a sudden, he got this wide-eyed look on his face. "Mom, if you're Santa...then you can make Christmas come early!!" Um, no. Very nice try, but no way. He continued trying to convince me with all the reasons why I should move the holiday up by weeks, but I wasn't budging.

Then came the bombshell. "Well, if you won't make Christmas come early, then can you at least tell me why Uncle Dedo's dog was hugging my leg last week?" Really?? Yes, we had seen my brother's dog getting fresh with Taege's leg and, yes, we had laughed. But when Taege asked what Bernie was doing, I had said, "He's just giving you a hug, honey." He knew I was lying. And now he was paying me back. So, what did I do? I had handled the Santa thing pretty well, so I had the brilliant idea that now would be a good time to talk to him about the birds and the bees. Yes, I was that stupid. So, I started explaining about eggs and sperm and how babies grow in the mommy's tummy. "How do the babies get in the mommy's tummy?" he asked. Well, I had the good sense not to talk about mommies and daddies doing the nasty. He was only in 4th grade, for Pete's sake. So, I had another brilliant idea to use the animal kingdom as an example. Good ol' Bernie. I explained that when mommy dogs and daddy dogs love each other and decide to have puppies, they have this thing called "sex" to make the puppies and it looked kind of like what Bernie was doing to his leg. The look on his face told me I had truly confused him. Then he asked, "What does a sperm look like?" Well, it looks like a tiny tadpole, I told him. To which he replied, "So, Bernie was trying to put a frog in my leg?!?!"

And there you have it. I could write a book about what not to do as a parent. Thankfully, a couple years later I got another chance at the birds and the bees talk with my son. Believe me, I rehearsed that time. And now he teases me about the "Santa, sex and a frog" talk. I'm certain my great-grandchildren will be hearing this story some day. If nothing else, I can make them laugh.

April 24, 2010

The Tasmanian Devil


Blane's Daisy troop braved the rain today and went "day camping." (So sorry I wasn't able to volunteer for that field trip!) Anyway, it was the perfect opportunity to tackle the mess in her bedroom. Why, oh why, was I only blessed with one neat freak like me - Keile? It's not fair. But off I marched to the trenches with two trash bags in hand.

When I opened the door, I felt like turning and running the other way. There's nothing worse to a neat freak than a room that looks like it's been hit by a tornado. Honestly, I don't understand how people live like that. I sucked it up and stepped into the mess. Where to start? I decided to tackle her stuffed animal corner first. Seriously, why were these things ever invented? I know some kids get hooked on a "special" one, but not Blane. She sleeps with a different fuzzy thing every night. And I swear they breed when we're not looking. There are so many of them! I told my mom and dad if they ever give us another one, I'll make sure they never see me or the kids again. They just laugh. Paybacks are hell, I assume they're thinking. I'll have the last laugh - I get to choose their nursing homes.

So, I finished and moved on to the closet - dress-up capital of Kansas. It's like Paris Hilton's closet - without the slut factor. And pompoms - really, this girl could outfit the Dallas Cowboys' cheerleaders. Isn't one pair enough? Tutus and purses and boas, oh, my! I finished the closet and started on the doll house and Barbies. By that time, I'd filled up the two trash bags, so I headed downstairs to get another. And Butterfly Barbie had it out for me. Have you ever stepped on a Barbie? Holy Mother! My foot still aches. Moving on, I made her bed and cleaned underneath it - aha, that's where I find half her winter clothes that she discarded instead of putting them in the laundry. Now I had to pull out those boxes again.

Finally, I was ready for her dresser. Really? All I can say is Tasmanian Devil. Every time she pulls out a shirt or a pair of underwear, the rest of the clothing panics and runs after it. Serious separation anxiety. So, I stacked everything up neatly again. Right. Like it's going to stay that way. I looked at the clock - wow, I'm good. It only took me an hour and three trash bags to defuse this bomb. And nearly cost me my sanity.

I heard the doorbell ring. One of the mom's crazy enough to volunteer for today's field trip is dropping Blane off. I'm trying to think who got the sh*% end of this stick - me or her. Blane ran upstairs and I heard her scream. She ran back down and threw her arms around me. "You're the best mommy in the whole world!" I think I got the good end.

April 23, 2010

Until death do us part...

Do you remember taking your wedding vows? "For better for worse. For richer for poorer. In sickness and in health..." Well, when we divorce a spouse with whom we have children, we forget about those vows, except for one - "until death do us part." Yep, when kids are involved, we're in it until the end. (Single readers, this should make you think long and hard about the person you decide to marry.)

We may divorce one another, but we don't divorce our children. And, like it or not, they need both parents in their lives. It took me a while to understand that. I thought since my ex-husband was an alcoholic, a drug addict and a cheater that he wasn't worthy of having a say in our kids' lives. Thankfully, he's been clean and sober for several years now. But at the time of our divorce, I felt I was the only parent capable of raising Taege and Keile. And I fought for them, tooth and nail. I also believed I was pretty good at hiding my contempt for my ex, but I wasn't, and I know my children saw it.

What I've come to realize though is that even though we may not see eye-to-eye on some parenting issues, my ex is a good dad and he loves our children as much as I do. And it's nice to be able to work together parenting our children, to be able to talk about decisions that need to be made without any underlying tension, to attend their events together, to share memories and funny stories of them and to ponder their future.

Let's face it, depending on the ages of our children, we're going to be with our exes through soccer games, parent/teacher conferences, recitals, first cars, first dates, proms, graduations, college decisions, weddings, the birth of our grandchildren, and the list goes on. Wouldn't it be much easier to face those monumental moments in harmony? Sure, we could hold grudges that go on for years. But who does that hurt in the long run? Only you...and the kids.

Choose to live in peace!

April 20, 2010

And my son drives...


Well, I've entered the next phase of parenting - the driver's permit. I actually took Taege to get his permit last summer when he turned 14. He passed the test on his first try, no studying involved - the little turd! I took him out to a LARGE parking lot the first time and he did pretty well. Several months passed - 9 to be exact - in which he never asked to practice.

A couple of weeks ago, I was on my way out the door to drop Taege off at his friend's house and he casually asked, "Mom, can I drive?" I smirked at him and started to say "no," but then I realized that there was going to be some point in my life that I would be forced to get in the car with my son at the wheel. And it might as well be today. So I said, "Sure" and tossed him the keys. He stared at me like I had just sprouted wings. He was still staring at me as I got in the passenger's seat, but he jumped in, pushed the seat up to the windshield, put on his seatbelt, then asked, "Which pedal is the gas and which makes it stop." "Oh, sweet Jesus, will we live through this?" I thought.

He was nervous...not as nervous as I was, but still nervous. He hugged the curb as if his life depended on it. And let me tell you, that boy could stop on a dime - literally. When the guy behind us honked at the stop sign, Taege jumped - "What was that?" "Just a very impatient person, honey," I told him. Geeze, I sounded like my grandmother. We arrived at his friend's street. "Slow down and turn left," I said. "Up or down?" He meant the blinker. As we pulled into the driveway, he slammed on the brakes. Whiplash. When he got out of the car, I realized I hadn't been breathing the entire ride. My heart stopped beating so quickly and I smiled as I saw him jump in the air and yell, "Yeeesss!" That was worth it.

This afternoon, I let him drive home from the Village and he did much better, except for hugging the curb again. But he's getting there. And he'll be taking driver's ed this summer, which is a good thing because I don't think I could take him on a major road or highway yet. I'm in no way prepared for that nightmare. It's a frightening thing to put your child behind the wheel of such a monstrous machine. Okay, I know I exaggerate, but do you understand where I'm coming from?

April 19, 2010

Cooking up a little love

"Mom, what's for dinner?" Those are the four words I've dreaded every evening. Whether I've been at work all day, running the kids all over kingdom-come or working around the house, those words make my stomach sink. "I just fed you yesterday," I think to myself. "You're already asking me that same question again?"

Part of my disdain for the question is that I simply don't like to cook - unless it's for big occasions like birthday parties, holidays, etc. My mom raised us on macaroni and cheese, hot dogs, and frozen pizzas. Not a very creative culinary upbringing and not what I want for my own kids.

But I find it so difficult to cook for such picky clientele. Keile loves pasta dishes (my specialty) - the other two don't. Blane will only eat apples and grapes from the fruit family and asparagus, carrots and lettuce from the vegetable family (I know, strange, isn't it?). Two of them dig spicy food, but the little one not so much. Taege and I love seafood but the other two won't touch it. But Blane is definitely the pickiest by far. She'd live on peanut butter sandwiches and chicken nuggets if I'd allow it, which I won't.

What I've realized about the question itself though - "Mom, what's for dinner?" - is that it's not so much the WHAT as the MOM. It seems to me that my kids are asking the question, whether knowingly or not, to make sure I'm still there, still paying attention, and still taking care of their needs. I like to think of it as their security check for the day. They look forward to our family time at dinner, to having mom focus on them in the midst of all the craziness of the day. And I've learned to get past my dislike of cooking because I know that what I'm creating is more than a meal. It's another way to show my children I love them each day. At least that's my take on it.

April 18, 2010

Stung by the honesty bug

So, I’m trying to find something to wear this morning and am so sick of looking at the same tired items in my closet. I’m in a never-ending battle with my weight, so I have many different sizes represented on my hangers. I hate this. I finally found something I thought would do. I got dressed and looked in the mirror, unsure if I looked presentable or just plain dumpy. So…I did what I swore I’d never do – I asked my 12-year-old daughter if I looked fat. I know, I know – just when she’s entering puberty and will be starting to face her own demons (fat will not be one of them, I’m certain). But I had to know. Of course, never one to hurt someone’s feelings nor one to lie, Keile looked at me and then at the pants and insisted that they didn’t make me look like a cow (my terminology, not hers). But I saw that second’s hesitation!

So, I moved on to my 6-year-old, whose honesty is still rock solid, untainted by peer pressure or the overwhelming urge to play nice. “Yes,” she replies to my fat question. And there you have it. This girl has a future on “What Not to Wear.” This is why I love shopping with her. We’ll go into the dressing room together and just rip through the items – “That’s ugly, Mommy.” “No way.” “Haha, you look silly.” Or, my favorite, when she just busts out laughing at something I’ve tried on. Not only do I save money on these shopping trips, but I’ve also developed a pretty thick skin.

I love how different my girls are from one another. And I love to watch Keile teaching her little sister, too. When Blane told me I looked fat this morning, Keile looked at her disgustedly, to which Blane replied, “I’m just kidding.” She’s learning…but I hope she doesn’t succumb totally to the pressure of niceties. I cherish her honesty, even when it stings a little.