Friday, May 20, 2011

Enjoy It

One day I was struggling with my three young offspring at the grocery store. One was in back of the cart on a blanket, one was in a baby car seat attached to the front of the cart, and one was a toddler, commanded to hold onto the cart's handle as if his life depended on it.

I awkwardly lugged a second cart behind me for the actual groceries.

A middle-aged woman who'd been observing us approached, and with sincere expression and tone, told me:

“Enjoy this time. It goes by way too quickly.”

I laughed inwardly, naive to what she meant. How was I supposed to enjoy the endless diaper changing, feeding, and bottle-making? I hadn’t had a full-night’s sleep in ages, and my days were nothing short of insanity. This I should enjoy? Easy for her to say, I thought, she looked like she was in empty-nester phase.

My children will most likely all leave home within the year.

The grocery store woman's words haunt me now. ‘Enjoy it,’ she’d said.
I didn’t always. But I cherish those times when I was wise enough to absorb her advice.

Were I to rewind, I would have held my children much more. I would have read to them more. I would have gotten up earlier to make them a homemade breakfast more often, versus just stocking the pantry with cereal and leaving them to their own devices. I would have listened more intently, and longer, instead of worrying so much about getting dinner on the table, or the laundry folded, or how I was going to pay my bills. I cringe at the thought of how many times my back might have been turned to them while they attempting to share something with me.

But there were moments. Moments I’ll never regret, when household chores were put aside kids were loaded into my car, and we just spent the day at a park with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Or when we spontaneously drove up to the mountains and practiced sledding downhill on snowsuit bottoms, since we didn’t bring sleds. Staying up late and sleeping outside on the trampoline with them. Lazy days at the Lake where they taught themselves to swim.

I remember busting them out of school on Sex Education day. We went skiing instead, and had our own discussion about something that important.

Hanging out in the living room, doing nothing on a Friday evening. Late night runs to the fast-food restaurant for pure and unadulterated junk food binges.

‘Enjoy it.’ What wise words. I wish I’d heeded them as completely as I could have. I will cherish the time I have left with them in my home, and send as much love as I can to the them when they're gone.

Though my time of having children in the home is coming to a close, how blessed I've been to have experienced it at all. I had the privilege of having three incredible individuals come into my home, via my own body, and dwell there for nearly two decades. Lots of people do the parenthood thing, yes, but common or not, it's still an honest-to-goodness, flat-out miracle, isn't it?

It's sad for me, now that this phase of my life is coming to a close, but I find such joy in the knowledge that it happened. That I got to have this for a while.

As the song, ‘Omnia Sol’ says:

“Remember when, and let your heart be staid.”

Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy.

*For more information on becoming an empty-nester (it's inevitable), and being okay with it (eventually) click here. 

**Please visit me on Twitter or Facebook. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

Water Works

If you're not one to grin when you see a couple of heads being knocked together now and then, arms and legs flying in all directions, and hands hanging on for dear life to the handles and rope of a big inner tube being pulled across a large body of water by a fast boat; well, you might have something wrong with you.

Because that sort of thing is just plain funny.

Especially when it's a bunch of squirrelly young boys from your church, around the age of thirteen or fourteen... and one of them is your nephew.

None of them wanted to fall off. All of them seemed to have something to prove. To who? We don't know, because not a person I've seen can possibly keep their dignity on such a craft. Cheeks flap. Hair whips around your face and beats you to death. Uncontrollable screaming, laughing, and other things happen, much to our horror. You're better off just to let go of your pride at the exact moment that you board the tube, and forget you ever had it. Those that don't are sorry in the end.

It's the reason the adults go to so much trouble for these sorts of activities; to get the kids to loosen up and to stop being so into themselves for a few hours. It's then that they're reachable. It's then that they're more likely to open up if they have problems. We see sides of the kids that we've never seen before, like the boy that didn't want to get on the boat much, he just wanted to wear a lifejacket and float in the lagoon for hours on end. We'd see his little head and think he was going out too far, but none of us wanted to 'reel' him in, either, respecting his time alone. When I thought about it, I realized that he lived in a home with a lot of people entering and exiting, and that the solitude might have been his version of Heaven. Well, let him have it, then.

Kids that won't even look you in the eye in the church building on Sunday are suddenly all smiles, once you take them out of the same old setting and throw some water and sun into the mix. This makes every penny in fuel and food spent well worth it.

Personalities are more easily observed from a lake than from a pew. The lanky blond kid that lives down the street never even came in off the boat to eat, and he never stopped smiling, either. With three boats going, he just went from one to the other to the other in order to be in on the non-stop action. Most of these kids didn't have access to boats very often, and Nate was making the best of it.

We mommies spent a lot of the time under a tarp, out of the sun, which was not my preference, but to be social I felt I had to join them in the shade. Before long we were cackling with laughter like a bunch of old hens. I was told someday this would happen to me. My preference was to be in the water, however.

I talked one of the younger ladies into trying out the lake, and being a very 'game' sort, she went in with me, followed by another more mature woman, who was worried about the 'ickies' in the lake. I must confess I wasn't helping her out with that; I was adding to the list of possibilities of what all could be in there, enjoying the process until I decided I'd better stop or I'd perhaps get dunked.

"We're washable!" I finally stated, and left it at that.

Later in the day, we would find this woman who loathed the 'icky' liquid on water skis in the middle of the lake, it having been years since she'd done that sort of thing. Her daughter, on another boat, would see her mother going by behind the craft and be joyous for her mom. There is just something very beautiful about an adult at play. We need it as badly as the children do.

Soon one of our boats came in, and the driver offered us a ride on it. The younger lady, who was his daughter, and I took him up on it, hopping into the front of the boat and finally getting a chance to stretch out in the sunshine with the gleaming water under us.

The vessel was teeming with teenage boys, all scrambling for their turn on the huge tube. First there were only two boys on the tube, my neighbor being one of them. The driver, Mr. Stark, gave them a wild ride. I was amazed that they could stay on at all, the way they were being flung around the lake.

When two girls got on the tube, I realized that the style of Mr. Stark's driving became very different. There were a few bumps here and there, from crossing over a mild wake or two, but nothing too extreme. The girls rode differently, too, in that girls are not afraid to touch on a tube; they interlocked arms and shared tube handles for a better grip, working together. You will rarely see a bunch of boys doing that. They were having an exciting ride, in their form of 'exciting', and it was all good. Mr. Stark went very easy on them and didn't try anything that might alarm them or scare them away from the sport for the rest of their lives. When they were done, they unloaded delicately and boarded the boat once again, refreshed and happy.

Then four boys got on the tube.

It was an unwritten rule that to fall off was a shameful thing. If any of them could help it, they weren't going to go over the edge.

Too bad the skinny one "Jason", didn't fight for a middle position. To be hanging out on the sides was a big mistake. Especially when someone twice his size was right next to him. It was going to be bad.

I have to hand it to him, he put up a stupendous fight. So many times as they were flying across the water, we'd see the bottom half of both of Jason's legs, dragging in the water behind the tube. His face would disappear from sight as he slowly lost ground from the front of the tube, to the back. But then, miraculously, he'd suddenly reappear on the next corner, right up front again. I imagined that he was using the bigger boy next to him for leverage, and crawling up his back to a more secure spot.

Proof of this came to light when the two of them, skinny and husky, went flying off the tube. When we circled back around to get them, Jason waved us off and climbed right back onto the tube, but the huskier boy was hesitant.

"I lost my shorts!" he yelled.

Jason, in his determination to stay on the tube and desperate for something to grip, chose the wrong item, apparently. He de-pantsed his friend.

Not one to miss out on the fun, due to the wrong wardrobe, the husky boy, figuring he had one more layer left, hopped back on the tube with the other three guys. The spectators in the boat applauded over our laughter, and Mr. Stark resumed pulling them around the lake once more.

Meanwhile in another boat of our's, my daughter and her friend commented as the boys went past them on their tube that 'one of those shorts was not like the others'....and they figured out the situation pretty fast, and began to laugh, too.

The husky boy told us later that he didn't mind losing those shorts; they were old and had been getting a little to small for him, anyway.

"Not small enough!", had been my comment.

The boys got out for a moment and squished into the front of the boat with us. All but one. My nephew hung back. I realized why very quickly...the only space left to sit was right next to me, his aunt. Instead, he stood. Even when the boat was moving. He stood right in the middle of the front, apparently relying on his good sense of balance.

"SIT DOWN!!!" Mr. Sharp finally yelled at him, because his body was directly blocking his view and he had to be able to see.

Nephew looked worried for a moment, and looked from the space beside me, then back at his feet....and then he....hunched. Right between the space where the windshield ends and there is a corridor. With his back against one side, and his knees against the other, it made a ridiculous picture. This discomfort he would rather do than to sit next to family and lose a portion of perceived 'coolness'. Oh, brother.

"Okay, I'll tell you what we're gonna do," said Mr. Stark, "My group needs to head back to get home. But before we do, we're going to have us a little contest. The last one on the tube wins."

Four teenage boys, including the Neighbor, gave a hearty 'YEAH!!!' from the tube. They were up for the challenge.

He didn't go easy on them. They flew from one side of the boat to the other, flying over wakes, banging heads and body parts together. You could tell they might have screamed otherwise, but dignity and a boat full of watching spectators would not allow that. Their eyes told the story, however. Big as frisbees. Sometimes all four mouths would form a perfect "O" at the exact same time.

Mr. Stark, who I had always thought was a mild guy, was a passive aggressive. When he'd see the boys bonking together on the tube in his rear view mirror, he'd grin and toss his head back a bit in this funny little laugh. Not evil, mind you...but dangerously close. When they were airborne, he'd do the same. When they were barely hanging onto the tube with all fours, he outright smiled, showing almost all teeth. So much for the humble image I had of this man with his suit and tie at church. He was enjoying the torture of these guys. Very much so.

My neighbor, on the other side of the tube, started off not even hanging on. He would frequently hold up his hands for those in the boat to see, as if showing off that his balance was such that holding on with his mere hands would be overkill. A stark contrast from our friend Jason on the other side, whose arms and legs flailed non-stop.

The 'contest' went on for quite a while, with some impressive boating maneuvers from our driver. He knew every trick. That the boys held on as long as they did was commendable. But it was time to go.

With one quick yank of the wheel, which led to a yank of the tube....three bodies went flying.

And the one left?.....Would be the last person who, personality-wise, needed another sports victory. That would be my cocky little neighbor. Who we promptly applauded. Applauded, that is, until his held up his one pointer finger in the air, to signify that he, indeed, was number one. We 'little people' knew it, and so did he and the entire free world. He was the one to ride with no hands. He was the one that never fell off. He was the one that was left on the tube to laugh at his friends in the water. He was......

In one deft move, Mr. Sharp gave the Neighbor a brisk little wave, then jerked the boat forward without any warning to the boy, who still had his one hand and pointer finger in the air, making it impossible to hang on....and sent him flying several feet back behind the tube, in a tremendous, sprawling, and very fumbling SPLASH.

"I thought he was getting a little full of himself," Mr. Stark said simply.

The memory of that moment will live on in my mind for a very, very long time.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Your Immeasurable Worth

Click Here.

No, really.

I wish I’d heard this song during my post-divorce cleaning business days, when I felt very much like a washed-up Cinderella.

Fact: Each one of us has immeasurable worth.

I took my children to the Mall one weekend. We didn’t go there to spend anymore; we just needed an outing. We walked along storefronts, window shopping. I remembered the trinkets I’d once bought from the elegant stores, and the kitchen gadgets I had planned to buy at one time from the gourmet cooking store, when I was living a different life.

After perusing the entire mall, we stopped for a snack at the food court. As we sat with our victuals, I became keenly aware, possibly for the first time in my life, of the cleaning crew. They were everywhere, amongst the people dining at the tables. They wore colors that blended in; blacks and grays, with sensible shoes. The women wore their hair in ponytails, or cut short to keep out of the way. A half dozen or so of these helpers were clearing trays that had been carelessly left behind, and wiping off tables. One was on her knees, cleaning up a spill that no one had bothered to deal with. I knew her expression all too well. For a second, she looked up and our eyes met. I gave her a warm smile. She quickly looked away. She didn’t know me in my fancy wardrobe, with my silver hoop earrings and my Italian boots from my one of my long-gone trips to Europe. She didn’t recognize me at all, though…that I was a cleaner, too. That I was her sister.

*Please visit me on Twitter and Facebook. 

Monday, May 9, 2011

He Gave Me More

Consider this. That nothing is ever really lost; it just changes.

Granted, this might sound funny, but I am just as happy in my second marriage as I was at the highest points of my first one. It is a different type of happiness, with a different person and totally different dynamics. The level of happiness is similar; it’s like the comparison between chocolate fudge cake and a root beer float. I like them both in their own right.

In the movie, ‘Under The Tuscan Sun’, the older diva tells Diane Lane’s character about having chased the ladybugs as a little girl. She had difficulty catching them, when she was determined and she was trying so hard to chase and grip them in her clutches. She wanted the luck they were sure to bring. Then she laid down in the field, exhausted, and took a nap. When she awakened, the ladybugs were crawling all over her. In the movie, Diane Lane’s character, Frances, gets everything she said she wanted, but in completely unexpected ways.

I had never envisioned giving up my firstborn for adoption. The thought never crossed my mind. Yet, that’s what happened. Bad timing, poor circumstances, and even worse support put me in a place I never thought I’d be.

Four days ago, my birth daughter’s adoptive aunt hugged me and whispered in my ear, “Thank you so much for making that hard choice. If you hadn’t, I never would have had her in my life. Thank you.”

Twenty-plus years later, the lovely person I gave birth to and I are coming full circle. We were apart for a time, and now our families know and love one another. In the end, we haven’t lost at all…we’ve gained.

In life, there are a lot of people that will let you down. In my case, that was parents and an ex-husband, and a few other stragglers here and there. But guess what? They’ve been replaced, and with the most fascinating mix of individuals that have come right out of the woodwork. Our paths have crossed by what seemed to be nothing but pure chance, and yet? Here they all are. A foster mother that took me in and hasn’t let me out of her embrace for over two decades. An Australian lady I’ve actually never met that contacted me through a blog and gives support daily, calls me ‘Princess’ and often sends me little gifts in the mail. Friends that feel more like sisters. A father in-law that calls me ‘his favorite daughter-in-law’. A Canadian gentleman that I’ve known for years who sends hugs through my email and lets me call him Papa.

Tell me, what is it that I have ‘lost’?

Absolutely nothing.

Not one single thing has turned out the way I’ve envisioned or planned. I wanted to be celebrating my 22nd anniversary by now. I wanted to stay in my spacious home out in the country. I never wanted to have to break in a new bunch of in-laws. I wanted biological parents that loved me and would do anything to protect me. I never wanted to be a second wife, or a stepmother. I wanted it all done my way.

God had other ideas. He never once gave me what I wanted.
He gave me more.

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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Buggy For The Parade of America, Courtesy Vern Carpenter

Vern Carpenter has a project.

While the name Vern Carpenter may not sound familiar to the common Canyon county resident, it means something to all who’ve traveled via the school bus within the county’s boundaries. Vern is the former owner of Brown Bus Company.

When visiting Vern, he first showed me the latest item, stored in the back of his pickup truck. It was an ornately upholstered black bench, very vintage-looking.

“It’s going into my Amish buggy,” Vern said, “It’s a buggy like those old-time doctors used to ride in around the countryside.”

“Like Doc Baker’s on Little House on the Prairie?” I asked. He nodded, then moved the tour to his warehouse of impressive antiques. One of those treasures was the Snake River Stampede wagon, which I have always wanted to get a closer look at. Vern, who is on the Snake River Stampede Board, even let me climb inside. He showed me an old hardware wagon and his aforementioned Amish doctor buggy, which Vern himself had restored.

We went to the repair shop, the home of Vern’s latest endeavor.

He first got the idea while visiting the museum in Baker, Oregon, where there was an old-time, horse-drawn buggy that took children to school, back in the day. Vern thought it would really be something to build one. When his son heard of Vern’s idea, he encouraged his dad to hurry up and build it, then enter it in the Parade of America on May 21st. Each year Brown Bus Company has a couple of entries: one is their sleekest, latest-in-technology school bus; the other is a 1937 Chevy school bus. They thought it would be meaningful to have Vern’s school bus-buggy lead the way, showing the progression of student transportation.

Vern, now retired from Brown Bus Company, is putting in lots of hours to get that bus- buggy going. Having taken pictures of the buggy in Baker from every imaginable angle, and then using those pictures as his guide, he is recreating what he saw. He has never built a buggy from the ground up before, but thinks he can, engineering pieces and parts and putting them where they belong, like a large puzzle. Although he’s done most of the work solo, he says he’s had a bit of help here and there with welding and other things as May 21st looms.

I asked Vern what made him want to do such a thing. I was expecting perhaps a sentimental answer, possibly a poignant story from his childhood.

“I just like buggies,” he told me.

He also said that he liked taking something old and making something new. I asked if he would make his deadline for the Parade of America.

Vern Carpenter’s reply was classic.

“I’m going to give it a heck of a try.”