Saturday, November 22, 2008

Quid Pro Quo

Corban lost his two front teeth this last week. They’ve been loose for a month or so but have taken their time falling out, as if they knew the spaces left behind would forever change the appearance of the baby of the family. I’m grateful for that because Corban is the last of three, and I’m in no hurry for him to rush through the stages that will lead him up and away from me.

When his teeth came out within hours of each other, Corban was disturbed by the space left behind. He didn’t think it looked right, and he knew it didn’t feel right: strange, slippery, smooth and empty. And there was that tiny bud of white poking through, a new tooth, waiting to grow into the space left behind. There are no choices to be made here; this is a natural process that all of us pass through, but it’s a miraculous one to ponder.

Sometimes life does that to us too, leaving behind, through no choice of our own, empty space, unfamiliar and uncomfortable. Things change and we are left dealing with a new landscape—physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, socially, spiritually—that doesn’t look or feel right. After all, who is not just a little afraid, just at first, of pure space, the breathtaking, empty and unfamiliar space of unlimited possibility and opportunity?

Unlike losing a tooth to make way for a new one, we often do have a choice about what will fill that space in our lives. We can choose to make way for something new, which sometimes means we have to be willing to let go of something old. But it’s all about what we can get when we give something up… quid pro quo.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Dirty Laundry

I have the privilege of working from home, which means that daily chores are squeezed into unspectacular and ordinary moments between batches of my transcription and editing. I was laid low by the flu this week and found my house, after three days of doing almost nothing, a mess. Feeling like I can rejoin the living today, I began by addressing the most pressing and dreaded of my household chores... the laundry.

Of all my household jobs, I hate laundry the most. I hate the big baskets of dirty clothes that seem to breed in the upstairs hall. I hate that all the clothing is inside out because that's the way it’s been taken off. I hate having to extract socks from pant legs. I hate sorting darks from whites, and I hate transferring heavy, wet clothes from the washer to the dryer. I hate folding clothes—especially those horrible fitted bed sheets—and I hate matching socks. I put the clothes away just to see them back in the laundry basket within a few days.

This humblest of chores ranks right up there with cleaning the toilet (and walls and floor) after a first-grade boy has used it. I do these things without complaining, understanding that the chores which fill my ordinary moments are necessary to the smooth functioning of our household. Watching Corban, however, I realize this all may be a matter of perspective. After all, when he encounters laundry implements—the dryer, clothes baskets, clothespins—surely he doesn’t see the drudgery. In the eyes of an adventurous and imaginative child, there are no ordinary moments.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Our Glue

It starts with an attitude, I think. It’s about enjoying the present, the way children do. It’s about getting silly and enthusiastic about little things. It’s recognizing the power of laughing and the art of play. I learned this from my mother, and fondly recall the long-running Don Ho jokes. It’s what I’m trying to pass on to my children. Because they are eight years apart in age, I’ve been able to enjoy this for many years. Where my children are gathered, there is a real chance of laughter and fun breaking loose. Whether we’re singing into celery microphones in the produce aisle of the grocery store, dancing the Family Fan Dance, or throwing popcorn up in the air to see who can catch the most in his mouth, laughter has really been a glue helping us stick together and stay close.

What better feeling is there than to have laughed so hard you’re crying and your stomach muscles hurt? It’s even more remarkable during those teenaged years when they're more self-conscious, reserved and don’t want to draw attention to themselves. Even during these times, I’ve been able to be silly and have fun with them, like in this picture. Grandma Diane’s house is always good for goofy props, and something just happens when you put a silly hat on. I guess that’s what’s meant by a laugh being a smile that explodes.

I used to take the lead in all this silliness, but children don’t need to be taught how to laugh. Now I follow their lead, and they’ve taught me how to play. Over the years, as I've been working hard to teach them all about life, they’ve been teaching me what life is all about.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

My Spot On the Couch

For more than 30 years, on any given Saturday afternoon in the Fall, you could find me in front of a television watching my beloved Michigan Wolverines beat the stuffing out of their gridiron opponents. I understood the main idea of football from a young age: move the ball down the field and somehow get it over the line at the other end. To accomplish this, each side is allowed to do things to the other that off the field would be illegal, which makes this more of a collision than a contact sport.

I’m not a sports nut in general. For example, I don’t care at all for basketball, with the intolerable squeaky-shoe sounds made on the court floor by men playing in what looks like their underwear. It’s all about these colorful teams of young men outside in the autumn with an unlikely shaped ball playing not just for points, but for school pride. I’ll watch any NCAA team play football (except Notre Dame!), but the Big Ten is my preferred conference, and the maize-and-blue is the team in my heart. Until this season…

With a new coach and a new strategy, my fierce Wolverines have had a losing season; their first in 41 years, making this something I’ve never had to deal with before. It’s become so painful that I cannot watch the games anymore; it somehow blunts the pain and disappointment to read about the lost game after the fact. The hardest part about this is that I suffer alone in my family. Lindsey and Ethan are both Spartans, and David’s football loyalty is to the Indianapolis Colts, those professional athletes who have to be paid to play. Bah!

The side benefit of this losing season is that it has freed up Saturday afternoons for me. I’ve filled this time with other things—writing or reading, hanging out with my family, watching DVDs of the grand days of football under Bo—but there’s nothing more satisfying than calling fellow Wolverine aficionados to commiserate and talk about the good old days. I remind myself that the University of Michigan still has the winningest program in football history, and I dream of returning to my spot on the couch on Saturday afternoons next September.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

My New Leaf

It must be the current of change I feel in life this time of year when the leaves fall that reminds me to switch out my closets. In our old house with tiny bedroom closets, this involves pulling my cold-weather clothes out of storage and packing warm-weather clothes away. I notice that I’ve hung on to things I no longer wear and that don’t fit. Why do I do that, moving unused stuff back and forth? And it’s not just the clothes; it’s easy to accumulate clutter everywhere. So after my closet is changed out, I use this clearing-out feeling to get rid of all sorts of unused stuff that has found its way into our house.

Where did all this stuff come from? How did this junk get here? It’s like so much flotsam and jetsam that washes up in the tide of my life onto my beach, my house. It lies around, and then is replaced with more stuff when the next tide comes in. At one point, these things had value, a purpose, a function. Then something changed. No longer cherished or useful, they lost their place in my daily life—replaced, discarded or forgotten—and have been tucked away instead of thrown away. I commit to clearing out this accumulated junk, which once had purpose, in order to make space for the new.

I wish it were as easy to do this with the emotional stuff I cart through life, like baggage full of useless, outdated and outgrown things I no longer use or need but refuse to part with. As familiar, and therefore comfortable, as they are—and as uncomfortable as it feels to shed them—this emotional stuff becomes clutter that congests my inner landscape. Like my wardrobe change-out, I’m going to take some time each Autumn to review accumulated emotional defaults to see what’s working, what ‘fits’, what can be discarded and what needs to be replaced in order to make way for the new. Because this, too, is my junk, which once had purpose...

Friday, November 14, 2008

Chapter Two

Back in October, I wrote about the antics of Ethan and his friends at the Muskegon Lumberjack hockey games. Some of you will have seen this before, as I sent it out in an email a week or so ago. Since I've been asked for an update from more than a few, I thought I would post the original email to bring everybody up to speed. Here it is:

For those of you who know about the masked men masquerading as Lumberjacks from my blog, this is chapter two of their saga. Their initial goal was to get season tickets to the hockey games and their picture in the newspaper. With four games under their collective woodsmen belt, they've achieved both. They next set their sights on local network TV and being invited onto the ice during intermission. Imagine their surprise when the VP of Muskegon Lumberjacks approached the boys at the last game to ask for a meeting with them to discuss mutuallly beneficial future promotional ideas. On the table are including them in the TV commercials promoting the hockey team and incorporating their images into promotional pieces like posters announcing upcoming games, for which they'll be paid! I'll keep you posted as the boys get agents to manage their exploding careers as hairy mascots!

In the meantime, they've become local celebrities of a sort. People are asking for their autographs, swarming them at games wanting photos taken with them, and making in-game personal requests of them to sing songs to other fans present. I've been asked to attend their next home game. Ethan has promised to make it memorable for me. I have no idea what that means, but I have a week to get ready! I'll keep you all posted!

Since that email, the boys have been invited out onto the ice for the intermission game of Chuck-a-Puck, and the Lumberjack gift shop is now selling their beards to the team's faithful following. They have even been featured in a 30-second Lumberjack promotional spot on You Tube. Here's the link, if you want to take a peek! Muskegon Lumberjack Promo Spot

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Wilma and Betty

I had to laugh recently when I heard someone say that the cartoon “The Flintstones” was really promoting Marxism, and that there were ideological messages about the individual’s place in society hidden within the cartoon. That sure wasn’t the message I got from watching “The Flintstones,” a staple in my Saturday morning lineup of cartoons while growing up.

I watched as Fred and Wilma and their neighbors, Barney and Betty, dealt with stone-age suburban problems, work issues, difficult bosses, friendships, crises, out-of-control pets and children, and their primitive versions of modern conveniences. They got caught up in the same things we do today: fads and crazes, celebrity idolization, dreaming of the ‘good life’. They struggled through mistakes and misunderstandings, bad decisions and anger. They laughed and cried, fought and made up with one another, always learning important lessons about life and relationships along the way.

But it was Wilma and Betty I admired most. They were the level-headed ones. They were strong female voices of reason. They served to check and balance the harebrained schemes Barney and Fred dreamt up. Most of all, they were best friends for more than 30 years. My very favorite Flintstone episode was when Wilma and Betty took Judo lessons to protect themselves from a neighborhood prowler. I loved their practical responses to things (most of the time!) and their mutual support. I still think they’re great role models for girls, teaching us the importance and endurance of friendship. It takes a long time to grow an old friend, and every minute is worth it. Yabba-Dabba Do, Lindsey and Maria!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

No Book Left Behind

The summer before third grade, my mother gave me a gift beyond imagining: a set of Nancy Drew mysteries. I loved reading before then, but that gift started me on my path as a lifelong reader. Reading is my life. I can’t imagine not having books around me. They give my life weight and continuity; they are an escape and a comfort and a joy; they are my way of life. Books are, in fact, my drug of choice. They are also my predominant and preferred d├ęcor; I’ve always believed that decorating is mostly about having enough bookshelves.

I read a wonderful quote once: A house without books is like a room without windows. This is a fundamental truth in my life, one I want to pass on to Lindsey, Ethan and Corban. I want my love of books and reading to light me like a lamp for my children to see by. It starts with my attitude toward reading; it’s about contagious enthusiasm. Is there any greater gift to give a child than the magic of books? I’ve read aloud to all three of the kids. In fact, Corban and I just finished “Where the Red Fern Grows.” This is my third time through this book as a read-aloud, and I’m never quite steeled for the ending. But even with my breaking down in the telling, it becomes a story none of them will ever forget.

Thanks to Jim Trelease, we know reading to our kids can awaken sleeping imaginations and increase language skills. We know it can improve listening comprehension and reverse the horrible epidemic of our children going blind in their minds’ eyes. But this is not about showing our children how to read; it’s about teaching them to want to read. It’s about passing on the joy. It’s this joy that takes me often to the used-book room of our beautiful and small local library. For 25 cents you can buy a paperback, and for 50 cents a hardcover. I could borrow the books for free, but there is something satisfying about holding and reading a book that’s my own… For such a small cost, I can buy myself the gift of abundance. Even better, I can share that gift with my children.

Friday, November 7, 2008

My Symphony

I was 17 years old when I first read Leo Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilych,” a story about a judge in Russia who despised his job and his wife. He trudged through his whole life angry because he wasn’t fulfilling his dreams and passions. On his deathbed his last words to his wife were, “What if my whole life has been wrong?” As a teenager, that was a new thought for me. But as an adult and mother, it’s even more profound because its implication stretches to include my children.

I’ve always believed that each one of us has music to play in our life. Some of us know early on what that music is; others figure it out later. But to die with our music still in us, unplayed, is tragic. I want to play my music in my life, and I want to teach my children how important it is to find and play their own music. Lindsey, Ethan and Corban each have their own interests, hopes, desires, passions, abilities and gifts. As their mom, I have the privilege of listening to each of them at different times and encouraging them. How I love that! Each has a unique melody, beautiful in its own right. But when all three play at once and together, I hear a symphony!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Just For Me

I have a friend who manages a health club, and a few months ago she encouraged me to join. I’d been lamenting about how physically weak I’d grown since my back injury and subsequent surgery, but I resisted her. It hurt to get out of bed in the morning; how in the world was I going to lift weights and such? Nevertheless, I signed up and made a commitment to work out at the club for 30 minutes a day five days a week. I felt great the first day. The second day I hurt all over! By the fifth day, I wondered why I hadn’t done this sooner.

Oddly enough, it wasn’t the sore muscles and how I look in spandex right now that discouraged me from committing to this. I truly believe you can’t look good and get better at the same time. Surprisingly, signing up at a health club felt selfish. It felt selfish to carve out 30 minutes a day just for me, just to get stronger. And seeing my bank account automatically debited a fee at the beginning of each month also makes me feel selfish. I could be contributing that money toward a new car for David, for goodness' sake! It’s as though I’m lavishing time and money on myself for no other reason than to want to feel better, more fit. Is that a good enough reason?

I’ve been at it for two full months now. As the weather gets colder, I’ve noticed it’s getting harder to leave the house to work out. Some days I have to fight the temptation to stay at home and curl up with a book and big bowl of popcorn. The fact that I am feeling stronger is good motivation, but sometimes even the laundry and scrubbing the tub sound better than exercising. I had no idea my selfishness would take such self-discipline!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Marathon Man

When I think of marathons, I usually think of races, but I was reminded recently that people also walk marathons. Within a few years of some major health issues, Dad began and finished the Duke City Marathon in Albuquerque, walking 5K, no small feat. Having been plagued by a nagging back problem myself, I know personally how easy it can be to find ready, easy excuses for not extending ourselves to find new limits, so I found this commitment on his part very impressive.

The dictionary defines ‘marathon’ as a noun meaning any long and arduous undertaking. I like the comparison of a marathon to life, which is also a long and arduous undertaking! I also like the distinction between how we experience our marathons, by walking or by running. I’ve learned we don’t need to live life at a dead-run, as though we have to finish fastest and first to succeed in life. When we choose to run through life pell-mell, so much is missed, so much is a blur, and in our rush we pass too much by because our focus is down the road.

On the other hand, when you walk there is time for noticing the surroundings, for good conversations, for meaningful contact with others, for holding hands. Not only does the pace allow time to speak but, more importantly, it allows time to listen. We all know walking is good for our health, but it’s good for our spirit, too. In the marathon of my life, my dad’s shown me there is grace and dignity in, not dashing, but walking through life. This slower steady pace requires the same commitment. And those who care the most about us know the sacrifice and cost for us to cross the finish line… and are proud.

Monday, November 3, 2008


“You have to wear a life preserver if you play around the pool,” we told Corban. We had to smile at his uncharacteristic caution when he loaded on four of them. It was a game to him, but there was certainly no harm in it. If you can’t swim, you can’t have too many life preservers!

I was able to swim well by the time I reached the third grade, but there are still times I wear a life preserver for protection or precaution. Growing up on Lake Michigan, you learn quickly to have a healthy respect for the water. You have to watch for undertows, rip currents and waves, of course. When the conditions get dicey, it’s nice to be able to shuck into a life preserver, just in case.

Sometimes the waters of my life can get choppy. I am affected by world events, anxieties of life, physical limitations, stress fallout from personal decisions or reactions to others’ decisions. When they come rushing at me from out in left field and catch me off-guard, there are times I find myself unprepared and ill-equipped. I need a figurative life preserver to help me cope, to provide safety and security and enough buoyancy to ride it out.

What do I turn to when I’m feeling swamped and need a little buoyancy? Hmmm… Good books, good friends, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, popcorn, good coffee, prayer, my loyal cat. How nice that we can surround ourselves with things like this when we find ourselves in the midst of ‘rough seas’. And when I take off the life preserver, I’ll stop a minute to be grateful for and appreciative of those things that calm my waters or help me weather them. Well-defended against crisis, stress or the unexpected, we can’t have too many life preservers!