Sunday, January 29, 2017

A Birthday Gift from Heaven

Today's my birthday. My husband bought me a present that I asked for after I saw it a few weeks ago. I thought it would be a great addition to our dining room and wonderful piece to store some old treasures--an old primitive style hutch. I convinced him to let me have it a little bit early because I knew there was some work to be done on the old wooden cupboard. I wanted to be able to enjoy it, complete and displayed, on my birthday. Little did I know, that well-loved piece of furniture would be the catalyst to an even better birthday surprise.

I finished up the fixes and sanding on Friday, so Saturday I started to find things to place inside. During my cleanup and sorting of items, I discovered a simple, white tablecloth, one I hadn't looked at in years. It was a clever idea my mother-in-law had for our wedding day. She'd purchased it for our guests to write well-wishes on so that we'd have those to read in years to come. I had placed the signed cloth in the same container as my other ones, and all but forgotten about it since the summer of 1999.

When I rediscovered it yesterday I could barely recall us sitting down to read the thoughtful messages (since the day after our wedding at least). It was so fun to reflect on the kind notes, some of which had been scrawled by folks no longer close in our lives, while others were penned by friends and family we still see regularly.

My heart raced when I recognized my dad's handwriting. He passed away the week after my birthday last year. I slowly read each word, and smiled imagining him thinking about what to say to me and my new husband. It was a thoughtful, loving note, one that I know likely held the most heartfelt words.

The last line before his closing was priceless...

Count on me anytime.

Oh how I love and miss my daddy. How did that sweet little stinker somehow manage to give me the best birthday gift all the way from heaven?!? The reminder and promise of unconditional love.

This is going to be a great year. Thank you, Dad.

Monday, September 12, 2016

A Good Hair Day

A futuristic account of a very special women's upcoming day...

As the sharp scissors snip-snipped and the beautiful gray-white tendrils gently fell to the ground, so did her tears. Some of them flowed as happy ones, thinking how he’d always loved her long hair, something she knew that was important to him, so it became so to her, one of the many things he found beautiful about her, something he’d remembered about her, even in his last days. So she’d kept the longer length the past few years, even though she preferred the ease that a shorter style afforded her.

Most of the quiet weeping at the start of her hair appointment was from the sadness. Sadness that he was gone.

Her hair dresser paused and asked if she was okay. “Oh yes,” she said. “You’re doing great,” she reassured her, so the cutting continued.

She allowed herself to drift back. It had been a long goodbye--something that she was mostly thankful for because it allowed many of those who loved him to see him and be with him at least one more time. And it gave her many opportunities to be with him too, to be his wife--despite the fact that so much of the last months were spent simply providing for his simple, everyday needs (the ones most take for granted). Even though in the end it became almost unbearable at times, watching him cough so hard, sometimes gasp for air; the harder part was his confusion coupled with the sadness and longing and questions for it to be over.

She knew she’d done her best to care for him. She was almost sure of it. She’d fed him carefully and gave his many meds, held his thin hands, snuggled in his single hospital bed set up in their living room, trying to reassure him when he needed it, gotten up multiple times so many nights to be sure his coughing fits ended up in comfort and sleep--it was a very long list of caregiving--of which she didn't complain.

More soft gray fell and along with it suddenly tears turning to joy and pride. The kids were so proud of her, amazed by their mom and her efforts to help their dad. She smiled picturing them when the nurse was sitting there with the four of them. She was so glad there was a witness who observed their confession, their profession, that she was the strongest woman they knew, and that she had done well. She really needed that, and they knew it. She also pictured the funeral day when her son further acknowledged that she had been amazing this past year especially; the congregation even clapped.

But then the sadness briefly returned. The tears that told of the moments long gone of a special motorcycle trip, memorable times with their best friends to Atlantic City, championship bowling nights, classic card games with another favorite couple, refereeing one-handed wiffleball, visits to see their awesome grandkids, and so many other special times. They had done these things together, the two of them. A couple.

"I'm done," the stylist announced, startling her to the present. She looked in the mirror, staring at the newly-shorn lady.

“It’s short, isn’t it?” she gasped, but not to her hairdresser.

“It’s perfect,” she heard. And she smiled with dried tears, looking at the image of a beautiful woman still.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Wise Words from My Favorite West Virginian

There was a phrase my dad would use when he noticed a person was feeling rather haughty and too pleased with his or her self. And while he didn't coin the expression, it sure left an impression on me to this day.

When I first heard him say it I thought it was soooooooo funny because, he used the word "poop" and I would giggle loudly. As I got a little older I thought it was an odd saying since I took it literally. Then, when he'd utter it when I was a tween I was just embarrassed by the quote, mostly because I didn't fully understand it, but also because it did sound oddly gross. (Who tries to smell their own poop, after all?!?) Over the years though, and especially now that I'm a mama, I totally get it.

This summer before my son's first ever "real" tennis match, I saw he was pretty nervous. I told him not to be since he was really supposed to lose anyway. A nearby parent spoke to me when my son was playing and asked me why I told him he'd likely lose. I said that it was because he was younger and less experienced than his opponent. But also because while I am my children's #1 fan, they are not always going to be number #1. Even after my explanation, she still didn't seem to approve of my parenting style.

We live in a time where our kids can buy The gear, go to The camp, and get The coach if they're parents are willing to pay the money. Many of those young athletes think they are The best. To me, that's not how it works, and I don't want my children thinking that way.

Don't get me wrong. I do want my kids to be "winners," and I think they are both incredibly wonderful. I remind them they can be whatever they want to be, but I also want them to be good "losers" too, with a realistic approach to life. Because they WILL lose sometimes. They will even work hard at a goal and still not reach it on the first or second or twenty-second try. That's life sometimes. And I want them to learn to be gracious, good sports on the court and off--and way beyond the playing field.

As I further reflect on my dad's famous phrase, I'm starting to suspect that God added the stink from the beginning so that we all got the hint, even our adoring parents, that even though most of us come into this world with ten tiny toes and a smile that melts many hearts, shortly after we share a big stink-bomb in our baby britches as a sign that we are not perfect. (But yes, still "fearfully and wonderfully made.")

So to my two amazing (but not perfect), growing children, as your good ol' Pop taught me, your poop does stink...and don't worry, that's just how it's supposed to be.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

True Tests of School Success (hint: it's not EOG prep)

School's been out for over a week now, and this is normally when the end-of-year festivities have quieted down enough to where I can actually reflect and consider the past school year with the students I work with.

There are many stories and incidents that have popped into my mind, but there's one recent experience with a special student that's been stuck in my head.

It happened on one of the last days of school (which is partly why I recall it so well, but I think the more lasting impression isn't due to the timing but the thoughts it left me with). This boy whom I've had the joy to work with in a small math group since November almost knocked me over in the hall. He was literally bouncing on the tops of his toes, his small frame shaking with excitement. His teacher had just revealed his math and reading EOG scores to him.

"Do you know? Did she tell you? Do you know what I made?" he was practically squealing.

Playing dumb, because I knew it meant more to him to reveal his special surprise than for me to show my prior knowledge of his test scores, I asked him to tell me his results.

"Two fours! Can you believe it? I just wanted to pass. I was hoping for threes, but I got reading AND in math! I can't believe it, can you?"

I looked at his large, proud smile and matched his with my own.

What I wanted to say to this bright, kind-hearted boy was something that had nothing to do with his recent testing success, as he saw it. What I wanted to do was tell him how amazed I was that he had overcome so much this school year: starting at yet another new school, navigating his way through a less than stable home life, very gradually learning to share his insights with his new teacher and classmates, no longer hiding his answers in our math group like he did when we first started working together, not having to blink back his tears on the days he didn't seem to understand something the first time, eventually feeling comfortable enough to explain his ideas and strategies (even when they were different than the others'), and then the day he felt like showing his celebration dance when he was the first to "get it right" in our group. I didn't want to talk test scores, I wanted to celebrate the new-found confidence he'd discovered this school year that goes way beyond two test days. I resisted the urge to tell him he was way more than a pair of fours, that he has more bravery and insight than some adults I know, that he has a caring heart, and clever wit and is going to do amazing things in his life.

But here he was, grinning ear-to-ear with his news. So I just hugged him tightly and said, "Yes, we knew you could do it." And I think that was really all he wanted to hear that day.

Monday, May 2, 2016

My Other Big Brother

Steve, my half brother, died suddenly two weeks ago. Since then, I've been trying to write about him. Thanks to my brother Boyce's words today, I am now able to...

We had all just been together when Dad passed away in February. I feel so fortunate that we were with each other for that treasured time.

As you sat across from me, sitting in Dad’s chair, I had to remind myself several times that you weren’t him. You two have always looked so much alike. As you both got older you seemed to favor each other even more. The soft, salt and pepper hair, kind eyes, generous smile, and still such a handsome face.

Like Dad, you had struggles and trials in life, including an unfair start in some ways. But like him, you turned out to be a strong, giving person. And there are so many who are the better for that.

Even when you spoke it was like talking to Dad. Not just in your West Virginia drawl, but also as you told about what was going on in your life, but especially as you lit up like firecrackers sharing about your girls and grandkids, just the same Dad would do when talking about us--full of pride and love.

Thank you, Steve, for giving us that moment when we could all feel together again, all near Dad. It wouldn’t have been the same without your presence.

I wish so much that you could sit among us in that chair again. And if you could, I’d tell you that even though on paper you were my half brother, you sure weren’t “half” anything to us.

You were a whole husband
A completely devoted daddy and poppaw
An entirely-loved son
A totally-awesome brother
An all-in worker
A full of life friend.
And now that you’re gone from this earth, we all wish you the wholeness of peace you deserve, dear man. We love you.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

My Memorial Day

I sat on the porch today spending much of the afternoon celebrating Memorial Day simply, recognizing the privilege of watching my daughter and son laughing and swinging together on the hammock in the backyard. I was reminded that my list of blessings is so big that they cannot be counted.

My next thought meandered to my dad, as I considered the graces granted in my life. He who has already lived longer than his COPD and Dementia diagnoses would have suggested. He who lives on, because battling through life is no longer necessary.

Since my dad (thankfully) lived through his time in combat, he technically is not celebrated by the country today for his military time. But like many Americans, I sort of lump Memorial Day and Veterans Day together, but not out of disrespect for those who have lost their lives during their service. The reason is two-fold. First, two days is not nearly enough time to recognize the many men and women who have served and those who are actively serving for us. And secondly, my dad still defends his country nightly. Often it's through his recurrent, disturbing dreams as he continues to fight for his life and mine and yours.

The blessing I ask for today for him is for restful sleep, free of bad dreams, and full of Goodness because, you my sweet daddy, and so many others like you, deserve it.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Another Loving Mother

One of my dear friends held a fundraiser this week to increase awareness about Childhood Apraxia of Speech . It was a great evening with many wonderful people attending to support her and her family's journey, and also hear about about this frustrating speech disorder.

Like all the attendees I learned much about apraxia and the need for ongoing research to find a cure. But the most important lesson I took away was that while this impairment is strong and challenging, it cannot even touch the amazing force found in a parent's love for her child.

While my friend's youngest son (along with many other precious children--since it's being diagnosed more often) daily battles with finding his words, he is a most fortunate one because his voice is already being heard. That's not only because he works so hard every day using his precious, positive spirit during his rigorous therapy sessions and at-home practice, but also due to the crucial fact he has a mom and dad who have a love for him that is way more powerful than this thing called apraxia.

Here's a few ways that we can all help...