Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Daydreaming with My Daughter

Watching my dad slowly fade from this Earth over his last few years were some of the most excruciating of moments in my life, but some of the best too. My brother and Mom and I would work together and talk together and sometimes even get mad at each other as we would try to determine the best course of action, the wisest way to ease his pain, give him some breathing relief and comfort.

I remember the last few times I was with him, it was just me and him together, and I'd put on music either he or I or both of us liked and just sit near each other. For him it was often The Platters or an old "real country" musician. For me it was usually the Avett Brothers or yes, some old "real country" musician. It's coming up on the second year anniversary of my Dad's passing. And it's still hard to believe he's gone sometimes.

He comes to me in my dreams often, and it's like he's really there. When I wake up from one of those dreams I try so hard to go back to sleep and recapture that place where we were together. But after multiple attempts, I've realized I can't will myself to go back to sleep to that special space we just shared, nor can I will him back to life.

There is one thing I can do though that brings something of him back to me when I'm awake. And it's usually when I'm working with my hands, something he was so amazingly good at.

The other day was one of those moments. And the extraordinary thing was, I got to experience it with my daughter. She had received a really cool hammock chair swing for her birthday which we decide to finally hang up. That swing had sat in her room corner on the floor for months, and I'd think to myself If Dad was here he'd have it up in five minutes. So rather than look at it for one more day on the ground I told my girl that we were going to do it ourselves and that Pop would be so proud of our work when we were done. We got out our tools for the task: electric drill, screwdrivers, bits and stud finder (a new tool tool that she and I would giggle about every time we said its name). It looked like an Ace Hardware grand opening in her bedroom.

We measured for accuracy three times to ensure we had the right hidden beam in the ceiling. I told her that was what my dad always did, measure at least twice before cutting. Then we checked how high and how far from the wall, something else dad would have done since he didn't just do it, he did it right. When we were through (it had taken us about 35 minutes) we stood back together and looked at that chair in the air, both of us grinning at the good work we had done. "Pop would be so proud of us for our good work today," I said. And then she looked at me eye-to-eye and smiled and said, "Yes, he is." And I felt him in that room as sure as he was really standing there, and I was so glad to be awake.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Tis the Season for Snow and Dog-Doo

I get some of my best thinking done while I'm doing a mindless task. Yesterday it was while scooping dog-doo from the play yard. Did I mention she's a big dog? I had plenty of time on my paws.

I was thinking about how cleaning up after our pets is normally one of the kids' chores, but like so many other families with the back-to-school busy-ness, and me with some extra time during the day, I did this terrible task for them. I was curious how long it would take them to notice I'd done this job (I'm betting awhile).

A recent conversation popped into my brain as I tried to remove yet another extra-large poop patty from the ground. It was with a woman whom I don't know well who was sharing about how "sooooooo busy" she and her family are. Oh, with ALL the school sports and sooooooo many after school activities--there was a long list.

Part of me wanted to say, "Aren't all those optional events that you guys are choosing to do that are causing you to be sooooooo busy?" I think I already knew the answer. Along with that I also had the friendly suggestion, "Hey maybe why don't you ask your kids which of those extra-curriculars are the most meaningful to them?" But I'm pretty sure I had that one figured out too. Of course instead of offering my witty wisdom, I just smiled and nodded and made some mild remark about her probably having well-rounded kids with such a wide variety of scheduled electives. After all, she wasn't looking for parenting tips.

What I was thinking about was a thought that's been growing in my mind since I became a mama... I suspect that in an effort to make your kid stand out so others too can see this bright, beautiful, talented star that you know them to be, often a parent can feel overly compelled to show off their virtuoso with others. Being over-busy is just a by-product.

One of Tyler Durden's memorable maxims to his faithful, fighting followers seemed so unkind and wrong when I heard it uttered in Fight Club nearly two decades ago:

You are not special. You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake.

Now he was speaking to his growing army that he wanted to break down so he could build them back up. THAT is a message that most kids have never heard in their early lives. Quite the opposite in fact. Many youngins today (and I'd suggest the last two generations, including mine, and my own children) have heard many variations on You can be whatever you want to be! You're amazing and special and wonderful!!!

I hated that book/movie line and didn't believe nor try to understand it (even when the then still young, still cool, very sultry Brad Pitt said it). It went against everything I believed and had been told since I was a kid who'd been instilled with self-worth.

But you know what? I'm getting older and now that I'm a parent, I'm starting to think his words aren't so cruel and crazy. I just think they need some elaboration.

To most, you are not special. To many, you are not a beautiful and unique snowflake.

But in fact you are a beautiful and unique snowflake, but so is everyone else in this enormous snowfall of Life.

That's what I wish I could have shared with that other sooooooo busy mom. But I'm too tied-up scooping poop.

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 fours...in 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.