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Why Do I Get Up In The Morning – Episode 6

What the heck?! Where have I been? Was there NOTHING to be joyful about? Nothing to share? No reason at all to get up in the morning?!

(That’s me, creating drama!) No, nothing like that at all. I’m just inconsistent with my writing habits. In fact, inconsistency is my mantra, my whole being wrapped up in one fine word! So here I am starting up again, picking up where I left off and waving a big hello to you. I’ll wrap you up in a big hug and sit down next to you, maybe under a tree on a park bench, or across from you in a restaurant over tacos.

Sheesh…I just scanned back and realized that I haven’t talked to you since late August. Two whole months! Instead of boring you with a long list of what I’ve been up too, because honestly, it’s a lot and pretty wild and crazy and…oh who am I kidding?! I’m talking to friends here! You know me. The wildest I get is maybe one too many glasses of tequila and a very loud game of pool on the back porch, but that’s what life is for!

I’ll just pick one thing that I’m extremely proud of at this very moment and tell you about it. My oldest son is off on another adventure today. He’s packing up his car and heading out into the world again. This time, he has a new job in a new state and a new car. And he’s very excited (and I know probably pretty nervous too).

The “pandemic” brought him back to us back in April. He had two jobs, one online and one at an airport, but when the airport laid him off and he wasn’t sure what was going to happen next, he decided that it was probably best just to head home for a bit and regroup. I’ll admit…I kinda pushed in that direction. I was worried and wanted as much of my family together as possible. I’m not always as strong and cool as I make myself out to be. Control is my go-to when I’m not sure of the outcomes, and I grab for anything I can. So here we are, six months later, and after a long and strenuous job search, he’s found work and is on his way.

Me? I’m not so much worried about him leaving as I was in the past. I know he’s a more than capable adult. I just know I will miss him terribly. I realized earlier this week that I was pretending like the day wasn’t coming, just going through the week like usual. I hate dwelling on what’s coming. I hate mooning over “This the last workday. This is the last grocery trip. This is the last beer we share.” Just typing that makes me choke up…stupid to sit and ruin those “lasts” so I pretend they aren’t. It’s ridiculous anyway. He’s not dying or moving to another planet. All kids grow up and move out. Sentimentality is not my strong suit. My husband on the other hand…poor guy.

While I wish he loved the desert as much as we do or could find work closer so that he could be here on weekends to visit, I’m happy that he loves adventure and follows his own heart. I’m happy that he’s not afraid to try new things and create his own world. I’m proud that we’ve created a strong enough foundation for him that he just jumps without worrying about what he’s leaving behind. I wish I were more like him. I think he’s going to love it there once he gets settled and I have a feeling he’ll find some new friends there.

One more thing before I go! His brother is not far behind him. He’s on his way to University in January and when I looked on the map I found that they’ll be only six hours apart. They’ll be able to spend some weekends together camping and hiking, maybe even racing sometime. I know they’re crazy different people and that they each have their own worlds to create, but something about knowing they at least have each other close enough to visit if they want to makes this Mom heart happy.

See you next week!

Really. I promise.

Quotes from The Mastery of Love – One

“…the instinct to love is so strong that you pay a high price to have a relationship with others.”

The Mastery of Love by Don Miquel Ruiz

That it is. No matter how many times we’ve been hurt, how many times we’ve lost, the primal urge to connect with others pushes us forward.

We create new and inventive ways to protect ourselves, ways that sometimes don’t seem to make sense or get us anywhere near where we want to be, but we’ll do anything to love and be loved.

Ruiz makes a beautiful analogy about the human condition. He says we all act as though everyone’s skin is covered in painful sores. The longer we live, the more we have. It hurts to touch and be touched, yet we crave it. The worst part is that most of us aren’t even aware the sores are there or that others have them too. We react badly when people touch us, thinking they are deliberately hurting us, and hurt them back.

The solution? Awareness of the pain we carry from our injuries and allowing others to touch us anyway. Awareness that everyone else has that pain and may not yet be aware of it themselves. Touch gently. Love and be loved. Pay the price and you begin to heal and grow strong until loving and reacting in love becomes the new habit.

“We domesticate humans the same way we domesticate a dog or any other animal: with punishment and reward.”

The Mastery of Love by Don Miquel Ruiz

Another quote from the same book that touched me. It reminded me of the way we raised our kids. We tried our best not to use punishments and rewards to control behavior. Instead, we tried not to control behavior at all but learn to communicate and get along with each other, make space and time in the hopes of filling everyone’s needs as much as possible.

When it wasn’t, we attempted to negotiate and make sure everyone had as much input as possible. It didn’t always work. There were times when rewards were handed out and punishment meted, but it was usually when we (the adults) were not at our best.

This is the way that humans are in this world. Your behavior or activity is disrupting. Your needs are too much for those around you to accommodate. You are rewarded for not bothering people and punished when your behavior steps out of the bounds the authority as made for themselves. It sounds so medieval, but it’s not that crazy.

You are hurting me with your behavior, so I hurt you until you stop or go away. You’re not hurting me so  I reward you with my love and attention. Easy, right?

But when I think what one’s behavior means, it starts to sound ugly. Say you’re very tired and you don’t have the communication skills to convey that information, so you decide to pull your parent away from the people they are visiting with. The parent refuses. You are hurting her, so she hurts you to tell you your behavior is unacceptable. She knows no better way.

Is there a better way? I believe so. She could listen to you and attempt to figure out what you are trying to communicate with your behavior and see if you can come up with a solution. But in the world we live in, most people don’t see that as a way at all.

The same goes with all kinds of relationships. Your new boyfriend teases. Why? What is he trying to communicate? I doubt he’s trying to hurt you deliberately. There’s no need to retaliate. Your friend doesn’t answer your texts right away. Your mother insists on telling you how to run your household. All these relationships have been built on punishment and reward.

What if we assumed positive intent, validated everyone’s needs, and attempted to communicate directly instead? We only train animals that way because we can’t communicate with them directly. They don’t speak our language or have the ability to learn it.

Bird Watching

Ideas coming into focus. I search for a place to sit and quietly watch them settle, hoping I can make note of them, capture them before they…

Be careful! Don’t startle them. Any sudden movement or noise may scare them into flight and who knows when they’ll be back again. Ideas, like birds, are flighty things.

An old woman sits on a park bench and watches the birds. She simply watches, content and satisfied with her view. They alight, coo, and walk around pecking the ground at her feet.  

A young mother comes by, pushing her new baby in a stroller. It’s one of those big heavy contraptions that a car seat fits into. From her park bench, she sees the mother arrive in the parking lot. Stepping from the sedan, she walks to the back of the vehicle as the trunk pops open. She reaches inside, and with both hands heaves the stroller base out onto the pavement, snapping it open as she lowers it to the ground.

“I remember being that strong,” the old woman thinks. The young mother maneuvers the stroller to the side of the car, opens the back seat door, pulls the baby car seat out of its base, turns on one foot and sets it atop the stroller, locking it into place with a snap.

“Does that baby even know where he is?” She chuckles to herself. “I sound like an old woman, even in my head. Back in my day…” She smiles as she watches the mom start her brisk walk around the park. She’s here for the exercise and baby is the resistance weight. “Two for one deal,” she thinks, “Mom gets a good walk and baby get some fresh air. He’s probably napping the whole time anyway.”

She goes back to her birds as they settle once again at her feet, instinctively pecking the ground. There are so many different varieties of the same kind of bird. Pigeons are not known for their beauty, but they are fascinating. Interspersed between them are several sparrows that flit in and out of the group, dwarfed by the lumbering pigeons.

A war cry is sounded to her right and the pounding of small feet, “Josh, honey, no! Don’t chase them off!” Mom comes walking breathlessly after her toddler son just as the birds scatter to the sky and trees. “I’m so sorry. He gets so excited about the birds.” She bends down and scoops him up into her arms. “That’s ok. They’ll be back. I love watching them return just as much.” Mom smiles. “How old is he?” “24 months and always running.”

Twenty-four months. Why not just say 2½? It’s strange the way we do that with a babies age until they’re three years old. Maybe after that it gets too cumbersome. Fifty-four months would be a lot to calculate, I guess.

“Sit down, honey. Let him chase around the bench for a moment and catch your breath.”

“You don’t mind?”

“Not at all. He reminds me of my own sons when they were that age. Always chasing after something. I’m just sitting here taking in the sights and right now, you’re it!”

“Thank you. Young boys aren’t always welcome. All that energy. They have to run it off somewhere!”

As she takes a seat, she leans forward to set her son down. The moment his feet hit the ground, he wobbles and takes off again, toddling to the back of the bench. He babbles about the rocks and sticks he finds back there as the two women smile and listen. While he’s distracted and out of view, a few birds return to the ground in front of the bench.

He makes his way around to the side of the bench, quietly, almost stalking his prey. He’s showing a lot of restraint for a two-year-old. He wants to see the birds so badly. As another bird lands he bolts out among them, “Birds!” They scatter and he laughs ecstatically. Mom and the old woman shake their heads. “You’ll never catch them that way,” mom playfully scolds.

“I don’t think he wants to. He sure gets a lot of joy from the power he exerts over them. See that smile as they scatter? He has won his battle.”

“Birds!” the boy yells again.

“Yep. Birds. Birds everywhere.”

He smiles and grabs mom’s hand, pulling her in the direction of the playground. “I guess we’re leaving. It was nice talking to you.”

“Nice meeting both of you. Have a good time out there!”

She settles back into her spot on the bench and sighs. The quiet of the park starts to move back in and surround her. The birds have returned, along with a small squirrel. They don’t seem to mind the small stranger and she watches as the birds move out of the way when he darts in among them. They all know this is where people will leave snacks for them. They scour the ground around the bench for bits of popcorn, sunflower seeds, and cracker bits. So much energy put into scratching around for scraps.

It’s warm out today, but the soft breeze brings comfort. It smells of fresh cut grass and wet pavement. She takes a deep breath and tastes the scent. It brings back memories of her childhood in this same park. Climbing the jungle gym and standing atop that slide thinking it was the longest drop she had ever seen. Looking toward the playground, she can see young girls on the swings. Their bare feet pointed to the sky, hands reaching to the side to try and touch as they pass back and forth.

She hears their mom call to them from a picnic table nearby. “Come eat your lunch, girls! We have a little work to do, but I think it will be fun.” The girls jump from the top of the arch of their swing and land gracefully in the sand, plop, plop. One stumbles over from her dismount, not so graceful but full of energy, rights herself and comes running behind her sister. “Nice one, dork.” “Stop. Please don’t start, you two.”

The girls fall to the table and begin munching on sandwiches and chips, as their mom picks up a book and starts to read to them. The cover is so bright and bold, the old woman can see it from her park bench. “Drawing with  Children” is says. They must be homeschoolers, she thinks.

“Girls, after you eat, let’s try to draw things we find in the park. What do you think?”

“I’d rather swing!” the older one states. “Me too!” her little sister chimes in.

And then surprisingly, “So would I!” says Mom. She closes the book and heads toward the swings, both girls running ahead to get there first. The swinging commences with gusto, Mom reaching the highest point first due to her expertise. The girls struggle to keep up.

“Ok, that’s enough for me!” Mom stops pumping her feet and slows the swing to hop off.

“I’m beat. I think I’ll draw birds instead!” She goes back to the table, picks up a sketch pad, and sits in the grass. Within a few minutes, both girls are by her side. They want to see what Mom is drawing. “You guys, I can’t get anything on paper with you pushing your face in to see what I’m doing. Get your own sketch pad and draw something yourself. We can share ideas in a bit.”

Running to the table and back, they plop down in the grass beside her and begin to draw with intention.

The old woman smiles as she watches the swings sway and slow and finally stop. Her birds begin to return, and her attention is pulled toward them once again. There are more now. A few of her favorites have arrived. They are clearly pigeons of the same build and make, but these are snow white and without a blemish. How does that happen? They look like obese doves, ones that escaped from someone’s wedding cake and have been gorging on bits of cracker and popcorn instead of their usual kept bird diet of clean birdseed.

Stroller mom walks by, earbuds in. She isn’t loud or sudden, so the birds just move out of the way as she goes by, returning to their pecking the moment she passes. It’s a small neighborhood park, so she passes by every couple of minutes as she does her loop. The fourth time, she slows and stops to sit and rest.

“Do you mind sharing the bench for a moment?” she asks the old woman, slightly out of breath.

“I’d love to. I was hoping you’d stop so I can get a glimpse of the new human.”

Stroller mom chuckles. “He is pretty cute, if I do say so myself.”

“I’ll be the judge of that.” She smiles and Stroller Mom lifts the canopy of the car seat to reveal her prize. Her new son, all chubby and swaddled, sleeps his afternoon away, completely unaware that he’s being rocketed around the park.

“Don’t you wish you could sleep like that?” she asks.

“I wish he’d sleep like that at night!”

“That’s the way, isn’t it? As soon as it’s quiet, the noise in your head gets louder and you can’t get a moments rest. I’ve always had trouble sleeping at night. It’s when all my ideas start to come through. My husband used to complain that I’d be up all night writing out ideas, only to sleep all day while the tv blared and the traffic snarled outside our window.

“Babies probably feel the same way. Once all the stimulation is gone, they start to think and process, and then cry about it. I know I did!”

“That’s funny. I do the same thing. Growing and creative minds must be so similar.”

Stroller Mom closes the canopy. “Breath caught. Three more laps and I’m off to the showers. Thanks for the insight. You come here often? Maybe I’ll see you again?”

“Every afternoon I can, that is, until it gets too hot.”

Stroller Mom smiles and gets on her way.

The birds are quick to return to the ground around her bench once again. She is quiet and doesn’t move much and besides, she has seed they can’t resist.

“It’s fascinating to me how easily they startle and how quickly they forget what scared them and return. Do they forget, or is the lure of food too much for them to ignore? Or maybe they know how fast they are? Whatever the reason, they’ve gotten this far with the strategy. Look how many there are!”

As she sits and ponders the evolution of park birds, she notices a woman walk in from the parking lot with a lawn chair and a sketch pad. Clad in a flowing skirt and a tank top, she seemingly glides across the park like a dryad.

She seems to know exactly where she’s going, a small shaded spot under a flowering tree directly across from the old woman. She sets her lawn chair down and situates it so she is facing the old woman and her birds, expertly flipping open her sketch book. She attempts to pull a charcoal pencil from behind her ear, but it gets tangled in her flowing gray hair.

“Ugg.” The old woman hears her grumble to herself as she sets the sketchbook down and tries to extricate the pencil. The birds are frightened into flight once again by the angry flop of the sketch book.

“Dammit.” She looks up at the old woman and eyes her apology.

“It’s ok, sweetheart. They’ll be back soon.”

The artist smiles at the old woman, too shy and embarrassed to approach and speak. She’s there to draw after all, not have a conversation. The old woman has been her subject for weeks now. The looks are all the conversation either of them needs. She gathers her pencil and paper, settles back in her chair and waits quietly, filling in from memory where she left off the week before.

The old woman knows what the artist is up to and subconsciously tries to look her best. She sits up a tad straighter, fixes the fallen hair from her bun, and sucks in her sagging belly as best she can. With the return of the birds, the distraction of an adorable squabble between a chipmunk and a pigeon, she relaxes again into her natural state, and the artist attempts to capture the charm with her pencil.

One of the swinging girls has taken an interest in the old woman feeding the birds and comes to investigate. She’s been creeping up slowly and shyly from the side for several minutes. The old woman noticed her minutes ago but hadn’t said anything yet. She hoped to allow the girl to prove her bravery and approach. After several slightly stressful minutes, she decided to help and speak first.

“Is there something you need, dear?”

The girl glances back at her mother for encouragement, returns her gaze and shakes her head no.

“There’s plenty of room for two here, if you’d like to sit.”

Again, the girl glances back at her mom. Mom smiles, “It’s ok. Most people warn you with behavior if they bite.”

The old woman chuckles. “Oh, I don’t bite anymore, but I used to. Do you want to hear the story?”

The girl looks down and smiles from under her blonde bangs. “Yes.” She says, and giggling walks up and plops herself on the bench beside her.

“Well, I fibbed a bit there. I never was a biter, even when I was little. More of a hugger.”

The girl smiles up at her. “A hugger?”

“Yes. I’ve always loved hugs from anyone I meet. You can tell a lot about a person when you try to hug them. Some move away when you try to put an arm around them. Some don’t but stiffen up when you hug them, like they’d rather you didn’t but can’t say no. And then some…oh these are very special; they simply melt into your arms like it’s all they ever needed in the world but never had.”

The old woman is tossing the last of the seeds in her bag to the birds as she talks. She stops and looks at the youngster beside her. “What kind of a hugger are you?”

“Me? I don’t know.”

“Would you like to find out? I’ve always found that asking a person if they’d like a hug before you hug them is a good idea. Some people just don’t appreciate a touch from someone they don’t know and springing it on them makes it much worse. Would you like a hug?”

The girl looks to her mother. She’s always been told to keep her distance from strangers, not because they’re dangerous, but out of respect for their space. The mother is walking over with the picnic basket in one hand, a backpack over her shoulder, and holding her little sister’s hand. “That one has always been a hugger. We’ve been working on consent since she was tiny.”

The old woman smiles at the thought. She never could understand why anyone would want to refuse a hug, but to each his own. We have to respect each other’s feelings if we’re going to want people to respect ours.

The little girl stood up from the park bench and turned to the old woman and as she leaned in for a hug, her little sister came barreling in from the side. “Let me in!” she squealed and all three melted together in a comforting embrace like old friends.

“You smell like a grandma!” the little girl chimes. The old woman chuckles, “That’s because I am a grandma, several times!” The older girl laughs, “I knew it. Only grandma’s give hugs like that!”

“Come on girls. Let’s give her a break from your ruckus. We have baseball practice in an hour.” Shifting her attention to the old woman. “I hope we weren’t bothering you. We see you here every week and kind of feel like we know you.”

“Never a bother, dear. I love hearing the way you talk to them. I feel like you respect their person and they sure seem to love you.”

“Thank you so much for saying that. Really. When we took them out of school and decided to ‘unschool’ I was terrified about what it would look like to people. Most people just laugh and shake their heads. Some are outright angry and have told me in no uncertain terms that if I didn’t get control over them, show them who’s the boss now, I’d lose them when they are teenagers. I just don’t see children that way, something to be controlled and molded into what we want.”

“Neither do I. That’s how we were raised, and I always feared my parents. They thought they had control over my brother and I, but we just lied to them and hid our real lives away until we were old enough not to need their approval. But wouldn’t it have been nicer to be able to talk about things together? Ask questions and get their advice?”

She sat thinking about the last time she saw her mother. “No dear, you’re doing right. Things change and so can we. These days we need to communicate openly, use less force, and allow children to do things their way as long as they aren’t hurting anyone else.”

Sighing in relief, “You have no idea how much that means to hear someone say that.” Gathering up her things, “Listen, we need to run, but you’ll be here next week? Maybe we can talk more?”

“Of course! I’ll bring some cookies.”

“Like a regular play date for grown ups.”

They both laugh. “Bye, then! See you next week!” She calls as they race to their car.

The afternoon rolls on and the shade of the tree starts to move off her favorite bench. It’s almost time to head home. Most of the birds have given up on getting any more food, but there are a few persistent beggars pecking around under her feet. “There’s no more, I tell you. Why do have to try and ruin a beautiful day?” She chuckles at them.

A scream of indignity calls her attention to the parking lot. The toddler doesn’t seem to want to leave yet and mom insists with her most stern voice that it is, indeed, time to leave. She argues with the boy but finally gives up, reaches for him and scoops him up, plopping into his car seat. That’s when the real howls begin.

She looks up apologetically at the old woman on her bench and the old woman, in turn, gives her the sympathetic universal look of, “We’ve all been there.”

The artist/dryad seems to be giving up on the moment as well. She’s packing up her pencils and folding her chair. Will she come to talk to the old woman this time? Her focused attitude as she packs and heads toward the bus stop says, probably not.

“I would have liked to know her story.” She thinks as she gathers her things as well, slings her bag over her shoulder and dusts her hands of any bird seed crumbs. Two quick beeps of a car horn alert her to the presence of her ride home.

Her daughter pushes the passenger side door open from inside, “Hi, Mom. Do you need help with your things?”

“Oh, no, I’ve got it. I’ll just put these at my feet.”

“Have a nice time?”

“Always do. And today I met a new person.”

“Got a hot date, Mom?”

“Oh, no. Too young even for me! Would you mind stopping for coffee on the way home?”

“That sounds nice. Let’s go in and get a muffin too!”

Why Do I Get Up in The Morning – Episode 2

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I’m writing my new “Why I Get Up” weekly post a day late. Why? Because I was busy doing the thing that makes me want to get up in the morning and now, I get to tell you about it!

My husband and I went on a scouting mission for new, more local camp sites a couple weeks ago. It’s hard to pull a trailer and look for good places to camp and we don’t have any vacation time to waste right now. We plan to drive to a few locations half a day’s drive (translation: less than 6 hours) away and then spend the weekend there exploring campgrounds and hiking areas.

The result of our first mission was a lot of great future tent camping places, which we haven’t done in years, and we were able to get in a couple beautiful hikes as well. I texted back locations to our sons at home so they could look them up and maybe do some camping/backpacking on their own. We never did spend much time in the Sierra’s, amazingly enough. We always went on weeks long RV trips into other states instead of exploring the wonderland in our own backyard. Maybe we were unconsciously saving it for a time when we couldn’t make the long hauls, who knows!

Back to why I get up in the morning: my awesome sons. Over dinner last weekend, my youngest (18) expressed an interest in doing some camping, but he didn’t really want to go alone. He was thinking maybe he could find a friend that would want to go on his days off from work. I asked if he would mind taking me camping, just the two of us and he lit up. We began to make our plans immediately. I use the word “plans” very lightly. We’re kind of “fly by the seat of our pants” kind of people, so “plans” mean general direction and days.

Early Monday morning, we threw a tent, sleeping bags, water, firewood, the coffee pot, and some food in the truck and headed to the mountains. I had an idea of where I wanted to go but was afraid the best-looking first-come, first-served places would be full, since all the places that took reservations were booked until the end of summer.

I was delightfully surprised! My first choice of campground was available, and my son picked THE best spot right by the creek. We got out of the truck, paid the fees ($25 for primitive camping…wow), filled our water bottles and headed up the first trail we found.

We hiked for five hours, came back to camp, ate, and went for another hour-long walk down the road. The night was wonderfully cold. We got up just as the sky started to lighten, made a fire, boiled some coffee, ate, packed our backpacks for a long day and headed up the other side of the canyon for five more hours of hiking.

We could only stay one night since he had to work the next day, but I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful twenty-four hours. We had amazing conversations, laughed hard, and met some nice people and their dogs. My son is very athletic and I … well, I’m getting old and I’ve never been much hard worker, but he never lost patience with me. These hikes were hard. We started at 9000 feet and got up to 11,000 in about three miles. It was like a staircase up to the lakes, but I got there. He could have run up them but always stopped and rested with me.

We took pictures of each other, made up stories about weird looking plants and trees, and made fun of other campers and hikers. “Burning daylight!” was heard many times. We were tired, dirty, and mosquito bitten. We were hungry. We didn’t sleep well because the ground was so hard. Climbing the second day, I honestly didn’t think I’d make it, but he just kept me going with his gentle positive attitude. He encouraged and empowered me with every climb and every rest in the shade. I felt like a warrior!

Last year, I thought my days of having adventures with my sons was coming to a close. My older son had moved to the east coast and was determined to do things on his own. And my younger son was making plans to spend time in Europe like his brother and go to University in the city when he came back. I was on my own and it seemed so sudden to me. I found myself wondering, “Weren’t they just asking me to take them to Disneyland? Didn’t I have to be there to sign waivers for motocross last week? What just happened?”

And here we are. Circumstances change all the time. I’m not happy their plans had to change and everyone is back in the same house. That kind of sucks for all of us. But I am happy that I was reminded that any moment can be the last time, any adventure could be the last, or not. You just don’t know.

We took a “selfie” at the top of the pass, 11,000 feet above sea level, the highest I have ever been with my feet on the ground. I said, “You never know if this is the last time we camp and hike together like this. We need a good picture of our feat of strength!”

“Every trip we take is the best one, Mom. It doesn’t matter if we ever do it again.”

We taught them that. Always live today, right now, like it’s your last day. Don’t waste a moment.

Bonus level: We came up with a great story starter as we walked, and I made a few notes when we got back to camp. Now I have another short story to work on and this one is Twilight Zone style!

Speak. Because You Have Something to Add.

You guys!

It’s so important to live out loud and honestly.

Speak.

Tell your stories. Show your pictures.

Share your ideas, your thinking, and your passions.

You may never get positive feedback. You may never gain followers or an income. It may feel like no one is ever listening or learning from you.

But they are.

Someone is out there and they need to hear you, whether they know it or not.

Fiction or Memory – A Mother’s Story

The truck was stifling hot, but I sat there, both hands on the wheel, tears streaming down my face, breath hiccoughing and short. I’d walked out before the argument could escalate any farther, that was a step in the right direction.

It had started about the dishes. Of all the stupid things to fight about. I just wanted them done without the bickering, without the horseplay and insults that fly between brothers. I just wanted them clean and put away before lunch. Why could they not do that? It isn’t like they had a long, demanding list of chores. They had two: clean the bathroom once a week and do the dishes.

“We are doing them! Why can’t we do them our way and have fun while we are doing them?”

“Because your ‘fun’ makes me a nervous wreck, you guys. The point of doing the dishes without me is so that I can have half an hour to read. I can’t read if you guys sound like you’re on the verge of a physical battle.”

“We’re not. We’re just playing.”

They’re young boys and the mood can go from teasing to serious in a flash, without any warning to the other. And it grates my nerves to hear them fight and bicker like this.

“Just do the dishes quietly and be nice for a few minutes, please. I want to read. Please help me. I need this.”

I settle down on the couch but before I can get to the end of the paragraph they start again. Sighing quietly to myself, I put the book down. I can’t go help and separate them. They need to learn to work together. Listening to them giggle should make me smile, but the tension in my neck starts to rise with every titter. The tone changes and then the insults start…again.

I can’t take it. I’m going to yell if I have to keep listening to this. I put the book back on the coffee table and head through the kitchen to the front door. I grab my car keys as I pass them and they both look up from the sink.

“Where are you going?”

“I need to be alone awhile,” I say as I choke back tears. “I’m going for a drive.” I try not to slam the front door behind me as I head to the truck.

And here I am again. I’m patting myself on the back for not yelling or falling apart. But I still feel like a madwoman. If anyone saw the scene, they’d wonder what was upsetting me. What is it about those two play fighting that bothers me so much? Kids fight. Why do I get so upset?

Maybe if I’m not there they’ll get it done and I won’t stress out. But shit, they’re missing the whole point. I could easily do them myself. I really just wanted the extra half hour to read…or maybe just to myself? Maybe going for a drive is exactly what I need. I just need to be out of the way so they can work it out without me.

Starting the truck and blasting the air-conditioner, I tune to my favorite radio station, back out of the driveway and head down our dirt road. Where will I go? I have no idea. I decide to just head away from the house for fifteen minutes and then head back. As I drive and sing along to the music, the tension slides away and I smile. Another step in the right direction.

Will the dishes be done when I return? If one of them does try to kill the other, will their Dad step in before it goes too far? Of course. I keep driving. I just needed to get away for a moment.

Our Time is Not Infinite – Go For a Walk

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Photo by Alberto Casetta on Unsplash

Most days, when my husband finishes work, we go for a walk. Sometimes it’s just down to the mailbox and back, a little more than a mile. Other days we feel like we should go farther and make the long loop around our block, about almost three miles. It’s good exercise for us, physically and mentally. Mentally is what I want to emphasize here. There’s nothing else to do but keep walking. We can’t read, check social media, do the dishes, or go out to the yard. We just walk and think which leads to talking.

The longer our walks, the deeper our conversations go, and sometimes there are long stretches of silence as we go along. After a longer bit of silence, my husband will say something like, “I’m thinking about water quality and beer flavor.” I laugh because he knows the quieter it gets, the more I wonder what’s up, and he always tries to make my life easier no matter what we are doing.

Our long walks give us time to think and to explore ideas, talk about the kids, what we’re reading, things that have happened during the day. We always feel closer when we walk often.

It’s just the two of us walking now, but we’ve been walking since the kids were little. When we were home, we’d walk to the park or down the street to Disneyland. We’d walk on our vacations and camping trips, covering miles of trails and RV park roads. When we lived in the city, we’d take our tent trailer out to the desert and camp in the wilderness. We’d take long walks away from camp, as far as little legs would go, take a break and then circle back. The kids always led the way out, BB guns and canteens strapped to their backs, and then dragged behind us on the way back.

Discussions abounded on those walkabouts, even when they were little. We’d talk about what we saw on the trail, what we had to eat, and where we were going next. Sometimes big questions would come up. And we’d have lots of time to think and answer, think again, and ask more questions. There’s just something special about walking together that lends itself to serious connection with your fellow walkers. No matter how mundane the location, you’re on an adventure, a quest. And the time together is never wasted.

I specifically remember one walk when it was just my sons and me out in the desert. We decided to stay an extra couple of days instead of coming home in traffic on Sunday afternoon. My husband worked from home and we had a decent internet connection at camp, so he worked from the trailer while the boys and I played. Early in the morning, he had driven us far back into the hills where the old mines were and left us to spend the day walking back so he could work in peace. We had a backpack of snacks, water, and emergency supplies, and the boys were thrilled to try leading me back to camp.

As we walked, we pointed things out, investigated interesting rock formations, and took pictures of critters we found. They climbed a hill together and planted a “flag” at the top, an old bandana they had in the backpack. We took breaks, sitting in sandy washes in the shade of a large creosote or rock face. And we talked. This one was very special though. This time my eight-year-old son asked me questions about God and we spent most of the walk exchanging ideas. It was incredible.

I’ll never forget it. We caught site of camp when we came to the crest of the hill, four hours of walking and exploring coming to a close, when my son stops and looks at me, “You know mom, you should be a pastor or something. When you talk about God, I feel it. It makes me want to know more.” My heart just about exploded. Unsolicited praise from your children is like nothing else in this world.

Long drives have always had a similar effect on us as long walks, a chance to be quiet and think and to talk in ways we never seem to have when we’re at home. We don’t listen to the radio, but we do listen to music. There are several whole albums we have to hear on every trip over an hour-long, because that’s how you’re supposed to hear them, not in pieces on the radio, so they insist. We hold our thoughts until a break between songs and are sure to hit pause when we have to bring up a subject for general discussion. Drives to amusement parks, homeschool events, and family parties, road trips, and shopping excursions were filled with deep philosophical conversations. Ok, not really! Sometimes they got deep, many times, but usually, it was about something funny they’d seen or what they wanted to do tomorrow. But the more we drove, the deeper the conversations got.

I find myself driving alone more often now and I listen to podcasts instead of albums. I frequently find myself wanting to pause and discuss what I just heard with my family, but they aren’t there. I keep a notebook in the car now so I can write down my ideas for later because I swear I’m forgetting things more now that I have to hold on to an idea longer instead of blurting it out for immediate discussion. I learn and digest information best when I can talk about it out loud with others. Maybe it’s good exercise for me to hold on to it, let it ruminate and then discuss it later. It’s something I do have to work on these days.

Yesterday, my grown son wanted me to go with him to the city to go shopping. He could have gone without me. I had lots of other things to do besides sit in the car for two hours. We had a date though, and I felt like he really needed me to go, to show him I was still here when he needed me. I’m glad I did. My youngest isn’t much of a sharer of feelings and ideas. He’s a private man and keeps his thoughts close. But on this drive, he opened up and I listened. He talked about his first love and breakup, career plans, his college classes, life goals, and religion. I gave my two cents like I did when he was younger, but mostly I listened to my now-grown son show me exactly how smart and mature he has grown to be. I was in awe and I’m proud to have been invited in.

Why am I going on about this? Because conversation is important and to have a good conversation, we need to make space for it in our lives. We didn’t plan on taking long walks and drives with our kids so that they would have the time and space to talk, it just happened. I slowly became aware of what was happening as the kids grew and realized only recently, now that they are grown and moving out into their own lives, how special that time was and still is.

It seems like going for a walk with a friend might be an extravagance. There’s so much housework to do. It may seem like walking around the neighborhood with our loved ones is silly. Driving to a special store or small museum in the next town might feel like a waste of gas. We’ve been there, done that, and we see those people all the time. It’s not about the walk, the place, or the coffee, though. It’s about making a space for conversation to happen. It’s about connecting with people.

We’re all busy. The house is full of distractions. There’s so much at work to do. When we die, or when our loved ones go before us, will be satisfied that the laundry was done or that project was completed? Or will be happy that we got to really know our parents, our children, and our spouses. Will we sigh and say as we die, “Well, at least the kitchen cabinets are clean!” or will be gratified to know that our closest friends really know how we feel?

We can’t force the connection. We can’t tell everyone, “Today we will all talk to each other.” Or simply make a rule, “There are no smartphones or tablets allowed on this drive!” But we can make consistent safe space for our friends and family to reach out and talk. We can plan walks at the park. We can ask if they’d like to go with you. We can make lunch and coffee dates and keep them. And we can spend that time listening, asking questions, telling our stories, and allowing for the connection to happen or not.

It’s up to you. No one gets out of here alive and our time is limited. Spend it wisely.

It’s Not The Plant

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This plant has been thriving for a couple years now. It’s in the corner of my bedroom, getting the damp soil and indirect sunlight it needed, and making me smile each time I see another leaf bud or another tendril start to grow and reach toward the window.

It wasn’t always this healthy. It came to me as three wilted leaves in a giant plastic pot filled with dried out dirt. I found it in an office with one west-facing window that never had its curtains opened. I’m not a big plant person, but every house has these and I knew it just needed water and bit of sun to thrive.

I’m not sure why I felt compelled to take it home and adopt it, but there I was each day growing increasingly frustrated with my co-workers when I’d leave for a few days and no one would water it or open the curtains in the afternoon.

After weeks of coaxing and no improvement, I decided to throw the whole thing away. The old plastic pot was starting to crack and any day now it would leak all over the filing cabinet anyway. I picked up the pot, carefully so as not to dump dirt all over the office and started walking toward the dumpster outside. Somehow…some way…the plant ended up in the bed of my truck. I might have been possessed by Groot. I just couldn’t throw those three leaves away.

Originally, I planned on putting it in a smaller pot with new dirt, getting it growing good and healthy, and then bringing it back to the office. Maybe I’d put it upfront near the big window and it would do better. Several months later, when it had really taken root and began to climb up my bedroom wall, I changed my mind. No one loved him like me! No one even noticed he was gone! He’s mine!

It’s sick really, the way I feel about plants sometimes.

Why in the world am I going on about a plant? Because no one is worthless. No person’s life is pointless. No matter how young or how old, there is an environment that they will thrive in. Don’t throw people away. Help them to find their place in this world and watch them grow into what they were born to be.

Small Experiences Can Change Everything

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Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Funny the things that you remember so clearly from childhood. It was more than 40 years ago and I can still hear those words and see that small mouse-faced girl with the short-cropped brown hair. I don’t remember her name, but I can see the Kindergarten classroom and hear the snide tone of her voice. It’s my recurring nightmare to this day and a moment that shaped my life.

It was career week at my elementary school in 1978 and the assignment for Monday was to come dressed as one of our parents. If we didn’t already know, we were supposed to ask our parents where they worked and what they did at their job, and then come to school dressed as they would at work, stand up in front of the class and tell everyone about what we had learned about our parent’s jobs.

I went home with this assignment for career week full of excitement. I already knew what my Mom and my stepdad did for work. My stepdad, I called him my Ken, was a delivery driver. He drove a big truck delivering new washers and sofas to people’s houses. It was exciting for my brother and me when he would let us play in the back of the truck or pay us $5 to rub hard wax all over the wooden floor so that the big boxes would slide easily across it, but it didn’t seem to my five-year-old mind, like something exciting to tell my classmates about or to come to school dressed in jeans and a work shirt like him. My Dad did a similar job, delivering for drug stores, and although we always loved being picked up from school in his work truck and sliding around the back in crates while he drove us the one block to his house from school, I didn’t want to wear just plain clothes to school.

Yes, it was all about the clothes! I wanted to wear a costume! I wanted people in class to be impressed!

By the next day, my thoughts were focused on my mom. She worked at a bank and dressed up fancy (to my five-year-old senses) every day. She wore nice skirts and blouses, jackets and high heels. She always did her hair up nice and wore makeup. I thought she was the prettiest person in the world. I wanted to come to school dressed just like her!

I don’t remember if I worked this out with my mom. I know we were supposed to ask our parents about their work and get their help dressing as they did, and I’m sure my mom helped me with my hair (and a little makeup), but those specifics are lost to me today. I do remember thinking that I couldn’t wear her clothes because they were way too big, but I could wear my own nicest clothes and curl my hair like hers and that’s exactly what I did.

On the day of the assignment I came to school full of pride. I was wearing a frilly blue dress my mom had got me for a party we had gone to. I had white stockings on and shiny black shoes. My hair was curled, and I had a matching ribbon. And I was thrilled that my mom had let me wear just a little makeup like hers! I walked to school as if I were the queen of the world. I felt gorgeous and soon everyone would know how important and pretty my Mom was when I told them what her job was.

Parents dropping their kids off at school and kids that walked with older brothers and sisters were slowly trickling into the Kinder play area. I was too dressed up to play and waited at the door where we all would line up when the bell rang for class and soon it did. Other kids came running up to the concrete porch area in front of the door to line up behind me and another girl that was talking to me.

Most of the kids in my class were dressed up in crazy outfits that day. One I remember had a white apron on and baggy black pants with a paper hat on his head. His Dad worked at the meat counter at the grocery store. Another girl had her dad’s McDonald’s shirt on like a dress, belted at the waist, hanging almost to her ankles. One boy had on jeans and his dad’s old construction work boots. I had begun to worry. Everyone else was wearing something of their parents, no matter how big the clothes were. I was different.

That’s when I saw her look at me. That tall girl that always seemed like she was angry about something. Her snack wasn’t the right one. Someone took her pencil when it was clearly right on the floor next to her. Strangely, I don’t remember what she was wearing but I remember her walking straight up to me and looking at my dress. She gave that mousy, narrow-eyed look of a kid that’s sure you must be crazy, and said, “What are you supposed to be? Tinkerbell?”

I was instantly mortified. I had interpreted the assignment to dress up “LIKE” a parent. Everyone else took the assignment literally and wore their parent’s clothes.

I honestly can’t remember what my reply was. My memory has two versions. One is probably closer to what happened, and the other is what my older self wishes I had said.

I stammered an answer with tears in my eyes, face flushing red, “My mom dresses up nice to work at the bank.”

The other, more clever answer? “Yes. My Mom works at Disneyland and she IS Tinkerbell.”

It really doesn’t matter what I said, what was important was the “I really screwed up” feeling that stuck with me for the rest of my school life, my whole life if I’m honest. To this day, I am still afraid to stand out.

It’s embarrassing to admit that it still affects me, that I just can’t let it go. There’s no one to blame. She wasn’t a bad person; she was a child. Even as adults, people generally don’t say things to hurt others deliberately. She didn’t mean to cut me down or ruin my life, she just said what she was thinking, and I took it so personally, internalized it so much that it continued to direct my actions my whole life. That’s on me.

Strange to think that one incident can have such a strong impact on a life, but it did in my case. I can’t say that that girl’s remark about my costume choice changed me or if it just accentuated a feeling I already had. I had always been a sensitive and shy kid. Her remark was probably one of hundreds over my lifetime that shaped me. But should they have? Should anyone else’s opinion shape our choices, especially the opinions of people that we don’t really care to impress?

What could I have done differently? How could I have reacted differently? Was there an adult in my life that could have changed how I felt about it? I will never know.

Why did this memory come up? Because I want to go to the Renaissance Faire in the spring and I so desperately want to dress up! And you know what? I’m afraid to! Yes. I’m still afraid to dress up. I’m 46 years old and afraid to dress up and go to an event that is known for its costumed patrons! At what point does one get over these kinds of things?

How can I change this? How do I start doing things because I want to and they make me happy and not worry about what anyone else thinks? I do it in lots of different ways, but not with my clothes. I just can’t bring myself to stand out like that.

Brilliant Little Communicating Machines

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“Boo,” he kept saying, becoming more frustrated with me every moment. What could he possibly mean?

My young son had more thoughts, needs, and motivations than his tiny vocabulary and vocal muscles could pronounce. We had begun teaching him “baby signs” at six months old and by eighteen months he had a varied vocabulary that included many signs and several words. He could tell you when he was hungry, when he was wet, when he wanted to snuggle. He could ask for a specific “snack” and tell you that he wanted to play at Disneyland, not the park. He knew “mine,” “share,” and “go.” It was a little uncanny at times for someone so small to be so articulate.

I had learned about baby signs when he was born and was told it would help ease the frustration of the toddler years and so far, it was working like a charm except for today. Today he had a new need and was working on a new word to express it.

“Boo!” he shouted this time, pointing up at the shelf of video tapes, music CDs, stuffed animals, and other knickknacks. I moved to it, looking over each item, pointing to some.

“This?” I asked.

A small stomp of the foot. This had to be so frustrating. “No. Boo!”

“This?” I asked again, picking up a stuffed animal, a small blue bear that worked like a music box.

“No.” Shaking his tiny blonde head in sadness, then suddenly looking up with bright eyes. He had an idea. He put both his hands up and opened and closed his little fists several times, “Boo Koo!”

Suddenly it dawned on me. Blues Clues! He wanted to watch Blues Clues! He could see the light come on in my head as I reached for the correct video tape. He did is adorable “happy dance” hoping around on one foot and spinning toward the couch.

“Yes!” he said, another word he spoke so well. We were both relieved that the communication gap was bridged.

Putting the tape into the machine and turning on the TV, he points to the kitchen, “SNACK!” he says with both fists up, clenched to his body like he’s angry. That means something sweet, preferably some crackers with a few M&M’s in a bowl.

“Sure baby!” and I run to the kitchen to get us both something sweet while the Blues Clues title song starts to play.

Settling down next to him, snacks in our lap, I wonder at this little language learning machine. It’s a miracle really. Not only do they learn to hear and understand what we express, but they learn to form those words in their throat and mouth, and all the body language and tone along with it.

As Spock would say, “Fascinating.”

Thanks for the October writing prompts, Writers Write!

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