My 3rd Parent and My 5th Child

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Two years ago today we moved into our lovely old house. It was built in 1896, so this place is celebrating its 120th birthday this year, as we celebrate 2 years of calling it home. I refer to this place as “mine,” but more accurately we are the caretakers here. There have been others before us and there will be more after. This house sees generations of humans, where I get one human lifetime.

On one of my favorite tv shows, a man owns an estate and a castle. He refers to his home as his 3rd parent and his 4th child. When I first heard that, something ran through me that left goosebumps. I completely understood the weight of that.

This big old house that I call mine is my 3rd parent and my 5th child…

In the way that it keeps me warm and dry, a safe haven of love and acceptance in a scary world. 24/7, always here for me. I never even think to doubt it.

In the way that it has constant needs and demands, always requiring my hands on it to fill cracks and sweep out corners and give attention. Such constant cries for my attention and affection.

In the way that it takes my time and my love, and seems to breathe it all right back into the people who step inside.  This home feels more like a person than a place.

Maybe it is the 120 years of history and stories and families that have lived here. Or maybe it’s because we believe this house chose us. But either way, it IS a part of our family. This may not make sense to you, but then I’m guessing you haven’t been here.

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I spent a lot of my adult life with a lot of responsibilities and not a lot of money. I had a couple decent places to live but mostly pretty crappy ones. I rented what I could afford, and often had very little heat or money or food and life was really hard. I dreamed for many years of a warm old house with extra bedrooms and plenty of bathrooms and room for all of us to gather or be alone at times. And two years ago, that wish came true.

If I could create any home, any place on earth to tuck away and be safe and sound from the storms of life, it would be here. With its flowery wallpaper inside and it’s vines growing up the walls outside. I feel lucky every day to be here, even when I’m scrubbing hundreds of windows. But especially today, as we celebrate 2 years caring for this parent/child house of ours. This dream come true.

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*** I sometimes write about how much I love my life and I worry that people think things are all “perfect” and I totally “have it together.” No one should be under the impression that I do not bitch about my big old house from time to time. ‘Cause I do. Nor should you be confused that I have a perfect life, as I do not. My toddler refused to leave his high chair all morning so I let him to watch 5 episodes of Barbie Dreamhouse because it kept him reigned in and allowed me to write to you kind folks…

 

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Who My Son is Supposed To Be

 

My son Lincoln loves Frozen. Not so much the movie anymore, now that everyone in the house has it memorized. But he loves to play with his purple Frozen bucket in the sand box. And his pink and blue Frozen pajamas are such a hit that it’s a holy battle to get him to take them off. So when we went shopping for new shoes last weekend, he picked out fuchsia Frozen Crocs with Anna and Olaf on them. He looked around the whole store at all of the shoes, but these were the shoes that he clutched to his chest and carried proudly to the checkout.

 

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Lincoln loves dinosaurs and dragons, and he likes trucks. But he gets lost for an hour playing in the doll house that we found on Varagesale. It’s not unusual to find he’s carrying the set of babies that came with it around in his chubby little hands.

He gets excited about the real construction equipment that is working on the next block, but he could mostly take or leave the trucks at home. He does like to play with Optimus Prime on occasion, but I think that might be more about getting his big brothers undies in a bundle.

I spent a lot of my life doing “should be” things, for myself and my kids. Girls “should be” dressed a certain way. I “should be” a certain way. Boys “should” only play with certain toys.

Some of the norms we teach in our society are necessary, like manners, and hygiene. But some of the things we teach are not that important. Like what color our shoes are, or how we like to spend our spare (or play) time. They are small stuff but sometimes we talk about them until we convince everyone they are actually big stuff.

I’ve learned that some of the things I was brought up to believe (though taught to me with the best of intentions) do not fit me. I was not given the whole story, only the parts that our society and my particular family thought best for me. This is true for all of us.

We don’t have to take on all of the “supposed to be’s” in life. We don’t even have to pick them up. We are beings that get to choose. It is what makes us human. That, and the fact that we are all alike, but different.

Lincoln is just Lincoln, with his own set of unique fingerprints and his own multitudes of personality. A small human being with his own likes and dislikes. And fuchsia shoes.

I have no idea who he’ll “turn out” to be. But I’m going to do all I can to let him figure it out.

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A Year Without My Mom

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I’ve been thinking back about my mom. It’s been almost a year since she died, and the weather and the start of Christmas and Thanksgiving and all of it reminds me of her. And how even though I saw it all coming, it still managed to shake me so completely that she was gone.

The thing about looking back is that it’s really only helpful briefly. We have a tendency to give our pasts (both the good and bad parts) a lot of weight and importance. And it’s good to reflect, to learn from our past, to give it space and respect and reverence or whatever it deserves. The problem starts when we set up shop and start to live there. This seems especially common with the death of loved ones.

We wrap ourselves up in the memories of those we lost, like some warm cozy blanket. And for a moment it is all warm and cozy, but only until we remember that the past is all wrapped up into one. The jagged, pointy, barbed-wire part of our past is still in there too. And still hurts.

But we reason that at least the hurt reminds us of the one we lost, and so we stay wrapped up in our cozy-spiky blanket of the past, not realizing that there is a whole world we’re missing  that is going on RIGHT NOW but that we’ll never see or find this from our blanket.

It’s hard not to do this. Grief is a process, just like life is a process. But I don’t want to lie around in that blanket anymore. Mom wouldn’t want me to either.

There is this stupid app called Timehop. Have you heard of it? I shouldn’t call it stupid because I actually really like it. It’s always felt harmless, fun and sweet, and I thought it would bring nothing but good memories to enrich my life. It’s like the Facebook Memories thing, only Timehop did it first, so I’ve had it running on my phone for years. I see cool old photos and blog posts and where I was at and how far I’ve come. But then the damn thing updated and changed the settings and thus started to include old text messages that live on my phone. From my mom, cause that’s who I texted mostly. Messages from my mom. That’s what Timehop, and technology in general, started sending me.

At first, this was maybe August or September when it changed, the messages were welcome. She bought pumpkin cream cheese for Steve and a coloring book for Brice and a hat for Lincoln. The message were sweet because they were ours,  just setting up rides for her or visits, conveying our days and lives. Lots of “I love you’s”. So many “I love you’s”.

So I let the messages stay. But I knew what was coming. I knew she was going to fall on October 11th  and break her pelvis and that I would find a message that she needed help. I knew that it was coming but I didn’t shut the messages off.

Because, how could I? My mom’s last words to me every morning when I woke up. Like a gift, but with barbed wire inside waiting to show up.

Because now, looking back to a year ago this week, the messages are just really, really sad. Just heartbreaking. And this icy morning and the cold and everything suddenly feels so much like that time. Only she’s been gone almost a year and I don’t want it to feel so close anymore. I don’t want to remember the, “Dropped buzzer and can’t breathe. Call nurse for help?” anymore. I don’t want to keep reliving her death, but it’s hard not to. Even without the messages, it would be hard not to.

My calendar for this weekend said “No matter how hard the past, you can begin again.” I love the Buddhist proverbs for their simplicity. Not easy, but simple, nonetheless.

I will always miss my mom. This I know now. This will be a truth for the remainder of my days. Our parents bring us to life and then show us our own mortality in their passing. The show us the way.

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But I don’t always have to think about the bad parts though. I don’t actually have to think about that at all. I choose it, just as I choose to think of happy memories. Or to try to focus my thoughts on my current moments or some happy thoughts of the future. It’s up to me. I don’t have to let my thoughts run wild like a toddler.

So here’s what I did today instead:

I wrote to all of you about it. Because it’s the keeping it all in that gives our sad and heart-achy thoughts their power.

Then I changed the  settings for the Timehop app on my phone so that I don’t get old messages anymore. I don’t want it to keep bringing it back, and though I didn’t invite it, I was letting it in.

Then I made salt dough handprints with the boys. Because my mom did that with me, and it seemed a much nicer way to remember her.

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The Mom at Chuck E Cheese

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We went to Chuck E Cheese for a birthday party yesterday. This sort of breaks one of my big rules in life – going to Chuck E Cheese at all – but we were invited to a cousin’s birthday party and it seems like a good idea to have the boys grow up with family. I grew up this way, and Steve did, but as we’ve gotten older, our families have scattered and we often “do our own thing,” like so many families these days. We’re all so busy, right?

I used to call Chuck E Cheese the worst place on earth. But I’m older now and I have new definitions of the worst place on earth. Watching my mom die in a sad old nursing home and spending any time at Children’s hospital pretty much made me realize that Chuck E Cheese is a breeze. So, we went.

The boys ate pizza and cake and watched the little show they put on with the big furry robots, which Lincoln loved at a distance and hated close up. Incidentally, this reassured me that he is smart. Then the boys ran wild with the games and the coins and the tickets, having fun with all of the noise and the chaos and being allowed to act accordingly. Hence why I hate it. Because I’m a control freak, you know? Plus, I’m also a germaphobe and there are a million kids there eating and playing all at once with their snotty little noses and I’m pretty sure we could start the Bubonic plague again out of one of those places without trying hard at all.

On this note, I used the bathroom there, which also kind of breaks my rule but it was necessary. A young mother came into the bathroom as I was washing my hands. She was holding a big chubby baby of maybe 6 months old. The mom kind of peeked around as if there might be somewhere to put the baby and then went looking for a stall. I realized she was just going to do her thing with her baby in her arms.

Go ahead, freak out about the gross factor here but let me tell you that every mom has had this moment. Where you just have to pee or whatever and the baby is with you so you make the most of it. I almost didn’t ask her if she needed my help, but then I did, because I’ve been practicing using my instinct and not my crazy questioning mind.

So I said “Do you want help?” over the sound of the hand dryer. But she didn’t speak English. She cocked her head and raised one hand as if to say she didn’t understand, and kind of like why was I talking to her when she had to use the bathroom.

So I said, “Help?” and I held my arms out to her in a gesture to take the baby. And her face fell in relief and she rushed over and handed me her most prized possession. Her most prized person and her most precious anything. The one she made from her body but needed two minutes away from to take care of herself. She handed me her baby and I took her.

Big, dark, dark brown eyes and big dark lashes and the sweetest little head full of dark hair. So very different than my light-skinned, fair-haired babies, yet she had the same lazy, chubby baby body of my 3rd baby. And that amazing baby smell that every baby on the planet has. She warmed my heart from the second she hit my hands.

I thought briefly that she might cry when her mom left her sight but she didn’t. She let me hold her and looked at me like I was new but not scary. I said, “Well hello, little friend,” and she looked at me for a few moments and then laid her little head on my shoulder. I leaned my cheek into her dark hair and I was so thankful. Just bursting from top to bottom with thankful. Because this baby felt safe with me. And thankful for being a mama and knowing how to make a baby feel safe. And thankful I could help this mom, who didn’t know me but knew that I was offering help and not more problems. Just… Thankful.

It was a little moment. A blink. A fraction of the day and speck of sand in the grand scheme of my life. But it meant something to me. To know that there is trust out there. To know that there are mothers willing to take each other’s hands for help. To know that we have a connection that goes deeper than language or words. Some magic that speaks merely between the beats of a mother’s heart.

Thoughts From a Mother’s Heart

 

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Me with my mom, 1974.

 

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My oldest and my youngest, 2014.

I didn’t hand pick my children. They came to me as they were, with imperfections and sweetness and the smell of baby. And I loved them with all of me from the start. This is true of all mothers, I think. It feels built in and huge and primal to love them so completely, even though they aren’t some perfect fine china that I went out and selected. They come as they are.

This is very similar to life. We don’t choose ours, at least not our starting point. We get dropped in with parents in some house or city and life and we don’t know any different. By the time we can really think about it at all, our lives are merely our lives. Normal to us.

On this note, I think often about how privileged I am. I got dropped into a home with heat and running water in the cold Wisconsin landscape in 1974, a privileged time to be born in America. I had clothes and plenty of food and Christmas presents and good schools and parents who loved me. My life has never been perfect and I’ve had my share of hard times, like most of us. But I was set up for thriving in the place and time that I was born.

Again, I did nothing to earn this. Like a lighting strike, all factors came together and I came to be. If there is more to it than that, I have yet to prove it.

I’ve been feeling actually sick about the Syrian refugees. Because like me, they didn’t hand pick their children or their life, but I have to believe they love them with the same ancient old mother’s heart that beats through all women. (Yes, all women, even those that aren’t mothers, because we all have it. We are born from it. )

So I’m thinking of these moms trekking across treacherous landscapes and oceans with their babies. You know, the babies that they love like we love ours? Of course they do.

Only they didn’t get born into white middle class America. Or even poverty level America, which is more sad and terrible than anyone understands but it is still worlds better than what these refugees are going through.

But they aren’t refugees. They are people. They are mom or dad or brother or sister or cousin or friend. They are human beings.

Are there bad ones among them hell bent to cause hurt? Maybe. But there have been 750,000 refugees let into America since 9-11, and not a single one turned out to be a terrorist. This statistic makes me say there’s not a real worry there. We, the people of this once great nation, are causing the problem. We are bathing ourselves in fear and throwing it around. And we are leaving innocent people behind because our fear is more important to us.

And this causes hate. And I’m so freaking tired of this hate. I’m tired of everyone pointing fingers and blame and not doing their part. Really, other than posting memes on Facebook, what are you doing to help this world be a better place? Ask yourself that.

I see people stand behind Jesus like He’s an excuse for bad behavior. Or others who swing poor Jesus around above their heads to swing Him at folks, like He’s some form of punishment. Only that isn’t what Jesus was, and I do know that. I was taught about Jesus since I remember anything, plus for all the rest of my childhood. And the Christianity of today, the one that that fills our media with hate and has everyone pointing to reasons to be unkind, this religion does not remind me of Jesus at all.

I don’t know how to fix anything, but I do know that we’ve got to stop being enemies. All of us. With our Facebook wars and our drama-causing gossip. Especially since we’re standing here on our high horses in our warm homes on this rainy November day. Especially since none of us are aware of what won us the cosmic lottery, allowing us to be safe reading this on the internet while families are bombed out of Syria. Especially since the US sent like 8000 of those bombs. But no one wants to lay claim on that little coincidence.

All this hate in the name of terror. And it’s working. We’re so scared of the enemy that we forget we are not each others enemy. We’ve forgotten that we are all human beings with a responsibility for each other. Isn’t that what our children and our aging parents are here to teach us?

Be a human being today.  Do something nice. No judging, no fighting. No borders and religion. No us versus them.

Be thankful for your life and your privilege. Because this world needs some human kindness.

 

A Syrian refugee hugs her crying baby after arriving on a raft on the Greek island of Lesbos, October 27, 2015. Photo Credit: Giorgos Moutafis / Reuters

Lincoln the Shrieker

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Lincoln has been shrieking. A stupid loud, high-pitched noise that could make your ears bleed. He lets these rip for 20 seconds at a time, for a variety of reasons. It’s become like a habit. I’m not ashamed to say this to all of you: I HATE it.

I do. It’s like nails on a chalkboard. All the nails in a 2nd grade glass. Like that.

I don’t know when it started. Weeks ago, maybe? A month? A loooong time. And it only gets worse. He’s gotten smarter and he knows how to use what little devices he has in the world. So now the shrieks are a weapon.

In the midst of preparing to have my ears removed to solve this problem, I heard my mom say, “Just ignore him. He’ll knock it off.”

I hear her, in her nonchalant way, because with kids she just knew what to do. And I instantly knew that she was right.

She does that, tells me what I need to hear when I need to hear it. Little things, like how to finish a recipe that I can’t find or how to stop a 5 year old (momentarily, anyway) from being annoying. Or big things, like how to find my way when I feel lost in this roller coaster of life. I am convinced that she is still with me. Convinced in the same way that I know that the sun will go down this evening.

And the best part? As I miss her less, I feel her more. Like she could call out to me anytime from the next room.

And I won’t say the shrieking has stopped, but it’s wayyyy better.

Meet My Mess Monday — March 9th

We moved into our house this fall, and even with working in the yard every spare minute, we only got a fraction done. The yard was ignored for years and needs some love. An inherited mess. Or one we bought. Either way, ours now.

The warmer temps are melting the snow, freeing what lies beneath. Turns out what lies beneath is a layer of wet, dead leaves and piles of extracted bushes covering half of our backyard.

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It’s exciting, to take this yard and make it ours, even with a muddy layer of wet slop all over it. I’ve never owned a home before. But this progress I’m seeking won’t happen today, or tomorrow or this weekend. No matter how much I want it to. I can’t cross it off a list, and that makes me slightly nuts. I love the satisfaction of done. But if it was supposed to be crossed off the list already, it would be. Not being able to means there is more to learn there.

Which brings me to my boiler room. It’s filled to the brim with bins and bags of clothes, tools and picture frames. And on top of all that?  A pile of stuff from my mom’s apartment. Things we had to sort through fast only to be tucked off to be dealt with in time.

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And my garage. Full of cardboard boxes from the move. Full of extra stuff with no home yet from the move. But also my mom’s last belongings that got tossed out of the van in the shuffle of her death, then into the garage to make seating for family who came to town.

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Messes. Because this is life and life is messy sometimes. And one of the hardest parts, for me, is being okay with that. Not letting the messes stop me from living, or more importantly enjoying and loving my life. To not be so fixated on what needs to be done that I miss all the great things going on now.

There is also a right time to cleanse and take back our space. In our lives. In our heads. To shed the weight of our problems and see what lies beneath.

So the snow is melting, making space to clean up. The garage is getting warm enough to work in. Spring cleaning, I think they call it.

That’s what I’m starting today.

In the spirit of Meet My Mess Monday, feel free to share pictures or photos of your own unique messes. Cause it’s good to share and know that our daily struggles are not merely our own.