Hey humans, we’re overdue for a remodel. I’ll go first.

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I’ve been blathering on for months, complaining about people who hate. I love love, but I hate hate, and I hate haters, a category I have recently lumped a large number of people into, taking it upon myself to determine they are terrible for hating. When I realized just how much I hated all of these haters, I knew I had a problem. And I knew I wasn’t alone.

I’m not supposed to hate, right? I’m a Christian and a pastor’s wife, but alas, I’ve fallen down on the job.

I feel it both when the police kill innocent people and when people kill the police who put their lives on the line to protect us. I find myself hating action and inaction. I hate what we’ve become, but also what we used to be. Power and the absence of power. Obsessiveness, and ignorance. Braggadocio and spinelessness. I hate racism and sexism and xenophobia and homophobia and fear-mongering and then I find myself hating the people I have determined haven’t hated that same stuff enough. I hate reading the news, but also not reading the news. Don’t even get me started on the comments section of any article about anything – whether it’s politics or the Golden State Warriors. The comments section is where my fury gets a real workout. I hate inequality and injustice which I think we’re supposed to, but I can feel almost the same level of anger towards everyone from Cleveland Cavaliers’ fans to total strangers who disagree with me on anything, which means, I’ve covered every single one of you. Family, friends, everybody.

And that’s just the darkness contained in my heart…the heart of just one white, (almost?) middle-aged, middle-class, usually chipper Christian mom who wants peace and love and unity, and for everybody to be nice to each other. I want equality and justice, and a better world for my children and your children. But, how can a desire for all that good, thrive and produce in a heart that is taken up with so much darkness?

Which makes me the problem.

I can’t see your heart. I don’t know what’s going on in there, or what’s going on in the heart of GoneFishinPhil63 whose comments on news articles have made me think he’s the devil incarnate. Knowing is not my job and it’s not my business. All I can know is what’s happening in my own heart, and it’s not pretty, and it’s not getting me anywhere, and it sure as heck isn’t helping anybody else, so I’m going to start there. Because what I’ve been doing lately, IS NOT WORKING.

Last night, to add insult to injury, I realized I’ve been reading Martin Luther King, Jr. all wrong, all this time.

My husband, who cares deeply about social justice, and works tirelessly for it as a pastor in San Francisco, posted an MLK, Jr. quote he’s had to go back to again and again, when societal tensions seem to be rising. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Beautiful, right? I love it. But I’ve been doing it wrong. I’ve been reading it allllllll this time, and thinking, “Yeah, take that, idiots on the other side. I love love and you morons are screwing it up and securing your place on the wrong side of history. Me and Martin Luther King, Jr. are right again!” Nope, the great Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. seems to have been talking to me.

I’m not going to stop hating, by hating some more. The darkness I feel inside isn’t going to leave so I can make room for more darkness. Nothing will change with the set-up I have right now.

So after taking a good long look at my own heart, I’ve decided to remodel. I can’t do ANYTHING, until I’ve done that. It’s not going to be easy; it’s close to a total tear-down job, and I know I’ll need the Man Upstairs who’s a specialist in this kind of work. There will be dust and noise and I won’t know where anything is for a while. However, the new place will be light and airy, and there will be tons of space for accepting and entertaining friends and strangers, but by design, no spot to sit and read the comments section.

cups aren’t just for coffee anymore

It was about 36 hours into 2015, when we said our goodbyes to Idaho family and loaded our tired boys into the car so we could embark on a semi-snowy, post-holiday trek home through four states– four western states which are big… not like those mushed together northeastern states, where people commute through four states just to get to work every day.

Our first stop was six minutes later at Dutch Brothers Coffee just outside of Boise.  I’d never been there, but according to my Facebook feed, people love Dutch Brothers, and how photogenic Dutch Brothers cups are in their hands on the way to work. We were warned that the staff were aggressively nice, and would probably be enthusiastic and hell-bent on making our days great. We’re not talking kind-grandma baristas searching our faces for signs of sleep- and hug-deprivation. These were young bearded bros who walked out to the cars to take orders and in addition to being really really pumped about our coffee choices, were curious where we were off to, and where we’d been.  The long line of cars represented dozens of people waiting patiently for their daily affirmation from dudes whose “sneaker games were on point,” this according to the unnamed teen in our backseat.

When we were sent on our way with a warm, “Later!” we saw that Dutch Brothers was still invested in our emotional well-being. The plastic lids covering our drinks read “Whatever you’re gonna be, be a good one,” and “Today is yours. Own it.” (Like fortune cookies, but better, because my fortune cookies are always lame.)

FC cups

“So true!” I thought, “It’s early and I have the whole day ahead of me! I will own it!” Also, what was I gonna be that day? Whatever it was, I better be good at it. My options at that moment were slim. I was very much a passenger, set to be in the front of the seat of the car for the next bazillion hours. I looked at my husband, who that day was the long-haul driver, and just as the cup suggested, he was a good one. He was alert, and cheery, and totally owning the day. I was sitting there, sans steering wheel and pedals, with no official duties as passenger other than handing people tissues, refereeing the backseat shenanigans, and making sure that everybody got out of the car at the gas station to go to the bathroom.

I made conversation, but not too much conversation so as to be a nuisance. I may have dozed off once. I took pictures of street names like Chicken Dinner Road and Potato Road, which sadly were hundreds of miles and two states apart from each other because, if they were together, that would be a highly desirable-to-me neighborhood.

FC chicken dinner  FC potato

Because it takes me forever to drink a regular cup of coffee, I had my cup through Idaho, Oregon and all the way to Winnemucca, Nevada. By the time I replaced it with a less-motivational Taco Time Coke, (so caffeinated, and nowhere to go!) I’d already been staring at the bro’d-out version of an (albeit, disputed) Abraham Lincoln quote, and then stared out into the desert, then back again, all the time wondering what exactly I was, and whether or not I was a good one. I’d thought about this exact thing plenty as of late, but this time I had hours at my disposal, and zero cell reception.

Don’t worry, I won’t turn this into a tome of self-discovery that would be readable only to someone on a bazillion-hour road trip, with no cell service, and who doesn’t get sick while reading in the car, and who is also my mother. I did however, for a few minutes, think maybe I could solve here, what I couldn’t that day staring out into the desert.

What am I, really? Like all parents humans, I’m a lot of things all at the same time. Sure, my list doesn’t currently include a job, but even though I’ve spent the last couple of years trying to be a good stay-at-home mom, whatever that looks like, while rehabbing my brain after that bizarre brain virus, I’ve still kind of thought of myself as a working mom. I just happen to be a working mom who doesn’t have a job.

I mess up all the time; it’s true, ask my kids. I’m also not really leaning in or leaning out, and I don’t think that the debate of how women in particular should be juggling their lives and families, is one where a single viewpoint is ever going to emerge as universally correct. All of our situations are fluid, and confusing, and unique, and sometimes really, really hard. Sure, this is a dated discussion, but it’s not dated if you’re in the middle of it. And I know I can’t be the only person – man or woman, parent or non-parent – to repeatedly wonder if I’m doing the right thing, how long I should do it, and what I should do tomorrow.

Maybe in a few tomorrows, I’ll be a cup lid designer for Dutch Brothers, and my first order of business, will be to merge those lids into one far more helpful lid, “Whatever you are today, own it.”

Happy New Year! Find me on Instagram, @colleenweems.

gratitude in the year 2014


turkey 2If I know even one thing about you, it’s that your life looks different than it did last year, maybe in big ways, maybe in small. This past year, and well, every year before that, we clumsily struggled to balance the big and the little, with varying degrees of success. If every single thing coming our way was a major life event, we’d be exhausted and broke. We can’t have a baby every day, or get married every week, indefinitely stay on that grand vacation, or graduate every couple of months. For sure, your aunt would eventually stop sending cards stuffed with $20.

After all the big stuff you fit in this year, comes the avalanche of small, with a few mediums squeezed in. We waver back and forth between celebrating the little, and wallowing in the little, and complaining about the little, then not sweating the little, as many a bumper sticker and motivational book advises us to do. Just as our life can’t be all big, it can’t be all little, because then I would have to mark my milestones with vanilla lattes and deals I’ve found at Target.

And so here we are, at the very best time of year to take stock in our lives – the big and the little – and remember that there’s simply more good than bad, and the big stuff sometimes isn’t as big as we think, and the little not as insignificant as it first appears.

  • However your family is constructed, whether it’s made of blood relatives or people you hand-picked, what a gift they are. These are some of the few people you still call on the phone, and ask favors of without feeling weird. You love them. And even after knowing all that stuff about you – the real you -the you that’s a poor sport, and a terrible singer, and chronically late, they love you back anyway.
  • Whoever your friends are, however difficult they may be, however many times you have driven them to the airport or helped them move, they know what you’re like at the end of a long night out, and that you have the tendency to talk too much/too little over coffee, and guess what? They still want to hang out with you, and you still want to hang out with them. They invite you to watch the game, or for a mani/pedi, and they don’t even mind that you are not as good at planning those kinds of outings as they are.
  • Maybe this is the year you gave up soda and dropped a few pounds. You ate clean and were the poster child for green juice. No? Guess what, another opportunity to juice everything is around the corner. And for whatever parts of you that seem to be working fine and humming along today, getting you where you need to be, thanks and hallelujah!
  • At least once a week, I threaten to quit reading the news, because lately it’s really just terrible, on a big global scale – TERRIBLE. But hey, this year, healthy panda triplets were born, and human twins were born holding hands. And remember when the Giants won the World Series? (Skip that one if you have to, Royals/Cardinals/Dodgers fans). Jimmy Fallon’s doing a great job with the Tonight Show; we still have another year of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler hosting the Golden Globes; it’s ok to wear loose fitting jeans again, and Gen Xers everywhere are celebrating the fashionable return of the plaid flannel shirt. This year a Time Magazine cover told us to “Eat Butter.”  It’s true, look it up, then eat some butter.

And don’t forget….

  • You celebrated a birthday – maybe even a big one.
  • At least one TV show you love did not get cancelled.
  • The time changed, and even though you hated it at first, you got used to it. So much so, you got mad when it changed again.
  • You ate a comfort meal that reminded you of your childhood.
  • You saw a breathtaking sunset/sunrise/full moon.
  • You splurged on something you shouldn’t have, but it felt great.
  • You read something that made you laugh/cry ugly/think hard.
  • You had the world’s best cup of coffee.
  • You helped someone who needed it.
  • Someone helped you when you needed it.
  • You found that thing you thought you’d lost. It was under the car seat/couch/pile of papers on the kitchen counter.
  • You found out they’re making Toy Story 4.
  • You got waaaaaaaaaaaay into the World Cup, and you didn’t let anybody forget it.
  • You didn’t have to get a new phone/you got to get a brand new phone!
  • Your March Madness bracket busted early, but that’s ok, so did everybody’s.
  • You finally learned the definition of zeitgeist/alchemy/schadenfreude/bae (thanks kids!) and look forward to putting them to good use in 2015, (much to the chagrin of said kids).
  • You got through something you didn’t know you could get through.
  • You got a little wiser.
  • And someone out there, whether you know it or not, is thankful for you.

Turkey

 

Thanks for stopping by and Happy Thanksgiving! Find me on Instagram @colleenweems, and Twitter @FulcrumChron

practicing the art of practicing

I ran across this the other day.

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Back when I liberated it from its cookie prison, probably after some orange chicken, I read it out loud and sighed. I believe John’s fortune said, as they usually do, something like, “Everybody admires you. You’re handsome AND smart! Keep up the good work.”

My fortunes are notorious for reading more like conversations with a pesky neighbor:

“Lawns don’t mow themselves.
Trees don’t trim themselves.
Leaves don’t rake themselves.
You should really try exercising and also, eat less orange chicken/read more/talk less/spend wisely/maybe go back to school.”

When I ran across the “Keep your expectations reasonable” fortune from a meal long past, I was unpacking the house…again, as we had moved…again.

I frowned. Why had I kept it? And not only had I kept it, but I packed it, then paid some guys to move it in a big truck. This wasn’t the message that I wanted framing our start in a new town, with our boys tucked away in the new schools that we’d reluctantly left the city for. Doesn’t everybody deserve to at least feel capable of doing great things? Why do the fine people of the Panda Express Fortune Writing Team think that I shouldn’t expect the very best from myself?

I let the paper sit a day on my nightstand, mingling with some hair ties and a few stray business cards while I focused my efforts on looking for one kid’s shoes, and the other’s backpack that I still have not found, probably due to my unreasonably high expectation of finding it. I was busy, and tired, and felt like I wasn’t making a dent in all the of things I needed and wanted to do. And then, when I was looking for my keys (again!), I ran across the “fortune.” But this time, instead of frowning, I felt encouraged.

Sure I still needed to find my keys, but I suddenly realized I didn’t have to be the one person on this planet that never ever loses their keys, or that freak of nature who’s never lost an entire box of their kid’s shoes. I didn’t have to feel so terrible about the inefficiency with which I was currently going about my days. I had simply fallen out of practice on life stuff.

Between the suddenness of the move; a dreamy lobster roll, cheesesteak and Dunkin’ Donuts-fueled family trip along the East Coast; and the fact that summer required me to attentively parent all day long, every day, I hadn’t written anything. I wasn’t cooking, grocery shopping or keeping track of keys with the regularity and enthusiasm I was known for. The upside-downness of this summer gave me permission, nee necessitated, that I delay most generic life business to a non-specific date in the future when everything would be calm, and settled and perfect for re-engaging in whatever it was that I used to do.

But with my renewed love of reasonable expectations, I realized that falling out of practice, meant that I could climb back in, and with regular practice, could once again manage day-to-day life business. Things will be fine; not perfect, but probably pretty OK. (Is “pretty ok” reasonable enough for you, Panda Express?)

So I practice writing. Because like piano, and baseball, and conversational French, writing takes practice, and sadly, discipline. When you practice baseball, your stats improve; when you practice piano, the music sounds better; and when you practice French, you get to have philosophical conversations while eating almond croissants and wearing a Givenchy cape. Writing success (for me at least) means you’ve forced yourself to sit in a chair for more than 10 minutes in a row, slogging through meandering, bloated, run-on sentences, tinkering with them until you hate yourself what you’ve written a little bit less. On the very best day, it means you have also somehow avoided both eating a family size bag of wavy potato chips and memorizing the inventory of Etsy while “writing.” Watching somebody (me) practice writing is not pretty.

So now instead of cooking, I’ll practice cooking. It might start with toast, and hot water for tea. But with some elbow grease and a little can-probably-do attitude, I’ll work my way back up to hot water for spaghetti, and maybe after that, hot water for linguini. We’ll see.

I’ll practice making sandwiches and side dishes and sack lunches without having to remind myself to do it, and then without having to remind myself how to do it, and then how to do it without having to totally psych myself up first.

I’ll practice groceries, which requires I find a new regular market that is on the way home from the places that I’ll go….places I don’t currently know exist, let alone why I’ll go there. With a little hard work, I’ll someday be able to run in and know exactly where I can find a basketball team’s worth of Gatorade. I’ll know which checker is the fastest, or nicest, or the best at small talk. I’ll practice buying fruit, and then two days later, I’ll practice remembering there is fruit in the house before it gets brown and squishy.

I’ll practice putting my keys and the mail in the same place every day. I’ll practice checking in on homework while still somehow conveying to my darling sons that I fully expect them to be on top of their own homework without my intervention, which goes the same for the next morning, when I ask about whether or not the homework has made it into the backpack. I’ll practice promising myself that tomorrow, we’re all getting up 10 minutes earlier. I’ll learn how to set the new shower to keep from scalding myself and also what combination of light switches need to be on for the garbage disposal to work.

I’ll practice looking out our new front window at a new view.

And before I know it, I’ll be juuuuust functional enough, because as we all know, practice makes perfect for reasonable outcomes.

You can find me on Instagram @Colleenweems

Next Time

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One of the most adorable qualities of the human spirit, is our persistently hopeful notion of next time.

“Next time, I’m not messing around. I’m getting my act together, and I’m going to be amazing. All of these years, and the dozens of times I’ve fallen short, are surely just practice for next time.”

Well, here we are, smack in the middle of last December’s next time.

Some optimistic/delusional part of me, and maybe some equally delusional part of you, likes to think that it is entirely possible for Christmastime to be magazine/Pinterest/Food Network-worthy — polished and delicious and perfect. The other smarter, more reasonable parts of us know it probably won’t be, and the very best parts accept that this is totally ok.

Whether it’s you or me, doesn’t really matter. Let’s pretend it’s you. You won’t do every Christmasy thing you wanted to do – cut down your own tree, drive around to look at the lights, volunteer at a soup kitchen, take your nieces to “The Nutcracker,” or finally use that Advent calendar you bought six years ago.

The Elf on the Shelf will forget to move for a day or two, causing great consternation for the home’s human occupants.

You won’t be able to say yes to every party, but will consider canceling the ones you did say yes to because it’s been a long week, you are tired and cranky, and the rumor going around is there will be people at the party.

You’ll spend more time than you care to admit making that cheery and festive  Anthroplogie-style decorative paper chain, then realize there’s no good place to hang it.

The cat will climb the Christmas tree. An ornament will be broken. You’ll forget where you stashed the stocking hangers, so the limp stockings will wait in a sad pile with the paper chain.

No matter when you get there, the line for Santa will be long, bordering on too long. Or worse, the baby of the family will decide suddenly that they are done visiting Santa, and your heart will hurt a little.

The cards won’t go out on time, if they go out at all. And if they do go out, you will be exactly three stamps short, and you will wonder if those three people are worth a trip to the post office. You’ll say “of course they are,” and you will go to the post office, and once again question your feelings about the strength of those three friendships as you wait in line.

The kids will start to lose interest in making cookies the moment they have to wash their hands, and abandon you altogether when you start pouring ingredients into the mixing bowl; which is ok, because you’re out of eggs anyway.

You will lose patience for a minute, and yell at someone you love.

The big brother will grouse about owning yet another pair of festive pajamas that match the little brother’s, even though this is surely the last year there will be matching pajamas in both their sizes.

Weather will happen, flights will get cancelled.

You will get a paper cut while wrapping presents.

You will remember too late, again, that the idea of ice skating is much better than the reality of ice skating.

Your sweater will be scratchy.

It will seem that absolutely everybody you know is somehow doing Christmas better than you.

They’re not.

I would tell you to relax, but I feel weird telling you to do something I seem to be incapable of. Churchy types, like myself, are in the middle of Advent – which is the season of waiting, preparation, and anticipation. We strive with varying degrees of success, to eschew the commercial and focus on the reason behind it all. We fail at that as much as we succeed. But something special is coming, and it’s really, really hard to sit still.

What do you do while you wait? Whether it’s for your prom date,  party guests, or for something as holy and special as Christmas — how do you fill those final anticipatory hours? Do you meditate, or rearrange the throw pillows and hastily scoop the mail from the kitchen counter? Do you sit on the couch quietly so you don’t wrinkle your outfit or maybe squeeze in one more task and yell at whoever can hear you to get more ice? I rearrange, scoop, squeeze, and yell.

We fill the time, and do what we can, but maybe we can keep our cool a little bit, so we’re not sweating, and antsy and too burnt out to enjoy not only each other, but also the fruits of our laborious waiting period. You’ve worked so hard – you don’t want to miss the main event.

And so what if you didn’t get to everything this year? You’ll do it next time.

Wishing you a joyous, yet totally peaceful, Christmas and holiday season.

The Incredible Shrinking Attention Span

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Once your tooth enamel is gone, it’s gone, right? And, aloha, knee cartilage and last year’s tax return. Some days, when I am a particularly awful parent, I may or may not mention to my boys who have each other in headlocks, that I wish my bucket of patience was bottomless, but alas it is not, and they are down to the last precious drops. Only by the grace of God can I ever get more from that bucket, and I usually have to give myself a timeout in my quiet bedroom to find it.

There is something else I’ve been missing for a while: my attention span. I’m hoping to rebuild it and the upper arm strength I had for those few minutes when I was carrying around big giant boy babies and all their stuff.

Maybe I’ve romanticized it, but I’m absolutely positive I used to have a big hardy, healthy attention span that let me start and finish books, craft projects, emails and folding a load of dryer fresh laundry. When I was a kid, I could finish a Sweet Valley High book in one sitting, and I could play any imagination game for hours, stopping only to eat meals as mandated by law.  Sadly, today, I wasn’t able to write this paragraph without taking two snack breaks, loading the dishwasher, and watching three movie trailers, which are basically three tiny movies the exact right length for an equally tiny attention span.

I’ve deduced that my attention span, and maybe yours too, was offed Murder-on-the-Orient-Express style. (Spoiler alert) Demanding Parenthood, Grandpa Internet and spoiled-rotten grandchildren Pinterest and Facebook, co-dependent Smartphone, that skank MTV, sneaky Sleep Deprivation, jealous Work, slothy Sub-par Diet, and that reigning queen bee-word, Just Too Busy, worked together to murder my poor unsuspecting attention span, without even the perk of a cool train ride or a visit from Hercule Poirot.

Long ago, when I had the attention span to sit down and read books about life on the prairie, I learned that the to-do lists of old timey prairie folks put my lists to shame: milk cows; sweep dirt floors; pack lunch buckets; darn socks, bonnets and those long johns with the bottom flaps; churn butter; tend gardens; raise babies; stoke fires; ride two days to town in a wagon, and then when all of that is done, sit down at like, 6:00 pm to read books, tell stories, and thank God for the glory of another day on the prairie. I would close these books exhausted, and thank God for the blessing of another day not spent on the prairie.

Our generation didn’t invent laundry, kids, jobs, homemade meals, soccer or even pianos. As much as we forget, our parents had stuff to do, too. Once upon a time, we were the kids with homework, music lessons, and Girl Scouts.  My mom was known to careen around town in our huge Chrysler Cordoba, while wearing suntan nylons and heels, delivering forgotten lunches, shuttling me to birthday parties, chaperoning field trips, combing my hair to make sure my ears didn’t show, teaching Sunday School, and ironing every piece of material in the house, before racing back to her job. She didn’t even have anywhere to post her blog called “1980’s Problems, Am I Right?” She just got up and did it all again the next day. And today she graciously helps me, listens sympathetically when I am overwhelmed, and never once tells me to just get a grip already, though perhaps she should.

I’m afraid we’ve taken perfectly good things like sports, cooking, and volunteering, and in an effort to improve on them, somehow screwed them up, just a little. We have picked lots of very worthy things to do and worry about, and we’ve tried to be amazing at all of them. And if it turns out we were terrible, we have even found the need to make our terribleness amazing because that’s authentic, and vulnerable and a show of solidarity with all the other mothers who deprived their kids of a Pinterest-worthy 31-day Halloween experience.

We have spun ourselves to the edge and I have the attention span to prove it. I’d like to be amazing and fix it.

If you’re looking for tips on increasing your attention span, the last place you should go is the rabbit hole that is the Internet, which is exactly what I did. One second I’m reading on-topic tips, the next I’m reading about fall’s hot new nail colors, and recipes for cauliflower soup.

When I did get back to reading, I realized after many how-to articles, that the recipe for improving your attention span is the same as it is for improving your skin and overall health: plenty of sleep, a healthy diet rich in omega-3s, turn off the TV and computer (and phone!) way before bedtime, and limit caffeine. For your skin, drink more water and wear sunscreen. For your attention span, try setting an alarm, and don’t change tasks until the alarm sounds, giving yourself longer and longer goals, until you are so well trained, you will drop whatever you doing and change tasks at the sound of any bell.

I think I’ll start with crossing something off my list without actually having done it (It will feel so bad, but so good), putting away my phone, going to bed, and telling my mom how much I appreciate her. I’ll let you know how it goes.

It’s no secret that attention span problems plague our youth in very serious ways, with concerning consequences, and a bevy of controversial remedies.  I worry about my kids, and all the kids who at much younger ages are dealing with the same societal factors that have to be slowly but surely chipping away at the patience, attention spans, and sanity that are tucked away in our fully formed adult brains. We’re not equipped to help them cope, if we can’t cope either.

A Puzzling Dilemma as in a dilemma about puzzles

Image I certainly wasn’t going to let the boys sit around during the first week of summer and play video games. No sir. I had big plans: walk the new neighborhood discovering the treasures outside our back door and establishing ourselves as regulars at the library and the playground around the corner. Take a picnic to Golden Gate Park. Frequent the local museums. Become a family who cooks together and whimsically creates goodies like sweet potato chips, and kale chips, and banana chips.

It was a chilly, foggy San Francisco summer day – the first of many, I’m sure. The boys had already raced through the comic books they insisted on checking out from the library, and nobody felt like slipping off the mist covered playground equipment around the corner. Our pantry was also suffering from a disappointing lack of kale, sweet potatoes and bananas.

I stood in the middle of the room considering our now limited entertainment options while the boys’ fingers slyly walked themselves to the Playstation controllers, like Thing in “The Addams Family.”

Aha!

“A puzzle! Puzzles, are fun, and I have a perfect puzzle for us.”

I dug around the cabinet, to find it pristine and unopened, even after two moves. Mickey Mouse in all his glory. Not just any Mickey Mouse, but a mosaic Mickey, in which his diminutive frame is constructed of tiny little scenes from Disney classic movie scenes from “Aladdin,” “Peter Pan,” “Lion King,” and “101 Dalmations.”

The puzzle prep began –  a cleared spot on the floor, a giant plastic lid for the portable puzzle building surface, comfy clothes, and snacks. The 7-year-old took his place next to me and helped rip the plastic film from the box. The almost 13-year-old stretched his lanky frame across the couch above us, typing into his phone what I guessed was a text that read something like, “Sorry friends, I will be unavailable for a bit. I’ll be building a cool puzzle with my cool mom and adorable little brother. It will take a couple of hours, but it will be awesome, then we can start texting again about how much we love our parents and reading.”

“Remember, first we look for the edge pieces, so we can build the frame,” I said as we pulled off the lid. “We’ll knock this thing out before dinner.”

“There must be a mistake, is this two puzzles?”  Inside the seemingly bottomless box, were the tiniest puzzle pieces I had ever seen, with only about three colors of the rainbow represented.

I looked at the lid. 1000 pieces. One thousand.

Jake peered down to us from his perch in a way that made it clear Zach and I were on our own.

Do we back down in the face of a challenge? No, of course not. I ignored the voice in the back of my head that plead for me to abandon ship, and find some Play-Do.

“More like a thousand pieces of fun!” we decided and dove in.

“Is this an edge, Mom?”

“No sweetie.”

“How about this?”

“Close, but no. See, it has to be totally straight on one side.”

“Is this an edge?”

“No, sorry.”

“This one’s red, where does it go?”

“I’m not sure. We’re just looking for edges right now, don’t worry about the color yet.”

“Is this an edge?”

“Yes! Yes, it is! Great find!”

“I did it! Aren’t you happy I found that for you, Mom? I need to go to my room for a second.”

You can see where this is going. It wasn’t for a second.

The fate of this puzzle rested with me.

Over the din of the video games that were eventually turned on, the boys threw me an occasional, “Mom, you are so good at puzzles. It’s really shaping up. Look at you go! I can kinda see the picture. Did you forget that we need to eat breakfast/lunch/dinner?”

The floor suddenly was uncomfortable. All the pieces looked the same.  I was missing two edges. I had other stuff to do. All this squinting at the tiny pictures of Mufasa were going to give me crow’s feet. I wanted to quit.  The boys were right there, occasionally paying attention, though. What would my quitting teach them? Anyway, they would probably want to help when it started to come together, and when they saw how much fun I was having.

Over the course of the next three days, my mind raced over the doldrums of methodically scanning the example picture for the location of the tiny Princess Jasmine who was looking slightly down and to the left, as opposed to the right-facing Jasmine, or the Jasmine glancing over her shoulder. Wait, is this helping my healing brain, or making it worse? I should give up. No, it makes much more sense for a grown woman to obsess over a Mickey Mouse puzzle for three days, than to give up just to do “laundry” and “clean the bathroom.”

It was a silly puzzle, but I learned a few things.

I can now pick out, from a mile away, all of the gradations in the red and blue color families.

Putting tiny dalmations in a puzzle is just mean.

There are always moments in the course of a puzzle, where you are certain at least three key pieces fell on the floor of the puzzle factory, and were never included in your box.

“Good job Mom,” even when being delivered between pitches of an MLB Playstation game, makes you feel good.

The boys are surprisingly self-sufficient. And they were interested in helping after all. When I had 980 pieces put together, they decided to jump in for the assist, and have subsequently, and repeatedly reminded me of their contributions. In a moment of weakness, I allowed myself to participate in a kerfuffle with the youngest about who would have the honor of putting in the final piece. It was me. I put it in. And it was wonderful.

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upheaval: deciding is half the battle

ImageNot one box has been packed, and no progress has been made in eating our way through the eleven cans of tomato soup in the cupboard – eleven cans I will not want to pack when the time comes. Just the deciding part of our latest venture has taken a lot of talking time, and thinking time, and meeting time, and even research time. Then there’s the TV time that is required to bring sweet relief from all of that thinking, and talking and deciding.

Even the mere decision to change your life and up heave the lives of the little ones who depend on you to not do something crazy – like up heave their lives – takes more time, and energy, and emotion than I remember. And we’re not even to the actual upheaval.

We are a pastor’s family, and the job of pastor, like many other jobs out there, usually involves a move or two, and leaving a church and a community that you love, because you get an inexplicable nudge that becomes impossible to ignore. That move can easily require thousands of miles, and new license plates. For us, it’s a few miles, a few zip code digits, and a new dentist.

But it’s still a world away.

We’re leaving our quiet cul-de-sac where we slow down for deer, squirrels, and wild turkeys, and we’re crossing the bridge back to San Francisco, the city where John and I started as fresh-faced newlyweds with bus passes and a poorly insulated apartment. We’re leaving a beautiful, wonderful, supportive church on a suburban hill, for another beautiful, wonderful, already supportive church on an urban hill.

The life-changing  jobs we’ve had for the better part of a decade come to a close this week, and the goodbyes are well under way – a not-so-easy process for a notoriously long goodbyer, who hails from an impressive line of long goodbyers. My family is a stand-on-the-porch-and-wave-until-the-car-is-out-of-sight bunch of goodbyers. We are “just one more thing before we hang up!” goodbyers. And I absolutely, positively, will not allow any air of finality when I bid someone adieu. You could tell me you are really excited to get started on your 200-year cryogenic hyper sleep project, and I will tell you that I will, for sure, talk to you soon.

I’ve probably hugged some people 45 times already. I’ve cried at inopportune moments, which stinks because I’m an ugly crier. Other moments, I’m giddy with excitement about the possibilities, and the newness, and the guaranteed proximity to dim sum. The kids’ friends think a move to the city is cool, and not really a big deal because their parents go to work there, like every… single… day.

We haven’t nailed down a new home address, and I don’t know quite yet know what I will do for a living, but I’ve been around the block, and trust that we’ll figure that part out.

So that’s where I’ve been, and where I will be for a few more weeks. And one day, some day, I’ll be sitting in my yet-to-be identified living room (too presumptuous to hope our new place in the city will fit a couch?) lazily taking iPhone pictures of the cat and tinkering with a blog post about cakes, or the bus, or bugs, having (fingers crossed!) gloriously shaken out the writing cobwebs. Maybe for a moment I’ll miss the excitement, the nervous stomach and eye twitch that accompanied months of a not-knowing limbo defined by this narrative: “should we really do this….I mean seriously, should we?” which was capped off with the answer. “Yep. We’re doing this. It feels like we’re really supposed to do this.”

Wait! One more thing….I will for sure talk to you soon.

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costume conundrum: saying no to the morph suit

I hadn’t forgotten this blog. In fact I thought of it often, but found that just like everybody else around here, most moments during the notoriously crazy start of fall were wrapped up in work – kid work, house work, work work, and the annual duties surrounding prepping the DVR for a new season of TV.

And during the most frenzied moments, oh, how I longed for the calm, predictability, and parameters that routines seem to give the serene and well-rested families I read about in parenting articles. Those parents have it together. They have systems. They know what’s for dinner next Thursday. They are never stumped. Most striking, they are not afraid to say no when they need to, and their kids thrive within their well-appointed boundaries. The routinized life I’ve haphazardly aspired to through the years, has always been just beyond my half-hearted reach.

So if I’m not that, I must be spontaneous and carefree! I must welcome every new opportunity to come our way in the interest of raising curious and whimsical little adventurers!  I know plenty of people in that category too.  They say, “YES! Of course!” They run headlong into life with great gusto and imaginative barefoot kids in tow.

“There’s a street fair! Let’s go!”

“It’s hot! Let’s have ice cream for dinner!”

“You found a puppy!?! What luck! Of course you can keep him!”

But….no. I tap-dance between the two– feeling equally ill at ease in both approaches to parenting. It’s exhausting for me and certainly confusing for the kids; especially when they’re already stuck in their own kid-sized limbo, figuring out where the little boy stops and the big kid begins.

Which brings me to the issue at hand: the morph suit.

Oh you haven’t seen it?  You would remember if you had – once you see it, you can’t unsee it.

The morph suit is a Halloween costume – conveniently available in children’s and disturbing adult sizes. It appears to be a one-piece stretchy leotard, designed to cover every inch of a person — hands, body, feet, and the whole head, including the wearer’s face. It’s reminiscent of the horribly scary rubber suit that kept popping up in the promos for the first season of the hit TV show I never watched, American Horror Story; or the lesser-known, just-as-creepy “Human Being” mascot suit from a show I always watch, Community.

The costume catalog arrived in the mail from one of our local party stores. Most households likely tossed theirs out with the Pennysaver before it ever hit their kitchen counter top. Not us. For days, the boys pored over the catalog’s flimsy pages examining every wacky, gory, cartoony, super-heroic option. But they always came back to the morph suit.

I stumbled out to the kitchen early one morning to find the catalog on the counter where I couldn’t miss it. The red morph suit was circled and surrounded by a dozen subtly drawn arrows.  You know what they say though, better to wake up to a picture of the morph suit, than wake up to the morph suit.

As the boys ate their Cheerios, and I buzzed around the kitchen, I casually pointed to the catalog and blurted out, “There’s just no way you’re getting the morph suit. Aside from the fact that it’s disturbing in every way and would give us nightmares forever – you can’t wear it to school. You’re not allowed to have anything over your head and face.  Then you’d just be sitting in class in a skintight suit, regretting your choice and wishing for a pair of pants.”

The 7-year-old shrugged and moved on to the Avengers page. The 12-year-old mumbled in agreement, but stood in front of the morph suit display when we finally made it to the store (effective catalog mailing, Party City!). Zach was thrilled that (spoiler alert) Captain America was still in stock, as well as the a la carte shield and gloves. After carefully considering the pros and cons of the Captain America suit with the built-in muscles, he opted for the slimmer, standard non-muscled version citing flexibility, breathability, comfort, and ease of storage as its winning qualities.

“The morph suit is not happening,” I told Jake, as he stood looking at more morph suit options than even the catalog had boasted.

“I know. I don’t even care, I’m over Halloween anyway. I’ll just hand out candy,” he said.

Had my flippant dismissal of the (still-terrible) morph suit sullied his last gasp for his little boy-hood? I took him down the next aisle in a quick attempt to preserve his childhood. “How about you dress as a rocker? Mobster? 80’s guy? 70’s guy?” I was just pointing out a mullet wig, when an old friend and her 12-year-old daughter appeared in the aisle.

Zach, having found a new audience, immediately launched into the laundry list of why the muscle-free Captain America might just be the best costume in the history of Halloween.

My friend gestured to her daughter, “she’s not so sure about Halloween anymore; she might just want to hand out candy.”

Before saying our goodbyes, the tweens mumbled back and forth in some kind of primitive communication that conveniently allowed them to act as though the other person did not exist, as only 12-year-olds can do. We made our Captain America purchase and Jake left empty-handed. By the time we got to the car, he was chattering about his science project and asking about lunch.

Transitions are hard and helping your kids navigate the pitfalls of adolescence is no picnic. It can be fun to say yes with abandon, but sometimes the one thing I bring with me to the parenting table is that I too, was once in middle school. Sure, saying no to the morph suit may have been a big bummer, but it’s better than sitting in math class wishing you were wearing pants.

treasures

During a recent visit with my mom, she pulled out a book of “Treasures” that she and my uncle had unearthed. The album actually had “Treasures” emblazoned across the front in a font usually reserved for the words “Antique” or “Apothecary.” The album had not seen the light of day since before I was born. Inside were never-before-seen-by-me pictures of my grandparents as well as uncles, aunts, and cousins I had never met, though my mother refuses to believe it.

“That’s Dewey, Colleen, you know Uncle Dewey.”

“Not really.”

“Lucille?”

“Sorry.”

Everyone was dressed to the nines for each photo, even though they were usually standing in a dusty field. Our current photo albums are littered with our raggedy little group in pajamas, tearing into Christmas presents or doing dishes after Thanksgiving dinner, always with messy hair and half-closed eyes.

But there was my mother, with her perfectly round cherubic face and shiny ringlets, decked out in her Sunday best, walking around in that dusty field at nine months old. It was the Depression; kids didn’t enjoy the luxury of waiting until their first birthday to learn to walk.  Jacob was born during the technology boom. He rolled around, chubby and euphoric from the optimistic atmosphere of a modern day gold rush, lazily waiting until he was nearly 15 months before taking his first official step.

There were a few handwritten entries throughout the book, noteable things that had happened in the 1930’s and 40’s. “Your grandmother was very up-to-date on stars,” my dad said as I looked at him curiously, unaware of her interest in astronomy. He clarified, “she kept very close track of celebrity news.” Thank God, it’s hereditary. Who am I to fight my genetic predisposition to know exactly what Blake Lively’s or Ryan Goslings’s relationship status is at any given moment?

Toward the back of the book of Treasures, was a little newspaper clipping from Christmas, 1940, featuring unedited children’s notes to Santa.

My uncle’s note was first. He asked for candy and nuts, a big drum, slippers and a coloring book, and added a special request to Santa to please not forget their little brother. Then there was my mom, the big sister – a 5-year-old who asked for dishes, an ironing board, slippers, candy and nuts. I couldn’t believe it. This was very nearly the same list she’d rattled off my entire life, save for the new ironing board; that was just once a decade. She still loves ironing, and will proudly tell you how she was the victor of her high school’s home economics ironing contest. She eyes me suspiciously every time I tell her I don’t know where our iron is, or worse, if we even still own an iron.

“It’s the same list, mom, down to the candy and nuts,” I laughed, until I recalled my own trip to see Santa, nearly 30 years ago, that went something like this:

“And what would you like little girl?”

“A red purse.”

I had waited in line to meet Santa who was holding court in our town’s toy store. The purse I was referring to had a little buckle and a long strap that made it the perfect cross-body bag for the 7-year-old on the go.  It wasn’t bulky but had plenty of room for the necessities – Dr. Pepper flavored lip balm, gum, a hairbrush, three key chains with no keys, and no fewer than 11 pens.

A red purse has popped up on my list every few years since.

Meanwhile, two states away, my future husband Johnny and his little brother Mikey were propped up on the knee of their small-town Idaho Santa who greeted his guests at the auto parts store. That Santa may or may not have been failing Algebra while depending on the healing powers of Stridex to assist with his…youthful complexion. He also weighed about 120 pounds and hated his job.

John doesn’t remember what he asked for. He probably said “It’s ok, Santa. I really don’t want or need anything,” while wholeheartedly meaning it, frustrating the chestnuts out of Santa and solidifying his reputation as being nearly impossible to shop for. Not that I have any experience with, or am in any way also frustrated by that.

Our own boys have grown and changed over the past year. Zach’s desire to see Santa was not as urgent and his normally adorable wishlist of toys was replaced this year with a football video game. Jake has braces now and his feet are bigger than mine.  He surprised us all by putting some special, and crazy-hard-to-find basketball socks at the top of his list…SOCKS. (Nike Elites; heard of them? I hadn’t either. Some joker’s selling a $12 pair online for $52.) The rest of their lists don’t stray too far from there – if a Manning brother, a big league pitcher, or anyone on the Miami Heat endorses it, wears it, or plays with it, it’s likely on the list.

It’s not the stuff that overwhelms me; it’s what the stuff represents now. The boys are big, and they are getting bigger, just like I’m sure my Dad was less than thrilled that my one wish was a red purse so I could look like a Charlie’s Angel or Laura from “Remington Steele.” While we know the presents and the busyness aren’t the parts of Christmas that fortify us, they can perhaps stir up a memory or two, and cause us to pause and think and feel things – whether they are happy or sad or funny or wistful things.

But that’s not where we find our true joy, or peace, or promise of a new and brighter day. My prayer for you this Christmas is that in spite of all your stuff, your to-do lists, the baking you meant to do, and the half finished Christmas cards, that you find your Treasure, whatever that may be for you right now – peace, joy, or hope – and you pass it on. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a Joyous 2012 to you and yours!