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A Lesson From a Leaf Blower

Please, as you read this, do not report me to PETA. With that  disclaimer out of the way, let me take you back a few weeks. It's early spring, and I'm cutting the grass for the first time of the season. Feeling ambitious, I drag the leaf blower from our shed to clean up remaining winter debris from our flower gardens and landscaping. The sun is shining, the scent of freshly cut grass permeates the air, and I'm going for it with the leaf blower. These leaves don't stand a chance. The blower is strapped across my body, Rambo style, and I feel powerful as the engine hums and I restore order to my back yard.

 

Without warning, I see something peculiar when I blast a tight clump of leaves. Something tiny and furry flips and rolls in the air current. I immediately fling the blower off my shoulder as my heart sinks; I've hit a hidden nest of newborn bunnies. 


I've literally blown a bunny out of its nest, watching it tumble head over tail until it flops to a stop. Immediately, I shift to gears and kneel to assess the baby bunny for any harm. It looks fine. I gently scoop it into my gloved hands, carry it back a few feet to its brothers and sisters, settle it into the nest, and carefully arrange a layer of leaves on top, as if I'm tucking them all in for the night.


For the next week or two, I check on the bunnies daily. They're growing perfectly, getting slightly bigger each day, all tumbled together in a fuzzy nest of adorableness, so I know their mother is coming back at night to care for them. One day when I visit to peek at the nest, it's empty. They've gone. (Or they've gotten eaten by a predator, but this is a feel-good story, so I'm banking on the fact that they hopped away to live happy lives. Trust me on this one.)


I've thought about these bunnies a lot these past few weeks because the situation reminds me acutely of parenting. I've had times when I've metaphorically blown things up in my own house, watching my kids get swept up in my blasting current, having my heart drop with worry that I've done irrevocable damage, quickly followed with the the desire to make it right and tuck them back into the nest. 

 

The wonderful thing is that our kids, like these baby bunnies, are rather resilient creatures. 


Fellow moms, I hope you're having a fabulous Mother's Day, one filled with sunshine, good take-out food, and maybe even flowers or a necklace made from macaroni. But, in the far recesses of your thoughts, if you wonder today whether you've ever blown up things too much with your imperfections and humanness, take this to heart: your kids are resilient. You haven't ruined the nest. 

 

Those kids of yours? They're growing well. That love of yours? It doesn't need to be perfect for it to be consistent. Every single day, that love tucks your children in, soothes the rough edges, and helps them grow up until one day, they actually will leave your nest. They'll be healthy, strong, and ready to face the world.

 

Take a lesson from the leaf blower: we all mess up, blow up, and tumble a bit. That's a byproduct of living, not just yard work. You love your kids. Your kids love you, too. That's what counts.


Happy Mother's Day, dear ones. I hope it's a great one.

So I Don't Forget This Pandemic

 

 

I regret that I didn't write more to document daily life through the pandemic. The camera roll on my phone captures my year rather well, given that it's comprised of pictures of my family wearing sweat pants and a fabulous collection of screenshot memes about quarantine, but sadly, I rarely wrote.


There's a paltry total of 14 posts in my 2020 blog archives. This year, 2021, hasn't been more prolific. It's not that I haven't had thoughts (just ask my husband about my penchant for launching into them while he tries to fall asleep), but these thoughts rarely trickled down to my fingertips and formed into coherent written sentences. 

 

This disappoints me, but it isn't surprising. Given that so much extra energy was devoted to new mental and emotional loads -- whether processing continual emails from kids' teachers and principals, or balancing additional concerns about everyone's mental, physical, academic, and social well-being -- it made sense to lack energy for creative outlets. Frankly, I struggled to stay on top of the mind-numbing alternating school schedule for my kids ("are you in-person or remote tomorrow?"), so I clearly didn't possess the necessary discipline or mental dexterity to publish sensible blog posts. Plus, after teaching on Zoom for several hours most days, whenever I had a chance to get away from my laptop in my makeshift bedroom office, I bolted.


Still, I don't want to forget everything about this pandemic year.

 

I want to remember the emotional highs and lows. Those times when I walked through the house, aware that my kids had been on devices for absurdly long stretches of time -- hours, days, maybe weeks straight, it seemed. These moments made (and still make) me feel impossibly inept. I don't want my kids to waste their lives on screens. I don't want them to forgo legitimate hobbies or fall into sedentary lifestyles. At the same time, when you endure months of quarantine when everyone is fatigued, edgy, and has "nothing to do," you don't always have the energy to fight the screen time battle.

 


I want to remember one fall afternoon when I was teaching on Zoom, leading an unremarkably okay-ish class session, and a loud rhythmic pounding emerged from my youngest daughter's room. Again and again, thump, thump, thump, whack!  I blinked hard, thinking the noise was bound to stop, but it didn't. My oldest yelled from her room, "Whoever is pounding, stop! I'm in class!" My middle daughter began to shout: "This is impossible! Stop it! Just stop! You're driving me crazy!"

 

My youngest yelled back, "I can't stop. I'm in music class. I'm the drummer!" 

 

I asked my students to disregard the background chaos and tried to keep teaching. Still, I momentarily put my head down on my desk, a brief indicator of defeat, as if offering a concession, "This is it. This is my actual life now."


I want to remember the days when I didn't care to get showered, the stretch when I was depressed and numb, and how I would sit in my car in our driveway to get away from everyone. I wondered whether my kids (or I) would be normal, functioning people after quarantine. Those were low days. I want to remember, a few months later, when I began completing more house projects. I felt pleasure again from crossing items off my to-do list. I was proud of myself for creating to-do lists in the first place.



I don't want to forget the evenings when my husband was home for dinner. For most of our married life, his job has required him to be miss multiple dinners every week. This wasn't the case during quarantine. Each night I was able to set five plates, not four, on the table. I want to remember how he and I moved around the kitchen after meals, shuffling around each other, the kitchen island, and the open doors of the refrigerator and dishwasher as we cleaned up together. 

 

I want to remember how even though I tried to incorporate one or two new recipes most weeks, it still felt like we ate the same food continually. I'm convinced that I fed my family approximately 37 times every day. 

 

I don't want to forget how my family members were always there, always in places where I wanted to be. There were no discernible boundaries between work and school and life. I'd hear the filtered voices of my daughters' teachers and classmates over Zoom as I moved throughout the house. At some point, my oldest daughter routinely set up her classroom space at our kitchen table, not her bedroom, and each day she'd grow irritated when someone used the kitchen for actual kitchen purposes -- you know, like getting food. Instead of even engaging her in conversations about this bad logic, l learned to make my lunch quickly and walk away. 


I want to remember the evening when I got so angry at my kids' terrible attitudes and behavior that I responded with my own terrible attitude and behavior and threw a plate on the kitchen floor, feeling frustration and shame when it shattered and I had to sweep the shards. I don't want to forget the many times when I laid on the floor in my closet and prayed, asking God to help my girls process everything that Covid had flipped upside down in their young lives.


I want to remember how my emotions -- whether happy or sad -- always felt closer to the surface. My eyes teared up the first time I wore a mask to get groceries because everything felt and looked so foreign, so strange, like I was walking through a science-fiction, not real life. I cried at every episode of Some Good News. I cried, yet again, one random day when I drove past a full bike rack on an otherwise empty campus because students had left for spring break and never returned. That physical sight -- a line of locked and unused bikes, standing idle at attention -- reminded me of how the world had flipped so abruptly.


I don't want to forget how conflicted I feel when students reach out and ask me for letters of recommendation because, out of all their professors during the last year, I'm the one they "got to know the best." In my heart, I'm touched each time I hear this sentiment, yet troubled because I only know my students in the most basic and fractional ways now. Our relationship is stripped down to faces on screens and faltering conversations as we perpetually mute and unmute ourselves. I mourn how much they've missed from their college experience.

 

I want to remember how my family shuffled downstairs on Sunday mornings to watch church services, with the kids still in their pajamas and everyone laid out on couches. And how when we adopted our cat, Peanut, for the benefit of our girls, I quickly realized how much her calming presence also benefited me. I don't want to forget how I sometimes browse my closet, running my hands over my professional clothes, wondering if I'll ever wear skirts, dresses, and cute shoes again. 

 

A part of me doesn't want to go back to doing things or going places. I really don't. My social battery depletes more quickly these days. I like sitting at my kitchen table five minutes before my classes start, knowing I only have to walk up the stairs and click a link, not drive to a parking deck and trek across campus. Between classes, I like tossing a load of laundry into the dryer, taking a quick walk around my yard, or chopping vegetables for dinner prep. You can do these things when you work from home. I enjoy not being expected to show up anywhere. Part of me wonders how it will feel when I'm expected to show up everywhere again.

 

I don't want to forget how the pandemic forced us to roll with the punches, let go of expectations, and become more flexible. Or how, in spite of it all -- all the fatigue, confusion, frustration, loss, uncertainty, and disposable masks -- we still tried and trusted God. We attempted back yard picnics, family game nights, and doing our best to make some moments special, even if nothing was normal. We socially distanced. We masked up. We kept putting one foot ahead of the next.

 

I might not have written much, but I hope I still remember. I don't want to forget this year.

43 Reasons


Guess what? Today marks my 43rd birthday! People, I am halfway to 86! Being safely situated in my 40's not only has brought a few strands of gray hair and the inability to read text without first carefully adjusting its distance from my face, but also greater gratitude and wisdom. I like my 40's.

Today, in honor of my birthday, I'm commemorating 43 reasons I'm grateful -- one for each year I've lived on this earth. Some are more profound than others, but this year has reinforced that it's fitting to give thanks to God for even the smallest things that bring joy. What a gift to recall the gifts in my life! Without further ado, here are 43 things I am thankful for.


1) I intend to enjoy a milkshake today. I'm not especially partial to cake, birthdays or otherwise, but I'm a hardcore fan of milkshakes. If I have to place a candle on top of my milkshake to make this an official thing, so be it.


2) My husband.
Joel and I have been married for nearly 20 years, and after two decades, he remains my favorite person. He is steady and kindhearted, funny and smart, generous and positive. I love him dearly.


3) My youngest daughter. She's finishing elementary school and growing up beautifully, yet she's still young enough to play and to let me tuck her in some nights, which I love. Yesterday, we took a walk in the woods to observe signs of spring, and then we traced chalk outlines of each other on the driveway. Her most notable attribute: a genuinely happy disposition. She overflows with joy, spilling it onto others!


4) My middle daughter. After years of perseverance, she's developed into an avid reader. As a seventh grader, she currently enjoys YA dystopian novels, and we bond over the books and then spend mom-daughter evenings watching the movie versions. I love hearing her predict plot lines, analyze characters, and draw out themes. She's artistic, creative, insightful, and clever!


5) My oldest daughter. Next month, she'll turn 16 and get her driver's permit, but for now, we've spent hours over the past few months taking "Covid drives" with me at the wheel. I'm continually impressed with her growing maturity, deft humor, and sweetness. Something about a drive when you're headed nowhere in particular draws out conversation with teenagers. I smile, nod, ask occasional questions, and say, "Tell me more." She does. The future is wide open for her. How exciting to be alongside of her as she explores!


6) Both sets of our parents. I have a wonderful framed picture taken on Fourth of July a few years ago when Joel's parents (who live locally) and my parents (who live over 1,200 miles away) laughed in our backyard during a picnic before fireworks. It remains one of my favorite photos ever. I'm deeply grateful for them all!



7) Good neighbors. You might have good neighbors, but I'm going to be bold and argue that I have the best neighbors. We've seen each other through the ins-and-outs of daily life: picking up each other's mail, picking up each other's kids, and picking up each other's spirits.


8) Our new adopted cat, Peanut. In January, we brought the sweetest and prettiest cat into our home from PAWS. She periodically assists me with my work by standing on my desk, looking cute, and walking across my keyboard to type things like "akhadfzvuzzzzas." I've never had a pet before. I've been missing out!


9) I'm nearly one year into remote teaching. March of 2020 was characterized by an overwhelming barrage of emails explaining Penn State's emergency pivot to remote teaching and learning. One year later, I've learned so much. I'm better at Zoom. I've developed new skills with various online platforms. (Plus, my commute is roughly three steps from my bed to my desk.)


10) Memes. Seriously! Thank God for the comedic relieve from memes throughout 2020 and beyond. Humor is such a gift!


11) Creative endeavors. Occasionally I lose touch with my creative side, but when I rekindle these passions, whether in the form of a a simple craft or an elaborate DIY project, I feel genuinely refreshed. Plus, with the weather getting warmer, we're headed into the season when I can spray paint. Bring it!


12) Peaceful rituals that bring a rhythm to typical days. Whether it's my devotional reading in the morning as I eat breakfast, or sipping mint tea in the evening from my favorite mug, the older I get, the more attuned I've become to the rhythms that make up the nuances of my days.


13) Organization. After floundering for, oh, I don't know, roughly 7 months, I finally hit the stage in the pandemic when I organized All The Things in my house. When I say All The Things, I mean all the things -- drawers, closets, the pantry, the garage. I even offered my Marie Kondo-ish services to my neighbor and helped her organize her closets and bookshelves. I'm not sure if it's weird to derive such delight from a perfectly organized spice rack, but I'm thankful for the aesthetics of well-organized spaces.


14) Freshly painted rooms. In addition to organizing All The Things, over the past months I've also painted All The Rooms including my entire main floor, the master bedroom, and the upstairs bathroom. Bonus: the paint colors are spectacular, which is a gift because you never can perfectly project what a whole room will look like from a tiny paint chip. My favorite is our bedroom: Essex Grey by Sherwin Williams. Isn't it gorgeous?


15) Sunday trips to Goodwill. Each Sunday, our local Goodwill, which is just a few minutes from my house, has a special tag sale when clothes are reduced to 79 cents and housewares to 39 cents. It's a combination of Christmas + a treasure hunt + sustainable living + an opportunity to brag to my family (or strangers, really) about the bargains I found. What a fun way to spend an hour on a Sunday afternoon!


16) The basil plant on my kitchen windowsill is thriving. Every time I wash dishes, I realize how fond I am of my sweet little basil plant.


17) A batch of graded assignments. The past week of work was a doozy with grading, but I'm nearly finished with another batch of assignments. It's hard to maintain pre-pandemic levels of efficiency and motivation now, so each time I finish a challenging task, I'm proud. Crossed off items on my to-do list are hard earned, and I give thanks for times of productivity and effort.


18) Full bookshelves. Our house is filled with bookshelves. I love this! Currently I'm reading Food: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan for the second time (hilarious!), It's Okay Not to Be Okay by Sheila Walsh (healing and encouragement for the depths of your soul), and the Maze Runner series (see number 4 above).


19) My mother-in-law shares her magazines with me. Every few weeks my mother-in-law, who lives one town over from us, drops off her stash of magazines: Good Housekeeping, Women's Day, Real Simple, and HGTV. While the content is mostly the same (tips for better sleep, more organized life, cute home decorating ideas, recipes for chicken that I think I'll try and clip out, then forget to try and throw away), I never tire of happily flipping through them.


20) Garage sales are coming. I can feel this in my bones. I'm awaiting the day when I see that first bright poster board sign hanging from a telephone pole off in the horizon.


21) My husband won a Roomba in a raffle. Do you own a Roomba? Last year my husband's impressive skill at guessing how many jelly beans are in a giant jar made him the recipient of a free Roomba. My life hasn't been the same since. Oh Roomba, I love you.


22) Cozy pants. Pandemic. Sweatpants. Enough said.


23) Grocery stores. Based on the number of times that I need to head to Walmart because I "forgot something" makes me unabashedly thankful that I don't live during the Little House on the Prairie era when you took one annual trip to the mercantile to buy flour, sugar, tacks, and a bolt of gingham fabric.


24) The Office and Parks and Rec. These shows LITERALLY have sucked away many hours of my life. What a happy suckage of hours it's been.



25) When my children hear a song from the 80's that they're familiar with.
Me: flips through radio channels while driving and stumbles upon "Take On Me" by A-Ha.
Kid (sweetly, yet ignorantly): "Wait, Mom, you know this song? How do you know this song?"
Me: "Ah, young grasshopper.... there's so much for you to learn." 

I love these moments.


26) Modern medicine and caring doctors. After seven horrible months at the onset of 2020 dealing with a serious autoimmune condition, my middle daughter has found great relief and healing through regular biologic injections. During those same months when I struggled to find emotional equilibrium, I've found greater balance through a mild anti-depressant. I'm grateful for caring doctors and modern treatments to help people reach physical and mental wellness.


27) This video by the Holderness Family. Go on, take three minutes to watch this. I've viewed it multiple times and shown it to every member of my family. I can't help laughing the moment he dumps the contents of his backpack on the floor. Classic.


28) Photo albums and journals. Having a record of important people, moments, and experiences, both in visual and narrative forms? Priceless.


29) Sleep. Oh.my.goodness, what an underrated daily gift. I love going to sleep!


30) Mobility. Two years ago I injured my shoulder. After months of physical therapy and cortisone shots, I have nearly full mobility restored. I've even reverted to my favorite sleeping pose: on my stomach with my head turned to the side, one leg bent and the other straight, with my right arm extended above my head. Sure, it resembles the chalk outline of a victim in a crime scene, but I'm happy I can extend my arm again!


31) The snow is nearly melted. Just yesterday, I scraped at the few lingering piles that had crusted along the side of our driveway, breaking up the ice and tossing shovelfuls onto the road so they'd melt more quickly. Grass! We see grass again!


32) Simple comforts: Every day I have access to comforts like hot showers, clean sheets, and temperature control.


33) Modern conveniences: Life still is busy, but what a blessing to have access to incredible conveniences like a washing machine, dishwasher, and safe water from a tap!


34) Before-and-after pictures. Some people have show pictures of their grandchildren to strangers. I show people before-and-after pictures to anyone who will look. DID YOU SEE THIS THING THAT WAS OLD AND UGLY, BUT NOW IS NEW AND AWESOME?


35) Meals when every family member likes what you served for dinner. If you cook dinners, you get this.


36) The Covid vaccine.
Have I mentioned that it's been nearly two years since I've seen my parents? I miss them. I'm so grateful that we'll be able to see each other this summer.


37) Dreams of future road trips. As the world begins to open up, I'm daring to dream that we might again hit the road for a small trip. It doesn't need to be anywhere special, mind you, but the promise of future travel feels hopeful.


38) Daylight Savings Time. Sure, we lose an hour of sleep, but the infusion of energy from extended daylight makes up for it.


39) Neighborhood walks. At the risk of sound extraordinarily middle-aged, I've come to really enjoy my walks around the neighborhood.


40) Happy closure on the swing set era. For a decade we've had a swing set stationed in our back yard. It had been a gift from my brother-in-law after his daughters outgrew it. Every week when we cut the grass for the past ten summers, we've painstakingly mowed around the swing set. This year, our youngest announced that she's ready to part ways. It's time: the swings are too short, and the slide (which once has been exciting) appears dinky next to her length. It's been a great run, and now we can pass it on.


41) Positive influences in my children's lives. I think of the teachers who have poured into my girls' learning, the elementary school principal who consistently offered motivation and life lessons, the youth soccer coaches, the Girl Scout troop leaders, the children ministry teachers, and the Young Life mentors. All of these kind and helpful people have generously given their time and talents to support the academic, social, physical, emotional, or spiritual growth of my kids. Thank you!


42) Friends who love, accept, and understand me. You are my people.


43) God's grace. Every item above points to a blessing -- whether people, experiences, lessons learned, humor, or daily comforts. These gifts and pleasures all point back to a loving God. 


Blessed be to the Lord, who daily loads us with benefits! (Psalm 68:1)


And, dear reader, I'm thankful for you today, too. It's an honor that you join me here!


With love,

Robin


That One Warm Day In February

There always seems to be one day in February that's surprisingly warm, a day when everyone happily loses their minds because a sliver of sunshine appears as a promise of spring after a long winter haul. Today, my friends, was such a day.

 

I spotted my neighbor wearing shorts. I literally could hear snow melting. I went outside to spray paint since we surpassed the critical 50 degrees temperature threshold. People smiled. I think I even saw someone frolic.
 
I know winter will fight back and we're not entirely through yet, but I'm thankful. A warm day in February always gives hope.
 
 
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