Friday, June 23, 2017

No apology needed, yet we give them anyway.

The sink in our upstairs bathroom broke.  To clarify, the pipe underneath the sink in our upstairs bathroom broke, which caused a steady stream of water to puddle at the base of our vanity along with the Lysol wipes, hand soaps, and bottle of toilet bowl cleanser.  Eventually, the puddle must have reached critical mass and spilled onto our bathroom floor, creating a puddle there, too -- one that I stepped in, which is how I discovered the leak.

My husband called his friend, a handyman for a local apartment complex, to look at the pipe.  The next morning while I was at work, his friend came, diagnosed the problem, repaired the pipe, and went on his way.  Simple.

I came home, pleased with the quick fix and how I wouldn't need to brush my teeth at my bathtub spigot that evening.

Then I looked around our bedroom for a moment, knowing that our handyman friend must have walked through it to reach the bathroom.  The bed was made, but the rest of the room was a mess.  Because I had been painting my oldest daughter's room, all of her belongings had been transferred to our room.  Unwieldy mounds of her bed linens, stuffed animals, and books were stacked on top of our own furniture.  Her mirror, bulletin board, and pictures leaned against our bedroom walls.

Clutter everywhere.

As I looked around, I wondered if my husband had thought to explain the mess to his friend as he directed him to our bathroom.  I didn't ask, though, because I know the answer would have been no.

He wouldn't have said, "You see, Robin was painting Reese's room, so we had to move all of her stuff into here.  Please don't mind the mess."

He wouldn't have said, "Sorry, I know this place is a disaster."

He wouldn't have offered an apology or explanation, because there was no apology or explanation needed.  He knows that it's our house and we live there.  He knows that sometimes rooms get painted, and possessions temporarily get relocated into piles in other rooms, and pipes break, and messes naturally occur, and other people witness them.

In other words, he wouldn't have offered an apology because he understands that people live in houses, and living can be a messy prospect.  And because he's a man.

In contrast, I've noticed how quickly apologies are issued when a woman lets another woman into her home -- sometimes even before the guest steps through the front doorway.  Sorry that there's still a half-eaten waffle and syrup dripped on the kitchen table, even though it's almost dinner.  Sorry my kids have dropped their socks everywhere.  I'm just warning you... this place is a mess.

Our apologies and explanations suggest that it's a moral failing if throw blankets aren't neatly draped across the back of couches, or mail is unsorted on the counter, or shoes are left at the front door, or unrinsed dinner plates still sit in the kitchen sink. 

We apologize to each other for living in our own spaces, as if this is wrong, as if real life shouldn't take place within the walls of our homes.  At the same time, we all know that real life does take place in our homes -- and, sometimes, real life involves a broken pipe, a painting project, and a bedroom in a state of upheaval.

Best yet, real life also involves friends who are willing to come at a moment's notice and help when you're in a pinch, without caring whether your bedroom is messy.

That's real life.  When no apology or explanation is needed, let's stop giving them.

Let's give other people the gift of knowing that our houses look just like their houses: lived in.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Another Parenting Milestone

A lot of parenting involves slogging through the daily routine, but every so often, you encounter a moment that stops you in your tracks.  There are traditional firsts, like the time your child first rolls or takes uncertain steps.  There are highly-photographed firsts, like first days of school.  There are firsts that make parents sigh in relief, like when a baby first blessedly sleeps through the night, or when kids first learn to buckle their own seat belts and you no longer have to wheedle yourself into back seats to click them into safety.

In my parenting journey, I experienced those types of early firsts years ago.  Even so, life keeps evolving, and yesterday I experienced another first.

I drove my daughter and her friend to the public pool, dropped them off at the curb, waved as they walked to the counter and showed their passes, and then drove away.

Let me recap: I left my child in a public place -- one that is not school -- and then I left the premises.  Because she's twelve.  Because she and her friend are very responsible and capable of surviving without adult supervision for two hours.  Because I have reached the point in parenting where I'm not needed every single moment of every single day.

Parenting from the sidelines.  It's a first, I tell you.

Image compliments of USAG Livorno PAO

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Monday, June 19, 2017

The Unfinished State of Many Things

I like doing projects because I like when projects are done.  I enjoy cutting the grass because I enjoy how a freshly-cut lawn looks.  I enjoy cleaning a closet because I appreciate the newly uncluttered results.  I stick with the doing because I want to get to the done.

Right now, though, I'm in the midst of doing stuff.  I'm smack dab in the middle of multiple unfinished projects.  I've applied one coat of fresh paint in my daughter's bedroom, but I missed the window to immediately apply the final coat during the weekend.  I've begun the process of packing my campus office because furniture (and faculty) are being rearranged, so I'm surrounded by boxes while at work.  I've reached the final week of teaching during the intensely compact summer schedule, a week when it gets messier with assignments, speeches, and an exam before all the loose threads are tied.

Nothing around me feels settled or complete.  I like settled and complete.

But this is okay.  I'm reminded that it's possible to be at ease in the midst of unfinished business.  It's possible to be settled even when your environment is in flux.  I can expect change, messes, and loose threads.  The in-between phases are just as normal as the it-is-finished phases.

So, this week as I finish the painting, packing, and teaching, I'll look forward to the finished results.  But I accept the process, too.  I'll get there.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Mission Completed

Title: Mission Completed

Subtitle: Backpacks, you've served us well this year.  You've lugged papers and notebooks and pencils and lunch boxes for 180 days straight, but today your job is done. Let summer begin!

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Monday, June 12, 2017

The Unproductive Day

Before work this morning, I made a to-do list that was much too long for the amount of hours a day contains.  After teaching my class, I had planned to grade speeches, make a return at a store, pick up a gallon of paint for my next weekend project, mail a package, and buy groceries before driving home.  Once home, I had planned on doing at least three loads of laundry, including all the jackets that we had worn through the chilly parts of spring -- jackets that now seem obscenely warm given the mid-80 temperatures.

In my mind, I would complete all of these tasks within the two-hour window after my class ended and before my girls got home from school.  Because I have a time turner, obviously.

Nothing worked like I had planned.  I picked the slowest line in the store to make my return -- the line where the cashier couldn't find the price on an obscure item and the customer decided to pay with a check.  I finally cut my losses, moved to another line, waited until I reached the front, and then was told that returns couldn't be processed from that register.

Every stop on my itinerary was slow and irritating.  Barely anything was crossed off the list by the time my girls stepped off the bus.  To up the ante, my middle daughter said that her foot, the one she had tweaked the evening before while jumping on a neighbor's trampoline, still hurt.  I mustered all of my medical knowledge, which means that I asked her to stick out both legs, looking and feeling to see if there was any difference between the injured and normal foot, and found a sizable lump.

That's how I added an unexpected and lengthy visit to my local Med Express into an already overwhelmingly unproductive day.

As I sat in the exam room, playing mind-numbing rounds of "I Spy" and "I Went on a Picnic and I Took (fill in the blank alphabetically)," I thought back to a similar day during my own childhood.  It had been a Sunday.  I recall this detail vividly because my father had wanted to read the Sunday paper all day, and time had escaped him, and the day was nearly done, and when he finally sat down to read the paper as my brother and I prepared for bed, I accidentally stepped on my brother's backpack and impaled my foot on a pencil.

That night, my dad had driven me to a Pittsburgh ER so the doctor could remove the pencil tip lodged in my foot.  (My dad forgot to bring the newspaper with him.  The waiting room had no newspapers.  Of course.)

We all live days like this.

As I drove my daughter home after getting X-rays and planning a follow-up consultation with the orthopedist to determine if a boot was necessary (thankfully, it wasn't), my thoughts flashed back to my morning commute.  I had prayed quite specifically about the day while I drove.  Perhaps I intuitively knew that my lengthy to-do list was a pipe dream.  Perhaps the Holy Spirit was prompting me to prepare for interruptions.

But I had prayed, "Lord, let me do only what You'd have me do today.  Not more, not less.  Help me to fill this day the right way."

Maybe the right way to fill certain days simply means that you endure long lines with grace.  Maybe it means that you play a dozen rounds of I Spy in a blandly monochromatic waiting room.  Maybe it means that you drop the prescribed ought to's, like three loads of laundry, so you can instead focus on what you must do.

And when you add it all up, perhaps it's still a day well spent.  Even if you don't get to read the newspaper.

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Monday, May 29, 2017

All of the Pleasure, None of the Work

There's a 24-acre farm behind my house.  I love this a great deal.  In fact, sometimes as I let my gaze span across their hillside acreage, I pretend that I own this farm, down to the one time that I renamed the horses they had been boarding.

We've lived in our house for 11 years, and I still can't get over it.  I'm less than five minutes from a grocery store, a gas station, a Wal-Mart, and a shopping plaza, yet I also get to enjoy a farm that I don't need to maintain.  I reap all of the aesthetic pleasure, yet do none of the work.  It seems entirely unfair, like a gift I can't pay back.

Tonight as my kids were taking their baths and the evening was drawing to a close, Joel and I walked our own yard.  It's a beautiful space unto itself, one that's doubly enhanced by the farm's rolling hills. 

I thought back to how my youngest daughter's friends automatically clamored to the fence during her birthday party a few weekends ago, eager to see the newborn calves.  This is a sight for people.  It's not a typical backdrop to a backyard, and I don't want to forget it.  I don't want to ever get used to it.

So, on evenings like tonight as I walk along our gardens, noticing that the peonies are nearly past their prime, I pay close attention to what I see.

I notice the details that make us want to linger a little longer, like the bridge that invites kids (and adults alike) to walk over it.

Or the garden stools that say, won't you sit here for a while?

I notice how the clematis climbs its metal trellis,

and how the lace-leaf Japanese maple arcs over the bicycle decoration that my mom gave me.

I think about how colors compliment each other -- how purple and coral pop against a green backdrop,

and how the best lighting always comes right before the sun sets.  I see the little details when I slow down and remember to look, to really look. 

Years ago, I read a blog by a woman who was seeking advice from her counselor about happiness.  What do you envision a happy life to be?  What do you envision a happy home to look like? the counselor had asked.  Once the woman had envisioned her happiest self and home (it included baking cookies with her children), the counselor encouraged her to do those things.

This always has stuck with me.  What is my happiest vision for my home?  It's my kids playing outside, my neighbors dropping by to talk, and the people I love wanting to be together.  It's adding small beautiful touches, both inside and outside my home.  It's (trying to) keep things organized and simple enough that I'm not buried by or beholden to stuff.  It's reading good books, and being productive, and having some creative outlets.  It's working hard, but not being a slave to work so I still have the best of me to give when I'm home.

Tonight, as I walked my own backyard, looking at its quaint details and regarding the farm that I plan on always pretending to own, I realize that my vision of a happy life also includes taking evening walks with my husband around our yard during the spring and summer months.

It includes noticing and slowing down and not taking for grantedAfter all, perhaps the best way to pay back for this gift -- all of the pleasure, none of the work -- is simply to enjoy it.

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Thursday, May 25, 2017

Keep an Open Hand

My husband believes that Good n' Plenty candy is an acquired taste.  If this is true (and it likely is given that black licorice isn't universally loved), I guess that I acquired the taste during childhood when my dad would pour the candies into my hand.  I still like the simple, pretty appearance of the pink and white candy shells.

I recently bought a box, and this afternoon I poured myself a handful.  I had just returned from campus, and I was still mulling over an email I received about my teaching schedule for the upcoming fall.  I knew I needed to head out again and buy a few groceries for dinner before the kids got home from school, but then I remembered that I needed to switch the clothes from the washer to the dryer.

Finally, with the clothes in the dryer, my scrawled grocery list in hand, my keys located, and my thoughts still occupied with my pending teaching schedule, I headed to my car.  That's when I realized that I still had a handful of Good n' Plenty.  My fist was clenched around them; the pink and white coating had begun to smear onto my palm and fingers.

I'm not sure why this sight made me pause, but something was triggered when I saw the results of a clenched hand.  My hand, which could have been clean if I had just kept my palm open, was a sticky mess.  Sometimes, it feels right to clutch something, like it's somehow safer to exert a strong grip, but an open hand might be what's better.

As I drove to the store, I prayed.  I told God that I trusted Him with my teaching schedule, even if it was different than normal, even if it might need to be tweaked, even if it couldn't be tweaked.  And as I prayed, I felt my clenched hand opening up a bit, my strong grip loosening.  Somehow, just like the sight of my stained pink and white palm, I knew that this situation -- like most things in life -- ultimately would be better if I didn't hold on so tightly.

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Monday, May 22, 2017

Tame the Inbox. Prepare for the Worksheet Tsumani. (And Other Modern-Day Hurculean Tasks)

Last week, I reduced the number of emails in my personal inbox to 12.  I felt like I had slayed a dragon, which is somewhat of a self-congratulatory statement, but people, do you get swarmed with emails like I do?  (I hope you don't because I have a genuine fondness for you, my reader, and getting swarmed with emails is like getting swarmed by locusts, minus the end-of-days vibe.)

These emails just keep coming.  They continually appear.  One right after another.  More always arrive.  They don't stop.  They never end.  It's never-ending.

Some emails can be deleted on sight, of course.  Some automatically get filtered into little folders that I've created and named in the attempt to streamline this facet of life.  (You know, so I can ignore them from afar.)  But some emails require actual reading -- and, even more strenuous -- some require not only reading, but actual thinking and responding.

This latter category is where I struggle.  I'm quite good at reading an email and then responding to it in my head without legitimately responding with spoken or typed words, like I'm sending my message via mental telepathy, which is even less reliable than homing pigeon.  Certain days, I also excel at reading an email, recognizing that a response is being demanded from me, ascertaining that it's not urgent, and then copping-out by closing it and thinking, "I'll respond to that later."

That is how you build up an inbox with hundreds of messages, my friends.

For the record, I never struggle with keeping on top of my work email account.  I ride that wave just fine, thank you, partially because it's earmarked as work.  Since almost all of my work is time-sensitive, I'm automatically trained to knock it out, stat.

No, it's just my personal and blogging email accounts, which morph into one inky black hole of messages about school picnics, summer camp registration deadlines, overdue library books, school cafeteria account balances, dress codes for a child's end-of-year field trip, upcoming Girl Scouts meetings and tumbling events, requests for me to review products on my blog even though I don't write product reviews on my blog, one rogue Bath and Body Works sale update that somehow didn't get filtered to my "shopping" folder, and friendly messages or forwarded stories from my dad.

Last week as I regarded that tangled web of messages, I got serious.  Enough was enough.  I plowed through my inbox savagely, responding and deleting, deleting and responding.  I added items to my calendar, even.  (Except for those events and deadlines that I had already missed, at which point shrugged it off as one less thing to deal with, before deleting and marching onward.)

I slayed the dragon.  I tamed the beast.  I reduced the inbox to a singular page -- and less than a full one, at that.

It's good timing, too, as any parent of school-aged children knows.  Because in the next few weeks as school comes to a close, all of the papers and worksheets and projects that teachers have carefully filed away during the 180-day school year will be sent home, crumpled of course, in your children's backpacks where, upon reaching your house, they'll be splayed across every flat surface -- your kitchen table, the hallway, the family room floor -- until your home resembles a snow globe classroom that's been vigorously shaken, until you're convinced that your children's school paperwork is infinite, until you finally figure out a filing system, or dump everything into a box to sort later, or just throw it all out.  Because you know, deep in your heart, that another school year will eventually begin, and with it, a new influx of paperwork and emails.

Me: Empty your backpack.
Her: Done.

Yes, those days are coming, but for now, I'm resting in the fact that at least I'm on top of my inbox.

For now.  

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Sunday, May 14, 2017

What I want for Mother's Day. Really.

Happy Mother's Day!  Since the dawn of this holiday, I daresay there's never been a mom who's refused those precious illegible cards written on construction paper with blunt crayons, or the yarn necklace strung with elbow macaroni, or the iconic painted Dollar Store wooden picture frame that gets propped up with a wooden stick.  Homemade gifts are part and parcel of motherhood.

But I also think that each mom secretly harbors a list of what she really would like.  If you're like me, they really don't cost much at all.

1) Take a nap.  This one is obvious.  I want to take the type of nap where I wake up and can't remember my name, much less what day or time it is.  I don't even care if my splayed posture makes me resemble a crime scene victim, or whether my kids poke me and wonder if I'm still breathing.  I just want a little extra sleep.

2) Drink sweet tea.  Is drinking a vat of sweet tea good for me?  Certainly not.  Do I care today?  Not one bit.  I need something to rouse me from my lingering nap-induced haze, after all, and I can't think of anything better than 32 fluid ounces of tried-and-true refreshment to make that happen.  Today there are free passes all around.  Sweet tea for everyone!

3) Make no decisions.  What's for lunch?  I don't know.  What's for dinner?  I don't know.  What should I do?  I don't care, as long as it's legal and doesn't involve setting things on fire, and I might even be loose on that last stipulation if you leave me alone and don't require me to form an opinion because I can't.  As in, I am physically and mentally unable to evaluate options, weight consequences, arbitrate between conflicting factions, or arrive at any conclusions today.

You see, today I have no vested interest in deciding what anyone eats or does, myself included, except that I've already laid claim to my sweet tea and nap.  (Those are non-negotiable.  I have already decided upon them wholeheartedly, like following Jesus.  No turning back.)  Everything else must be decided by someone else.  I have no capacity for decisiveness today.

4)  Have backpacks empty on their own accord.  There have been roughly 32 weeks this school year alone, and scientifically speaking, 32 weeks is plenty of time to have formed a productive habit.  Plenty of time.  Despite this, I still cannot remember to start the backpack-emptying-routine before bedtime on Sunday night -- a time that's already fraught with increased chaos, diminished patience, and the distressing epiphany that my children may not have bathed for the past three days.

5) Take one picture of my children where every single person is looking at the camera.  And nobody is snarling, or elbowing someone, or making a strange gesture that resembles jazz hands.

Because, you know, something's got to fill that hand-painted wooden picture frame, right?

Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there!

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Thursday, May 11, 2017

Let's chat. It's time for a spring update.

Sometimes, it would be nice to sit down with you, my dear reader, so we could have a little chat.  I'd serve sweet tea, and together we could admire the gorgeous tree peonies that are blooming in my yard, even if we must look at them from inside because it's raining (again) today. 

Of course, our conversation would flit from topic to topic, as comfortable conversations are known to do, or simply because we're both too tired to sustain a singular coherent thought for too long.  There's so much to tell you, so let's chat!

Grading All The Things.  This time last week, I uploaded final grades for my four classes after grading final projects, final e-Portfolios, and final speeches.  It's always a sprint to the finish, but the kind of sprint that comes after you've already run a marathon, meaning that it's not very fast or pretty.  Nevertheless, the Spring 2017 semester is in the books, and I've been grateful for this gap week before I begin teaching my summer class on Monday.

Celebrating All the Things.  Within a span of less than two weeks, I've attended graduation as my department's Faculty Marshal, which thankfully is the only celebration that requires its celebrators to wear official academic regalia.  (To my knowledge, at least.  Maybe lots of other people regularly party while wearing a mortarboard.)  Additionally, we celebrated my husband's 40th birthday with a "40 Reason We Love You" scavenger hunt, and this week we're also celebrating two of my three daughters' birthdays.

Basically, this month we walk around our house declaring, "Let them eat cake!"

Cleaning All the Things.  Among other thrilling cleaning tasks, this week I scrubbed our kitchen cabinets with Murphy's Oil Soap and cleaned two kitchen drawers that hold our silverware and serving utensils, hand washing each piece.  I'd like to think that we're relatively tidy people, but these endeavors disabused that illusion. 

Planning All the Projects.  I've come to a realization: I need tasks in my life that look different when I finish them than when I started them.  Both teaching and parenting are rewarding, but when you reach the end of a day, nothing looks different.  (Well, perhaps with parenting things look different at the end of a day, if different means your house has imploded on itself with crumbs, toys, balled-up socks, school paperwork, and other various detritus of active children.)

This lack of visible progress at home and work sometimes wears on me.  I like seeing progress.  I'm a sucker for good before-and-after pictures, after all.  This is why I schedule time to work on projects each summer when my teaching load lessens -- projects I do with my hands, not only with my head.

This summer, for example, I'll tackle this mid-century modern cabinet that I snagged at a garage sale last year for $1.50.  It had been used to store vinyl records, hence the outline of musical notes on the cabinet doors.  Can't you envision new life being breathed into it with a fresh coat of paint and new hardware?

I tell you, this has the potential to generate a stunning before-and-after picture!  (If you have any color recommendations, drop me a comment!)

We Once Had This Tree.  We have a great view from the front porch of our house.  We can see the stadium, which is a campus hallmark, and we have a perfect showing of our town's 4th of July fireworks.  In the past few years there's been one problem, though.  A tree across the street has grown so large that it obscures our view.  My husband and I have joked about cutting it down, or staging an accident, or discretely hammering copper nails into its base to kill it.  Each time we have a storm, my husband prays that it would get struck by lightning.  Alas, it's never worked.

Until last week.  We didn't have just any storm; we had an epic storm that knocked out power for multiple sections of town for several days.  With the wind raging and rain pounding, Joel walked to our front window, looked at the tree, and prayed, "God, I'd love to see that knocked down."  Then, in his own words, he immediately thought, "That'll never happen."

Within seconds, though, a gust of wind surged, and right before his eyes the tree cracked in half and fell into the road.

Moral of the story: God is capable of answering our prayers even if we doubt.  Another moral of the story: God must like our view of the stadium and fireworks, too.

Cumulative Fatigue.  I once read a book about marathon running that discussed how runners should log enough mileage each week to have their legs reside in a state of cumulative fatigue.  Then, as runners taper with less mileage during the week leading up to the race, their legs will feel fresh again, leading to a better performance.

Even though I understand the logic behind this training method, I never could get past the phrase cumulative fatigue.  It sounds awful, doesn't it?

But cumulative fatigue is a phrase that I'd use to describe how I've been feeling.  I'm tired.  I've felt chronically tired for the past two months, in fact.  Each time I decide to schedule a doctor's appointment, I experience a day or two when I feel relatively normal.  (This is oddly similar to taking your car to the garage and having the suspicious clinking noise disappear when the mechanic listens to the engine, or scheduling a hair cut and having your hair, which intuitively feels the treat of scissors, behave more manageably than it has in weeks.)

I don't know whether my tiredness is due to actual illness, or general wear-and-tear, or mental exhaustion from making hundreds of decisions (see Grade All the Things above).  Perhaps I simply need some more sunshine, views of tree peonies, and the happy work of DIY projects to kick a little more energy into my days.   At any rate, I'm finally going to the doctor tomorrow.

Is your tea finished yet?  Would you like another glass? 

Granted, I've monopolized this conversation, but I'm so glad we could chat today.  Drop me a line if you have anything pressing to share, like a fallen tree, or whether your family also experiences clusters of birthday celebrations, or whether you've ever dealt with cumulative fatigue.  I'm all ears!

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Monday, May 1, 2017

A Few Needed Hours at a Campsite

Sometimes, you don't know know what you need, but then you get it, and it dawns that this thing is exactly what you had wanted all along.  This happened on Saturday.  I had taught my final classes of the semester on Friday, and given that my students wouldn't submit final projects until Monday, I had no other grading to finish over the weekend.  For the first time in weeks, I had a moment to breathe.

It feels good to breathe.

In this state of exhaling, we spent a few hours with friends at their campsite on Saturday.  We grilled chicken over the fire and toasted s'mores. 

We walked along the Little Juniata River and watched a fly fisherman cast his line.

All this time as I caught up with friends, ate chicken, licked marshmallow off my fingers, and wondered if the fisherman would get a good catch, in the back of my mind I thought: At this moment, I have room to breathe.  At this moment, I don't feel like I need to be doing anything else.

It's wonderful to feel like you shouldn't be doing anything else, like nothing else is hanging over your head.

I needed that.  I really, really needed that.

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Saturday, April 22, 2017

An unfortunate (true) story about a substitute teacher, a third grade class, and a hamster

On Thursday when the bus dropped off my younger two daughters from school, my eight-year-old had pressing news.  "Five kids threw up in my classroom today and had to go home," she said. "One was sitting right beside me."

No parent ever wants to hear these words because you know, deep in your heart, that this isn't a mere statement.  It's a proclamation.  It's fair warning.  It's game on.  Your child is now a ticking time bomb inserted into your family structure with the power to bring you all down.

She was sick within hours.  The next morning, my oldest daughter also complained of an upset stomach and promptly joined the ranks of Sick Kramer Children Staying at Home.  I succumbed today.  None of this has surprised me.  Twelve years of parenting have taught me many lessons, including the innate knowledge that the stomach bug rarely stays contained.

But this isn't just a story about our family.  It's a story about the unfortunate substitute teacher who was in the third grade classroom that day -- you know, that fresh-out-of-college, maybe 23-year-old substitute who, perhaps like a young foal, is still finding her footing as an educator while the regular teacher recovers from surgery for a few weeks.

I immediately tried to imagine her day because, people, five kids vomiting in a third grade classroom is not ordinary.  It's a day that goes down in lore and gets referenced for years -- maybe decades -- to come, like the Blizzard of '93.

It's a day that lives in infamy.

I imagine her pausing in shock when the first child threw up, then springing into action and calling the custodian.  I see her regaining composure and re-establishing classroom order as the student was ushered to the nurse and the mess was cleaned.  But then the second kid threw up.  And then the third.  Then two more for good measure.

Somewhere along the line, I imagine her composure ending.

No.  No, no, no, no, no.  Dear Lord, no.

I didn't know that much stuff could come out of such a small person.

This is not what I signed up for.

That's it.  I'm showering in Lysol as soon as I get home.  

I will never wear these clothes again.

What are the odds of this happening while I'm subbing?  I've clearly been set up.  Recovering from surgery?  That's easy!  I'll take recovering from surgery compared to this!

Lysol is not enough.  This room must be destroyed, and I need a Hazmat suit.  I saw the movie Contagion, and this scene is eerily similar. There's no way today's going to end well.

(I'm speculating on that last one, but then again, I am the woman who proposed burning down her own house as a viable middle-of-the-night solution when a child throw up on our hallway carpeting.)

All told, the word on the street is that two more children threw up during their bus rides home.  One made it off the bus and then reached his yard, where he promptly threw up in the bushes.  Like my own daughter, more students got sick later in the evening.  I even saw the father of classmate at the grocery store that night buying ginger ale while I was picking up Saltine crackers.  (We nodded in solidarity.)  The substitute teacher had to take the next day off, and even Cupcake, the dearly loved classroom hamster, was sadly found the next morning resting in peace.

A day in infamy, I tell you.

Oh, substitute teacher, I'd raise my glass to you in your honor, but I can't hold down any liquids yet.  You have earned your stripes.

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Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Hidden Truth Behind Easter Egg Hunts

Have you ever watched a children's Easter egg hunt?  Over the years, I've read several one-column write-ups in local newspapers describing these events, and each article is filled with pastel adjectives and sugar-laced plots that highlights the story of one toddler (always age two) who plucks eggs with childlike wonder while parents (armed with a camera) look on proudly.

Sweet, but that's not the whole story behind Easter egg hunts.  I know, because we just held a massive one.

It started weeks ago when my husband came home from church with a trough that was filled with empty plastic eggs.  He placed it in the center of our family room, where it would stand as a physical monument to the monumental task of stuffing obnoxious quantities of eggs with obnoxious quantities of candy.

As we started filling the eggs, I learned several important lessons.  For example, some candy will never fit inside the cozy confines of a plastic egg even though the packaging is prominently labeled with misleading phrases like "egg-stuffers."  Also, you might break certain child labor laws by unceremoniously employing your children to stuff eggs every time they near the room .  Finally, for every nine pieces of candy you'll stuff, you'll eat one.


Once the eggs are stuffed and sealed with a piece of painter's tape so they don't accidentally crack open when you scatter them across the field (last year's lesson), you host the actual event.  For us, the egg hunt was a portion of our children's church service this morning.

Just like the articles I've read, the children were adorable -- so, so adorable! -- and the sun shined, and the wind blew, and the eggs glittered in the field as good Easter eggs should.

But no newspaper article really captures the essence of a children's Easter egg hunt because they never admit how, in two minutes flat, an entire field is picked clean.  (The phrase "swarm of locusts" comes to mind, but perhaps that's not acceptable to print.)

You see, there's a certain Hunger-Games-like intensity among some older children who seem willing to trample that distracted toddler who simply cannot see the one egg that's directly in front of his foot, even though you're on the sidelines pointing, encouraging, and, as a final measure, sending adult-to-toddler mental telepathy: "It's right there, right in front of you.  See it?  It's a bright yellow plastic egg!  It's so close that you're practically stepping on it!  HOW DO YOU NOT SEE THIS?"

But by this point the hunt is finished, and the kids already surreptitiously have eaten a handful of treats.  As you gaze into their sweet eyes, glazed with the combination of competition and sugar, you remember why you're doing this in the first place, why you're holding an event where families gather on this holy day.

You smile broadly and say, "Come on, little peeps, it's all about Jesus. He's alive!  We're celebrating resurrection!"

And they're like, "Did you say Peeps?"

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Thursday, April 13, 2017

Convinced that you're only succeeding at failing? Here's how break free.

Several encouraging things have happened to me recently.  I was selected to be my department's Faculty Marshal for the upcoming graduation.  I was able to speak into a student's life in a profound way.  I've had significant conversations with each of my children, and during these moments we've connected, really connected, because I listened more than I talked, which, I'm finding, is one of the hardest and wisest things for a parent to do as kids grow up.

Even more, a man who's relatively new to our town approached me at church and shared that his wife received a message from her friend in another state.  (North Carolina?  Wisconsin?  Florida?  The details have grown fuzzy.)  Her friend recommended that she read a blog, and when she visited the recommended blog, it was my blog.  She had paused, thinking, "Wait, I know this woman.  I just met her.  She brought us a meal."

My primary take-away from this exchange?  I have at least one reader who isn't personally related to me.  (Thank you, dear out-of-state, unrelated-to-me reader.)

Good things, all around.

On the flip side, I've been chronically exhausted lately.  Even when I get absurdly large quantities of sleep, like a nearly eleven-hour coma that spanned last Friday evening until Saturday morning, I wake feeling like I could immediately return to bed.  I'm not sure whether I'm suffering from mono, anemia, Lyme Disease, or some other energy-draining illness, or whether it's merely the cumulative fatigue of working, parenting, and going, going, going all the time.

In this exhausted state, even with several lovely things happening in my life, I hit a dark place one night last week.  It happened easily enough: this depleted version of myself was placed in the worst possible context (late evening, all alone), and I was armed with my own weapon of self-destruction (all forms of social media in one hand-held device: my phone).

The early stages were relatively benign.  I scrolled through pictures of celebrities, which is a default time-sucking endeavor when I'm especially listless, but then my searches hit closer to home: I scoured other author's blogs.  That's when the jungle drums began to pound and the comparisons began to surface.

The more sites I visited, the worse I felt.  Every blog looked more professional and popular than mine. (Better design! More comments! More followers!)  Every blogger seemed to be a master at SEO and social media marketing.

As I skimmed their posts, the words on the screen didn't fully register.  I was too occupied reciting a more powerful and harmful sub-text message: These people?  These other bloggers? They're the real deal.  You're an amateur.  You still don't know what you're doing with the technical side of blogging, even after doing it for years.

That inner voice, emboldened by how easily I swallowed these critiques, began to speak more pointedly.  Robin, your efforts aren't meaningful, noticed, or effective.  Your work isn't appreciated  or enough.  Nothing you write matters.  Nobody really cares.  Nobody comments.  You're failing.  

You're a failure.

It escalates quickly, doesn't it?  In these moments of isolation and weariness, it's easy to agree with harsh self-criticism.  It seems so valid, so true, after all.

Except that it isn't.  It isn't valid or true.  After spending nearly an hour languishing under this weight, I started to examine the words I was feeding myself and say, enough.  No, I will not accept these accusations.  No, I will not spiral downward.  No, I will not agree with the accuser speaking lies over me.

Enough.  My voice does matter.

Enough.  There's more significance to life than blogging metrics.

Enough.  I am not a failure.  (I have an out-of-state, unrelated reader, after all.)

It takes effort to re-write the scripts we speak over ourselves.  Sometimes it's easier to agree with criticism, to rehearse our weaknesses, to believe the worst.  But I'm convinced that this goes against the very nature of God, who is described as singing over us in delight, whose banner over us is love.

I've noticed two things about the internal accusations that subtly play in our heads and hearts.  First, they tend to target areas of life we care about deeply, those places where we have a desire for significance.  They might target our closest relationships, raising doubts about our capacity to be a good parent, spouse, or friend.  They may target our deepest dreams where we hope to make an impact and leave our mark.  (For me, it recently focused on my writing; for you, it might manifest in a different way.)

Second, accusations surface when we're most vulnerable.  They hit hardest when we're worn, alone, weak, distracted, or otherwise compromised.

This is by design, given that they're leveraged against us by the accuser, the father of lies, who feeds us falsehoods when we're susceptible.  Too often, we take the bait without question.  We already feel miserable, so we might as well perpetuate the misery.

I don't want to do this anymore.

Not that it's easy, and not that I'm without struggle (exhibit A: this post), but I refuse to side with the enemy.  I choose to partner with God and accept what He says about me -- that I'm loved, that I'm favored, that I'm designed for a purpose, that I'm called to do good works -- even when I don't feel these truths.  Especially when I don't feel these truths.

I want you to reach a place where you'll agree with what God says about you, too.  If your inner dialogue ever is fraught with accusations about your worth or your shortcomings, here are three concrete actions that will help:

Don't grow isolated.  Ever watch a PBS documentary and grow nervous for that singular gazelle who strays from the herd?  Don't do it, gazelle!  Don't wander to the watering hole by yourself!  Our anxiety spikes because we realize that prey are easier to attack when they're alone.  The same goes for us.  If Satan walks about like a roaring lion seeking who he may devour, then we'd be wise to partner up.  Time and again, when I share with a friend that I'm under siege, she speaks life into me until I'm able to believe it.  We're safer and stronger in community.

Identify (and avoid) your triggers.  I'm infinitely more prone to spiral into depressing thoughts when I'm tired and when it's late at night, which happen to go hand in hand.  I rarely interact with social media in a healthy state of mind in the evening.  Fortunately, this is preventable.  I can monitor and limit my usage to times when I'm less prone to mind-numbingly scroll myself into trouble.  

Speak life, not death, over yourself.  We need to create new patterns of thought and speech about ourselves, patterns that align with God's perspective.  I never have had anyone else die for me because He didn't want to live without me.  But that's what Jesus did.  His love transcends understanding -- it's given lavishly in full knowledge of our many screw-ups. 

God delights in us.  Because of this, we can think well of ourselves.  We can be at ease in our own skin.  We can label ourselves as lovable.  We can believe -- with security, not vanity or superiority -- that we're valued.  When we speak these truths over ourselves, we short-circuit the negative patterns of criticism that too often dominate the soundtracks of our lives.

Friends, we tend to believe the things we speak about ourselves.  Let's speak good things.

Stay connected.  Avoid your personal triggers.  Speak life.

I'm working on this.  To combat my recent bout of insecurity, I recalled a refreshing explanation of how God created the world, and upon its creation, he rested.  He didn't strive, check for approval, tweet about his work, or worry whether people liked it.  He created, he called it good, and he rested.

So, today, I'm applying that wisdom to this post.  I write, and once I hit "publish," I release that writing into the world.  I call it good.  And then I rest because God is looking at me, with kindness and gentleness, and saying, Yes, child, it's good.  You're good.  You're mine.

Let that be the soundtrack we all hear -- and repeat -- in our heads and hearts today.

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Friday, March 31, 2017

Short and Sweet: True Love

Short and Sweet: a real life example of true love, in 100 or fewer words. 

That moment when you mention to your husband that you'd like to hang a heavy mirror, meaning that you'd actually like him to hang the mirror, and once it's hung, you realize that it's 4 or 5 inches higher than you'd like it to be, and despite the fact you know he's thinking that your decorating sensibilities are entirely too precise, he lowers the mirror.

Exactly 4.5 inches lower.

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Monday, March 27, 2017

Woke Up Like This

You've seen these shirts, right?

Well, I'm thinking about launching a similar campaign that specifically focuses on my children's hair.

Just keeping it real, every single morning. 

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