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Thursday, December 17, 2015

Our December

I've been thinking lately about December and the significance this month holds for our family.  My husband and I started dating in April and while I'd love to say it was love at first site and all roses and rainbows from our first kiss on, it really wasn't.

I was a young single mom with two small children.  My whole world was wrapped up in those two and my general stance on dating was that if I could someday fit a guy in to that equation, then great, but if not, I did not "need a man." Baggage, I had.  A divorce, an ex-husband, ex-in-laws, a bankruptcy, trust issues, and a little bit of a chip on my shoulder. Enter this 25 year old guy who's only real-life responsibility at that point was a truck payment, and my situation looked pretty scary.  He was concerned with making sure his truck didn't get dirty while I was concerned with feeding two kids on a budget and securing a job with good benefits for my family. 

I saw back then in him all the things I still see in him, but I tend to see things in people before they do sometimes.  While it took me only a few months to realize my heart was already in too deep for my pride to ever again triumph, it took Trav a little bit longer to decide if he was "up to the task." I never asked for him to be a dad - after all my kids had a dad and they were not Trav's responsibility, financially or otherwise.  But knowing the man the way I do now, I understand he was unwilling to do it half-way.  He was either going to be my husband AND a dad to them or not at all.  After a little breakup and a lot of discussing, it was December of that year when he finally decided he was "in."

It was December of the next year when he asked me to marry him.  There was nothing flashy about the proposal.  None of the "smoke and the lights" (Pure Country reference) you see on TV. He asked me in the living room of my little apartment.  The same room where he first kissed me (on the 2nd try), where he first told me he loved me, where he would let our oldest stay up late and watch TV with him while I got the little one to sleep.  I know all my life I thought I wanted smoke and lights, but nothing could have been more perfectly suited to me than a quiet, intimate proposal chocked full of nostalgia as he talked about all the memories we had shared in the place where he sat on his knees, holding a tiny ring box. 

Two Decembers later, he stood in a Court room and gave my children his last name.  There was nothing showy about it.  He left work and stood in front of the judge in his insulated work overalls.  As if it were the most natural, commonplace thing he could do, he took legal responsibility for two kids for the rest of his life.  The thing about it was that he'd already done so in his heart - this was just a formality.  Although, you can tell he's pretty proud in the pictures.  In fact, his face looks pretty similar to the way it looked two weeks later when we brought our youngest in to the world.

It's been a decade now since the first December we spent together, back when we weren't quite sure if we would make it or what the future held.  Things are still not "roses and rainbows."  But, I'm still amazed at the love and security we found in each other.  I look at our life and it feels like this living picture of the most beautiful answer to a prayer my heart held in the deepest, most obscure parts of my heart.  I so often find myself in utter awe of what God has blessed me with.  So often overwhelmed, with tears barely at bay.  And, Trav: he is just the most extraordinary man I know - in the most natural, commonplace way. 

Which, reminds me of the whole reason we celebrate December.  An extraordinary, royal man was born in the most commonplace way.  He lived and died to save mankind and took responsibility for all our sins as if it were the most natural, commonplace thing he could do.

My cup runneth over. Merry Christmas!


Saturday, December 12, 2015

Passing down Christmas

For a moment in time, I'm a kid again.  I'm in the car, bursting with anticipation.   The car ride (a little over an hour long) feels like an eternity to my child's heart. 

The picture in my mind of pulling up to that familiar house is always drenched in sunlight. I can see the brick, the motor home in the driveway, the unlit Christmas lights on the trim,  and the little covered walkway to the door.  The door that opens to one of the warmest, most sacred places in my childhood memory - Christmas at Grandma's and Grandpa's. 

If only just one more time Grandma could open the door and let us in.  I can hear her laugh, remember how she'd hug each one of us and kiss us on the lips and then make sure we hung our coats in the coat closet instead of laying them around the house.  I can see Grandpa standing in the kitchen, cooking and talking with everyone sitting at the table.

It smelled like food and coffee in that house.  And possibly smokey hints of fireplace and pipe.  It sounded like a bubbling mixture of familiar voices, laughter, and football games on TV.  There was always a big Christmas tree with a hodgepodge of different ornaments and fake icicles adorning it. 

The best thing, though, was being there in that place as a kid.  A kid surrounded by more love than you could measure.  We were kids who were untouched, that far,  by things like failure, loss, divorce, or grief.  We were in a warm house where at every turn was someone who loved us deeply.  Whether they were scolding us or holding us, any given adult at that house had our best interests at heart.

And then there were cousins! Built-in friends who were bound by blood to love you and accept you no matter what.  You could drop all the pretenses and be unabashedly yourself with no regard for what your cousins thought of you.  After all, we were made of the same stuff.

The day spent there was always magical.  It was warm and safe and joyful. We would open gifts while my dad passed them out with a goofy hat on, at Grandma's feet as she laughed and joked with us from her chair. 

I spent the evening with my Grandpa the other night.  He's my only living grandparent now.  I caught myself watching him, noticing how quiet he is now and how his face seemed to light up while watching his great-grandchildren laugh and play.  I found myself wanting to hang on his every word and it was hard to hug him and leave for the night.  I realized as we drove away from MY children's Grandma and Grandpa's house, that I don't remember the last time I left that house from my memory.  The last time I sat in my parent's car as they backed away and watched the family waving goodbye under the lit Christmas lights, without a care in the world besides wondering when I'd see my favorite cousin again. 

My hope is that my children experience the same magical Christmases I did.  One of my deepest griefs is the thought of so many children who've never known that kind of love.  Because as much as my memories are attached to a house, the magic of those memories are the love inside it.  Love that, no matter the hardships of life, no matter the people who have gone away, will always, always be in all our hearts.  I hope those of us lucky enough to have been built by that kind of love will share it most frivolously at every Christmas season!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Undeniable


I love flying.  However, it is still always a little scary for me.  So, every single time I take off, I pray.  I pray for God’s protection over the plane and the pilot.  Today I was about to take off from Vermont and I was admiring the mountains in the distance.  You couldn’t see them well because it was so cloudy, but they were still magnificent. The whole 3 days I’d been in Vermont it had been overcast and wet, and being there for work, I didn’t get much sightseeing in.  But, humming down the runway, getting ready to take flight, I got an up close view of  some of nature’s biggest masterpieces.  As I gazed at the view beside the plane, in sort of a half prayerful state (I’m in that state with God a lot in my head – not an official prayer, just sort of a running dialogue), I thought to God, “How can anyone look at this and think it is all just here by chance?”  Then, my mind went all sorts of places as the human mind tends to go that can sometimes lead to little slivers of doubt that creep in.  I thought about how difficult it is to sometimes have the faith it takes to believe in things unseen – magical, mystical, spiritual things.  And, then, as the plane was gathering speed to launch in to the air, I prayed, “God, show me your majesty right now.”  The plane rose in to the air and as we flew over lakes, rays of sunshine filtered through the clouds over the water in just the way that always makes me think of my God.  Tears welled in my eyes, because I could feel all through me the way He loves me.  The way He was honoring the request for Him to show himself to me in a tangible way.  We ascended in to the clouds and I couldn’t see anything but white mist for a little bit.  I imagine Him looking down on me as I fought tears, silently thanking Him, and saying, “Oh, child.  I’m not finished yet.”  As we broke through the clouds, the sun was suddenly so bright I couldn’t even look out my window.  When my eyes finally adjusted some, we were on top of all those clouds and it was the most magnificent airplane view I think I’ve ever seen.  Mind you, I’m no stranger to an airplane view, either!  Being up in an airplane never ceases to amaze me, though.  Every time I watch our little man-made world of houses and cars and pools and roads start to get further and further away, it reminds me how small we all are.  As I ascend above it all  - above the clouds, it reminds me there is more than what we think there is.  Our world seems so big to us as we work our way through life down in the middle of it.  But, stand next to a mountain or take a view from a plane and it will make you seem so insignificant. The most amazing thing to me is that as small as I am, God sees me.  He takes an intimate interest in me.  He manipulates the sunlight to shine a certain way through a hole in the clouds at exactly the moment He knows I need to see it.  Not everyone believes that, I know.  To some it sounds trite and silly and archaic.  And, I would never try to force someone to believe what I do or think less of them because they don’t.  But, I’ve had too many very real, spiritual experiences with my God than to ever be able to not believe He created all this and longs for us to see Him in moments like these.  That He longs for us to seek Him out and want him – He never forces Himself on us, either.  He gives us the choice to be with Him or not.  I look at Earth’s majesty, I feel His spirit moving within me, and my choice was clear long ago.  Our physical time here passes swiftly like a vapor – but ask me if I believe our spirits move on after our bodies are finished here, and I’ll tell you every time, YES.  I can’t look at this view and not believe there is more.  It isn’t something I’ll ever be able to rationalize for you or explain to you logically. It’s something I know in my soul.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Firsts and Lasts

I can't even today, on the first day of school. My oldest started high school today and she wanted to ride with her cousin to school. I completely get that! The first day of high school is scary, & I remember wanting to be there the exact same time my best friend got there so we wouldn't be alone. So, I had to put my mommy feelings aside and tell her sure! But later, I began to think about it and realized that she will be driving next year so I will probably never take her to the first day of school again. Last year was the last time I would drop her off at school on her first day, & I had no idea! Feels so unfair. My son started Middle School today and he asked me to walk him into the building. My oldest did the same thing when she started middle school and it really kind of shocks me that they still wanted me to walk them in. Of course, I did so gladly. But, with a heavy heart, because I know it will be the last time he asks me to walk him into school. This parenting gig is so hard. On one hand, you have to feel happy and proud of your accomplishments in raising your children and seeing them grow and flourish. But, on the other hand, it hurts so dang bad to let them go! No one can prepare you for that. I know that these next four years with my oldest will absolutely fly by. I am NOT ready for her to leave me, & I guess you can never be ready for them to leave you. I just hope that I can savor every moment from here on out. And, I hope I don't miss any more last times. We think about all those last times when they're little, but what about the last time they wake up at your house in the morning and tell you a crazy dream they had? What about the last time you sit on the bed and listen to your daughter chat on and on because she's nervous for school that day?  What about the last time my son comes and sits by me to twirl my hair?  it's excruciating to think about not having my babies under my roof.  But, I guess I'll survive.  Just like billions of parents before me.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

If We All Knew How High the Stakes

I wonder if I'd known everything 12 years ago, would I have still walked away? Would it have still seemed worth it?  I'd like to say yes.  I would.  I'd like to believe in purpose and "no regrets" and destiny.  Usually I do.  But, possibly, if 12 years ago I'd seen a picture of my present day self lying in bed, trying to mask sobs deep in my chest and breathe through burning tears, I'd have possibly taken another pause.

Losing the relationship of my first marriage didn't scare me.  We were finished.  What should have scared me is the seemingly everlasting trail of heartache that follows behind a divorce.  I've been remarried for 8 years now - almost 3 times the cumulative amount of time I was in my first marriage - something that often feels more like it was a figment of my imagination than a real thing that happened. 

Tonight my heart is aching because I feel so responsible for so much heartache.  The issues my oldest daughter deals with from the divorce seem to resurface over and over.  It doesn't seem to matter that she was 3 when we split or that we may have one of the most amicable post-divorce situations ever.   She has scars and it feels like I gave them to her. 

Then there is my husband.  It occurs to me tonight as I lay here trying not to wake him with my tears that while he is everything I could have ever wanted, I couldn't possibly be everything he ever wanted.  Who ever really wants someone with baggage? With 2 kids already in tow and an ex-husband who will always be around? He loves us.  He chose us despite it all.  But, it's that "despite it all" part that feels like a knife in my heart.  I never wanted to be someone who needed rescuing - I just wanted to be loved and cherished.  And he does that well. I wonder if he'd known the real struggles of it all 8 years ago, would he have passed on this whole thing?  That insecure girl that lives deep inside me is screaming at me tonight - reminding me that he could have had the life he always dreamed of, if not for me.  Telling me that I wasn't something he couldn't live without, but someone he thought he could help.  That's not a truth.  It's a lie, but it's a lie that creeps in my consciousness from time to time.  

Tomorrow I'll feel better, I know.  Things won't seem so dismal.  But, right now, I feel alone and isolated as if no one else in the world can understand exactly what I'm feeling.  Of course, that's not true.  But, no one really close to me can truly relate.  I feel like I'll forever be paying for choices I made in my very early 20's. And,  with the beautiful life I have now, I think the price I pay is worth it.  I hope my husband feels the same way.  But, some days it wears on you. Like tonight... even 12 years later.  

And, that's why I'm writing this.  Why I'm divulging very deep private feelings online.   It seems easy to walk away sometimes.  Sometimes it's necessary.  In my case, I truly believe it was beneficial to all parties involved.  But, if you're thinking of walking away from a marriage and family, give it some long, hard thought.  Because it's as much a "forever" choice as marriage itself is.  With long lasting and far reaching effects. No one walks away unscathed, including extended families.  It's going to hurt the kids; I don't care how old they are or how well the mom and dad get along.  I don't care how "fine" they seem at first.  There is a price to be paid and it isn't cheap. 

Love isn't always a feeling.  Sometimes it's a choice.  Sometimes you have to stay and choose to love someone through a tough time.  Sometimes you have to walk away - but you don't get to quit choosing love at that point.  That's when the choice to let love seep in to all the cracks and breaks that remain in your family can be excruciating.  Trying to love your children and respect their identity that lies halfway within this other person that you, on occasion, feel extreme disdain for (it happens in a divorce.  Trust me.  Even if you're lucky and it's only a temporary feeling! ) is hard.  It's hard!  It's painful! Loving your angry 4 year old while she screams at you hurts! Telling your ex-wife it's okay for your 2 year old son to not come with you on your every other weekend visitation because he's crying and wants his mom isn't fair - but it's love.  The hard part of love you choose to do.  Watching someone other than yourself parent your child on a daily basis or hearing your only daughter call another woman mom and reacting with a calm smile isn't a choice that comes easy.  Pouring your heart and soul in to someone else's children and watching those children run to that someone else and idolize him is a choice someone makes, in love. Watching your teenage children of divorce implode and self destruct from feelings they don't know what to do with will rip your heart right out. 

You see, we talk about "falling out of love" a lot.  We walk away from things thinking we'll cut our losses and start over.  But, what I've come to realize in the last decade is this: it's taken far more love to cover my divorce than it ever did my first marriage.  Would I do it differently?  No.  I, personally,  wouldn't.  But, I definitely would've gone in to it understanding the stakes and knowing the real cost of it all.  And, I wonder how many people would go back and do things differently if they'd only known! 

Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Difference a Decade Makes

At 7:00 am the text came from my oldest daughter about my youngest, on a trip with my parents half way across the country,  puking.  "She's been going about 2 minutes straight. "  Nothing skyrockets a mom's blood pressure like something wrong with a child who's too far out of reach to comfort. 

It was Friday morning of a long week of in-service training.  This is now the 5th conference style  training I've co-chaired the planning and implementation of, and with each one I've learned more and gained new appreciation for what all happens behind the scenes. It's a LOT of work with months of preparation and planning beforehand. I blasted through the door at work, my mind switching back and forth between my baby being sick in another state, and the ever growing checklist of things that still needed to be done for the day's training. 

Handouts were still being copied - leftover print jobs from the way I left them on the copier when I'd finally left the night before.  Paper had to be reloaded, the jump drive retrieved from my office computer, end of the year awards finalized,  etc, etc. A team of us buzzed around checking off last minute tasks, climbing up and down two flights of stairs between our offices and the training room. 

Nothing ever plays out exactly the way you think it will or plan it to.  Without fail,  an award is forgotten, or the new projectors aren't hooked up, or the sound won't play on a presenter's video.  I know the adrenaline rush was evident all over my face, no matter how many times I smiled at someone or stopped to answer a question. 

I stood the majority of the day, even to eat lunch.  But, at one point I sat down and just listened to the presenter, finally taking a minute to just breathe.  I smiled to myself as I heard him speak words that completely tied in to all the other presentations from the week, including mine.  I thought, "I love how that always coincidentally happens!"  Then I thought, hey! Maybe it's not a coincidence. We plan these things, and we make this happen.  I scheduled these trainings and even if it was completely subconscious on my part, I made it all relate.  (Sort of the way I subconsciously make my family's  outfits match. My mom pointed that out to me a few years ago. I had no idea I was doing it.)

Then, it also occurred to me that the presenter I was listening to was one I had the privilege of meeting a decade ago when I toured his center,  Special Care Inc., and hearing later at a conference. Mansur Choudry, with his amazing story of "falling in to" the education field and passion for helping children with special needs had greatly inspired me in my career.  Now I was not only listening to him again, but had been emailing back and forth  for two months making arrangements for him to come speak to our group.  10 years ago, as a preschool teacher,  I sat in a conference room hanging on his every word, imagining the places I wanted to go in the early childhood field.  Now,  there I was, organizing trainings and training teachers.

It amazes me to look back on my journey to where I am.  And it's exciting to look ahead at the work still left to do. I am so incredibly blessed to be doing what I love every day - to be involved in something that ignites my passion.  To have "fallen in to" a career that I love.  A job that makes me want to get up and go to work every day, even days like last Friday that are long and exhausting. I think about how Mansur made such an impact on me and I wonder how many he's impacted through the people he inspires.  That is my aspiration! Another decade from now I hope I can look back again in wonderment about where I am and where I've been, and I hope I can bless people by telling my stories... the same way I've been blessed by the stories of others. 

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Life and Poetry

I am in the car, driving, following a school bus on my way to chaperone a band trip. While flipping through the radio stations, I find one that is playing random songs from different  genres and decades. My favorite. A song comes on by Four Non Blondes.

" Twenty-five years and my life is still
Trying to get up that great big hill of hope
For a destination
And I realized quickly when I knew I should
That the world was made up of this brotherhood of man
For whatever that means
And so I cry sometimes
When I'm lying in bed
Just to get it all out
What's in my head
And I am feeling a little peculiar"

And, before I know it the tears are rolling out of my eyes even though I'm trying my best to keep them in. When we were kids, this was one of my brother's favorite songs for a time period. He listened to it over and over and over. Everytime I hear it, it reminds me of him, and immediately takes me back to my childhood.

My children's ages and genders almost exactly mirror that of myself and my siblings. Lately, my oldest daughter and my middle son's relationship has started to change from the sibling rivalry they shared for a time. They are starting to become friends. I completely remember when that started happening with my brother and I. One of my favorite years of school was my senior year when he was a freshman and we were finally in a building together. I can't remember the exact moment that he quit being my annoying little brother and started to become one of my best friends, but I know the older I got, the more invaluable the relationship I share with my siblings became.

My brother and his family live across the country, and he has lived that far away for about a decade now. It's hard. It's hard on every holiday, it's hard when our family just casually gets together on a Sunday afternoon. It's hard during the major events of our lives when we would normally be there for each other, but we can't be. Its hard because life is so busy and it's so hard to stay connected when we are so far away.  Every now and then it will hit me. Like today, driving in the car, when that silly song  unexpectedly came on, and the feelings flooded over me.

Yesterday I was reminded of a poem entitled "If." I am sure I read it at some point in my teens or early adulthood and I'm sure it didn't have a lot of meaning to me then.  I've always loved poetry, but as I've gotten older and experienced more of life the poetry often takes on a whole new meaning to me. This in particular really spoke to me about life. Never in my wildest dreams as a child did I think that my life would be what it is now. I never even entertained the thought that my little brother would be someone I only saw once every year or two.

My life is wonderful. My life is abundantly blessed. But,  I can say in the same breath: Life is hard. There are hard moments for everyone; there is no escaping it. And, I know as time goes on life will keep having its hard moments.  As much as I hate to even think about it, we will lose my parents at some point. How difficult will it be to go through that with my brother in a different state? I am very proud of him and his little family. I know that living away its what is best for them, but it is still difficult for such a close knit family like ours to be so spread out.

We all go on, and we make the best of it. We see each other when we can, and we know that we love each other no matter what. No matter how much time goes in between visits. No matter how hard it is to even find time to talk on the phone. It is just one of the difficult parts of life.

Throughout the time that we have here on earth you just have to take the bits of difficult and lump  them in with all the good, mix it all together, and somehow we end up with a beautiful end product. I'm so blessed that the wonderful far outweighs the difficult in my own life. I'm  thankful that during the difficult times I have so many people to rely on. No matter how far away they are. I'm also thankful for beautiful words that capture the way we feel. Whether it's an old poem by Rudyard Kipling or a hit song from a rock band a couple of decades back.  Both of which mirror the way that life is, the mixing of the wonderful things and the tragic things and turning them into something just a little bit beautiful.

If—

BY RUDYARD KIPLING
(‘Brother Square-Toes’—Rewards and Fairies)

If you can keep your head when all about you  
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,  
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;  
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;  
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;  
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;  
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,  
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,  
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,  
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,  
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
Source: A Choice of Kipling's Verse (1943)

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/175772

Monday, March 30, 2015

My Head Start

--> I began today by witnessing an Oklahoma sunrise from an airplane.  It was beautiful.  It was a blessing. 
My passion for traveling and seeing new places was cultivated not long after my passion for wanting to help underprivileged children - when I was just a kid myself.  I had as close to an ideal upbringing as you can have, but something in me was stirred by the thought of a population of children who were downtrodden and starting out with less than what I had.  Why should they have any less than I?  At age 12 I decided to go in to a field that would benefit children and families.

At age 13 I took my first plane ride to Florida.  I fell instantly in love with experiencing the different way of life and culture there.  I was invigorated by seeing our great country from 30,000 feet, tasting new cuisine, and taking part in other's people's customs and rituals.  From a very young age the human mind was the most interesting thing in the world to me and while other children in middle school and high school were reading mostly teen magazines, I was secretly looking up subjects in encyclopedias and practically memorizing a book of behavioral health disorders.  I think one of the biggest reasons traveling intrigued me so, was that I loved to study people and what created their personalities and habits.  I loved to analyze which aspects were environmental and which were genetic.  I loved the way being from one region or another could shape everything about the humans there.

Such as it is with so many people, my big career plans veered off course.  My dreams of being a child and family therapist were shattered when I finally came to the realization that I would never have the capacity to separate myself enough, emotionally, from my clients to perform those duties.  I left college in the middle of my sophomore year, and  by age 23 I found myself to be a young single mother working in a small child care center in my hometown, very far away from my initial goals for myself.  I ended up in child care quite by happenstance, wanting to be able to work where my children were spending the majority of their days.

I remember distinctly, though, the moment I realized that I had fallen into the career path I was supposed to be in.  I happened to be  cleaning a bathroom at that moment.  I was cleaning and thinking and it dawned on  me that I loved what I was doing. I loved the capacity that I was able to work with the children in my care and I very deeply believed in the difference we were able to make for them in those early years.  I also saw the difference I was able to make by forging relationships with the families of those children - the load it took off their shoulders to be able to truly believe in the quality of care their child received while in the parents' absence.  It was admittedly difficult for the pride of a straight A student who had dreamed for over a decade of a reputable career as a child psychologist to take on a servant-hood role as a child care provider. But, pride or not, the feeling that I was right where I was supposed to be and was making a difference in the lives of children was worth more to me than my pride.  And, while I knew there was a general lack of respect for child care workers to be seen as professionals, I set out to disprove that misconception and strove to do my best at every aspect of my profession - even cleaning bathrooms.  Because ultimately, the cleanliness of a bathroom was still contributing to the health and well being of the children.

There were times along the way, as I dreamed of finishing the degree I started and watched my peers slowly graduating college and starting their lives off on much better footing that I had, that I thought, "Why me?"  Why was I the one who ended up pregnant in college and looked down on by everyone?  As if I was doing anything that 95% of college students weren't!  As much as I adored my own children, parts of me were bitter about the hand I'd been dealt, especially in moments when I sat and tried to decide which bills to pay and which bills could be put off a little while so I could buy them food.  Especially in moments when I'd run in to someone at the grocery store who was just home visiting for the weekend and we'd quickly run out of things to talk about as I pacified my small children in the cart.  Things seemed unfair sometimes.

It wasn't long, though, before the reason for my struggles became evident in my career.  I moved up the supervisory path fairly quickly.  I don't believe that is because I was the greatest teacher in the world or because I was necessarily the best at what I did.  I think, more than anything, it was just because of the passion burning in me for my job.  Working in a classroom of 3 and 4 year olds was never "just a job" to me or a "stepping stone" to something else.  It was very truly something I loved to do and something that made me get out of bed every day excited to go to work.  It wasn't always easy and it had moments that weren't especially fun.  (I.E.  No one really enjoys cleaning up puke or working 11 hour shifts because someone called in.)  When I touched a single mother's arm who was dropping her child off in the morning, and was clearly upset, I was able to look in her eyes and with all sincerity say, "I know how you feel, and I promise it gets better!"  Had I not had my own life experiences to pull from, I would not be near as good at my job.  I never ask, "Why me?" now.  I know exactly why.

My years in early childhood eventually led me to finishing my degree and accepting an administrative position in a Head Start program.  My son had been in head start for a year, so I was vaguely familiar with it, but once in the door I realized I had a lot to learn!  I also realized that all my years and experiences had led up to this.  The passion to help children and families was a perfect fit for everything that Head Start stands for.  And, now, after almost 3 years, Head Start is in my veins.  I believe in it.  I believe in everything it stands for and I believe that every day when I go to work I'm making a difference.  I didn't leave the classroom to be an administrator because I was "burned out" or tired of teaching.  It was actually a hard decision for me because there is almost nothing I love more than a good conversation with a preschool age child.  I left because I realized the difference I could make would expand from one classroom a year to hundreds of children a year.  (Those are some wise words from my director.)

So, now, here I sit in a hotel in downtown Washington D.C., in front of a window overlooking a bustling street outside.  The energy here is palpable and it feels like a place where change is possible and you get a sense of the great things that have happened here in our nation's history.  In my  career I have been so incredibly blessed to travel all over the country to trainings, coupling two of my great loves - learning about child development and seeing new places.  I've had the great privilege to travel to Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas, Shreveport, and various other places in between.  This is my second time to come to D.C. and this year I have the unprecedented experience of being here for the National Head Start Association Conference while we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Head Start.  As much fun as traveling is, I also feel the weight of the responsibility that comes along with that.  The resources it takes to send me here can't be wasted!  I have a duty to learn all I can and bring it back and translate it to my program back in the mid-west.  I am honored to be chosen to take on that responsibility.

I know this job will never translate in to great wealth for me, monetarily speaking.  But, I guess if money is what drove me I'd not be here to begin with.  And, this will never just be a job to me, anyway.  It is my life's work; it is what I've dreamed of doing since I was 12 years old - just in a different capacity than I had planned.  As much as I hope I've been and will continue to be a blessing to other's lives, even if indirectly, I know that this career has shaped me and blessed me more than I deserve.  I know as I enter the conference tomorrow, I will be overwhelmed by the number of people just like me, who represent hundreds more, who have devoted their lives to this cause.  Many, of whom are a product of this agency we call Head Start.  I know no matter where life leads me from here on out, I will continue to advocate for and support this program because I've seen first hand how many lives it has shaped - including mine.          

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Tummy Time

By the age of 23 I had 2 children, countless stretch marks, and fairly low self esteem. There weren't many people my age who could sympathise with being a single mom or having had an 11 pound, 2 ounce child that left my body anything but bikini friendly.
6 weeks after giving birth to my 2nd child, I had lost every ounce of my pregnancy weight plus some. However, I was left with extra skin that had been stretched to its max just sort of hanging there around my midsection. My belly button, which had once been pretty cute, was now moved around and strange looking. As vain as it makes me sound, I hated it. So much so that at 23 years old I quit looking at my stomach at all, and I really didn't touch it either, if I could help it.
The thought that another man would ever accept my -what I considered- disfigurement was far fetched in my mind and the thought of unveiling something that I wouldn't even look at myself was basically impossible to fathom. That's why the moment my now husband first touched my stomach is etched so deeply in my memory. I vividly recall the tears streaming down my cheeks as his hand caressed the soft, scarred skin and told me I shouldn't hate it. That I had two beautiful children because of it. His acceptance went a long way towards my own, but I still averted my eyes after I got out of the shower or changed.
My third baby caused little to no further "damage." What's 7 pounds after you've already done 11? Still, I hate to admit that I literally went years never looking at my stomach in the mirror and taking care not to really touch the track marks and lines in my own skin. It repulsed me.
Now, let me illustrate for you the amazing, beautiful way God loves us. The way he reaches us with his love, on our level of understanding. You see, touch is my love language. I'm a hugger - a "patter." If you've known me long, you know I just want to cuddle everyone I care about. And even though God can't physically touch us, I believe he uses other people to express his love for us sometimes.
My third child is obsessed with my stomach. Obsessed. It started when she was an infant. When I'd nurse her, she would softly rub her hand on my stomach. Pretty soon she found my belly button, and that became the equivalent of a security blanket for her. After 6 years, she still goes to sleep with her finger in my belly button. It's the weirdest, most hilarious thing, but that's what she does! She's always loved to rub and pat my tummy. Now that she comes up to about my midsection, she puts her head under my shirt so her cheek can rest on my stomach. It's funny and we all tease her about it now, but I realized one day it was God's way of making me finally accept my stretched, scarred stomach.
Do I believe God loves my stomach? Yes, I do. Why wouldn't he? Why wouldn't he be proud of the battle scars I carry now? If there's anything I can say about myself, that I've done well, it's that I've nurtured my babies. I painstakingly brought all 3 of them into this world, willingly sacrificing my self and my body to ensure they were safe and healthy. I gave up coffee, refused to even take Tylenol, laid for months on my left side every time the doctors put me on bedrest, and refused to do anything I thought might harm them at all. From the moment I found out about each of them my life became all about their life. Inside my "disfigured" middle, I took on the task of nurturing and growing the three little blessings God gave me. And the last one he gave me, he's used her to make me appreciate my tummy just like he does. My stretch marks are proof of the amazing things I've done with my body. I laid on my left side for over 10 weeks, getting up only to shower or use the restroom, in order to grow that 11 pound baby boy and keep him safely inside my womb until he was ready. That was hard! It was painful and long - but I'd do it again for any one of my children in a heartbeat.
When my little girl's fingers reach for my tummy in the middle of the night, I smile.  When my husband's strong, warm hand finds my stomach in the middle of the night, I no longer cringe and hold my breath. I smile. That stomach gave him his 3 beautiful children - my greatest life's work. And, now, I look in the mirror and instead of being disgusted with what I see, I smile. I see the reminder of one of the things I'm most proud of in my life, and tangible proof that my body did something miraculous and amazing 3 different times. How could I hate that? Media and society tell us to hate it. They tell us we need to look perfect, erase all the damage, and fix all the imperfections. But, I know someday years from now when my children are grown and giving birth seems like it was just a long ago dream, I'll look in the mirror and see the proof of what I did. And, I'll smile.


1 Samuel 16:7 NIV:

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”


Saturday, March 7, 2015

And Sometimes You Win


I did not grow up around livestock. I was never in 4H or FFA. Until I married my husband, I never even owned a pair of cowboy boots. When my 14 year old daughter was not quite 9 and my husband started talking about her showing cattle, I had no clue what we were about to embark on. When he mentioned buying her a calf, I cocked my head towards the 90 acres of pasture in our backyard with cattle grazing on it, and asked incredulously, "Why would we buy another calf? Don't we have enough?" He laughed at me. Those weren't "show" calves. What?!
So, his dad bought her a calf. Her name was "magic sis" and she was like a giant puppy dog, but as she grew it was scary to watch my little girl handling this giant animal. We borrowed a big, heavy "grooming chute" and an old blow drier from some family friends. And, I just still didn't get it! I had no clue what went in to all this and was honestly a little resentful of the amount of time and money this project seemed to be "taking away" from my family! Why on earth would you need to blow dry a calf's hair? There were tears and frustration as I explained to my husband that his daughter who had never led a cow around with a rope was bound to be scared. He had to learn to cut her some slack and I had to learn to let go some. She had to overcome her fear and trust this very large animal she was dragging down the road with a halter and lead rope. I was in awe as I watched my prissy little girl shoveling cow manure - something I never dreamed she'd WANT to do. But, she did!
Her first two years went pretty well and she enjoyed showing. I started learning what it was all about and began to gain an appreciation for what my daughter was experiencing. Not just what she was learning about agriculture, but about responsibility and hard work.
Her second calf was as gentle as the first. I remember sitting in the stands at her regional livestock show, pride radiating off my face as I watched my 10 year old leading her Heifer around the arena, when suddenly a dog barked and spooked her calf. Her calf bucked - something we'd never seen her do - and wanted to try to run. Sissy (That's what we call our daughter) held on to her, and fell down. It looked like she almost flipped as she fell, and I was on my feet! I was ready to run in the ring and save her, but she found her footing and lifted her Heifer's head, steadying the calf and slowing it back to a walk. As her mom, I could read the panic on my daughter's face, but she kept going. She finished showing her animal, and then as she walked out of the show ring, she burst in to tears. I think that moment was when my appreciation for livestock showing truly began. I watched my 10 year old exhibit some very adult behaviors in the face of a scary situation. Her hands were rope burned from hanging on, but she did hang on, and she was scared to death, but she didn't give up! She finished the job and waited to have her reaction when she was done. I was officially impressed.
Sissy's third calf was from better show cow genetics than the first two, but it was crazy. Seriously, just pretty nuts. The fourth one, which my father-in-law and husband had raised through artificial insemination, was even worse than the one before. She was a giant red Heifer named, "Daisy." She was pretty! But, Sis was already gun shy from the year before and Daisy was not to be trained! She kicked, bucked, head-butted, and used her excessive force on anyone who tried to mess with her. Seasoned cattlemen refused to work on her leg hair before a show, knowing they'd get kicked in the face. It didn't matter how much we worked with her. She grew to be a huge Heifer, too! I was officially scared to death of her after a couple of run-ins and so was Sissy. But, after putting in a year of work towards a livestock project, do you throw in the towel? I had watched my daughter feed and care for this calf for months, through a hot, drought-filled Summer and cold winter mornings. I watched her cry in show rings, let go of the lead, plead with her dad to come in and save her. I watched her pride break and her spirit tire. But, when we told her at the end of the season she didn't have to show her at the county and regional shows (you see, you can't just pick another animal, you have to show the one you nominated earlier in the year), she refused. She showed her anyway. And actually did pretty well with her! But, I could tell she wasn't having fun anymore. I, for sure, wasn't.
Then came the fifth heifer, "Glimmer." She was probably the sweetest one we'd had and, that was our goal for Sissy, whether we won or not, just to get an animal she could work with. But, poor Glimmer didn't end up being much to look at (we couldn't get her hair to grow - which is super important for show cattle) and never won anything at all. That winter was rough, and I watched my kids come in so many mornings literally with icicles on them from going outside before daylight to feed, hay and break ice. I also watched Sis walk in to the show ring every time and lose. And, I could see the last 3 years wearing on her. So, after that season I asked her, "Sis, do you still want to show cattle?"
At first she lied and said, "yes." But after further prodding (see, moms know when further prodding is needed), she tearfully admitted that she didn't like it much anymore but she was afraid to tell her dad - afraid it would break his heart. When I asked if she might want to try a different animal, she told me she wanted to try showing a pig. We addressed the subject with her dad with much finesse, since cattle showing was his first love. I had to explain to him that I didn't think she'd stick with showing if we kept up the cattle thing, and if we wanted her to stay in ag, he'd have to be open minded and listen to what SHE wants to do.
Needless to say, we bought pigs this year. We altered our show barn and jumped in to the swine business. Now that I'm not so scared of being kicked, I have taken a more hands-on approach. Instead of watching from the stands, you'll find me behind the ring in my rubber boots, with mud and pig poo all over them. We didn't have a lot of success at the smaller jackpot shows this year, and we have had to learn a lot and rely on other people to teach us what to do, but we've had a lot of fun! And my cattleman husband has become quite the pig enthusiast.
This year Sissy got reminded of what it feels like to win. She got 2nd place in her class at the County and Regional show with one of her pigs. She got 3rd place with the other at Regionals. She made the premium "sale" (which is always our big goal) at both shows! That's never happened for us in the 5 previous years! May never happier again!
I stood on that same ground where 4 years previous I'd watched my little girl get flipped around by her cow, and I watched her make the top three in both of her classes (out of 15+ in a class). I listened to the judge commend her showmanship and I watched 6 years of blood, sweat and tears pay off for her finally. I saw her pride back intact and the determination on her face.
I don't resent the time showing takes away from my family anymore. Because I finally learned that it doesn't! Yes, my husband and kids sometimes don't make it in the house until dinner is cold - sometimes I'm out there with them, sometimes I have to be inside making sure our house doesn't fall down around our ears. But, either way, I now appreciate this so much. I appreciate what my kids are learning. I appreciate the people they are becoming. I appreciate the person my husband is because be was raised in this. I appreciate the group of people we are immersed in who are so willing to help and encourage. I appreciate that because we are new to the "pig barn" and were confused about when to be there to clean up, someone else cleaned our pin for us. I appreciate our ag teachers who devote countless hours of time away from their own families to teach our kids, even the 4H kids who aren't even on the high school ag team yet. I appreciate the parents who's kids are not in school anymore, but they still show up and support the kids still in it. I appreciate the businesses and community members who spend money and time to help these kids out. I appreciate that my family is learning what it means to be a part of something so much bigger than ourselves - I hope my kids learn to pay forward all the support they've been given. I hope they learn from the amazing examples of integrity all around them.

And, I know they're learning this: Sometimes you lose. But, you work hard, do what's right, and treat others well. And, sometimes... Sometimes you win!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Livestock Shows and Life Lessons

Today was part of a series of junior livestock shows in our area. The Heifer my son shows is one my husband and his dad bred and we have been working with for almost 2 years now. This is "Charm's" second show season, and bless her heart, she is eight months pregnant and tired... I can sympathize.

After two years of prep - twice a day feedings, grooming (The livestock get more hair treatment than I do. That's not an exaggeration!), walking, haying (haying is a verb around here), trimming hooves, breaking ice in the Winter, mucking stalls daily, weekly weigh-ins, and a trip to another pasture for artificial insemination - my son got no more than a collective 45 minutes max today in the arena to show off his 2 years of hard work. He's 11, by-the-way. That's a lot of responsibility for an 11 year old, and most of these kids (including mine) start all this at age 9 or younger.

He got 2nd in his class and despite the many hours and dollars we've poured into this calf, we were all ecstatic about the red ribbon and $15 winnings! I'm talking, tears in my eyes excited. Then, I had to watch him stand in the ring waiting to get picked for premium sale, which was his goal, and not make it. I watched him fight back tears of disappointment as the judge picked the last few and the mom in me was thinking, "This stinks. He works so hard! I'm tired of watching his heart break; I don't know if this is worth it." I swear no one works harder or has more heart than this kid! And he seems to have to work so much harder at everything he does whether it's school or sports... why can't this one thing just come easy for him?

But, we went on. He showed for showmanship and didn't win. But, he walked out of the show ring with his usual grin and said, "Hey. I can't complain about his pick for showmanship. That girl who won did great." And, in that moment right there, I couldn't have been more proud. Not if he'd won the whole show!

The lessons these kids are learning aren't really learned in the show ring. They're learned the rest of the year. We want to teach our kids that "hard work pays off," and I believe it does, but not always in the ways we think or the timeframe we expect. I mean, you don't always get recognized for hard work in real life. In fact, I've found that often the harder you work, the more work you get assigned to you. Sometimes you get recognized and that's nice. Sometimes you get an accolade, an award, a promotion, or a raise. And, man, that feels good! But, if that's your motivation, you're going to be highly disappointed with real life.

You have to be intrinsically motivated to truly be happy with your life's work - no matter what it is. I think to really be successful you have to give it your all no matter if you get a ribbon or not! Sometimes you "get in the ring" to show your stuff and you'll get the first prize! But, sometimes you get second or maybe even last. Sometimes someone else works harder than you, or sometimes it seems downright unfair! Hey, life has it's downright unfair moments! But, you can't let them cause you to throw in the towel. No, you go back and give it your all again. You recognize the hard work, efforts, and gifts of others. You accept defeat graciously and vow to make the necessary changes to try and end up on top next time.

These 4H and FFA  kids are learning life lessons every single day in and out of the ring. I've said it before, but I couldn't be more proud that my family is involved in this stock show life. And, I encourage you to support your local youth agriculture programs. I'm here to tell you, these kids are our future leaders!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Prince Charming Can go Kick Rocks

In my past, I have had some romances. I have been swept off my feet, I have been wined and dined, and known boys who would do just about anything to get my attention. I've had a couple of really big romantic gestures in my lifetime. Like most American girls, I was spoon fed the Cinderella story from birth. In my mind, love looked like a romantic chick flick. Then, I grew up and got married. The thing is, life is nothing like a movie. There haven't been a lot of movies made that cover all the content in the "after" part of happily ever after.
Tonight I had to go out of town for a training. It was a couple of hours away. At straight up 6:00 I got a text from my husband asking me if I was out of the training. Not the creepy "I'm trying to keep track of you" text because that's just not how he is, but just the checking up on me kind of text. He worries about me when I'm driving home alone at night that far from home. (Part of that may have to do with my not so stellar driving record.)
I'm sure when I saw my husband's name at the top of the text, I got the silly grin that I get whenever I hear from him, but I didn't see anything especially romantic about that. However, as I was thinking on my drive home, I realized that his text was actually incredibly romantic. It was proof of how much I'm on his mind. Not overly romantic trying to blow me over type of proof, but a sincere, real life statement about where I rank in his life. At exactly 6 o'clock he was thinking about me, knowing that I was going to be out of my training at that time.
On really cold days, or when the weather is bad, he always checks up on me to make sure that I made it into work ok. If it is particularly icy he follows me all the way to work to make sure that I get there.  He kisses me goodbye and hello no matter who is around - even when he's coaching football! I'm still not sure what on earth I did to deserve the kind of love that I have in my marriage, but I'm thankful. Travis is not very good at big surprises and definitely not a great date planner. I certainly don't expect to get jewelry on holidays or anniversaries. But, as I've grown up, and out of the Cinderella mindset, I've come to realize that it is not like in the movies; it's the real gestures that matter. It's knowing that my husband loves me enough to have genuine concern for me.  It's knowing he WANTS me at home with him and I know will walk into my house and it will be nice and tidy and clean. Never having to wonder where I rank in my husband's heart means more to me than any jewelry, dozen roses, elaborate date night, or overly dramatic show of emotion.
I love that man with all of my heart, and I can't imagine that I would have ever been this happy with a Prince Charming. I'm pretty sure Prince Charming would have been way too prissy for me, anyway.