Just Look...

Just Look...

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Nothing Pretty to See Here

I've kind of put off this blog post because I kept thinking I could come up with a more positive spin to put on things before I wrote it. That maybe I could think of the words to make what just feels bad sound good. That maybe with time, I could at least own my feelings and not feel so stinking guilty about my lack of joy and excitement.

None of that worked. So here it is, in all of its ugliness...

I'm so glad to see the end of 2013. I started this year with such excitement and optimism, and the first six months plus delivered, at least somewhat. I think that 2013 showed me some things that I didn't want to see. It forced me to acknowledge that the somewhat charmed life I have lived isn't promised. It brought me in close contact with days when you don't love every moment of your job and opened my eyes to the emptiness that some people struggle with on a regular basis. I brushed up close to the mortality of my loved ones and it didn't feel good.

My family had some pretty major health scares this year, all scares that were resolved by the Lord before they amounted to anything, thank goodness. The lives of my Grandmother and Grandaddy were changed forever, but we are so grateful she is still here to have a changed life. For the first time, I found out what chronic scary health issues are like, beyond my mild issues I have had in the past. Truthfully, I think I have battled some mild depression in the past five months, something I have never dealt with. These feelings either caused or were caused by a void in my job satisfaction and a struggle to find meaning and purpose in anything I have done. I feel a distance from the friends I had once been so close to. I avoid social situations whenever possible. And maybe most frightening of all, I haven't enjoyed that close relationship with my Father that had previously defined my life. I just feel distant, like I'm a spectator watching life carry on around me. And I kind of hated it.

The last six months have felt like I failed at everything I attempted. And sometimes, I didn't even care. That's not me. In fact, the only piece of 2013 that has brought even a modicum of success with it has been this blog. I have finally committed to writing regularly and it has felt really good. I referenced Anne Voskamp's end of the year blog on fb the other day and wrote my own status about it. That status is the best description I can give to my analysis of this year, or at least the last half of it...
"I am not ending 2013 on a high note. In fact, I am ending it feeling like I have completely forgotten how to play."
 I have changed my mind five or six times about posting this blog. While in many ways I am extremely transparent, I hate being a downer and detest feeling vulnerable. However, when I started this blog, I promised myself it would be a reflection of the true me, not the me I wanted people to see. And right now, and since August, this has been the true me. Maybe it's you, too. I don't have any answers. No solutions. I am going to try and change some simple things in the hopes that it makes a difference for me, try to remember those things that defined who I am and hope that recommitting to those things will at least give me a new sense of self and purpose. I'm going to discipline myself back into spending daily time with my Father in the hopes that what might start as a habit will evolve back into a closeness. And I'm going to wake up tomorrow and approach 2014 with all of the optimism that I brought into 2013, hoping that a year from tonight I will be writing a whole different reflection.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Math and Singing and Such....

I have these two daughters. And they really look a lot like me. Sometimes I find myself assuming that since they look like me, and often act like me, that they are little me's. This past month, they chose to participate in two activities that, though perfectly wonderful activities, serve as major reminders that my life and theirs will likely be lived very separately.

I will never forget the day Kelsey came home so excited that she had checked out her very first library book. As an English teacher, I was thrilled that she was so thrilled. She dug around in her backpack to locate it, triumphantly pulled it out, and spun around to me holding it up with the biggest smile on her face. The book? a little diddy bearing the title I Hate English! I think I gasped first, then tried to smile at the irony. My heart broke a little bit, though, to be honest.

I have so anticipated the day that the girls were old enough to introduce them to a deep understanding of the Holocaust, more so than the basics I have always told them. I decided last year that they could watch "Life is Beautiful" and really looked forward to discussing it with them afterward. Their reponse? "that was so sad and kind of scary and we don't ever want to watch anything like that again." Every time I've tried to get Emma to read one of the early Holocaust books I have bought her, she refuses by saying it's scary.

In fact, reading itself falls into this category as well. Neither of them are avid readers. I have lived in denial as long as I could and have finally accepted that this is fact and even spoken it aloud. But it certainly pains me.

This month, both girls were invited to be part of the STEM Club. For the uninitiated, that's Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. (Yes, it could also be called the Future Earners of America Club, I suppose...) In my mind, it's Misery, Confusion, Frustration, and Despair. The very last thing on this earth I would have ever wanted to do is stay after school to do math and science FOR FUN.

I have imagined my kids as teenagers very frequently. I think when you teach high school, it sort of frames your context for everything. So I often see my students and imagine which activities my kids will pursue and which friends they would have, etc. I have always, I repeat ALWAYS, envisioned them as band kids. Band was a huge part of my life and I have celebrated the marching band shows as equally important to football at every single home game since they were BABIES. I rave about band. I adore band. And I have looked forward to being a band mom since before I had kids. This is still possible, for certain. But two Saturdays ago, they attended a show choir workshop and they both loved it. Do you know what I would choose to do only after I chose to spend an afternoon working math problems for fun? Singing and dancing in front of others. Or alone. Now don't get me wrong, I love watching our choir and I adore my choir kids. In fact, this year I have more of them than ever and I think I have developed an all new appreciation of their dedication. But never ever would I have anticipated having children in choir.

The next thing I know, these kids are going to be telling me they can't wait to go to LEE. ;) Old inside joke, don't panic--I'm a Cleveland COG'er, I can't hate Lee. (Besides, they already have. The current rationale is because they have a Chick-fil-A on campus...)

But honestly... it's not at all that I want to raise clones of myself (though the smart mouths seem to have been genetic) or that I am unwilling to learn about new things. It's just been a little bit of a shock to see them becoming their own people, people who apparently hate some of the things I love and who might love some of the things that terrify me. And I know that, as they age, these things will only become larger. They will very likely choose friends who might get on my nerves and one day date people I never would have selected for them to date.

But I realized something that afternoon I watched them singing and dancing on the stage of the Betsy Vines Little Theater, home of my one and only dramatic venture in the form of "Our Miss Brooks" in middle school... I realized that this parenting journey is going to be about letting go of my dreams to make room for theirs. I've picked my hobbies and chosen my activities and pursued my goals and ambitions and dreams. And now it's going to be their turn. And they will likely have false starts and missteps along the way, but that's ok. Because as Paulo Coelho says in one of my favorite books, "It's the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting." And far be it from me to stand in their way...

Monday, December 16, 2013

Dear Christmas

Dear Christmas,

It's not you. It's me. I'm looking for something or someone to blame but I'm not having much luck. I have considered the late Thanksgiving, the awful rain and gray skies from the past two months, and overall gray-ness that has permeated the entire second half of 2013... it could be any or all of the above. But no matter the root, this year, Christmas just doesn't have the sparkle that it normally does. The tree doesn't dazzle, the lights don't shine as bright, the elves aren't as active, I don't have any awesome presents I'm looking forward to giving, I haven't scheduled a single event at our home, and to just keep it all real here, the Random Acts of Christmas Kindness aren't even feeling very meaningful this season.

I'm trying really hard to maintain a proper perspective. I know that I have been so very blessed in my life and I know that Christmas isn't about any of the things I named in the above paragraph. But still. The big day is only 9 days away and I've got nothin'. Maybe last year was such a great Christmas season and so this year is a natural low? I don't know.

But I've made a decision tonight. I was looking at our nativity scene (with two elves in it... forgive her, Jesus) and thinking a little bit about that night and the days leading up to it. I know that there probably wasn't much sparkle on that journey to Bethlehem. I would suspect that the days were long and the nights were likely even longer. I've been pregnant. I know how hard it is to get comfortable in a king-size pillow-top bed. I can't imagine sleeping on the ground after spending the day on the back of a donkey. The stable probably didn't really dazzle much either, with the crowding and discomfort. It wasn't about the gifts, that year, either receiving OR giving... Well, except one Gift.

And that Gift allows me to take the pressure off myself to make the season perfect and festive and right. Thanks to that Gift, I can stop feeling guilty for not oozing green and red glitter and instead just remember two scared teenagers who made a conscious decision to trust. This might be my year to consider the scratchiness of the straw and the chill of the night, the odor of the animals in the stable. There was very little about that first Christmas that looked remotely like our Christmas of today. And so maybe this year, I'll quietly savor the love of a Father who looked into that stable, knowing the Cross that was to come, the humanity of a man and woman who accepted the way their community and society would see them, and the compassion of a King who willingly took on the weakness of a Baby. All of this so that I would one day have Life.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Passing of the Torch

 So our elf problem I discussed last night in this post is solved... although not in the way you might expect. (And luckily also not via an elfy funeral.)

First of all, it's so insanely ironic that one of my favorite bloggers posted a very similar post this morning after mine last night. Apparently the dissatisfaction with household elves is going around. Or maybe those of us who started this early are finally burning out?

Today, Kelsey had STEM club after school, so I picked Emma up and we were (unusually) alone in the car. As we were leaving Mayfield, I showed her a picture of what Natalie's classroom elf did today. She asked me when the elf did it and I said, "Um, I guess last night?" She said, "Or maybe when Natalie left the room at some point?" I quickly latched onto that and said that might be the case. The next thing I knew, Emma had leaned up between the two front seats, face only a couple of inches from mine, and said, "Mommy. The elves aren't real." Her tone was a mixture of dismay that I am so naive as to buy into magic elves and humor that she had figured it out before I did.

I said, "They're not???" and she said, "I knew that last year but I didn't want to say anything." I started cracking up and let her read my blog post from yesterday. I asked about Kelsey and she said she's pretty sure Kelsey is still all in. We talked about it a bit, then I got an epiphany.

"Emma," I said, "I have a great idea! I'm over the elves, you know they aren't real, Kelsey still believes... WHY DON'T YOU TAKE OVER THE ELVES???"

And with that, I was relieved of my elving duties and the torch was officially passed. It was a beautiful moment.

Emma's First Elf Set-up ... She's going to make a fine mother one day. ;)
(And boy has she started out on fire. We came home this afternoon before we picked Kelsey up, but Kelsey didn't know that. Tonight after church, Kelsey came flying down the steps, absolutely elated. She told me that she KNEW the elves were real now because they were in the American Girl jeep when we left this AM and now they are in the recliner and NO ONE HAS EVEN BEEN HERE! I'd say Emma has already proven herself.)
Kelsey was VERY concerned that the elves might ruin her gingerbread house she made at church.
SO, she left a very specific (and polite) note.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Elf-Life's Not for Me.

Maybe it's just a Scroogy year for me, but these elves are killing me. In the past, I have loved the little tableaus every night and getting to watch the magic in the morning. Now ours hasn't always been messy or mean or even mischievous... sometimes he's are smart and creative and he is almost always funny. I mean, until this year.

This year, they kind of stink. Those jokers have moved to different places around our bedroom, one night they did get some candy out, they have hung from nearly every light fixture in the downstairs, they have reclined under the tree and looked at the lights, they sat on the ladder, and they ate some cotton balls. That's it. And one night, they didn't even go anywhere at all. That was Saturday, and when the girls realized they were in possession of slacker elves this year, the elves did at least have the self-respect to get the thermometer and some medicine out of the cabinet and pose themselves on a pillow while the girls were gone somewhere that day.

It's like they don't even have any spirit at all. It's like they are just too lazy or too busy or too ROTTEN to do this Christmas thing this year. And you know what, I blame the little one. He's new this year and I think that he must be the common denominator. When it was just Elvis, he did all kinds of awesome things, things like ziplining across the living room and making snow angels in flour and painting Kraig's toenails while we slept! He could hardly wait for the household to get to sleep for him to partake in some kind of cool activity. Well this year he brought his little brother (who Emma insists is his son but he doesn't even have a wife so I am rather certain it's not his son) and the small one is just like a wet blanket on all things red and green.

To be totally honest, and I hate to even voice this, but I'm just waiting on the moment when we wake up to find both of them either in some sort of emotional treatment facility or dead. They just don't have the spirit to live a life of elfiness anymore and it really pains me to have watched their fall from Christmas merriment. There could be an elf funeral in our future. And I'm not even sure what type of music they would want played...

{An addendum here is that I am about 102% sure our kids are playing us. They have already confessed a knowledge of the lack of a Tooth Fairy for years before we realized. That's a lot of dollars we will never get back. I just don't see how it's possible that they both still believe in Santa and magic elves and I am pretty certain that we are paying dearly for our years of deceit. I think the joke's on us and the last laugh is being had by Emma and Kelsey, laying in bed at night chuckling at the thought of me racking my brain for some stupid elfy scene that I really don't even have the energy or desire to put together. If this is the case, and I think it is, I must say to them, WELL PLAYED. We are two of the biggest, dumbest elves you have ever seen.}

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

All RACK'd Up!

Last year I wrote this post about a few Christmas traditions we have established. I have had lots of interest in our RACK and lots of questions about it, so I thought I would explain it more thoroughly on here instead of continually repeating myself. (I have also, interestingly enough, had three different people ask my permission to "borrow" it. Let me answer that one for good: OHMYWORDNUMBERONEIDON'THAVETHEMARKETCORNEREDONKINDNESS and NUMBERTWOWHYONEARTHWOULDINOTWANTEVERYONETOCOPYIT and NUMBERTHREEIDIDN'TINVENTITANYWAY!

:) I have seen and read lots of posts about Random Acts of Kindness through the years and was trying to come up with an Advent-type activity for us to do to both count down and the days AND illustrate the true meaning of Christmas. So last year I just added "Christmas" to Random Acts of Kindness and we decided to start them on December 1! I made little cards that have a little note about how we are counting down the days to our Savior's birth and that you matter to us, or something to that effect, and we leave a card with any of the acts that involve giving something to someone.

I have had lots of people ask me for "my list"... I don't mind sharing ideas but it would take forever to type the whole thing out, so I'm just going to provide links to online lists, all of which are similar to mine. The main difference in many of these lists and mine is that several of ours involve local events and activities. I think it's important to sow into your community as much as you possibly can and support local ministries and charities. Therefore, we always partner for one day with Refuge (last year we helped them sort toys for their Christmas giveaway and I think we are working the giveaway this year), we are volunteering with People for Care and Learning to sell Christmas trees, we picked a boy from the CMS Raider Angel tree and bought gifts for him, we donated to Transition Furniture's Christmas for families who will be without,  we may be ringing bells with the Salvation Army, last year we donated to Toys for Tots one day... Some of our favorites last year were any that involved work, the day we gave gift cards to Smoothie King to Lee U students studying for finals, taking treats to the firefighters, buying a candy bar for a cashier to enjoy while on break (did that one tonight!), taking cards to the nursing home, and paying for the meal of the people in a car behind us at the drive-through.

I can tell you a couple of things we learned last year, and I'm sure we will learn more this year. First of all, the library will not tell you the names of, nor let you donate toward, those with overdue fines. I'm not sure if there is some librarian version of HIPPA or what, but the CPL is not all about letting people act kindly. ;) Secondly, and thankfully I found out before we tried it and got sent to the Big House, but it's actually illegal to feed meters. In addition, make sure you ask the total of the car behind you before you pay unless you are up for a big one.

I never would have thought of taking a basket of goodies to the ICU waiting room had a friend who had recently been through that not suggested it to me. Little did I know that we would be the ones benefitting from that act in only 8 short months. That's the thing about acts of kindness... not only are you blessed by doing them, you never know when you are going to be on the receiving end of one.

We are not held captive by our list of ideas, either. On Sunday I wasn't sure what we were going to do since we had no plans of leaving the house all day and had almost decided on writing letters to people who mean something to us when an opportunity came along to, through a friend, bless another family. So that was our RACK for the day. Today we happened to be in Target and see a harried cashier, so we picked the candy bar option. On a cold morning, we will send hot chocolate to the crossing guards or teachers on bus duty. To be completely honest, last year I did not and I mean DID NOT feel like attending a play some of my students were in. We counted that as our RACK for the day (and also ended up being VERY glad we went because it was AWESOME!).

The important thing is to put the focus on other people for this season. My kids absolutely loved this and it was the one tradition they mentioned several times in the year that they wanted to do again. I make them be the ones who give the goods/cards (if giving is to be done) because I want them to be comfortable with the act of giving. I blogged about this a while back, but I don't understand why we are so uncomfortable and even embarrassed by giving! We read something in Holocaust Lit today that had a line that said, "Goodness leaves us gasping"and I am afraid that's so true. I don't want my girls to consider activities like these to be unusual, but rather that they live a life of giving and service. I also think the card is important. It doesn't have our name on it and many of the people we RACK have no clue who we are, either by name or even face (taping quarters onto the buggies at Aldi). But I want people who are on the receiving end of this to know that we are driven by a love of a Savior and a hope in Christ who came as a tiny gift in a manger.

Anyway, here are some links below to various lists. Make it work in whatever way you wish but I would love for you to make it happen in some way. I won't even sue you for copyright infringement. ;)